Someone told me I was very lucky to have a rain-free day in Bergen and it was very wet when we arrived by train from Oslo. But the next morning dawned brilliantly clear and Bergen’s picture-book buildings looked like rows of colourful sweets reflected in a still harbour.
The parks and squares are filled with more water – fountains, lakes and rivulets all sparkling in the sun. The harbour is full of colourful boats and ships ride at anchor out in the fjord.
Bergen is the city of the seven mountains (a common theme around the world) and enjoys a spectacular setting on Byfjorden. The city was founded in 1070 by Olav Kyrre, son of King Harald Hardrada (the one who died in the English battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066).
The remains of the wharves and trading warehouses – Bryggen – now a Unesco World Heritage Site – are Bergen’s historic set-piece, the oldest part of the city and a whisper through time from the days when Bergen was a bureau city of the Hanseatic League. This was a confederation of merchant guilds across the coastlines of Northern Europe in the 13th-17th centuries that evolved into a powerful league of market cities that had their own legal system and defence force.
Nowadays Bryggen is filled with expensive shops and cafes, as well as the many artisan workshops clustered in the lanes behind the shop fronts. It was very quiet on Good Friday but easy to imagine a bustle of frenetic trade among the narrow streets overlooked by wooden buildings with crooked doorways and rickety stairs. Fire has seriously damaged Bryggen’s wooden buildings a number of times but it has been effectively restored and preserved.
Take a wander around the Bergenhus Castle, one of the oldest and best preserved fortresses in Norway. The Rosencrantz Tower reminded me of the ill-fated officers in Hamlet and incorporates the older King Magnus the Lawmaker’s Keep. The ancient Hakon’s Hall began life as a 13th-century royal residence and banqueting hall and has been the location for many major national events over the centuries.
You must take the funicular (Floibanen) up to the top of Mt Floyen to see the whole of Bergen and the surrounding country and sea laid out before you. On a holiday there was a long queue – it seemed half of Norway was there. But they had switched to continuous service rather than half-hourly so the line actually moved quickly.
At the top there is a restaurant, a shop and an impressive children’s playground, as well as an adventure playground and nature trails in the woods. From here trails lead off through the forest – all dappled sunlight on moss cushions beneath tall pine trees. Families were barbecuing beside the lake and we watched a red squirrel foraging and colourful birds frolicking.
The Kode art museum has masterpieces by Munch, Picasso and Klee and has a lovely lake-side setting in the centre of Bergen. We also had time for a wander around the fish market – very attractive but way above our budget!
The Norwegian Coastal Express ships depart from Bergen for their voyage up through the fjord-marked coastline of Norway. After grabbing a bite to eat, evening saw us boarding the MS Nordkapp ready for the 10.30pm sailing. Our experience of Norway was not over yet.
Have you been to Bergen in Norway? What was your favourite thing about Bergen?