Bergen, Norway‘s second largest city, is also the largest port on the west coast and one of the busiest cruise ship stops in Scandinavia. Surrounded by a ring of hills known locally as the Seven Mountains (De syv fjell), the town’s idyllic setting and stunning natural harbor cement its reputation as one of Norway’s most popular tourist destinations. Bergen is also full of museums that explore the city’s rich history, celebrate art and even allow visitors to get their hands on science.
Bergen was founded in 1070 by King Olaf III. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the city became the seat of Norwegian kings and bishops. In the period from 1217 to 1299, Bergen was the capital of medieval Norway. During this period, the city experienced its “golden age”, closely related to the name of King Håkon IV Håkonsson (1217-1263). Many buildings with wooden facades have been preserved from this period, which give the city a unique atmosphere even today. The king ruled for an impressive 46 years and expanded the state, including Iceland, the southern parts of Greenland, the islands along the northwest coast of Britain. Being an excellent diplomat, he maintained good relations with the Pope, the Emperor of the Holy Empire and the King of England, which contributed to the strengthening of the influence of Norway.
In the 14th century, the power of the Norwegian monarchy weakened and power in Bergen passed into the hands of merchants from the Hanseatic League. It is a political union of a number of economically powerful coastal cities carrying out trade between Western, Northern and Eastern Europe. The Hanseatic power in Bergen actually lasted until the 18th century, and until the 20th century it continued to be the largest Norwegian city.
Bergen is home to many interesting cultural attractions. One of the most popular attractions is the Brugen district. It is the only surviving quarter with wooden buildings with gables. Their distinctive tile-red and ocher color scheme spread throughout Northern Europe during the Hanseatic Age, and it is to them that Bergen largely owes its tourist nickname – The Wooden City. Here are located the magnificent fish market and the flower market, numerous craft workshops, restaurants and cafes, as well as the Hanseatic Museum. Another significant attraction is Bergenhus Fortress, rising above the town and offering magnificent views of the fjord and the surrounding area.
To the northeast of Bergen rises Mount Floyen. Also known as Fløyfjell, this 319-meter peak offers magnificent views of the city and its surroundings. For the most dramatic views, time your visit for early morning or dusk. If walking isn’t your thing, you can take the Fløibanen, an 844-meter railway that carries over one million passengers to the top each year. Once here, the views of Bergen are simply breathtaking.
Tucked away in the old town district of Sandviken is the Old Bergen Museum (Gamle Bergen). This fascinating open-air living history museum takes tourists back to the early 19th century and is full of interesting buildings and costumed characters brought together to share the city’s history. The museum opened in 1946 as part of an effort to save Bergen’s historic buildings and now houses 55 original wooden houses that once stood in the city center.
While exploring the old town, visitors can watch the actors telling the history of the town, ask questions and feel the atmosphere of Old Bergen. The museum also hosts special events throughout the year that reflect the typical celebrations of the period, and performances are held in the town square several times a day.
Located not far south of Bergen, Troldhaugen is famous as the former home of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Built in 1885, the well-preserved home is now the site of the Grieg Museum and is dedicated to the life and work of the composer.
The Grieg Museum is housed in the cottage where Edvard and his wife Nina lived, as well as a number of more recent buildings built to commemorate the composer’s life and work. Visitors can also see the Composer’s Hut, Grog’s private lakeside workspace where he retreated to concentrate. Concerts are regularly held here from June to September.
Fantoft Stave Church
Many of Norway’s magnificent wooden churches are difficult to visit without a car. Traditionally built outside villages, many of the churches still standing are in rural areas around the fjord area. Fantoft wooden church is one of the most accessible in Norway. In the summer of 1992, the original building was destroyed by a fire believed to have been deliberately started by Varg Vikernes, the Norwegian black metal artist who was jailed for arson of several churches, including Oslo’s Holmenkollen Chapel.
As a true Scandinavian city, Bergen offers a rich gourmet scene with seafood specialties. Sample the freshly caught fish and seafood delicacies at some of the local restaurants and taverns. Here you can enjoy traditional dishes such as “Bergen fish soup” or “Lutefisk” – specially processed cod.