By Chris McBeath
As one of Europe’s most cultural cities, beautiful Bergen offers international ambiance and historic elegance at every cobblestone turn. These top choices will, at the very least, help you prioritize how to get the very most diversity out of your stay. And they’ll likely leave you wanting more.
1. Bergen Card
If you enjoy sight-seeing, the Bergen Card is the best investment you can make; it gives you the freedom of the city. Literally. Travel for free. Park your car for free. And enjoy free admittance to most museums, galleries and attractions, as well as discounts on a variety of shopping and restaurants. Go for the 48-hour pass at 245 Krona (US$35); there’s simply too much to see in one day. Note: Norway is not a Euro country.
2. The Bergen Shuffle
Leave your stilettos at home to meander through Bergen’s picturesque neighbourhoods which appear at the end of flower-filled cobblestone streets and medieval passages; atop narrow stairways, from behind corners and along mountainside roads too tapered for cars. Sometimes, newer stones splay out in multiple colours of soft grey, ochre and pink replace the uneven tread. Gaily painted wooden slat homes some of the oldest in Europe, sit on squares with benches around trees, their every nook and cranny overflowing with color and character. One mountainside neighbourhood is aptly named Paradise, and that’s not just for its 11 NOK (US$1.5) million styled homes!
3. The Waterfront
It’s as authentic as you can get: an exotic mix of history, cosmopolitan grace, chic patio cafes serving ‘schilling’ cakes (oversized, squidgy cinnamon buns), and a bustling market selling everything from reindeer skins (great for easing rheumatism) and agate jewelry to an amazing selection of fresh fish. All with the ever present smell of brine. Ferries from here leave for the Outer Hebrides, the Arctic, and the UK. World famous Bryggen, one of the most photographed skylines in Scandinavia, is a labyrinth of 12th century wharfside warehouses and offices. Once the commercial hub for the prestigious German Hanseatic League of Merchants, today they house a network of galleries, and shops selling all manner of paraphernalia.
4. Fish Soup
Set on the harbour wharf, this 1876 bank was designed to reflect its success, prestige and importance in the community. The décor is still as distinguished, and as a restaurant, Banco Rotto, is a city favourite. Its even managed to make the country’s traditional Fish Stock Soup into something spectacular. Traditionally, the process of enlivening the salt-free, wind dried petrified fish to something edible is a five day ritual of soaking which tests the patience of Job, but here, the end result is a must try. For the record, pound for pound, stock fish holds 12 times the nutrients of its fresh counterpart, and keeps for over a year.
5. Old Bergen Museum
Several of the city’s historic jewels are free, whether it’s vying for a sunny spot amidst the ruins of Bergen Castle or stepping back in time in this charming open-air museum. A showcase of more than 40 characteristic wooden houses from the 18th and 19th century, the interiors show town life as it once was, including the pomp and great circumstance of city officials, to the one-room home of the baker’s family. Lovely insights include ‘gossip mirrors’ perched by doorways of businesses to reflect goings-on up and down the street, and kitchen benches which opened up to become a coffin-style bed for the servant by night!
6. The Fjords
Bergen lies in the heart of fjord country with its steep mountains of eternal snow, towering cliffs, grass-edged shores and narrow waterways. Boat trips from the harbour wend their way to the foot of inspiring glaciers, while trains speed you through the countryside, and to the water’s edge, and helicopters provide an eagle’s perspective. The do-it-yourself route is to take on the seven mountain hike, a 30 km climb of 2200 m, covering the seven mountains of Bergen. Opt for the four mountain hike if time and stamina are under duress or the Floibanen Funicular or Ulriksbanen Cable Car for the less fleet of foot.
7. Grieg’s place
Before Edvard Grieg married his first cousin, Nina, in 1897, his future mother-in-law exasperated “He is nothing, he has got nothing and he composes music that no-one will hear”. The marriage lasted more than 40 years and Grieg is became one of Norway’s most famous citizens. His country home is a delight, filled with personal items such as the rubber frog Grieg touched before his every performance and anecdotal notes. One revelation tells of such an incapacitating sea-sickness, that in 1906, Greig had to refuse a US$25,000 invitation to conduct in the USA. Organizers filled the spot with Straus, who performed for a paltry US$6,000!
8. Damsgard Manor
This 18th century lysthus, (pleasure house) is one of the finest examples of a countryside escape where gentleman would share camaraderie with day long feasts and discussions on topics of the day. An entire floor was usually dedicated to this purpose which started with a lavish lunch, often comprising over 20 courses, and ended in the early hours after the gathering had become a good deal more raucous. Décor was always set to impress and included hand-painted wallpapers (especially commissioned per occasion) on the inside, and false windows painted on the outside to fake architectural perfection. The notable lack of bedrooms suggests minimal female intervention!
9. Kafe Kippers
Located on the seashore at Nordnes, this old sardine factory once one of the largest processors in Norway, now houses a warehouse of artist studios, artisans and cultural types as well as a performing arts space. The 500-seat restaurant patio is a great place to people watch, whether they’re diving into the water from the rooftop of a nearby studio, or waving from one of the yachts passing by. Kafe Kippers is a real find for food, affordability and ambiance. Bring your camera to capture the sunsets.
Built by the first Prime Minister of Norway in 1896 as a getaway from Bergen merchants, Solstrand is Norway’s most successful, family run resort. Located about 45 minutes (30km) from the city, it epitomizes Scandinavian hospitality. With 100 acres of waterfront, views that sweep across the fjord, and carefully scented gardens to stroll, visit for afternoon tea on the patio, or stay a while and experience the full chilada: luxurious guest rooms, cozy fireplace nooks, and an impressive new spa that captures the essence of its surrounds.
For more information visit www.visitBergen.com
photo credits: Bergen Tourism/Chris McBeath
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