Everyone is familiar with the old wooden houses in the area known as Bryggen in the port city of Bergen, which was rebuilt on 12th century foundations after the fire that ravaged the city in 1702. Bryggen has a place on UNESCO’S World Heritage List, but the whole city of Bergen is a designated World Heritage City. It was the largest town in Scandinavia during the middle ages and because of its position as one of the Hanseatic League’s four most important trading centres, it dominated trade for almost 400 years from its incorporation in 1360.
The world heritage site consists of the old Hanseatic wharf and buildings, an attractive place for tourists and locals and a photographer’s delight. To stroll through Bryggen’s narrow alleyways is to wander back to a bygone age: many of the small wooden houses that line these streets date back to the 18th century and have been restored and refurbished in recent years to their current impeccable state. Not only is this a heritage site but it is a living, breathing one, part of a culture still active in this historical part of the city.
I can’t think of any other city that more deserves the designation of World Heritage City: it has a fairy-tale air with a charm and atmosphere not often found in busy places. Seven mountains form the backdrop to the city and everywhere are small wooden houses, their doorways flanked by pots of brightly-coloured flowers, old cobbled streets and alleyways, and of course, Bryggen.
Surrounded by fiords and a fantastic coastline with thousands of islands, Bergen is a base for active experiences such as fiord and river rafting, scuba diving, ocean rafting, sailing, kayaking, cycling and paragliding. Those whose liking is for mountains are spoiled for choice here as all seven of the mountains that surround the city have great walking trails (the tourist board will provide maps).
If the active life is not for you, then shopping could not be better in this city of traders, (take the hop-on hop-off bus), hop on the little sight-seeing train and be guided around the area, or take one of the many guided tours on land or by boat.
And it’s said that you’ve not seen Bergen until you’ve taken a trip on the Fløibanen funicular to the top of Mt. Fløyen to view the city from the spectacular viewing platform 200m above.
Cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops abound in the area, many of them selling traditional and unique crafts. Bryggen’s Museum is the place to learn about the history of the city and an impressive collection of art is housed in a row of galleries lining the picturesque Lille Lungegärdsvann Lake in the heart of the city (Art Street); or visit the Grieg Museum for a half-hour lunchtime concert and a visit to the site of the composer’s unique grave.
If museums are not your thing, then just step into the Fish Market, the open-air fruit and veg market with its stalls full of the freshest berries I’ve ever seen, wander around the wharf and admire the fishing boats, tourist boats and naval vessels. Locals resting on the seats around the basin will be eager to chat with you, fishermen tending their nets will happily talk about fish and the ever-changing kaleidoscope will keep you entertained for hours.
I didn’t spend long enough there, a mere 3 days, but it gave me a taster of what the city and its environs can offer. Some people I spoke to had arrived by cruise ship and seemed happy with their half day there. I wouldn’t have been. I think I might have cried if I’d had to leave such a gorgeous place after only a few hours. But whether its 3 hours or 3 days, Bergen will offer the visitor a lot to see and a lot to think about.
NB. Best buy – The Bergen Card: Free entrances to many Museums and activities, heavily discounted entrance fees to other places. Travel free on the Light Rail and buses. 24 hours NOK 280, senior & students 224, children 100: 48 hour NOK 360, senior & students 288, children 130