Bergen is Norway’s second-largest city despite the fact its population, who nearly all speak perfect English, barely nudges a quarter of a million.
Norway is so often voted top the Quality of Life Index published annually by the UN. They’re just so darned happy! Mind you, who wouldn’t be, living in a country where each square kilometre has just 14 inhabitants?
Bergen’s soulful beauty and ease of access is tailor-made for cruising and UNESCO has designated it a World Heritage city.
This year there will be record 264 ship calls during the cruise season – April to September – with around 240,000 passengers checking out the city and its environs, 30 per cent of them British. Only the US has more cruise ports than Norway’s 35.
You know you’re in for something very special as your ship glides through the startling fjords that caress Bergen like fingers.
Seven snow-capped mountains form a spectacular backdrop to this fairytale place, the heart of which is only moments away as you disembark. So if you’ve decided to eschew the cruise line’s excursions, it’s a doddle to take in many of the attractions during the allotted eight hours or so usually reserved for cruise visitors on a tight time budget.
A few metres from the port is the Hanseatic Wharf or Bryggen, a maze of red, white and yellow wooden buildings dating back to the 11th century and Bergen’s most enduring image.
Norway isn’t the cheapest country in the world so the first thing to do when you arrive is purchase a Bergen Card which provides free transportation on all city buses and free or discounted admission to many of the attractions. The card costs 190NOK (around £18) for adults and 75NOK (around £7) for children aged three to 15, and can be purchased at the railway station, the express boat terminal, the tourist information centre and several hotels.
Take an umbrella
Bergen’s climate can sometimes make Manchester look like the Sahara Desert. But it can also get very hot during summer – mid June to late August
Banks are open
Monday-Friday 8.15am-3.pm (5pm on Thursdays)
Good shopping streets
Bryggen, Ovregaten and Lille Ovregaten, Vetrlidsalimenning, Torget and Vagsallmenningen, Strandkaien, Strandgaten and the area around the main square Torgalimenningen. Look for silver and ceramics.
If you fancy a Norwegian Pizza
Check out Peppes Pizza. There are four in the town centre and they are very reasonably priced. Probably the finest purveyor of classic Norwegian cuisine is Bryggeloftet in Bryggen, expensive but worth it.
If you want to venture beyond
The city the public transport system is efficient and free with a Bergen Card. All visiting cruise lines have excursions – Norwegian Jade offers an eight-hour trip to Hardanger and Voss at around $200 including lunch.
Check you email free of charge
At the Bergen Public Library in the city centre (closed Sundays).
WHILE YOU’RE THERE…
- Take the seven-minute Floibanen cable car ride to the peak of Mount Floyen 1000 feet above the city for breathtaking panoramic views. A cafe and restaurant are available at the summit.
- A short walk from Bryggen is the Fist Market, a great place to have lunch of freshly caught salmon, herring or cod and watch the tide roll away. A flea market nearby sells the local specialities, hand-knit sweaters and trolls, and you can used a credit card.
- The Bergen Aquarium is a short ferry ride from the market and houses a cornucopia of local marine life including seal and penguin pools.
- Edvard Grieg is Norway’s most famous composer (after A-Ha!) and he wrote many of his works, including the celebrated In the Hall of the Mountain King, at his home in Troldhaugen (‘Troll’s Hill’), around eight kilometres from the port. The imposing house is open to the public and has remained virtually untouched since his death in 1907. The tiny cliffside hut where Grieg composed can also be explored. A modern concert hall was added in 1995. Check www.troldhaugen.com, for a current programme of recitals.
- The Bergen Art Museum can be found at Bergen’s central lake, Lille Lungegadsvann. It actually comprises several museums – The City Art Collection with works dating from the 13th century, the Rasmus Meyer Collection featuring the works of Norwegian artists from the 18th to 20th centuries – including Edvard Munch – and the Stenersen Collection with masterpieces by 20th century artists such as Picasso. The Bergen Contemporary Art Centre and the West Norway Museum of Decorative Art are also located at the complex.