I'll never forget driving into the town centre of Bergen, Norway for the first time. Colourful buildings, old world architecture and the mountainous backdrop all contributed equally to that tingling of wanderlust that nipped at my consciousness. I had never heard of this town before and little did I know that it would become one of my favourite in Scandinavia.
The Best of Bergen
I soon realized how lucky we were that this was the kick off for our tour of Scandinavia and the fjords with Go Ahead Tours. If this was how our journey was starting, I couldn't wait to experience all that was lined up for us over the next 2 weeks.
Staying on the wharf we had a perfect view of the colourful buildings of Bryggen, the old town that is now a protected World Heritage Site. We were walking distance from everywhere in the city. We were excited that Go Ahead not only chose a hotel with a central location, it was also a spot with modern rooms, fine dining, and an excellent bar overlooking the port. This was our base for exploring Bergen and explore the city we did!
Our time here was filled with so many memorable moments and we commented on how we could spend so much more time in this delightful town.
But we did manage to see a lot in a short time and here are our favourite moments from our first few days in Scandinavia. If there is one place you should visit in Norway, Bergen is our pick. And here's why!
What to do in Bergen
For outdoor lovers, Bergen has it all. It's a city surrounded by seven mountains. It's a rite of passage for residents to hike all seven summits in one day, but visitors can summit two mountains with ease.
Bergen is Romantic: Enjoy our round up of the Most Romantic Cities in the World.
Urliken Cable Car
It was a sunny day when we arrived and since it was late in the season, we made a point of making the most of the good weather. Being Canadian, we know that weather can change in an instant, so if you've got a good day, you'd better take advantage of it. We had heard that sunset up Ulriken Mountain was the best place to see the city, so we made our way to the cable car for incredible panoramic views of Bergen.
You can take a local bus, but with limited time, we caught the last tourist bus of the day to the mountain. Everyone speaks perfect English in Norway, so it was easy to ask the driver for information. He showed us where to catch the local bus back to the city and brought us in to purchase tickets at the kiosk once we arrived at the base of the mountain.
When we got to the top, we were amazed at the amount of locals that had hiked up themselves. I'm not going to lie, I felt a little lazy seeing all the beautiful people hiking up the path and then doing pull ups and hand stands on the outdoor jungle gyms. Everyone was so active and healthy.
If we had gotten up there earlier, we would have definitely taken advantage of the endless hiking trails. We were told that we could hike all the way to the funicular closer to the city in a few short hours.
Our excursion ended here though and we settled in for the evening at the perfect spot to watch the sun set over the city. As the final zipliners finished their rides and the last of the paragliders soared overhead, we took in the splendid view, feeling grateful to beginning our trip in spectacular fashion.
**Note: Norway is not cheap and basically a bus and cable car ticket costs about $32 USD pp**
If you are only in Bergen for a short time, a good alternative to the cable car at Ulriken is a trip up the funicular. The base of the funicular is located right downtown and you will be at the top of the mountain in twelve minutes.
This offers another beautiful view of the city and here there are also hiking trails to take you to one of the other seven mountains. It's a lovely afternoon sitting at the top, looking over the Norwegian Sea and sipping a coffee on the outdoor patio.
Don't forget the resident mountain goats. Make sure you walk along the path or to the bottom of the terraced steps to enjoy watching them munching on grass and leaves.
If museums are your thing, then hold onto your hat because you just hit the jackpot. Bergen has an excellent museum district. KODE is one of Scandinavia's largest museums for art, design and music. There are four different museums displaying everything from modern art to furniture, music and arts and crafts. We were in Bergen to see Edvard Munch.
Bergen Kode 3 has one of the largest and most important Munch collections in the world. If you don't know him, Munch is famous for his painting “The Scream”. There are four versions of The Scream around the world. Three are located in Norway, while one is owned by a private collector. Bergen has his pen and ink version which is very unique to see.
There is no way to visit Bergen without exploring the World Heritage town of Bryggen. We were lucky to be able to tour Bryggen with our Go Ahead Tours Guide Derek. While the buildings are beautiful to look at, the history is even more fascinating.
We started at the Hanseatic Museum where we learned about the Hanseatic culture. The Hanseatic League ran Bryggen in the Middle Ages. It was a thriving merchant society and the town became an important trading centre.
The buildings of Bryggen have seen many fires since it's establishment in 1070, but much of the old town has survived since the 1700s. It's a beautiful walk through the narrow streets taking you instantly back in time to the moment you stepped foot on in the old wharf.
Edvard Grieg Museum
One of the advantages of traveling with Go Ahead Tours was that we had access to museums farther out from the city. After spending two days in Bergen on our own, we joined our tour group for a trip out to the Edvard Grieg Museum.
I must confess that my knowledge of composers doesn't extend much beyond Bach and Beethoven. To put it more plainly, we had no idea who this guy was. But I was curious when our guide Derek told us Grieg was Norway's most famous composer and wanted to learn more.
This countryside setting was his house and property where he wrote and composed his music. The tour takes you through his home and also outside to his sanctuary where all the magic happened. As I said, we hadn't heard of Edvard Grieg before visiting Bergen, but to give you an idea of how popular he was in his day, he was offered $20,000 USD to perform in America. He had terrible sea sickness, so he turned it down and they replaced him with Strauss (who we all know) who was only paid $6,000.
If you would like to listen to some Grieg you can check out some of his music here.
Explore the Fish Market
Norwegian culture was built on fishing. If you don't embrace the fish culture, you'll be missing a lot of what makes Norway tick. The Bergen fish market dates back to the 1200s where merchants still sell their fresh catch of the day as they have for centuries. The market lines the waterfront and is worth strolling through to check out the dried cod hanging from the florescent lights.
The fish market is a great option for dinner. Grab a spot on the patio and choose your fresh catch of the day. I preferred the bucket of muscles.
We'll be adding Bergen to our list of Europe's Most Beautiful Cities
Bergen is the jumping off point for visiting Norway's most famous fjords. It's from here that you can take the Norway in a Nutshell tour and be back in Bergen in time for dinner.
Norway in a Nutshell was included in our Go Ahead tour where we caught a train to Voss and then hopped on a bus that took us through the scenic mountains en route to Gudvangen for our trip through the UNESCO-protected Nærøyfjord. It was here that we hopped on a ferry and took in the magnificent fjords towering 1800 metres above the sea.
Taking in the towering gorges wet with the mist of the morning. Waving to local Norwegians that go about their daily routines in the small villages that dot this impressive landscape. This is what Norway is all about. I could have cruised for days among these giants, but another adventure awaited on our train ride back to Bergen.
Our trip home ended along the Flåm Railway, the steepest railway in the world where we were treated to beautiful views of the mountains. It is considered one of the most beautiful rail trips in the world. You can see why.
With only a few days to explore this beautiful town, I am sure that we only scratched the surface of what Bergen has to offer. But that is one of the reasons that we chose this tour. It was for discovering a few gems and leaving the others to be uncovered when we return. And if there is one thing I can guarantee, it is that we will be back in Bergen again.
This post is in partnership with Go Ahead Tours who sponsored our trip to Scandinavia. As usual, all our opinions are our own. With more than 150 guided tours across all 7 continents, Go Ahead Tours has dedicated travel sites for both U.S. and Canadian travelers.