Like I mentioned in 48 hours in Oslo, Norway conjures up thoughts of fjords and amazing mountainous landscapes. Oslo is a great starting point, but there’s another place in Norway you should visit that opens up the amazing features everyone thinks about.
Bergen is where I’m talking about baby, and it’s got it all going on for an authentic Norwegian experience.
Fjords a Plenty
Situated on the rugged west coast, Bergen is your one stop shop for fjords. From here you can book half day, full day or multiple day journeys by sea that wind their way in and out of the fjords between Bergen and Stavanger. The main harbour in Bergen, undoubtedly the throbbing heart of the city is awash with vessels that can take you through some of the jaw-dropping parts of Norway you usually find on postcards. In addition to tourist boats, there are public ferrys that ply up and down the coast, hopping between cities and delivering kids to see their grandparents or friends for a beer or two.
The city has a real feel like there’s a lot going on here, even though it can come across as very laid back with a small town vibe. There’s loads of restaurants, bars and cafes and a well stocked central shopping district (with your usual H&M but also some local varieties). When you walk down Torgallmenningen (the main drag of Bergen), you see families out shopping, kids hanging around skateboarding and people my age in their 20s meeting up to go out. You feel like you’ve just rolled into a place no one has ever heard of outside of this part of Norway.
My main purpose for visiting Bergen was to find out as much as I could about Bryggen. I was sent by bmi to write a feature about it for their website as part of a spotlight on UNESCO World Heritage Sites they were doing, and thus engrossed myself in this charming part of the city where time seems to stands still.
Bryggen was the home of the Hansatic League for centuries. They used this port to prepare fish caught in the Northern parts of Norway for shipping to the rest of Europe. They were super good at what they did, and monopolised the trading racket in the North and Baltic seas for a long period of history. Bryggen is important because it’s the last remaining Hanseatic post and a fantastic example of all-wooden architecture you find in this part of Europe. And because this place is UNESCO listed, everything must be kept exactly as is and repaired or rebuilt using original methods.
Food wise, you can’t walk anywhere in Bergen without coming across the staple Norwegian convenience store of Narvesen. There are literally 4 just in the small downtown area. They carry everything quick like slices of pizza, soft serve ice cream, ciabattas and sandwiches and of course my Norge favourite, the Bacon Pølse (hot dog wrapped in bacon). Interestingly also, Norway, Denmark and Sweden appear to be the only European countries where you’ll find 7-Elevens.
Obviously you’re not going to want to have bacon wrapped hotdogs for dinner, so I’ve got you covered when it comes to something a bit more substantial.
I walked into this one place called Pingvinen, kind of up the hill of a side street. I strolled in and asked “Do you have a menu in English?” pointing to the meals written on the blackboard in Norwegian. The lady behind the counter replies “Yes, but the chef has gone home for the evening. We do have a snacks menu though” and she points to another blackboard, this time at far end of the bar, all in Norwegian (sigh). I then, a little bit frustratingly ask “Can you tell me what each of these is?” pointing to the snacks menu. She then details that they are some traditional soups and stews. “Soups and stews?” I think. “That’s a pretty hefty snacks menu then!”
Pack your bags
Norway should be on everyone’s list, with Bergen being right up there if you want to see the truly amazing parts of this naturally stunning country. The side-benefit of this is that you get to see small city life. Things that if you just skirt into Oslo, ferret about a bit and then take off, you would miss completely. And that bowl of bad-ass pork stew up there is waiting for you. bmi fly direct from London Heathrow, so what are you waiting for?
Disclosure: I got the privilege of visiting Bergen as part of an assignment with bmi. The entire trip was provided by them, but the inspiration for this post was entirely my own and I have not been compensated for this content.