The gateway to the fjords and Norway’s second largest city, Bergen is a popular arrival destination for tourists visiting Norway and it was the second stop on my journey through the country.
As the flight from Stavanger to Bergen never went above 10,000 ft, you could get an awesome view of the fjords, the rugged coastline and the 7 mountains surrounding Begen if the weather is clear. Big tip- sit on the right hand side of the plane!
After catching the airport shuttle to the center of town, it was literally a 2 minute walk to my accommodation and first AirBnB experience. Located in the centre of the city made it extremely easy to visit the main sights of Bergen as everything was at most, 10 minutes walk away. If you don’t sleeping in what would equivalently be a large dorm room at a hostel, check out Bergan Ashram at AirBnB.
My time in Bergen coincided with three annual events- the Bergen International Festival, a cultural and music festival featuring artists and acts from around the world, Night Jazz which is the longest jazz festival in Northern Europe and the 7 Mountains Challenge, which is a 35km hike across the 7 main peaks which surround Bergen. Prior to arriving, I stumbled upon the 7 Mountains Challenge when researching hikes around the area. Staying in Bergen from Friday 23rd May to Monday 26th May, I felt that the Challenge was a perfect way to spend my Sunday there as I already planning on doing some hiking that day… Maybe not a 35km hike with 2300m of vertical ascent but after watching the promo video and learning that you get a t-shirt at the end, I was sold. You can read about my 7 Mountains Hike experience here.
When walking through the mall in the early afternoon (nothing too special here; the usual retail and fast food shops…), I saw the ticket office for the Bergen International Festival and was able to secure a ticket to the The Beethoven Journey III with Leif Ove Andsnes, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir which was on that evening.
As an ‘International Festival’, it turns out that much of the performances (concerts, plays, musicals, debates, exhibitions etc) were in Norwegian or another European language… Not many were in English at all. Unfortunately, when I first asked about tickets to the Beethoven concert, the girl at the sales desk scoffed, saying “tickets have been sold out for weeks!”…
Asking if she could recommend anything else that evening, which I would be able to understand, she pointed to a movie called Pearl of Scandinavia (trailer below). Performed completely in Norwegian, she suggested that the quality of the drama, complete with a English summary sheet would be enough for me to ‘understand’ what is going on… Too bad the movie is all about dialogue between the main characters! Anyway, as I was just about to walk out and leave, someone cancelled their ticket for the Beethoven concert and thus I secured the very last ticket to it!
An area definitely worth checking out is Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage site of old wooden buildings which made up the town’s quay and established it as an important trading port in the early part of the last millennium. Though the shops are the usual tourist trap, they have a lot of character and you can learn about the importance of this area as well as the Hanseatic League at the Bryggen Museum. As you can see from the photos, a lot of the buildings are slanting- mostly due to their construction out of wood. Unfortunately, many if not most of the original structures from the 1000’s have been destroyed over the years in fires.
In my first day there, I also had enough time to visit the Maritime Museum near the local university as well as the old market area (where the local Trekking Association office is located). The local Tourist Information Centre is located at the main harbour, right next to the fish market and it was here that I booked my tour to the Hardangerfjord. For such a huge fishing town, the fish market was rather low key. According to locals, it’s much of a shadow of it’s former self these days.
Hardangerfjord in a nutshell
Whilst fjords can be found all over Norway, Bergen is situated a day trip away from the two largest- the Sjorderfjord and the Hardangerfjord. If you do not have your own mode of transport, getting to these fjords is run through a single company, Fjord Norway and day trips can be booked quite easily from the tourist information center right next to the fish markets in downtown Bergen.
Both day trips involve taking the Bergen-Oslo railway and connecting bus to the end of the fjord, followed by a number of ferries and buses which then take you back to Bergen. Trips can be taken in either direction (train first, or bus first…)
Going with the Hardangerfjord day trip, I started my journey catching the 8:14 train from Bergen to Voss, situated by a spectacular lake.
From there, it was a short bus to the first ferry departure point at Ulvik, arriving at Eidfjord. At this point, I opted for the optional waterfall tour to the Vøringsfossen falls, the tallest waterfalls in Norway as well as a visit to the regional wildlife and nature center. Finally, the return ferry from Eidfjord took us through the bulk of the Hardangerfjord, under the longest bridge in Norway and past endless rows of fruit orchards to Norheimsund where we then made our bus connection back to Bergen.
Apart from the bus trip to see the waterfalls, the trip is self guided and you’re responsible for ensuring you make your connecting modes of transport. If you are looking to take one of these tours, make sure you pack your food and drink for the day, because there is little time to drop into the shops and cafes in the towns you stop in along the way, though basic snacks can be bought on board the ferry.
If you opt to not go on the bus tour from Eidfjord, you have around 3 hours of free time which you can use to explore the town and do one of the many short hikes in the area. The tourist information shop by the ferry wharf has plenty of information for this and around 1/4 of those on the ferry with me took this option. Famously, it was in the Hardangerfjord up to Eidfjord that the Queen Mary 2 visited and manourvered around back in 2009.
Coincidentally, I actually met someone from Waco Texas on the tour of the Hardangerfjord, a professor in fact who did her doctorate at Waco University and who was leading a small ‘study abroad’ group of kinesiology students… A small world indeed!
Fjord Norway offers an extended version of this trip, which takes you all the way to Oslo, however as I still had the 7 Peaks Challenge to do, I could only afford time-wise to do the day trip. Further information on fjord tours out of Bergen, including the “Hardangerfjord in a Nutshell” which I took can be found here.
Overall, I think the best part of Bergen is the ability to get out and explore the surrounding natural wonders. If I had more time and if I visited in June when the weather is warmest, I would certainly consider taking a ferry up the Norwegian coast to Tromso. If you do visit, make sure you pack the appropriate clothing and prepare yourself for anything from sunshine to rain, wind and fog!