Many visitors fall in love with Bergen, Norway's second-largest city, at first sight. Seven rounded lush mountains, pastel wood houses, the historic wharf, winding cobblestone streets, and Hanseatic relics all make it a place of enchantment. Its many epithets include "Trebyen" (Wooden City), "Regnbyen" (Rainy City, due to its 240 days of rain a year), and "Fjordbyen" (gateway to the fjords). Surrounded by forested mountains and fjords, it's only natural that most Bergensers feel at home either on the mountains (skiing, hiking, walking, or at their cabins) or at sea (fishing and boating).
Residents take legendary pride in their city and its luminaries. The composer Edvard Grieg, the violinist Ole Bull, and Ludvig Holberg, Scandinavia's answer to Molière, all made great contributions to Norwegian culture. Today their legacy lives on in nationally acclaimed theater, music, film, dance, and art. The singer Sondre Lerche, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, choreographer Jo Strømgren, and author Gunnar Staalesen all live in Bergen. Every year a host of exciting festivals attracts national and international artists.
This harbor city has played a vital role in the Norwegian economy. Before the discovery of North Sea oil and Bergen's subsequent role in the development of Norway's oil industry, the city was long a major center of fishing and shipping. In fact, Bergen was founded in 1070 by Olav Kyrre as a commercial center. In the 14th century, Hanseatic merchants settled in Bergen and made it one of their four major overseas trading centers. The surviving Hanseatic wooden buildings on Bryggen (the quay, or wharf) are topped with triangular cookie-cutter roofs and painted in red, blue, yellow, and green. Monuments in themselves (they are on the UNESCO World Heritage List), the buildings tempt travelers and locals to the shops, restaurants, and museums inside. At night, when Bryggen is lit up, these modest buildings, together with the stocky Rosenkrantz Tower, Mount Fløyen, and the yachts lining the pier, are reflected in the waters of the harbor—making one of the loveliest cityscapes in northern Europe.
The heart of Bergen is Torgallmenningen, the city's central square, which runs from Ole Bulls plass to Fisketorget on the harbor, facing Bryggen. From here, the rest of Bergen spreads up the sides of the seven mountains that surround it, with some sights concentrated near the university and others near a small lake called Lille Lungegårdsvann. Fløyen, the mountain to the east of the harbor, is the most accessible for day-trippers. Before you begin your walking tour, you can take the funicular (cable car) up to the mountaintop for a particularly fabulous overview of the city.
"Bergen is the city with the ocean and sea completely in its stomach," someone once said. Bergensers love their seafood dishes: Fiskepudding (fish pudding), fiskekaker (fish cakes), fiskeboller (fish balls), and fiskesuppe (fish soup). Delicious renditions of such classic dishes show up on local menus with great regularity.
Any Bergen dining experience should start at Fisketorget, the fish market. Rain or shine, fresh catches go on sale here in shiny, stainless-steel stalls. The fishmongers dole out shrimp, salmon, monkfish, and friendly advice. Usually, they have steamed reker (shrimp), or smoked laks (salmon), served on a baguette with mayonnaise and cucumber—a perfect quick lunch. As for desserts and snacks, skillingsbolle, a big cinnamon roll, or sommerbolle, the same with a custard center, are both popular. Lefse is a flat cake of oatmeal or barley that has a sugar or cream filling. Like other major Norwegian cities, Bergen has international cuisines, including Tex-Mex, tapas, Mediterranean and sushi. Some Oslo celebrity chefs—for example Bølgen & Moi—have also opened restaurants here.
A classic—both sumptuous and stylish. It's often crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, when there are DJs. There's also a quiz night on Monday, readings, and more.
Head to this large outdoor café at sunset for cozy wool blankets and a spectacular view of the water.
If you prefer conversation over dancing, try Logen Teater, a popular meeting place with live acoustic music every Sunday. Edvard Grieg has performed here, and so have Sergei Rachmaninoff and Rickie Lee Jones.
For a quiet glass of wine in intimate and historic surroundings, try Altona, a hotel bar in a 400-year-old wine cellar. The food is good, too.
This is the best of the downtown shopping malls, with over 70 shops, including GlasMagasinet and more exclusive small shops along with all the chains.
At this gift shop, most everything is of Scandinavian design. The pottery and glassware are of the highest quality—much of it is made by local artisans.
Established in 1895, the Bergen branch of this famous handicraft store sells national costumes and other Norwegian crafts, clothes, blankets and gift items.