Bergen – sun-drenched “city of rain”

A panoramic view at Bergen from top of Mt. Fløyen

We guess that almost everyone who likes to travel, occasionally comes across some interesting promotional offers on trips. Cheap flight to Brasil or week on Tenerife with a hotel included in price – everyone can find something suitable themselves. At the beginning of summer 2013, we were looking for a trip ourselves. When we came across flights on route Poznan-Bergen-Gdansk, with a price of 50 USD for two people, the decision was almost immediate. Norway was on our bucket list for a long time, so finally we had the opportunity to go there, and visit first city in Europe that introduced vending machines with umbrellas.

Tickets bought – now time other arrangements

After buying the tickets, we realized that the trip to Norway will not be as cheap as we thought. When we started looking for accommodation, we found out that the cheapest option for four nights was in the dormitory (with separate rooms for women and men!) and was costing around 1400 PLN (370 USD). Our inner scrooge voice spoke to us – “this is waaay too much – there must be a way to visit Norway cheaper”. We had two ideas to solve this – Couchsurfing or a tent. After several rejected requests for a place on a couch, we started to feel insecure, especially that the departure date was getting closer and closer. Finally, we let go that idea and went to buy a tent and sleeping bags. And later on it turned out to be the right decision.

A tent set by the shore with a view at a fjord.
Allemannsretten – camping by the shore of a bay

In Norway there’s an unwritten law called Allemannsretten – freedom to roam – which states that every person has the right to enjoy the nature. Therefore it is allowed to access to, and passage through, uncultivated land in the countryside – also set up a tent and sleep almost everywhere. The only condition is to respect private property and to care about and not litter the nature. The idea of camping somewhere between in the wilderness was quite interesting, but rather hard to accomplish in a city with population of 280 000. Finally, we decided to look for a campsite – although not being free, it certainly did lower our accommodation costs in Norway.

Bergen

The flight was quite fast. Supposedly the most rainy city of Europe welcomed us with beautiful, August sun and temperature even higher than in Poland. And the weather remained the same through our whole stay. Campsite owner was joking that we should pay extra fee for non-raining days 😉

Getting from airport to city center takes around 45 minutes. When we finally arrived, we started by going to tourist information. First of all, we wanted to buy Bergen Card (tourist card that allows to use public transportation for free and offers ticket discounts for various attractions). Second, we needed a location of the closest campsite, because Allemannsretten (freedom to roam) is forbidden on Mt. Fløyen. When we got all the information, we left our backpacks in luggage lockers at train station and finally started sightseeing.

A lawn in Bergen on which people are relaxing
Relaxing on a lawn

We had 3 days for visiting Bergen, but from the very first moment we were fascinated with the city. Sun-drenched colorful houses, sea breeze, fountains of different sizes here and there, and water cascades in parks and on squares. On almost every city lawn people were lying on blankets – resting, working, or simply hanging out with friends.

City center is a very curious mixture of modern architecture and restored buildings. Part of them plays the role of shops or malls, some are office buildings, and some residential buildings. In many places there are flower pots, green lawns and flowerbeds that bring the breeze of nature. Everything connected subtly with many cobbled or stone roads and pavements. And only churches, that you may see from time to time, somehow don’t fit to this image. In one of them (the only one open), we’ve met a jazz group doing a rehearsal before recording.

The Heart of Bergen

For centuries, port in Bergen was the grand trading place in Norway, and even today it’s still the largest fishing port. It’s no surprise, then, that you’ll find here a big fish market – Torget. One can buy here various sorts of fresh sea food and fish, as well as eat some tasty appetizers like, for example, grilled shrimps, steamed clams or sandwiches with shark or reindeer meat. One can find different kinds of sea creatures in big water tanks, and sometimes even come across fishermen bringing freshly caught fish to the market.

St. Jacobs clams on the fish market in Bergen
St. Jacobs clams on the fish market in Bergen

Along the bay there are the very first buildings that were built in Bergen. Set in Hanseatic style, mechant houses (wharf) in a district of Bryggen are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Preserving some old, original port architecture, it’s one of the most recognizable medieval settlements in Norway and certainly most characteristic point of Bergen. The distinctive thing about the wooden buildings is that they are set very close to each other, facing towards the bay. Nowadays, they hold a place for various souvenir shops, art galleries, restaurant and bars.

A view at narrow alley with wooden houses on both sides, Bergen
Wooden houses in Bergen

But Bryggen is not the only place with the remains of old architecture in Bergen. Across the whole city, in various places, one can find many small, wooden houses set close to each other. While walking along narrow and often dark alleys, you can feel like travelling back in time. It’s not hard to get lost in the maze of all those aisles, stairs, little gardens and porches. All of this creates an amazing and unique atmosphere of picturesque small city, in the very heart of Bergen.

City of the Seven Mountains

Bergen is often referred to as the city of the Seven Mountains. Origin of this title is pretty straightforward. The city center is surrounded by a group of hills: Ulriken (the biggest one), Fløyen, Løvstakken, Damsgårdsfjellet, Lyderhorn, Sandviksfjellet, Blåmanen, Rundemanen, and Askøyfjellet. Do you feel confused? It’s because there’s more than seven mountains. It’s a reference to “seven hills of Rome” and somehow mystical and not fully clear adoration of the number 7 that influenced choosing exactly that number of hills to poetically describe the city. Fun fact is that there’s no clear answer to the question exactly which hills are referenced as the Seven Mountains. Only the first four are mentioned, because there’s a doubt about the rest.

One of the most iconic attractions in Bergen are cable car to Mt. Ulriken and a cliff railway (or funicular) to Mt. Fløyen. Lower station of Fløibanen funicular is placed near Bryggen and fish market, therefore while being nearby we decided to see how Bergen looks from up above. A ride to 320 meters above sea level takes no more than 4 minutes and has pretty nice views. On top of the hill there are view point terraces. One can enjoy a beautiful panorama over the city, Byfjorden bay and Damsgardssundet strait. Houses on the far hills look like small, evenly aligned blocks. Serpentine roads and numerous bridges are shaping fantastic figures out of city districts. Only ships slowly sailing to and from the port are a reminder, that you’re looking at a living city and not a picturesque wallpaper.

Small pond surrounded by trees, on top of Mt. Fløyen, Bergen
Small pond on Mt. Fløyen

Mt. Fløyen is not only about view points and amazing panorama. On the top there’s plenty of recreational paths, playgrounds or places for a family picnic. One can also have a good dinner in the restaurant or simply sit on one of many benches places along the pathways. Every year, a Norwegian folk music festival called FløyenFolk is organised on top of the hill.

Mt. Fløyen, like every other hill that surround Bergen, has trekking routes. Some of them are going through the hill only, other are linked with the paths to other hills. We decided to spend some time on top of Mt. Fløyen. Most of the paths are typically for family strolls – leading around the hill, with exceptional views on the city. Concrete pathways that one can walk without getting tired. There are also some rocky trails that often lead through forest – trails on which you can stumble upon tree roots, or get your shoes wet after you step into a mud puddle that you cannot bypass in any way. We spent most of our time there on such paths, and at the end returned to the view point terraces to see the sunset over the bay. We didn’t stay for long though, because we needed to catch the last bus that would take us to the camp site, so we went back to the city with the funicular. The next day we were starting another part of our adventure – catching a train towards the longest fjord in Norway.

Bergenhus Fortress

After returning from Flåm, we still had some free time to use on our last day in Bergen. So we went to see Bergenhus Fortress, that is located near the port and Bryggen. It’s the oldest and best preserved complex of medieval buildings in Norway, with some structures dated back to XIII century.

Archaic table with chairs set next to the front wall of Haakon's Hall, in the Bergenhus castle, Bergen
Haakon’s Hall

Back in the days, the castle was king’s residence. The whole complex is composed of great parks, cathedral, bishop’s house, churches, Dominican monastery, along with Rosenkrantz Tower (on top of which king’s quarters were located), and the most know part of the whole compound – over 750 years old Haakon’s Hall. Because of the vast size of the compound, we limited our sightseeing to walking across the park, visiting Haakon’s Hall and taking a stroll along the castle courtyard, during which we saw some of the other buildings from outside.

After shopping for small souvenirs in booths located in port, we finally had to take a bus to the airport. With smiling faces we bid farewell to Bergen, promising ourselves that we will visit Norway once again.

 

Practical tips:

  • Plane tickets to Norway tend to be very cheap (at least from Poland). Low-fare airlines offer a lot of various flights with attractive prices. You can search for promotions on popular portals, like www.skyscanner.com or www.fly4free.com.
  • Norway is not a cheap country for a tourist. Although you can find a decent-priced dinner, accommodation or attraction prices are simply very high.
  • In Bergen, you can find some decent-priced (at least for Norway) food next to the fish market – fish & chips are priced around 100 NOK (12 USD). If someone prefers something less fried – there’s a plenty of affordable restaurants on the Marken street (there’s even a small market and fast food booth).
  • Generally speaking, there are three kinds of accommodation: expensive – apartments, hotels and hostels, where prices start from around 25 USD/night/person in a dormitory and rise quickly as you increase room standard, cheaper – sufficiently equipped campsites, with electrical outlets, kitchen and bathroom, where prices start from 12 USD/night (for a 2-person tent) and free – Couchsurfing or camping using the right to roam (in Norway you can camp almost everywhere, as long as you avoid staying on private properties or places excluded from camping – like on top of Mt. Fløyen).
  • On almost every campsite there’s a shower with hot water, where warm water is accessible after inserting coins (cold one is free). 10 minutes of hot shower costs 5 NOK (less than 1 USD). You can also buy exclusive access to electrical outlet (normally outlets are accessible for everyone in, for example, kitchen or bathroom).
  • Bergen Card allows to use public transportation and offers great discounts, or even free entrance, to some of the tourist attractions and museums. You can buy the card in many places, like tourist information, most of the campsites or several hotels. It can be issued for 24, 48 or 72 hours and costs 200 NOK, 260 NOK or 320 NOK (correspondingly from 25 to 40 USD).
  • Cable car to the top of Mt. Ulriken costs 95 NOK (one way – 12 USD) or 155 NOK (return – 20 USD) for an adult. Fløibanen funicular is cheaper and costs 43 NOK and 85 NOK (5 USD and 10 USD). Additionaly, for Bergen Card owners, Fløyen funicular has 50% discount from May to October, and in other months is completely free.
  • FløyenFolk concerts are placed on top of Mt. Fløyen. During summer, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, one can enjoy Norwegian folk music. Price of the tickets starts at 135 NOK (around 17 USD), and can be bought through internet or in the restaurant just before the concert. All the information regarding FløyenFolk can be found here.
  • Bergenhus Fortress ticket is priced aroung 60 NOK (8 USD) for an adult.

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