Like both Rome and Lisbon, Bergen is surrounded by a cradle of seven rolling hills. A brilliant, beautiful confection of brightly coloured clap board houses and fishing boats set like insects in aspic at the head of a stunningly beautiful fjord, Bergen is a city with its feet wet. Like Venice, the city is very much a ‘bride of the sea’.
Fleets of stout, stocky fishing boats in a hundred rainbow hues discharge their daily catch into the market square, right in the middle of town. Sea food does not come any fresher, or easier to pick up for the locals. Along that same quay stands the shambling, fascinating complex of the Bryggen, an avenue of preserved, thirteenth century former merchant houses, now skilfully converted into an amazing, if somewhat quirky shopping arcade.
Here, you can pick up anything from a Rolex watch to a reindeer blanket, all at suitably stratospheric prices. Just outside, a swathe of bars, cafes and restaurants spill out across cobbled streets washed by brilliant summer sunshine and, just as often, driving rain. If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will usually change.
Bergen is a city that can trace its roots back to the ancient Hanseatic League in the thirteenth century. Crouching along the waterfront is the petrified, twelfth century former banqueting hall of King Haakon; a squat, stony gray throw back to Norway’s feudal era.
Elsewhere, you’ll find a surprising amount of elegant, immaculate Art Nouveau houses and shops lining a series of brightly coloured thoroughfares. In places, this stout, typical Norse city is surprisingly evocative of Paris, complete with squadrons of wheeling, screeching seabirds that descend on the harbour like squadrons of dive bombers.
But Bergen is also a city blessed with great natural beauty; garlanded with gorgeous flowers, parks, and elegant, sometimes quite sombre statuary. Clean, vibrant and brimming with life, Bergen is never, ever dull.
Best view? No question on this one. Take the fun, local funicular railway ride up to the top of Mount Floyen, for a spectacular view out across the magnificent sweep of the city, the fjord, and the wide open sea beyond that. It’s an exhilarating panoramic feast for the senses; one not easily forgotten.
The harbour itself is full of bustling ferries, yachts and fishing vessels at any hour of the day or night. During the summer months, flotillas of cruise ships nudge in and out of the harbour practically every day.
Of course, the city is not a cheap date. But Bergen is fascinating and compelling by turn, and even just a few hours spent exploring its cobbled streets, or simply window shopping along the many market stalls on the bustling quayside, represents a really valuable return for the effort.
Or you can simply do the ‘virtual’ tour, and browse through the selection of photographs below. These were taken in August 2012, on an incredibly warm and beautiful summer day in what is Norway’s ultimate summer time city.
This is Bergen in bloom- enjoy.