The first time I stepped foot on Norwegian soil was in this little tiny city at the gateway to some of the world’s most beautiful fjords; it happened to be Norwegian Independence Day, so the streets were chockablock full of young folk dressed up to the nines in all manner of traditional costumes, hair braided and skirts bustling. It was uncharacteristically warm, fairground rides were flashing and whirring and the smells of fish, cinnamon and donuts all competed for airspace in the hubbub of people. It was all a bit olde worlde weird and wonderful, and perhaps ironically on this busy day of celebrating Norway in all its glory, I stumbled upon an Englishman from Cornwall selling pasties out of a van (called Pastyworld) and decided that as much as I appreciated Bergen and being in a new country, I was feeling rather homesick and a pasty was a perfect solution.
Moving swiftly on from the inclusion of a Cornish pasty in a post about Bergen, I spent approximately three and a half months visiting Norway’s second city on a regular basis, and although it’s on the small side managed to find a selection of hotspots to keep me entertained during that time.
Check out the fish market
Being a port city, the fish market has been around since the 1200s, though luckily the fish itself is a lot fresher than that, praise the Lord. Open daily, the nice thing about this place is that as well as the stalls selling seafood, fruit and other food, you can also watch how they prepare everything being sold as street food. Held outdoors next to the wharf but with conveniently covered seating areas to hang out in whilst tucking into your desired meal, the atmosphere has in my experience always been quite the jolly one. To be honest with you I bought far more pots of berries here than I ever did fish, but you can get your fill of shrimp sandwiches, skewered fish, salmon caviar and (on a far more controversial level) whale steaks. Also reindeer. Reindeer is a big thing round these parts, though obviously it’s not actually seafood.
If you’re not into fish, check out a cosy coffee shop instead
The majority of my time in Norway was spent either wandering around halfway up various mountains, or sat in cosy coffee shops sheltering from the rain for triple the price that I normally would at home. It’s true that Norway is expensive but as long as you come fully expecting that and just accept that that’s the way things are, then a good cosy coffee shop will serve you well, particularly in Bergen, which is widely speculated as being the rainiest city in the whole of Europe. I tested out a few in my time but one of my favourites was BarBarista, on a street behind Bryggen, mainly due to its Aladdin’s Cave style ceiling and awesome paintings on the wall. I mean, guys, check out Thor just powering forth over those mountains!? What a guy. This is also the place that me and my pal got talking to an old Norwegian chap sat in a corner who had the air of a wizened old sailor-wizard about him. One thing I will say is that I really found it a struggle to find locals in Norway who were open to having a conversation (not that I go round feeling the need to butt into everyone else’s discussions, but it’s nice to exchange a few friendly words with new people every once in a while), so when this mysterious old chap took an interest in our ship-life and proceeded to show us his newspaper complete with port schedule, we were rather overjoyed all around.
For a brilliant selection of organic food and smoothies as well as your standard coffees and waffles, Dwell is just full on AWESOME. (Particularly for the vegans or vegetarians of this world just in case that floats your boat) I was never around Bergen long enough to check out the nightlife but both of these places turn into music venues by night with cocktails and other drinks galore.
Explore the houses of Bryggen
When Bergen was born many many years ago, it’s whole existence revolved around the trade that took place at its harbour- in fact the port is still Norway’s busiest one of all. Back in the day- aka the Middle Ages- Bergen was part of the Hanseatic League, which was an alliance of several maritime merchant towns and cities in Northern Europe. These Hanseatic cities all traded with one another and eventually ended up having control over the most important trade routes throughout Europe, as well as just collectively having each other’s backs, helping to defend each other whenever the time came.
The Hanseatic merchants of the area used to use the brightly coloured wooden buildings of Bryggen to store goods and trade from, although they’ve actually been burnt down and rebuilt a whole load of times. These days the buildings are mostly used for shops and cafes, but they’re technically a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sight, and it’s pretty cool to just wander up and down the little wooden alleyways and soak in the atmosphere.
Check out the fortress
Overlooking the main entrance to the harbour, Bergenhus Fortress was built at some point in the 1200s and has been in use pretty much consistently since then, though nowadays just as an awesome old place for people to visit. For a long old time Bergen was the capital of Norway, so a whole lot of royals have graced this place with their faces, although eventually in World War II the German Navy decided to claim the fortress for their own use and set up shop there as well as building a bunker within its walls. Nowadays even if you don’t fancy a look around the fortress you can hang out amongst the roses and trees in the gardens on a sunny day or go and check out the view over the harbour. Casual. Also on a side note, this is the normal location for the Cornish pasty man’s pasty van, which it goes without saying that I’m a massive fan of.
Go for a wander
Bergen gets a tonne of visitors, most of them arriving by cruise ship and then leaving before the day is up, so sticking to the main hotspots like Bryggen and Fløyen (one of the mountains overlooking the city) can cause a strong sensation of claustrophobia if you’re that way inclined. Sometimes in life you just need to get away from the crowds, you know!? If you venture back- and not even too far back, as the city is rather on the miniature side- there are loads of very cute cobblestone lanes filled with boutiquey shops and clapboard houses in all manner of bright colours for people to discover. DEFINITELY DON’T BOTHER GETTING ON A TOURBUS. A pal and I went on one because as employees of a cruise ship we don’t get charged for a lot of tourist attractions (which I think is really nice of Norway, thanks you Norwegian people), but the city is so small that getting on a bus will in no way whatsoever mean that you cover more ground. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: use your legs instead, pals.