From fun funiculars to funky street art, and a flirtation with witchcraft, here’s what to see in Bergen in 1 day.
The topic of the weather was on everyone’s lips. In the words of Wesley, the cruise ship’s captain, it was “something of a miracle”. Bergen was three weeks into a heatwave, a new May record set the previous day with the mercury hitting 31 degrees. And this was in one of the wettest cities in Europe which averages 240 rainy days each year. The extreme heat had forced the suspension of its light rail system as sparks from the track had triggered fires in the tinder-dry forests lining the railway tracks. So it was out with the waterproof and on with the shorts!
Formerly the capital of Norway, Bergen is beautifully situated on a promontory, surrounded by seven hills. The self-proclaimed Gateway to the Western Fjords, it is also an attractive and enjoyable city in its own right. Read on for my pick of what to see in Bergen in 1 day.
1. Ride the Floibanen funicular
For panoramic views over Bergen and awesome nature trails
Celebrating its centenary this year, the Floibanen funicular whisks you to the summit of Mount Floyen, 320 meters above sea level. Treat yourself to panoramic views over Bergen and explore the abundance of clearly marked nature trails. But watch out for the witches!
Although the exact number is not known, it is believed that from 1560 until around 1700 there were up to 1400 witch trials in Norway. Favoured methods of torture and execution included the rack, boiling sulphur and burning. Around this time, 350 witches were burnt in Bergen alone. But more about this later.
Before moving away from the summit, make sure that you say ‘hallo’ to the goats. Mount Floyen is home to nine Kashmir goats born in 2011. Elvis was particularly becoming.
Next, take the 1.6km loop to Skomakerdiket, with its crystal-clear lake.
After doing a circuit of this lake, wind your way through forest trails, to the sountrack of birdsong filling the air, before descending a series of steps to the Bryggen neighbourhood and the funicular’s terminus.
- Get there early, especially when there is a cruise ship in town. When I got there at 8.15 am there was only a short queue. By the time I got back at 11 am it was around 100 people deep.
- A one way ticket costs NOK 50 (£5). A return ticket is NOK 95. The funicular runs every 15 minutes. You can also purchase tickets on-line.
- If you are walking down, allow at least two hours for your visit.
- Grab a coffee afterwards at the delightful Det Lille Kaffe Kompaniet at Nedre Fjellsmauet 2
2. Explore historic Bryggen
For a picture-perfect ensemble of stone and timber buildings.
Bryggen, with its closely-packed, brightly painted wooden buildings sitting alongside stone warehouses, is the historic trading centre of Bergen. In the 14th Century, the city became one of the parts of the German Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northwestern Europe. The Hansa merchants reigned supreme for 200 years and, as a result, Bryggen and Bergen flourished. Although Hansa power had evaporated by the 1550s, the last merchant did not leave Bergen until 1764.
A devastating fire in 1702 laid waste to many of Bryggen’s medieval buildings, and the replacement wooden warehouses were subsequently demolished to make way for the brick and stone buildings we see today. However, these buildings are sympathetic to the Hansa period style and many of the 18th Century timber buildings have survived.
- Bryggen stretches down the eastern side pf the harbour and finished at Torget, Bergen’s main square.
3. Target the Torget
For something a bit fishy.
Although fish is the main order of the day in the market at Bergen’s Torget, it also sells fruit, vegetable and souvenirs. It is a great place to grab fish and seafood such at a not too outrageous price.
- The fish market is open daily in the summer months from 8 am until 11pm (Sunday 11 am – 9 pm).
- It is at its liveliest in the mornings.
4. Check out the street art along Kong Oscars Gate
For a funkier side to Bergen.
Heading east from the Torget, Kong Oscars Gate is a particularly unlovely main thoroughfare. However, it is home to the Domkirke, Bergen’s cathedral and an eclectic collection of street art.
- Also head up Kong Oscars Gate’s side streets to seek out urban art
- The Domkirke was undergoing extensive restoration during my visit in June 2018
5. Visit the Leprosy Museum
To discover the story of Norway’s fight against leprosy.
On the face of it, an unlikely tourist destination, but the Leprosy Museum is a worthy addition to your list of things to see in Bergen. Between 1850 and 1900, Bergen had the largest concentration of patients with leprosy in Europe. The museum is housed in St Jorgen’s Hospital, which specialised in the care of lepers until it shut its doors in 1946. The patients’ living quarters have been left as they were, and you can also view their paintings and life stores. A moving memorial to this group of people marginalised by society.
- The Leprosy Museum is open daily from 11 am – 3 pm. Admission fee is NOK 90 (£9).
- Display information is mainly in Norwegian, but the helpful staff will give you English translation booklets. Guided tours are also available for an extra NOK 20 (£2).
6. Visit the Bergenhus Festning Museum
To discover the story behind the resistance in Bergen during World War II.
This friendly and free museum at the entrance to the harbour is dedicated to the resistance movement, both civilian and military, during the Second World War. Make your way to the first floor where the history of the resistance is explored through well-composed displays, including those of photos, weapons and espionage equipment.
The resistance was particularly strong in Bergen and the German occupation forces fought against it with all of their might. This included torturing the city’s citizens before execution or dispatch to concentration camps. Despite this, the movement continued to grow in strength, a testament to the fortitude of Bergen’s people.
- Admission is free! Water, tea and coffee also available there free of charge.
- The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm.
7. Visit Bergen City Museum at the Rosenkrantz Tower
For a spot of medieval splendour.
Near the Bergen’s Festning Museum, the Rosenkrantz Tower is one of the best preserved fortresses in Norway. But perhaps more compelling is the adjacent Hakonshallen (King Hakon’s Hall), a medieval royal residence and feasting hall.
But the attractions of Ye Olde Medieval Times notwithstanding, my main reason for visiting was to catch the exhibition on Anne Pedersdatter, Norway’s most famous witch. Born in the northern city of Trondheim, Anne moved to Bergen in 1552 when she married a Lutheran clergyman living in the city. In 1575 she was cleared of charges of killing her husband’s uncle through sorcery through her his connections. However rumours of her being a witch persisted, and she didn’t do herself any favours by her hostile reaction to these rumours. Now a rich widow, in 1590 she was accused for a second time. This time the outcome was not so good for her and she was burnt at the stake in Bergen in April 1590. Her case is considered to be the starting point of Norway’s witch trials.
- Entrance fee is NOK 80 (£8).
- At the time of my visit (June 2018), the tower was undergoing restoration and was clad in scaffolding.
- Opening times for Hakonshallen are limited, Check its website.
How I did it
- I visited Bergen as part of a 7-day cruise from Southampton, England on P&O Britannia. This cost £1300 for sole occupancy of a balcony cabin.
- There are good air, train and ferry links to Bergen.
Have you visited Bergen? Can you share some other things to do?