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Bergen, Norway

We always arrive at least a day early for a cruise, but when our Viking Ocean Cruise began in Bergen, Norway, we knew we would want more. This charming World Heritage City offers so much in the way of spectacular scenery, culture, food and city life that we spent four days there before boarding the ship. 

Today Bergen is a hub for seeing the spectacular fjorder (fjords), fjellet (mountains) and fosser (waterfalls) for which Norway is renowned. With its rich history and heritage, mouth-watering traditional and innovative cuisine, scenic boat, coach and train rides, urban mountaineering and world-class treks to breathtaking natural wonders, there is something for all interests and fitness levels.

Historic Bergen

Bergen is known for its picture-perfect row of brightly painted medieval wooden houses along Bryggen, the historic harbor area. These former commercial buildings for the Hanseatic League now house delightful restaurants, museums and shops. 

The Hanseatic League

King Håkon Håkonsson, who ruled 1217-1263, granted Bergen a lucrative monopoly on Norway’s principal export, dried cod (stockfish) from northern Norway.  That attracted the wealthy and powerful Hansa, the medieval guild of German merchants that dominated trade in the Baltic region.

Bergen was more than just another Hanseatic town. It was one of their offices (kontors) and the only one that has been preserved. Though damaged by fire over the ages, it has been rebuilt according to the original plans and methods.

Royal  Bergen

Bergen was Norway’s capital and the site of royal coronations until 1299, when that was moved to Oslo. The royal family has an official residence here, the medieval-style Gamlehaugen mansion, which is surrounded by an English garden that is open to public. In summer the ground floor state rooms may be toured. 

Musical Bergen

Gamlehaugen is just outside the city, near Troldhaugen, the Swiss-style villa of Edvard Grieg, Norway’s greatest composer. Grieg, who was born in Bergen,  lived and worked here every summer from 1885 until his death in 1907. The villa, Edvard Grieg Museum, the composer’s hut, gravesite and Troldsalen concert hall are open to the public. 

Classical concerts are held at Troldhaugen throughout the year. The annual 15 day Bergen International Festival’s music and cultural events are held here and in other major venues throughout the city.  

Bergen-born violinist and composer Ole Bull encouraged Grieg to make his classical music distinctive by incorporating elements of traditional Norwegian folk music. Apparently he was right.

Edvard Grieg also became the artistic director of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, one of oldest symphony orchestras in the world. Grieg Academy is an an advanced music school and Bergen’s largest concert hall is named Grieghallen. Autographed music scores, photographs, letters, diaries and photographs may be viewed at the Grieg Archives in the Bergen Public Library.

Accommodations: Opus XVI

To immerse ourselves in the essence of Bergen, past and present, we booked a small and unique hotel in the heart of the city. Opus XVI is owned by Britt and Alexander Grieg, relatives of Edvard Grieg, and named for Grieg’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minor, Opus 16. He wrote it during one of his happiest periods, the summer when he was 25, newly married and had just celebrated the birth of daughter Alexandra. 

Chic contemporary Scandinavian furnishings complement the marble columns and granite walls of this elegant former bank building that is now part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group. Edvard Grieg’s life musical heritage are depicted in exhibits in the foyer and library. Suites are named for his sisters and for Peer Gynt, honoring his collaboration and friendship with Henrik Ibsen. Summer lunch concerts feature Grieg’s works. 

Each morning we looked forward to relaxing with the Norwegian breakfast buffet of seafood, meats, cheeses, fruits, pastries and more that complemented the à la carte menu and is included in the room rate. Lunch and dinner are available and based on the season’s locally sourced fish, shellfish, and produce.

Opus XVI is right by Bergen’s famous Fish Market and Strandgaten shopping street. It overlooks the funicular railway to Mount Fløyen and neighborhood coffee shops and cafés. The Tourist Information, Bryggen and the other major attractions are close by. We spent much of our time in Bergen leisurely strolling the cozy historic area, touring museums and browsing the shops.

We had arrived by train from Oslo, and the station was just over a quarter mile away. When it was time to leave, we could see the docked Viking Jupiter just beyond Bryggen but took a taxi since we had luggage.

Bergen is also the birthplace of Scandinavia’s first comedic playwright, Ludvig Holberg. His statue is just outside Opus XVI on Vågsallmenningen plaza. Inspired by the Seven Hills of Rome, Holberg is said to have named Bergen “The City Between Seven Mountains.” People continue to disagree about the seven he intended. Could it be one of his pranks? 

Fjords, mountains and waterfalls

Back to the extraordinary scenery, there are two iconic and exceptional adventures. You have probably seen photos of someone balancing on the edge of a rock called Trolltunga (Troll’s tongue) that juts out over 2000’ and 3600’ above a fjord. It is about a 3 hours by car from Bergen to the trailhead then a strenuous 10-12 hour round trip hike that ascends over 3,000’.

A Norway in a Nutshell kind of tour is more to our liking.  This combination of the train or cruise to Flåm, then the world-renowned Flåm Railway, followed by a coach trip along the steepest slopes of the fjord’s mountain roads offers some of the most beautiful vistas in the world.

The Viking Jupiter was cruising to Flåm and offering similar excursions, so we saved this adventure for when we were onboard.

The Fjord tour

We took a shorter cruise into the Norwegian scenery with a 3 hour Rødne Fjord Cruise.  It leaves from the Fish Market area and winds along the narrow Mostraumen fjord, revealing a new vista at every turn, getting close enough to a waterfall to feel the mist.

We passed little coves with fishing shacks and boats, oil refineries, tanks and tankers that are part of Norway’s booming oil and gas industry, and a textile mill complex from 1859 that now houses the Norwegian Knitting Industry Museum.

Bergen is known for its fishing and maritime businesses. Major seafood companies are headquartered here and the area has some of the best marine institutes, research and development resources in Europe. We decided to learn more about that in a most enjoyable way.

We also took the half-day tour on the Bergen-Balestrand-Leikanger-Flåm express boat. Dress warmly if, like us, you want to enjoy the view from the windy open top deck or simply relax in the comfortable chairs in the saloon.

We disembarked at Skjerjehamn, glad we listened to the announcement that this was a quick stop and were ready to disembark. This beautiful little island is on the entrance to Sognefjord, known as the King of the Fjords since it is the largest and deepest in Norway. 

Once a seafood trading post and hub for Western Norway’s shipping traffic, Skjerjehamn is now a great place to relax and enjoy good food, nature and art. In summer you can take a speed boat to the fish farm or attend a music festival. The property is now owned by Firda Seafood Group, a local salmon and trout producer.

We were served complementary coffee and a warm waffle with jam before our self-guided tour of the area. A conference group staying at the hotel and guest house were sharing stories in the hot tub. Some ran and shrieked as they plunged into the frigid sea before heading inside for dinner and a musical performance. 

The enormous Statue of King Olav V that welcomes guests to the island was commissioned to be in front of Oslo’s City Hall but rejected. Photos in the island’s Louvre-style glass mini-pyramid show Ola Braanaas, the new owner of Skerjehamn, meeting in Italy with the artist, Knut Steen, to arrange to bring it here.

Our walk took us to the Blue Garden to learn about the role of modern aquaculture in feeding a growing world population and to buildings with information on how salmon is farmed Norwegian-style, with sustainability in mind. 

Then it was time to taste the bounty. If you go, be sure to try the seafood chowder, the best we have ever tasted. Pair it with some Konge beer, brewed right on the island.

Look for the exhibit area out back and don’t miss the latest displays in the art gallery on the second floor. You’ll also want to bring back some smoked salmon and other snacks. 

More Dining in Bergen

Bergen has been named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. We found a gem, To Kokker,  in the historic area when we followed a little sign beneath a wooden unicorn and entered a passageway between former Hanseatic warehouses. We climbed old wooden stairs to dine amid antique furnishings on selections that include elk carpaccio, steamed halibut and local fillet of red deer. Top it off with a unique ice cream made of brown cheese. 

For another unique experience, try the Altona Wine Bar & Kitchen in 400-year-old property in the Augustin Hotel. The 3-course special with King Crab paté, reindeer, and a chocolat delice is a treat. Doors to the various “caves,” we were told, were built small to keep the trolls out.

For a splurge, try the sister property, Bare Restaurant & Bar in the Bergen Børs Hotel. Or experience the fixed menu laced with Norwegian traditions, paired with wine, at Restaurant 1877, in the meat bazaar, Kjøttbaseren which opened in 1877.

Want to visit Bergen? A few tips

Dress in layers. It rains frequently and weather can be changeable. You can easily  experience all four seasons in a day.

Get a Bergen Card for free admission to most museums and attractions in the city and beyond and free bus transport. Includes free travel on the 45 minute ride light rail to and from the airport. It is available for 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours at the airport and Bergen’s Tourist Information.

Contact the Bergen Tourist  Board at VisitBergen.com for more information. 


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