Story and Photos by Carol Canter.
Bergen was bathed in sunshine, turning our late afternoon arrival in Norway’s second city into a Kodak moment. Painted wooden facades of historic quayside buildings glowed red, gold and brown against the surrounding green mountains, while Bergen’s busy harbor sparkled, buzzing with activity. Outdoor cafes overflowed with people enjoying the warm summer late August day. Fishmongers at the market offered samples of succulent smoked salmon, while produce vendors displayed baskets of plump red raspberries bursting with sweetness. With its enviable natural setting, Bergen draws visitors to explore its seven mountains, fabulous fjords and a coastline dotted with thousands of islands.
Gateway to the Fjords of Norway, Bergen is the starting point for day trips to the nearby Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, or to the Queen of the Norwegian fjords, the Hardangerfjord. Bergen is the turnaround point for Hurtigruten, the Norwegian cruise line which offers a leisurely experience of the scenic waterways National Geographic calls “the world’s most unspoiled tourist destination,” and many travelers put Bergen and those waterways at the top of their bucket list.
Still one of Northern Europe’s busiest harbors, Bergen was a major European trading and seafaring port dating from the Middle Ages. In 1360 the German Hanseatic League set up one of its import/export offices in Bryggen, Bergen’s original wharf area, and proceeded to dominate trade for the next four hundred years. Although the original wooden buildings were destroyed by fire over the next few centuries, Bryggen, which means “wharf,” was rebuilt on the original 12th century foundations. The quarter’s picturesque buildings, colorful and leaning slightly, have become the visual symbol of Bergen and the natural starting point for a walk through this UNESCO World Heritage site.
This summer visitors can emerge from Bryggen’s medieval alleyways and overhanging galleries to catch superstars like Bruno Mars perform July 3, the Prophets of Rage July 4 at Bergenhus Fortress, and David Crosby & Friends August 30 at Grieghallen.
Summer concerts May through September are offered at the lovely Edvard Grieg Museum at Troldhaugen (hill of the trolls). Grieg’s home, garden hut and lakeside grave offer a glimpse into the life of Norway’s great composer, who presented Norwegian music on the European stage for the first time in the early 1900s. On view is the Hardanger fiddle, Norway’s national instrument, made by farmers in the 1670s and used today by rock bands like the Valkyrien Allstars. In the center of town, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra performs at a modern venue named for the composer: Grieg Hall.
As Grieg is to Norwegian music, so Edvard Munch is to Norwegian art – both have translated their creative output to an international arena. Munch is forever linked to “The Scream,” his series of expressionist paintings of a central figure whose intense anguish is echoed against a swirling sunset background. KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes exhibit the second largest collection of Munch paintings in the world outside of Oslo.
Bergen’s pedestrian-friendly compact center offers easy access to its many attractions. History, heritage and culture coexist side by side with trendy shops like Moods of Norway, waterfront cafes and bars. There are harbor tours by boat, ferries to the Aquarium, and a funicular a block from the Fish Market that ascends to a network of walking paths and panoramic vistas atop Mount Floyen.
Stop at The Tourist Information Center to buy The Bergen Card for free and discounted admission to museums, attractions and guided tours. It’s sold at the Bergen Exchange’s Fresco Hall, where murals painted in the 1920s by Axel Revold are recognized as a national treasure.