Founded in AD 1070, Bergen, Norway, 190 mi/305 km northwest of Oslo, is the country's second largest—and one of its most attractive—cities. Bergen is a popular cruise ship destination that attracts visitors year-round, and it requires a three-night stay to see everything.
During the Middle Ages, Bergen was the seat of kings, as well as one of the departure points for Vikings who roamed the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. Even after Oslo emerged as Norway's capital, Bergen remained an important port city and a European cultural city.
Start your visit by touring the Bryggen area, set along the inner harbor in the medieval section of town. There are some interesting shops in a handsome row of 18th-century wooden warehouses.
Also on view are Mariakirke, a 12th-century church, and the Bryggens Museum, with fascinating archaeological displays of medieval life in the city; the surprisingly uplifting Leprosy Museum housed in a re-created 17th-century leprosy hospital; and the Hanseatic Museum and Schotstuene, an old house restored to show the conditions in which the Hanseatic League merchants lived and worked.
Music lovers will want to look for the Edvard Grieg statue in City Park, and history buffs can tour the 13th-century Bergenhus Fortress containing Haakonshallen, a ceremonial hall built in 1261, and the 16th-century Rosenkrantz Tower and dungeon). You may want to spend some time just walking around Old Bergen, a collection of 35 wooden buildings that show the city as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. Or consider spending some time at the Fish Market—it is always lively and is a good place to see what everyday life is like in Bergen. (The market is closed on Sunday.)
Floyen, one of the seven mountains surrounding the city, has a funicular ride with a spectacular view. At the top of the ride is a national park with excellent hiking trails.
Just outside of Bergen in the town of Hop is Troldhaugen, the home of Edvard Grieg, which contains his mementos and original furnishings. His grave is not far away, on a jagged cliff overlooking the sea. The nearby Fantoft Stave Church is actually a modern replica of the medieval original, which was burned to the ground in 1992 by a Norwegian satanist. It's still impressive, but lacks the somber darkness of other authentic churches scattered across the fjord country.
A good investment for an independent traveler is a "Bergen Card," which can be purchased at tourist information centers. It allows for free transportation on city buses and free or discounted admission to most of Bergen's attractions.
Despite its size, Bergen boasts a bustling nightlife scene, with everything from wine bars and microbreweries to lively clubs. The cost of alcohol is high in Norway, so locals typically gather to drink at a friend's house before heading out around 10 or 11 pm.
As an important coastal city with a centuries-long tradition as a fish-trading hub, it is no surprise that seafood is popular, from sampling a range of fish dishes at a Norwegian tapas eatery, to choosing your own fresh ingredients at the famous fish market. Try the much-loved local Bergen fish soup in one of the many excellent seafood restaurants.
Another local delicacy to look out for is lamb. Norwegians claim to have some of the best lamb in the world. The animals graze freely in the mountain areas throughout the summer, and this diet is said to give the meat its unique taste.
If you have a sweet tooth, the local treat is the skillingsbolle, a delicious cinnamon bun coated with sugar, which can be picked up fresh from the oven in the many bakeries around town.
Because prices are high, locals dine out infrequently and more often eat at home with their families. When they do dine out, most Norwegians prefer to eat in the early evening, but most restaurants are open for dinner until at least 10 or 11 pm.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, including tax and service charge but not including drinks: $ = less than 200 NKr; $$ = 201 NKr-350 NKr; $$$ = 351 NKr-500 NKr; and $$$$ = more than 500 NKr
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