How to spend a day in Bergen, Norway
We spent a day in Bergen at the end of our Viking Homelands cruise with Viking Oceans. We had taken a short walking tour with Viking the previous day which gave us overview information and our bearings so we knew what we wanted to do with our full day.
When you see these colorful, iconic buildings along the harbor they may make your brain light up and say “Bergen” . You’re looking at Bryggen in Bergen. Huh? Bryggen is basically a subset of Bergen; it’s the old wharf section of the city and dates back to the 1300s.
The buildings of Bryggen are made of timber and have experienced many fires, most recently in 1955. Sections of a few of the original structures remain and others have been carefully rebuilt using materials and techniques from when they were first created. This is why the 62 buildings that comprise the area are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There’s an interesting UNESCO visitor center that is worth checking out if you don’t get captured by the souvenir and sweater selling shops nearby.
The Hanseatic Museum
We had been in 6 other Baltic countries on our way to Bergen and everywhere we went we heard about the Hanseatic League so we decided to learn something about it. There’s an admission fee for the Hanseatic Museum but if you time your visit right (we had dumb luck) you can get a very interesting included tour in English.
At the end of the tour you probably won’t want to complain about your life for a while.
The Hanseatic League was comprised of German merchants who came to Bergen around 1259 and soon after set up their local office. They had strict rules and used boys starting as young as 12 as apprentices who worked, under very harsh conditions, to pass exams and gain admittance to the League.
The League traded in (horrid looking) dried cod called “stockfish”, cod liver oil, fabrics, furs, grains and salt. Because they extended credit to their suppliers they were able to get favorable trading terms and were more successful than their competitors from other countries.
They chose boys from poor families as they thought they wouldn’t be “soft” and would be willing to work for one of the few ways they could achieve upper mobility. The boys did hard physical work, learned to read and to do accounts. In exchange, they were treated horribly.
They slept in a tiny bunk bed with a door closed from the outside and with two boys in one bunk sleeping sitting up. Because they couldn’t open, from the inside, the door to their bunk they were expected to learn not to drink more beer than could survive in their bladder overnight. In case of an accident the younger boys in the lower bunk got some used beer in their bed compartment. (Everyone drank a mild ale as the water was undrinkable or at least that was their story and they stuck to it).
Boys who weren’t considered to be working hard enough were whipped with a thick rope with nails in the end of it. The boys also had to take part in “games”. One game involved them being thrown in the freezing sea (it’s safe to assume they didn’t have life preservers). Another had them hung by their heels over burning materials from a shoemaking shop while they had to answer test questions. So if you know a kid who thinks a pop quiz is the height of academic cruelty you might want to send him to summer camp at the Hanseatic League.
The tour and seeing the stockhouses, sleeping and office quarters is a fascinating use of about an hour and a half.
The fish market
The fish market is across the street from the Hanseatic League Museum. Trust us that you won’t want to order dried cod but you can see, sample and buy all kinds of beautiful fresh fish and other seafood. The “royal crabs” are worth marveling at for their sheer size.
If you’re more in the mood for meat, then line up and get yourself an elf, moose or reindeer burger. There are food stands, merchants selling fruits and vegetables and lots who are selling dried meats. It’s fun just to spend a little time wandering around the market.
On the other hand, if you want some ice cream (that does not include any ingredients from appealing mammals) join the crowd at Hennig-Olsen which is right along the waterfront at the fish market. We didn’t try it but they always had a line so they must be doing something right.
For dinner in this area we enjoyed Zupperia Torget. They had a good menu (loved the curry with chicken), helpful staff, decent wine by the glass and reasonable prices for eating in the heart of the tourist district.
The Fløibanen funicular
If the skies are clear (nothing to assume in Bergen) be sure to take the funicular to Fløyen. (Walk up the street between the regrettable Starbucks and McDonald’s and turn right when the street ends and you’ll see the ticket office.) There’s a charge of roughly $10 USD to do a roundtrip on the funicular. If you want to walk back down the hill we were told it will take you about 40 minutes.
Lines can get long for the funicular but we lucked out again and were able to get right on it on a Sunday morning around 11:00 a.m. The trip uphill takes from 5 to 8 minutes and you emerge at a large viewing area. We were surprised by how large and picturesque Bergen is when you look at it from about 1,000 feet above sea level.
There is a cafe and a restaurant and either is nice for having a pastry and a coffee and enjoying the view. The funicular runs daily all year round from early morning to late evening. We were told that it’s spectacular to go up at sunset but we had trust issues with the sky staying clear that long.
If you come down the funicular then realize that you wish you’d taken the time to eat something check out Ruccola Cafe. It’s on the main drag as you walk back into town. We thought it was charming and both had the spaghetti pesto which was such a large portion we should have split one order.
The Kode Museum complex
True confessions – we ran out of time and didn’t make it here but it gets rave reviews and is a short walk from the fish market. The Kode Museum consists of four buildings. You can see lots and lots of Edvard Munch, some Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and others. Another part of the complex is the West Norway Museum of Decorative Art but it’s closed for renovations and may open in early 2017. There is also a children’s museum where the little devils are free (literally too – no admission fee if you’re under 16) to experiment and play with art.
Everything on this list of activities is within a half hour’s walk even at a fairly leisurely pace.
If you get to Bergen we hope you enjoy it as much as we did and we sincerely hope you resist any efforts to play games with anyone from the Hanseatic League; even Jennifer Lawrence won’t be able to save you.