The ancient Norwegian city of Bergen enjoys a picturesque setting between mountains and sea. It was founded in the late 11th century on the site of what was originally a Viking settlement. For many centuries, Bergen was Norway’s capital, a flourishing maritime trade center and a primary trading post for the powerful Hanseatic League.
The Hanseatic League, also known as Hansa, was a European trading confederation in the Baltic. Established in the 13th century, this network of alliances was established to protect the interests of prominent merchants against rival traders and interfering rulers. Despite the limits of medieval communication, the Hanseatic League built strong bonds among the merchant communities that protected their mutual interests.
Today, Bergen remains a flourishing maritime city and a popular destination rich in history and culture. As the “gateway to the fjords,” Bergen is one of the most visited cities in Northern Europe and was honored as a European City of Culture in 2000.
Bergen Sights and Landmarks
Bergen’s Bryggen wharf historic harbor district is lined with bright multicolored buildings facing the medieval Hanseatic wharf. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it carries echoes of the city’s busy days as a trading port. The area has been ravaged by fires numerous times, lovingly rebuilt time and again to its original appearance. A walk through the cozy, atmospheric alleyways can feel like a trip back in time. It’s easy to lose yourself exploring the rich history here, browsing shops and pausing in restaurants for a snack along the way.
The majestic Hardangerfjord, located near Bergen, is best known for the stunning Vøringsfossen Waterfall, blossoming fruit trees, and the 78-square-mile Folgefonna Glacier, the third largest on Norway’s mainland. Travelers can take a cruise through the enchanting fjord, ski and hike across the glacier and sample the famous local juices and ciders.
Just outside Bergen, the home of Norway’s legendary composer Edvard Grieg has been converted to a museum dedicated to his career. Grieg lived in this garden house, known as Troldhaugen, for 22 years and composed many of his most beloved works here. The house’s 1907 interior has been preserved, and is now filled with mementos from Grieg’s life.
Another brilliant musician and Norwegian hero lives on Lysøen Island, accessible by ferry. Ole Bull teased the strings of his violin in the 19th century, composing and playing some of Norway’s most beloved music as a wave of nationalism swept the young nation. His villa, with its grand front staircase and onion-domed tower, is a sight to behold.
Grieg Hall, or Grieghallen, is the home of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the oldest orchestral institutions in the world. Dating back to 1765, the Philharmonic was under the artistic direction of Edvard Grieg from 1880 to 1882. More recently, it hosted the 1986 European Song Contest. Today, Grieg Hall is the best place to enjoy concerts in Bergen.
Bergen Entertainment and Activities
The Hanseatic Museum, located in the colorful Bryggen wharf district, provides a fascinating glimpse of medieval life in the days of the Hanseatic League, the merchant powerhouse that controlled trade throughout Northern Europe. The museum is located in a building owned by a local merchant in the late 19th century and features a re-creation of a trading room, complete with the merchant’s office, sleeping quarters for sailors and a guest room.
Bergen Fortress, once the royal residence, is one of the oldest and most finely preserved castles in Norway. Within its walls, many buildings date back to the 1240s. One excavation has revealed structures from 1100, remnants of the Viking Age. The spectacular 13th-century Håkon’s Hall is the largest surviving medieval secular building in Norway. Today’s royal family lives in the city’s southern suburbs, at Gamlehaugen.
Two nearby mountains provide an outdoor playground for many Bergen locals. Ascend Mount Fløyen by funicular for sweeping views from almost 1,000 feet above sea level. A series of walking trails threads its way along the mountain’s forested slopes. Avid hikers can descend back down to Bergen via the Tippetue Path. Farther from the city center, past the suburb of Kalfaret, a cable car rises to the summit of Mt. Ulriken, the highest of Bergen’s “Seven Mountains.” At the top, spectacular views are made sweeter still by the café that serves the “Ulriken Bun,” a cinnamon pastry that’s a favorite of the locals.
The Fantoft Stave Church in the borough of Fana is also uplifting—for its beauty and its rich history. This original wooden church was threatened by demolition when it resided in the town of Fortun. It was moved here to preserve it as a stunning example of ecclesiastic architecture, the likes of which is no longer built.