Encircled by mountains, islands and fjords, Bergen, Norway’s scenic second city, is home to a thriving port and cutting-edge cultural centre and is a seafood-lover’s paradise
Nestled in the cradle of seven mountains, Bergen seems to be perched on nature’s knee. Ribbons of water streak through its centre, chunky fjords carve shapes into the interior and a spectacular huddle of islands guards the city to the north, south and west.
Founded in 1070, Bergen was once the largest and most important town in medieval Norway and a regular stop-off for royalty. The fishing industry, controlled by Frisian and German merchants, was the backbone of the economy before they were ousted and the Norwegians took over in 1536. Now the atmospheric old warehouse quarter is a relic of days when the city was the northernmost port of the Hanseatic trade alliance. Fishing is still a big deal in Bergen and marine life can be seen on slabs, in tanks, under the knife and, best of all, on your plate.
In summer, locals and tourists take to the sea, while hikers tackle the green mountains. And all the while the midnight sun shines down on café-lined pavements, parks, art galleries and the little crayon-coloured timber-framed houses.
What to do
Get up early and watch the first wave of fresh fish being hauled in for the Fisketorget, Bergen’s historic fish market. Select your picnic ingredients, choosing from dressed crab, prawn rolls, pickled herring and salmon caviar. Saunter around the pretty harbour past yachts that lie glinting in the sun.
Further along you’ll come to the time-warp streets of Bryggen, where the pretty timber-framed buildings mark the site of the original settlement. Stroll a bit further to the 900-year-old Mariakirken, flanked by square twin towers and one of the most outstanding Romanesque churches in Norway, then walk out to the fortress that guards the harbour.
Swing back and take the little Fløibanen train up Mount Floyen to appreciate the awesome scenery. Pack a picnic and follow the trail to lake Skomakerdiket, then return to the city centre and head for lake Lille Lungegaardsvann. Along its edge runs the art street Rasmus Meyers Alle, where you’ll find the Bergen Kunsthall (www.kunsthall.no), housing cutting-edge Norwegian art. Nearby, the Bergen Musuem of Art (www.bergenartmuseum.no) includes a selection of Edvard Munch’s work. Finish the day with a boat trip to the western fjords (www.whitelady.no).
Where to stay
Tucked inside two handsome 19th-century townhouses on the edge of town is the boutique Hotel Park Pension on Harald Hårfagresgate. A family-run affair, the bedrooms are decorated in warm hues, littered with antiques and have vintage leather seats. Situated near the harbour on Valkendorfsgate, Hotel Neptun has a lobby full of eye-catching modern art, and big, tasty breakfasts. Over on the opposite side of the harbour in Bryggen is the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel. Its traditional Norwegian exterior conceals a glamorous interior that comes complete with a sauna, spa and gourmet restaurant.
Where to eat and drink
For glorious fish, head for Bryggen Tracteursted (00 47 5531 4046; Bryggestredet). Dine on fantastically fresh seafood cooked in traditional Bergen and Hanseatic styles in little wooden rooms that were once an assembly room, firehouse, stable and hayloft. A few doors down you’ll find Bryggeloftet and Stuene (00 47 5530 2070; www.bryggeloftet.no). Dating from 1910 the atmospheric restaurant’s speciality is saltkjøtt with raspeballer (salted meat with potato dumplings).
On the waterfront Enhjørningen (00 47 5532 7919; www.enhjorningen.no), is one of Norway’s most famous seafood eateries. The floorboards creak, the beams are original and oil paintings hang from the walls. The cuisine is, however, modern - try the herb-fried angler fish with morel sauce.
For utter decadence head to Kafé Krystall (00 47 5532 1084; Kong Oscarsgate 16), with its five candlelit tables and friendly staff. The six-course taster menu is heart-stoppingly good, from the creamy rich fish soup with lobster ravioli to the duck breast with Gorgonzola polenta and foie gras.
Time running out?
Take a trip to the Victorian lakeside home of Edvard Grieg (www.troldhaugen.no; Troldhaugveien 65), Norway’s most famous composer. The site is home to a museum, Grieg’s villa (where he composed his music) and Troldsalen, a concert hall that hosts a number of performances throughout the year.
Buy a Bergen Card at the tourist office on Vagsallmenningen for free or discounted entry to a number of galleries and museums.
Currency is the Norwegian kroner. Bergen is one hour ahead of GMT and a one-hour 55-minute flight from London.
Both Norwegian Airlines (020 8099 7254; www.norwegian.no) and Scandinavian Airlines (0871 521 2772; www.flysas.com) fly direct from Gatwick to Bergen, or via Oslo.
Bergen Tourist Board: 00 47 5555 2010; www.visitbergen.com.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.