Norway has long been high on my travel wish list, as I have to say, is most of Scandinavia. Having only made it as far as Denmark back in late 2015/early 2016, it was high time I made it back. I can’t remember precisely what made me decide on Bergen over all of Norway, probably Pinterest, but I do remember that as soon as I saw photos of the city and mountains surrounding it- I fell in love. Thankfully, convincing my boyfriend took all of three seconds after he too saw the photos of the traditional Norwegian city, at the foot of several wild mountains. It seemed strangely like home, something which became even more true when we arrived.
Late to the party, this was our first foray into Airbnb and it was hands down the best decision we made. We instantly felt less like tourists having our own bolt-hole on the water, in a lovely, quiet part of town and well connected transport-wise, it was just the perfect base for all our adventures. We spent our first day getting our bearings in the city, and it’s a really nice size, you can definitely walk around the entirety of the city in a day, and it has a good mix of small boutiques as well as chain stores, although we didn’t end up shopping at all! There are plenty of eateries and cafes, and tonnes of kiosk sized shops selling handy food to go- and the best ice creams. A local woman pointed us in the direction of Narvisen (a chain store like a 7 Eleven) which sells huge soft serve ice cream, similar but way tastier than the Mr Whippy we have here in the UK. They also have far more toppings, we had ours rolled in cocoa dust and they were amazing to enjoy on the harbourside as we watched boats come and go. I would say ‘and the sun go down’ but in July the sun did not go down. Not til after midnight anyway, and the sun rose about 4am- it was so bright! It also made the days feel longer and we managed to do so much more in the time we had there.
On the first full day we took a boat trip from the harbour to Mostraumen via Osteroy, and I can honestly say it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was such a great trip and it really gave us a taste of the environment and the landscape for our first full day. The quintessential Norwegian cabins clung to cliffsides, boathouses laced the edge of the water and old abandoned farmhouses peeked out amongst the huge fir trees- it was so picturesque and everything I imagined it would be. The boat trip was 3 hours and even took us right up to a waterfall where we got to try fresh waterfall water! If you fancy doing the trip we did (and I highly recommend you do) then there’s a green hut outside The Flying Dutchman pub that sells the tickets and you board from there at either 10am or 2pm. My big tip would be to pack a lunch, as we did for most of our trips, as eating out is expensive and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better food! We stocked up our Airbnb with food from the supermarket and made our own pack-ups every day!
After our boat trip we headed to explore Bryggen which is the old harbour part of the city, which is the most photographed part! The buildings all date from the 1700s and I loved the cute wonky streets and weaving through the wooden tunnels and between the crooked beams- to say they didn’t own a spirit level in those times is an understatement! While it was a little early while we were there, there was an amazing Christmas shop there which was full of every kind of ornament you can imagine!
The next day we decided to do a walk I had read about on Tripadvisor a few months before- and that came highly recommended. While it wasn’t for the faint hearted, it was exactly the kind of thing we wanted to do and it really pushed us physically which we also weirdly wanted! No easy walks for us! When they said it wasn’t easy- there were literally parts where you were scrabbling up rocks and clambering on all fours, so bear that in mind if you’re planning to do it too! We took the Vidden trail which is a 13km hike between the peaks of Mount Floyen and Mount Ulriken. While that might not seem far to some, bear in mind it was all downhill then uphill then downhill then uphill, definitely not as the crow flies, and also deceptively longer than you think as you can see your destination far in the distance, but due to the curvature of the mountains, you’re walking further away from it at some points!
We got the Floibanen train up to the peak of Floyen before beginning our walk, and the views from up there are incredible. Again it was a good thing to do on only our second day, as we could then get our bearings, and we could even trace far in the distance where we had headed on our boat the day before. The signposting there is great, and it’s really easy not only to get started on your walk, but to gauge what intensity of trail you want to do based on your experience etc with their helpful guides and maps.
It took us almost 6 hours to complete our hike, and again it is one of the best things I’ve ever done- the views alone were worth it, and with every corner was a different vista. There was one point about 3/4 of the way up that we stopped to take a break and realised we were the only 2 people for miles. When we stood still we couldn’t hear a single thing, no wind, nothing, it is the most silence I have ever encountered in my life! The cable car down from Mount Ulriken gave us the chance to have a break for our legs, and also provided views of a different part of the mountain over the city.
Aiming to take it easy on the Sunday following our epic walk, we headed on the bus to Gamlehaugen. I’m going to jump in here and say the Norwegians have their public transport sorted. The buses were so nice (compared to London), easy to understand for those not from Bergen or Norway wider, or who speak any Norwegian at all, and an unlimited week Skysspass (like an Oyster card) cost us £24 each for the whole week, regardless of whether we used the Bybanen (like a tram or the DLR which services the whole wider Bergen area) or the bus. It made it so easy to get around everywhere as even though we toyed with hiring a car, quite frankly we just did not need one! On to Gamlehaugen, and I found out a little about this again from Tripadvisor when I was looking up places we could have a swim. As it was our summer holiday we wanted to get into a body of water at some point, even if there were no beaches! The royal residence of Gamlehaugen was only a short way out of town and the perfect place for a dip. A modest (by British standards) but nonetheless beautiful castle stands amidst some expertly kept grounds- and it’s completely free to go. Better still they have a lake open to swimming, surrounded by trees and mountains as far as the eye can see. It was so idyllic and the best way to relax our aching muscles in the cool water! It was a scorching day, and being as we’d been told it rains most of the time in Bergen- we were extremely lucky to not have it rain on us once the entire time we were there!
To Gamlehaugen we took a picnic, and brought tupperware with sandwiches in from the best sandwich shop ever; Godt Brod, which is a chain, and basically means good bread, and boy is it good. It’s basically artisanal Subway, with locally sourced produce, dreamy cheeses, a selection of meats and spreads, so delicious- and we popped back a fair few times to pick up lunch for big trips while were there. After lounging at Gamlehaugen in the sun, we started on an ill-advised walk to the Fantoft stave church. I say that, as according to the map it looked pretty rural and like a nice country walk, but inadvertently ended up as a major roadside walk that wasn’t quite as nice! But, we did end up walking around the wider area of Fantoft, with people having BBQs and lounging outside in their gardens, and it was interesting to see the suburbs and how they compared to the UK. The stave church, as with the walk there, left a little to be desired in all honesty. After a disproportionate entrance fee and an unsightly and super detracting chain link fence surrounding it, the magic was dampened somewhat, but it was still interesting to see. Don’t go out of your way though- we would’ve been more disappointed if we’d have spent a whole day planning to see it and headed out of town for that only.
The following day we decided to explore more of the town behind Bryggen and the winding streets there. To get to them a more interesting route than simply walking through the centre of the city and out the other side, we decided to get the train up to Mount Floyen and descend the mountain down into the streets below on foot. While nowhere near as high or as picturesque as our walk a few days prior, it was a pleasant walk through the forest path that wound down in a zigzag, and it came out right behind the streets leading to Bryggen. We walked through the back streets admiring the Norwegian homes and residential streets with their window boxes, painted doors, bright coloured beams and nautical elements. We found the old fort which made for a great spot to survey the town from another angle. We also walked to see the Rosenkratz which is the oldest building in all of Bergen, right at the edge of the harbour. It would have been rude not to also stop at our new favourite hotdog place- Trekroneren which is just down the street from the Floibanen and across the road from the main harbour area. They have every flavour of hotdog you can imagine, and I tried the Creole and the San Francisco- both were of which were incredible!
Opposite Trekroneren is BKB Vagen, or Bergen Kaffebrenneri Vagen which is a really cosy coffee shop, again with the superlatives, but they did have the tastiest apple strudel I’ve ever eaten in there!
On our penultimate day we decided to wander the parts of town we hadn’t seen, and head out on foot to the peninsula near the aquarium to look out over the water- the city is just brilliantly pedestrianised and just begs you to walk around it and enjoy the charm. In the afternoon, we decided to rent bikes, and much like the Boris bikes/Santander London bikes you can rent bikes from stands at areas dotted around the city. The only downside is that you have to return the bike every 45 minutes or you’ll get a fine! Luckily we set ourselves up on the app and kept an eye on the time, so we could map ourselves between each bike stand, to check our bike in and carry on our journey. By going bike stand to bike stand, we ended up riding our way around the whole city across the afternoon, and were on and off our bikes for about 5 hours. The city is just designed for people to be active and to be on bikes, and we never once felt in danger, as the bike lanes are second to none, well labelled, there’s even traffic lights just for the bikes. It was great to see a different side to the city as we rode through parks, up and down hills, around the university and the lake and then through the main city, out through the harbour and beyond! We even stopped at another Kaffebrenneri in Mohlenpris. If you’re a coffee lover you will love it in here and we stopped again for a caffeine fix and tasty pastry before carrying on into the early evening.
On our final day in Bergen we headed early in the morning on the train to Flam, on the ‘Norway In A Nutshell’ tour. The easiest way we found to book this was by going to the train station in Bergen and asking for advice a few days before we planned to take the trip. It gets booked up fast- so definitely don’t wait until the day you want to go! When you get on the train to meet the Flamsbana, from Bergen, I would recommend sitting on the left for the best views as you go along. Once you get on the actual Flam railway, both sides of the window are equally amazing I would say- so it doesn’t really matter where you sit! Just be prepared for a little more tourists than you’ve probably been used to on the rest of the trip- as it’s a little crazy! The Flam railway and the train itself is just like something out of a Wes Anderson film, and the train journey was well worth going on. Flam itself was a little disappointing in that its traditional charm had sadly seemed to have surrendered to a huge influx of tourists and the presumption of what their needs may be. We spent the day in the shadow of a humongous, gawdy cruise ship, which looked so out of place on the fjord leering over the little town of Flam. The fjord trip which was part of the round trip however, was as picturesque as the journey on the fjords from the first day- and the day ended with a hair-raising coach journey along hair pin bends that meant I pretty much kept my eyes shut the entire time!
All-in-all the best experiences we had on the trip were the least touristy ones, and we loved how active we were while we were away, Bergen is just made for it. If you want a trip where you don’t have to travel too far from where you’re staying to enjoy a taste of different parts of the country, then Bergen really does it have it all; mountains, woodland, city, lakes, fjords, charming winding streets, cafe culture, a good but not overwhelming amount of tourist attractions and feels like a home away from home. While I will say it’s not cheap, it’s by far worth it, and there are ways to scrimp on some things and splurge on others- we definitely made more lunches and dinners on this holiday than we ever have before!
That’s it for my Bergen guide – I hope there’s plenty in there to inspire your trip if you plan on visiting! If you haven’t seen it yet, my short and sweet video of the trip is live here, for more! Until next time…