There’s a lot to like about Bergen. With a population of less than 300,000, it’s about half the size of Oslo – big enough for there be a lot to do, but not overwhelming. The tourist attractions are mostly crowded around the port, so once you walk a couple of blocks up the hill, it’s just you, the residents, and a few other AirBnBers like us. If you want to see the tourist sites, you just wait to hear the ships’ horns blow the cruise passengers back home, and then you have your run of the harbor, too.
The main tourist attractions in Bergen are the fish market, the old buildings that make up Bryggen in Bergen, hiking on Mount Fløyen, and of course the harbor itself.
The fish market is small, but has a little of just about everything you could want. Cod, halibut and every other kind of fish that swims in the North Sea of course, but also king crab, mussels, shrimp, squid and lobster. If fish isn’t your thing, you can get reindeer or moose sausage. You can even get whale, if you must, although we didn’t. I have a hard time eating an intelligent animal. I admit that’s irrational, since whales are smarter than some of the people I’ve met, and I wouldn’t eat them, either.
The main attraction to Bryggen in Bergen is the Hanseatic Museum, a replica of what the old part of the city was like when Bergen was a trading center between the cod fishermen of the north and the German merchants to the south. Commercial cod fishing has been has been going on for centuries, but the current buildings date from right after the great fire of 1702. It’s interesting to wander through the old rooms – the buildings have been a museum since 1872, but the faint odor of cod still lingers in the air. The old wood must have soaked up a lot of cod liver oil.
Cod is a big deal in Norway. Because of the short growing season, Norway lacks a lot of the fruits, vegetables and grain that make up a balanced diet, so they traded all that for dried cod. Unbelievable numbers of dried cod. Hundreds of thousands of tons per year. Way back when, cod fishing was done by hand out of small boats, but now it’s on an industrial scale, by huge purse seiners. I spite of the enormous harvest, cod are being harvested sustainably, so go ahead and eat all you want.
If the weather allows it, you can take off for Mount Fløyen, to ride the funicular railway and hike the trails. At the top of the mountain is a park for families and kids, where you can have a picnic, go swimming and let the kids loose in the playground or they can ride the little zip line. The hikes start with easy walks of less than a mile and go to all day journeys, up the funicular and down the cable car, eight miles away. It was pretty muddy the day we went, so we chose one of the routes at the top end of the Easy range, about 2-3 hours. At the top of the funicular railway, we started in the clouds, leaving the families and kids behind, walking through an enchanted forest. It’s the kind of place where you look for trolls, and find them (actually little troll statues hidden on purpose, but the effect is still there). Everything is really well marked – we only took one wrong turn, and figured it out right away – so you don’t have to be an expert to have a good time.
Besides the in-town attractions, Bergen is ideally located to be the starting point to explore the fjords of western Norway. More on that in another post.