Perfect Weekend: 48-Hours in Bergen, NorwayBy Iona Goulder
You may not have heard of it but in fact, Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway and is the gateway to the famous Fjords that have inspired so many travellers before us. Just over an hour from London by plane, we spent a couple of days there recently and discovered unrivalled seafood, a small-town charm, beauty by boat and a whole lot more. Let’s start with where to stay…
48-Hours in Bergen: Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a brilliant location and luxury surroundings then look no further than the Bergen Bors hotel.
Firstly on the location: the hotel couldn’t be better located as a base to explore the city. Get the light rail from the airport (much cheaper than a cab) which takes around 45 minutes and drops you off in the city centre a few hundred metres from the hotel.
Yes, that grand brick building right next to the Bergen Bryggen, that is the Bors hotel. The building was the home of the original Bergen stock exchange and was originally designed by Franz Wilhelm Shiertz before a few alterations in 1890–1893. Expect gloriously high ceilings, magnificent views of the city and the most opulent of breakfast settings.
The interior of the hotel meanwhile strikes the perfect balance between historical grandeur and understated elegance. The rooms are all of a good size with everything you could need including a very nice selection of shampoos that we ended up buying at the lobby. There are 127 rooms and suites in total, all with bespoke furniture combined with modern Scandinavian design. The room categories range from standard single rooms to a 54 sqm suite with a harbour view, and for those feeling very flush, the suites are like mini apartments and include separate living areas.
The highlight of the hotel is the so-called Fresco Hall; the newly converted restaurant decorated with frescoes depicting local industry and commerce. Apart from looking lovely, it also serves up some lovely food. Breakfast each morning was a scrumptious selection of specialities from both Norway and the rest of Europe. Looking for local flavours, there are pickles, salmon, a selection of cheeses, and, of course, french pastries are piled up and for us Brits, plenty of eggs, bacon and beans.
If you’re likely staying in Bergen for only a few nights there is no better option than the Bergen Bors hotel. Brilliantly located, a historical site in itself but with a luxurious updated interior, their friendly staff and extensive breakfast will ensure you have the perfect base for your stay in Bergen.
Where: Vågsallmenningen 1, 5014 Bergen, Norway
48-Hours in Bergen: Where to Eat
Firstly, you have to love the fact that there’s a restaurant in Norway called Fish Me – that’s almost like what you might expect to say to the waiter in every restaurant you sit down in here. Fish Me is located reassuringly close to the main port in Bergen and right next to the older outdoor market. The restaurant sits inside a brilliant new glass and wood structure built overlooking the water, and inside it’s like a fish lover’s paradise.
There are stalls selling everything; from sushi to salmon, caviar and crab. Walking around you’ll be hard-pressed not to want to buy a little bit of everything. Fish Me have been selling fish at Bergen’s historic fish market for more than 25 years now, and they know what they’re doing. The menu is derived from the stalls it sits next to so you can order and have the finest, freshest fish Norway has to offer brought to your table.
We opted for the sushi which was truly some of the best we’d had anywhere in the world. We later came back and brought some stuff to take home too (the packets of deer are a must) as well as individual crab legs to have as we walked through.
The nearby outdoor market, although less comfortable, is also worth a visit and there are a variety of stools with seats and heaters offering Norweigan specialities at typically Norweigan prices (read: quite expensive).
Where: Strandkaien 3, 5013 Bergen, Norway
Cornelius is one of Norway’s best seafood restaurants and is amazingly situated right by the sea on a small island with spectacular views. The menu is inspired by the weather of the day and as it’s so special, we’ve given the restaurant its own review which you can read here.
Needless to say, this isn’t just a quick dinner out. This is a full-on sensory experience and it’s clear from the first scallop that this team know what they’re doing. It’s hardly a surprise, the owner (who wonders around the table) has been fishing here for years. How many other restaurants have you been to where the owner himself caught the fish you’re eating that morning?
For something a bit different there’s the new RAWbar. Here they’ll introduce you to new species in a unique 30-minute session. Every dish is carefully prepared by chefs with a genuine passion for seafood and local produce. A good option for people who don’t want to stretch to the full experience.
Where: Katlavika 14, 5177 Bjørøyhamn, Norway
1st photo: Cornelius
48-Hours in Bergen: Where to Stay
No trip to Norway is complete without taking the fjords. There are more than a thousand fjords in Norway, each one as breathtaking as you might imagine.
The fjords may look like still blue lakes, but they’re actually saltwater – prolonged arms of the seas, often reaching deep inland with majestic cliffs towering above on both sides. That does, of course, mean they’re a little chilly but in the summer that shouldn’t be enough to put you off diving in like a true Norweigan.
Of course, the best way to experience the fjords is by boat and nobody out there is offering a better way to do this than ‘See the Fjords’ and their Fjord experience. Yes, this is a luxury experience (the boat though can take 12 which makes it great value), but you won’t forget it and it could very well be the most memorable part of your experience here.
There are three parts to a great fjord visit: the experience itself, the boat and of course, the beauty. ‘See the Fjords’ scores top marks in all three. Firstly the experience: Sven the captain is someone who is as passionate as he is knowledgable. The pride he takes in every journey is clear to see and he’ll make sure you have a day to remember. From the very start of our trip, every detail was taken care of; from stopping at random waterfalls for photos to drinks on the roof and even taking a turn driving, Sven felt more like a family member than a tour leader. What’s more, he’s on hand with fresh fruit, beer and wine to enjoy as the mountains go by. The one thing Sven can’t guarantee is the weather which this being Bergen could go either way (with rain being the most likely way). That said, we did it in (mostly) rain and for us, it only added to the mystery and quiet beauty of the surrounding landscape.
So you’ve got your wine and strawberries and Sven is telling you about the local history, but what about the boat itself? I mean wow. This is the kind of boat that is usually reserved for lottery ads. A brand new ‘princess’ Iselina Bella feels like it only came off the factory floor a few weeks before. It has a large salon, salon on the aft deck, cabins with double beds, two bathrooms, wi-fi, and a panoramic flybridge. Anyone that gets seasick needn’t worry, not only is the water pretty calm, but the boat is so big you barely feel a thing. Whether you’re two people looking to lux out on a romantic trip or twelve looking to experience the fjords in an unforgettable way, this boat has all the areas and facilities you could need. One moment you might be chilling in the lounge talking to Sven, the next you’re on the flybridge as a waterfall crashes beside you.
And that just leaves the beauty. Norway feels at times part country, part film set. Huge dramatic landscapes that have been perfectly preserved for thousands of years. In 2006, National Geographic put together a panel of experts to rank and reward the most popular World Heritage sites. The Norwegian fjords emerged as winners, above competitors such as the pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu. It’s not hard to see why. There’s nothing quite like the sheer crystalline walls that plunge into still water as if they’ve fallen from another planet.
Details: The most popular fjord cruise from Bergen is to Mostraumen/Modalen. If you’d rather start the cruise in Hardanger, they can pick you up at the hotel in Bergen and drive you in a private car to the chosen destination.
In Hardanger, the cruises may start at your hotel, as most hotels have their own private quay. You can book the yacht for some hours or several days.
Where: More information here
If you’re not down on the fjords, then you want to be up in the mountains. Thankfully for those who don’t fancy the steep climb to the top, there’s the Floibanen funicular. The funicular takes you to the top of Mount Fløyen which has some of the best views of the city and the surrounding areas.
The trip takes about 6 minutes and at the top, you’ll find plenty to eat and drink, however, most people come up here for the walks. From Mount Fløyen there are walks on gravel roads and paths to several stunning viewpoints. You can also walk from Mount Fløyen to Mount Ulriken – the ‘Vidden’ walk is one of Bergen’s most popular mountain hikes and takes approximately 5 hours.
If you don’t fancy such a long walk then head back into the city via one of the paths. It’s a gentle stroll down through some beautiful forests and brings you to the wonderful cobbled area of the city when you reach the bottom.
Where: More information here.
When in Norway you have try swimming in the fjords themselves at least once. Ok maybe not in the winter, but if it’s not freezing there’s a brilliant local spot that’s worth walking to.
The Nordnes seawater pool lies in the Nordnes park and has been popular with tourists and locals since 1910. They offer a sauna and changing rooms as well as a lovely heated pool. But what’s worth the visit are the stairs or diving board or the tower to the fjords themselves.
Where: Nordnesparken 30, 5005 Bergen, Norway
The Bryggen is probably the bit of Bergen you’ve seen on a postcard. These colourful homes were amongst the very first buildings in Bergen, but were ravaged by the great fire of 1702.The area was rebuilt on the foundations that had been there since the 12th century, which means that Bryggen is basically unchanged. Bryggen now has a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and the city of Bergen is a designated World Heritage City.
The area has a unique history (which you can read about in one of the many museums around Festplassen) and now houses several shops and restaurants. We’d recommend getting a walking guide to take you through so you can truly appreciate the story behind these quirky, colourful buildings.
Where: Bryggen, 5003 Bergen, Norway
48-Hours in Bergen: Traveller’s Tips
For anyone that hasn’t been, Norway is an expensive country and really there are not many ways around that. One tip would be to buy alcohol in the airport after you land as that’s particularly expensive here.
Bergen is a beautiful but small city; you may find two or three days is enough (definitely include the boat tour on one of those days), but you should rent a car and head up to the other fjords as we did – read about that here.
As mentioned the weather can be a bit mixed in Bergen but was pretty sunny elsewhere so it’s one of those trips where you need to pack for all eventualities.
The best way to get from the airport to the City is the light rail – the taxis are quicker but much more expensive. Shoutout for the individualised tune the train plays at each stop.
Huge thanks to Kristoffer, Linn and the whole Visit Bergen / Fjord Norway team who helped us out organising this trip – there’s a great website here that’s packed with info.
Photo credit: Visit Norway