's "second city" (after the capital Oslo
) and a famously beautiful one too, so that no comprehensive trip to the country can afford to do without including it. For the dark tourist there are only a few comparatively minor attractions, but at least one of them is pretty unique.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
Bergen is Norway
's second-largest city, but at a mere quarter of a million inhabitants it is hardly a metropolis. In contrast to the modern capital Oslo
, it feels cosier and small-town-like in the centre around the old harbour, which is where most tourists will spend almost all their time in Bergen. This is also the nucleus from which Bergen evolved historically.
History in the case of Bergen primarily means: the Hanseatic League. From the 13th century on and up to the late 18th century, the city was one of the key trading posts of this once mighty commercial network – the first "globalized" or at least "multinational conglomerate", so to speak. All the lucrative trade with northern Norway – i.e. in particular its valuable stockfish – went through Bergen.
Bergen was the northernmost outpost (a "Kontor", to give it the technical Hanseatic term) of the powerful Hanseatic trade and defence network, which had its main seats all along the Baltic coast between Lübeck in Germany
in (today's) Poland
and all the way east to Novgorod in Russia
. It also stretched along the North Sea coast from England
(e.g. Kings Lynn) and Holland
in the west to what became the largest of the Hanseatic Cities, Hamburg
, in the east. Hamburg was thus the Hanseatic centre of gravity, as it were. Hamburg and (to a lesser degree) also Bremen still continue to thrive on the privileges that once originated from their Hanseatic "free city" status. You can spot both of these cities' coats-of-arms on a Kontor-building in Bergen.
Given the German dominance in the Hanseatic League, it is perhaps not so surprising to learn that the Hanseatic traders in outposts like Bergen pretty much kept themselves in a separate enclave with little interaction with the locals and the country other than trade necessities. The Bryggen Kontor-houses formed a separate city within the city, with its own laws, (German) language and customs. The surviving (well, restored) Hanseatic quarter of Bergen, which is called Bryggen, is the most complete set of Hanseatic timber buildings anywhere and as such has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Even after the decline and eventual departure of the Hanse, Bergen remained a powerful city and was at one time the largest in Norway
. It is still an important commercial centre, though these days it's rather the North Sea oil business and tourism that play the greatest roles.
What there is to see:
The city may not be at the top of priorities for the dedicated dark tourist in Norway
, but three smaller sites warrant a trip to Bergen (which is a must-see in other respects in any case):
Other than these the city of Bergen isn't particularly dark at all – except in a more literal sense in the Hanseatic Museum. This is housed in an original old timber building in the Hanseatic quarter of Bryggen, Bergen's prime tourist draw. The Hanseatic Museum's topic is obvious enough: the Hanseatic League and its connection with Bergen. Some of the rooms ooze a pretty dark late-Middle-Ages atmosphere and the lighting is indeed gloomy for the most part. Topically, however, it's more a celebration of the business prowess of the Hanseatic League and how it made Bergen once one of the most important places in the whole of Scandinavia. I appreciated the links with my original hometown Hamburg
too, I have to admit. The downstairs celebration of stockfish (dried cod) is teetering on the bizarre side, though.
Otherwise there's little in pretty Bergen that could in any way be described as dark … maybe with the exception of the spookily wild-eyed Henrik Ibsen statue near the National Theatre (he looks like he is not at all amused by what they've done with his works there). Also in a vaguely dark category is the fountain monument on Torgallmenningen (the main pedestrianized square/street, right in the centre south of the harbour). The reliefs on its four sides rather graphically depict, amongst other things, a sinking ship (dragged down, it seems, by some sea monsters), a drowned sailor floating in the cold sea some distance from a merchant navy ship of ca. the 1950s, as well as a whaling scene.
To see, or even purchase, the produce of the real thing you have to go no further than the fish market 400 feet (100 m) to the north at the head of the old harbour basin. Here, amongst all the salmon, crab, stockfish and other more predictable fishy items, fresh whale meat is on offer for all who do not think that there's anything morally wrong with whaling … and that would include most Norwegians, who are generally all for it and don't hesitate to defend the country's assumed right to continue whaling to this day. That said, though, I also spotted a T-shirt in the window of some WWF-associated office/shop that had the image of a whale lanced with a Norwegian flag on it, accompanied by the words: "If we had dolphins we'd kill them too!" Looks like not everyone in Norway is on the whalers' side after all …
Not at all dark, but certainly very weird was the sight of hordes of students dressed in crazy costumes drifting noisily through the streets when I was there in late August … when it was freshers' week at the university! Apparently it is a local custom that during that time students dress up in wild costumes ranging from whole-body suits in garish colours to more subject-related drag such as white coats and big glasses (medical or chemistry students maybe?). It was great fun to see them quite obviously having a good time … some of them visibly a little too good a time too early the evening already – I don't want to know what state some of them must be in at the end of a long night's drinking.
in the west of southern Norway
, some 200 miles (320 km) west of Oslo
and 100 miles (160 km) north of Stavanger.
Access and costs: easy to get to, generally expensive (like the rest of Norway).
Bergen is easily reached by both train or plane … though its airport is quite a long way out and requires a costly bus transfer. But Bergen Flesland airport has not only a number of domestic connections (e.g. to Oslo
, Tromsø or Bodø), it is also served by international flights, e.g. to/from the major hubs of Amsterdam
, or Frankfurt, but also to/from some smaller places such as Gdansk
and various less busy airports in Great Britain
too (Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Newcastle).
The direct train to/from Oslo
(the country's capital and main gateway for international travellers) is a tourist treat in itself, as it goes through some very scenic landscape … although I had the misfortune that the drizzly weather made the scenery as good as invisible when I went on this train journey, which proved that there's no guarantee of actually getting that bonus of a "scenic ride". Booked well ahead, the "minipris" (literally 'mini price') tickets are quite affordable by Norwegian standards (ca. 400 NOK or 50 EUR).
Buses are an option too, of course, and in theory also going by car. But within Bergen you do not only not need a car, it will be near impossible to find anywhere to park it (except very expensively in 24h underground/multi-storey garages).
Getting around the centre of Bergen is perfectly doable on foot. In fact it's one of the distinct delights of being in Bergen – just wandering around the city. The key sites are also all within walking distance from each other, so you may well never need any public transport. If you do, it's there too, though, in the form of an efficient network of city buses.
-wise, Bergen runs the full gamut from relatively affordable hostels and guesthouses to some of the most stunning upmarket hotels in Norway
, such as the atmospheric Det Hanseatiske Hotel, occupying two of the original Bryggen ex-warehouses made of timber and being right next door to the Hanseatic Museum it enjoys a location that is impossible to beat for convenience. Or consider the Admiral Hotel on the other side of the inner harbour, which thus affords the best views over to Bryggen (albeit only at an extra price for an actual room
with that view – on top of the already inflated room rates).
With regard to food and drink
, Bergen offers a lot too, from seafood delicacies prepared right at the fish market (but not necessarily cheaply!) to ethnic restaurants (I had very decent Vietnamese here to make a change from three weeks of Norwegian cuisine). Traditional restaurants are there to serve tourists too, of course, as is the ubiquitous fast food (though also not cheap – see under Norway
in general). My personal favourite was a little local place in the part of the city south of the harbour, just outside the area with the main tourist drags. It was here that I not only found some cheap and cheerful, simple but tasty, home-style Norwegian food, but it was also where my love affair with Norwegian microbrewery beers began. I'll leave it to you to work out what place I am talking about, though … I don't want to make this cute find even more popular than it already is, which may be more than is good for its atmosphere. (There's a hint in the photos, though …)
One thing to be prepared for when going to Bergen is the typically wet weather. Don't be misled by any sun-drenched photos in tourist brochures. In fact Bergen is famously the place in Norway which "enjoys" the highest average rainfall per year. There have been periods of more than 80 consecutive days on which it rained. Periods of sunny weather are relatively rare and short, in contrast. This means the chances that you may escape the dominant rainy weather during your visit to Bergen are slim. So if it does not rain for a few hours when you're there, make sure you make use of that – as it can change quickly. And don't ever go to Bergen without an umbrella or a good waterproof jacket and hat.
Time required: a day or two minimum. In theory, all three museums listed separately here could be done in one single (but busy) day. However it would be a shame not to give the rest of Bergen a little time too.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
nothing in the immediate vicinity. You'd have to either get a car and drive up to e.g. the Fjaerland Glacier Museum
(c.a. 4-5 hours drive) and on to Lovatnet
and beyond, or get the scenic train to Oslo
(6-7 hours) to get to places in which to tick more dark travel destination boxes. See also under Norway
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Bergen is one of the prime destinations for mainstream tourism in the whole of Norway
. And indeed, its most prized part, the old Hanseatic quarter Bryggen is incredibly pretty, especially when seen from across the harbour, or from within – when you can get lost in its countless narrow alleyways inside this warren of wooden buildings packed so densely together that their roofs almost touch each other (well in some cases they actually do touch!). The ubiquitous tourist tack in the dozens of shops wooing tourists can be a bit overbearing, but otherwise it really is the biggest jewel in Bergen's crown.
The rest of the inner city is immensely pretty too, though, especially the cobbled streets between the Bryggen quarter and the train station to the east. Or the parts beyond the harbour to the south. While to the west of Bryggen is the Bergen Fortress with its museums (see Resistance Museum
Beyond the fortress lurks a less appealing side of modern tourism. It's here that all those monstrous cruise ships dock, blotting out the skyline, polluting the air, and discharging their cargo of thousands of anoraked tourists waiting to be herded into coaches for quick sightseeing drives or flooding the souvenir shops of nearby Bryggen.
The surrounding hills also form part of the city's tourism infrastructure. Two of them can be reached by cable cars and afford great views over Bergen and its more immediate environs.
Bergen is also marketed as the "gateway to the fjords". And indeed there are many excursions into the fjords around Bergen that depart from here, some just for a couple of hours, others mini-cruises in their own right.
Finally, Bergen is the embarkation and starting point (or, in the other direction, the terminus) of the famed Hurtigruten ferry/cruise services that go all the way up the Norwegian coast to as far as Kirkenes
right on the border with Russia
- Bergen 01 - the waterfront
- Bergen 02 - historic Bryggen
- Bergen 03 - a warren of narrow passages
- Bergen 04 - a Bryggen courtyard
- Bergen 05 - funny freshers week students by the fish market
- Bergen 06 - Hanseatic connections
- Bergen 07 - Hanseatic museum
- Bergen 08 - celebrating stockfish
- Bergen 09 - and the Hanseatic lifestyle
- Bergen 10 - and interior design
- Bergen 11 - fortress
- Bergen 12 - city centre
- Bergen 13 - cathedral
- Bergen 14 - pedestrianized street
- Bergen 15 - gothic elements
- Bergen 16 - Torgalmenningen
- Bergen 17 - fountain
- Bergen 18 - Pingvinen
- Bergen 19 - wild-eyed Ibsen
- Bergen 20 - train station
- Bergen 21 - Bergen by night