This is part 8 in a series about my summer 2017 trip, which took me to Norway, the Netherlands, and Malta. You can read an overview of the trip here.
Of all the cities I visited on this trip, Bergen was by far the prettiest. It pretty much exactly what you imagine a Norwegian city to look like. The city itself is very compact and walkable, and definitely worth a few days’ visit. It was packed, though, as July is peak tourist season, and the cruise traffic alone can dominate the small city. The local areas seemed a bit grittier than Oslo. As more of a tourist city, you also really feel the expense even more than in Oslo, and I did get a little ripped off. But the city has a ton of free things to do. There is also a ton of nature, in a city surrounded by seven mountains. I didn’t do a ton given I really only had one day and two nights, but it was a nice stop.
I also stayed in an Airbnb for the first time, which was an experience. I had originally planned on staying in a hotel I had gotten on Skyauction.com, but I had Airbnb gift cards and figured it would be a good place to use it given how expensive hotels in Bergen in the summer were – with very little under $200 a night. (I have philosophical qualms about Airbnb: it creates unregulated and potentially unsafe hotel accommodations; shifts cleaning and other important lower-wage jobs from more transparent, stable, unionized workplaces to the shady gig economy; it is susceptible to discrimination; and contributes to the dearth of affordable rental housing in urban areas like New York, DC, and San Francisco, where landlords convert housing into hotels. Adam Ruins Everything did a decent job on this topic.) The apartment I got was a very basic one-bedroom apartment that a graduate student rents out in the summer. It was $265 for the two nights including all fees, which wasn’t bad. It was low-frills, and I couldn’t figure out the TV and there was no manual or anything. I also forgot to nab shampoo and body wash from the Radisson in Oslo, so hand soap had to do. Oh, and although I managed to get my first load of laundry done in the washer no problem, I somehow broke the machine on the second wash, and had clothes soaking in dirty water that wouldn’t drain, and ended up needing to take them onto the roof deck to try and dry them. And then the blackout curtain in the bedroom came tumbling down and I had to scavenge the apartment to find packing tape to get it re-attached to the rod. So, yeah, Airbnb. The location was convenient for everywhere I needed to go, in a student neighborhood a short walk from the bus to the airport, with restaurants and supermarkets on the surrounding blocks.
By the time I settled into the Airbnb and took a shower, it was about 8:30pm. There was a well-reviewed decently priced restaurant called Pingvinen right nearby that I had hoped to check out, but there was a long wait. So I made my way towards the harbor, hoping to find one of the seafood restaurants I saw on TripAdvisor. I couldn’t find it, so wandered around a bit, and just decided I’d get a quick meal at the Fish Market – rows of stalls selling fresh fish cooked to order. I didn’t pay attention to prices, and my one fish kebab, some over-mayoed potato salad, vegetables, and Italian bread- which was not filling and served on a polystyrene plate with plastic cutlery – was 300 NOK- nearly $36. DO NOT EAT AT THE FISH MARKET IN BERGEN. Indeed, as I wandered a bit after dinner, I found the row of fish restaurants I had been looking for (right on the other side of the Bergen tourist office0), and would have been able to have a real restaurant meal for about 65% that. I was annoyed, and tired, so I just wandered aimlessly a bit around the city – which was super pretty as dusk was beginning to set in around 10pm. I then stopped at a market and picked up some provisions for breakfast and had an early night in as I was going to pretty much do all of Bergen in a day and Norway in a Nutshell had wiped me out.
I got my full day in town started early and headed to Bryggen, the area on the far side of the harbor, that’s known for its old, picturesque buildings. It’s also where the Radisson Blu Bergen is located. It’s pretty, but there’s not a ton to see/do, and it was packed with cruise passengers. It was mostly just souvenir shops. That was fine, since I had planned to spend the morning hiking up Floyen.
Floyen is one of the seven mountains surrounding Bergen, and the most popular one for visitors. There’s a funicular, Floibanen, that runs from right beside the harbor up 850 meters to an observation area. But you can also hike the whole way up, and then there are tons of trails beyond where the funicular stops. From my research, there were a lot of different options of what I could do as a mid-length hike. I decided to walk/hike up to the Floibanen, and go from there hike up to the Brushytten rest area, and see where I was.
I’m glad I decided to walk/hike up, because the line for the Floibanen funicular was insane. The path starts right behind the station, and it was a nice crisp morning with temperatures in the mid-50s. Blogger Ric at the Loyalty Traveler had got me a bit trepidacious about the hike, but it was nowhere near as strenuous as Table Mountain in Cape Town or Anse Major in the Seychelles (though more strenuous than the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook), and about the same as the hike from Bulguksa to Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju. I made it to the platform where Floibanen is in about 45 minutes and wasn’t winded or needing a stop. On the way, it starts out very steep with steps through some residential neighborhoods before more parklike, well-marked, paved trails. On the way, the views get better and better, and it felt really good to be in nature for a bit. You can see some of it in my Bergen video, below.
As I got towards the end of that stage, I ran into a summer camp group – where the young counselors were each carrying about a dozen backpacks each!
And of course, there’s a troll on the way.
Where the funicular lets out, there is a massive clearing with sweeping panoramic views. The downside is the hundreds of tourists. I grabbed a few pictures and kept going.
One thing that struck me is how child friendly the whole mountain was (and Norwegian culture), with tons of well-maintained play spaces along the paths, including a ropes course. It was another 1.9km to Brushytten, which was one of the prettiest hikes I’ve ever done. It was pretty flat, but had some unbelievable landscapes – hard to believe you were so close to a city. It was about a 30-minute walk from the Floibanen station, and I would have kept going if I had more time to spend in the city, but I did want to do other stuff in the afternoon.
The hut at Brushytten is apparently known for hot chocolate and waffles, but it must have been a slow day, because as soon as I walked in, the 4 teenagers working the counter were so excited to see me and asked “Do you want a waffle???” One ran to get the machine going and shouted back “How many?” One of her coworkers jokingly responded “Twelve,” and she thought he was serious. Those Norwegians. I had one, and it was basic but yummy (and 25 NOK – ~$3.25)
I took a different path down to the city that had more people on it, which may also have to do with the fact it was later in the day. It also had art installed along the path, which was cool. I was back in the center of town by 12:40pm. In sum, explore Floyen!
For lunch, several guides I read recommended Sosthenes Hagelin, a local fast-food-ish seafood place right by the harbor, but there was a looong line and no seating available, so I backtracked a bit and settled on Anne Madam, a well-reviewed small restaurant on the other side of the harbor near Bryggen. Confirming how much of a rip-off the fish market had been the night before, I ordered the fish and chips from the lunch menu, which was tasty and cost only 119 NOK – around $15 and less than half the cost of the Styrofoam-plated fish kebab of the night before, served in a real restaurant. The restaurant was filled with cruise passengers, and indeed there were MSC passengers everywhere I went throughout town.
After a laundry disaster, I realized I didn’t have time to do both the remaining things I wanted to do in Bergen – the Leprosy Museum and the KODE museums. The Leprosy Museum is exactly what it sounds like, and is kind of up my alley. But it also has very short opening hours of 11am to 3pm, so I wasn’t going to make it. Instead, I headed to KODE, which happened to be closer to my Airbnb.
KODE is actually four different art museums in Bergen that were unified under a single umbrella back in 2007. Only three of them were actually open when I visited (with KODE 2, the contemporary museum, closed for renovation), but it’s a single admission price (100 NOK = ~$13) and they are all a short walking distance from one another, stretching along the lake, allowing for some lovely strolling in the park on a gorgeous day like I had.
I started with KODE 1, which is the craft and design museum. It is only recently reopened after a long renovation, and many of the exhibits won’t open until 2018, but it was still interesting, with a huge silver collection, and an exhibit curated by Queen Sonja – featuring both her own paintings and pottery, and some of her favorites from her personal collection – which is pretty cool.
From there I headed to KODE 4, which is the most comprehensive of the museums, featuring art from the 14th through 20th centuries. It had a lot of work from the early 20th century, which is one of my favorite periods, including an exhibition of work by Norwegian artist Nikolai Astrup, and an exhibition of the Bergen Avant Garde.
I concluded with KODE 3, which is mostly Norwegian art, including a lot of Munch.
I intended to nap next, but had the continuation of my laundry drama at the Airbnb. For dinner, I wandered around a bit before ending up at UNA, a gastropub in Bryggen. I screwed up because I meant to eat downstairs (and hopefully outside), but ended up upstairs, which is burgers and beer only. You order at the bar and wait and it was a looong wait in a not very atmospheric setting, but I had my Kindle. My fish burger and sweet potato fries were both very good, though, and came to only 200 NOK (~$26 USD) – double the food and tasting as fresh as the rip-off $36 fish market kebab the night before.
I didn’t explore Bergen’s nightlife at all. I imagine it’s busier on weekends and when the universities are in session. In all, Bergen was a little rest and recharge stop and I’m glad I went. If you’re in Norway, it’s definitely worth a few days. Enjoy the video below with some highlights: