Once the necessities of food and shelter are taken care of (See “Bergen, Part 1 Hotels and Restaurants”) it’s time to start thinking about all there is to see and do in Bergen! If you’re like me, and most people these days, you probably experienced some sticker shock just considering the cost of airfare and hotels in Norway, where the economy is pretty healthy, unemployment is low, and everything costs a little (or a lot) more. Believe it or not, you can still experience the best of Bergen without breaking the bank. I shared some money-saving strategies in last week’s article about hotels and restaurants. This week, let’s talk about sightseeing and shopping!
The Bergen Card
When planning your visit to Bergen, one of the first things to consider is whether or not to purchase the Bergen Card. The card comes in 24, 48 and 72 hour increments and can be purchased in advance at visitBergen.com If you like to have a full itinerary of museums and tours, the Bergen Card will certainly pay for itself in free and discounted entry to many city attractions. The card also allows free travel on the Bergen Light Rail, city busses (Skyss), and some boats (also Skyss). I purchased the card on the 48 hour stop I made in Bergen between hiking in the Lofotens and kayaking in Flåm, made a point of using the city busses, seeing 4 of the discounted museums of the many on the list, and riding the Floibanen funicular and did slightly better than breaking even. I would have benefitted from the card even more if I had eaten more meals in restaurants and used public transportation more than walking. You will have to decide for yourself whether to get the card, depending on what you plan to see and do in Bergen.
When I returned to Bergen from four chilly days in the Lofotens, the first thing I did after checking into my room on Ovregaten Street was change to lighter clothes and take the Floibanen to the top of Mount Floyen. My ticket is stamped 8:20pm, but I remember it felt like early afternoon on a very sunny day! I stood facing downhill as my fellow passengers and I were pulled up the track to dizzying heights and the city of Bergen quickly fell away below us. At the top, I had a glass of white wine from the Fløien Folkerestaurant and set out to enjoy the walking trails through the forest at the top of the mountain. I had to make a point of getting back to the station in time for the last ride down at 11pm! If you have the Bergen Card, the Floibanen is 50% off, which made the cost of my round trip ticket 50NOK or about $6.45US.
The Hanseatic Museum
This was the first museum I visited in Bergen and it would have been worth almost any price of admission in my opinion. It was the best depiction I saw of what life in Bryggen was like in the 18th century. The ticket grants admission to assembly rooms and kitchens at Bryggen, entry to 2 preserved Hanseatic merchants’ homes, and free admission to the Bergen Fish Museum, a short shuttle bus ride away. The houses were built in 1704, were inhabited by the merchants’ families, a journeyman and several young apprentices, and contain much of the original décor and furniture. If you have the Bergen Card, there is a 25% discount off the cost of admission, which makes and adult ticket 128NOK or $16.50US.
St. Mary’s Church
Built in the 12th Century, St. Mary’s is the oldest building in Bergen. The church has a unique to Norway two-tower entrance and cathedral-esque triple aisles, very unusual in a smaller church. The doors, or portals, of the church date back to the Middle Ages, with one dating back to the Roman period. There is a large tryptic at the altar dating to the 15th century, and gravestones in the floor dating from the 16th century and later. There is a spectacularly ornate pulpit, a gift from a group of Hanseatic merchants in 1676. The pulpit features tortoiseshell inlay and 8 of the cardinal virtues represented by figures of women holding symbolic figures: Prudence holds a snake, Love holds two children, etc. It’s a small church, but filled with awe inspiring features. Photography is not permitted inside, but you can buy postcards of the interior artwork if you’d like a souvenir. Entry to the church was free with the Bergen Card!
Bymuseet I Bergen (Bergen City Museum)
This is actually a group of museums and buildings in Bergen that includes Alvoen Manor, Bryggens Museum, Damsgaard Country Mansion, Old Bergen Museum, Hordamuseet, Håkon’s Hall, The Leprosy Museum, The Rosenkrantz Tower, and the Holberg Museum. I did not attempt to visit all of these, but did get to see Håkons Hall, the Bryggens Museum, and the Rosenkrantz Tower. Built in the 1560s, the Rosenkrantz Tower was a thrilling maze of winding stone steps and corridors with a rewarding view of the harbor at the top. For archeology lovers, the Bryggens Museum, next door to St. Mary’s Church, houses a large collection of medieval artifacts from the earliest settlement at Bergen downstairs, and Norwegian art upstairs. All of these city museums are discounted or free with the Bergen Card. Even without the Bergen Card, the Bymuseet was offering 50% off all museums in their group after paying full price for admission to the first museum.
Bryggen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose foundations date back to the 14th century and the establishment of a Hanseatic merchants league in Bergen. The buildings standing there now date back to 1702, when a devastating fire damaged the 14th century buildings that originally existed there. The often photographed colorful harbor-side buildings are widely recognizable as a symbol of Bergen, Norway. The Bryggen today houses several cafes and souvenir shops facing the waterfront where you can find gifts and souvenirs at every price point from Norwegian wool sweaters, down vests and jackets, to knick knacks and key chains.
On my first evening in Bergen, in one of the Bryggen shops, I met Herman, a Nyform Troll (www.trollsofnorway.com) who would become my travelling companion as I ventured across Western Norway. Just to be clear, I do not have any particular affinity for trolls or troll dolls. In fact, I find most of them in the Bryggen shops pretty unappealing. I first saw Herman on a shelf with many of his unattractive relatives as I browsed aimlessly, just killing time until I could go back to my hotel and try to sleep. Something in his friendly open expression kept calling me back to him and before I knew it we were leaving the store together. I remember the cashier’s bemused expression when I asked her not to wrap him too tightly as I wanted him to be available for photographs during the rest of my trip.
At another Bryggen shop, Julehuset (Christmas Shop), along the Bryggen, I found Christmas cards on Summer clearance and some cute Norwegian Christmas ornaments that will most likely become stocking stuffers this Christmas. Even if you aren’t looking for Christmas items, go into this store to experience the precariously tilted stairways (inside and out) that seem like they are barely holding onto the building! I think they must be part of the original 18th century construction.
Susan Fosse Knitwear
Everywhere you look in Norway, you can find ubiquitous Dale of Norway sweaters. Certainly they are of a very high quality, I have one or two myself, and are known all over the world. Dale (pronounced with a short a, as in “all”) has even designed sweaters for Norwegian Olympic ski teams. With all due credit going to Dale, I really want to mention here another Norwegian sweater producer, based in Bergen, Susan Fosse. Susan has a very small sweater shop near the back of the old Bryggen shops. She uses only Norwegian wool and carries both traditional Norwegian designs as well as more modern styles. She also designs and produces mittens, gloves, headbands, hats and scarves. I imagine that at some point in the distant past, this is how Dale of Norway started out. The sweaters are not inexpensive, but are less pricey than the Dale sweaters in the Bryggen store front windows, and of at least equal quality. I very nearly purchased one of her sweaters myself when I was there, took a brochure when I left, and may still order one from her website. I recommend that, when you are in Bergen, you at least pay her Bryggen shop a visit. You won’t regret it!
Wherever you decide to purchase your Bergen souvenirs, if the tax refund option is offered, be sure to get the necessary form and complete receipt from the shopkeeper and keep track of them! At the end of the trip, at the airport, you can turn them in at a bookstore called Tanum and get a sizable tax refund. My refund totaled 790NOK, which at the time of my trip equaled about $102US!
If after all the shopping and sightseeing, you crave a little peace and quiet, I highly recommend a stroll through the residential neighborhood of Klosteret. This area lives up to its name, which means “monastery” in English, and is a welcome respite from the crowds of Bryggen.
Christies Gate 3A
More than just a train stop (as I initially thought), the city park near the Byparken train station is a serene setting, featuring a walkway around a lake and plenty of park benches to sit and enjoy the scenery. Byparken was my first introduction to Bergen, a place I later revisited to relax and soak up some sun away from the brisk harbor breezes.
It was difficult to say goodbye to Bergen, all 3 times I had to do it, but especially the last time at the end of my visit to Norway. I had to make a promise to myself that I would return soon and see more of this vibrant city. If you are planning a trip to Norway, I would say that Bergen is a must-see and that one day would never be enough time. Let me know in the comments if you have visited Bergen and what you enjoyed the most about it.
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