The Historical Guide to Bergen

Bergen, Bergen, Bergen. I had heard about it and seen a few pictures, but once that train rounded the bend and I saw this fairy tale city through the fog, I knew that I had just discovered a special place. To this day, I think about how fantastic my experience there was. It's one of the few places I could actually see myself living. 

This Norwegian city is surrounded by everything that people come to see: Mountains, fjords and lots of history. The fish market alone is completely worth the trip, and being able to see the wooden structures of Bryggen and the old castle makes it the perfect place to learn more about Norwegian history. 

From the gorgeous buildings of Bryggen to the picturesque home of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, there's a historical aspect of Bergen for everyone to enjoy. 


For everyone to enjoy: Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf

 

This is the iconic image of Bergen: The colorful, wooden buildings of the Byrggen Hanseatic commercial buildings lining the harbor. 

Ever since the city was established in 1070, some form of these buildings has stood in that location with the first recognizable ones appearing in 1100.  The ones we see today are from around 1702, and some parts of it were rebuilt after a fire in 1955. When your buildings are all connected and made out of wood, fire becomes a very real problem. 

These buildings used to be a center of the Hanseatic League and was used mostly for commercial activities. Today you'll find it filled with cute shops, tours, restaurants and museums. Bryggen was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and it certainly feels like you're taking a step into Norwegian history when you set foot on the wharf. 

Even if I wasn't going into any of the shops, just walking past this historic structure every day was such an awesome feeling. Since it's right in the center of the city, there's no reason not to go and get lost in all the wooden staircases and spend some time browsing the tourist center and gift shops.

Visit: Theta Museum (The Resistance) and the The Hanseatic Museum

There's also a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. While I didn't eat at any located right in the Bryggen strip of the city, I ate at the Fish Market every day and had an incredible meal at Restaurant 1877 AS

 

For the medieval fan: Bergenhus Festning, Rosenkrantz Tower & Haakon's Hall

Part of Haakon's Hall at the Bergenhus Festning 

Part of Haakon's Hall at the Bergenhus Festning 

 

If you just keep following the road down from Bryygen, you'll eventually find yourself walking through the gate to the Bergenhus fortress. It's right at the entrance to the harbor, which makes sense since Bergen was the capitol of Norway for a couple hundred years before it was moved to Oslo. 

The buildings in the fortress date back as far as the 1240s, and excavations have found evidence of buildings on the site as far back as 1100. 

Your first stop should be the Rosenkrantz Tower (it's the one that looks like a tower). Built in the 1560s, it was a combination of fortified tower and royal residence. You can spend a long time getting lost in the rooms that line the winding staircases as you make your way up. I remember thinking how hard it must have been to be a servant here since the stairs are uneven, narrow, and steep. The self-guided tour starts in the dungeon and ends at the top of the tower with a stunning view over the harbor. 

Also make sure to check out Haakon's Hall. It was an imposing and large royal residence that is still used by the Norwegian royalty today for state dinners and functions. It's also older than the tower and was built between 1247-1261 by Hakon Hakonsson.

It's worth reading about the history of the building and even taking one of the tours to learn about some fun tidbits of Norwegian royal history, like why there are three head chairs instead of just two!

You can also wander the grounds and other historical buildings around the fortress. There are beautiful trees and views, and it's worth taking your time to enjoy it. 

 

For the musically inclined: Edvard Grieg's Home

 

Edvard Grieg is considered by many - including myself - to be one of the leading composers of the Romantic era. He used his home country of Norway to inspire his moving, incredible melodies and it's so easy to see why once you visit the country. 

Grieg spent 22 years living at his Troldhaugen home and some of his best known pieces were composed here. You can see the home - including Grieg's piano, composition hut by the lake, and Grieg and his wife Nina's tomb that is located in the mountainside facing the lake. It's said that Grieg once pointed to that specific spot in the rock and said it was where he wanted to rest forever. 

The land around the home is gorgeous, and I felt inspired just from walking around. As a music lover, I felt a little bit honored to see where this great composer lived, loved and died. 

There is an official museum to visit as well as a cafe. If you have the chance, attend one of the lunch time concerts. The concert hall is stunning and overlooks the water in a peaceful, inspiring setting. 

Getting to Grieg's home is not difficult. You can take a bus tour or ride the metro (there's only one line), get off at a certain stop and walk the rest of the way. I took the later option, but might book a bus next time since the walk is longer than you'd expect, mostly uphill and weaves through some neighborhoods. 

 

For a religious experience: Fantoft Stavekirke

This is the stave church in Oslo, but it gives you an idea of what the Fantoft one is like!

This is the stave church in Oslo, but it gives you an idea of what the Fantoft one is like!

 

The Stave Churches found throughout Norway are some of the most intricate, unique wooden structures in the world. Seeing one of these medieval structures was one of the only things on my Norway bucket list, and it was definitely as cool as I hoped it would be. 

Fantoft is the closest stave church to Bergen and is worth going to see. It's not far from the city center, and you can take the Bergen Light Rail a few stops then just follow the signs to the church. 

This particular church was originally built in Fortun, which is near the end of the Sognefjord. It was completed around 1150, but like all the stave churches, was almost demolished in the 18th century. Thankfully, someone bought the church and moved it to Fantoft in order to save it. 

Unfortunately, the church was destroyed by a fire in 1992, and the one we see today is a completed 1997 restoration. Still, this doesn't make it any less interesting to see and visit. Stave churches are an incredibly unique blend of traditional pagan and Christian mythology and give an insight into Scandinavian culture and the transitional period between their ancestral beliefs and the new Christian ones. 

 

For the nature lovers: Gateway to the Fjords

One of Bergen's nicknames is the very appropriate "Gateway to the Fjords." The beautiful landscapes of the fjords should not be missed while in Norway, and Bergen is one of the best places to go to see them. 

There are options for day excursions to the fjords all over the city, so you won't have a problem trying to find one. "The Queen of the Fjords" is Hardangerfjord and is the second largest fjord in Norway. There are boats and buses that depart there daily so you can take advantage of the hotels, cabins, two national parks, waterfalls and glaciers that make up Hardangerfjord. 

This is also how you can get to Trolltunga, or Troll's Tongue, which is the rock that juts out 700 meters above the water. If you want to take this famous hike, it'll take you all day - so plan ahead! 

Why include this on a historical guide? A lot of Norwegian cultural traditions come from communities in the Hardangerfjord. Visit the cultural center located there and you'll learn about the iconic Hardanger fiddle, beautiful embroidery and traditional costumes that originate from the region. You can also visit a farm to learn about how people have lived there throughout the years, plus you'll get a taste of their delicious fruit, which makes it completely worth it. 

 

For the foodies: The Fish Market

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The iconic fish market is right in the city center, so it can't (and shouldn't) be missed. 

You'll find a variety of seafood, vegetables and goods being sold at the fish market every day. Some of my favorite food I've ever had came from this place, and there's plenty of seating with a beautiful harbor view. Everything is, of course, fresh and prepared in front of you, and you get used to the smell of it pretty fast. 

Bergen's Fish Market has been around since the 1200s. Fishermen and merchants would gather to gather and sell their goods. You'll still find all the fishermen around today, but with a little more organization. It still feels, however, like you're walking into a way of life that has been around for centuries - which it has. Enjoy the fact that you're partaking in an age-old tradition while enjoying your meal. 

 

Tips for visiting Bergen

Book accommodation in advance

Bergen is becoming more and more popular, but it's not a huge city compared to others in Europe. You'll want to make sure that you have a place to stay before you arrive that is well located. This is even more true if you're a budget traveler, since Norway is a typically expensive country and the best deals tend to go pretty quickly. 

I rented this Airbnb that was in the perfect location, just the right size and was within my price range. Check out different hotel, hostel and Airbnb options in order to find something that works best for you. 

Booking.com

 

Use the Bergen Card / Student discount

If you're going to be in Bergen for more than a day, I'd recommend getting your hand on the Bergen Card. It's one of those city passes that gives you free or discounted access to a ton of attractions and museums, as well as a lot of coupons and deals on food. If you use them right, you'll save a lot of money, and you might even discover a cool new place just because you found out that you can get in for free. With the Bergen Card you also get free use of the city's transportation system. But don't forget to actually use the card, or it'll be $100 down the drain! 

Alternatively, make sure to check for student discounts. Most places offer some sort of student discount if you check, and it doesn't really matter where your student ID is from. Your student ID will also get you a discount on the Bergen Card - so that's a double win! 

 

Be prepared for the weather

Bergen is a beautiful city, and I was lucky to have sunny, perfect weather during my stay there - but that's not usually the case. They're known for having a lot of rain, so come prepared with a rain jacket. It was raining when I arrived, and I was glad to have that jacket for the walk to my accommodation - even if it was only 15 minutes. 

There are a lot of stores where you can pick up something if you really need it, but it's usually just easier to expect it to be the rainy city it's known for. I just checked what the weather in Bergen is right now, and it's rainy and expected to rain for the next week. Even though a lot of Norway can be fairly temperate in the summer, there's good chance Bergen will surprise you with some showers! 


As one of my favorite places I've been to, I don't really get tired of talking about Bergen. I might even talk it up too much, but everyone that I've recommended it to has seemed to fall in love as well. Even if it wasn't on your radar, consider going if you're already in Norway since it's a city that is so full of culture and a wide variety of things to do. 

If you have the chance, take the train from Oslo to Bergen. It's frequently called one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, and I'd have to agree! 

Have you been to Bergen? Is it someplace you'd like to go? Sound off below and let me know your thoughts!

 

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