Trip that finally triggered creation of this blog is our most recent trip to one of the richest countries of the world (both in terms of GDP and natural beauties). I have started planning this trip more than a year ago. We usually tend to travel somewhere during Christmas period as you only need to take 3-4 days off and get 9-10 days long vacation. Norway seemed like a very good choice for such trip although it wasn’t regarded as budget destination from the very beginning. Norway is probably one of the most picturesque countries in Europe and every square foot in Norway deserves to be photographed, but due to geographical position and tough weather conditions during winter months it is also one of the coldest countries so most of convenient transport infrastructure is shut down as well as many tourist attractions. Given this and the fact that we’re visiting Norway for the first time (certainly not last) we decided to visit Bergen and Oslo travelling to the latter through marvellous Sognefjord and spectacular railway.
Our trip started at Bergen international airport. Although it’s an international airport with departures to numerous destinations in Europe it is still a very cosy airport without huge passages between aircraft doorway and passport control. One young lady was so excited by what she has seen in Norway that she missed the queue and, after 5 minutes of conversation with arrivals immigration officer, finally realised that her flight back to London is about to depart.
As experienced travellers, we started our stay in Norway with withdrawing kr1000 (€110, Norway has its own currency – Krone) from the ATM machine. At that moment I didn’t think that we won’t need that money. Norwegian financial system is advanced enough to make card payments available in the most distant locations, including mountains and tiny fjord villages with a few dozens of population.
TIP: The most convenient (though not the cheapest) way to get from airport to city centre is Fly Bus (Flybussen). For €13 per person it will take you to Bergen harbour in less than 30 minutes. You can buy a ticket from a driver using your credit card. And yes, you can use Apple Pay, Android Pay or whatever fancy payment system is supported by your phone.
Bergen is a second largest city in Norway (after Oslo) with population around 300,000 (probably including tourists 🙂 ). It makes city centre very cosy and romantic. Colourful wooden houses and narrow streets in between make it a real postcard.
There is not that many attractions in Bergen, a moderately paced tourist is able to cover all of them in 3 days. We expected Christmas to be dead season and added one more day to walk around the empty streets in our very own Bergen.
TIP: You may consider buying Bergen Card for the whole stay or just part of it (24, 48 or 72 hours). It gives free entry to most Bergen museums, discounts in popular restaurants, free public transport use and one free return trip on Floibanen (a funicular to one of 7 mountains that surround Bergen). In our case we spent on it around the same money we could spend without it so I’ll leave it for you to decide.
There are various ways to discover Bergen. One may want to visit all museums around or just go shopping. Many people like going to theatres and Bergen is a very good destination for that as well. Our priority this time was the nature and relaxed exploration so after dropping our bags at First Hotel Marin (highly recommended hotel with reasonable pricing and extremely convenient facilities) we took random public transport, which happened to be light railway, and escaped the city. It brought us to a hidden artefact built in 12th century: Fantoft Stavkirke – Nordic-style stave church in the middle of the forest. With really nice weather around it was a rather good surprise. But of course we had all popular Bergen attractions in our list too.
Popular attractions we visited and that are certainly worth visiting include:
– Bryggen – famous UNESCO preserved site of wooden merchant houses built during Hanseatic period and rebuilt after several fires. It also includes Bryggen museum and Hanseatic museum (not available on Bergen card).
– Magic Ice Bar – bar fully made of ice with ice sculptures and paintings of famous Norwegian artists. There are some drinks available but their primary intention is to make you warm from inside. Be prepared to wrap up as they maintain -5°C temperature inside.
Bergen’s unique location allows the city to maintain its status of one of major ports in Western Norway and Northern Europe. But everything comes at its price. Weather throughout a year in Bergen may be frustrating even for the most rain-agnostic inhabitant of British Isles. Someone told us that a couple of years ago people in Bergen were experiencing rain for 90! consecutive days during winter season. Based on our experience it’s not too far from happening again this year. But, as someone said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. So prepare your best water-resistant clothes and get ready for the exciting trip.
If the sky is clear in the morning, it is highly recommended to take Floibanen to the top of mount Fløyen. There are many reasons for that. One of them is great panoramic view on the city centre. Although it’s just under 10 minutes ride from central Bergen, weather conditions are very different up there, you may even expect to see some snow. Right next to viewing platform you can enter quiet and peaceful pine forest where you have multiple options including hiking in majestic surrounding mountains, relaxed forest walk or just an ecological descent to city centre.
Like vikings returning from their sea campaigns a millennium ago we also needed some food and drinks to refuel ourselves for future adventures. Norway is a very special country in terms of everything and food culture is not an exception. Bergen is not really a gastronomic paradise, but we faced a real disaster on Christmas Eve – every single restaurant is closed and, with the exception to few of them, will not be opened until Boxing Day. That was the first time we tried Norwegian kebab (the same kebab you can find all around Europe but twice more expensive as everything in Norway). On Christmas Day our meal was sponsored by Ethiopian restaurant right next to Kebab house. If you want to taste authentic Norwegian food though, I’d suggest visiting famous Bergen Fish Market. It will most likely drill a hole in your pocket but, as a biggest seafood venue in Norway’s seafood capital, it is certainly worth trying. We even saved our bill from one of its restaurants as it is the highest ever bill we’ve paid at a restaurant.
If you’re a beer lover, Bergen is a city to go. There are multiple venues that can impress anyone. Henrik øl og vinstove, Una Cocktail Bar and Pingvinen are the must-visit destinations for anyone wishing to drink real Norwegian beer. My personal recommendation is HaandBryggeriet Odin’s Tipple. However, you must again be ready for a bit extreme prices. Sadly enough, I wasn’t able to find a single bierdeckel to support my collection.
With every adventure coming to an end, it happened to our Bergen trip too. After four lovely days spent under different types of rain, we were ready to depart for a short but extremely spectacular trip to Oslo with overnight stay in Flam. Being just 2 days long it certainly deserves its own post.
How to get there?
Bergen international airport has flights to and from major European cities. Bus trip from the airport to city centre takes 30 minutes and costs around €13. No booking required, you can buy the ticket from driver using your bank card.
Where to stay?
Bergen doesn’t have many inexpensive options pretty much as anywhere in Norway. An average night around central Bergen will cost €120 during holidays season. We stayed at First Hotel Marin right next to Bryggen area. Breakfasts are included and guests have access to hotel’s gym and sauna.
What to eat?
Finding a place to eat may be tricky during holidays. Bergen is regarded as seafood capital of Norway, so if you’re lucky, try seafood platter at one of the restaurants of the Fish Market.
What to do?
Bergen is a small city and has limited attractions for tourists. One may enjoy visiting local museums and explore local culture and history. Bergen is great for outdoors activities: hiking, walking, running or just breathing in fresh air are the most popular options.
How to get around?
Bergen is quite small so you’ll very likely be fine with just walking. However, public transport is very convenient if you need it. Local buses cover central area while light railway goes further into the country. Transport is more expensive than in most of the European countries but you can enjoy it for free with Bergen Card.