With my parents having lived in Bergen in their twenties, it has always been a point of reference in their stories and anecdotes, making me feel immediately closer to a city that I had not yet visited. This summer marked the perfect time to explore the places spoken about so fondly during my youth.
While we didn’t have time to embark on the renowned Norway in a nutshell, we decided instead to do a whistle-stop food-centric tour of Norway’s second largest city.
Where to stay
Be prepared for expense in Bergen and plan ahead by booking reasonably priced flights and hotels. The Scandic Ørnen is perfectly situated at about ten minutes walk from Bryggen, the old town of Bergen. While it is primarily a business hotel, it ticks all the boxes, especially on the food front with its mouth-watering breakfast spreads and elegant rooftop Roast Restaurant. As hinted at by its name, the restaurant specialises in barbecued meats however their seafood selection from the North Sea is just as enticing.
The grilled pollock is perfectly seared, served with a (slightly too generous) dollop of herb butter, roasted almonds and rainbow veggies atop a purée of apple and sweet potato. While the portion might initially look on the small side, it is accompanied by a side of roasted new potatoes and a paper bag filled to the brim with crusty sourdough and smoked paprika mayonnaise (even mayo haters like myself will love this). The plates resemble works of art with flavours to match.
If you would prefer to dine elsewhere then make sure to check out the hidden terrace on the ninth floor beforehand for an aperitif. With the sun only setting towards midnight in the summer season, you’ll have plenty of time to catch some rays on this peaceful foliage-filled rooftop.
Promenade through Bergen
Bergen is very manageable for a short stay thanks to its small size. Wander through the narrow cobbled streets for picturesque scenes and envy-inducing colourful wooden houses. Bold yellows are complemented by climbing rose vines while Wes Anderson would feel right at home with the pastel colour schemes .
Even the sewage holes double up as intricate oeuvres d’art, portraying the characteristic sights of Bergen.
Take a trip to Fløyen
Don’t miss out on the panoramic views of Bergen at Fløyen by using the Fløibanen funicular. Make sure to book in advance to avoid the disappointment of long queues. After all, you don’t want to be stuck indoors if Bergen is experiencing one of its rare sunny days.
The building housing the funicular is, in itself, worth a visit, adorned in the world’s largest bouquet of red flowers suspended by blue ribbon. Everything in Bergen feels as if it has an artistic purpose, with each building as pristinely kept as the next.
Once you’ve reached the top, make your way to the viewing platform for gorgeous views of both the city and the grazing goats beneath. To lengthen the trip, head through the forest to the scenic Skomakerdiket lake where you’ll get a chance to observe the landscape through Monet-style reflections. If you have time, make your own way down the mountain on the Tippetue path to find yourself back at the original starting point.
Sunset in Bryggen
Head to the busy port area for sunset to get a glimpse at the dramatic Nordic skies and grab a seat at one of the heaving bars to get a feel for the spirit of the city. Never mind booking a dinner reservation as the renowned fish market serves up fresh produce to passers-by, with ample al-fresco seating.
This is also the perfect spot to gaze at Bryggen’s recognizable waterfront colourful houses and learn more about the historic 14th century trading activities of the Hanseatic League. The houses date back 300 years and deservedly hold the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Travel back in time in Gamle Bergen
To gain a better understanding of Bergen’s history, head to the open-air Gamle Bergen museum for a peek into the past. A ticket gives you access to the reconstructed wooden houses from the eighteenth to twentieth century. It’s almost as if you’re walking through a life-size toy town.
Cruising in the Fjords
The three hour boat trip into the fjords is certainly a highlight, taking you from Bryggen into the depths of the fjords, navigating through narrow paths along the way with traditional houses dotted on either side.
While we weren’t the luckiest on the weather front, it is still worth making the trip as the cloudy sky makes for some atmospheric scenery. Hop on a tour that takes you to the waterfalls to get a taste of the water fresh from the source.
Where to eat
Ravenous and craving shelter and warmth after the boat trip, we headed to Colonialen Strandgaten, a chic deli with slick modern interiors and full-length glass windows. The shelves and counters are stacked with fresh produce and Nordic delicacies, ranging from charcuterie to artisan cheeses and freshly baked bread. A favourite among locals for take-aways, the deli also caters for those who want to eat in though get there early in order to nab one of the three tables. Expect daily-changing hearty sandwiches and gorgeous cinnamon buns to satisfy sweet tooth cravings.
As newfound fans of the Colonialen group, we decided to book a table at their brasserie outpost on our last night. Located in the Litteraturhuset, the House of Literature, the restaurant embraces its artistic side with understated rustic interiors, exposed brick walls and framed paintings. After all, the brasserie is right in the heart of Skostredet, Bergen’s art district, with neighbouring roads famed for their vibrant street art and murals.
Colonialen masters informal dining with its attentive service, exquisite food and creative presentation. The tender monkfish cassoulet with butter beans, shredded Parma ham and kale was truly unforgettable. Just ask the crusty bread that I used to soak up every last flavourful bite.
Make the most of Bergen’s proximity to the sea by indulging in the high quality seafood at Nama, a Japanese Fusion restaurant which also happens to be Bergen’s first sushi bar. We wanted to take advantage of the fresh fish so decided on sharing what can only be described as a Sushi feast. After the obligatory starters of Vegetable Tempura and Edamame with Sea Salt, we ordered the Halibut and Shrimp Nigiri alongside our usual order of Salmon & Avocado Maki. It was Nama’s Signature Maki, however, with a filling of scallop, sesame and avocado that stole the show.
If you’re not fussy about the choice in sushi then opt for Nama’s slightly less pricey Lunch Menu, which combines miso soup with the chef’s selection of 12 pieces of sushi. Whatever you go for, make sure to end the meal with a pot of their Green Tea, brought to the table in cast iron teapots paired with ceramic cups.
Nama’s fine dining is complimented by its luxe interiors, with cherry blossom décor and stylish high tables. All eyes are on the restaurant’s centrepiece, a modern jazzy cocktail bar which sets the tone of the restaurant with its colourful lighting and endless supply of Sake.
My trip to Bergen wasn’t complete without multiple visits to the wonderful cafe Kaffemisjonen – read my full-length review here.
The second leg of this Scandinavian trip took us to Stockholm. More to come on this trip soon!