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Bergen, known as "Gateway to the Fjords," is Norway's second largest city. But with only 235,000 inhabitants, it projects the warmth and accessibility of a much smaller community. The Gulf Stream softens the weather here, and the winters are mild with little snow.
Two picturesque and inviting landmarks make orientation easy; the wharf area and the museum-surrounded ornamental lake and parklands are within ten minutes from each other by foot. Most of Bergen proper's attractions and activities also lie within a short walk of those points, as does the main cruise pier.
Bergen is one of the friendliest and least intimidating European cities for Americans. The nearly endless hours of summer sunlight seem to lend an unhurried quality to the pace of daily life here -- but interestingly, this is a port that sees cruise passengers, thanks to the year-round itineraries offered by Norwegian Coastal Voyages, in all four seasons. Most residents are patient and helpful to a fault, and tourists are almost always made to feel welcome. With great dining, art, historical and natural assets, and decent shopping -- though not targeted to the most frugal among us -- Bergen has something for everyone.
Bergen is a clean, friendly, accessible seaside town, rich in history and art, and easily navigated and negotiated on foot or public transport. But the city is also gateway to a wide range of longer-term pursuits for those who have more time to explore it while visiting independently.
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Other Baltic & Northern Europe Cruise Ports:
Aarhus • Amsterdam • Bergen • Bremerhaven • Copenhagen • Flam • Gdansk • Helsinki • Ilulissat • Oslo • Reykjavik • Riga • St. Petersburg • Stockholm • Svalbard • Tallinn • Travemunde • Trondheim • Visby • Warnemunde
Wool sweaters and troll dolls are the most obvious choices, but Norway is also famous for fine contemporary tableware, silver and ceramics. These can easily be found in Bryggen (historic wharf area) and in the cross streets running southwest perpendicular to Olav Kyrres Gate.
Norwegian, though English is understood and spoken almost everywhere. As a matter of fact, asking a resident if he speaks English is likely to earn you a reply of, "But of course," in a soft, lilting Scandinavian accent, along with a gently reproving look for even thinking he would not know our language.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Though there are numerous currency exchanges around Bergen, A.T.M.'s are plentiful and offer a far better rate of exchange. The biggest concentration of banks and A.T.M.'s is around the streets just south and east of the harbor, especially along the major thoroughfare, Olav Kyrres Gate.
Norway is not currently part of the E.U., so they still maintain their currency, the Norwegian Krone (NOK). All prices quoted in this port report will be both in Krone and dollars, calculated at the current rate of exchange, 5.06 kroner = 1 dollar.
Where You're Docked
The cruise port is within walking distance of Bryggen and Bergen Town Centre, encompassing most of the city's points of interest.
Bergen's cruise docks have few amenities, but not to fret; it's only five hundred yards to Bryggen and every souvenir and snack under the sun (midnight or otherwise).
For visitors who plan to explore on their own, Bergen's best bargain is the "Bergen Card", which can be purchased at the railway station, the express boat terminal, the tourist information center at Vagsallmennigen and some hotels. A 24-hour adult card sells for NOK 190 ($37.52), and gives the holder free transportation on all city buses and free admission or deep discounts to most of the major attractions. A child's card (3 - 15 years) costs NOK 75 ($14.81). 48-hour cards are also available.
As mentioned earlier, most of Bergen's attractions can be reached easily on foot. From the wharf area, it's a mere five-hundred-yard walk in an easterly direction to Bergen's other major landmark: Lille Lungegadsvann -- a small lake embedded in lush gardens and statuary, surrounded by most of Bergen's major museums. And there are many. One could happily spend more than a day wandering through one museum after another, and all museums offer free admission with the purchase of a Bergen Card.
For those who choose not to walk or to reach attractions farther afield, Bergen's public transportation system is clean, efficient and free of charge to holders of a Bergen Card.
The Wharf Area: Bryggen, or old wharf district, gives Bergen's harbor its characteristic medieval look. Painted in shades of white, barn red and mustard, the tall, narrow wooden warehouse buildings, rebuilt many times after disastrous fires, evoke the style and color of the Hanseatic originals. Now they house shops and eateries. In the midst of Bryggen is Bryggens Museum [May - August: daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; September - April: Monday - Friday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., Saturday noon - 3 p.m., Sunday noon - 4 p.m. (NOK 50/$10.00 - free with Bergen Card)]. The museum houses the ruins of the original 12th-century building foundations, which were discovered during the excavations in 1955 following the most recent fire, along with other artifacts.
The Bergen Fish Market: At the very end of the harbor, five minutes from Bryggen. This is a great place to stroll and watch the locals haggling over today's catch, but also a nice spot to enjoy a quayside lunch of freshly caught salmon or fish and chips. Next to the fish market is a flea market, with loads of souvenirs, hand-knit sweaters, etc. Unlike most flea markets, many merchants here take credit cards and most will provide paperwork for tax refunds.
Bergen Aquarium (Akavariet I Bergen): Found at the very opening of the harbor. There is a ferry that crosses from the Fish Market to the aquarium two to three times an hour during the summer season (NOK 20/$4). The aquarium features birds and sea life, especially animals found in and around the North Sea. Seal and penguin pools are popular features as well. [May - September: daily 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. (NOK 150/$29.65 for adults, NOK 115/$23.00 with Bergen Card); October - April: daily 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. (NOK 115/$23.00 - free with Bergen Card)].
Museums: The Bergen Art Museum (Bergen Kunstmuseum) is, like our Smithsonian Institution, actually a group of individual, separate museums, all of which can be found on the shores in Bergen's central lake, Lille Lungegadsvann. Three museums make up the facility: The City Art Collection (Bergen Billedgalleri) houses Norwegian and International art and religious icons from the 13th century forward; the Rasmus Meyer Collection (Rasmus Meyers Samlinger) displays works of Norwegian artists from the 18th through the beginning of the 20th centuries, including a collection of the works of Edvard Munch; and the Stenersen Collection (Stenersens Samlinger) features 20th-century masterpieces by Munch, Miro, Picasso, Klee and others. [Daily 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. (NOK 50/$6.65 - free with Bergen Card,) closed Mondays May - September].
Between the Rasmus Meyer Collection and the Stenerson Collection is the Bergen Contemporary Art Centre (Bergen Kunsthall) [Tuesday - Sunday, noon - 5 p.m. (NOK 40/$8.00 - free with Bergen Card)], featuring varying exhibitions of contemporary art. Also sells graphic art and paintings.
The last museum in the lake area, just west of the Stenersen Collection, is West Norway Museum of Decorative Art (Vestlandske Kunstindustrimuseum), displaying a potpourri of art, clothes, textiles, jewelry, antiques and other objets d'art. [May - September: 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.; October - April: noon - 4 p.m. (NOK 40/$5.35 - free with Bergen Card), closed Mondays].
Floibanen Funicular: If the line between lake and Fish Market were the base of an isosceles triangle, at the apex of the triangle would be the station for the Floibanen Funicular [Monday - Friday: 7:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Saturday: 8 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Sunday: 9 a.m. - 11 p.m. (NOK 70/$13.85 - free with Bergen Card)], which climbs over a thousand feet to the peak of Mt. Floyen. At the summit, visitors are afforded magnificent views of Bergen, as well as of the other six mountains that frame the city, and of the fjords beyond. There are also a gift shop, restaurant and several miles of well-marked hiking trails.
Been There, Done That
See the Fantoft Stave Church: Long after the rest of Europe switched from wood to stone for church construction, Norway continued to build wooden "stave" churches, a unique design built entirely without the use of a single nail or screw, with soaring, vaulted ceilings shaped like the upside-down hulls of Viking ships. Of the thousand stave churches originally built, only twenty-eight remain. Bergen's example, originally constructed elsewhere in 1150, was taken apart and moved from its original location to Bergen in 1883. It burned during an arson fire in 1992, and the current replica was built to the original plans in 1997. [Daily 10:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. - 6 p.m., May - September (NOK 30/$4.00 - free with Bergen Card)]
The Fantoft Stave Church is located in on the southern outskirts of Bergen in the region known as "Paradis." Though there are plenty of taxis in Bergen, the best way to get to the church is by public bus -- a great way to rub elbows with locals (with the added charm of being free of charge with the Bergen Card). First, walk to the bus station next to the train station, which is one block north of the lake on Stromgaten. Take any bus leaving from Platform 20. Buses leave every 15 or 20 minutes. Disembark at the Fantoft bus stop, about ten minutes from the bus station. Cross the road, turn right and walk up the hill behind the parking lot to the church.
Visit Troldhaugen & Edvard Grieg Museum and Take in a Live Performance: Meaning "Troll's Hill," Troldhaugen was the residence of Norway's most renowned classical composer, Edvard Grieg. Features of the residence, left pretty much as it was during Grieg's life, include his piano, furniture, artwork, papers and personal effects. The little cliffside shack where Grieg composed and the hillside graves of Grieg and his wife, Nina, are also open for tourist exploration. One delight is the modern chamber music concert hall, added in 1995. Periodic concerts take place in the 200-seat hall (check the Troldhaugen Web site, www.troldhaugen.com, for current schedule). Many cruise-sponsored shore excursions coincide with these concerts. However, the concert hall is often in use for rehearsals for those concerts and is open for the public to drop in and listen. [May - September: daily 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.; October-April: Monday - Friday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.; also open weekends noon - 4 p.m. October, November and April (NOK 60/$12.00 - NOK 20/$4.00 with Bergen Card)]
Test Drive a Fjord: Bergen Fjord Sightseeing conducts half-day (four-hour) fjord tours aboard White Lady, departing from the Bergen Fish Market daily at 10 a.m. May - September. The tour gets you closer to the shorelines, villages and waterfalls than your large cruise ship can. (NOK 430/$85 - NOK 330/$65.25 with Bergen Card).
Bergen, true to its personality of a city with a welcome mat out to all nationalities, offers a dizzying range of cuisine choices:
Peppes Pizza: Norwegian pizza? You bet! This home-grown chain has four outlets around Bergen Town Centre. And a it's a real bargain. A mere handful of kroner will get you a small pizza and drink. Open all day.
Bryggeloftet: If you want to try traditional Norwegian cuisine with a lovely wharf-side ambience, this classic in Bryggen is where it's at. Multi-course lunches of fresh local seafood and game are featured here. The per-person cost for three courses including a half-liter of wine will run about NOK 400 ($79). The food is well worth the price, but don't be shocked if you see items on the menu that would have Greenpeace tearing their hair out. Open for lunch at 11 a.m. daily; 1 p.m. Sunday.
Staying in Touch
Check your e-mail for free at the Bergen Public Library, located in the center of Bergen. The library is open Monday to Saturday.
Here are our choices for the best ship-sponsored shore excursions:
Best Choice for Nature Lovers: Guided Hikes on the Mount Floyen nature trails. Duration up to 4.5 hours. Price: $42 - $50. Offered by Royal Caribbean International, Peter Deilmann Cruises, Regent Seven Seas.
Best Choice for Sportspersons: Deep Sea Fishing. Duration: three hours. Price: $65 - $100. Offered by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.
Best Choice for Culture Vultures: Troldhaugen and the Grieg Museum (some tours include a live concert). Duration: 3 - 3.5 hours. Price: $45 - $65. Offered by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Peter Deilmann Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas.
For More Information
On the Web: www.visitbergen.com and www.visitnorway.com
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Europe
The Independent Traveler: Europe Exchange
Image of Hardangerfjord is copyright Per Eide/Innovation Norway.