From the 13th century Bergen was Norway's first proper city capital and up until the 1830's Norway's biggest town. It has always had wide contacts with other countries. The way it is sited makes it natural for Bergensers to orientate themselves outwards, over the sea, towards the rest of the world. As far back as the year 1100 Bergen was an established town of size and renown by European standards, and busy with trading ships from any countries.
Visitors have always been looked after in this Westland city and the Bergeners of today have a long history of hospitality. They are proud of their town and are pleased and delighted to show it off to visitors. There is so much to see and enjoy whether you are coming for the very first time or whether you are returning, as so many do time after time. Nowadays Bergen is small by international standards, but it has always been a meeting place for people and a centre for commerce and culture.
Bergen is like that. At the same time as retaining much of its local character, it also has a very international flavour. We have top class international hotels as well as more modest ones, in the heart of the city or just outside within a short distance from the airport. Private accommodation is available and camper vans are also catered to.
As to Bergen's restaurants, these can and do satisfy most tastes and pockets. You can choose for the most exotic to the more traditional dishes from home and abroad. There are high class gourmet restaurants of international repute as well as modest cafes serving popular everyday Norwegian dishes. It is not too difficult to find a pleasant place to enjoy really good food.
In this old tradesman's town you used to be able to strike a bargain and so can you today. Bergen abounds with all kinds of shops, whether in the city centre or at the large modern shopping malls just outside in the suburbs of Fana, Loddefjord, Åsane and Fyllingsdalen.
Bergen is often referred to as the gateway to the fjords. And, it is indeed the natural starting off point for exploring what many consider to be Scandanavia's number one tourist attraction -- the fjords of Western Norway. It is also the starting point for "Hurtigruten", the coastal steamer service which plies all along this scenic coast to the Land of the Midnight Sun in the very north of Norway
But, stay awhile. There is no need to rush away so soon after your arrival in the "town between the seven mountains". as Bergen is referred to. If you arrive by sea the city appears like an amphitheatre of buildings laid out on the mountainsides and look down upon a stage which is the harbour. It is these mountains which give Bergen its special setting, and it was around this harbour where the town's first buildings began to multiply. The sheltered harbour bustles with floating traffic, pleasure and commercial alike.
The market on the harbour is lively with trade all the year 'round but in the summer season it blossoms even more with crowded and colourful street life. Traditionally a place where farmers and fishermen come in from the surrounding districts to sell their produce, this is the famous "Fish Market" where fish are kept alive in tanks so that a Bergenser's dinner is absolutely fresh, and slab after slab of tempting fruits of the sea are laid out on the stalls.
Yes, this is the heart of the town, with so many interesting things to see -- all within an easy stroll.
Along the eastern side of the harbour are the fascinating buildings of Bryggen (The Warf). These, quite rightly, have taken their place on UNESCO's list of the world's most valuable historical and cultural places worthy of preservation. The old wooden warehouses that stand today were built after the great file of 1702. Here they stretch, side by side, with stately gables overlooking the harbour and narrow alleyways leading towards storage places and quaint courtyards. Each house was controlled by a byggherre ("building master") and was divided into several stuer ("rooms"), each of which belonged to a particular owner. They were once trading headquarters for the Germanic Hanseatic League and, from as long ago as the 12th century, German "Hansas" and artisans carried on a thriving business here here in their own enclosed community with their own laws (an all male society, for example). As time went by, more and more of the traders stayed on in Bergen, eventually becoming integrated as citizens. One of the oldest and best preserved buildings on Bryggen is the Hanseatic Museum which is at the end nearest the Fish Market. Inside, you can get a very good idea of the life and trading activities of the Hansas.
At the other end of Bryggen is the modern Bryggen Museum which was built to house Middle Ages artifacts from extensive archeology after a fire in 1955. Every day, two so-called "Bryggen Wanderers" guided tours set off from here. During the one-and-one-half hour tour, you are shown the old wooden buildings, Shøtstuene (the Hansa's "clubhouse") and the two museums mentioned above. In addition to the permanent exhibits, Bryggen's Museum also rings the changes with visiting exhibitions.
A little further along the harbour you will come to Håkonshallen and the Rosenkrantz Tower -- two of the town's most impressive buildings. The hall was built by King Håkon Håkonsson in the 12th century as a ceremonial hall within the confines of his residential estate at the time Bergen was the political hub of Norway. As for the Rosenkrantz Tower, most of what you see today is from the 16th century. King Magnus Lawmender's keep from about 1260 and Jørgen Hanssøn's defences from about 1520 make up some parts of the tower as well. Rosenkrantz Tower was put up as a combined defence and residence for the governor of Berghus (Bergen Castle), Erik Rosenkrantz, in the 1560's.
But if you make the Fish Market your starting point, you don't have to go everywhere on foot. From here you can take one of the popular boat sightseeing tours. "White Lady" has two daily boat trips for you to get out of town and into the nearby fjords to marvel at mountains rearing straight up from the water. During one of these four hour tours you get a look at the dramatic scenery which has made this part of the country of attractive to visitors from far and near.
Through the narrow entranceways, skirting sparsely inhabited shores, the tour continues, also acting as a reminder of how the local inhabitants eked out their existence all through the years. Along the way you come close to more modern industry -- fish farming, and the tour passes several projects where well-fed trout and salmon teem in the breeding tanks. At the same time, you can't avoid the fauna in its original surroundings. The abandoned leaping of wild salmon is still to be seen on such a fjord tour.
Information provided by experienced guides, and a simple lunch, makes this a fulfilling fjord tour, enriching all the senses. And a friendly crew contribute to the enjoyment, making this a tour which many take over and over again.
Also popular are White Lady's harbour tours, again from the Fish Market. You are given a very fine view of Bergen from the sea, including many of its sightseeing attractions. The tour lasts one hour and goes every afternoon. "White Lady" takes 120 passengers and, in addition to its regular programme, special tours can be arranged for groups.
There are also plenty of whole day tours by boat out of Bergen, or a combination of bus and boat, to take you into the fjords and out to sea. Particularly for those who would like to try their luck at sea fishing, there are many excellent tours which set off from Bergen. As for sail enthusiasts who are not asking for more comforts than a school ship can offer, cruises can be arranged on the pride of Bergen, the sailing ship "Statsraad Lemkkuhl" for two days' duration and upwards. This beautiful ship has a permanent mooring space on Bryggen's quay side where it adds a very attractive element to a photograph of the town.
In the last few years Bergen has expanded its facilities for seafarers who arrive under their own steam, making it possible for them to stay a little longer. In the inner harbour, near Zachariasbryggen, there is a quay side mooring reserved for pleasure boats, with toilets, showers and washing machines on land for use by boat people. Closer to the middle of town you couldn't wish to come. Not only that, but in the summer of 1993, a new sea sports centre opened a little further out near to the lovely old-town museum of "Gamle Bergen" at Sandviken.