Bergen Norway Things to Do in Winter
Mark Bibby Jackson discovers the vast array of things to do in Bergen Norway during winter, from its great gastronomy to rich culture and trolls!
It is not very often that I start my morning with an early sea dip in near freezing conditions, but there again I was not raised in Bergen Norway.
Nordnes Sjøbad is packed with foolhardy bathers as we arrive on the first morning of our wintry trip through Norway. The land temperature is hovering around 4C, but the sea is a balmy 7C as I strut towards the steps leading to the bay, only a pair of bathing shorts to protect me. I descend the steps, dip my feet and immediately rush back to the sanctuary of the heated saltwater swimming pool. Thermometers in Norway clearly use a different scale to the ones I am accustomed to.
As my companions take it in turns to make repeat visits to the icy waters I remain floating in the pool; my peace only disturbed by a visit to the mixed sauna with its great views across Bergen harbour. It is a great and refreshing way to start the day, even for people with cold feet like me.
Taking the Bergen Funicular to Troll-land
Having failed my induction to Nordic life in winter, I take the Fløibanen Funicular up Mount Fløyen.
Built in 1918, the funicular makes the climb up Mount Fløyen simplicity itself, and is used by the public as well as tourists. The views from the back of the car must be spectacular although unfortunately our visit coincided with a spell of Bergen weather that offered plenty in atmosphere but little in vista. The same is true of the viewpoint over presumably Bergen.
It is at Mount Fløyen that I have my first encounter with Bergen trolls – after which my name magically transformed to ‘troll’ by my party due to an alleged physical similarity which I think was somewhat unflattering – to trolls.
After a short walk around the forest where sadly we did not spot any real trolls we headed off to a hut for lunch. If you wish you can go for extended hikes around the mountain or even walk back into Bergen. While waiting for our lunch – a hearty and tasty vegan soup – to cook we have a quick look at one of the most unusual places to stay in Bergen. From one of the trees a cone hangs like a giant beehive. You can hire it for the night ensuring one of the most amazing glamping experiences so long as the trolls don’t disturb you at night.
History of Bergen
Returning to Bergen via the funicular we have a free afternoon to explore the city.
It is believed that Bergen was founded by King Olav Kyrre in 1070, although trading might have commenced 50 years earlier. Initially called Bjørgvin, or the “green meadow among the mountains”, its favourable location made Bergen the centre of trade between northern Norway and the rest of the world. It had a monopoly on the vital cod trade and was the former capital, and largest city in Norway, until the 1830s.
The old part of town – that which survived a succession of fires – is based around the harbour in the Unesco World Heritage Site, Bryggen. You can walk freely around Bryggen and the old part of town where many of the wooden structures remain. There is also Domkirken cathedral which has a canon ball lodged in its walls from the Battle of Bergen Harbour in 1665.
Having a Scream at Bergen’s Museums and Galleries
One of the great things to do in Bergen is to explore the museums and galleries.
Bryggen Museum right next to the quay, is built on top of the old buildings, the foundations of which you can see within the museum. It also has the largest collection of runic inscriptions in the world ranging from the mundane to abusive – lavatorial humour has a long tradition, predating lavatories.
Bergen also has an interesting collection of art at the Kode art museums – the second largest art gallery in Norway. This makes for an interesting journey through Norwegian art. It contains the world’s third largest collection of work by Edvard Munch, as well as Andy Warhol’s reinterpretation of The Scream.
I am particularly struck by the landscapes by Nikolai Astrup hung in a gallery next to a room where a video features both sound and visuals of the area where Astrup painted. This allows you to both see and hear the setting for the paintings as they are now.
Combining the visual and the musical is a key element of the cultural scene in Bergen. More than 400 concerts are performed each year – many of them in art galleries and museums, including summer concerts in Grieg’s house and around the central Festplassen bandstand.
Bergen: a City of Gastronomy
In recent years the gastronomy of Bergen has received much international acclaim. There are now two Michelin star Bergen restaurants. Bergen was also recognised as a Unesco Creative City of Gastronomy in 2015.
As opposed to many Unesco projects, which focus on conserving the past, the creative city concept is focused on sustaining for the future in a collaborative manner. Much of the focus in Bergen is on sustainable fish stocks, and encouraging restaurants and chefs to offer a variety of fish rather than simply cod and salmon.
This we experience on our second night when we dine at Fish Me restaurant at the Bergen Fish Market, located in the harbour, where I had some excellent turbot. There is also a revival of local fish dishes like plukkfisk and pressed cod, as well as two food festivals – one in September, and a Seafood Festival in February.
After dinner we cross the street for drinks at the newly opened Frescohallen bar and restaurant in a beautiful historic building built in 1862 as the first stock exchange in Scandinavia. The impressive large frescos tell the story of the city, and the malt whisky is excellent and Scottish. Previously we had had aperitifs in Magic Ice, a bar in Bergen carved of ice with temperature preserved at -5C where at least you could be assured the beer was served cold as ice.
Bergen Food Tour
On the following day, we meet again at the Bergen Fish Market to go on a Bergen food tour with Anne, from Bergen Base Camp. Here she introduces us to Bergen fast food – a fish cake that looks and feels like processed tofu but tastes unexpectedly brilliant. As we discover later on our trip you can find this tasty morsel throughout west Norway.
Andre the founder of Fish Me explains they try to use as much local products as possible, and that in recent years the standard of ingredients such as farmed salmon has increased considerably. He also informed us that most seafood, apart from crab, is best experienced in winter.
Anne’s tour is a combination of food and history. She takes us back to Bryggen where she explains the success of the city was based on stockfish – fish that was dried in north Norway and then transported around the world from Bergen. A great source of protein, it is an acquired taste, but proved vital for sailors spending months at sea away from land.
Bryggen was deserted after the Black Death which wiped out two-thirds of the population in 14th century – those who survived fled to the country. It was then incorporated into the Hanseatic League which took over the vacated buildings.
We walk around narrow cobbled streets full of old wooden houses before having lunch at Dr Wiesener, an old bathhouse that was still in use towards the end of the last century. The African curried chickpea soup was excellent and nutritious.
Norwegians are some of the heaviest coffee consumers in the world, so needless to say our tour includes a stop at a wonderful coffee shop, Det Lille Kaffekompaniet, which is packed so we have our coffee on the go. Our Bergen food tour concludes at Dyvekes Vinkjeller, a wonderful old Bergen pub, with 800-year-old cellars, and a long and tortured story of a King, a local girl and her mother, which I am sure Anne will happily relate should you choose to go on her tour – the beer was excellent.
Afterwards we dined at Allmuen Bistro, where we enjoyed large shared plates starting with a fish cake followed by some cod and mussels, all served in a really relaxed atmosphere.
Dining in the Clouds
After dinner we headed north to Fjærland for the next leg in our travels through Norway in winter. However, we were to return to Bergen a couple of days later having taken the Flåm Railway back to Bergen.
This time we ride on the Bergen cable car through the clouds up Mount Ulriken to Skyskraperen restaurant at its summit where we had a fantastic meal, although the ascent really did feel as we were taking a cable car to heaven.
Bergen Norway Photo Gallery
Flights to Bergen Norway
Mark was a guest of Norwegian airline Widerøe, in partnership with the tourist boards of Fjord Norway and North Norway. Widerøe flies daily from London and twice daily from Aberdeen (once on Saturdays) to its hub at Bergen, from where there are frequent connections to Tromsø and other towns and cities in Norway. Bergen flights cost from just £62 single. Bergen Light Rail line number 1 runs from Bergen airport to the city centre.
Mark parked his car at Heathrow using Holiday Extras, the market leader in UK airport parking, hotels, lounges, and transfers. Last year most of their customers saved at least £100 on their airport parking vs the price they’d have paid on the gate. With Flextras, if you need to cancel or amend you can without charge. Seven days parking at Purple Parking Meet and Greet, Heathrow Terminal 2, is available from £125.09. To book, visit https://www.holidayextras.com/ or call 0800 316 5678. Price searched on 22 February 2023 for arrival on 23 March 2023.
If you are looking for Bergen accommodation we can recommend the Scandic Torget hotel overlooking Bergen Fish Market. If you need a Bergen airport hotel we can also recommend the Scandic hotel at Kokstad.
Things To Do in Bergen Norway
While on your Bergen holiday you can buy the Bergen Card which provides you with free entry or discounted admission to museums and attractions, as well as discounts on restaurants and free travel on Bergen busses and the Bergen Light Rail line number 1 between Bergen airport and the city centre. Please see www.visitBergen.com/bergencard for more information.
Further Information on Things To Do in Bergen Norway
For further inspiration on what you can do in Bergen see www.visitBergen.com.
Main image: Bryggen, Bergen Photo Lars Korvald , courtesy Visit Bergen. Background image : Frescohallen bar Photo Mathias Falcon, courtesy Visit Bergen. All other photos, unless stated, by Mark Bibby Jackson, aka Troll.