Halfway though our roadtrip and we arrive in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city. Nestled in Byfjorden bay surrounded by mountains, it is the most popular gateway to the fjords of West Norway. After our drive on the Hardanger route, we reach the city centre with a few hours of daylight left to explore the historic harbour and downtown district.
Founded in year 1070, Bergen became Norway’s capital in the 13th century and a bureau city of the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northern Europe. Until the late 1700s, the city enjoyed exclusive rights to mediate trade between northern Norway and the rest of the world, making it one of the most important ports in Scandinavia.
Bergen is the most hilly and mountainous city in Norway, much of it built on narrow streets and steep alleyways. The downtown core is centered around old Vågen harbour, where a bustling outdoor fishmarket is a major tourist draw. The atmosphere, cultural landscape, and colourful traditional architecture are themselves highlights of the city, perhaps more so than any particular attraction. Turn a corner and you’ll likely find a quiet street to explore far from the bustling crowds (especially on days when a cruise ship is in dock).
If there is a single must-see attraction, it would surely be Bryggen on the north side of Vågen harbour. Literally “The Dock”, this collection of commercial buildings is the most visual reminder of Bergen’s Hanseatic merchant history. Now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage location, the area used to be the primary trading and processing site of the city. Most of the buildings have been rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1702 (when 90 percent of the city was reduced to ashes), but remain similar to the way they looked during medieval times. Exploring the alleys between the restaurants and storefronts, you get a real feel for what life must have been like during the peak of Bergen’s commercial prowess.