Bergen has a brilliant mix of civilization and nature; a multicultural city, bustling but not overpowering, which is embedded between nine mountains.
Aside from the nature, the city itself has much to offer; being a small city with a nice distribution of sights to see, you never have to walk for too long before you find somewhere new to visit, be it one of the many museums, churches, occasional food markets, narrow cobble shopping streets, the bars/cafes, or accidental parks. The main tourist attractions include the fish market, and Bryggen. The fish market isn't that amazing; you’ll find yourself paying an extortionate amount for fish and chips, so where it is definitely worth a look and a few pictures, be careful because if you are in Norway you will already be paying a bit more than back home for food.
Across the harbor, a short walk from the fish market, Bryggen is a World Cultural Heritage site facing the port of Bergen, and consisting of old wooden buildings, which although have been restored from fires, have a history dating back to the early trading days of Bergen several centuries ago. Also, if you continue past Bryggen for two minutes you will find the Rosenkrantz tower and museum with a nice public park.
Leading up to Christmas, Bergen celebrates with a festival of lights, a lot of fireworks (similar to our Bonfire night). But the best thing of all was the season Pepperkakebyen, or gingerbread city; the largest gingerbread city in Europe, which anyone in the city can contribute to (I tried and failed! It’s tough work, making a gingerbread house!)
I still have a lot to look forward to, including Norway’s national day in May which includes the beautiful and richly detailed traditional dress, the bunad. The style of the bunad varies depending on your home county in Norway. Furthermore, Bergen is known for being a city of jazz, and the annual Jazz festival will be held at the end of June.
The abovementioned nine mountains are a paradise for hikers, and a great benefit if your desire to go up mountains is often prevented by transport issues. You just step outside the house and up you go! My personal favourite is Løvstakken, a foresty hike which gives you a 360 degree view of the surrounding fjords.
It’s not uncommon to see Norwegians running up and down the hard and easy trails with expertise, whatever the weather; be it snow, ice, rain or fog, you see that in Bergen, this is a free recreational activity for friends, families, teenagers, and pets too. Inspiring for someone like me, whose idea of achievement comes from running for the bus! In the warmer months, you see paragliders drifting over the mountains. It was particularly amazing to people-watch when up the mountain after Christmas, to observe how children are integrated into the active Norwegian lifestyle. The snow had stuck, and it was the weekend; not only do you see children and parents sledging and enjoying themselves, but parents would ski with children a few meters behind in tow, in child sledges which are attached via a harness system to the parents back. You also see a lot of people running on the mountains, full steam ahead, with sport baby-carriers on their backs; I think after witnessing this I can never complain about mildly heavy shopping bags again. I really admire how young children are introduced into the outdoor world so early; it gave me a feeling of envy that I hadn’t grown up here, a child of both the city and the mountains.
However, don’t be put off if you have accessibility issues; the two main mountains overlooking the city are serviced by regular cable cars. One of these, Ulriken, is the biggest mountain of all, has a café/restaurant at the top with regular events including live jazz performances; however, the rocky paths might be difficult for individuals with mobility issues. The second, Fløyen, also overlooks the city with a similar view over the city and the fjords; although smaller, Fløyen has several low-key accessible hiking paths, which are simply like normal British pavements with a slight incline; I’ve witnessed it to be wheelchair and pram-friendly.
Another benefit is that just outside of the city, in the mountains or simply around the shopping centres, there are lakes everywhere. I have three near where I live, and several more in the mountain behind me that I haven’t yet discovered. But my favourite, which I have sadly only recently discovered, is Svartediket; a huge lake which serves as Bergen’s drinking water supply. It is a flat (but long!) walk around, steeply buried between the Floyen and Ulriken mountains. This time of year, where the lake is frozen over, you also pass beautiful small details like shallow frozen rivers, walls of icicles and subtle waterfalls. This is a 15min bus ride out from the city, plus a ten minute walk.
What I like about the nature here is that I feel the personality of it vastly changes with the seasons. I arrived here on a summer day, and I was amazed to be walking around whilst buried in a circumference of green mountains and blue sky. As time moved us into autumn, the mountains would hold a mix of red, orange and yellow as the leaves fell. The winter, however, has not made the city dead; the frozen lakes in and out of the city and the snow on the mountains are cold, but so beautiful. I’m looking forward to seeing the city in spring, which is meant to be Bergen’s most beautiful season.
Finally, there are a few practical things you should know. The cost of living in Norway is expensive, but it is completely doable if you budget and prepare a lot of your meals from self-bought supermarket food, rather than eating out. The language barrier won’t be a problem; whereas it is nice to learn some Norwegian to get around, English is strongly spoken and it wont hinder your trip. Also, Bergen is famous for bad weather; it’s not so bad to me (being a Manchester girl!) but obviously bring decent rain clothes and shoes if you will be out and about. I’m incredibly grateful and lucky to be here, and I think that you can’t leave cities of Norway without taking something out of it; make the most of it if you come!