Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. It is located on the south-western coast of Norway, in the county of Hordaland, in between a group of mountains known as De syv fjell (“the Seven Mountains”), although the number of mountains is a matter of definition. It harbors everything from small pleasure boats and cruise ships to large cargo and fishing vessels.
Bergen is an important cultural center in its region and was one of nine European cities honored with the title of European Capital of Culture in 2000. A municipality of Norway, and a former Norwegian county, in the county of Hordaland, the Norwegian city of Bergen was separated from Hordaland as a county of its own in 1831.
It was established as a municipality on 1 January 1838. The rural municipality of Bergen landdistrikt was merged with Bergen on 1 January 1877. The rural municipality of Arstad was merged with Bergen on 1 July 1915.
The rural municipalities of Arna, Fana, Laksevag, and Asane were merged with Bergen on 1 January 1972. The city lost its status as a separate county on the same date. Bergen was Norway’s largest city until the 1830s, when it was surpassed by the capital city of Oslo.
Founded around 1070 AD, Bergen quickly evolved into one of the most important cities in Norway. It was the country’s administrative capital from the early 1200s until 1299, and the largest city in Scandinavia. Bergen was one of the most important bureau cities of the Hanseatic League, interconnecting the continental Europe with the northern and coastal parts of Norway, thus becoming a central spot for the vending of stockfish and the commercial hot spot in Norway. It was the largest city in Norway until the 1830′s and has a long maritime history in shipping and finance.
The city still has relics of its Hanseatic heyday, most notably the old harbour of Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bergen has been ravaged by several fires; the most recent major fire took place in 1917, a fire which destroyed most of the buildings in what is today the central parts of the city centre, centered around the large square Torgallmenningen.
Bergen municipality occupies the majority of the Bergen peninsula in mid-western Hordaland. It is sheltered from the North Sea by the islands Askoy, Holsnoy (municipality Meland) and Sotra (municipalities Fjell and Sund). It is the administration centre of Hordaland, as well as the second-largest city in Norway and the largest in Western Norway. Bergen is the centre of the Bergen region, a statistical metropolitan area with a population of 356,633.
Bergen is located far west in Norway, sheltered from the North Sea only by a number of islands. It is situated along latitude 60 degrees north, as Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Saint Petersburg and Anchorage. The city is the most hilly and mountaineous in Norway. The city center is surrounded by a group of mountains and peaks known as the Seven Mountains, a defining characteristic which has given the city its name. The geographic conditions of the city are very visible; limited space to build on made it necessary in the 19th century that new city blocks be built on the steep slopes of mount Floyen.
Except for the dense city centre, which made up the entire city before 1916, Bergen is the least dense of the four largest cities in Norway. Most of the settlement inside the very wide city borders is concentrated in the western part of the municipality. The rest of the municipality is made up of mountains, as well as some farmland and smaller settlements.
The municipality covers an area of 465 km². The population is 244,620, making the population density 534 people per km². The population of the main urban area is 220,418. The municipality also contains eight minor urban settlements with a total population of 17,213, with Indre Arna, situated in the borough Arna, being the largest with a population of 6,151 as of 1 January 2007.
Although not being geographically distant from the city centre, Arna is separated from it by mount Ulriken. Arna and the city centre are connected by a railway line; driving through asane or Nesttun is required if travelling by car or bus.
Bergen’s city centre is situated between a group of mountains known collectively as de syv fjell (“the seven mountains”), describing the mountains Ulriken, Floyen, Lovstakken and Damsgardsfjellet, as well as three out of Lyderhorn, Sandviksfjellet, Blamanen, Rundemanen, and Askoyfjellet. The first to name them “the seven mountains” might have been Ludvig Holberg, inspired by the seven hills of Rome. These seven mountains are, however, only a few of the mountains located within the borders of the Bergen municipality. Gullfjellet is the highest mountain in Bergen, at 987 metres above sea level.
Bergen borders the municipalities Meland, Lindas and Osteroy to the north, Vaksdal and Samnanger to the east, Os and Austevoll to the south, and Sund, Fjell and Askoy to the west.
The oldest remaining part of the city is on the north side of the bay of Vagen. Bryggen, the product of rebuilding after a fire in 1702, is in this area. The buildings that form Bryggen were done in the style of the medieval buildings that stood on the site prior to the fire. Saint Mary’s Church is the oldest building in Bergen, parts of it dating from around 1130. The altar piece of the church is the oldest ornament preserved. It dates back to the Hanseatic period, probably the 15th century, when the church was used by the German hanseats as their parish church. Much of the interior was replaced during a restoration of the church in the second half of the 18th century.
Two other churches, the cathedral (Domkirken) and the Korskirken church are also medieval, although modified later. The Bergenhus fortress has several interesting buildings, notably Haakon’s Hall, a royal hall dating from 1261, and the Rosenkrantz Tower, built around a medieval fortification in 1563.
An open air fishmarket is located along the inner harbour of Vagen. Further south is the main shopping area, rebuilt after a fire in 1916 in art nouveau and functionalist style, around the main square Torgallmenningen. Several old quarters of white, wooden houses are scattered in and around the centre, most notably in Nordnes, Marken and Sandviken.
Nygardshoyden is a quaint area with a large number of buildings dating from late 19th century, many with neoclassical facades. Some parts of Bergen were rebuilt after World War II, rectifying damage due to bombing, the 1944 explosion accident, and thoughtless urban planning. Whole blocks of old wooden houses have been demolished in the city centre, most recently in Nostet and Krinkelkroken, due to a lack of maintenance of the buildings.
Due to the city’s location relatively far north, close to the northern sea and surrounded by mountains, special weather conditions occur, resulting in approximately 240 days with precipitation a year and a mean temperature of 7.6 °C (45.7 °F). In January 2007, a record of 85 rainy days in a row, was set. Still, local people claim there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Although rainy, in winter time it is also the warmest city in Norway.
For the rest of us, the trick is obviously to choose the time of visit with caution. If you’re lucky enough to catch the city on a sunny day, you will find an incredible atmosphere as citizens really know how to appreciate nice weather. City planners have probably had this in mind the latest years, resulting in open spaces, parks, flowers and lawns scattered all over downtown.
July has the highest mean temperature, 14.3 °C (57.7 °F), with August, 14.1 °C (57.4 °F) following close behind. May is usually the month with the least precipitation. Considering the number of local events this months, May is probably the best time to visit Bergen, with the the summer months of June, July and August as an almost as good second choice.
Floyen (320 metres above sea level) and Ulriken (643 metres above sea level) are connected to the city centre with a funicular and a cable car, respectively. The mountains, as well as the areas that surround them, are popular hiking areas for locals as well as tourists.
Several urban parks are present in the city centre, the largest being Nygardsparken located between the neighbourhoods of Nygard and Mohlenpris. Bergen Aquarium, housing fish, marine invertebrates, seals and penguins, as well as reptiles and monkeys, is located at the tip of the Nordnes peninsula.
Bergen is one of the most important cultural centers in Norway. The city is the home of the Bergen International Festival, Nattjazz and Bergenfest, festivals of international renown within their genres. The local symphony orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, was founded in 1786. It is one of the world’s oldest orchestral institutions. Bergen was the home of Norway’s great composer, Edvard Grieg. Henrik Ibsen, the famous playwright, started his career in Bergen as the manager of the Norwegian theater.
Around 2000, a number of artists from the rythmic music scene in Bergen gained international fame. In the domestic press this became known as the Bergen Wave. Musicians and bands with roots in Bergen include Annie, Burzum, Enslaved, Gorgoroth, Immortal, Erlend Oye, Kings of Convenience, Royksopp, Sondre Lerche, and Datarock.
Recent years, the people behind the Bergenfest festival have been hosting concerts the rest of the year. International artists who have visited Bergen include Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Black Sabbath, P!nk, Amy Winehouse, Dolly Parton, Iron Maiden, Roger Waters, Snoop Dogg and Rufus Wainwright. Neil Young will play an outdoor concert in Bergen in August 2008, and R.E.M. in September.
Bergen has an international airport, Bergen Airport, Flesland, with direct flights to several European cities. The Bergensbanen railway line runs east to Voss, Geilo, Honefoss and Oslo. The E16 road to Oslo passes through the Lærdalstunnelen, the longest road tunnel in the world. Bergen was the first city in Northern Europe to introduce a ring of toll roads entirely surrounding the city, making entering the city centre by car impossible without paying the toll.
The toll road system, established to fund new roads and motorways, opened 2 January 1986. The toll was collected by both toll plazas and an electronic toll collection system. In the early 2000s, the electronic toll collection system AutoPASS was introduced, replacing both the remaining toll plazas and the existing but dated electronic toll collection system.
Public transportation is provided by the transportation company Tide, the result of a merger between Gaia and HSD. Among the fleet of buses are 8 trolleybuses (two of which are dual-mode buses). Local train transport to Arna is provided by Norges Statsbaner. There is a funicular (Floibanen) and an aerial tramway (Ulriksbanen). The city’s tram system was closed in 1965, although a museum line still operates on Mohlenpris. The construction of a modern light rail line connecting the city centre with Nesttun and Bergen Airport has been approved by Stortinget and is underway. Express buses go to all larger destinations in Norway.
Within the city center, walking is the best way to get around. You can walk across the downtown in 20 minutes in any direction. The most central streets of the city generally has a good accessibility for the disabled. The most important pedestrian crossings have sound signals and are indicated by tactile paving. They are also accessible with a wheelchair. Although paved stone is a popular material in the streets, it is rarely used in pedestrian areas.
There’s a number of attractions in Bergen and the surrounding areas. Surveys do however show that most tourists in Bergen find the atmosphere, cultural landscape and architecture more compelling than the typical sights, so pick a few things to see and spend the rest of your time in Bergen sitting down in a park or café, strolling around the city, enjoying a concert or hiking the mountains. On sunny summer days, stay downtown until late to enjoy the sunset in the north.
There is a great variety of restaurants and cafes in Bergen, but you should expect to spend some time looking for the best places. In the most central parts of the city, many of the restaurants are all the same. Move a block away from the most central parts of downtown to find lower prices and better food. Kitchens usually close at 11PM at the latest.
Waiters and other restaurant staff have good wages. You are not required to leave any money to cover the service, but many people choose to tip the waiter if he or she has been helpful and nice, and if the food was good. If you choose to leave a tip, rounding up or adding about five to ten percent will be appreciated. A rule of thumb would be that the more expensive the food is, the more are you expected to leave a tip.
Outside the summer season, getting a hotel room is usually not a problem, although it can be quite expensive unless you have a reservation. In the summer season (from May to Sep) a reservation well in advance is required. Breakfast is normally included in the price except at hostels and camping sites.