The view from Nordnes, Bergen © Hans Olav Lien
The historic city of Bergen was medieval Norway's
capital, and is today an international tourist centre and gateway
to the famously beautiful fjords. It has a spectacular setting on a
sheltered harbour of the North Sea. Situated among seven hills that
form a delightful backdrop along the waterfront, Bergen is one of
Norway's most enjoyable cities.
Bergen's history is closely linked to the sea. It
became a major trading port of the medieval merchants of the
Hanseatic League, who dominated European trade during the Middle
Ages. The hub of the city's social life is around the Torget, the
picturesque harbour-side market plaza surrounded by an assortment
of cafes, restaurants, and pubs, and home to the vibrant fish
Flanking one side of the harbour is a colourful row
of old wooden houses, part of the historic wharf area and the
remaining legacy of the Hanseatics, from where narrow cobbled
streets wind their way up between the quaint houses of the
picturesque old neighbourhood.
The city centre is divided into two parts: the old
Hanseatic town along the wharf and the modern centre stretching
inland from the harbour. Bergen has a pleasant, slow pace and a
cultured atmosphere with numerous interesting museums, galleries,
an aquarium, and surviving medieval buildings.
A cable car and a funicular carry visitors to the top
of two of Bergen's hills, Mount Ulriken and Mount Floyen, to enjoy
splendid views over the city and coast. Mount Floyen is covered in
forest with a well-marked series of walking trails. Boat trips to
the fjords are very popular and many cruises depart from Bergen's
port into the gorgeous waterways that network the region.
Bryggen historic houses © charley1965
The site of the old medieval quarter of the city of Bergen, Bryggen is a charming, compact area of brightly coloured wooden homes that traditionally housed the city's merchants. Also called Tyskebryggen, its steep cobbled lanes are lined with a vivacious blend of cafes and artisans' workshops.
With many buildings dating from before the 17th century, The Hanseatic wharf area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be one of the most important examples of a medieval settlement in the world.
Bryggen was once the working area of the merchants and is the oldest part of Bergen, characterised by a maze of lopsided wooden buildings with pointed gables facing the harbour. The Bryggen and Hanseatic Museums, as well as the 12th-century St Mary's Church, are all in the Bryggen area.
At one end of the wharf is Bergen's famous fish market, a colourful market also selling flowers, fruit, vegetables, and souvenirs. Because of its predominantly wooden buildings, Bryggen has struggled with fire throughout its long history and many of the structures have been rebuilt several times. One of the unexpected advantages of the destruction caused by fire was the discovery of a wealth of runic inscriptions, now housed in the Bryggen Museum.
Bryggens Museum © Nina Aldin Thune
This fantastic archaeological museum was built around the remains of the oldest buildings discovered in Bergen, dating from the 12th century, and the ruins have been incorporated into the exhibits along with excavated tools, ceramics, and even skeletons.
In 1955, parts of historic Bryggen were destroyed by fire and the subsequent excavations revealed some fascinating objects now on display in the museum. Bryggens Museum houses various artefacts and traditional costumes and imaginatively attempts to recreate life in the Middle Ages with displays of domestic implements, handicrafts, runic inscriptions, and items relating to seafaring and trade during medieval times.
The Bryggens Museum is the starting point for a wonderful historical walking tour through the UNESCO-listed district. This tour is really good value for money as it includes entry to two other museums as well. The guided tours are offered in several languages and depart every hour or so, depending on demand. The Bryggens Museum also houses temporary art and history exhibitions. The museum itself doesn't require much time to explore and is best seen as part of a wider exploration of the historic area.
Address: Dreggsallmenning 3, Bryggen; Website: www.bymuseet.no/en/museums/bryggens-museum
The Hanseatic Museum © Harvey Barrison
The Hanseatic Museum is housed in one of the oldest and best-preserved wooden buildings in Bryggen, the former home of a wealthy merchant. Furnished in the 18th century style, it provides a glimpse of the working and living conditions of the Hanseatic merchants during the Middle Ages.
The austere layout and maze-like rooms are saturated by the smell of fish and leave a lasting impression. Although a number of historic houses remain in the medieval district, the Hanseatic Museum is the only house left in Bryggen that has retained its original interior.
A short walk away next to St Mary's Church is the Schotstuene, a museum consisting of three assembly rooms and a kitchen once used by the Hanseatic merchants. Cooking was conducted in the Schotstuene as it was the only place in Bryggen where it was permitted to use fire. As a precaution, it was kept removed from the other buildings.
The ticket price for the Hanseatic Museum includes entry to the Schotstuene on the same day. The Hanseatic Museum is best visited on the guided walking tour which begins at the Bryggens Museum. For many travellers, the Hanseatic Museum is one of the best historic attractions in the city and if you only visit one museum in Bryggen, it should probably be this one.
Address: Finnegardsgate 1A, Bryggen; Website: xn--schtstuene-2cb.no/english
Winter in Lillehammer © Leimenide
Lillehammer is best known for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics and the area does offer excellent opportunities for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding. In fact, Lillehammer is considered Norway's oldest winter sports resort.
Lillehammer is picturesque, overlooking Lake Myosa and surrounded by mountains. The village transforms from season to season: a beautiful frozen world in winter and a lush green valley in summer.
In the cold, snowy months, visitors can find some of the best cross-country ski trails in northern Europe at nearby Nordseter and Sjusjoen, and a great ski centre at Hafjell. Lillehammer itself is a very small ski resort, with only about 630 feet (192 metres) of vertical descent and wonderful hiking opportunities in the summer months some.
This small town has other attractions too, including Maihaugen, the largest open-air museum in Norway; the 12th-century Garmo stave church; and the PS Skibladner paddle steamer. The picturesque main street of Lillehammer is not to be forgotten, lined with charming 19th-century wooden houses. There is a wide selection of shops, restaurants, and accommodation in Lillehammer.
Sognefjord © Judith Duk
Sognefjord is the largest fjord in Norway and the third longest in the world, stretching 127 miles (205km) from the coast to the village of Skjolden. Sheer cliffs rise to heights of 3,300 feet (1,000m) and more above the water.
In addition to some of the most dramatic and magnificent scenery in the world, Sognefjord contains or provides access to many of Norway's most famous tourist attractions. These include three popular national parks, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and much more.
Sognefjord offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences for visitors: travellers can see, touch and even walk on the largest glacier in Europe in the Jostedalsbreen National Park; investigate numerous heritage treasures, like the UNESCO-listed Urnes Stave Church in Luster, the oldest church in Norway; marvel at the thundering waterfalls, wild rivers and pristine mountain lakes that feed into the fjord; and explore the steep mountains on either side of Sognefjord, which boast an impressive network of hiking, climbing and skiing trails.
Gorgeous, mostly dry summers and mild winters mean that the fjord can be explored at any time of year, depending on desired activities and adventures. Popular activities in and around Sognefjord include cycling, fishing, hunting, hiking, climbing, kayaking, river rafting, skiing, and canyoning. But those who just want to sit back and enjoy the splendid scenery can take one of the many fjord cruises or even enjoy a train trip.
St Mary's Church © Nina Aldin Thune
St Mary's Church (Mariakirken)
Bergen's oldest surviving building, the beautiful stone Church of St Mary's, dates from the beginning of the 12th century. The interior is decorated with old frescoes and a splendid Baroque pulpit donated by the Hanseatic merchants in 1676.
The twin towers of the church are distinctive among the low red-tiled roofs of the old quarter. St Mary's is constructed mainly of soapstone and the architectural style is predominantly Romanesque.
The Church of St Mary's is the only one surviving of 12 churches and three monasteries built around the time of Bergen's foundation. Its survival is mainly due to the fact that it was the chosen place of worship for the wealthy German merchants of Bergen, whose patronage ensured it never fell into ruin.
Like many buildings in Bergen, St Mary's has been damaged by several fires through the centuries and has therefore been repaired and renovated. But even considering these slight alterations, the structure remains remarkably intact and has ultimately changed very little through the ages.
The church is an active place of worship and those wanting to attend services will find them listed on the website below. Sightseeing visitors are also welcome.
Address: Dreggen 15, Bergen; Website: bergendomkirke.no
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