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Bergen, Norway

Introduction

Bergen, Norway - Bryggen in Bergen
Bryggen in Bergen

The city of Bergen sits on Norway's west coast near the Atlantic Ocean and is considered the gateway city to the country's famous fjords. Bergen is home to about 270,000 people with about 395,000 living in the greater metropolitan area, most of whom natively speak a dialect of Norwegian called Bergensk. The city is a leader in shipping, aquaculture, finance, oil, and is also a vibrant educational center as it's home to a number of universities and students.

Bergen is located on the peninsula of Bergenshalvoyen and sits on the Byfjorden. Looking inland the city is surrounded by mountains and out at sea the city is protected by numerous islands, which make up a part of the greater Bergen area. These islands separate Bergen from the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, but the waterways give the people and city easy access to the ocean and international shipping lanes. Being close to the sea the temperature in Bergen is fairly temperate year round as the water makes winters warmer and summers cooler, although this location on the water also brings the city more rain.

History & Background

Bergen has been trading since the early 1000s and that century was also the beginning of the city's rise to power. Prior to this time the city was little more than a small settlement however, being ideally located on a harbor that rarely freezes, Bergen quickly expanded as trade grew and by the 1200s the city became the capital of Norway.

Bergen, Norway - Clarion in Bergen
Historic Architecture

Near this same time, in the 1200s, Bergen became a Hanseatic League city, which meant it was essentially controlled by the ethnic German merchants living in the city. Despite this apparent loss of power to foreigners, at the same time the city secured a monopoly on trade routes between northern Norway and the rest of the world. This meant all northern Norwegian goods had to go through the port making the city very wealthy.

The rise to power continued over time and in the 1300s the city became one of the four largest cities in the Hanseatic League. This power continued well into the 1500s and even after this point the city was quite powerful, although the dynamic shifted. With the rise to power also came numerous attacks and destruction; foreign powers attacked or blocked the city on a number of occasions and internally Norwegians often attacked the city during times of war or in protest of ethnic German control of the city. The city, primarily constructed of wood, was also plagued by numerous fires. All of these struggles began the slow decline of the city and the Hanseatic League itself in about the 1500s.

In the 1600s the slow decline of the Hanseatic League was obvious in numerous ways as ethnic Norwegian merchants got involved in the trade and began to gain a larger proportion of that trade with each passing decade. By 1750 the Hanseatic League's presence in Bergen ended as the Norwegian merchants took control of the city, the port, and trade. These merchants also managed to maintain a monopoly on northern Norway's foreign trade, meaning the city remained the wealthiest and most powerful city in Norway through the 1600s.

The decline of Bergen continued in 1789 when the city lost their monopoly on trade. Then in the early 1800s Oslo was made the new capital city of Norway and by the 1830s Oslo had surpassed Bergen in population, power, and even trade numbers were shifting in their direction. Although this may seem to have been a severe blow to the city, and for much of the 1800s and 1900s it was, today the city maintains its historic charm and appearance partially because new growth has been focused on Oslo since this time.

In 1940 the Germans took over the city and the entire country of Norway; they occupied the city until the end of the war. During their occupation there were blockades of the city as well as bombings by the Allies, which destroyed pieces of the city, although it was never fully destroyed. This led to numerous architectural renovations after the war.

Since this time Bergen has continued to again grow in power and wealth as they re-gained their status as a major trading and shipping center. The discovery of oil off of Norway's coast has also improved trade and industry in the city. In more recently years the city also benefits from the tourism industry as many people begin their trip to the fjords from Bergen, the self-proclaimed gateway to the fjords.

Bergen Today

Bergen, Norway - Shop in Bergen's Bryggen
Shop in Bergen's Bryggen

Today Bergen is a vibrant city with an excitement and energy that complement the historic architecture and past. The city is truly a destination as numerous Norwegians make their way to the city to attend university or find jobs and numerous tourists travel here to see the history and to act as a jumping off point to the many nearby fjords.

The city also holds an important place in the hearts and culture of the people as the Hanseatic League city status made it home to outside cultures and influences. This made it one of the most progressive cities in Norway then and today. Even today the city continues to influence Europe and the rest of the world in the form of its atmosphere and as the gateway to the fjords, which are world famous.

Attractions

Natural Wonders

Floibanen Funicular & Floien Mountain (Fløibanen & Fløyen): This funicular takes you to the top of Floien Mountain, providing excellent views of the city and landscape. For more information visit their website at: www.floibanen.com.

Historical & Architectural Sights

Bergen, Norway - View of Bergen from Fløyen Mountain
View from Fløyen Mountain

Damsgard Manor (Damsgård Hovedgård): Part of the Bergen City Museum, this manor house was built in the 1700s and is an excellent example of rococo architecture, one of the few good examples of the style in Norway. For more information visit their website at: www.bymuseet.no.

Rosenkrantz Tower (Rosenkrantztårnet): Part of the Bergen City Museum, this tower from the 1270s has been expanded and re-built numerous times, but was used in the past as a part of fortifications. For more information visit their website at: www.bymuseet.no.

Royal Residence/ Haakon's Hall (Håkonshallen): Part of the Bergen City Museum, this complex, built from 1247-1261, was the home of the Norwegian royalty, which stood in contrast (and at times conflict) with the Hanseatic city of Bryggen. For more information visit their website at: www.bymuseet.no.

St. Mary's Church (Mariakirken): This is Bergen's oldest building (built in the 1100s) and is definitely worth a stop.

Museums, Arts, & Entertainment

Bergen Aquarium (Akvariet i Bergen): In the aquarium you can meet many of the local animals up close, but it's also home to penguins, turtles, and other sea life. For more information visit their website at: www.akvariet.no.

Bergen Art Museum: Part of the Art Museums of Bergen (Kunstmuseene i Bergen), this museum is best known for a collection of Edvard Munch's paintings. For more information visit their website at: www.kunstmuseene.no.

Bergen Science Centre (VilVite): This museum is great for kids as it makes science and learning fun as you can do games that feel like you're the captain of a ship among other hands-on activities. For more information visit their website at: www.vilvite.no.

Bryggens Museum: Part of the Bergen City Museum, this museum is in the heart of Bryggens and explores the life and history of this district, including seeing many of the buildings otherwise inaccessible. For more information visit their website at: www.bymuseet.no.

Hanseatic Museum & Schotstuene (Det Hanseatiske Museum og Schøtstuene): This museum and the assembly rooms are an inside view of life as a merchant under the Hanseatic League, including the past culture, trade, and items used for daily life. For more information visit their website at: www.museumvest.no.

Old Bergen Museum (Gamle Bergen Museene): Part of the Bergen City Museum, this is an open air museum consisting of numerous wood houses from the 1700s and 1800s. For more information visit their website at: www.bymuseet.no.

Theta Museum (Theta Museet): This museum displays Norway's resistance efforts against Nazi Germany during World War II.

Cultural Activities

Fish Market (Fiskebrygga): The fish market is probably the best place to see the local culture and daily life in action. The market is filled with restaurateurs creating the evening's menu as well as locals. While here, be sure to wonder through the district known as smau, which consists of small passageways that seem to transport you back in time.

Areas & Neighborhoods of Interest

Bryggen is the famous Hanseatic city's wharf, which provides some of the best architecture in the country as wood buildings line the water. This was the heart of the historic city of Bergen and it maintains its medieval look today, although many of the buildings are more recent re-constructions. Many of the above mentioned sights are located in Bryggen.

Official Websites

City of Bergen: www.visitbergen.com
Kingdom of Norway: www.visitnorway.com

Transportation

Bergen is very well connected domestically. The city has a large airport (for Norway) as well as a train station and numerous bus routes. Most major cities in Norway can be accessed by air and most of southern Norway is also accessible by train, including the capital of Oslo. Bus routes are the most extensive means of transportation from Bergen as buses can reach most destinations that train and air don't have access to. Boat is also a great means of transportation from Bergen, especially en route to the nearby fjords.

International transportation to Bergen is more limited, but still fairly extensive. The airport services many regional European routes and has flights to over 50 countries, but many of these only fly limited days each week during the summer months. More regular routes include regional European hubs such as London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Berlin, etc. There are also a number of international transportation options via boat, most particularly from Denmark.

Airport: Bergen's airport is the Flesland Airport located about 11 miles (18 kilometers) from the city's center. The airport code is BGO and the airport's website is: www.avinor.no. For its location or directions, see the map below.

Train Station: Bergen's main train station is located on the eastern side of town, but centrally located. For train times and schedules, the website is: www.nsb.no. For its location or directions, see the map below.

Bus Station: There are numerous private bus companies that service Bergen. There are also a couple bus stations and stops, but the main bus station is located close to the train stations and most long-haul bus routes begin or end here. For its location or directions, see the map below.

Local Transportation: Public transportation within the city of Bergen is provided by skyss. For more information, visit their website at: www.skyss.no.

Map & Directions

This page was last updated: August, 2013