Life in Bergen has always been defined by the sea. Lying on the southern part of Norway's fjord-speckled western coast, the city descends from the seven mountains that frame it to meet a dramatic, fractured coastline of inlets and islands. It's impossible to detach Bergen's existence from its seafaring past and present. Today, visitors flock to see the medieval harbour front, Bryggen, which sprung up in response to a flourishing codfish industry - one that saw Bergen become Scandinavia's largest city in the 1600s.
The iconic fjords are another major draw. The city pours out to the edge of every peninsula, looking out to sea, and tourist boats regularly dart in and out, taking curious passengers to see the cragged waterways that Norway is so well-known for. Bergen knows its strengths and plays to them. With the ebb and flow of maritime trade over the years, the city amassed a rich, diverse heritage and a talent for welcoming outsiders. The city entertains and at its dining tables (it's a UNESCO City of Gastronomy). And for those looking to escape into nature, there's nowhere better: Bergen is the perfect launch pad from which to explore the wilderness that unfolds beyond the city's edge.
Constantly developing while also carefully preserving, Bergen is a city that has stood the test of time.
Day One - Dining & Docks
Make a beeline for Bryggen, the city's historic harbour district and UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a glimpse of how Bergen operated in the Middle Ages. The harbour front - lined with gabled houses painted shades of red, amber and ochre - is an image that's synonymous with the city. Bryggen's swarren of shops, restaurants and artist studios is housed in 62 historic buildings that once served as a base for mercantile superpower the Hanseatic League. In recent years, the area, along with the nearby village of Balestrand, has served as the inspiration for the magical kingdom of Adrendelle in Disney's Frozen movies. If a pastry pit stop is harbour front for kanelbuullar (cinnamon rolls) as big as your face.
Bergen's creative culinary scene is testament to the global influence that arrived via its harbours. Stop by the fresco-clad former stock exchange, Matborsen, which now houses a selection of interesting restaurants, including Bare Vastland; it specialises in small plates, but if you only order one thing for lunch, make it the plukkfisk - haddock, potatoes and onions cooked in a bechamel sauce (comfort food at its finest and most filling). You'll need the substance, as the afternoon should be dedicated to discovering Floyen, one of the city's most popular peaks. The Floibanen funicular sweeps you up to the top in a matter of minutes; forested paths snake back down to the city - ideal for those looking to hike.
Dive back into Bryggen for a dose of history at Bergen's oldest restaurant, Bryggen Tracteursted, a place where Norwegian and Hanseatic traditions collide. It's been in operation since 1708 and, accordingly, has plenty of stories - its stone floor, for example, meant it was the only room in the wooden medieval quarter allowed have a fire. On the menu, you'll find traditional delicacies such as cod tongue, fermented trout and reindeer tartare served with a twist as bite size Norwegian tapas. More conventional offerings are also on offer, such as spiced herring and stews. Afterwards, stop by Dyvekes wine bar for a nightcap in its 12th-century cellar to round off your historical escapade.
Day Two - Museums, Markets & Cider
Start the day with a dose of culture at the city's most impressive cultural institution. The Kode is a collection of four galleries and three composers' homes spread across Bergen. With over 50,000 items arranged across the sites, it's easy to find your niche. The four Kode galleries - located in front of the Lillie Lungegardsvannet lake in the city's centre - conveniently divide up the city's various artistic ages. Spend plenty of time browsing them all, although you may want to linger a little longer in Kode 3, which houses the largest collection of Edvard Munch paintings outside of Oslo, as well as an impressive sketch of his iconic The Scream.
Fuel up with lunch at the city's 300-year-old fish market. Whether you pick up a crab baguette at the outdoor stalls lining the harbour (open May to June) or take a seat in the indoor area (where fresh seafood is prepared at sleek counters), you'll be sure to get a taste of the rich culture of seafood ingrained here. Next, board a boat (14weekly 3h50m sailings from Bergen) and head off to explore the coastline and the city's popular archipelago. Your destination is Balestrand, located in Sognefjord, Norway's longest and deepest fjord, which extends more than 120 miles inland to meet the foothills of the Jotunheimen Mountains.
Arriving by boat into Balestrand feels like an adventure plucked straight from the pages of a Norwegian fairytale. Pitch up at Kviknes Hotel, a grand Victorian timber building, then sink into a plush armchair and stare out at the fjord beyond. For dinner, head to The Cider House (open June to August), home to the world's northernmost cidery and a restaurant. Orchard tours and tastings are offered, alongside traditional food and a warm welcome from owners, the Eitungjerde Hoyvik family. One of them, Age, hosts occasional Gregorian chant concerts in the deepest, most echoey cider cellar.
Sounds of Bergen
Norway has a long tradition of music- making, nowhere more so than Bergen. It's home to one of the world's oldest orchestras - the Bergen Philharmonic, in business since 1765. Bergen has also been a prominent player in the country's modern music scene, particularly in the 1990s, when 'the Bergen Wave' saw a generation of musicians from the city dominate the airwaves. This influence has continued into the present day, as evidenced by the myraid music venues across the city that maintain the movement's momentum.
Three to visit: Composer's Residences
Olbull - Lysoen Island
Bergen-born violinist and composer Ole Bull travelled the world performing in the 1800s but spent summers in his later years at a villa on this island just south of Bergen. Explore the villa with its onion domes and exotic furnishings on a guided tour. Afterwards stretch your legs on the eight miles of pathways that snake around the island.
Edvard Greig - Troldhaugen
The Norwegian composer lived in this manor house on the outskirts of the city for 22 years during his garden cabin during the late 19th century that he composed some of his best-known works. Swing by to explore the house and gardens or catch a show at the onsite concert hall.
Harald Saeverud - Siljustol
Often cited a one of the most notable private homes in Norway, this mountain farmhouse was a creative haven for 20th-century composer Harald Saeverud. Today, hiking trails, summer concerts and the museum lure in those looking to explore this distinctive home, eight miles south of Bergen in the borough of Ytrebygda.