Last summer, we spent 3.5 days in Bergen and used it as the gateway to discover the incredible Norwegian Fjords. Sandwiched between our days in Bergen, we took a 3 day 2-nights excursion out to Flam to explore the Sognefjord (Norway’s longest and deepest fjord) and its surrounding villages.
The synonymous words usually used to describe these Fjords such as “incredible”, “magnificent” and “phenomenal” just did not seem strong and accurate enough!! There are no adjectives to properly describe it! The breathtaking scenery can only be absorbed with one’s eyes and truly experienced in person.
Bergen is Norway’s second largest city, but to us from Asia, it’s a charming town – it gives off a mixed vibe of a college town merged with a tourist and trading hub! The presence of history and colorful buildings and the close proximity to nature can be felt anywhere in the city; but at the same time, each neighborhood and district retains its own distinct flavor. Here are my top 4 things to do in Bergen:
1. Bryggen & Bryggens Museum – Bryggen is fascinating and one of a kind. Its the area in Bergen which consists of old Hanseatic wharf and long wooden commercial buildings some dating back to the Middle Ages. It once was the center of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire.The Bryggens Museum is the best place to start in exploring this historical world heritage site. Through the Museum, we booked an English guided walking tour around the Museum as well as the Bryggen wharfs and the Schotstuene Hanseatic Museum. Our guide relived the history of the Hanseatic league, explained why the houses were so narrowly built and showed us at the Schotstuene how the Germans merchants lived and worked in the wharf houses and the tenement at the back. The guide made the whole area come to life and made us appreciate historical values of these structures even more.
Our tickets also gave us entry into the Hanseatic Museum at the beginning of the wharf area – it explained in further details the Hanseatic league, the merchants’ trade in stockfish and how a typical trading house operated back then. We spent a large part of a day in Bryggen as there were so many things to see and learn!!
2. Bergenhaus Fortress – Haakon’s Hall & Rosenkrantz TowerAt the entrance of the Bergen harbor there sits prominently and strategically, the Bergen fortress. It is the best preserved and oldest stone fortification in Norway. The Fortress contains two main buildings, the Haakon’s Hall and the Rosenkrantz Tower. Visiting the grand Haakon’s Hall and especially the Rosenkrantz Tower was like reliving all those fairy tales and novels I read as a little girl as to what living in a castle/tower in the the Middle Ages would be like! The Tower, though tall and imposing, doesn’t look very big or interesting from the outside.However, we were surprised by all the intricate stairwells, rooms and secret back rooms, dungeons and other quarters all in the one building! The views of the harbour, Bryggen and the sea front were well worth it! The boys loved the stories about King Magnus, and watching Daddy geared up as a knight!
The entrance tickets we bought allowed us a few days to visit these buildings and the Fortress grounds so we took our time to thoroughly enjoy.
3. Funicular to Mount Floyen– We had originally thought that at the end of the funicular was a large viewing deck of the city of Bergen and that was it. How wrong we were!! Yes, the views of Bergen from the viewing deck were spectacular but there is so much more to do on Mount Floyen.
After taking our obligatory panorama photos, the boys enjoyed the large playgrounds and open areas nearby to run off some steam! Then we went in search of the cashmere goats who have the important job of clearing and keeping the vegetation on the mountain at bay. Jayden was so excited to see them resting in their cabin and he learnt all their names (especially the black goat affectionately named Obama).
Following the signs, we then took a short hike through the forest foliage to the small picturesque Skomakerdiket Lake. As we walked around the lake with the sun lowering in the horizon, each angle offered some amazing photos opportunities of the “mirror” lake!
The great thing about traveling in Norway during summer is that the sun doesn’t really set! So we didn’t leave Mount Floyen because it was getting dark, we only left reluctantly in search of food for our hungry boys!
We heard and read that there are massive queues to ride the funicular in the mornings as the day tours take their guests up at that time. Thus, making the waiting lines often up to an hour long. Taking that cue, we headed up after 3pm and had no problems with any lines at all!
4. Nordnes & Verftet Districts – On the opposite side of Bryggen is the Nordnes peninsular where the neighborhoods of Nordnes & Verftet are located. We explored this peninsular by chance as we wanted to take photos of Bryggen from the other side of the harbor. As we headed towards the tip of the peninsular into Nordnesparken, we saw many locals having a dip into the sea and gathering together for BBQs using disposable grills made out of aluminum-foiled trays. With the amazing views out into the sea, the summer vibes and waff of BBQ’ed meats, it was the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon.
As we continued along the other side of the peninsular and past the Bergen Aquarium, we saw some steps downwards leading to a walkway towards the edge of the sea. We were curious but wasn’t sure where the walkway would lead. A local couple with a baby pram walking past must have been amused by us pondering whether to head down or not (our hesitation was because “what goes down, must come up again!” and we weren’t sure we wanted to climb those stairs back up!). They confirmed and assured us that the walk down below was very pleasant! What a surprise it was! The walkway led us to some very modern apartments with sweeping sea views and at the end, the art arena, USF Verftet.
Right outside was a bar and bistro perfect for a sundowner and snacks, even an early dinner! We lounged on the comfy sofas sipping cocktails, looking out into the sea and beyond and being infinitely grateful for the ability to travel to this part of the world! Before we headed back into the main part of Bergen, we wandered the delightful nearby streets along Nedre Stranghagen with the quaint wooden white houses, cobble stone streets and colorful flowers on the windowsills. It looked liked we walked straight into a movie set!
- Baker Brun: The best cinnamon rolls (Skillingsbolle) EVER!!! Light and fluffy, the boys scoffed them down in no time!
- 26 North: Great place for lunch to soak in the sunshine and enjoy a light lunch fare! We also found it less touristy than the other places along the promenade and inside the Bryggen.
- Bryggeloftet & Stuene Restaurant: It was at this traditional Bergen institution that I dared Jeff to try Whale carpaccio. I had seen whale meat being sold at the food stalls and was curious yet reluctant. Jeff took up my challenge and was a great trooper!! It tasted horrible and he held off his end of the bargain by finishing the dish! Kudos to him!
Don’t get me wrong, the other traditional Norwegian dishes at this restaurant were fine so long as we stuck with the cod, salmon, char, mussels or steak!
- Fish Me Fishmarket (indoor fish market): We dined in twice and bought takeaway once! So it goes without saying what we thought about this place!! The menu offered an array of seafood dishes at more reasonable prices than the other establishments in the indoor fish market as well as the outdoor seafood stalls.
In fact, we made the wrong assumption on our first night in Bergen. We walked past all the outdoor fish and seafood stalls on Torget Street around the corner from the tourist information center, and were tempted by all sorts of goodies. We thought the outdoor seafood stalls surely would be cheaper than the restaurants with proper seating. It was only when we checked the menu at Fish Me did we realise how much more we paid the night before at the outdoor stalls for less quality and quantity!
- Kafe Kippers: Perfect for that a sundowner, cocktails or early dinner while enjoying a serene views of the sea and beyond. Another great part is that it is less touristy and frequented mostly by locals.
Our choice of hotels in Bergen was based on 2 factors. One was that we were taking an early 8.45am train to Flam so needed to be close to the train station, and second was that we planned to only take our overnight bags to Flam. As such, we needed a hotel that would allow us to store our large luggage for a few days until our return back to Bergen.
There are 2 hotels right next to the Bergen Station: Zander K Hotel and Grand Terminus Hotel. Due to high season demands, we couldn’t book rooms all in one hotel, so we split our nights between the two. Both are within 10 minutes walking distance to Bryggen and other attractions, and there is a Flybussen airport bus-stop is next to the railway station.
While the Grand Terminus has history and much larger yet older rooms, Zander K is definitely the more modern and funkier option. The service, comfort, cleanliness and breakfast spread were all on par with each other – if there is a choice, it would be based more on personal preference. In this case, I like to have more space to move around in my room!
Flam & Fjords
A friend once asked me: “Why did you choose Flam?”. My immediate reply was: “Have you seen the photos?? Goggle it as they speak for themselves!”
Flam, a remote township in the middle of the Noreign fjords, is a little slice of picture-perfect paradise. It is a part of the world where nature is still seemingly unspoiled, leaving us in awe of its power and majesty.
We wanted to visit Flam and use it as a base for a 3 days 2 nights excursion from Bergen. Part of what drew us to this itinerary was the famous Flam Railway which is named one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, and to traverse the entire length of the Sognefjord back out to Bergen on the express boat.
We booked our Sognefjord in a nutshell (Round trip from Bergen starting with train) itinerary through the Norway in a nutshell website. It is a great and efficient booking website for itineraries within Norway. There are multiple well thought out itineraries to choose from as well as allowing travelers to book extra activities and hotels as add ons.
This was our Sognefjord in a Nutshell itinerary (Day 2 was our own itinerary and plans):
|Day 1||Departure From||Arrival to||Tidbits & Tips|
|08:43||Bergen||10.51||Myrdal on the Bergen Railway||· Always a long line at the Bergen Railway Station, best to arrive earlier to line up.
· As we were to return to Bergen after this short trip, we left our large luggage pieces at the hotel and only carried an overnight bag
|10.58||Myrdal||12.01||Flam on the famous Flam Railway||· Named one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world – definitely one of the highlights of the trip!
· Not to spoil it, there were quite a number of surprises on the way! Need to be on it to find out!
· It’s worth checking out the Flamsbana museum right outside the Flam station – entrance is free
|16.30||Flam||19.30||Afternoon activity – Fjordsafari of the Sognefjord with stop in Undredal||· Worth every penny – the perfect way to see the Fjords up close on the high-speed RIP-boats!
· Dress warm as it can get quite cold with the wind-chill
|Day 2||Departure From||Arrival to||Tidbits & Tips|
|Every hour on the hour||Flam||20 mins later||Gudvangen
|· It is important to know that the ferry from Flam to Gudvangen takes around 2.5 hours while the bus only takes 20 mins.
· As we have already cruised the Sognefjord, we took the bus to save time (It is also best to expect the tickets to be expensive though!)
· We arrived the week of the Viking Market at Gudvangen, and joined the walking tour around the Viking Village. It was a great way to learn about their history, culture and life, and sample some of their foods and snacks. The boys loved it!
|Every hour on the half hour||Gudvangen||20 mins later||Flam||· This year’s Viking Market will take place from 17 – 22 July 2018
· Gudvangen is a tiny village and can really be visited within an hour or so.
· With visiting the Viking Market, then a total of 2.5 to 3 hours max at Gudvangen is sufficient
· Then we took the 20 mins bus ride back to Flam
|Every hour on the hour||Flam||30 mins later||Stegastein Viewpoint (return)||· The Stegastein Viewpoint offers an unparalleled panorama of the fjords, the mountains and surrounds.
· At the Viewpoint, the bus stops for around 30 mins to allow for photos along the viewing platform 650 metres above Aurlandsfjord
· The entire return trip is around 1.5 hours
· Again, it is also best to expect the tickets to be expensive!
|Day 3||Departure From||Arrival to||Tidbits & Tips|
|Morning||Flam||We took a leisurely walk inland following the banks of the Flam River||· The nature is so pure and untouched here in Flam! The air unpolluted; the water from the mountain’s melting ice is icy cold and crystal clear
· It’s so refreshing! We filled up our bottles with the water directly from the Flam River!
|15.30||Flam||20.45||Return to Bergen on the Express Boat||· A 5-hour boat ride seemed daunting and long esp with the boys. But with the amazing change of scenery all along the way back to Bergen, it ended up surprisingly pleasant
· It also helped with the boat being quite new, clean and comfortable.
There are not many accommodation choices at Flam and many of the hotels near the Flam harbor were quite expensive. The more reasonable option we booked was the Brekke Apartments which is on the outskirts of Flam, around a 10-15 minutes walk from the Flam train station. As luck had it, Brekke Apartments offered us their 3 bedroom apartment outside their main compound, and located on the residential slope of central Flam across from the river. Although it had basic facilities, we were very happy with the convenience and great views over Flam township.
Similarly, there are not many dining options in Flam (especially at night time when all the tourists and cruise passengers have left). We tried most of the eateries and restaurants during our 3 days in and around Flam. Here are our favorites:
- Bakkastova Café: Grab a table outside and soak in the sunshine and enjoy the views of the Flam harbor with a nice cup of coffee or the local apple juice. They offered a wonderful selection for lunch and we particularly enjoyed the soups and the Bacalao (salted cod) special of the day!
- Harbour Restaurant @ Flam Marina & Apartments: A little outside of the main Flam township, this restaurant offers the most amazing Fjord views with yummy pizzas and fish & chips. The walk out to the marina is well worth it!
- Flam Bakery:Excellent pastries and muffins for breakfast or snacks. Though you pay a bit more, the ice-cream here is much better and more refined than at Furukroa next door.