48 Hours In: Bergen

Norway's scenic second city shines with colourful clapboard houses, quaint cafés and a dramatic fjord-flecked coastline, discovers Nick Boulos

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Norway's second and most scenic city shines in summer with long and sun-filled days. August is when Bergen is at its most festive: the historic Fjordsteam boat festival (fjordsteam.no) sails in on 1 August, or you can wait until the following month for the three-day Bergen Food Festival (matfest.no) which starts on 6 September.

Touch down

From Gatwick, easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) competes with Norwegian Air Shuttle (020-8099 7254; norwegian.com), which also operates from Edinburgh. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies from Heathrow; SAS (0871 226 7760; flysas.com) from Manchester; Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) from Inverness, Orkney and Shetland; and Norwegian carrier Wideroe (00 47 81 52 2014; wideroe.no) from Aberdeen.

The airport, 20km south-west of the city centre, is served by two competing shuttle bus companies. Tide buses (00 47 55 55 4473; flybussen.no) depart roughly every 15 minutes from outside the terminal between 7.30am and 12.15am. The bus makes four stops, including one at Lille Lungegardsvannet (1), a small city-centre lake, before terminating at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel (2) overlooking Vagen harbour. A return ticket costs 160 Norwegian kroner (NOK160/£17); journey time 40 minutes.

Alternatively, Flybussbergen (00 47 40 60 9100; flybussbergen.no) serves several central hotels, the harbourside fish market (3) and the Central Bus Station (4). A return ticket costs NOK140 (£15); journey time 30 minutes. A taxi costs NOK400 (£44).

Get your bearings

Bergen is located on the fjord-studded western coast of Norway and is overlooked by forested mountains – the tallest of which is Ulriken (643m).

The city was founded in 1070 and soon became one of the most important trading ports in Europe. Hanseatic merchants set up shop in the 12th century and began a 400-year dominance from the cluster of higgledy-piggledy wooden buildings sandwiched together on the eastern shores of the harbour. The medieval quayside of Bryggen – now a Unesco World Heritage Site – is still the focal point of life in Bergen today.

Much of the city was destroyed in a fire in 1702, but Bergen has risen from the ashes and is now a small, dynamic city of around 265,000 inhabitants.

The tourist office (5) (00 47 55 55 2000; visitbergen.com; 9am-8pm daily, May-September) is at Strandkaien 3. A 48-hour Bergen Card costs NOK260 (£29), giving unlimited public transport and discounted entry to most attractions.

Check in

The Det Hanseatiske hotel (6) (00 47 55 30 4800; dethanseatiske hotell.no) at Finnegardsgaten 2 has 37 rooms in one of the historic wharf buildings. Doubles from NOK1,690 (£188), B&B.

On the other side of the harbour is Augustin (7) (00 47 55 30 4000; augustin.no) at C Sundts Gate 22. A guesthouse since 1614, it offers one of the finest wine cellars in Scandinavia, with 1,400 varieties. Doubles from NOK1,070 (£119), B&B.

City Box (8) (00 47 55 31 2500; citybox.no) at Nygardsgaten 31 is a good option for budget travellers. Doubles from NOK700 (£78), room only.

Day One

Take a hike

At the bottom of the funicular (9), face the harbour and take the first left along Lille Ovregaten, a quaint cobbled street of clapboard houses and small squares filled with colourful rhododendrons. Stop for a coffee and home-baked skillingsbolle (large cinnamon roll) from cosy café Krok og Krinkel (10) (00 47 91 00 3007) at No 14. Further down the road at No 27, stands a small white house with a pointed roof and blue door: the former home of Bergen's last public executioner (11), John Muhlhauseun, who lived here in the 1820s.

Around the corner is the city's cathedral (12) (00 47 55 59 32 70; bergendomkirke.no; open 11.30am-12.30pm Tuesday to Friday). Dedicated to Norway's patron saint, Olav the Holy, its 61-metre tower bears the scars of the 1665 Battle of Vagen. A cannonball fired during the conflict remains lodged in the belfry.

Turn left on Kong Oscarsgate. Across the road, almost immediately, is the Tanks School (13), where a young Edvard Grieg attended in the 1850s. A plaque on the wall describes the great composer's time there as “cold and unsympathetic”. Continue to the end of the road and finish beside the harbour at Fisketorget (3).

Lunch on the run

Fisketorget (3) (daily 6am-4pm), Bergen's 300-year-old fish market, is a splendid place for a quick bite. More than a dozen stalls compete for business, offering everything from king crab baguettes to lobster salads with Norwegian caviar. Sandwiches cost from NOK40 (£4).

Window shopping

Pedestrianised Torgallmenningen (14) is Bergen's main shopping street. At its heart is the large Galleriet shopping centre (15) (00 47 55 30 0500; galleriet.com), crammed with more than 70 stores. But the city's best retail therapy is elsewhere.

Skostredet (16) is lined with local designer stores, both fashion and interiors, as well as a lovely old record shop. Elsewhere, Bryggen also has interesting options beyond the souvenir shops, including Laeverkstedet (17) (00 47 55 31 4573) on Billgarden. Owner Ingvild Nordahl has been creating bags, jackets and accessories of soft Norwegian moose leather for more than 40 years in her adjoining workshop. Tucked away in the bowels of Bryggen, it's tricky to find. Look out for the moose head mounted on the wall outside.

An aperitif

On the top floor of the Zachariasbryggen building at Torget 2 is one of Bergen's newest drinking dens. Barely a year old, Taket (18) (00 47 45 01 5800; taket-bergen.no; noon-1am daily) serves up delicious cocktails (from NOK124/£14) and tasty views of Bryggen and the harbour.

Dyvekes (19) (00 47 55 32 3060; dyvekes. no) at Hollendergaten 7 is a dark and atmospheric underground bar once frequented by King Christian II. Venture down into the candle-lit 13th-century wine cellar.

Dining with the locals

Hearty and traditional food is on offer at Bryggeloftet & Stuene (20) (00 47 55 30 2070; bryggelofet.no). Or, for something more sophisticated, try fine dining restaurant Potetkjelleren (21) (00 47 55 32 0070; potetkjelleren.no) at Kong Oscarsgaten 1a.

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

The 12th-century Korskirken (Church of the Cross) (22) (00 47 55 30 72 00) is among the oldest churches in Norway. It once sheltered the army of King Sverre and has been heavily damaged by several fires, most recently in 1702. As a result it is an eclectic amalgamation of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles but it is Froydis Haavardsholm's stained glass window of Christ that dominates (11am- 3pm daily, except Saturday, Thursday to 6pm). There is no Sunday service.

Out to brunch

Halfway along the cobbles of Marken at No 9 is the friendly Aura Café (23) (00 47 55 36 5970; cafeaura.no), with pastries and quiches to freshly baked bread. The thick fish soup (NOK129/£14), made with salmon and cod, is a popular choice (open 10am-8pm Sundays; from 8am other days).

Cultural afternoon

Bergen's art museums have recently rebranded to become Kode (24) (00 47 55 56 8000; kodebergen.no) at Rasmus Meyers Alle 9. Spilt across four buildings, each focusing on different styles. From contemporary to classic, there's something to suit all tastes. Most make a beeline for Kode 3, which houses the largest collection of Edvard Munch paintings outside Oslo, including a sketch of The Scream. Other Norwegian artists on display include Christian Krogh and Nikolai Astrup (open 11am-5pm weekends, others vary; entry NOK100, (£11).

More art can be seen at the Bryggens Museum (25) (00 47 55 58 8010; bymuseet.no; 10am-4pm daily; NOK70/£8) at Dreggsalmenning 3. Karl Erik Harr's paintings of stormy Norwegian seascapes are on display until 1 September.

Walk in the park

Nordnesparken (26), on the very tip of the Nordnes peninsula is popular with locals craving picnics and games on the grass. Gravel paths weave among the towering trees and there are views across to the island of Askoy. Pack your bathers to enjoy a dip in one of the small bays. The park is also home to penguins and seals at the Bergen Aquarium (27) (00 47 40 10 2420; akvariet.no). Open 9am-7pm daily; NOK150/£17.

Icing on the cake

Don't miss a taste of what makes the western coast of Norway so enchanting. Take a short fjord cruise with White Lady (00 47 55 25 9000; bergen-fjordsight seeing.no),through passages bordered by rugged cliffs. Boats depart at 10am and 3.30pm from the fish market pier (3). A four-hour cruise costs NOK480 (£53).

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