Bergen: Pretty in pink, blue, green, red and yellow

Peter Moss visits a city of colourful clapboard cottages and cobbled streets

The setting is spectacular. Bergen is quintessential Norway - a handsome harbour town cocooned in an amphitheatre of seven hills and looking out towards the fjords, huge clefts of water burrowing deep into the country. Its steeply cobbled streets are surprising for their brightly painted clapboard houses; there's a café culture here to rival central Europe.

The setting is spectacular. Bergen is quintessential Norway - a handsome harbour town cocooned in an amphitheatre of seven hills and looking out towards the fjords, huge clefts of water burrowing deep into the country. Its steeply cobbled streets are surprising for their brightly painted clapboard houses; there's a café culture here to rival central Europe.

The combination of small city and bustling port, with boats pulling out at all hours for the fjords, makes Bergen an intriguing destination. Its status as a European City of Culture for 2000 is thoroughly well deserved, and its locals are among the friendliest in Europe and most of them speak perfect English.

When to go

Rain is pretty common all year round, so much so there is even a joke about it, which runs like this... A drenched tourist asks a young local if it always rains in Bergen. "I don't know," comes the reply. '"I'm only 13." I was lucky - with four days of early July sunshine and the thermometer nudging the high sixties. Friends tell me September is even better, when much of Norway enjoys something of an Indian summer, and the light has an almost iridescent glow. Bergen winters are bitterly cold, but the reward is some fine cross-country skiing in the surrounding hills.

Getting there

Braathens (tel: 0191-214 0991) flies direct from Gatwick to Bergen. Return fares cost from £117, including taxes. Scandinavian Airlines (tel: 0845 60 727 727) offers direct flights from Stansted for a very similar price. The cheapest prices necessitate staying in Bergen over a Saturday night. British Airways (tel: 0845 773 3377) offers an indirect service, changing at Oslo, where you switch to a Braathens inland flight. Return flights from Heathrow start at £75 plus taxes.

Where to stay

Bergen is a very compact city. Taking the harbour and the fish market as the main focal point, each hotel mentioned is within a few minutes walk of the centre.

The Neptun Hotel at Valkensdorfgate 8 (tel: 0047 55 30 68 00) has its own eclectic art collection, plus a good restaurant, well respected around town. Doubles from £130.

The same money will get you through the door (and into the bedroom!) of the First Hotel Marin at Rosenkrantzgarten 8 (tel: 0047 53 05 15 00). It offers all you'd want from a city-centre hotel, plus a small fitness room, sauna and solarium.

The Rosenkrantz Hotel at Rosenkrantzgarten 7 (tel: 00 47 55 31 50 00) is a comfortable, functional four-star hotel with a nice character and all mod cons. Doubles from £100.

Similarly priced is the Hordaheimen Hotel at Sundtsgate 18 (tel: 0047 55 23 23 20). It's smaller and cosier than the Rosenkrantz, but for those of you fancying a midnight drink, be warned - there is no alcohol in the bedrooms' minibars.

Bergen caters especially well for the budget traveller, nowhere more so than the city centre YMCA Family and Youth Hostel, just by the tourist office at Nedre Korskirkealm 4 (tel: 0047 55 60 60 50), where you can bed down comfortably enough for less than £10 a night, breakfast included.

What to see and do

Take a good camera, and plenty of film as Bergen is a gift for photographers - the hillside, the waterfront, the cobbled streets and colourful cottages. Shoot your first roll from the cable car which goes from the city centre to the 2,000ft summit of Mt Ulriken. The top offers great views over Bergen and beyond.

Shoot your second roll from the Floibanen Funicular which scales the heights of Mt Floyen. Floyen is not quite as high as Ulriken, but affords glorious hikes in the woodlands for those who make it to the peak. Lovers of classical music head for Floyen's summit on the long summer evenings (the daylight lasts until well past midnight) for late-night concerts.

Music aficionados should also visit Troldhaugen, a half-hour trip out of town, home to the composer Edvard Greig, and gorgeously situated on a promontory jutting out into Lake Nordas. Also, the beguiling villa of the 19th-century violinist Ole Bull, on the private island of Lysoen, is an hour from Bergen. This weather-boarded, onion-domed edifice looks like it was designed in Massachusetts and constructed in Moscow, before straying half-way across Europe and coming to rest on a rocky outcrop just by the North Sea.

Bryggen's Museum, which details 900 years of Nordic history, is interesting to visit, but if you want to spend time outdoors, take a half-day cruise through the fjords from the central harbour.

Don't spend all of your time out of Bergen as the charm of the place is found wandering its labyrinth of steep, narrow back streets and peeking into the wisteria-clad ramshackle cottages. From Bergen's point of view, town-planning is something that just happens to other people.

Food and drink

Lovers of fish and seafood will find that many of Bergen's restaurants make the best of the variety and quality of the local catch. Treat yourself to one meal at the first-class Kafe Krystall at Kong Oscars gate 16 (tel: 0047 55 32 10 84). It serves wonderful fish dishes from poached halibut to pan-fried sea bream. Main courses cost from £15 and are well worth it.

Every other night you can dine out at one of cheaper, funky smaller restaurants and bars.

Top of the list is Mr Bean at Kong Oscarsgate 12 (tel: 0047 55 56 03 12). It offers simply the best coffee in town - the latte is a minor miracle of catering - and does a mean seafood sandwich, too. Add a slab of carrot cake, and you'll still have change from £10.

Bakeries abound in Bergen - Baker Brun on the quayside is very popular - all of them making and serving the local speciality, the "shillingsboller", a delectable spiral sugar-coated bun, even better when custard-filled.

My own favourite, though, is the legendary Godt Brod, just by the YMCA on Nedre Korskirkealm, where morning coffee and a bun - watch it being baked, then eat it warm - will cost you barely 80p.

Café Opera at Engen 24 (tel: 0047 55 23 03 15) is full of character - and characters - and is one of the places to see and be seen in Bergen. Sandwiches, salads, and other snacks cost from £4, but be prepared for outrageous amounts of posing.

Best of all, eat on the streets. Head for the fish market down by the harbour. Marinated salmon bagels, huge slabs of whale meat cut delicately into pastrami-thin slices, incredibly fresh fruit, and enough confectionery to satisfy the sweetest tooth, are all on offer. This is alfresco dining at its best, enjoyed under coloured canopies, against a backdrop of herring-trawlers and ocean-going liners.

If after all this conspicuous consumption you are in need of a drink, the most popular of the downtown bars is Dickens at Kong Olavs Plass 4 (tel: 0047 55 36 31 30). The clientele is young, the joint is jumping, and the alcohol flows into the small hours.

Nightlife

The place to strut your funky stuff is just outside the town centre in a converted air-raid shelter. Hulen Stiftelsen at Olav Ryesvei 47 is home to many top live bands (well, top by Bergen standards) and oodles of sweaty atmosphere. Closer to town is Bryggen Tracteursted, a rough-and-ready bar with live bands, and Galeien, a hotel nightclub at Bradbenken 3 - great fun, especially if you happen to enjoy spectacularly cheesy 70s music.

Deals and packages

Peter Moss travelled to Bergen with Cresta Holidays (tel: 0870 161 0900), which offers three nights for the price of two in September at the Hordaheimen Hotel starting from £311 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes b&b staying in a double room and direct flights from Gatwick. For £341 per person you can stay in the same accommodation but fly from Stansted.

Further information

Bergen's tourist information office is opposite the Torget Market at Bryggen (tel: 0047 55 32 14 80). In the Britain, contact the Norwegian Tourist Board (tel: 020-7839 6255).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain