After our three day cruise from Tromso to Bergen, we spent three days in Bergen to see the sights. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, and it’s on the western coast set among a variety of fjords. It’s a major port area for cruises, shipping and the like. It’s been around for hundreds of years and has a perfectly charming harbor area (fodder for another blog post).
While the ground view of Bergen’s Old European buildings has its charm, it’s also great to get away and see Bergen from afar and above. Lucky for those of us who love a good viewpoint, there are two different viewpoints to see Bergen within easy access of the city center. Both give similar views, but different enough to make both worth your time.
The entire time we were in Norway, I watched the weather forecast closely, because the weather could greatly affect our excursions. Bergen in particular had some of the trickiest weather. Sure there was snow in Tromso (and eventually in Oslo), but Bergen was the “warmest” city we visited. And when I saw warm, I am definitely grading on a curve. The temperature never rose above the high 30s, and it was often lower, but it was still warmer than the other places we visited. In fact, there had been days of rain before we showed up, but while we were there, it did snow on occasion.
Since I am a travel planner, I had to work out our Bergen itinerary in advance, because due to times and weather, I wanted to fit in everything we wanted to see in the time we had to do them. First up on our first full day in Bergen was a visit to Mount Ulriken. This mountain is one of the highest in the area at 642 meters, and you get to the top via cable car. The cable car can be reached by either a 45 minute walk from the city center or about a 15 minute bus ride. If I knew for sure where we were headed, AND if I knew the weather was going to hold out, we might have walked to and from the cable car, because I love to walk on vacation. However, I wasn’t exactly sure the destination, plus the weather forecast only had clear skies for about two hours in late morning, so I felt it was best to take the bus.
Lucky for us, two of the busses that stopped at the cable car stopped just around the corner from our hostel. Bus 2 or 3 with a stop at Haukeland Hospital N will get you close to the cable car. You cross the street and walk up the hill. The hill is a bit steep and we were feeling the incline, but it only took about 15 minutes to get to the base of the cable car. We were visiting mid morning on a Sunday (chosen because Monday was a maintenance day and Tuesday we had a fjord cruise planned) and there was no line for the cable car. So we hit the mountain top within about 15 minutes of getting to the base.
The cable car raises you steadily up and as it nears the top, you can see more and more of Bergen city come into view. Ulriken is about 3 kilometers south of the city center, so the city view is a bit askew from the mountain top. Once you’re up on top, there are plenty of hiking trails, some of them easier and some more difficult, which are easier to do when there is no snow on the ground. Even though there was limited snow at the Bergen city streets, since they were at sea level, but just several hundred meters up above the sea and you are in knee deep snow. It made it a bit challenging to walk out to a view point to take some photos, but we got there.
We were up there enjoying the views for about an hour, but soon after that, the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in, just like the weather forecast predicted. So it was time to take the bus back to the city center, and ensconce ourselves in a variety of art museums to hide out from the falling snow.
The other viewpoint over Bergen, Floibanen, is actually right in the city center, so if you only have time for just one viewpoint, this is the one to do. It’s closer to Bergen, plus it has more extended hours year round (open until around 2300). We had always planned on going to it, but we had a free afternoon AND the sun was shining high in the sky, so we figured why not go watch the sunset over Bergen?
You reach Floibanen via funicular, which leaves about every 15 minutes from the base. Some of the funiculars make stops on the way up, so you can get a sense of how the streets climb up the hills toward the top of the mountain and there are whole neighborhoods you don’t even realize are there.
Once we hit the mountain top, the weather was brisk and cold and the sun shining over the city. It was rather beautiful to see the city spread out before us with the sun lighting everything up. I can’t say it is PEACEFUL up there, only because there are so many people. You have the tourists, but you also have schoolchildren and those who come up the mountain after work or school to do some skiing.
We had plenty of time to kill before the sun set, so we decided to walk around and enjoy some of the trails. Like Ulriken, Floibanen is covered in trails (in fact, you can walk between the two mountains, which would take you about five hours) and you can choose your own adventure for walking. If you wanted, you could walk the roads from Floibanen all the way down to the harbor area, but we just wanted to enjoy some of the beautiful nature.
There was plenty of snow up top, but unlike at Ulriken, the snow was tamped down enough that you could walk on the trails. Walking on the trails was a refreshing, almost magical experience, because it really was like a winter wonderland up there, reminiscent of Tromso, because the snow was pure white and lit up the trees around you.
We only walked to a nearby lake that was 500 meters away, but it made for a brisk afternoon walk. Once we got to the lake, it brought back memories of when I visited during the summer 10 years ago. The walk around the lake was very nice, because it was covered in snow with some tracks (animal or human we weren’t sure), that gave the impression the lake was thick enough to walk on. However, we weren’t reckless enough to make the attempt, because the last thing either of us needed was to fall in a freezing cold lake and need to be fished out by the authorities.
By the time we made our way back to the viewpoint, the sun was getting close to setting, so we got some cocoa and settled in to watch. As with every sunset, it is always a crap shoot. Sometimes sunsets can be colorful and awe inspiring, and sometimes they can just be there and the light falls below the horizon. That was the sunset we encountered. Nothing spectacular, but it was still pretty.
We did other things in Bergen, but the viewpoints over the city are also worth your time.