Bergen is surrounded by one of the world's most spectacular tourist attractions – The Norwegian Fjords.
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While all of Norway is beautiful, it’s the west coast and the old fiordland trading city of Bergen that most engages visitors. While roaming the narrow streets, as sailors and traders have done for centuries it’s likely you’ll have a familiar soundtrack unconsciously playing somewhere in your head.
Travel editor, David McGonigal ventures into the Hall of the Mountain King.
Edvard Grieg wrote a lot of music but it was his Incidental Music for fellow Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s anti-morality play Peer Gynt that is best known. It has turned up in everything from The Simpsons and Inspector Gadget to music by The Who. Because Grieg’s music is so engaging and accessible it has often been used to introduce children to the joy of the symphony.
The sculpture of the famous Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg
Bergen was where Grieg was born and where he died in 1907. His music reflects his landscape. Grieg’s Ingrid’s Lament may provide a recollection of a voyage along the waters of a perfectly still fiord, surrounded by towering glacier-carved walls. Fiords should ring to In the Hall of the Mountain King.
Bergen is a World Heritage city and few that have spent time exploring Bryggen, the city’s historic waterfront district, would consider this honour misplaced. Bryggen is the traditional heart of Bergen from its days as a leading port of the Hanseatic League.
Bergen is the second most populous city in Norway after the capital Oslo
The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is the oldest in Europe and it’s not surprising that the cultural hall is the Grieg Hall, and in summer there are Grieg recitals at the Cathedral and the Grand Hotel Terminus. There’s even a Grieg parking station.
With a bit of planning, getting to this coastal city can be just as rewarding as arriving.
For rail travellers the path is clear. Several times each day there are trains making the seven hour rail journey from Oslo to Bergen that has been rated as one of the most spectacular in the world.
It’s worth including the side trip down to fiordside Flam from Myrdal that drops 865 metres over 20 km, an impossibly steep descent past waterfalls into the glorious fiord. The train tracks end mere metres from the dark, deep waters of the Aurlandsfiord. Visit Norwegian State Railways and the Flam Railway.
The beautiful scenic landscape will just take your breath away
Of course, flying into Bergen provides a bird’s-eye view but visibility is a lottery with cloud often hanging low over the west coast of Norway. Driving provides the greatest flexibility but it takes a very long time with a national speed limit of just 80 km/h – and very high fines for transgressing. Also, many of the roads are narrow and winding – and frustrating because there are numerous places where the main road disappears into a tunnel just as the scenery is most stunning.
Norwegian Fjords are one of nature's wonders – a must visit!
The most popular road to Bergen is the E16 highway but it can be very busy, especially in mid summer. To get the most out of it you need to make short detours to fiord towns such as Laerdal, and into the ports of Aurlands and Gudvangen. The longest road tunnel is an impressive 24 km.
While Bergen is Norway’s largest coastal city, the most picturesque is the village of Laerdal, a quaint and ancient market town at the head of one arm of imposing Sognefiord. The meandering lanes are almost too narrow to drive but it’s extremely rewarding to walk amongst the 160 protected buildings from the town’s heyday in the 19th Century.
The historical part of Bergen city
An alternative to the E16 is the picturesque southern route along Hardanger Fiord on Highway 7. This necessitates at least one car ferry ride and the chance to see Norway from the water. It would be difficult for any romantic to sail along any of Norway’s myriad fiords without hearing Peer Gynt as the soundtrack for the voyage.
From 1885 until his death, Greig’s home was Troldhaugen, a quaint little two storey house on a promontory about eight kilometres south of Bergen. Today the house is a museum. An unobtrusive concert hall that seats 200 has been constructed into a hill within the grounds.
Troldhaugen, home of the famous composer Edvard Grieg
While Grieg’s own Steinway piano is in the living room, the place at Troldhaugen where you feel closest to the composer is at the tiny hut down the hill by the water’s edge where he wrote every day. It looks just as it was a hundred years ago, right down to his footstool. The Norwegian composer’s legacy lives on throughout his hometown.
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