Founded in 1070, Bergen was the capital of the Kingdom of Norway during the Middle Ages and an outpost of the powerful Hanseatic League of Baltic merchant communities organized in the 12th century. At that time the wharfside district of Bryggen (the Quay) was a bustling trading center. Today it is the only neighborhood where you’ll find the city’s much-photographed gabled wooden buildings with their distinctive rust red and ocher façades. The remarkable collection of timbered warehouses and hostelries—responsible for the town’s nickname, the Wooden City—now house artisan workshops, cafés, and the Hanseatic Museum, in one of the city’s best-preserved buildings.
Enjoy spectacular views of the sunlit harbor, fish market, and mountains from the sleek, colorful rooms of the elegant Clarion Collection Hotel Havnekontoret. The Augustin Hotel is Bergen’s oldest family-run hotel. Perched on the harbor and housed in a 1909 building, it is thoroughly contemporary on the inside. More historic digs can be found at the cozy Steens Hotel, with just 18 rooms set in a beautifully maintained 1890 house.
Finnegaardsstuene, one of the finest restaurants in western Norway, is housed in a former Hanseatic League warehouse (parts of which date to the 17th century) and serves seasonal cuisine from roast pigeon to grilled monkfish. During the summer months, pack a picnic and head just south of town to Troldhaugen (Troll’s Hill), the 19th-century summer villa of Norway’s greatest composer, Edvard Grieg, where summertime concerts are held.
The funicular to Fløyen climbs 1,000 feet to the steepest of Bergen’s seven surrounding mountains for breathtaking views of the fjords. Bergen is the ideal jumping-off point for the unique Norway in a Nutshell tour, a 12-hour day trip that features the best of this stunningly beautiful corner of the country. Start with a bus trip through steep switchback roads to Gudvangen, where you can board a boat to sail through the Nærøyfjord (the narrowest in Norway) and the Aurlandsfjord, both branches of the highly dramatic Sognefjord. After that, board the train from the town of Flåm traveling up and over the side of a gorge to Myrrdal where, for 12 white-knuckle miles, you’ll pass in and out of more than 20 tunnels maneuvering 21 hairpin turns past waterfalls and steep overhangs, with occasional glimpses of the resplendent fjords far beyond.