Cruising Ashore: Exploring Bergen, Norway's "Bryggen"

Cruisers often say that one of Scandinavia’s prettiest ports is Bergen, Norway. Travel Agent – from a visit there last fall – would definitely agree. The destination is both a popular cruise embarkation port and port of call.

What’s special? In past centuries, Bergen was a maritime powerhouse, and while it was not an official Hanseatic League city it was one of four Hanseatic League seafaring/trade “quarters” along with Bruges, Belgium; London, England; and Novgorod, Russia

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bergen's historic Bryggen (wharf) area along the Vagen fjord features grand multi-story wooden structures and narrow passageways into back streets. But the city is actually much older than the Hanseatic era; it dates from Medieval times.

Just Meander

The best way to explore Bryggen is to simply meander on foot. Check out our original slide show above detailing Bryggen’s historic buildings with maroon, yellow and brown coloring. These tall, slim, wooden townhouse-like structures deliver a vibe of past centuries. 

Some lean precariously upon each other. A large stag’s head adorns one of the structures. 

Looking at the front of these water-facing buildings, cruisers will see several narrow public passageways with arched entries. We'd recommend entering to stroll those alleys, admire the soaring gables and imagine how the locals lived and worked centuries ago.

That said, visitors should take care when walking as Bryggen has cobblestoned streets and many uneven surfaces. Housed within the historic buildings are artists’ studios, craft/souvenir shops and a "must pop in" fishing tackle shop, not a surprising shop given Bergen's fishing heritage.

Tucked away at the end of one passageway is a courtyard displaying a giant wooden fish sculpture, which definitely warrants a selfie. It’s outside Audun Hetlands Atelier, a gallery exhibiting works by the late Norwegian caricaturist.

Hanseatic History

To learn about life during four centuries of the Hanseatic era, visitors would typically visit the Hanseatic Museum, built in 1704 and one of Bergen’s oldest wooden buildings. But while visitors can admire the outside of the building on Finnegarden (shown in our slide show), the main museum is closed through 2024, as restoration work is under way.

However, starting on May 1, those who head for the museum’s Shotstuene complex, home to four former Hanseatic assembly rooms and two cook rooms, will find new Hanseatic exhibitions, plus details on the Finnegarden restoration.  

Most notably, visitors can peer into a medieval ruin hidden underneath the building and newly visible through a glass floor.

Another spot that provides good historical perspective is the Bryggen Museum, with the city's oldest foundations and artifacts; it’s currently closed for construction of a new exhibition but will reopen in late May, just in time for the summer Norwegian cruise season.

More Tidbits

Today, cargo ships still arrive/depart from Bergen with fish, seafood and other goods, but they also transport different cargo of the human kind -- tens of thousands of cruise visitors annually, many of whom can’t wait to stroll through Bergen’s historic downtown.

For pre- and post-cruise stays, it's advantageous to stay at a property that’s within easy walking distance of Bryggen. Among the conveniently located choices is the 342-room Raddison Blu Norge, where Travel Agent stayed for several nights. Our room was spacious, well-appointed and overlooked the harbor area, plus the hotel had an excellent on-site restaurant, 26 North.

Even if cruisers aren’t staying at the hotel, 26 North Bar & Social Club, with direct access to/from Bryggen’s waterfront, offers a range of snacks, light meals and drinks throughout the day. In late afternoon, it seemed as popular with the locals as with hotel guests.

For free or discounted entry to museums and other Bergen attractions, consider the Bergen Card, available for purchase online or from the city’s Bergen Tourist Information Center. For details and other tourism information, visit www.visitbergen.com

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