This is “Day 3” of the posts of the a day by day reporting of a typical 7 Night Norwegian Fjords Cruise, based on my trip on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. The trip cruised through the North Sea and visited Bergen, Geiranger, Skjolden and Stavanger. In this series I look at Cunard, Queen Elizabeth ship, and tips and advice on each of the stops.
Sunday 8 July: Bergen. Norway’s 2nd Largest City. Gateway to the Fjords.
It was incredibly foggy as we came into Bergen around 8am this morning. The fog made entering the city very atmospheric and exciting.
What is great about ports ad cities like Bergen, versus major port cities like Rotterdam, is that you berth right in the city. Bergen is a beautiful city clinging along the base of the 7 mountains that surround the city, and what it is known for.
The crew, including the Captain, joke that Bergen would not be Bergen without be Bergen without rain. It seems the location makes it constantly getting rain. The guide who took us on tour around the city also spoke about how changeable the weather across the days are. This was our experience as we had thick fog in the morning which by lunchtime was bright sunshine and blue skies. The city was transformed by the sunshine making it even more picturesque and beautiful
Some facts and figures about Bergen
Bergen is known as the “Gateway to the Fjords” as the Fjord Coastline of Western Norway spreads from here, and is famous for the mountains that surround it.
It used to be the capital of Norway, now replaced by Oslo.
It is the second largest city in the country. Though it only has around 250000 inhabitants. 30000 of which are students at its popular and well respected universities. Around 10% of the population are immigrants to Norway.
The history of the city seems to consist of fire after fire decimating large parts of the city across the years. Over the centuries the wooden buildings have been burnt down. There still are large areas of wooden buildings, especially the old town areas near the port. Bergen, not surprisingly, now has some of the toughest fire regulations around.
Its economic base and power came from the sea, with merchants operating out of the city and of course fishing. There is a beautiful, and very busy, area close to the docking area that has the Fish Market and a busy food market. It is very popular with tourists.
The city is sprawling and spreads for many miles around the bay despite the small population as the mountains make the area suitable for building houses more limited.
Cost of living is high in Bergen, and all of Norway in fact. Milk can cost 200 NOK (about £2/ US$3). Although there is no legal minimum wage, wages are high and often double that of other European countries. So a worker can earn 140 NOK (about £14) an hour. This is double the minimum wage in the UK.
At least 250 cruise ships visit this small city every summer season! So they cruise passengers are well catered for. There are docks dotted around around the beautiful bay with room for around 7 cruise ships at any one time.
While you can fly in or drive in, it is said the best way to arrive is by ship. I agree as the cruise in is beautiful and impressive.
Tips for Visiting Bergen
Cruise Liner Tours: It is most likely that a visitor will be a cruise passenger based on the huge volume of ships that visit each year. Most tend to use the official Cruise Line tours on offer. These will tend to be a combination of walking tours, bus drives around the city and surrounding area, bus tour to either the Ulrike Mountain Car or Floyen Mountain Venicular Train.
The Alternative: I would recommend though that for cost reasons and for more flexibility, you consider an alternative approach. Your ship will have docked right in the city at the bay. This is what I would focus your day in Bergen on:
Hop-on Hop-Off Bus
These will usually be right ear the ship and are an inexpensive way to get round to all the key places in the city. Check the one you chose includes Ulrike Mountain on the route, as this is a must see cable car ride.
Bryggen/ Fish Market:
Or from the ship, you can easily walk from the ship to the Fish Market area. This buzzes with restaurants, bars and an open air market. This is a centre of activity, and also where the tourist office is based in a funky new building (Fresco Hall). You can get a free guide from the office, though often it is being handed out when you get off your ship, of Bergen.
As you stroll to the Fish Market close by is the Bryggen area. Here are old wooden houses and buildings. They are brightly painted, and some are leaning heavily. These are the old ones, as many of the buildings here are 1950 reconstructions of the originals which were burnt down in one of Bergen’s many fires. Inside them are shops selling tourist souvenirs and clothing.
Also in this area is the Hanseatic Museum.
This is one of the original buildings in the city and contains a history of the German Merchants that once dominated the commercial life of the busy port.
Ulrike Mountain Cable Car
I recommend this over the Venicular. The Venicular leaves from close to the Fish Market and travels part way up Mount Floyen. But Ulrike is the highest, and has more incredible views. It costs around NOK 145 (about £15/ $20) return. You can climb up and down, but the Cable Car is easier unless you are very fit and like the challenge.
It is a 1km ride and takes about 7 minutes in the Cable car. The small cabin takes around 15 passengers. It is a steep ride up and you get impressive views across the city and bay. You should be able to see your ship docked. At the top is a small cafe/ restaurant with limited choice, and not especially helpful on our visit there. There is a tiny shop selling limited souvenirs and drinks.
On top of the mountain are walks and trails of varying lengths which people walk and the more energetic go running in. It is a popular spot with locals to keep fit and enjoy very scenic running and hiking exercise.
With the weather which can bring in mists, you may not get to see a lot as you go above the clouds. But it can change fast and so wrath doing even if the day looks cloudy.
View of Bergen half way up Ulrike Mountain Cable Car
Bergen is the base for the study of marine life in the North Sea and Arctic. The aquarium focuses on this, and pumps some million litres of water through it everyday from the Fjords for the tanks. It is based in a park (Nordes Park) which you can see from where you dock across the bay, but will need a bus (or taxi) to get there. The Hop-on Hop-Off bus will take you there, and is worth stopping in to take a look.
Shops are closed on Sunday, and so the city is very quiet and serene even when there are many ships in town. Even the 2 large shipping centres close on Sunday, even if ships are in. The shops catering for tourists and restaurants in the Bryggen will be open.
Norway is not part of the EU and uses the Norweigian Krona. If you plan to visit the markets then you need to make sure you have some local currency, or draw some from a cash machine once on land. You will probably get a better rate doing this than changing money on the ship.
As Norway is not in the EU, you can claim back Sales Tax in purchases even if a European resident.
We set sail from Bergen at 3:45pm, which meant that we sailed put along the beautiful mountains withe great views as we headed out to sea. Bergen is about 28 miles from the sea. We passed under a bridge as we left the city. The bridge is 63 metres high, which leaves only 8 metres headroom as the Queen Elizabeth is 56 metres tall.
Captain’s Cocktail Party
Tonight the Queens Grill and Princess Grill Passengers were invited to the Captain’s Cocktail Party from 6:45pm to 7:30pm in the Queens Room. He hosted a set of Parties for the first sitting Britannia and second sitting the night before. These are popular with passengers. You get free drink and canapés, but most like the idea of a Captain’s Cocktail Party and will line up to shake his had and have a photo taken. Another chance to sell you a photo. We did not go and headed to dinner, which was quiet until the party ended.
The show was some singer that won UK Opportunity Knocks years ago. Not our cup of tea so headed off to gamble.
Watch the Video I made of Bergen Includes cruising into Bergen, some shots of the Town, going up and down the Ulrike Cable Car and Cruising out of the Town: