Reading the title of this post, you may find yourself pondering, “Where exactly is Bergen, Norway anyway?”
That’s exactly what I was wondering when I impulsively bought a $90, flash-sale plane ticket traveling there last March.
If you ask me what I was thinking during that purchase…I couldn’t tell you. I’m not typically an impulsive person – truthfully, I’m perfectly content to mull over an idea for years before actually taking action 😉 Also, if I’m completely honest, Norway had never been a place on my ever growing “must see” list – purchasing a spontaneous, one-way ticket there was completely out of my character.
Jumping ahead, I would like to thank my wanderlust impulsiveness (re: momentary insanity) because my adventure to Bergen, Norway proved to be a life changing experience.
Without a doubt, Norway, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. It possesses lush scenery, charming towns, jaw dropping fjords, and possibly the cleanest, crispest air you’ll ever hope to inhale.
Should you ever have the chance or possess even the slightest desire to go to Norway – jump on it immediately. If and when you do, here are my Top 5 recommendations.
#1 The Shops at Bryggen
You might assume the shops at Bryggen to be the touristy stop of Bergen, and while you’re not completely wrong, they still prove a unique and special destination that I admit we spent a large portion of our time exploring.
The colorful exteriors of these Hanseatic buildings provide a charming backdrop while shopping. The shops themselves are quirky and individual – they range from home good shops to independent clothing boutiques, art galleries to crystal shops, and handmade knitwear to the cutest, year-round Christmas shop you ever did see.Be sure to venture further than what is just found on the exterior – follow the narrow alleys between buildings to unfold more. Some of my favorite shops and galleries were hidden away down shadowy, wooden planked walkways.
Finally, be sure to keep an eye out for trolls! They’re lurking everywhere in this area. Oddly cute? Kinda creepy? You decide. I personally found them adorable and opted to bring one home with me 😉
#2 Fjord Cruise
I admit, I have to eat crow on this one. When my travel buddy Kate first nominated the idea of a fjord cruise to me, I scoffed at the idea. I figured it would be just another boring, slow boat tour. Also, wtf is a fjord anyway?
Thankfully, with a little extra nudging from Kate, and with a few extra hours to kill in Bergen, we boarded the boat booked through Rodne Fjord Cruise and set out on what had to be one of our most thrilling activities in Norway.
Unlike a lot of boat tours, where you’re crammed inside with a bunch of strangers and can hardly see due to the fogged up windows, Rodne Fjord Cruise provided a spacious vessel with room to roam about upstairs in the open air – taking in the sights and brisk breeze – while then providing plenty of seats in the interior, lower level – allowing you space to get warmed up while enjoying some hot tea and snacks.
The views were utterly spectacular – honestly no camera could ever hope to capture all the beauty and wonder of the fjords. It was absolutely awe inspiring to see first-hand just exactly what nature is capable of creating.
Kate and I spent as long as we could stand on the top level at the front of the boat – taking plenty of photos and marveling at the views. When we felt we couldn’t handle getting any further chilled or windswept, we ducked down to the floor below and warmed up with some chocolate and pear cider from the boat’s snack counter. (Hey, it’s vacation after all, right?)
Oh, and just in case you’re still wondering – Google defines a fjord as “a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, as in Norway and Iceland, typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley.” 😉
#3 Fløibanen Funicular
I know I’m not alone that anytime I find myself in a new city, one of the first things I want to do is get above it in order to take it all in. If you feel similarly, allow me to point you to the Fløibanen Funicular. The base of the funicular is located in city center – if you’re exploring the shops at Bryggen (the first recommendation on this post), you’re only a couple short blocks from the entrance. For 90 NOK ($11.20), you can purchase a round trip ticket, which will whisk you away to see fabulous views of the city, meet an oversized troll (whom I absolutely adored), enjoy a dinner overlooking the town below, and get up close and personal with some mountain goats (don’t worry, they are secured thanks to invisible fencing). If you’ve got children traveling with you, there is even an awesome kiddie zip line and playground at the top to help them expend some extra energy 😉
#4 Bergen Fish Market
I’ll confess…I’m not the biggest fish fan. It’s not that I DON’T like fish – it’s just in any scenario where I’m offered a choice between fish or literally any other animal meat…I will always choose the latter. That said, one look at the bustling fish market in Bergen and I knew I’d have to make an exception.
Dozens of stalls fill the area and proudly display their freshest catch. I took one look at the platter of fresh bay shrimp and crawfish and knew it was calling my name. Every bite was absolutely delicious – I only wish I’d had room for more 😉
If fish is 100% not your thing, never fear – there are still plenty of options to allow you to enjoy the market. Grab a quick ice cream as you stroll, or look for the burger stand near the end of the row. Stick with traditional beef or go out on a limb and try the reindeer burger. While the thought of eating Rudolf may crush your childhood, I assure you, he is absolutely delicious 😉
#5 Troll Tunga
I went back and forth about a dozen times as to whether or not I should even include Troll Tunga on this list. I finally decided I would; however, I intend to be 100% transparent about this final recommendation.
Here’s the thing – Trolltunga is magnificent. It will go down as one of the most incredible accomplishments of my life. The views are unparalleled to anything else I’ve ever experienced, and yes, you get the epic, Instagram-worthy photo if and when you make it to summit.
BUT…and that is purposefully a big, giant, red-lettered “but” – it needs to be noted that this hike is 100% no joke.
Kate and I were smart. We read dozens of blogs and watched videos of the actual trail. We purchased and packed supplies based off the recommendations and information found on those sites. I’m also going to throw out there that we are both extremely active people who workout 4-6 times per week in addition to walking an average of 5 miles per day while living in New York City, and truthfully, the hike to Trolltunga nearly broke us.
Even with all the information we had gathered, we were drastically unprepared. We barely slept the night before (mostly due to jet lag), our morning started with a 3 hour drive to even get to the base of the hike, and confession: we didn’t eat anything prior to starting our trek (this isn’t as crazy as it sounds as we are both used to practicing intermittent fasting; nonetheless, I would never recommend anyone else actually do this). Each of us only packed a couple spare, lightweight layers, and I didn’t even wear hiking boots. Instead, I turned to my old, trustworthy New Balance Sneakers that had seen me through several hikes before.
Please – should you attempt this hike – don’t do as I did. Instead, go get yourself some proper hiking boots and save your ankles and feet a lot of trouble.
Now let me restate – we weren’t dumb about this hike. We did our research. We spent hours watching videos of the hike, reading reviews, and gathering tips prior to our trip. Every review we read said that while the first kilometer is rough due to quickly climbing you to elevation, but the rest of the path “levels” out and just becomes about covering the distance to the infamous photo point. We even read blogs about how families have conquered the hike along with their small children and dogs – hell, we even saw a few of each as we hiked it ourselves.
So, listen…I don’t know if these were paid reviews to make the hike seem more manageable in order to increase tourism, or if all of these reviewers are just master level hikers, and to them it truly was just a walk in the (albeit wild and uncontrollable) park, but truthfully…this hike damn near impossible.
I’m not being overdramatic in saying…there are multiple moments where we could have died. The terrain is steep, slippery, and full of uneven, sharp rocks. There are moments when you’re completely aware that with one wrong step, it would be a straight drop down (and the infamous “tongue” point is not even the moment that initially comes to mind). Throughout the 22km (round trip) hike, you traverse over streams, cliffs, and even snow. Therefore, by the end of the day, from the sheer number of hikers this path hosts, the trail gets beaten down into a wet, muddy mess that will claim even the best of hiking boots. There are spans of the hike where your body temperature drops while moving over snow and ice, and other moments where you dip down to lower ground and easily get overheated. Without proper layers, hypothermia is a possibility – one that Kate and I only narrowly avoided.
Oh! And the promise that the hike levels out after the 1st torturous kilometer? Lies. Blatant lies. You may get flat land for a few brief, fleeting moments within random kilometers, but then it’s right back to the climb. And the worst part about that? What goes up, must come down.
I was convinced they way back down would be easier. I kept promising myself an easy walk back to the car. But here’s the thing – after 13 hours, 22 kilometers, and very little fuel (re: food) on board, we had nothing left to give mentally, physically, or even emotionally. A completely level 11km walk back to the car would have been hard, but the steep descent back to base was body-crushing.
I have never felt my knees and ankles scream in such a manner. Every step we took had to be carefully and deliberately placed; otherwise, you could easily slip and fall, and frankly, if you did, who knows where you’d even manage to come to a stop. That final kilometer was excruciating torture that left me praying for us to make it back to base safely. There were truly moments when I thought we would never get off that damn mountain, and when we finally did, both of us burst into tears.
So. Now that all is said and done – would I recommend Trolltunga. Yes, but with EXTREME caveats.
First, make sure you are overly prepared. Even if you are accustomed to a lot of walking in your lifestyle – train for this hike. Were I to do it again, I’d spend several weeks getting comfortable on a stair master/climber. Get hiking boots, hiking sticks, a waterproof shell, several, variously weighted layers, and multiple changes of socks. Get to Odda the night before and be sure to get a solid night of sleep. Eat something before the hike, but allow enough time to digest. The first kilometer changes elevation dramatically, and if you’re not accustomed to a higher elevation, it can make you rather nauseous. Keep your pace slow and take plenty of breaks – if for no other reason than to take in the jaw dropping views.
Finally, enjoy the fresh water from the streams! It’s true – you can drink directly from the various water sources you pass as they all come from glacier melt. It is without a doubt the coolest, crispest, most refreshing water I’ve ever had. I only wish I could have filled up and traveled with a few extra bottles 😉
Skillingsboller is a traditional Norwegian cinnamon bun. Think our American version but lighter, fluffier, and less gooey. It’s an absolute treat and I highly recommend it! Grab one at Baker Brun Bryggen while enjoying the shops 😉