Bergen History & Tourism
During the 12th and 13th centuries, Bergen was Norway’s capital and easily the country’s most important city. By the 13th century, the city states of Germany allied themselves into trading leagues, most significantly the Hanseatic League with its centre in Lübeck. At its zenith, the league had over 150 member cities and was northern Europe’s most powerful economic entity; the sheltered harbour of Bryggen drew the Hanseatic League’s traders in droves. They established their first office here around 1360, transforming Bryggen into one of the league’s four major headquarters abroad, with up to 2000 mostly German resident traders who imported grain and exported dried fish, among other products.
For over 400 years, Bryggen was dominated by a tight-knit community of German merchants who weren’t permitted to mix with, marry or have families with local Norwegians. By the 15th century, competition from Dutch and English shipping companies, internal disputes and, especially, the Black Death (which wiped out 70% of Bergen’s population) ensured the Hanseatic League’s decline, (although Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck are still called Hanseatic cities and Hamburg and Bremen retain city-state status).
By the early 17th century Bergen was nonetheless the trading hub of Scandinavia and Norway’s most populous city with 15, 000 people. During the 17th and 18th centuries, many Hanseatic traders opted to take Norwegian nationality and join the local community. Bryggen continued as an important maritime trading centre until 1899, when the Hanseatic League’s Bergen offices finally closed.
The city is a spectacular amphitheatre clambering up the mountainsides, looking over the sea, embracing you. Wander along the Fish Market and mingle with the masses as they go about their daily life. Stroll leisurely to the Aquarium to see the fish, the penguins and the seals. Walk the length of Bryggen to the old fortress of Bergenhus. Håkon Håkonsson once ruled all Norway from here, making Bergen the country's first capital city. In 1261 he built the mighty "Håkons Hall" for his son Magnus Lagabøter's wedding and coronation.
Perhaps you have an appreciation for old-style painters such as I.C. Dahl or more modern ones like Munch or Picasso, perhaps you´re interested in architecture or history, technical skills or maritime matters. The old parts of town are living history and our museums and galleries keep both art and our ancestral heritage alive.
The Hanseatic wharf Bryggen, the Fish Market composer Edvard Grieg´s home at Troldhaugen, Rasmus Meyer´s art collection, the Aquarium, Old Bergen and the Coastal Steamer (Hurtigruten), one of the most famous tourist attractions in Norway, just to mention a few.
Tradition, initiative and drive has made Bergen one of Norway´s most vigorous cultural towns. It isn´t merely by chance that Norway´s biggest cultural event, the Bergen International Festival, is held here each year.
The Fjord Capital has a, vide variety of activities ranging from "high" culture to lively football matches at the Brann Stadium. We have a professional ballet company, an exciting jazz and blues milieu, repertory theatres and imaginative revues. Norway´s very first theatre, Den Nationale Scene, and the Bergen International Theatre offer a broad spectrum of performances, while one of the world´s oldest symphony orchestras, Harmonien, holds Thursday concerts in the town´s splendid Grieg Hall.
In Bergen you´ll find just about everything from tea rooms to speciality fish restaurants, from small bistros to discotheques, bars and nightclubs. Ask a Bergenser where you should go and quite likely you´ll be directed to one of the town´s classic hostelries which has drawn customers for decades. There again, you may just as well be shown the way to a bistro which otherwise you´d never have found - or treat yourself at one of the town´s pastry shops. Bergen has some of the country´s most beautiful restaurant settings and some of the country´s best eating places - all you have to do is choose according to your desire, appetite and wallet!
Bergen has always been a town of traders. For our guests, this means that they´ll find plenty of tempting shops - from the small and specialised to the large departmental store. Many visitors have remarked that they find more specialist shops here than in other Norwegian towns. Our late opening shopping centres measures up very favourably to most others when it comes to enterprise and plenty to choose from. In addition we have "Super Saturdays" where most shops in the centre of town stay open until 4 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month. Thursday too is a big day for town centre shopping, with shops staying open until 7 p.m. In Bergen you´ll always find a good bargain!
When essential purchases have been done, the shops gazed at and the thrill of local life tasted, the Gateway to the Fjords still has a lot to offer, its seven mountains the town itself with its unexpected nooks and tiny alleyways. Bergen is a town to potter around in. Here is history in its old houses, a sense of well-being in its narrow streets, and monuments dotted around everywhere. Most of this is within easy strolling distance and that´s the advantage of this nucleus of a city between fjord and mountain.