Norway’s second city, seen from above
Guidebooks and taxi drivers agree: a visit to one of Bergen’s seven peaks is a must
While Bergen is Norway’s second city, it has—like all other places in the country—an intimate connection with nature. During my two days in Bergen, I thus found myself more often sweating on mountain slopes than sipping coffee by the harborside. As a reward, however, I discovered the city in an unusual way.
Leaving the streets and heading up into the mountains to view the city was not my idea. Guidebooks recommended it, and even the taxi driver who picked me up at the train station insisted that without standing on Mount Fløyen, I could not claim to have been to Bergen. I therefore set off for my first walk from the Old Bergen Museum in the northern part of the city toward the must-visit mountain.
From the sea to the sky
While the walk was only about 3 miles long, Mount Fløyen’s elevation of 1,312 feet (400 m) meant that it felt like a workout—especially if you were planning for a short urban stroll. I first passed quaint streets with elegant wooden dwellings and then began climbing through the woods. Peeks at the city flashed through the gaps between the trees. Yet, only when I was standing at the modern glass railing of the observation terrace atop Mount Fløyen could I overlook the entire panorama, which, indeed, no visitor should miss.
The city center sat far below me, squeezed between mountain slopes and the sea harbor. When I zoomed my camera in, I could find all major landmarks, including the Bergenhus Fortress, the Fish Market, and the Hanseatic houses that once served the mid-14th century German merchants who had turned the city into a bustling trading post. The view further afield explained why they had chosen Bergen as their base to buy fur and other Nordic products; the harbor is easily accessed from the open sea, but also protected by many small lush islands.
Clear blue skies may be normal in August elsewhere, but it was highly unusual to have them in Bergen. In fact, it might have been the warmest day of the year (probably 75°F), and this weather had attracted large crowds of people to the mountain. Many of the ships’ passengers reach the top of the mountain on a funicular called Fløibannen that conveniently picks them up near the harbor. No, not all of them looked like serious hikers—there were many international visitors, some who had just disembarked from the gigantic cruise ships that had replaced the merchant vessels in Bergen harbor over the centuries. These cruise ships usually make a stop in Bergen on their way north toward the fjords. No wonder Bergen is dubbed “Gateway to the Fjords.”
After having a light seafood snack with city views on the patio of a touristy but charming old-time Folkerestaurant on Mount Fløyen, I joined the crowds and took the funicular back down to the city.
The giant of the seven
While walking in the center, I kept turning my head to the highest mountain towering over Bergen. This was Mount Ulriken. At 2,110 feet, capped with an easily recognizable TV tower, it resembled a giant guardian keeping an eye over the city. The challenge was too tempting, so I decided to hike up to the peak the second day of my Bergen stay. Not even the fact that Ulriken was the central crime scene in Jo Nesbø’s novel The Snowman could deter me.
The shortest trail to the peak of the mountain starts at the lower station of the Ulriken cable car behind University Hospital. It was a weekend morning, and the trails were full of people of all ages, including families with children. This surprised me because although it takes only 1.2 miles to reach the peak, the steepness of the Ulriken slopes makes it actually a strenuous hike. A majority of the fellow hikers spoke Norwegian—no cruise ship passengers in sight. The hikers also seemed to have an easy time, making the 1,800-foot elevation gain look like a morning stroll. In my mind, I therefore grouped the Norwegians with the Austrians as Europe’s best mountain hikers.
On top of Mount Ulriken, a small café awaits visitors, serving hot drinks that come in handy on a mountain swept with cold winds all year round. I wandered on a few trails around the peak to take in the views from all directions. Looking down on one side, I saw miniature Bergen with its harbor, but when I turned to the other side, the Norwegian wilderness in all its vastness appeared in front of me—the typical flat-top mountains, divided by deeply carved valleys and even a fjord in the distance. According to the map, this was Samnangerfjorden, marking the southeastern border of Bergen Peninsula. Despite its seemingly impressive size, it is one of the less important, shorter fjords in the country.
Far to the south, I could recognize the bay of Nordåsvannet, surrounded by residential neighborhoods with plenty of greenery. That was the location where Edvard Grieg, the country’s most famous composer whose music is what goes best with absorbing Norwegian landscapes, built his Troldhaugen villa (for more on Grieg, see www.norwegianamerican.com/travel/stay-inside-a-grieg-family-masterpiece). Even the Norwegian royal family occasionally stays on the shores of the bay in the Gamlehaugen Palace, nowadays open to the public along with its English gardens.
The most noticeable feature of Bergen’s scenery, however, is the range of hills surrounding the town. In fact, Norwegian writer Ludvig Holberg identified seven of them in his reference to the Seven Hills of Rome. Ulriken is the highest, but the others are visible from there as well: Lyderhorn, Damsgårdsfjellet, and Løvstakken to the southwest and Fløyen, Rundemanen, and Sandviksfjellet to the north. The seven mountains have become such a phenomenon of Bergen that the city’s hiking association organizes 7-fjellsturen annual hikes covering all seven peaks.
After hiking to the must-visit mountain and to the highest peak, I felt that I had truly “been” to Bergen. I took the cable car from Ulriken down, but even in the city center there was no escaping the mountains. Whether walking past the music pavilion in the perfectly manicured city park, or looking at ancient houses along the bryggen (docks), the steep slopes of the seven always provide a background setting. They keep inviting visitors to see the city in a Norwegian way—from sharply ascending trails.
If you go…
• For more information about the Fløibannen funicular, visit floyen.no/en/floibanen.
• For more information about the cable car to Ulriken, visit ulriken643.no/en/ulriksbanen.
• The Bergen hiking association provides details about trails around Bergen, as well as the seven-mountain hike, at www.bergenoghordalandturlag.no/7-fjellsturen. More information about the seven-mountain hike can also be found in the sports section of The Norwegian American at www.norwegianamerican.com/sports/7-fjellsturen-a-hike-of-seven-mountains.
Libor Pospisil is a freelance travel writer, originally from the Czech Republic. He is a statistician, but his interests range from history to art, nature, and hiking. Read his work at travelsbooksessays.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 25, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.