WITH the current issues surrounding package holidays, a civilised, scenic city break with Scandinavian charm sounds increasingly appealing. With direct flights from Aberdeen, Sumburgh and Edinburgh, Bergen is a short hop away and its mountainous and coastal scenery feels wonderfully familiar.

Scotland’s links with Norway are strong and many Scots will feel at home in Bergen even if they’ve never visited before. There are the close ties with Shetland, which was under Norwegian control from the 9th century until 1472. And today, oil and gas connections forge strong ties between Norway, Aberdeen and the Northern Isles.

Bergen is a beautifully compact and walkable town, with a joined-up transport system and direct trains from the airport into the heart of the city. And there’s so much to do.

A key attraction that allows visitors to appreciate the beauty of this coastal city is the Floibanen funicular, which journeys up Mount Floyen (320m above sea level) in just over five minutes. At the summit, as well as staggering views, take the chance to meet the city’s unexpected free-range goats that peacefully wander the green slopes, plus there’s a vast playground (with trolls!) and restaurant and cafe. For those who enjoy a good hike, it’s perfectly feasible to walk up and/or down the mountain, taking roughly 45 minutes-one hour each way.

The National:

Visitors with a head for heights will also be drawn to the Ulriken Cable Car which travels 643m above sea level to the highest of Bergen’s seven mountains. Guests seeking relaxation can enjoy a scenic meal at the Skyskraperen Restaurant and more active tourists can hike from Ulriken to Fløyen, which takes about five hours.

For those who wish to keep their feet on the ground, meander along the waterside at Bryggen. The iconic red, white and mustard wooden houses are included on Unesco’s World Heritage List. They date back to 1702, built after a great fire that decimated the city. Out front there are shops, cafes and bars, which are chilled by day and lively by night. Explore the intimate wooden alleyways and staircases of the Bryggen to discover tucked-away art galleries, gift shops, designers and jewellers, but the luckiest visitors will also find a secret door.

The tiny Theta Museum is one of Bergen’s literally “hidden” gems. A concealed door opens up into the Theta Group’s operation room, once home to an insanely brave Second World War resistance movement made up of daring 19 to 22-year-old men and women. The compact room is filled with basic supplies such as radio equipment, explosives and weapons.

During the war, the group’s task was to monitor German naval traffic off the coast of Norway, liaising with the Allies, often using British radio equipment shipped over from Shetland. The team’s greatest achievement was sharing the hidden fjord location of the Nazi’s prize warship, the Tirpitz, with the Allies. Photographs and info-boards reveal the fate of the youths involved.

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Second World War history and legacy are strong in Bergen. Sites such as the Gestapo Museum don’t pull any punches.

Other key attractions include the free fortress museum near the harbour. The building spans several floors and topics include the resistance movement in and around Bergen, the underground media and victims of the Holocaust. It’s powerful to discover what the people of this city experienced during the horrors of occupation.

For something more relaxed and child friendly, escape to the city’s aquarium. The shark tunnel is mesmerising as the finned beasts swim overhead. The noisy Gentoo penguins herald in tourists with a loud braying sound that earned them the nickname “Donkey” penguins. Crocodiles, clownfish, local Bleke fish, axolotl and sea lions feature too.

It’s also worth spending time in the hands-on shipping area. Kids can hoist sails, climb the rigging, steer a ship’s wheel and endlessly ring a ship’s bell!

After visiting the tourist attractions, make time to sample Bergen’s larder. Norway is one of the world’s greatest exporters of salmon, so take in the sights, sounds and smells of the fish market, a hub for merchants and fishermen since the 1200s. Pick up piping hot fishcakes, ready to eat.

Just as visiting Cullen without trying Cullen skink, it would be rude not to experience Bergen’s famous fish soup at traditional restaurants such as Bryggeloftet & Stuene. Made from white fish, such as saithe, haddock and cod, and seasoned with vinegar and sugar, the soup has a notable sweet and sour kick.

Next, head to Bien Basar restaurant to try Bergen’s famous Persetorsk cod dish, which even has its own day of celebration on January 28 each year. Sweet treats include cinnamon skillingsbolle buns, available in bakeries around the city. And be sure to look out for traditional Norwegian brown cheese (which is literally brown). This whey cheese has a distinctively sweet caramel flavour and soft texture.

It’s popular at hotel breakfast bars.

Overall, Bergen combines beauty, bravery, scenery, history, fjords and fantastic food. And with a flight time of just over an hour from Scotland, what’s not to love?

Where to Stay

The Scandic brand of hotels offer streamlined modern accommodation across Bergen at excellent prices. Children are made to feel particularly welcome with gifts packs that can include games, sunglasses and activities. The family room bunk beds are also hugely popular with little ones. Scandic breakfasts set these hotels apart – they are epic – and are regularly recognised by Norway’s Twinings Best Breakfast awards.

What’s On

  • Fjordsteam Bergen (August 4-7), the largest festival in Europe for historic ships, vehicles, planes, trains and trams.
  • The Bergen Matfestival or food festival runs on September 2-3.
  • In winter 2022, look out for the Gingerbread Town and the Festival of Lights (exact dates tbc).

For more on Bergen visit en.visitbergen.com.