Here’s why you’re going to reconsider that Caribbean trip next winter and trek north to the Arctic instead: Bergen. Bergen, Norway is more adventurous than just sitting on a beach – a trip to the fjords, anyone? – PLUS, walking through Bergen is basically like you’re prancing through the pages of your favorite childhood Christmas book. There are trolls, gnomes and Christmas decorations in practically every window of the quaint timber homes. And fret not about the brisk nights because they’re comparable to the winter nights in any Northern U.S. city. (Also, I’m a firm believer that any cold temperature can be easily battled with the help of a few shots of whiskey or Aquavit.) Bergen has a small, but hardcore, local nightlife scene, so you’re especially in luck if you’re into nightlife. If you do plan a trip to Bergen in the winter, here are 4 must-dos:
1. Take the funicular to the top of Mt. Fløye. Get up at the crack of dawn, eat a big breakfast and book it over to the Fløibanen Funicular Station. (FYI, my huge, free buffet breakfast at the Clarion Admiral Hotel easily trumped every other greasy American hotel breakfast I’ve ever had.) Get to the top of Mt. Fløye before the rest of the tourists do, and spend 10 or 15 minutes taking in the spectacular bird’s eye view of Bergen. Hike back down Mt. Fløye into the center of Bergen to burn off some of those calories from that Nordic breakfast.
2. Get lunch at the Torget Fish Market. You’ll get extra special attention from the fish dudes since the market is a bit smaller in the winter than it is in the summer. Use this to your advantage! Sample all of the expensive and wonderful caviar and salmon. Then take pictures of the weird ass looking fish and impress your Facebook friends back at home. Grab a fresh fish sandwich to go—this is the perfect fuel before you head over to Bryggen for the afternoon.
3. Explore and shop the Bryggen Warehouses. The building patterns and warehouse structures of this Unesco World Heritage site date back to the 14th century. When you walk through the wooden alleyways surrounded by three-story wooden staircases, you’ll feel like you are in the Epcot Center version of Bergen, Norway—without the $95 entrance fee. Dip in and out of the shops that line the alleyways of Bryggen, and shop your freaking face off. Pick up some locally designed jewelry, gloves and handbags for your mom – or, splurge on yourself instead by grabbing a Dale of Norway sweater. You too can look like a true Norwegian.
4. Eat reindeer, drink Hansa and go dancing. Before you take on the bars, eat at esteemed Norwegian restaurant Pingvinen (penguin in Norwegian). And try the reindeer. It might seem wrong to eat Rudolph, but trust me, that reindeer lived a much happier life than most of the cows you’ve eaten back in the states. Hit Hector’s Hybel, a low-key pub tucked away in a back alley, at around 10 p.m. Here drink some Hansa, Bergen’s locally brewed beer, and make some Norwegian friends in this crowd of 20- and 30-somethings. Next up: dancing. You must not leave Bergen without dancing. Start out at Vågen Bar for some local entertainment. This might come in the form of a folk performance, or in the form of a trance dance party. I was there during a trance party and hippy danced in the lasers and black lights with the best of ‘em. For a nightcap, head over to Café Opera where a young crowd forms dance circles around one another while a DJ spins the likes of Katy Perry and Rihanna. The dancing here is pretty impressive – although, everything’s impressive at this point in the night, right?