Beyond serving as the gateway to some of Norway’s most beautiful fjords and boasting enchanting colourful wooden houses, beautiful old streets, fascinating culinary offerings and a cosy feel, Bergen is also home to one of the most unique winter attractions in the world: a huge village made out of gingerbread cookies.
Many cities in central and northern Europe celebrate Christmas with open-air markets where you can find all sorts of holiday baubles and local foods to try. But only in Bergen will you find a village made out of gingerbread cookies, a tradition that started in 1991. In the city centre, in the old Sentralbadet square, you can visit the Pepperkakebyen village, with its miniature houses, buildings, cars, ships and trains. It’s all made out of gingerbread cookies, baked into the most creative and unusual shapes. The structure is held together with other sweet things, from candy canes to powdered sugar. The village has been a huge hit in Bergen, and local schools, companies and residents work together on the delicate task of assembling all the pieces of this little city. The results are sweet and fleeting, and can only be admired from mid-November to New Year’s Eve.
Norwegian Holiday Delicacies
A trip to Bergen in December gives you the chance to sample some of Norway’s traditional Christmas foods. More than half of locals serve a dish called ribbe in their homes during the holidays. It’s made out of roasted pork belly and served with sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, sausages, meatballs and sauce. On the country’s west coast, where Bergen is located, pinnekjøtt is a popular dish. It’s made out of lamb or mutton ribs that are salted, cured and sometimes smoked, too. The meat is traditionally steamed over a layer of birch twigs. That’s where the dish’s name comes from, which literally translates to “stick meat”.
If you’re in Norway, fish is always an essential part of a celebratory meal. Lutefisk is a dried fish that’s soaked in water and lye, an old technique used to preserve fish. It’s served with potatoes, bacon, mashed peas and mustard.
Moving on to dessert, Norwegian biscuits are the real star of the show here. Tradition dictates there must be seven different types of home-baked biscuits served, known as småkaker. The most prized are the pepperkake, gingerbread cookies. Multekrem is another popular dessert, and is made out of cloudberries, whipped cream and sugar.
Drinks are also an important part of the festivities. Aquavit is the traditional choice to accompany Christmas dinner and also Norway’s national drink. With a considerable alcohol content, this potato-based drink is mixed with herbs like aniseed, caraway and dill. Mulled wine, called gløgg, is also enjoyed and can be served with syrup, almonds and raisins, added to the drinker’s taste.
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Where to eat in Bergen
Lysverket is a restaurant housed in what used to be a museum in the 1930’s with views of Byparken park. Spacious and elegant, it has a large bar and turns into a club at the weekends. It has a short menu of original, modern dishes based on local ingredients. At Hanne på Høyde, they emphasise local and organic products to show the world Norway’s culinary traditions. The restaurant is also decorated in traditional Norwegian style.
If you want to have a drink, the intimate décor at the Victoria Café & Pubgives you the feeling of being at somebody’s home rather than a bar. It’s inspired a novel set in Bergen. In the evening, there are events from football matches to philosophy discussions to DJ sets.
Hav Fersk Fisk & Skalldyr is a very traditional seafood restaurant with a lively atmosphere and particularly good fish and chips. It’s centrally located near many of Bergen’s main tourist attractions, including Fisketorget, the local fish market. But you can find the most delicious fish pies at Søstrene Hagelin. The recipe used today is the same one the Hagelin sisters used when they started selling their homemade food in 1929. They also serve delicious stews, hamburgers and fajitas, all made out of fish.
Gingerbread cookies invade the city during the holidays.
You must enjoy a meal at one of the city’s many restaurants. They offer many delicious dishes and combine traditional food with modern cuisine.
Take the Fløibanen funicular to the top of Fløyen mountain to take in some of the best views of the city.
Christmas in Bergen: Beyond Gastronomy
Bergen offers visitors lots of choices for things to do and see. The main attraction, without a doubt, is Bryggen, with its wooden buildings constructed during the Hanseatic period. The colouful area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Behind this, you can get lost in a maze of small streets that house ceramic workshops, jewellers and shops selling fabrics and leather, all hand-crafted. This is also where you’ll find the fish market and can access the Fløibanen funicular, which you can take to the top of Fløyen mountain to take in some of the best views of the city. As for museums, the Kode has a collection of paintings by Edvard Munch, and the home of the composer Edvard Grieg is worth a visit, too.
Bergen’s surroundings are where you’ll find some of the most spectacular fjords and scenery in Norway. Norway in a nutshell® gives you the chance to discover them in a nine-hour train journey from Bergen to Voss that takes you through more than 60 miles of wild mountain scenery, to the Nærøyfjord fjord (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and along the breathtaking Flåm railway. This fantastic journey gives you panoramic views of some of the most dramatic scenery in Norway, including the famous Kjosfossen waterfall.
More information: Visit Norway.