Bergen is a very wet place. It's something to do with the seven mountains that surround the city which does something or other to do with low pressure and hey presto it rains all the time (something like two and a half metres of rain annually!) This is why typical Bergen houses have such steeply pitched roofs and why people in Bergen tend to keep their coats on all the time. And why even a newsagents shop sells umbrellas. The good citizens of Bergen have about ten different words for rain - I have only one and I can't say it here.
You have to accept that you are probably going to get wet during your visit. Take a waterproof jacket, carry an umbrella, have some clothes to change into. After that you just have to get out there and explore. Don't bother diving into a pub thinking that you can shelter there until the rain passes; you'll be there all day!
Your first port of call should be the Tourist Information Office. Here you can pick up a free map of the city and leaflets on all the main attractions as well as buy a Bergen Card and book tours. It's vital you make plans as soon as possible because the trips do sell out quickly and places are limited, especially if you are visiting in the height of summer.
If you know that there are lots of things you want to see that cost money then think about a Bergen Card. It gives you free bus travel within the city, free parking and free admission to most of the museums and attractions. However, it's not cheap so it's a good idea to look at how much you'll be using it and whether it really does offer you a saving. In 2009 the Bergen Card costs 190 Norwegian Kroner (approx £19.00) for adults for a 24 hour card and 250 NOK (approx £25) for 48 hours.
The best place to see the evidence of Bergen's historic trading past is the Bryggen. 'Bryggen' means 'waterfront'' in Norwegian but it more generally refers to the line of brightly coloured wooden houses in the Hanseatic style that date back to the days when Bergen was at the very heart of European trade. The buildings have been burned to the ground on numerous occasions, the last time being the 1960s, but they have been painstaking rebuilt and they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
One of the buildings has been made into a museum that has recreations of rooms from the early eighteenth century and at the back of the Bryggen there are open air workshops where you can see traditional crafts being demonstrated. Other buildings in the Bryggen are restaurants (the type of over-priced tourist trap that Americans adore) and souvenir shops.
Moving away from the Bryggen, out towards the harbour mouth where the international ferries dock, is the castle which, although it isn't that interesting, does occupy lovely grounds.
Moving the other way, across the road, is the 'fisketorget''- the fishmarket - which is one of the most popular sights in Bergen. All over Bergen - on the walls in pubs and restaurants and guest houses - you will see lots of old photographs of the fisketorget in yesteryear when it was a bustling market at the heart of the city. These days fish is still sold here but there are only a handful of stalls left. The rest of the space is now occupied by a craft and souvenir market; this is the place to buy traditional Norwegian knitwear or a comedy reindeer hat. You can also buy vacuum packed fish to take home but you should be sure to sample the cloudberry preserve - it's wonderful!
The "Bergen Expressen", a dinky road train ,departs on a tour of the city from beside the fishmarket. Commentary is piped into each little carriage and is available in a host of languages. The trip takes you around the harbour and the lake before setting up the hill, past Troldhaugen (the house that belonged to composer Edvard Grieg), across to Mount Floyen where it stops for a few minutes to take in the views. It's not the greatest of tours but if it is really raining hard then it at least allows you to see something of Bergen without getting wet.
The best way to appreciate Mount Floyen, though, is to take the funicular to its summit. The lower station is a minutes walk from the fisketorget and the funicular leaves on the hour and the half hour. You may be lucky and hit an additional departure as they do happen occasionally. The funicular operates until 11.00pm and until midnight between May and August.
At the summit there is a restaurant and café that operates mainly in summer but may be open limited hours at other times. There is also a souvenir shop that is surprisingly cheap given that it's in Norway and that it's located in such a prominent location for tourists. The views from the terrace are amazing; this is the best place to get a grip on the unusual geography of Bergen. Energetic visitors may like to walk back down and there is a maze of paths to allow you to do that.
Like any major European city, Bergen is not without plenty of museums - Museum of the Norwegian Knitting Industry anyone - but there's something about the place that makes you want to be outdoors as much as possible in spite of the rain. How about a boat trip around the harbour or perhaps a bit further afield to the fjords? There are plenty of trips - half day and full day - though early booking is advised. If you prefer to stay on dry land but still want something watery how about a visit to the Bergen Aquarium? I loved the penguins so much I had to be dragged away because none of the kids could see past me!
Evenings are a bit odd in Norway - as they can be in any Scandinavian city. This is because drinking is so expensive (and also because it's still light at midnight!). Things tend to be quiet until at least nine o'clock except in very touristy places (like Irish theme pubs). By the fisketorget you can expect to pay something like 90 NOK for two beers - and that's one that comes in somewhere between a half and a pint. (This was in May 2007, based on today's exchange rate that's just over £9.00!) Stick to Norwegian beers - Hansa is perfectly acceptable - as the price of imported brands is astronomical. The next day we bought a few cans to drink in our room before we went out but you need to know that you can't buy beer in supermarkets after five pm, and slightly earlier on Saturdays. Around three on Saturdays you see men sprinting up the street to catch the supermarket before they stop selling beer.
Eating out is - by British standards - also expensive. I am sorry to say that I didn't eat much Norwegian food at all because of the cost. Instead we ate at an Indian restaurant and a Persian restaurant - both of them were cheap in relation to the usual prices in Norway. We did, however, eat fish and chips on Sunday lunch time from a stall at the fisketorget - it came in around £20.00 for two portions of battered fish and chips. And you pay extra for ketchup! Should you decided to do this take cover from the mutant seagulls which resemble vultures more than any simple seabird. If you can't stretch to this do at least have something Norwegian in the shape of cinnamon buns which costs hardly anything at all from baker's shops.
Of course, nightlife isn't all about drinking - and in Bergen it can't be unless you won the lottery recently. Luckily, as a previous holder of the title European City of Culture (in 2000) Bergen has lots going on in terms of musical and theatrical performances and the city plays hosts to several different cultural festivals throughout they year.
Overall we had a great trip although with hindsight I might have done things differently and considered the financial side of things more before deciding to go. I had several other trips planned and always had that in mind which restricted my spending a little. However, there were plenty of things that didn't cost much or didn't cost anything at all that gave us a good insight into the city and culture in the brief time we were there.
The best advice I can give is to be realistic about the cost and spend what you need to; you might never go back and it would be a shame to miss out because of scrimping. Bergen is certainly worth a visit - but do take a brolly!