Skip to Content

Bryggen Walking Tour Review

What: "Bryggen Guiding," aka, a walking tour of historic Bryggen and the Bryggens Museum
Cost: NOK280 (about $26)
Time: 90 minutes
Worth it? Yes. Besides the interesting tour, the fee gets you admission to the Bryggens Museum and Schøtstuene (the assembly rooms of the Hanseatic League).

Since we were traveling through Iceland and Norway along with someone of limited mobility (Dad), we decided to split up into two groups on our first full day in Bergen, so half of us could do this walking tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bryggen, and my parents could have some chill time on their own. This worked out really well, and I really recommend at least a few more independent outings on an extended family trip.

We met our guide inside the Bryggens Museum, where we were able to stash excess bags and jackets in free lockers. Our guide was dressed up like an old timey guy. I don’t actually know if his getup was supposed to be Norwegian from time past or German, since much of Bryggen’s history is about the Germans from the Hanseatic League. But he looked adorable, and told us all about this small area’s history in melodically fluent English, with plenty of humor.

Inside Bryggens Museum

The tour started with the archeological site that the museum is built around. The museum is about a block off today’s waterfront. However, because the harbor was filled in over the centuries, this was once the original waterfront, and the building foundations and relics we looked upon were those of waterfront trading buildings, just like the (rebuilt) vintage ones that adorn every postcard of Bryggen today. Each board was laid as close to where it had been discovered as possible, and it’s cool to see that the previous incarnation of the Bryggen waterfront was pretty much the same as today, with long, narrow buildings crammed in side by side.

Then, we learned about the history of this area. Basically, the story of Bryggen was about two things: stockfish and fire. Once the Catholic church decided that eating fish was an acceptable alternative to fasting during Lent and on Fridays, demand for fish in Europe skyrocketed. Northern Norway (specifically Lofoten, an area we would briefly stop at during our coastal cruise) happens to have tons of cod. That cod was dried into sticklike packages known as stockfish, then brought down along the coast to Bergen, where it would be warehoused and sold. Merchant guilds from Germany, known as hansa, each set up their own trading company here on the waterfront. Everything would go along great until, at some point, the whole town of close-set wooden buildings went up in flames. Then the Germans and local Norwegians would chuck the debris into the harbor and rebuild it all. (Hence the infill that moved the harborfront forward over the years.)

Our guide grew up in one of Bergen’s suburban islands, an area that was once known for building prefab wooden houses and floating them over to replace burned ones. He joked that he has always suspected — knowing the type of people who live on his island — that sometimes the forefathers of his neighbors might have set fire to Bryggen themselves, just to gain more business.

Gyda Says Go Home

Next we moved on to what was, to me, the most fascinating part of the museum: the runic writings. If I say the word “runes,” I’m betting the first word that comes to your mind is “ancient.” Actually, though, the writing showcased here, scratched on bits of wood, are from the 14th Century, so medievel, not ancient. That’s because Norwegians didn’t really think of writing until some of them had the chance to travel Europe as merceneries or workers and notice that others, like the Roman Empire, had writing. They brought the alphabet home, but since they had no payrus or parchment around, only wood, they adapted the letters to be easier to scratch onto sticks.

It was cool to see both the practical and artistic uses the new fad of writing brought to Norway. There was lots of business recordkeeping, of course, but also poetry and — everyone’s favorite — a note found at the site of a tavern, with a message that tavern-goers across the ages have all received: “Your wife (Guida) says to get your ass home.”

Out in the Bryggen neighborhood

Next, we walked outside for a bit in the charming, cobblestoned area behind the famous wooden facades. I don’t remember much of what our guide told us during this part of the tour, probably because I was too busy soaking up the uncharacteristic sunshine.

“It’s never like this,” our guide assured us, blinking at the blue sky. Indeed, Bergen averages 239 rainy days a year. We got phenomenally lucky.

Schøtstuene: Where German traders went for a warm drink and a little light child abuse

The final stop on the tour was Schøtstuene, the garthering place of the German merchants in the Hanseatic League. Now, we learned about the lives of these traders, how they left home at a young age to live among grown men. This part made me very sad as the mom of teenagers myself. These boys would at first be responsible for cooking and cleaning, since there were no women there, and would eventually be allowed to take roles of growing responsibility in the trading houses. The plan was for them, over several decades, to make their fortune, establish or buy their own trading house, and then go back to Germany to marry and live off the profits coming in from their house.

What’s so sad about that? Think about a bunch of kids living with no one to protect them from the whims and rages of a pack of grown men. No legal protection, either — in fact when the local jail tried to lock up member of the Hansa they would just show up en masse and walk their compatriots out of the jail. Our guide — holding a stiff whip above — shared that one of the boys would typically be selected for beating in this room, once a week. What he didn’t say is the obvious: There’s no way these kids weren’t getting sexually abused. Think about it. It was probably just considered part of the whole deal.

But put aside those sad thoughts for a moment, because this part is funny: When our guide got out this whip, he asked the group if anyone could guess what it was made of.

“A penis?” Erik piped up.

The guide was momentarily stunned. No one had ever, ever guessed before. Funny, you’d think that since Iceland is a common stop between the United States and Norway, more visitors would have just come from the Iceland Phallological Museum, where we had learned about bull pizzle whips. I guess these two learning experiences tend to draw different crowds.

After the presentation ended, we wandered about the Schøtstuene a little to see the rest of the rooms. After lunch, we returned to the Bryggens Museum, bringing our parents this time, because there was more to see that wasn’t part of the tour — like a coffin for a fetus, labeled an “abortskrin,” and lots of other interesting relics.

More posts about our Iceland/Norway trip

Day 5: Traveling from Reykjavik to Bergen

Day 4: The Golden Circle

Day 3: Reykjavik in a Day

Day 2: Arriving in Reykjavik

Day 1: Departing for Iceland

Hotel Review: The Moxy Bergen

The Blue Lagoon

The Iceland Phallological Museum

Reykjavik Airbnb Review

Lebowski Bar

Thingvellir National Park

Meals on a Havila Coastal Voyage – The Miles Mom

Monday 2nd of October 2023

[…] Bryggen Walking Tour Review […]

Our Havila Coastal Voyage, Part 2 – The Miles Mom

Tuesday 26th of September 2023

[…] Bryggen Walking Tour Review […]

Our Havila Coastal Voyage, Part I: Lighthouses, Waterfalls and Midnight-Sun Ports – The Miles Mom

Monday 25th of September 2023

[…] Bryggen Walking Tour Review […]

What It’s Like to Cruise Arctic Norway in Summer – The Miles Mom

Monday 18th of September 2023

[…] Bryggen Walking Tour Review […]

How the Havila Coastal Voyage Is Different Than Other Cruises – The Miles Mom

Thursday 14th of September 2023

[…] Bryggen Walking Tour Review […]