Myths and mountains: Climbing Bergen’s Fløibanen funicular railway
Looking out over a place from high above is always one of my favourite things to do in a new destination, but after a day wandering the cobbled streets of the Norwegian city of Bergen, my feet were staging a protest at the thought of climbing a mountain. But luckily Bergen has the Fløibanen funicular railway to take the strain on the way up to the city’s best viewpoint. It only takes just over five minutes to climb up to the top of Mount Fløyen, following a 844-metre-long track that runs at an angle of 26 degrees. Despite some ominous clouds lurking above us and my mum’s fear of heights it was a Bergen must-do. So we bought our tickets and boarded one of the two 70-person carriages that ferry almost a million visitors up this route every year.
The idea for a cable railway to take passengers up to the top of Mount Fløyen was first dreamt up by a local politician called John Lund in 1895. Work didn’t actually start on building it until 1914 though, and it was supposed to take a year but the First World War meant a shortage of materials and labour. The funicular eventually opened in 1918 and has been running ever since. It’s one of Noraway’s most popular attractions, though it was hard to see why as we emerged into thick clouds and pouring rain at the top. But as the showers passed and the clouds faded, a panoramic view across Bergen started to unfold.
At 320 metres up above the city you can see for miles around – down to the tiny houses and the boats in Bergen harbour, and out across the mountains and the fjords that twist and turn their way off into the distance. A big viewing platform called the Fløytrappene stretches out around the top of the mountain. It has lots of different levels so you can choose your favourite view, including a glass and granite ledge sticking out where you can watch the next train arriving underneath you. There is also a café and restaurant where you can stop for a drink with a spectacular backdrop.
Around the top of Mount Fløyen there are a whole network of walking paths. You can pick up a hiking map from the station or tourist office, with details of 10 walking routes, covering a range of different lengths and levels of difficulty, passing through lakes and mountain meadows. As the skies turned to blue, we went for one of the easier walks, the 40 minute downhill stretch back into the centre of Bergen. The path wound down through the forest, with occasional glimpses out across the fjord from between the trees.
As you walk you’re surrounded by Norway’s natural beauty – streams surrounded by moss-covered rocks and tiny wildflowers poking up through green meadows. But don’t be surprised if you spot something a bit more supernatural – this is troll country. Trolls have featured in Norwegian folklore since the 9th century, these strange creatures that make their homes hidden away in isolated forests, mountains and caves. Today they are big business here and you can’t go far without coming across troll figures or troll-hunting trips.
But the path down from Mount Fløyen is likely to be the nearest you get to spotting one in the ‘wild’. Dotted between the trees are carved statues of trolls, from the small and cute to the big and ugly. Painted in bright colours of left as natural wood, some are right by the path and some are hidden deep in the woods. You can do your own troll safari around the top of the mountain, before descending out of the world of myths and legends and back onto the streets of modern-day Bergen below.
The Fløibanen starts from the centre of Bergen, at the top of Vetrlidsallmeninngen Street, a couple of minutes’ walk from Bryggen wharf and the fish market. It’s open every day, from 7.30am (or 8am on weekends) until 11pm, and runs every 15 minutes from 10am to 7pm and then every 30 minutes for the rest of the day. A return ticket costs 85 NOK/£9 or a single is 43 NOK/£4.50, with discounts for children, over 67s (except during June–September) and if you have a Bergen Card.