Ginger All The Way: Exploring Bergen, The Gingerbread Town of Europe

The gingerbread village in Norway's Bergen comes alive in  November and December
Gingerbread town, Bergen
Gingerbread town, Bergen _protium/Instagram

Christmas is arguably the most magical time of the year all over the world, and nowhere is this magic manifested more than in Europe. The jewel in the crown of a festive season that kicks off with Halloween, Christmas in the continent feels nothing short of a wonderland. There is a nip in the air; the cities are decked up with lights, and twinkling trees flank the streets. And nowhere is the festival more spectacularly celebrated than in the Nordic countries/ Scandinavian nations. Finland is home to Santa, in Iceland, the revelry begins as early as November, and in Norway, an entire gingerbread city takes form. The Northern Lights only add to the charm and beauty of countries that are at their best during Christmas.  

Throughout Scandinavia, it is hard to imagine Christmas without gingerbread cookies. Apart from their popularity as a delicacy called Pepperkaker- literally pepper cookies- and as ornaments for decoration around the house, gingerbread forms the heart of Norway's very own version of a fairyland- the world's largest gingerbread town.

Gingerbread Origins

Part of a tradition that goes back to 1991, the town of Bergen in Norway comes together to build Pepperkakebyen, a gingerbread village that is then opened to the public for the months of November and December. From kindergarteners and volunteers to local businesses and families, the entire city comes together to form local landmarks, reindeer, trains, men, women, angels and much more to create this marvel. The creations only grow in scope and colour each year. A different theme is picked up  every year, and even international buildings of significance like the Eiffel Tower or the Notre Dame Cathedral are given a place. This initiative is seen as a wonderful way to bring the community together and foster values of solidarity and community in the children. 

The idea was first conceptualised by Steinar Kristoffersen, the marketing director of a shipping centre. It is estimated that around 600kg of gingerbread is involved in the making of the village. The gingerbread is donated by local houses, schools, and organisations, and sometimes it is donated by neighbouring countries like Latvia and Germany. Now, it has  become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, attracting an estimated 100,000 tourists who sometimes participate in its creation. An estimated 50 hours are spent in building the village. As many as 2,000 creations are displayed, and this tradition takes the place of pride in the town's celebrations.  

Other Places to See Gingerbread Houses

New York City's Essex Market, Jon Lovitch holds the world record for making the greatest number of gingerbread houses
New York City's Essex Market, Jon Lovitch holds the world record for making the greatest number of gingerbread housesessexmarket/Instagram

Over the years, a number of gingerbread houses have popped up all over Norway, including the cities of Stavanger's, Frederiksted, Hammerfest and Bodo. The competition to outbuild Bergen has only grown, but this has meant more attractions for tourists and more adventure for the locals. All the proceeds generated through this are donated to charities like Save The Children, SOS Children's Villages and Children at Risk Foundation. The gingerbread village is located in the Sentral Badet area of Bergen, in the city centre. It is 12 km from the airport and can be easily accessed by all forms of transport like cars, buses and trains.  

Bergen is not the only city that boasts of gingerbread houses. Plenty of cities worldwide have their own traditions of building these houses; each one is a marvel to be looked at and admired. In New York City's Essex Market, Jon Lovitch holds the world record for making the greatest number of gingerbread houses on Gingerbread Lane, which are also edible. The Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain boasts a gingerbread house where their guests can wine and dine inside rather than admiring it from afar. Last but not least, the Gingerbread Bakeshop at Disney World Ohio is one of the grandest gingerbread creations, where guests can admire as well as grab a sweet treat all around the park.

Bergen offers tourists with a lot of beautiful sights and sounds
Bergen offers tourists with a lot of beautiful sights and soundsvisitbergen/Instagram

Activities to do in Bergen

Bergen's holiday season charm is not limited to the gingerbread houses. Tourists can also look forward to a healthy dose of nature and culture in this UNESCO World Heritage City. The second largest city of Norway is the gateway to the famed fjords. And you can navigate these by taking a boat cruise along the coastline. Visit Bryggen, the postcard town of Bergen, which has wooden-coloured houses lining the streets and is a reminder of the city's Hanseatic past. Couple this trip with a visit to the Bergenhus Fortress nearby, a 16th-century fortress so well preserved that it is now used for events, concerts and theatre performances.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller