Bergen -- Europe's most underrated city -- is enveloped by majestic mountains, the world's most spectacular fjords, and one of Europe's largest glaciers. In summer, when most visitors arrive, the staid image of Bergen as a bourgeois, conservative town fades away and a youthful energy prevails before the deep freeze of winter settles in. Not only that, but the July sun shines all night long -- and it's party time, often until morning. The partying doesn't totally end in winter. People just move that party into the beer taverns.

On even the most rushed of itineraries, try to spare at least 2 days for Bergen to experience the natural beauty that is still preserved here.

In western Norway, the landscape takes on an awesome beauty, with iridescent glaciers; deep fjords that slash into rugged, snowcapped mountains; roaring waterfalls; and secluded valleys at the end of twisting roads. From Bergen, the most beautiful fjords to visit are the Hardangerfjord (best at blossom time -- May and early June), to the south; the Sognefjord, Norway's longest fjord, immediately to the north; and the Nordfjord, north of that. A popular excursion on the Nordfjord takes visitors from Loen to Olden along rivers and lakes to the Brixdal Glacier.

On the Hardangerfjord, you can stop over at a resort such as Ulvik or Lofthus. From many vantage points, it's possible to see the Folgefonn Glacier, Norway's second-largest ice field. It spans more than 260 sq. km (101 sq. miles). Other stopover suggestions include the summer resorts (and winter ski centers) of Voss and Geilo.

Bergen, with its many attractions and excellent transportation, makes the best center in the fjord district. It's an ancient city that looms large in Viking sagas. Until the 14th century, it was the seat of the medieval kingdom of Norway. The Hanseatic merchants established a major trading post here until the 18th century. Seafaring Bergen has given the world two cultural icons -- the composer Edvard Grieg and the playwright Henrik Ibsen.

Bergen has survived many disasters, including several fires and the explosion of a Nazi ship during World War II. It's a town with important traditions in shipping, banking, and insurance; its modern industries are expanding rapidly; and its university is one of the academic jewels of Norway.