Bergen, on Norway’s southwest coast, is a great place for any traveller with a thirst for exploration.
You could easily spend three or four days adventuring out into the stunning wilderness and fjords that surround the mountain city, or simply soaking up the history and culture that seeps from Bergen’s many museums, World Heritage sites and cobbled streets.
And you’d still be left hungry for more, which is a sure sign of an amazing trip.
But considering it’s a very unpredictable city weather-wise (it rains a lot and can come on quite suddenly) it’s handy to have a few ideas and backup plans for your itinerary.
1. Take a stroll around Bergen’s historic wharf for a glimpse back in time
You can’t miss the brightly painted wooden buildings sitting by the harbour. They’re probably the most photographed place in Bergen’s city centre, and not just because they’re pretty.
This area is part of Bryggen. It’s one of the most historically significant parts of Bergen and is even on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Back in the Middle Ages, this part of the city was a trading post for the Hanseatic League and many of the buildings retain their original look and shape (thanks to the people who maintained and rebuilt them even after the great fire of 1702).
Tip: Don’t just settle for a selfie by the water. Take a wander through the hidden alleyways that lay behind the Bryggen facade, where you can find some charming cafes, restaurants and boutique shops.
Oh and if you’re wondering what the Hanseatic League is, there’s a museum that tells you all about it!
2. Ride the Bergen Cable Car or Fløibanen Funicular for scenic mountain views
Both options will leave you with memories of beautiful mountain views, and you might want to do just one, or both, but it’s handy to know the differences:
Cable Car: It’s actually known as the Ulriken Cable Car, and it makes the trek up Bergen’s highest mountain, Mount Ulriken, so the views are basically unbeatable. To get to the Cable Car’s lowest station, you can either walk from Bergen’s city centre, or take a bus.
When you reach the top, you might even want to check out Norway’s fastest zipline, which is stationed on Mount Ulriken. It’s 300 metres long and starts just in front of the restaurant at the top. It’s a great way to get your adrenaline pumping!
Fløibanen Funicular: This mountain-side railway travels from the centre of Bergen to the summit of Mount Fløyen in about five to eight minutes. The carriages have glass ceilings and panoramic windows offering great views on the ride up.
At the top you can see beautiful Bergen from above, take a break at the café and even marvel at the famous goats that live up there.
Tip: Unless you’re going early in the morning, the lines for tickets can get really long. You might want to pre-buy your tickets online to save yourself time.
3. Take a fjord-cruise from Bergen to see majestic cliffs and waterfalls
If you’re a nature lover, you absolutely can’t come to Bergen (known throughout the world as ‘Gateway to the Fjords’) without seeing the stunning fjords that surround it.
One of the most popular ways to do this is to take a cruise through Norway’s serene waterways, leaving from Bergen’s harbour. There are lots of different fjord tours you can take, and it really depends on what sort of scenery you’re after and how long you want to go for — some can go overnight, and others are simple day-trips from Bergen.
If you’re short on time, we recommend the fjord cruise from Bergen to Mostraumen. It covers the 27-kilometre long Osterfjorden and takes about three hours, starting and leaving from just near the Bergen Fish Market.
This picturesque journey will take you along a scenic waterway surrounded by majestic cliffs covered in trees, views of charming little fishermen’s cottages, stunning waterfalls and even glimpses of snowy mountains.
Meanwhile, if you’re happy to take your time touring the fjords, you can go even further. Bergen holds a great position, situated between two of Norway’s most magnificent fjords, Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord, both of which are well worth the longer journey to visit.
Tip: June to August is peak season in the fjords because the days are obviously longer and warmer. But if you’d prefer to avoid the crowds, May, June and early September are still nice but quieter.
4. Wander through the Bergen Fish Market for a taste of local culture
Whether you like seafood or not, it’s always worth the cultural experience to take a stroll through the Bergen Fish Market, remembering that this place is partly what Bergen has been built on. In fact, it has origins dating back to the 1200s, so its longevity is really quite remarkable.
At the many stalls and open-air restaurants, you can expect to see a huge and exotic range of seafood, as well as local fruit and vegetables.
If you like what you see, you might want to order a meal and eat at one of the tables they provide in the market. Or, you can grab some take-away and find somewhere quiet away from the crowds.
Tip: This has become a rather popular tourist attraction, so the prices can be a bit expensive. If you’re on a budget, you might prefer to avoid any purchases and just enjoy a look through all the interesting wares on offer.
5. Explore one of the best Bergen hiking routes: The Vidden Trail
With seven glorious mountains surrounding it, Bergen is a hiker’s paradise.
There are countless routes to explore, but if you’re looking for ideas, one of our favourites is the hike between Mount Ulriken and Mount Fløyen, called the Vidden Trail.
It’s accessible all year (weather permitting) and takes roughly five hours to complete the 15-kilometre trek. For an easier journey, we suggest beginning the hike on Mount Ulriken. You can catch a bus and cable car up to your starting point. There are lots of different trails going in other directions, so be careful you find the right one — unless you don’t mind ending up on a different mountain!
Mount Ulriken is the highest mountain in the area at 643 metres above sea level. So you’re in for some pretty extraordinary views of stunning lakes, bumbling streams, right out to the sea and an aerial snapshot of Bergen itself.
Tip: This trail is best suited to people who’ve hiked before and it’s very rocky, so good hiking shoes would be handy. Also, be warned the only bathrooms around are at the beginning and end of the hike.
Alternative hiking route: Mount Fløyen
If you’re looking for an easier and shorter walk, consider a simple hike to the top of Mount Fløyen. It takes about 45 minutes (or longer if you’re stopping on the way for the incredible views) and you can start it in the Bergen City Centre.
6. Discover the Edvard Munch exhibition at the KODE Art Museums of Bergen
Whether you’re a lover of art or just looking for a peaceful and interesting place to wait out the rain, this is a great place to do it.
The emotive collection of pieces by Edvard Munch are well worth a look, showcasing many of his artworks from across his whole career.
But the museum is vast and actually comprises of four different buildings, all quite spectacular in their own right. You’ll find a huge collection of art from all the different eras and it’s a great chance to appreciate some of the masterpieces by talented Norwegian artists you might not have even heard of.
Tip: Kids under 18 get free entry and in one of the buildings is a children’s art museum. If your little ones are travel-tired or sick of the rain, this could be a nice place for quiet play and relaxation.
7. Get your Christmas cheer on at the world’s largest gingerbread town
It’s a mini recreation of the city of Bergen and it’s absolutely hypnotising to look through, especially for children. The magic is in the detail. Every little house, tree and road is decorated so lovingly and beautifully, with many of Bergen’s attractions (like the Christmas market ferris wheel) also featured.
This annual tradition has been going strong since 1991 and is contributed to by thousands of Bergen residents, including kindergarteners, school students, businesses and local groups.
Tip: Most people would spend maybe 30 minutes here, so this activity might work well squeezed in between other items on your itinerary. It costs around 100 NOK per person, which some people might find a bit expensive for the exhibit, but it’s nice to know the proceeds go to children’s charities.
8. Fall in love with one of Bergen’s famous cinnamon buns
It’s called a ‘skillingsboller’ and although they’re available in most bakeries across Norway, they originated in Bergen. So, if you want to taste one as true to its culinary roots as possible, this is your chance to do it!
Full of cinnamon goodness, these buttery beauties are perfect for a coffee break while you wait for the rain to pass (something you’ll get used to in this stunning mountain city).
Tip: Go back for seconds. Just do it.
9. Visit the Bergenhus Fortress to see some seriously old architecture
Centrally located by the harbour sits the Bergenhus Fortress, known for being one of the oldest and best-preserved castles of its kind in Norway, and was once the site of the royal residence.
It has origins dating back to 1261, although it’s seen a lot of changes across different time periods of Norwegian history. There are a couple of surviving buildings of interest:
Haakon’s Hall: It was originally built by King Håkon Håkonsson and although it was severely damaged in the Second World War, it’s been restored. If you like architecture, you’ll likely find this ancient hall with intricate stonework and high ceilings well worth a visit.
Rosencrantz Tower: It’s considered oneof the mostsignificant renaissance monuments in Norway, and was once home to King Eirik Magnusson, the last king to live in Bergen. Some people enjoy exploring up its winding stone staircase, right onto the roof for outstanding views.
Tip: It’s completely free if you’re just exploring the outside, in fact you’ll find many Bergen locals walk their dogs in the parklands. But if you decide to go inside the buildings there is an entry charge and you’ll need to double-check the buildings are open on the day you go.
10. Check out Bergen’s massive calendar of festivals and concerts
The people of Bergen certainly don’t let the rain dampen their spirits, and they sure know how to party! There’s always something on. Whether you like music, beer, food or just enjoy getting out and about with the locals when you travel, Bergen is the city to do it.
If you’re a music lover and visiting the city in June, Bergenfest is a goer. It’s one of Norway’s oldest music festivals and in previous years has attracted international acts such as Queens of the Stone Age, Bon Iver and Liam Gallagher, as well as a host of amazing local Scandinavian musicians. It’s held at the historic Bergenhus Fortress, so it’s also a great chance to see a popular Bergen tourist attraction.
If you’re passionate about the arts in a more classical sense, you might also enjoy the Bergen International Festival that’s held over a two-week period between May and June. There are over 200 events covering music, ballet, opera, theatre, dance and the performing arts.
Meanwhile, if you’re the sporty type and you’re visiting in April, you might even like to get in on the action of the Bergen City Marathon. This annual race has a great route that takes you through the old town and sections that have views from Fjellveien (halfway up Mount Fløyen).
Something to consider: Should you get the Bergen Card for your trip?
Like most cities, Bergen offers a special card you can purchase that will give you discounts and sometimes free entry to certain Bergen attractions, day-trips and transport.
You can get one that covers 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours. For current prices and more information on what it gives you access to, check it out here.
But the ultimate question: Is it worth it for the overall value?
The answer isn’t simple because it differs person by person depending on your itinerary. For example, it’s cheaper to purchase for students and seniors than regular adults.
But the general consensus is that:
The Bergen Card is great if you move at a fast pace and try to cram as much sightseeing and activities in as you can. It’s also handy if you’re planning on travelling around a fair bit on public transport (e.g. if you’re travelling from the Bergen airport to the city centre).
Meanwhile, if you prefer to see a city at a more relaxed pace, plan on walking more rather than using public transport, tend to avoid guided tours, or aren’t really the type to visit many museums, then it might not offer the value you need.
But don’t let the decision stress you out too much. With or without the Bergen Card, you can be certain of one thing: You won’t ever forget those stunning harbour views from Bergen, the city between seven mountains.
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