Planning a trip to Western Norway’s cutest city? Check below for all the best things to do in Bergen!
Bergen is such a charming city; you have no idea how excited I am that one of my best friends, Silvia, now calls it home. Last year, I visited Norway for the fourth time, and we split our two weeks between Western Norway and Northern Norway where she was living at the time. To kick things off, Sher and I spent a few days in Bergen wandering around, eating good food, and trying to convince Silvia to just move here instead.
Although a population of less than 300,000 sounds small, Bergen is actually Norway’s second largest city behind Oslo. Located on the west coast, it’s surrounded by mountains and was officially founded all the way back in 1070 by King Olav Kyrre. It was even the capital of Norway for a time and has, in general, played a huge role in the country’s history.
Today it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Norway and is often a launching city for cruises and road trips to nearby fjords and towns. Here’s all we got up to in the few days we had!
Disclaimer: Visit Bergen was kind enough to supply us with complimentary Bergen Cards and Frescohallen with dinner. All opinions are my own.
Quick Bergen Travel Tips
- Getting in: Bergen has its own airport (BGO) which does get some direct international flights. From there, it’s about an hour to Bergen via the Light Rail (buy tickets from vending machines at the airport exit). You’ll want to get off at the Byparken stop to get close towards Bergenhus and Bryggen and then it’s about 1/2 km walk. If you’re with a group, you could also pre-book a private transfer.
- Stay in Touch: I always like to be able to use my phone when traveling, so I’m constantly getting tourist SIM cards. The nice thing is now eSIMs exist, so you no longer have to physically move things around! Get this eSIM ahead of time for Norway. It also works in both the UK and other countries in Europe if you’re traveling other places.
- Getting Around: Bergen, like most Norwegian cities, is small! You can easily walk to all the main attractions in under 15 minutes (I’d say even under 10). If you leave the city for other parts of southern and western Norway, then I do recommend renting a car.
- Where to Stay: Stay around Bergenhus to be the most central. We stayed at the cute Det Hanseatiske Hotel which is in part of a historic building – more on this below. Bonus of a good Norwegian hotels – excellent breakfast buffets.
- Money Matters: Norway is a very card friendly country! I used my CC the whole time and never had to pull out kroner (NOK) even in more rural areas.
- Packing & Style Tips: Norway is a pretty casual country and stays fairly cold even in the summer. Bring a decent jacket in the summer and a proper insulated jacket in the winter. Think sneakers to snow boots; save space on sandals and fancy shoes!
All the Best Sightseeing Things to Do in Bergen
1. Stay in a historic hotel
When staying in a historic city, it only seems right to stay in a historic hotel! We booked a few nights at Det Hanseatiske Hotel (The Hanseatic Hotel). Nestled right in Bryggen district, it’s located in what was once the Finnegaarden Trading House. They’ve maintained the wharf-esque architecture right down to the timber walls and with only 37 rooms, everything feels much cozier and more intimate than one of the bigger hotels.
If they’re booked up, check out these other historic hotels:
|Bergen Børs Hotel||Located in Bergen’s old stock exchange building||Check Here|
|Opus XVI||Located in a former bank and owned by relatives of composer Edvard Grieg||Check Here|
|Grand Hotel Terminus||Dates back to 1928 and still maintains details from its beginnings||Check Here|
2. Learn More About Bergen’s History
As always whenever I travel somewhere new, I like to learn a bit about the city’s history. Why am I visiting exactly? What’s the unique appeal?
Like I mentioned above, Bergen was established sometime before 1070 AD, so it’s got a lot of history! The most important thing you’ll want to learn about is when Bergen played a key role in the Hanseatic League’s trading from the 1300s to the 1500s. The Hanseatic League was a sort of confederation of merchant guilds and towns across northern and central Europe beginning with German traders. The league offered both trading relationships but also protection for everyone involved. Bryggen in Bergen was one of the places they expanded to, and it helped shape the city into what we see today.
If you want to learn more about Bergen’s history, I highly recommend one of the following tours:
|Tour Name||What to Expect||Cost|
|Bergen: A Walk Through Past and Present||In this 2 hour walking tour, a guide will take you to various historic sites as well as more off the beaten path areas while you learn more of Bergen’s past.||Check Here|
|Private Tour with a Local||For when you want a more customizable itinerary as well as more one-on-one time with your guide.||Check Here|
|Historic Walking Tour & Bryggens Museum Ticket||For around 90 minutes, you’ll learn more about Bergen’s history at different sites while also getting tickets for Bryggens Museum to learn even more about its early years.||Check Here|
|Historic Nordnes Neighbourhood: Crime, Witches & Seafarers||For mor eniche history, check out the Nordnes neighborhood which was a big 16th century place for seafarers and has a winding history that involves everything from execution to witchcraft trials.||Check Here|
3. Get a bird’s eye view of Bergen from Fløyen
For the best views in the city, you’ll want to make your way up to Fløyen! The observation decks sit about 320m (2,790ft) above sea level and has incredible views out to the fjords. You have two options of getting there from Bergenhus:
You can hike up and down, which, according to Alltrails, should take you a total of 2+ hours with an elevation gain of 1,010ft. You can see the beginning incline from the city. I took one look at it and decided no.
The Fløibanen Funicular
The other, more relaxing option, is to ride up the Fløibanen funicular! It only takes about 5-8 minutes and is a very pretty ride. Keep in mind, this is one of the most popular things to do in Bergen, so there’s seemingly always a line outside the station. Buy your ticket online or at the kiosk to skip the first line!
4. Stroll through the wooden alleyways of Bryggen
I feel like every city in Norway has this historic center or street that’s the representative photograph. For Bergen, that’s the UNESCO World Heritage site known as Bryggen.
Back in the day, something known as the Hanseatic League was a huge confederation of merchant guilds and towns through central and northern Europe. Bergen became home to one of its offices (kontors) in 1350 and is the only one that has remained preserved through the modern age. The colorful wooden buildings you see today are from a rebuilding following a 1702 fire, though construction was and is done in the traditional methods.
It’s such a pretty section of Bergen! You can learn more about the history at the Bryggens Museum, shop through all the cute boutique and souvenir stores, and get a traditional Norwegian dish at one of the restaurants (more on my pick under the foodie section).
Also if you stay at Det Hanseatiske Hotel, you’ll be staying in one of the historic buildings!
5. See Bergenhus fortress
While wandering through Bryggen, go a little further to see Bergenhus Festnin (Bergenhus Fortress) at the entrance of Bergen harbour. This stone castle goes back to the 1240s and the most recent buildings are from World War II. Back in the day it contained the royal residences and was used to help protect the city when it was the country’s capital. The Royal Norwegian Navy still controls the fortress today and even has some people stationed here.
6. Pop into all four of the Kode Museums
Right around a lake, Bergen has a four different Kode Museums. (Elsewhere in Bergen, there are also three Kode composers’ homes). Their history goes back two centuries when President of the Storting, Wilhelm F.K. Christie, wanted to start a museum in Bergen that would cover a number of topics. The museums have undergone a number of changes, updates, and many renames until Kode was decided in 2013.
Around the lake, the museums are as follows:
- Rasmus Meyer
If you only have time for one, I would say the Rasmus Meyer (Kode 3) was my favorite. You can also usually find the Edvard Munch collection here – it was on tour when we visited.
7. Learn more about Bergen’s ties to leprosy
A museum I was actually curious about visiting was Lepramuseet (The Leprosy Museum). It’s right in the same area as the Kode Museums so easy to add as you explore. It’s located in what was once St. Jørgen’s Hospital, an institution that had been treating lepers until the middle of the 1900s. (The current building only dates back to the 1700s, though).
The disease was actually discovered in Bergen by physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen (hence why it’s also called Hansen’s disease) and the museum covers its history as well as highlighting some of its victims.
8. Take in the views from the harbour
An absolute must in Bergen – taking in the iconic views from the harbour! You can either walk to one side or do what we did and get on a boat. From afar you can see all the charming buildings and see what makes a Norwegian destination, well, Norwegian!
9. Do a little fjord cruise
The cruise we did to see the harbor was actually a 4-hour fjord cruise which took us all the way over to Osterfjord through Mostraumen strait. We got literally right up against a waterfall and just enjoyed seeing western Norway’s fjord beauty along the way.
10. Wander through the idyllic streets of Nordnes
Now that I’ve been, I think Nordnes might be my favorite neighborhood of Bergen! If you look on a map, it’s located on the peninsula opposite of Bryggen and is a bit more residential. If you’re going for a run or just want to stretch your legs, follow a bit of a circular loop to the edge of the neighborhood where you’ll get the prettiest view out to the fjord. The houses are all somehow even prettier and most pastel than in the center.
While wandering, you can always stop into Løvetann Café & Bistro for a bite to eat and a nice coffee. They have iced coffee for anyone visiting in summer.
11. Do a Day Trip from Bergen (or a multi-day Road Trip!)
Many people start their fjord cruises or road trips from Bergen because of its location. We were one of them. Once Silvia joined us, we rented a car (which meant going back to the airport) and then headed to Fjærland, Flåm, and Gudvangen over a few days. Western Norway is so stunning; I really, really recommend getting out of the city to see its smaller towns and landscapes. Renting a car is super easy and relatively inexpensive all things considered. Plus Norway is very empty and speed fines are absurdly steep, so in general, people drive slowly and safely.
12. Spend a few hours at a Norwegian sauna
One thing I always love doing when I visit Norway is spend a few hours at a sauna. Ever since Silvia took me to my first one, I’ve been hooked! There are a few options in Bergen, but we walked to Nordnes Sjøbad, which has been around since 1910. It’s more of a swimming pool and open water swim, but it has a nice little dry sauna where you can get nice and toasty before jumping into the cold water!
Foodie Things to Do in Bergen
13. Dine in a historical building
Guys not only is the food here *chefs kiss*, the building is easily one of the most beautiful restaurant interiors I’ve seen in all my adventures anywhere. A part of Bergen Børs Hotel, Frescohallen was just opened in 2022 in what was once Bergen’s stock exchange building. The ceilings are high and the walls are adorned with colorful frescoes. There’s a lot of natural light too, so if you come in the summer when the days are long, it makes for a really nice evening dining experience.
We were invited to come have dinner here while on our trip, and it was seriously delicious. They started us off with this massive seafood platter and followed with this incredible spicy linguini.
14. Grab a Bite at Bergen’s oldest restaurant
Another place we ate at was Bryggeloftet. Sher and I wound up here purely by chance when we were looking for dinner and our first choice was booked for a private event! We only learned they were the oldest in the city, having been founded in 1910, when we were looking at our menus. Still owned and operated by the same family from the beginning, the restaurant serves up traditional Norwegian meals with the freshest local ingredients possible. I can’t remember which we got specifically but it was the fish dish above.
15. Grab an ex-squid-site bite at the Fisketorget
Right by the edge of the harbor sits the Fisketorget (fish market). It’s been around since the 1200s and is full of fresh fish as well as seafood and other items depending on the season. As you might guess, the market was a place for fisherman from outside of the city to sell their wares. The indoor component, Mathallen, was built in 2012 and is open year round while the outdoor component is open May 1st through the summer.
I got a little salmon sandwich while we were sightseeing, but there are a few places to sit down if you want a proper meal. I even saw some paella being offered!
16. Get the cheese wheel pasta at Boccone
Coming on a Tuesday and craving some Italian? Check out Boccone Ristorante. Another friend who lives in Bergen, Lisa, has a whole post of her favorite restaurants in the city and Boccone is her top pick for Italian. While their normal menu is full of fantastic dishes, they do a special dish on Tuesdays – grana padano. Think rigatoni pasta mixed in a gooey cheese wheel and topped with fresh truffles. YUM! Silvia and I went on my last visit, and it more than lived up to the hype.
17. Enjoy a Norwegian cafe or two.
One of my favorite similarities between Korea and Norway is that they have strong cafe cultures. Korea leans more trendy and unique while Norwegian cafes emphasize koselig (coziness). As with Korea, I am always down to try a new cafe while here. While in Bergen, we grabbed a coffee at Det Lille Kaffekompaniet and Godt Brød Fløyen.
18. Grab a drink at one of Bergen’s many cozy bars
Because Norway is fairly cold most of the year, they’ve really nailed the concept of coselig. (In fact, hygge is actually a Norwegian word!) Bergen is know for its consistent rainfall, so you can bet their bars have some sort of cozy element. So far I’ve gotten drinks at Ferdinand på Engen and Luddi and enjoyed both of them even though I don’t drink alcohol.
And there you have it – all the incredible things to do in Bergen on your first trip! Anything I should make sure I do on my next visit?
For more Norwegian travel, read these posts next:
- Helgeland Coast: Off the Beaten Path in Norway
- Lofoten in the Winter: A Little Guide to these Picturesque Islands
- A Little Trondheim Travel Guide for Winter
- Wonderful Things to Do in Tromsø in Winter
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