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Visiting Bergen, Norway is a trip into a mystical city where vestiges of the Viking era meet the awe-inspiring features of nature – this city is simply a hidden gem. Nestled between the Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord, Bergen sits comfortably as a gateway to the Norway’s magnificent fjords, with experiences that enthral both nature lovers and history buffs alike.
I visited Bergen on my way to visit Pulpit Rock, and I was pleasantly surprised. The city is pretty compact, so it’s quite easy to see most things in just one day.
In this post, we’ll explore top activities and attractions that make Bergen a must-visit destination while visiting Norway.
A Brief History of Bergen
Bergen was established in 1070 AD by King Olav Kyrre, growing rapidly to become Norway’s largest city by the 13th century, primarily due to its key role in the Hanseatic League’s trade empire. This medieval mercantile and defensive confederation of merchant guilds dominated Baltic maritime trade from the 1400s to the 1700s. Bergen’s central trade role is reflected in the UNESCO-listed Bryggen Wharf, with colorful wooden buildings that housed offices of the Hanseatic merchants.
Through centuries, Bergen weathered several significant fires due to its largely wooden architecture. Nowadays, the preserved or rebuilt structures offer a vibrant testament to the city’s historical resilience. Despite no longer being Norway’s largest city, Bergen retains a significant cultural and economic role, serving as a popular tourist destination, and a gateway to the fjords.
Best Things to Do in Bergen, Norway
Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf
The Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf is one of the most recognisable places in Bergen. Its old wooden buildings, standing stubbornly in vibrant colors, have withstood the test of time and weathered centuries of fires, displaying resilience typical of the city. UNESCO listed the wharf as a World Heritage Site in 1979 – a testament to its historical significance and cultural relevance. Wander through the narrow passages, explore the small boutiques, and immerse yourself in the city’s history.
Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains, with Mount Fløyen being one of the most accessible and enjoyable. You can take the funicular (Fløibanen) up the mountain for stunning views across Bergen. Once at the top, there are several hiking trails for all experience levels. The mountaintop is also home to a souvenir shop, café, and even a playground for kids.
Bergen Fish Market
The bustling Bergen Fish Market, an iconic landmark, serves as both a hive of activity and a delicious culinary hotspot. Located at the heart of the city, beside the harbor, the market offers an array of fresh seafood, local delicacies, and international treats. A vibrant hub for mingling with locals and tourists, the market provides a rich sensory experience. Be sure to explore the open-air and indoor market spaces, sample smoked fish, or savor a seafood meal at the intimate restaurants. The Bergen Fish Market is a true taste of Norway’s coastal charm.
Bergen Maritime Museum invites you to delve deep into Norway’s seafaring heritage, reflection of a nation shaped by the sea. Navigate through its chronicle of maritime history, from the Viking era to modern offshore activities. The museum showcases model ships, naval artifacts, and interactive exhibits that illustrate life at sea, naval battles, shipbuilding evolution, and maritime trade. There’s even a simulator where you can ‘sail’ a ship! Teeming with fascinating stories of the maritime world and interactive experiences, a visit to this museum is like sailing through time.
Bergen Botanical Garden
Nestled in the heart of Bergen, the Botanical Garden is a beautiful little oasis in the city buzzing with life. It’s an extraordinary potpourri of plants from all around the world, including vibrant flowers, towering trees, and fascinating aquatic plants. Stroll the garden paths, laze around on the grass, or simply soak in the tranquility. Don’t miss out on the charming greenhouse. You’ll leave with a smile having witnessed such a palette of nature’s colors. Whether you’re a botany buff or simply someone seeking an open-air escape, this garden is a joy to explore.
Kode Museum of Art
KODE Art Museum is one of Scandinavia’s largest museums for art, craft, design, and music. The museum complex comprises four main buildings, showcasing an impressive collection of international and Norwegian art spanning from the Renaissance to contemporary works. It proudly houses the works of renowned artists like Pablo Picasso, Edward Munch, and Johan Christian Dahl. KODE also boasts of beautiful artist homes, a composer museum, and extensive collections of design and craft. A visit to KODE promises inspiring encounters with art from various periods and styles, reflecting humanity’s vast creative spectrum.
Bryggens Museum showcases Bergen’s rich medieval history, unveiling remnants of the city’s past discovered during archaeological excavations. The museum preserves the city’s largest collection of medieval wooden structures, which survived devastating fires that ravaged the Bryggen area over the centuries. Visitors can observe fascinating artifacts, coins, runic inscriptions, and other historic relics dating back to a 12th-century settlement. With its interactive displays and captivating exhibitions, Bryggens Museum offers a fascinating journey through time, unveiling the city’s cultural, political, and commercial heritage.
The Hanseatic Museum in Bergen sheds light on the Hanseatic era, a period of trade dominance in Northern Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries. Housed in one of the oldest wooden buildings in Bryggen, the museum offers an immersive stroll through well-preserved rooms furnished to provide an authentic look into a merchant’s life. Exhibits include artifacts, paintings, and tools that tell tales of trading, living conditions, and hardships of the era. A visit to the Hanseatic Museum offers an opportunity to delve into an intriguing chapter of Bergen’s socioeconomic history.
Gamlehaugen was the residence of Norway’s first monarch, King Haakon VII. Constructed in 1900, this ornate, castle-like mansion marries elements of Scottish and Norwegian architectural design, exuding captivating charm. Surrounded by a beautifully manicured English-style garden and serene views of Nordåsvannet fjord, it offers a peaceful retreat from city life. Today, Gamlehaugen serves as a museum during summers, allowing glimpses into royal lifestyle, while remaining the Norwegian royal family’s official Bergen residence. Its regal elegance and picturesque surroundings make Gamlehaugen a must-visit attraction in Bergen.
St. Mary’s Church
St. Mary’s Church, prominently nestled in Bergen’s historic quarter, is the city’s oldest standing ecclesiastical building, dating back to the 12th century. This enchanting Romanesque and Gothic-style stone church bears an awe-inspiring vibrant red Baroque pulpit, a delicate altar, and striking frescoes. A visit to St. Mary’s immerses you in history, narrating Bergen’s rich Norse heritage and providing rare glimpses into medieval religious life. With its beautiful architecture and incredible preservation, St. Mary’s Church serves as both a haven for spiritual contemplation and a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship of bygone eras.
Bergen Aquarium, situated on Nordnes Peninsula, is a treasure trove of marine life. With over 60 aquariums housing hundreds of different species, visitors can journey from the tropical Rainforest exhibit to the Arctic Penguin Park. From dreamily gliding sea anemones to playful otters, the aquarium brings nature’s wonders up close. Engaging feeding shows, regular film screenings, and interactive exhibits offer an enriching learning experience. Also known for its initiatives aiming conservation and education, Bergen Aquarium provides an enthralling and insightful look into the mysteries and marvels of the underwater world.
Troldhaugen – Edvard Grieg Museum
Troldhaugen, nestled in the scenic outskirts of Bergen, was once the home of Edvard Grieg, Norway’s famous composer. Built in 1885, this idyllic villa overlooks Nordås Lake, offering tranquility and inspiration. Today, it serves as a combined museum, concert venue, and tribute to Grieg’s extraordinary life and accomplishments in classical music. Visitors can explore the house, Grieg’s composing hut, and the beautiful surrounding gardens. Troldhaugen’s on-site concert hall, Troldsalen, hosts regular performances of Grieg’s works, welcoming audiences to experience the enchanting melodies in the very place they were created.
Bergenhus Fortress, majestically overlooking the harbor in Bergen, is one of Norway’s oldest and best-preserved fortresses. Dating back to the 13th century, this historic monument was the residence of Norway’s King Haakon Haakonson and plays a critical role in Bergen’s rich history. The fortress includes two main buildings, the Royal Hall (“Håkonshallen”) and Rosenkrantz Tower, featuring Gothic and Medieval designs. Today, Bergenhus is not just a symbol of Bergen’s past, but also a culturally vibrant space featuring museums, ceremonies, and concerts. This enduring fortress tells a captivating tale of power, resilience, and survival.
Pepperkakebyen, translating to “The Gingerbread Town,” is a charming Bergen holiday tradition, celebrated as the world’s largest gingerbread city. Each year, schools, families, and local businesses come together to construct an impressive array of gingerbread structures. From intricate houses, trains, and boats, to replicas of iconic Bergen landmarks, the creativity displayed is remarkable. This festive spectacle, awash with the aroma of ginger and the sparkle of candy adornments, ushers in the holiday season every November, filling the town with joy and enchantment. Pepperkakebyen instills a magical festive spirit, making Christmas in Bergen truly unforgettable.
Fantoft Stave Church
Fantoft Stave Church is a masterpiece of ancient Norwegian architecture. Originally built in 1150 in Sognefjord, it was relocated to Fantoft in 1883. Renowned for its intricate carvings and aesthetic grandeur, the church ignites a sense of wonder among visitors. Though tragically destroyed by arson in 1992, it was meticulously reconstructed, preserving its unique charm. Today, the Fantoft Stave Church stands proud, symbolizing resilience and hope while offering a glimpse into centuries of spiritual and cultural history, making it a must-visit stop for those exploring the beautiful city of Bergen.
Hunt for Murals
Bergen’s vibrant and expressive murals are globally acclaimed for their meaningful narratives and artistic beauty. This city is a living canvas where streets and buildings become the exhibition spaces that seamlessly blend art and everyday life. If you wander through the streets of Bergen, you’ll encounter a diverse array of street art, from small stencil works to large-scale murals—they’re part of Bergen’s unique appeal. The annual Nuart Festival, in particular, has made significant contributions to Bergen’s street art scene, turning the city into an open-air gallery for contemporary urban art.
Attend a Festival
Bergen invites you to celebrate culture and life with its vibrant festivals all year round! Each May, the Bergen International Festival showcases world-class music, dance, and theater performances. Bergenfest, a stunning open-air music fest, brings international artists together, spanning genres from indie rock to folk. Jazz enthusiasts flock to Nattjazz in late May for nights filled with mesmerizing tunes. For film fanatics, BIFF (Bergen International Film Festival) unspools numerous international and local masterpieces in October. Experience the city’s rich cultural fabric as you revel in the energy and magic Bergen’s festivals have to offer.
VilVite Science Center
VilVite Science Center is a haven for budding scientists and curious minds. With its interactive exhibits, state-of-the-art technology, and hands-on learning approach, VilVite sparks creativity and cultivates a love for science and discovery. From exploring weather phenomena to experiencing the thrill of a “gravity room,” visitors are sure to find wonder and excitement at every turn. Perfect for families and school groups, the center aims to inspire the next generation of innovators while offering an engaging, educational experience suitable for all ages.
Have a Coffee at One of Bergen’s Best Cafes
Bergen is a paradise for coffee enthusiasts, offering a plethora of charming cafés. Kaffemisjonen is a favorite among locals, where you’ll find extraordinary brews and a welcoming atmosphere. Det Lille Kaffekompaniet, tucked away on a picturesque hill, provides a stunning city view along with delightful coffee. Don’t miss Café Opera, a cultural hotspot that combines fine java, tempting pastries, and captivating art exhibitions. Finally, get a caffeine fix and support a noble cause at Blom, where they donate their proceeds to important social projects. Adventure through these cafés for a true Bergen coffee experience!
Dine at a Michelin Restaurant
In the heart of Bergen sits Lysverket, your must-visit foodie destination! This Michelin star haunt serves up inventive, delicious dishes that are a love letter to local, seasonal Norwegian produce. But it’s about more than just food here, it’s sustainability too. When you dive into their ocean-fresh seafood or mountain-foraged ingredients, you’re tasting the true flavor of Norway. And let’s not forget the warm, relaxed vibe, making you feel right at home. So why wait? Lysverket is the place to be for an unforgettable ‘eat-local’ experience!
Explore the Fjords
Last but certainly not least, no trip to Bergen would be complete without a fjord tour. Bergen serves as an ideal base for fjord exploration ventures. Whether you opt for a boat journey on the serene waters of Nærøyfjord or a drive down the panoramic routes of Hardangerfjord, you are guaranteed an unparalleled natural spectacle.
How to Get to Bergen
Bergen’s main airport, Bergen Airport, Flesland (BGO), is well-connected domestically and internationally. It is served by several airlines, making it accessible from numerous global destinations. From the airport, you can take a bus, a taxi, or rent a car to reach the city center. To get the best airfare, check out my guide on finding cheap flights.
For mesmerising landscapes, travel via the Norwegian State Railways (NSB), which provides intercity trains to Bergen from places like Oslo and Stavanger. The Bergen Railway is often regarded as one of the world’s most scenic train journeys.
Driving to Bergen offers the freedom to explore at leisure. Major highways like the E39 connect Bergen to other Norwegian cities. However, do consider tolls, ferries, and winter road conditions.
Experience Norway’s dramatic coastal landscapes through a ferry. Domestic ferries travel between Bergen and places such as Stavanger, Sognefjord, and Hardangerfjord. Some international cruises also dock at the Port of Bergen.
Several bus companies operate long-distance coach services to Bergen, making it a budget-friendly yet comfortable option.
Where to Stay in Bergen
Bergen Børs Hotel: Located in a magnificent former stock exchange building from the 1860s at the heart of Bergen, this hotel exudes elegance and comfort. It houses top-rated restaurants, a 24-hour front desk, and chic, modern rooms.
Hotel Havnekontoret: This hotel is situated in a neoclassical, 1920s-era building that was once the Bergen harbour’s office. It offers a unique blend of classic architecture and modern facilities, including a complimentary evening buffet and a relaxation area.
Opus XVI: An Edvard Grieg Heritage Hotel, Opus XVI offers a luxury stay in the heart of Bergen. The hotel is part of composer Edvard Grieg’s heritage and is built in classical architecture featuring contemporary rooms, a fitness centre, and a restaurant that serves a high-quality culinary experience.
Thon Hotel Orion: This recently refurbished, eco-friendly hotel offers stunning views of Bergen’s harbour and the iconic Bryggen. A top choice for both business and leisure travellers, it provides modern comforts, a generous complimentary breakfast and access to a well-equipped gym.
Clarion Hotel Admiral: Housed in a refurbished, old packhouse from 1904, this waterside hotel offers full-on charm with superior views of Bryggen, right across the water. The hotel features modern, comfortable rooms, an excellent restaurant, and a lovely outdoor seating area.
To make the most of your trip, remember, Bergen’s weather is notorious for its unpredictability, so come prepared with rain gear and warm layers. That being said, Bergen is a city where each rainfall only adds to the vibrancy of its colourful roofs against the natural backdrop, making it a truly unique Nordic escape.
Book Your Trip
Book your flights: Find cheap flights using Google Flights, Skyscanner or Kayak. To get travel deals sent straight to your inbox, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights or Jack’s Flight Club. Use the Hopper app for their AI powered price change predictions.
Booking your accommodation: I use Booking.com to book all my hotels. Their Genius loyalty program allows you to earn reward credits no bookings and 10%-20% off hotel prices. You can also try Google Hotels and TripAdvisor to search prices across a variety of sites. Agoda is the best site for booking hotels in Asia.
Travel on a budget: Staying in hostels is a great way to meet people and is best if you’re on a budget. You can find plenty of awesome hostels with Hostelworld.