There are so many different angles you can approach this city from. To have a great day in Bergen, you can do exactly the things I am going to tell you about, or you can do none of them. It’s a foodie’s wonderland, a hiker’s paradise, a historian’s heaven, and absolutely anyone’s place to walk around and explore.
You can of course easily spend multiple days in Bergen, especially if you add in day trips to see the fjords in the area. But if what you have is one day, it’s easy to make it an enjoyable one. This post describes one way to do exactly that.
To be accurate, we’re not spending a day in Bergen, but roughly 24 hours. We arrive late in the day, and many attractions are closed. The view in the bay, Vågen, is always open. From the south side of the bay we look north-east towards Bryggen, what is left from when the city was part of the Hanseatic League trading empire, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You may also recognize it as the waterfront of Arendelle from the Disney movie Frozen.
On the hill in the background is the Fløyen viewpoint. It’s also always open, and a good place to go whenever the weather actually permits a view. Which isn’t always, so if you look up and can see Fløyen from the city center, head up there as soon as you can.
Hiking up to the viewpoint at about 320 meters above sea level takes about an hour from the waterfront in the center of Bergen. There are several routes to choose between. As you can imagine from this photo taken from a little lake next to the train station, they’re all really, really steep.
Fortunately, it’s possible to be carried up there in comfort for a fee. During the summer months, a roundtrip ticket on the Fløibanen funicular is 130 kroner per adult, or 65 one way. In winter it costs less. It’s never cheap, but the alternative is to pay a similar amount in the currency of sweat. You choose.
Enjoy the ride, it lasts about five minutes. You might as well put the camera away. The view when you reach the top easily beats what you see from inside the “train”.
The viewing platform at the top of the funicular looks out at most of Bergen, to the south and the west.
Any time of the day is fine for coming here, but catching the sunset from Fløyen is an especially great idea.
A number of hiking trails lead from here into the forest, undoubtedly the home of many trolls. You can walk around for hours up here, and at the lake Skomakerdiket you can borrow a canoe for free during the day, or pay a little to play around on a SUP.
We, however, are here to see the city. We’ll leave the natural wonders of Bergen for a later visit.
At the funicular station there’s a restaurant with food to match the view. Surprisingly, it’s not more expensive than the restaurants in the city center. There’s also a hot dog stand that opens in the almost hypothetical case of nice weather. This white dog can clearly read, and therefore looks a little bit worried.
After sunset, this is your view of the city center. If you ever played Sim City, this angle will please you a lot.
In the center of photo is Fisketorget, where you can sample all kinds of Norwegian cuisine from various food stalls. It’s not cheap, but if you want to try just a little bit of everything, it’s your best option.
This is the opposite view of the last photo, taken after descending from Fløyen. The route of Fløibanen is the strip of light leading up the hill, with a tunnel in the middle.
Walking around Bergen at night is nice and quiet, a welcome experience after the usually very busy streets during the day. It’s entirely safe, as long as you do not ask anyone how the local football team is doing. Ever.
If you’re not into the seafood at Fisketorget, the fish market, here’s a place that may be more your thing. At 3-kroneren you can get gourmet sausages, including a reindeer one. The price is not three kroner, though, but currently 65. Even at that price, it’s a relatively cheap and quick meal for anyone who comes to Bergen to do everything else but eat. Digesting a couple of those makes for a good night’s deep sleep.
In the morning we walk past another cheap meal, McDonald’s. I will not recommend them for their food, but they do deserve some praise for attempting to blend in with the historical buildings in downtown Bergen. It looks more like a Hanseatic house than the American embassy that it is.
Håkons Hall is part of the Bergenhus Fortress. You’ll be told that it’s from around 1260, and parts of it are. Mainly the floor in the cellar. The rest is a reconstruction, since the original building gradually fell apart during the 500 years or so when Norway didn’t have a king on its own. It was restored during a period of Norwegian nationalism in the 1800s, but during World War II, a huge explosion and fire completely destroyed the place again.
It’s still a good place to visit. Bergen is an old place, and going inside these stone walls lets you feel its age.
The main hall is spacious, and both the size and the style must have seemed incredibly impressive to anyone living in Norway in medieval times.
The Game of Thrones series missed a great opportunity for some great scenes here. And Bergen dodged a tourist bullet/cannonball, I guess.
Less spacious are the many alleys in the old city center. Owning a car just doesn’t make sense here. A motorcycle, on the other hand, can make it through to most places.
Not all places, though. At Øvre Dynnersmauet, the street sign is actually wider than the street itself. To make it readable, they installed it this way.
There are of course also some streets where a car theoretically could fit, but fortunately a lot of the streets are for pedestrians only.
To find scenes like this one, look out for streets on the map with names that ends with “smauet”. Or you can just randomly walk around the districts of Nordnes, Sydnes and Vågsbunnen. There are plenty of these little squares and alleys.
Wherever you go in Bergen, the street art is very much present. There are lots of cute, little pieces in surprising places, and there are huge walls like this one in Komediebakken.
Torgallmenningen is the main square in Bergen. It looks nice and tidy, and that is thanks to a big fire in 1916. The flames took down everything, and allowed Bergen to plan their city center from scratch.
If you’re interested, here’s an interesting web site where you can see how more than 30 different major fires affected the various parts of Bergen throughout the ages.
One reason for why Bergen should be on your itinerary, is that it’s a good place to begin or end a cruise on Hurtigruten, the white/red/black ship you see in this photo. Don’t worry. I haven’t gone mad. Hurtigruten has very little in common with going on a cruise in places like the Caribbean or Mediterranean.
Traveling on Hurtigruten, you can go from Bergen all the way to Kirkenes at the border to Russia in northern Norway. It’s a seven day journey, taking you past some of Norway’s best scenery and many pretty towns. Make it 12 days for a return journey. The northbound trip feels different from the southbound one, as you get to see the various sections at different times of the day. In normal times there are daily departures.
Budget tip: Keep checking for campaigns, there are major discounts to be found, especially if you travel outside the high season. Also, if you decide to travel in only one direction, it’s generally cheaper to travel from Kirkenes to Bergen than from Bergen to Kirkenes. If the price still scares you, remember that all your accommodation and all your meals are covered. Compared to seeing so much of Norway in other ways, it can be a bargain.
A quick bus ride north from the city center, to Sandviken, takes us to the Old Bergen Museum. Initially we almost feel stupid for having come here. It looks almost identical to much of the city center.
The museum turns out to have a lot going for it.
For one, the gardens are absolutely wonderful, and the houses are well maintained, inside and out.
Most of the buildings can also be entered, and there’s nothing from Ikea inside.
I’m sure there are apartments that look similar to this in the city center as well, but you have to visit this museum to actually get to see the spectacle with your own eyes.
Another nice feature at the museum is that there’s a relatively large cast of “citizens” walking around, wearing clothes and behaving and speaking as if they just arrived here from one or two centuries ago. They go really deep into character. Feel free to engage with them, and they’ll convincingly tell you about the joys and challenges of life in Bergen back when.
If you’re like me and prefer not to talk to people, the museum actors will just talk to each other instead. You can listen in, or just observe them. They don’t mind.
We return to the city center, where we walk past this ambulance. It’s out on a mission, rescueing an old musical instrument of some kind.
Bergen is an extremely musical city, with many concert venues where you can see live music performed by great performers. Believe it or not, but they’re not all black metal musicians, either! Bergen has lately sent Kygo, Alan Walker, Sigrid, and Aurora into the world, to name some of the most famous ones at the moment.
A scene that luckily is not so active these days is the leprosy one. Still, a visit to the leprosy museum can be a calming break from the crowds. These living quarters have no doubt heard their fair share of desperate screams and crying, but now it’s a quiet place.
Leprosy is a terrible disease that still is an issue in many poor countries. Norway was the last country in Europe with a leprosy problem. It was right here in Bergen that the connection between the disease and certain bacteria was discovered, paving the way for a treatment.
It’s a haunting place, where you can learn to highly appreciate modern day health care. What was offered to the poor victims of this disease here, for several centuries, is something you’ll never want to be exposed to.
Nearby, around the lake Lille Lungegårdsvannet, there are several art museums. They are … typical. I won’t recommend them, unless you’re a big fan of the kind of art that needs deep explanation to make any sense at all.
Instead of exploring weird and bland art, consider heading up the hill to the south to visit the University of Bergen’s museums of natural history and cultural history. They offer a more unique view into various stuff that is related to Norway.
Like this cheerful family portrait, an epitaph from a church in the fjords, from around 1660. It celebrates the life of two priests. It’s a “memento mori”, a reminder that we’re all going to die, as indicated by the boy at the bottom right pointing to the skull he is holding.
Norwegians can be difficult to get to know, so it’s possible that this museum is your best chance to learn what a typical Norwegian bedroom looks like.
It’s good, Norwegian wood.
Our day in Bergen is almost over. On our way to the airport, we stop off at the Fantoft metro station.
From there it’s just a short hike through the forest to a brand new church. It was built in 1997, to replace a more than 800 years old church that some black metal satanist decided was not needed, so he set it on fire.
There you have it. Because it’s a reconstruction, it’s not counted among Norway’s “proper” stave churches. Still, it looks exactly like it “should”, so Fantoft stave church is your most convenient option if you’re ever in Bergen and you want to see the an example of Norway’s most fascinating contribution to the world of architecture.
The building feels both ancient and new at the same time. It’s comforting to know that we are still able to build things like this. And in a thousand years, I’m confident that historians will find this one just as fascinating as the other stave churches that may or may not still be around. If there are historians around in a thousand years, of course.
We’re flying north from Bergen, so we get a seat on the right side of the plane. It’s a clear day, so we’re given this magnificent view of the city. Most of the places mentioned above can be spotted in this photo. The only parts missing are the Old Bergen museum buildings, just outside the photo’s bottom left corner, and the stave church, which is just outside the photo’s top right corner.
Anyway, that’s all. If you have any questions about anything, please use the comments section below, and I’ll do my best to give you answers.
Bergen is easy to get around in on foot, so you don’t need to invest much time in figuring out the public transportation system.
Bergen has direct flights from many places in Europe, so it’s easy to get to. If you for some reason arrive by plane in Oslo instead, a better alternative than flying to Bergen from there is to take the train across the mountains. Take one of the day trains, not the overnight one! It’s an excellent way to arrive. It takes about 7 hours, during which you will gradually be introduced to ever more impressive scenery. (The whole journey can be watched on Youtube, from Bergen to Oslo.) When you reach Bergen you’ll be hungry for more, and a tour of the fjords near Bergen is the perfect cure for that.
Everything mentioned above is either free to do, or will be included or discounted if you buy a Bergen Card. For a 24 hour pass you pay 280 kroner, 48 hours is 360 kroner, 72 hours is 430 kroner and 96 hours is 500 kroner. (These were the summer 2021 prices, at least.) The card is for sale at the Deli de Luca kiosk at the airport and at the tourist information office in the city center.
Something to note is that the Bergen Card actually includes unlimited travel by bus (not trains or boats!) in Bergen and actually a large area around Bergen. This means that by adding some time to your pass, at a small extra cost, you can travel almost for free to many visit-worthy places. You can take the bus to Odda (three hours), starting point for the Trolltunga hike. Aurlandsfjorden, the fjord in the fairly expensive “Norway in a nutshell” package, is right at the last stop in Gudvangen (also three hours). For various extreme sports activities, Vossevangen (1 hour 20 minutes) is your destination.
Taking advantage of any of these options can make your Bergen Card extremely good value for money.