If you’re heading to Norway, then a visit to the town of Bergen on the coast needs to be on your short list. And in this guide to what to do in Bergen, we’re going to explain why.
Bergen is home to a UNESCO listed old town center, stunning mountains, and a number of excellent cultural attractions. It’s also in the heart of Norway’s beautiful fjords, meaning there’s a lot to do in the surrounding areas too.
In this guide, we’re going to share with you some ideas for what to do in Bergen, as well as some practical advice for your visit, including where to stay, getting here and away and when to visit. Let’s get started.
What to do in Bergen
1. Climb a mountain (or take the cable car)
Bergen is a city tucked in a fjord and surrounded by towering hills. Naturally, climbing these hills on a clear day gives you rather breath-taking views across the city and surrounding area.
Two hills that you should consider getting yourself up are Mt Ulriken (photo above) and Fløyen. The first is accessible by a cable car (Ulriksbanen). On a clear day this offers the best view of the surroundings, plus there is a restaurant at the top where you can prolong your viewing pleasure over a bite to eat. The entrance to Ulriksbanen is a little way south of the city centre, and is best reached by bus.
The other hill, Fløyen, is found at the top of the Fløibanen, a funicular which will whisk you up the side of the mountain in a few minutes. The entrance to the Fløibanen is just behind Bryggen in the city centre, which makes it easier to get to as part of your explorations. You can also walk up to the top if you are feeling like a bit of exercise, or you could take the funicular up and walk down. Whatever works for you!
2. Visit the house that Grieg built
One of Norway’s more famous composers, Edvard Grieg, happened to live just outside of Bergen. His house, Troldhaugen, has been preserved in the same condition since his death, plus you can visit his grave which is also on site. It’s a very beautiful location, set above a lake, and there is a museum on site where you can brush up on your Grieg knowledge.
This one is a bit of a trip outside town, and if you don’t have your own transport then you’ll need to take either a tram or bus and then wander across unlikely looking housing estates for half an hour or so, like us. We were lucky enough to get a lift back which shortened the whole trip, but otherwise count on at least three hours for this one from the city centre.
3. Investigate the flammable city centre of Bryggen
The UNESCO world heritage listed city centre called Bryggen is entirely constructed from wood. This means two things – it is quick and easy to build and quick and easy to burn.
The history of Bryggen, and indeed Bergen, is a charred one. The most recent fire was in 1955, but this place has a history of fires dating right back to the 14th century, when it came into being.
The good news is that every time it has burnt down, it has been recreated in the same style, so you can get a slice of 600 year old history even if the buildings aren’t quite that old. Just don’t turn up with marshmallows and a toasting fork. That won’t go down well.
One notable building to visit is the Hanseatic League, where a group of male only German merchants carried out their trade for four hundred years. Now a museum, you can pop in and see what sort of lives they led. My conclusion was that they led fairly cold lives – fires weren’t allowed in their property, for fairly obvious reasons.
4. Visit Bergenhus Fortress
Bergenhus fortress, a little way past Bryggen, is one of the oldest fortresses in Norway dating to around the 12th century. It was cold, windy and cloudy when we visited, which added to the atmosphere. I hear that in summer it is a popular place for picnics, but we were only accompanied by seagulls in our wanderings.
There is a cafeteria and you can take a tour – these run daily between May and August, and on Sundays for the rest of the year if you book.
5. See the Art of Edvard Munch
If you’re a fan of the Norwegian artists Edvard Munch, then you are going to love visiting Bergen. The city is home to the second largest collection of Munch paintings in the world – second only to Oslo.
Housed in the KODE art museums, this collection of works covers the entire span of Munch’s career, with over 150 pieces housed by Kode, including a pen and ink version of “The Scream”, the most famous of all of Munch’s works.
6. Take a Tour of the Fjords
As mentioned at the start of the post, Bergen is found deep within Norway’s beautiful fjords, so a day out to the fjords is a must if you have a bit of extra time in the town and want to explore the beautiful surroundings.
There are a number of tours that run from Bergen that take you out to the fjords, we recommend one of the following:
- This full day boat tour from Bergen to Rosendal village, which includes time visiting a castle as well as spectacular fjord scenery
- This private luxury day tour to some spectacular parts of Norways fjords, including the Hardangervidda mountains
- This day tour from Bergen which includes a ride on the famous Flåm railway and a a cruise along two UNESCO-listed fjords
Saving Money in Bergen
If you plan on seeing a number of sights in Bergen, you might want to invest in a Bergen Card. This card, operated by the local tourist office, offers free and discounted admission to a wide range of Bergen attractions, as well as some attractions, sightseeing tours, cultural events, bars, restaurants – and even parking lots!
On top of that, the card offers free transport on the cities light rail and bus network, making it easy for you to get around. Check out the Bergen Card and pick yours up in advance here.
How to get to Bergen
There are a variety of ways to get to and from Bergen, and we experimented with two of these – rail and plane. From Oslo it is either just under an hours flight to Bergen, or a seven hour train ride.
That might sound like a lot, but it does happen to be one of the most spectacular train rides in the world – certainly one of the most beautiful I’ve ever done. It crosses the Hardangervidda, Europe’s highest mountainous plateau, and the line reaches the dizzying heights of 1,222 metres above sea level. Naturally the views are spectacular!
On the way, you have the option of hopping off at Myrdal, and taking the Flåm railway down to the village of Flåm, which is one of the world’s steepest railways. From Flåm you can do a fjord cruise and then re-join the train and continue your journey to Bergen. We did this and thought it was very much worth doing!
The flight is as you would imagine a flight to be – over gorgeous scenery and much briefer. There are a multitude of airlines which fly in and out of Bergen, and if you go via Oslo you can reach most of Europe quite easily.
Bergen is also accessible by car (via the world’s longest road tunnel!) and by long distance bus, the latter of which is likely to be the cheapest, if not the fastest, way of getting around Norway.
Finally, it’s also possible to book a private transfer from Oslo to Bergen, which follows a similar scenic route to the train, but has the advantage that you can stop as you like to enjoy the views and take photos.
Where to Stay in Bergen
Like much of Norway, Bergen isn’t what you might refer to as a cheap destination. We stayed at the Montana Youth and Family hostel, which had pretty much everything we wanted as a base – an expansive and very Norwegian themed buffet breakfast to get us ready for the day (included with all room types), free wi-fi and most importantly, a quite epic view.
But don’t take my word for it, check out this picture, taken by one of our hosts after we left:
This is the view from the hostel looking across Bergen. It’s also within a five minute walk of the Ulriksbanen for easy access to the top of Mt Ulriken, and a 15 minute bus ride from the centre of town.
If you’re looking for cheap (by Norwegian standards!), clean and basic accommodation, with an unrivalled view for your stay in Bergen, then this hostel is certainly an option to add to your shortlist.
It’s not the only option though. Here are a few more ideas for your stay, taken from our go-to choice for finding the best deals when we travel – Booking.com. We generally find them to offer the best value of all the search engines, plus many properties offer a no-fee last minute cancellation policy.
- Marken Guesthouse – an excellent budget option for those looking for a centrally located hostel / guesthouse
- Hotel No 13 – a very central and well rated hotel offering excellent value
- 2 Døtre – a well located option for those looking for an apartment in Bergen
- Bergen Børs Hotel – a very well rated higher end hotel found in the old Bergen stock exchange
See more Bergen listings here for even more ideas for your visit to Bergen. We also have a number of tools we regularly use for our travels, including a number of hotel booking sites. You can see all those on our travel resources page.
When to Visit Bergen
Bergen is known a city where rain is a very common occurrence – in fact, on average it rains 240 days a year here. The northerly location of the city combined with those stunning mountains and it’s position by the sea all combine to make Bergen a city where you are definitely going to want to pack a raincoat or an umbrella.
If you want to visit at the driest time of year (a relative term), then May is usually the month with the lowest rainfall. For warmth (also relative, with average temperatures in July peaking at 14.3C / 57.7F), you’ll want to visit in either July or August.
That said, Bergen is certainly a place you can visit year round, you just need to be prepared for the weather and pack accordingly.
Further Reading for Visiting Bergen
Hopefully our guide to what to do in Bergen has inspired you for your visit to this beautiful Norwegian city. Before you go, we wanted to share with you some more reading to help you plan your visit.
- Our guides to visiting Oslo, which we’d definitely recommend as part of your Norway trip
- The official Visit Bergen website, which has information on events and happenings in the city, as well as lots more inspiration for what to do in Bergen
- Rick Steve’s Northern European Cruise Ports guidebook, which includes Bergen
- The Lonely Planet Guide to Norway
And that’s it for our guide to visiting Bergen! Hopefully you’re now even more excited about your trip to this beautiful coastal city. As always, if you have any questions or feedback on our guide, let us know in the comments below!