If you have no impression of Bergen, Norway yet, then imagine the vibe of a provincial port town somewhere in New England or up the coast in Canada. It’s got the seafood to hold court, the quaintness and lusciousness to counter any stress, and endless sunshine in the summer (but quite the opposite in winter).
But it’s also got history dating back more than 1,000 years, when it was founded as a trade post and eventually became Norway’s capital and largest city (both distinctions now belong to Oslo). It’s not without natural splendors either. Norway is surrounded by mountains, thus its main draw is the valley-flooded fjords that sprawl outward from its harbor.
It has that same port-like energy of Hamburg, or even Copenhagen. But there are a number of things—fjords and mountains notwithstanding—that make the UNESCO World Heritage city unique. A four-day visit is an ideal amount of time to settle in without having to rush through your sightseeing and recreational checklist. You can slow yourself to Bergen’s own temper, savoring prawn platters, scenic hikes, and idyllic days on the water. Use our travel guide to help plan your trip.
How to Get to Bergen
It’s likely that your visit to Bergen is part of a greater Norwegian excursion. For starters, there are a number of guided fjord tours that take Bergen travelers to or from Oslo every day. ”Norway in a Nutshell” is the most common one. Secondly, it’s not too burdensome to fly in or out of Bergen, seeing as it’s a quick connection through Oslo on Norwegian Air’s affordable and expansive international flight network. (The airline departs from New York, LA, SF/Oakland, Ft. Lauderdale, and Orlando, and connects all over Europe, not just Norway.) So, if you’re visiting Norway and want to see more than one key city, you can keep Oslo and Bergen as your end points.
Where to Stay
Hotel Norge by Scandic
While most of Bergen feels small and humble, Hotel Norge by Scandic elevates your stay with a pinch more stature. That’s not to say the 415-room hotel is out of place. In fact, Hotel Norge couldn’t be more in place, given its central location near both Lille Lungegårdsvannet (the town’s central lake) as well as Bergen’s main harbor and shops. Its stature, though, is its institution: Norge is a staple in Bergen, having opened in 1885. It only just reopened in 2018 after a full renovation. It’s got all the soothing Scandinavian details that make for a quiet respite after all-day outdoor recreation. Cap your stay with an indulgent dinner at onsite Restaurant Nova, or with house-made aquavit at the lobby bar.
Hotel Opus XVI
If you tell me a hotel belongs to the “Small Luxury Hotels of the World” collection, then that’s all the convincing I need to book a stay. Hotel Opus XVI is an ode to composer Edvard Grieg, and is run by his own relatives. The hotel’s details comingle harmoniously: Its 65 rooms and suites are individually designed, each with muted, soft tones to welcome you home from the sun or snow. If you’re there between fall and spring, stay through the weekend to enjoy the onsite Sunday roast—the perfect fuel for your Bergen adventures. Opus XVI is also centrally located, near the base of the main harbor, so you’re within walking distance to the city’s core attractions.
What to Do in Bergen
One Day: Town Sites
You could set aside one full day to explore Bergen at a leisurely clip. Spend a couple hours in Bryggen, the Hanseatic wharf, with its postcard-friendly wooden merchant houses. This entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and why the entire city of Bergen has earned the distinction as a World Heritage City. It’s the key site of the Hanseatic trading that occurred from the 14th-16th centuries. Numerous fires, namely in 1702, have ravaged this harborfront, but what you see today is representative of that entire Hanseatic era. Snack your way through the daily Torget fish market, and peek inside the 12th-century St. Mary’s Church on weekdays; it’s the oldest operable building in the city, and is one of its foundational sites. You can pick up all your souvenirs along the scenic waterfront.
You’ll need to visit the Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene, both of which can be visited with a singular ticket. They cover the history of the Hanseatic League, as well as Bergen’s significance to said League. The Schøtstuene acted as a meeting and event place for the Hansa. Your ticket lasts two days, and also includes a shuttle to the Norwegian Fisheries Museum.
Art lovers should detour to Kunsthall Bergen, and the various KODE museums to explore the collection of contemporary and modern art, both international and Norwegian. (Chief among them, Norwegian master, Edvard Munch.) You could even check the adjacent Grieg concert hall calendar to see a show in the evening.
Make your way to the Bergenhus Fortress, as well, mostly for the scenery and to remark at the 13th-century guardpost. There’s an onsite museum about Bergen during WWII, and from here you can find your way through Bergen’s backroads to the top of the zigzagging Vetrlidsallmenningen, which meanders back down into Bryggen and town center.
One Day: Fjord Cruising
You’ve got summer fjord options as well as winter ones, and this should be top of your to-do list. These trips are so common that you can find something to suit your likes, whether you crave something small and personable, quick and light on logistics, or simply want to see some scenery from the comfort of a big boat. You can speed through the waters for a few hours, or stay overnight in Flåm if you want to tote your things. Instead of us saying “do this one cruise”, it’s important to consider the time and depth of detail or privacy you want from your excursion. Decide on that, then explore the linked options above—or splurge on something like an 11-hour private tour that takes you across land and sea.
One Day: Hiking
Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains, so it’s a no-brainer to spend a long afternoon or entire day enjoying the scenery and views. The two obvious picks are Mount Fløyen (accessible with the Fløibanen Funicular in town center, from early morning till 11 p.m.) and Mount Ulriken (the highest of the seven mountains). The cable car (Ulriken Express) is accessible via a 10-minute bus ride from the center, and runs between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., every half hour, with the final departure from the cable car base at 5:30 p.m. That said, you can skip the cable car and spend the day hiking, and even cross over to Fløyen on the well-marked Vidden path. This not-too-arduous trek takes about 5 hours, and should satisfy your adventurous side, rewarding you with striking fjord and valley views.
In the winter, you can even take a half-day guided snowshoe hike, if there’s enough powder coverage. Again, you’ve got options.
One Day: Swimming, Island Hopping, or Glacier Trekking
The truth is, your trip to Bergen could be capped at two or three days if you’re visiting in winter. It all depends on how many bigger things you do from the city base. The fjord excursions and hikes can satisfy you if the days are mild, and the cozy restaurants and bars will warm your spirits by nightfall. In the summer, your options expand tremendously. Many tours operate solely between June and August, while others open from May through September. There are numerous beaches you can swim from, albeit the water remains around 58 degrees Fahrenheit. (It’s good for the circulation, though….) You can also explore the archipelago for a day, hopping from one island to the next. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, and packed the gear for it, you can do a five-hour hike on Folgefonna Glacier or an all-day rafting excursion to Voss.
Where to Eat in Bergen
Restaurant Sky:Skraperen: Visit the mountaintop Ulriken by night for Bergen’s highest dining hall, serving gourmet food and beautiful views. You can even stop in during the day for a fresh-packed lunch if you’re mid-hike.
Colonialen 44 Restaurant & Food Bar: This gem features four-course menus that change every two weeks to ensure fresh, local ingredients. Spoil yourself with a wine pairing. There are hundreds of options pulled right from their cellared collection.
Cornelius Seafood Restaurant: Cornelius changes its menu to match the weather. On sunny days, you can expect lighter sea fare with a cool breeze blowing in from the fjords. On cold, dreary days, comfort foods are guaranteed, candles are lit, and the ambiance turns warm and cozy. You may wish for rain one day, to rationalize going more than once.
Lysverket: Located at KODE 4 Fresh, this hot spot features locally sourced ingredients overseen by Bergen-native chef Christopher Haatuft. He’s known worldwide for what is called “Neo-Fjordic” cuisine. (Learn about his concepting and local sourcing.)
So, what’s your impression of Bergen now?