Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen, is a harbourside medieval wonderland. The former capital city is now a laid-back haven of colourful wooden houses, picturesque fjords, and a myriad of museums. The streets are brimming with history from the Hanseatic League, and the city’s port has been a major trading hub since as early as 1020.
Although it has a reputation as one of the rainiest cities in Europe, there are many wonderful indoor attractions to keep you occupied. Surrounded by green mountains, Bergen is picture-perfect at every turn. Ready to get started on your sightseeing adventures? Here are 21 things to see and do when you visit Bergen.
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Bryggen (or Tyskebryggen) is Bergen’s historic Hanseatic wharf and one of the city’s architectural highlights. The row of vibrant heritage buildings are lined up facing the east side of the Vågen harbour and are painted in varying hues of red, yellow, pink, orange and white. While fires have destroyed the majority of these unique wooden residences, there are about 62 carefully reconstructed houses in this style remaining in Bergen.
The entire wharf area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a strong representation on the Hanseatic League’s lasting impact on the city. The buildings today are filled with charming boutiques, cafes and souvenir shops to wander in and out of.
Since the 13th century, the Bergenhus Fortress has sat by the entrance of the Vågen harbour. It’s one of Norway’s oldest and most well-preserved stone fortresses, serving as a defensive structure until the 19th century.
Haakon’s Hall and Rosenkrantz Tower are the two key buildings remaining today. Constructed during the reign of King Haakon Haakonsson in the mid-13th century, the hall remains the largest secular medieval building in the country. It has been restored on multiple occasions due to fire damage and is now used for chamber music and choir concerts during the summer.
You can take a look around and discover areas like the stables, the guards’ quarters, and the German bunker while appreciating the Romanesque and Gothic influences.
Fantoft Stave Church
The reconstructed stave church in Bergen’s borough of Fana is unlike anything else. While it’s one of 28 that remain in Norway, this one has its own dark, distinct look. Inspired by the construction techniques of the Vikings, all stave churches are beautifully carved out of wood. Further Viking themes like animals are also incorporated, as well as some captivating Christian motifs.
Originally built in 1150 in the district of Sogn, the church standing today is a reconstruction of the church built in 1150, as it was burned down in 1992. The copy you can see today was built in 1997. Catch the Bergen Light Rail from the city centre and wander through the serene beech forest to reach the church. While you can come by and marvel at the exteriors any time you like, entrance inside is only permitted during the summer.
Seafood lovers won’t want to miss a visit to the local fish market. Operating since the 1200s, the market is a historically significant trading place for fishermen and farmers. While the indoor market operates year-round, there’s an expanded outdoor market that begins on the first of May and continues throughout the summer.
Since you probably aren’t looking to buy any fresh fish on your holiday, you’ll be happy to know there are some seafood restaurants in the area where you can enjoy a delicious seafood lunch. The market also sells fruit mainly in summer and early fall ( they are only sold in the outdoor part of the market).
The Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene
Warming up indoors with an informative museum visit is the best thing to do in Bergen, Norway in winter. The first place worth getting to know is the Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene.
This museum is conveniently located within the Finnegården, the only building at Bryggen to have retained its original interiors. Here, you’ll get to know how the merchants of the Hanseatic Empire lived and worked for over 400 years.
While the main part of the museum is unfortunately closed for a few years due to renovations, guided tours in English continue to run daily at the Schøtstuene. This area is made up of three assembly rooms and a kitchen, which were used by the Hanseatic merchants during the winter. Your guide will transport you to the Middle Ages and give you a unique insight into this period of time.
Bergen is known as the city between seven mountains. The easiest of those mountains to visit is Mount Fløyen. How easy, you’re wondering? In about eight minutes, the Fløibanen funicular will take you from the centre of the city all the way up to the top. This is far from just a tourist activity, as you’ll encounter some residents on the way up.
The cable car departs every 15 minutes, but for the most magical experience, you should plan your trip at the same time as the sunset. The Funicular to Mount Fløyen cost NOK 130 round trip and NOK 65 one way (adults, May-Sept) and NOK 100 r/t and NOK 50 one way. Discount if you buy online or in the app.
If you’re in the mood to hike, the trail will take you about an hour. Once you’re at the top, you can admire the spectacular views or take one of the two main loop tracks through the forest.
St. Mary’s Church
The oldest remaining building in Bergen is St Mary’s Church. Its Renaissance architectural style indicates that construction began in the mid-1100s and was completed by 1180.
The parish church is made from high-quality soapstone, featuring three naves and two front towers on either side. Its facade is unique to Norway, though the impeccable altarpiece was carved in Lübeck during the 15th century.
Stop by during opening hours (In summer it is open Mon-Fri 9-4pm, and Tuesdays and Fridays 12noon-2pm rest of the year.) to see more of the decorative Baroque art inside.
Fjord Cruise to Mostraumen
A must-do while anywhere in Norway is a fjord cruise. Bergen is no exception, and you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to cruise options. Depending on your preference, small group or private tours are both available.
One of the most popular tours is a three-hour cruise to Osterfjord and Mostraumen with visitBergen. These tours run daily and the price for 2020 is NOK 680 for one adult ticket.
Board a catamaran and find a spot on the spacious sun deck. Beginning from Zachariasbryggen next to the fish market, you’ll see Bergen’s harbour, including Bryggen, from a different point of view. You’ll continue under the Nordhordland Bridge to the 27-kilometre stretch of Osterfjorden.
Once you reach the narrow strait of Mostraumen, you’ll sail so close to a waterfall that you’ll be able to capture some of the cool mountain water to drink! If you get hungry at any point, snacks and beverages are available at the kiosk.
Visit the former home of Norwegian composer and pianist Edvard Grieg and his wife Nina at Troldhaugen. Grieg is considered Bergen’s most beloved public figure, with additional buildings and statues throughout the city dedicated to his memory.
With a pale weatherboard facade, a spacious veranda and panoramic tower, Troldhaugen is a typical and charming 19th-century residence. In 1995, a permanent exhibition about Grieg’s life and music opened to the public, as well as a small gift shop and a restaurant. His Steinway grand piano in the living room is used for special concerts during the Bergen International Festival.
The 190-seat Troldsalen concert hall with elegant acoustics was built next to the main house. It’s worth booking to see an intimate 30-minute piano recital here, which is followed by a guided tour of the villa.
KODE Art Museums of Bergen
KODE is one of Norway’s main hubs for art, design and music. This group of cultural institutions around Lille Lungegårdsvannet is made up of four main museums.
KODE 1 is the building for fine craft and design. Glass window cabinets are filled with over 35,000 artefacts. The two permanent collections here are the Silver Treasure, comprised of silver and gold objects made in Bergen, and the Singer Collection, an eclectic array of European and Asian paintings and antiques.
KODE 2 is the main venue for alternating contemporary exhibitions. You’ll also find the largest art and architecture bookstore in Bergen on the ground floor, as well as Café Smakverket.
KODE 3 is a charming 1920s building designed by architect Ole Landmark. It presents the Rasmus Meyers Collection with paintings from the Golden Age of Norwegian art. This includes many significant works by Edvard Munch, as well as Erik Werenskiold, Gerhard Munthe and J.C. Dahl.
KODE 4 houses the KunstLab Children’s Art Museum on the ground floor, the first art space in Norway designed specifically for kids. Little ones can open their imaginations and explore the world through art, illustration and experimentation. Yet, there’s plenty for adults here as well. A large display of paintings by beloved Norwegian artist Nikolai Astrup are on display, plus a collection on European modernism from the 20th century. There’s also a seafood restaurant if you find yourself getting hungry but don’t want to leave the museum just yet.
The opening hours are different for each KODE building and change with the seasons, so look up the times on their website in advance.
Bergen’s primary cathedral on Domkirkeplassen has over 900 years of history. The original stone structure was dedicated to Norway’s patron saint, Olav the Holy, and has been burnt down and reconstructed five times. It’s quite incredible that anything is still left standing! Although the cathedral looks simple from the outside, it is quite enchanting inside.
The tall windows with colourful stained-glass panels surrounding the altar are particularly mesmerizing. Stop by to take a look at the stone masonry and the cannonball from the 1665 Battle of Bergen, then climb the old clock tower for a remarkable view over the harbour.
One of the top free things to do in Bergen is to take a stroll around Lille Lungegårdsvannet. This picturesque lake in the centre of the city has a stunning central fountain that lights up in the evenings. If the weather is nice during your visit, enjoy a peaceful rest here before continuing on with your sightseeing. There are usually some blooming flower beds surrounding the gazebo that’ll attract your attention.
Old Bergen Museum
The Old Bergen Museum (or Gamle Bergen Museum) is a refreshing change of pace from most other historic museums in the city. Reconstructed townhouses take you back to the 19th-century, when Bergen was the largest wooden city in Europe.
The open-air environment allows you to pop in and out of the buildings and interact with the period actors who bring this interactive setting to life. Feel free to ask these townsfolk any questions you may have, and catch one of four daily theatrical plays at the main square.
Only a few kilometres away from central Bergen, you can’t miss this one-of-a-kind experience. The museum is open Monday to Sunday during the summertime, typically beginning mid-May and closing mid-September. Entrance costs NOK 120 per adult.
Make your way to the stunning borough of Laksevåg to see the Damsgård Country Mansion, one of the most impressive wooden Rococo buildings in Europe. This architectural style is unusual for Norway and is a reflection of the aristocracy seen in Bergen during the 18th century.
The elegant manor and the surrounding gardens are just as they appeared in the late 1700s. A guided tour is the only way to enter the manor, with English tours running daily at 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tickets cost NOK 100 per adult, though the price of admission is absolutely worth it. Discover how the wealthy residents of Bergen once lived and admire the authentic charm of this rare structure. (Note ** The manor is open from May to September, and closed the rest of the season).
Plant a Tree
Want to leave a positive carbon footprint as you travel? Embark on a tree planting tour with Bergen Tourist Tours. This sustainable wilderness tour is adaptable, so you can choose when to depart. You also decide how long the tour will last, ranging from 45 minutes to four hours.
The guide, Ole, has a ton of knowledge about Bergen’s mountains and will take you to some of the most scenic locations in the area, including the biggest tree in Norway. For about €20, you won’t regret giving back to Norway and the environment.
By far one of the most unique things to do in Bergen is to visit Pepperkakebyen, better known as Gingerbread Town. It’s the largest gingerbread city in the world, made up of tiny houses, cars, trains and ships, all from real gingerbread. Together, these cookie structures create a miniature replica of the city. Even more, local schools contribute gingerbread structures each year, so you know there’s a lot of joy and love put into this little world.
If you’re around between mid-November until the end of December, come and admire this heartwarming Bergen tradition. The admission cost for anyone over 12 years of age is NOK 100.
One of the top things to do in Bergen at night is to indulge in a traditional Norwegian meal at Pingvinen. As one of Bergen’s best-rated restaurants, you can expect an authentic and hearty dining experience in a retro atmosphere. This intimate eatery at Vaskerelven 14 serves up dishes made from local fish and lamb with root vegetables like carrots, rutabaga and potatoes. The bar stays open until one in the morning, so try out a new local beer or cider while you’re here.
The official residence of the Norwegian Royal Family is Gamlehaugen, a magnificent white mansion in the borough of Paradis. It features many contrasting architectural styles, from Scottish and French-inspired exteriors to Rococo, Neo-Renaissance and Dutch Baroque furnishings. Between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, you can take a tour of the state rooms. Gamlehaugen is normally open for tourists between June and August every year. The garden is open all year round.
Even if you don’t go inside, the scenic park area surrounding Gamlehaugen is always open to the public. The luscious lawn is ideal for picnicking and sunbathing after a refreshing swim in the lake. Visiting Bergen during the winter? The landscape becomes a snowy wonderland and an even more breathtaking location for photographers.
A fun and engaging attraction for tourists is the Bergen Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the country. Located on the Nordnes peninsula, it is home to over 500 fascinating species with 60 tanks for its marine life. Meet some cute creatures from the Arctic regions and the beaches of Norway while learning about conservation, biodiversity and animal welfare.
With a new event every hour, you’ll never be bored here. Watch the sea lions train, see the adorable penguins be fed, or join in on a guided tour (conducted in English, thankfully). The aquarium is open year-round, closed only on May 17th, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
One last museum you might want to check out is the University Museum of Bergen. The collections at this museum are divided into two main exhibitions: cultural history and natural history.
The ground floor covers the Viking Age and the Stone Age, as well as Norway’s geology, minerals and botany. On the first floor, you’ve got church art and colonial history, plus exotic mammals, reptiles, and Norwegian birds. The second floor showcases more exotic birds, folk art, and playwright Henrik Ibsen’s life in Bergen. The third floor teaches more about colonisation, as well as Egyptian mummies.
As you can tell, this museum covers a wide range of themes. It comes as no surprise that it holds some of the largest cultural collections in all of Norway. Once you’re done learning inside, visit the Museum Garden, a peaceful botanic landscape with over 3,000 different plant species.
City Walking Tour
Are you excited to explore some of the attractions on this list, but aren’t sure where to begin? Join a group walking tour with Bergen on Foot for a thorough introduction to the city. Across two and a half hours, your engaging guide will not only show you the top sights but the local scene as well.
Alternatively, there are walking tours with a specific focus on Bergen’s medieval history, or half-day private tours with a professional driver.
Recommended tours in Bergen
- City Walking Tour – Bergen On Foot
- Private Tour: Full-Day Round Trip to Hardangerfjord from Bergen
- Private customizable Tour to Sognefjord and Flåm from Bergen
- Hardangerfjord Day Trip from Bergen
- Self-Guided Sognefjord Trip: Bergen to Oslo
- Bergen Classic. Hiking from Mount Ulriken to Mt Floyen. Vidden trail.
- Plant A Tree Tour
- Private RIB – Zodiac tour to the Mostraum tidal current from Bergen
- Private Tour: Bergen to Pulpit Rock (Stavanger)
- Private Tour to Sognefjord, Gudvangen, and Flåm from Bergen
- Bergen Card
- City Sightseeing Bergen Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
- Bride’s Veil and Steinsdalsfossen waterfalls with sceneries of Hardanger Fjord
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