The Ultimate Travel Guide to Bergen
Built amongst the fjords of Norway’s west coast, Bergen is one of the country’s most important and historic cities. The former medieval capital of Norway, Bergen now plays the role of second city to Oslo, but in terms of culture and heritage, this is a city that’s really second to none.
Bergen is home to some of Norway’s most fascinating museums, while culturally this has always been and remains the most important musical and artistic centre in the country.
More than this though, Bergen is renowned for its dramatic location, and you’ll find colourful houses built along the shorefront of fjords that are framed by imposing mountains on all sides.
This is the gateway to the west coast, and from Bergen, there are endless opportunities to explore Norway’s unbeatable outdoors. This is one of the best places to visit in Norway, and to inspire your trip, here’s our ultimate guide to Bergen.
This ultimate travel guide to Bergen will show you all the most beautiful places in Bergen, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Bergen and things to do in Bergen which will help you in planning a trip to Bergen.
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How to get to Bergen
Bergen Norway is located on the west coast, in the county of Hordaland, and being the second-largest city in the country and an important economic cultural centre, it’s well connected, serving as a transport hub for the region.
Bergen is a relatively remote city though, and so the most common way to travel here is to fly. Bergen International Airport has domestic connections to the rest of Norway, with several flights a day to Oslo.
Internationally, most flights are only to European destinations, but with connections to big cities such as London or Amsterdam, it’s easy to travel onwards to the USA, Asia or the Middle East.
If you are travelling overland, then Oslo is a 6-hour drive away, while you can also make use of the regular train and bus services.
Bergen is also a popular stop for cruise ships in the region, and in summer, you can use the local ferries to explore more of the coast and the west coast fjords from Bergen.
What to expect in Bergen
Bergen is an incredibly modern city, yet it’s a city where history is very much present wherever you walk. Surrounded by the so-called ‘Seven Mountains’, this is also a destination where urban life meets the great outdoors, where you can experience all facets of Norwegian life.
Bergen is not the cheapest European destination to visit, and you’ll need to use the local currency, the Norwegian Krone, during your stay.
You can save money, however, by purchasing a Bergen Card, which allows you access and discounts to many sights and museums within a specified time frame. It also allows you free travel on the Light Rail.
While locals speak Norwegian in Bergen, you’ll find that the vast majority of people here speak English to an essentially fluent level too, ensuring that it’s easy for tourists to get around without too many language barriers getting in the way.
How to get around Bergen
Bergen is a very pedestrian-friendly city, and within the central area, it’s very easy to walk from place to place. Grab a map and your Bergen travel guide, and get exploring on foot to really appreciate the city’s stunning location, surrounded by mountains and fjords.
The city does have an excellent Light Rail network too though, if you don’t fancy walking or if you are heading out into the suburbs. The Light Rail network connects the city centre to the airport, with regular departures throughout the day.
The local bus network also connects Bergen city centre to the airport and has more frequent departures. It also has a more extensive network but can be more confusing to navigate than the simpler stations of the Light Rail network.
The best time to visit Bergen
Bergen is located relatively far north, although, by Norwegian standards, it’s hardly in an extreme location weather-wise, being well south of the Arctic Circle.
Bergen gets cold in the winter, and most travellers will visit the city during the summer season – roughly between May and September – when the days are long and the weather is sunny and pleasant.
If you are interested in hiking and enjoying Bergen’s many outdoor cultural events, then summer is the only time to visit.
Seeing Bergen Norway in Winter though can also be a wonderful experience because you’ll not only see the city without the summer crowds, but you’ll be able to go skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and as a bonus, you’ll likely see the Northern Lights too.
Things to do in Bergen
The most iconic sight you can see in Bergen, is that of the rows of colourful wooden buildings which line the shorefront of the city.
Many of these wooden houses date back to the 1700s, when they were built in the wake of a devastating fire – not the first to ravage Bergen – that destroyed most of the city.
The houses that stand today are found in Bryggen, the most historic district in Bergen, and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bryggen was originally built by German traders of the Hanseatic League from the 13th century onwards. This mercantile district helped Bergen to grow into what was for many centuries the largest and most important city in the Nordics.
At the excellent Hanseatic Museum in the historic Bryggen district, you can learn much more about the city’s involvement in the Hanseatic League.
Located in an old wooden building, the museum traces back the history of the league, and of Bergen, from the 1300s to the 1700s when their influence began to wane.
The Hanseatic League was a collection of free trading cities from northern Germany, the Baltics and the Nordics, that came to become some of the richest merchant cities in Europe at the time.
The Historical Museum
Located within the grounds of the University of Bergen, the Historical Museum is a fantastic place to learn more about the wider history of the city and the surrounding region, outside of the Hanseatic League.
There’s a fantastic collection of artifacts collected from western Norway, ranging from Viking finds to medieval relics
Bergen Maritime Museum
This is a city that’s proud of its seafaring past, and the best Bergen museum to visit to learn more about the history of sailing and shipping in west Norway is the Bergen Maritime Museum.
You’ll see reconstructions of Viking longboats, you’ll learn how Bergen dominated trade in the Nordics for centuries, and you’ll learn about the important role that Norwegian sailors played during World War II.
Old Bergen Museum
This is a city of museums, and another great place to visit to learn more about local history is the Old Bergen Museum.
This is a brilliant open-air museum that preserves local houses and buildings in styles that date back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
You can literally walk through history, as you see how Bergen would have looked and where it’s residents would have lived and worked, through different ages in recent centuries.
One of the oldest buildings that can be seen in Bergen is the Bergenhus Fortress, a place that has survived fires and wars, and that still stands centuries after it was first constructed.
Bergenhus Fortress has guarded the entrance to the city’s harbour since the 13th century, and today you can still find much of the defensive system in place as well as the magnificent sight of Haakon’s Hall, which formed the centrepiece of the castle.
Bergen has long been a centre for arts and music in Norway, and one of the most famous composers in Norwegian history lived and worked in the city for many years.
The impressive Troldhaugen building was the house and workplace of Edvard Grieg, and at the museum located in his home, you can learn more about his life and music and its importance in Norwegian tradition and heritage.
One of the best things to do in Bergen Norway is to visit the surrounding peaks, which are collectively known as the Seven Mountains.
The easiest peak to reach from the city is Mount Floyen, which is either a short uphill hike away or a quick ride on the cable car.
The summit of Mount Floyen is 400 metres high and offers exceptional views of Bergen and the fjords below. The cable car is known as the Floibanen and has been carrying tourists to the top since as early as 1918.
What to eat in Bergen
Bergen is always at the heart of Norway’s culinary scene, and in the city, you can find restaurants to rival any that you have in Oslo and other major European capitals too.
Being found on the coast, you can rest assured that fresh fish is a high priority in Bergen, and you can find the best of the day’s catch being sold and cooked at the Fish Market, which is home to some excellent local fish restaurants.
Fish soup is also a local favourite that you’ll find on many menus across the city, while classic Norwegian delicacies such as reindeer sausages and potato dumplings will be a delight for culinary connoisseurs.
Where to stay in Bergen
Budget – Norway is notoriously expensive and difficult for budget travellers, but there are a few hostels available in Bergen, to help you keep costs down.
The best-rated options include Bergen Hostel Montana, which offers a great breakfast, or the basic but cheap Bergen Budget Hostel. In summer, the cheapest way to stay in Bergen is to camp in the surrounding camping sites.
Mid-Range – There’s more choice in Bergen for mid-range travellers, and there are a great selection of local guesthouses and bed and breakfasts to choose from when you are staying in the city.
The Citybox chain have a few locations across the city, offering no-nonsense rooms, but affordable prices, while the Best Western offers better service and amenities, that’s still very much mid-range when it comes down to the cost.
Luxury – Don’t equate price with luxury in Bergen, because things here aren’t as affordable as other parts of Europe. There are, however, a few select luxury offerings in the city, including the Bergen Bors Hotel and the Hotel Havnekontoret, by the Clarion Collection.
Tours to do in Bergen
Bergen is a very walkable city, and one of the best ways to experience the sights and attractions is to join a walking tour.
Join a local guide as you’re shown through the old district of Bryggen, and are told about the city’s fascinating history, before learning more about modern Bergen in the city centre.
Bergen has a flourishing culinary scene, but unfortunately, much of the traditional food of the city, and of western Norway, isn’t quite as visible as the popular fusion and international restaurants that are found here.
On a local food tour though, you can really delve deeper into the city’s culinary scene, and uncover those cultural and traditional meals and dishes with the help of a local guide who knows the foodie scene inside out.
Day trips from Bergen
A classic day trip from Bergen is to take a ride on the Flam Railway. This beautiful train journey takes you from Flam – a short journey inland from Bergen – up into the mountains, on a 20-kilometre train ride through some of the most stunning scenery in Norway.
The line ends at Sognefjord, a spectacular fjord that will leave you absolutely breathless. The train runs year-round, through rain or snow.
No trip to Bergen is complete without visiting the local fjords. The west coast is dotted with fjords, but one of the most iconic trips to make is a cruise from Bergen to Mostraumen, a three-hour cruise that takes you across the water in the shadow of mountain peaks.
In summer, Bergen is a great base for outdoor activities, and there are many hiking routes from the city into the surrounding wilderness.
You can tackle the peaks of the Seven Mountains – with Mount Floyen being the easiest and quickest peak – or you can trek along the fjords or further out along the coast to explore more of west Norway on foot.
Recommended tours in Bergen
- Best Views of Bergen – Segway Day Tour
- Private customizable Tour to Sognefjord and Flåm from Bergen
- Private Tour: Full-Day Round Trip to Hardangerfjord 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.
- Mountain Bike Rental at Mount Floyen
- 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
- Oslo Day Trip from Bergen on the Flåm Railway