With seven peaks one on the side and seven sprawling fjords on the other, Bergen is set in an enchanting position. It’s opulent, natural beauty is elevated by a prosperous heritage with traditional architecture and cobbled streets on full display.
It was first the Vikings and later the Hanseatic League that transformed this remote community into one with a vast, international trading network. Fortresses, basilicas and wooden homes follow soon thereafter. In preserving its past, Bergen is a city that feels anything but.
Whether you arrive by train, plane or cruise, it’s easy to explore the best things to do in Bergen. Funiculars and cable cars run into the mountains. Boats venture into Norway’s largest fjords. It’s UNESCO old town completes the picture with the addition of Bergen’s best restaurants.
Map of Attractions in Bergen
17. Bergenhus Fortress
On the precipice of the Bergen Harbor, the Bergenhus Fortress is one of the oldest in Norway. Beginning its life in the 13th century, the fortress has undergone several transformations throughout.
Within the old Haakon’s Hall, royalty resided from the 1200s onwards. Later, in the 16th century, within the addition of fortifications and the Rosenkrantz Tower, the Bergenhus marked the official entrance to Bergen for all visitors and trade. Despite fires, the Bergenhus Fortress has been restored and is open for visitors to explore. You can check out the halls where royals roamed and wander the Rosenkrantz Tower, once home to the last king from Bergen, Eirik Magnusson.
16. Bergen Aquarium
With such a historic connection to the sea, a visit to the Bergen Aquarium will further connect you to the region’s marine life. It’s a great indoor adventure for young and old, combining a wide range of exhibits into Norway’s largest aquarium.
With a ticket purchased ahead of time, you walk right into the aquarium. One that gets busy during the summer peak season. From within, you’ll be able to get up close to local fish species, sea lions, penguins and seals. There are also species from diverse ecosystems, including crocodiles. Film shows and feedings occur daily for a more interactive experience.
15. St. Mary’s Church
At the beginning of Bergen’s medieval era, 12 churches and a trio of monasteries were constructed. St. Mary’s Church is the last one standing and is pushing 900 years old.
Under the rule of the Hanseatic League, the church became richly adorned with an opulent facade and an eye-catching interior. A recent restoration has helped return St. Mary’s Church to its former glory.
As you wander inside, you’ll see the beauty of this basilica, which is a unique design for a parish church. You’ll spot the pointed windows and vaulted ceiling, drawing your eyes to the lofty nave. The highlight, however, are the four portals, the church’s most preserved features.
14. Bergen Maritime Museum
One of the oldest museums in Norway, the Bergen Maritime Museum, is a celebration of the city’s rich connection to the sea. The ocean and her treasures have been the lifeblood of Bergen for thousands of years. While maritime trade has especially flourished from the 11th century onwards.
The Maritime Museum is a simple stroll from the center of Bergen. On arrival, you’ll be taken aback by the building’s striking design featuring an amalgamation of stone and glass. But within, as it has for over 100 years, the museum takes you on a journey.
The well-appointed exhibits flow in order, educating you on Bergen’s humble beginnings on its journey to a prospering port town. Along the way, you’ll uncover original maps, artwork, ancient ships and the famous Kvalsund boat. The latter is an old Viking ship from the 700s.
13. Take the Flåm Railway
From Bergen, travelers have an abundance of access to Norway’s largest fjords. The biggest of the lot, Sognefjord, takes you to the base of the dramatic Flåm Railway.
Ascending at a ghastly angle into the mountains, the railway is one of the steepest on earth. But that marks just the beginning of a 20km journey between Flåm and Myrdal. A trip worthy of its lofty reputation.
In the summer sun, the railway makes its way towards the heavens and then courses through the high alpine valleys. Come winter, it’s a spectacular sea of white and a true wonderland. Prior to your journey, enjoy time exploring Flåm’s charming town.
There is some great hiking around Bergen, providing travelers with ample opportunity to break a sweat. One of our favorite trails is the Stoltzekleiven. This is a steep trail with over 900 steps to the top of Sandviksfjellet.
To the beginning of the trail, you can take a leisurely 30-minute stroll or jump on the bus to Ludebryggen. It will then take around half an hour to make your way up each step to the summit at 392 meters.
As you get higher, the views continue to present themselves. Providing you with all the more reason to push on. While you can turn around at the top, many continue on for 40 minutes to Mount Fløyen, where you can ride to funicular back to the city center.
11. Bryggens Museum
In 1955, a series of archaeological excavations help to shed light on Bergen’s past. The excavations took place after several fires, had locals wanting to demolish the rest of Bergen’s wooden buildings. They changed their minds once their town’s heritage came to life.
You’ll find these discoveries within the Bryggens Museum providing exceptional insight into medieval life in western Norway. At the center of the museum, experience is the Under Ground exhibit. This showcases some of the city’s original foundations and ancient artifacts of the city’s oldest inhabitants.
It flows on from there with old poems and gossip inscriptions shining light on the everyday. Which Middle Eastern pottery showcases Bergen’s vast trade network.
10. KODE Museums
Exploring contemporary art and history, the KODE Museums are Norway’s most expansive. Steps from the central pond of Lille Lungegårdsvannet, KODE 1, is set within a beautiful 19th century exhibition building. The captivating facade is only a hint of the treasures the lie within, such as textile craftwork and the Silver Treasure. The latter is a rich exhibition on gold and silver.
Not far away is KODE 2, home to Bergen’s largest art bookstore and temporary exhibitions. This is complemented by KODE 3, a gallery home to such revered artists as Edvard Munch.
All combined, the KODE museums showcase a culmination of over 40,000 pieces of art, artifacts and archaeological discoveries.
9. Gamle Bergen Museum
In the 19th century, Bergen was Europe’s largest wooden city. There are remnants of this throughout. However, at the open-air Gamle Bergen Museum, you’ll truly be able to see how this port town once was.
With rows of tightly packed wooden buildings, cobbled streets, old markets and alleys, you’ll be teleported back several hundred years. As you explore “Old Bergen” you can enter some of the traditional houses, include that of an 1826 civil servant and an 1886 merchant family.
Through the summer months, the museum’s square is alight with historic plays. You’ll then smell the aromas of the nearby kiosk selling traditional drinks, ice cream, and cinnamon buns.
8. Fjord Cruise
From Bergen, it’s easy to marvel at the beauty of the fjords. However, nothing beats taking a cruise and exploring them close up. Thanks to the many fjords and an abundance of tours, it’s not difficult to find one that suits your budget.
You’ll soon discover that Bergen is a true gateway to this brilliant landscape. Cruisers will be able to venture deep into glacial carved valleys where the oft-calm waters reflect the towering mountains with glee. Along the way, charming villages add extra colour and aura to the environment, with some cruises allowing to off boat to explore.
Some of the fjords to keep in mind include Hardangerfjord, Osterfjord and the country’s longest, Sognefjord.
7. Cable Car to Ulriken Mountain
There are seven mountains that form the backdrop of Bergen. At 643 meters above sea level, Ulriken Mountain is the tallest. You’ll have the option to hike up from the valley to the peak, but most choose the convenience and fun of the mountain’s cable car.
From the city center, you can take a bus to the base of Ulriken Mountain. From there, it’s an eight-minute journey to the city’s highest point. Much like the funicular below, the trip provides spectacular views that only get better. At the top, you can continue to marvel at the scenery. Once you’ve taken it all in, descend to the base on Norway’s fastest zipline.
6. Fantoft Stave Church
Showcasing tradition Norwegian architecture, the Fantoft Stave Church has a long and storied past. The original church was constructed towards the end of the 12th century. However, after being set alight around 30 years ago, it had to be completely rebuilt. But that was just the beginning of the problem.
It had been decades since a stave church had been built. The wish to develop a faithful recreation proved difficult, slowly down the process. Thankfully, they got there and today you can see the church’s rich facade of cream orange and stone (including a wish stone from the original church), the stained arched windows and beautiful surrounding grounds.
5. Edvard Grieg Museum (Troldhaugen)
One of the world’s most renowned composers, Edvard Grieg, took his very first steps right here in Bergen. His former home, at Troldhaugen, has been transformed into the Edvard Grieg Museum overlooking the gorgeous Nordas Lake.
Taking the Bus 600 from the central station, you can efficiently make your way towards the home. Upon arriving at the property, you’ll begin to explore the grounds that inspired his composition and help spur a new era of music.
The home, hut and countryside were Edvard Grieg’s sanctuary and where the magic happened. In the summer, the magic goes on with a series of concerts that keep his work alive.
4. Fløibanen Funicular to Mount Fløyen
Half of the travel experience is trying to find the best views. Here in Bergen, you can do just that by riding the Fløibanen Funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen.
You’ll find the bottom of the popular funicular within the city center. With easy access, it won’t take long to jump on board and make your way towards the stratosphere. The journey takes just over 10 minutes, bringing you from the waterfront into the hills where views of the city and the wider region expand before your eyes.
After departing the funicular, you can take in the views from the nearby cafe patio. Once you’re done taking photos, continue to explore the peak where you’ll find mountain goats grazing and several trails meandering towards the six other peaks that form the backdrop of Bergen.
3. Fish Market
Beginning in the 1200s, Bergen’s Fish Market has been a central figure in local life for centuries. In the early hours of the morning ice is poured from stall to stall awaiting the day’s fresh catch and the weary fishermen to return to land.
Things, of course, have changed over the years. In fact, much of the market used to be floating around the nearby waters. Fishermen would come in, sell their fish, then paddle home to enjoy their afternoons.
Today, you’ll find the Fish Market entirely on land. In 2012, an indoor section was added, allowing the market to operate year-round. The outdoor section continues to be summertime only.
For travelers, this market is the best spot to get your hands on local seafood, fresh fruits and veggies. All the while becoming a part of the tapestry of an 800-year-old market.
2. Hanseatic Museum
As you’ll read below, Bryggen is the highlight of any time spent in Bergen. The Hanseatic Museum explores what makes the waterfront so memorable, as it first blossomed under the rule of the Hanseatic League.
In the Middle Ages, Bergen thrived as a merchant port, with the League expanding outwards from northern Germany. After entering the early 18th century building, you’ll be able to explore this pivotal development from start to finish.
Each exhibit takes you through the bustling trading period between the 13th and 15th centuries. You’ll also be able to explore the historic assembly halls. These were used by members of the Hanseatic League during the winter for lodging, schooling, court, and social events.
Amsterdam has Prinsengracht, Copenhagen has Nyhavn and Bergen as Bryggen. A highlight of the southwestern city, Bryggen, encapsulates the charm, history and culture of Bergen.
It all begins with a stroll. The water, waking up under the early morning light, glimmers alongside rows of wooden, pastel-hued Hanseatic homes. It’s here that maritime would first flourish in the 11th century, creating the beating heart of Bergen, from which everything else would grow.
Looking out across the fjords, and backed by mountains, the waterfront is incredibly scenic. Gaps in the buildings are filled with alluring cobblestone alleys that boast historic ambience and secrets of their own. Many travelers will still be on the waterfront, but they’ll miss out on charming shops, galleries and cafes that lie just beyond.
Where to Stay in Bergen
At the top of the list is Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the historic heartbeat of Bergen. Not to mention, its streets are pure Scandinavian magic. Just a short trek from the city center, you’ll have access to the waterfront, museums and some of Bergen’s best restaurants.
One of our favorite hotels in Bryggen is the Det Hanseatiske Hotel. Within a historic 16th century building, you’ll be living in medieval luxury. Surrounded by centuries-old timber, the rooms are rustic but cozy and there’s an on-site fine dining restaurant.
Staying in the city center provides its own advantages too. These include many of the major landmarks, great access to public transport, along with the funicular and nearby mountains. Those interested in this part of the city should consider the Hotel Park Bergen. The budget-friendly accommodation is set in a white-washed 19th century building with classically decorated rooms, wooden accents and daily breakfast.
How to get there
Bergen appears to be in quite a remote location. Yet, thanks to its mix of history, culture and beautiful fjords, getting here is not so difficult. From Bergen’s international airport, Flesland, it’s a simple journey to the city center. The airport is well-connected to the rest of Europe.
Perhaps the most scenic and relaxing way to arrive in Bergen, however, is to take the train from Oslo. The seven-hour trip may be long, but it’s one of Europe’s great train journeys.
Approximate travel times
- Oslo – 7 hours by car, 6 hours by express boat
- Stavanger – 5 hours by car, 4 hours by express boat
- Trondheim – 11 hours by car and ferry
- Alesund – 10 hours by car and ferry
- Flam – 3 hours by car, 5 hours by ferry
Best Time to Visit Bergen
Lying along Norway’s southwestern coastline surrounded by majestic fjords and mountains, Bergen is a very scenic but rainy city. On average, it rains 239 days a year with each month seeing between 19 to 28 (!!!) days with at least some, if not a lot, of rainfall. While autumn and winter are the rainiest periods, you’d better take a coat whenever you visit.
As temperatures are at their hottest at 16 to 17°C (61-62°F), July and August is when most people visit. Although they are the most expensive, the warm weather and sunshine make exploring its nearby mountains, lakes and fjords that much better.
May and June also attract plenty of visitors as they are just a couple of degrees cooler and much drier. The city’s main event, the Bergen International Festival, is also held then. While September and October are very wet, the trees’ changing colors paint a pretty picture.
The rest of the year is cold, dull and grey though Bergen does look magical in winter when it snows. Several ski resorts also lie nearby. For the Northern Lights, you’re better off heading further north as Bergen only sees them overhead very infrequently.