7 best things to do in Bergen, Norway

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We take a look at the best things to do in Bergen, the Nordic city that delivers a perfect blend of nature, culture and urban living

Known for its seven fjords, seven hills and old-world fishing wharf, Bergen in Norway enjoys a spectacular setting. Its walkable city centre and access to nature make it a perfect destination for a weekend getaway or even a day visit as the city is a popular stop for Norwegian fjord cruises and can be easily explored in a day.

While it may be one of Europe’s wettest cities (it rains on average 260 days a year), it is a vibrant cultural centre with superb access to the western fjords. The city offers a unique blend of nature and culture and, come rain or (occasional) shine, visitors undoubtedly love it.

Whether you’re visiting for a long weekend or a short stopover, we’ve picked out the seven best things to do in Bergen.

1. Bryggen

The UNESCO-listed Bryggen should be your first stop. The bright and beautifully preserved wooden houses run along the eastern shore of Vågen Harbour (bryggen translates as ‘wharf’).

Bryggen's colourful houses in Bergen, Norway
Atlas & Boots The chocolate box buildings of Bryggen

Fifty-eight chocolate box buildings dating from the 14th to 16th centuries make up Bergen’s oldest which now house an array of boutique cafes, craft shops and art galleries. While there, check out the Norwegian Fisheries Museum located in authentic wharf-side warehouses as old as Bryggen.

2. Mount Floyen and the Funicular (Floibanen)

A morning hike up Floyen seems to be something of a weekend tradition among the locals of Bergen. The city views are unmatched and the summit connects to a network of hiking trails extending around the city’s mountains. 

The view from Moutn Floyen in Bergen, Norway
Dreamstime The view from Mount Floyen

We suggest you do what we did and join them! It takes about an hour to hike up to the summit of Floyen where you can reward yourself with a hot drink and enjoy the vistas before taking the funicular down to the city centre. 

3. Flamsbana Railway

If you have the time then “the most beautiful train journey in the world” is well worth both. This is not just tour company hyperbole; National Geographic has named the Flam Railway as one of its top 10 train journeys in Europe.

The Flamsbana Railway is one of the best things to do in Bergen, Norway
El Greco 1973/Shutterstock The iconic Flamsbana Railway

Known as ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ the route takes in spectacular scenery including vertiginous mountainsides, foaming waterfalls and endless fjords as it winds its way along cliff-edge tracks and 20 tunnels.

4. Leprosy Museum (St. George’s Hospital)

Perhaps it’s an unusual choice of museum, but Bergen once had Europe’s largest concentration of leprosy patients. Between 1850 and 1900, Bergen had three hospitals for leprosy patients, the last of whom died in 1946 after more than 50 years of residency.

The Leprosy Museum in Bergen
THARTMANNWIKI, CC BY 2.5 The Leprosy Museum in Bergen

The 500-year-old St. George’s Hospital is now an excellent museum and monument to the disease and its treatment, pioneered by the Norwegian physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen in Bergen.

5. Rosenkrantz Tower and Håkonshallen (King Håkon’s Hall)

Just along from Bryggen are the Renaissance-era Rosenkrantz Tower and Håkonshallen. The tower and grand hall were part of the residence of King Eirik Magnusson, the last Norwegian king to have his seat in Bergen until he died in 1299.

Exterior of King Håkon’s Hall
Dreamstime King Håkon’s Hall

The dim and narrow stairways open up onto the roof where there is an impressive view over the city, harbour and fortress. Håkonshallen oozes medieval grandeur and is still used for royal dinners and other official occasions.

6. Bergen Cathedral

St Olav’s Church (named after Olav the Holy, Norway’s patron saint) is over 900 years old and features stonemasonry carved by the same craftsman who decorated Westminster Abbey’s chapter house in London.

St Olav’s Church on a clear day
Dreamstime St Olav’s Church in Bergen

The similarities are clear to see. In the summer months from June to August, there are also free organ recitals on Sundays and Thursdays.

7. Grab a gourmet bite

You’re sure to have worked up an appetite and Bergen just happens to be a member of UNESCO’s City of Gastronomy network due to its long tradition of seafood and thus, has the country’s finest fish restaurants. 

Don’t leave without trying the old Bergen classic persetorsk: cod first marinated in salt and sugar before being pressed. The Fish Market, a meeting place for locals and visitors since 1276, is still running and nowadays abounds with fresh fish as well as meat, fruit and vegetables.

If you have time, we also recommend a meal at Pingvinen, a traditional pub serving excellent ales and filling homemade meals such as meatballs and fishcakes.

When to go to Bergen

Like most European cities, Bergen can be visited year-round. However, for the best weather, spring and summer (May to August) are the best times to visit. Norway’s weather is as bad as Britain’s so out of season you can expect the days to be cold and wet beneath dark skies. Be aware that during the winter months, the opening hours of museums and attractions may be restricted. Likewise, some mountain trails are not accessible during the winter.

How to get to Bergen

We flew directly from London to Bergen Flesland Airport via a budget airline. The Flybussen airport bus meets all incoming flights and waits outside the arrivals lounge. The journey takes around 30 minutes to the city centre.

As mentioned, Bergen is also a popular stop for cruises with ships regularly calling at the fjord-rich cities of Bergen, Tromsø, Trondheim and Ålesund. There are many cruise deals available.

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For more things to do in Norway get the Lonely Planet Guide to Norway.

Lead image: NAPA/Shutterstock

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