Flying in to Bergen was quite the revelation. I didn’t know what to expect, but the sight of thousands of little islands or skerries dotting the fjords below was nothing short of breathtaking.
The city is of course the gateway to the fjords and the scenery I just described is what draws thousands of visitors a year but you might be wondering .. are there magical things to do in Bergen itself?
Norway’s second largest city is picturesque not only for the fjords but for its position nestled among seven mountains.
Bergen’s traditional name was Bjørgvin meaning “the green meadow among the mountains”.
Don’t you wish we named places like this more often?
An important maritime trading city, Bergen was once Norway’s capital, built on the back of a thriving salted codfish market.
The city’s unique character and painted wooden houses are the legacy of the Hanseatic League – a collective of German merchants who settled in the city and dominated trade for centuries.
Stroll around Bryggen
The most enduring sight of Bergen is its picturesque harbour and World Heritage Site Bryggen. Colourful wooden houses line the harbour, reflecting in the water with the mountains rising high in the background.
Take a walk around the cobbled streets of Bryggen and soak up the atmosphere. On a sunny day people sit outside restaurants and cafes relaxing and chatting over a beer or skillingsbolle (cinnamon bun).
Venture away from the harbour and the streets narrow and become a little more mysterious. I loved the cherry blossom strewn cobbles of Kroken near the 12th century Mariakirken (St Mary’s Church).
Keep an eye out for the local street art. Bergen has a thriving street art scene inspired by a visit by cult hero Banksy in 2000. Unfortunately, Banksy’s art is long since gone but you can see pieces by many other artists around the city.
Bergen fish market – Fisketorget
Bergen is famous for fishing so head for the fish market – Fisketorget – in the heart of Bryggen. There are actually two fish markets – a bustling outdoor market and its more refined indoor counterpart. Both have stalls for buying fresh and smoked fish and restaurants where you can try local dishes including Bergensk fiskesuppe (fish soup).
Browse the endless varieties of smoked fish, the freshest seafood and tanks full of the biggest crabs I have ever seen. Tasting is encouraged though I had to stop at whale – insert sad face here.
The fish market has seasonal opening times – more information
Towards the mouth of the harbour, one of the oldest castles in Norway stands guard over Bryggen. Bergenhus Fortress is a medieval fortress built in the 13th century. Now a series of museums and gardens it is a peaceful spot to simply wander also.
Enjoy the views back over the harbour from the castle walls and Rosenkrantz Tower. And wander the grounds and discover 750 year old Haakon’s Hall and the Bergen City Museum
Head to the mountains for stunning views
Just up the hill from the harbour, it is a short walk to the Fløibanen funicular terminal that takes you up to Mount Fløyen. Minutes later you are gazing down on Bergen, the fjords and boats flitting in and out of the harbour.
Take a break here and enjoy the spectacular views. Afterwards go for a walk through the nearby woods and build up an appetite for one of those cinnamon buns I mentioned. There is a cafe, terrace and gift shop at the funicular entrance.
The funicular runs 07:30 AM to 23:00 PM on weekdays, from 08:00 AM to 23:00 PM on weekends with departures every 15 minutes between 10:00 AM and 19:00PM. Ticket prices and more information
Tip – pre-book your tickets to avoid the queues which can be long especially when a cruise ship has arrived in town.
Meet some friendly trolls
High up on the mountain behind the lookout at Fløibanen there is a wonderful park full of friendly trolls. Take a stroll around the paths and look out for wooden trolls and witches. There is also an amazing playground with sections suitable for children of all ages.
See the fjords
When in Bergen.. it would almost be a crime not to take a trip out on the fjords. I wrote about the many ways you can see the fjords in this area but if you are looking for a day trip option then this is my suggestion.
Half day Mostraumen fjord cruise
The three-hour cruise from Bergen to Mostraumen is perfect if you have limited time. Heading northeast from Bergen, the cruise takes you on the Osterfjorden past waterfalls, mountains and countless huts painted Scandinavian red in perfect contrast to the landscape.
The Osterfjorden fjord tour vessel is a comfortable modern catamaran and leaves from the Zachariasbryggen pier outside the fish market on Bryggen Harbour at 10:00 am and 14:00 pm daily with another sailing at 18:00 pm in July and August. Adult price NOK 550 – more information.
You can find out more about cruising the fjords at the Bergen Tourist Information Centre which is found on top of the fish market.
For a rainy day – activities and museums in Bergen
I think it rained for about half an hour during our three days in Bergen and I’m told that’s quite unusual. Bergen is well known as one of the rainiest cities on the planet. Should you not be so lucky there are plenty of options for wet weather activities in Bergen.
We visited the small aquarium which has interactive displays and tanks exploring the sea life of the fjords and beyond. This attraction suits small children the best and if you are expecting a large modern facility you might be disappointed.
Having said that, Bergen is a well renowned centre for marine research and there is a strong emphasis on conservation. The exhibits are hands on and interactive and we spent a couple of hours there learning about sea life.
You can walk around Bryggen to get there or take the little wooden museum ferry boat from outside the fish market across the harbour.
The aquarium has variable opening times and prices depending on the season. Check opening times and ticket prices
Norwegian Fisheries Museum – Museum Vest
The fishing industry is so important to Bergen that there is a new museum dedicated to it. The Norwegian Fisheries Museum explores life along the coast and at sea.
Housed in a former cod processing factory there are many interactive displays including a video presentation exploring the lives of three generations of fishermen. You can even hire row boats and kayaks at the museum for a fun day on the water.
The museum is a short bus ride from Bryggen. Or, from mid May to mid September, you can take a special ferry boat from Bryggen to get there. More information
Museums we missed but were on my list!
Hanseatic Museum – explores the legacy of the Hanseatic League of merchants from Germany who transformed Bergen
Fantoft Stave Church – reconstruction of a 12th century traditional stave church
Troldhaugen Grieg Museum – celebrates the life and music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg
Where to eat in Bergen
If you enjoy fish, cheese, cinnamon buns and hot dogs then Bergen is the place for you. The abundance of fresh fish and happy cows makes for delicious eating.
Fast food in Norway means hot dogs or pølse. Everyone’s favourite place for pølse in Bergen is Trekroneren – the little red kiosk at Kong Oscars gate 1, just a few steps from the harbour. There are many different flavours of sausage and hundreds of topping combinations. You can even try reindeer sausage. I did not – with respect to Rudolph.
As I mentioned earlier, cinnamon buns are a thing in Norway and Scandinavia in general. At Baker Brun (Bryggen 47) they make mouthwatering skillingsbolle and other baked goods perfect for a post sightseeing afternoon snack.
For dinner the fish dishes at Bryggeloftet & Stuene were some of the best I’ve tasted. Well, I only managed about a third of these mussels as my kids thought they were delicious and polished most of them off. The historic harbourside restaurant does a creamy Bergensk fiskesuppe (fish soup) with shrimp and fish dumplings that is the perfect way to warm up on a brisk Bergen evening.
I’m really a picturesque seaside town tragic so it was no surprise I fell for this city with its shimmering harbour and cute wooden buildings. More than the gateway to the fjords, there is such a wide range of things to do in Bergen that I recommend visiting for a few days. Crossing fingers you enjoy some sun as we did.
Special thanks to Visit Bergen for providing us with complimentary Bergen Cards to help us explore the city. All opinions are my own.
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