Last Updated on December 1, 2023
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Updated for 2023
By Jim Ferri
When I first visited Bergen many years ago, I arrived in my camper after driving across the mountains from Oslo.
I found then that if you’re in Scandinavia, Bergen, Norway is well worth a visit since this coastal city has many things to do. And it doesn’t have to be terribly expensive – you can travel about Scandinavia on a budget without starving yourself. (When doing your travel budget, however, note that Norway uses the Krone and not the Euro as its currency).
This time, however, I took the quicker, more comfortable route, flying into Bergen airport from Stockholm. In nearby Flesland, Bergen airport is only 20-30 minutes by taxi or bus from Bergen. (See more information below.)
I also stayed in a hotel near the city’s famous harbor, not a campground. The hotel was the Augustine, near the harbor and quite comfortable. And on this trip, I dined in more restaurants in Bergen than on my maiden visit.
From both memory and basic research, I knew that there were many things to do in Bergen. And many of them are near the harbor, still the most famous area of Bergen. This area has played an essential role in the city’s history, beginning in the 13th century.
That was then when the city-states of Germany formed trading leagues, the most significant of which was the Hanseatic League. As a result, the Hanseatic became one of the most powerful economic forces in Northern Europe. In fact, many of its traders were drawn to “Bryggen” (present-day Bergen, Norway) because of its sheltered harbor.
Those iconic Hanseatic buildings still draw travelers to Bergen today. They are one of the great places to visit in Bergen.
Things to Do in Bergen, Norway
If you’re looking for things to do in Bergen, Norway, head first to the Hanseatic Wharf, the city’s most colorful and historical part. Through the centuries, it has been known as Bryggen and is one of the most famous places in Bergen and Norway. As you may have guessed, it gave the city its name.
The name goes back to when the Hanseatic League built it – and rebuilt it repeatedly after devastating fires. Its colorful gabled buildings along the wharf are an emblem of the city.
The old wooden buildings once housed the offices and living quarters of the men who worked here. Today, leaning so precipitously they look like they’re about to fall over, they’re still connected by old wood-plank alleyways. Today they’re home to dozens of shops, galleries, and restaurants and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Also, visit the adjacent Hanseatic Museum, a fascinating little museum, which was eye-opening. It provides insights into a period of history few of us know anything about. Only a few people were in it when I visited, but everyone was interested in everything in the place.
With my guide, I continue walking along the harbor to the Bergenhus Fortress. Inside it is the old Royal Residence and banquet hall built in the 13th century when Bergen was the capital of Norway. The fortress was built to protect the harbor and was used as recently as World War II. Nearby is an old German bunker wholly covered with ivy, with several others scattered about the city.
When we left the fortress, it was only a few minutes walk to the old Hanseatic Assembly Rooms, beautiful buildings behind the historic wharf buildings. Along the way, my guide wanted to show me a residential neighborhood. So she took me to Kroken Street, a charming, cobbled pedestrian lane lined with clapboard houses and large old trees.
We paused a few minutes, me wanting to learn more about the area, before crossing the street to the Schøtstuene. These are Hanseatic Assembly Rooms where hot meals were served in the winter. Unfortunately, they were kept separate from the historic wharf structures due to the constant fire danger.
Leaving the assembly rooms, we walked back through the alleyways of the old wharf buildings out onto the street along the harbor, where we turned left in the direction of the little town square at the end of the harbor.
On to Bergen Cathedral and the Funicular
We continued up Kong Oscars Gate heading towards Bergen Cathedral, wandering down little side streets along the way. They all seemed to come from another era, cobbled lanes lined with shops and restaurants with colorful signs poking out above their doorways.
When we reached the church, I understood why my guide wanted me to see it. Built in 1250, it is a simple, long-church design with a beautiful interior, including a series of portraits in the entranceway. What makes it unique, however, is the cannonball still in the exterior wall above the entrance since 1665.
I later walked over to the nearby Fløibanen funicular, which took me to the top of Fløyen, 1050 feet above sea level. The visual reward was terrific – a beautiful view of the city and its fjord far below. It is also where many Norwegians come to enjoy lunch in its restaurant.
A Clutch of Galleries
In addition to the Hanseatic, put on your list of things to do in Bergen seeing a few excellent museums. A clutch of galleries faces Lake Lille Lungegårdsvann, about a 15-minute walk away. Called Kode, they are numbered one through four. The tour guides like the numbering system since explaining each museum to tourists is easier. The galleries house international art treasures ranging from classical to contemporary.
I went into Kode 3, the Rasmus Meyers Collection, and found it very interesting, not so much because of my knowledge of art but because of the intimate way the museum is laid out. In some of its rooms, I felt like I was viewing an art collection in someone’s private home.
The converted mansion also contains works by renowned Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. (Another famous Norwegian, Edvard Grieg, the composer of Peer Gynt and other masterpieces, is honored at the Edvard Grieg Museum about a half-hour south of the city).
Fjord Tours From Bergen, Norway
Because of its location on Norway’s southwestern coast amid mountains and fjords, Bergen is an excellent place to set off on fjord tours.
One of the most popular activities in Bergen is fjord tours. And one of the best is the “Norway in a Nutshell” tour that takes you on a cruise on the Nærøyfjord followed by a ride on the world-famous Flåm Railway.
You depart from the railway station in Bergen and then connect with a bus that brings you to the ferry that sails up the fjord to Flam, a small village at the lower end of the Flam Railway.
You then take the train on an incredible 13-mile ride up the mountains through some of Norway’s wildest and most magnificent mountain scenery. In the end, you connect with the train back to Bergen or, as I did, the express to Oslo, a beautiful ride across the highest-altitude railway in Northern Europe.
It was a great trip, that may sound complicated, but it isn’t. It runs like clockwork. This should be it if you take only one fjord tour from Bergen. The trip takes about 10 hours, costs approximately $212, and is well worth it. The tour runs all year long.
Several boat tours of the fjords depart from Bergen year-round (prices vary).
Restaurants in Bergen
There are hundreds of restaurants in Bergen ranging from relatively reasonable to expensive. Among the latter is the 400-year-old Altona wine bar and restaurant in the Augustine Hotel, my lodging while in Bergen, Norway. It has over 1,000 wines, and since it has no wine list, the staff does its best to match you with the one you’ll enjoy. I dined there on my first night in Bergen, and the dinner and wine by the glass were excellent.
Another excellent and comfortable restaurant in Bergen is Bryggeloftet & Stuene (Bryggen 11, Bergen, near the harbor), which serves traditional Norwegian cuisine, including fish and meats. Its prices are moderate, the meals delicious, and its location good. Also, try to get a seat by a window.
Lower down the price scale among restaurants in Bergen is Söstrene Hagelin (Strandgaten 3, 5013 Bergen), a popular little café/restaurant known for its fish, fast food, and soups. Its sign touts it’s been serving “traditional Norwegian fast food since 1929.” A fish burger here is 75 kroner, about $10.
There is also a restaurant at the top of the funicular near the Hanseatic Wharf, which offers a lofty view of the city with prices to match.
The Fish Market
When planning what to do in Bergen, Norway, include the Fish Market. Set in the heart of the city on the harbor, it’s a lively place where you’ll find not only fish but also fruit, vegetables, and flowers for sale. It’s also probably one of the few places outside a museum where you’ll find a polar bear, albeit stuffed, standing at its full height. Of course, it’s also an excellent place to grab a bite, whether you want fish or a sandwich.
Walking around the market, past countless lobsters, Atlantic salmon, and every other imaginable denizen of the North Sea, I saw a sign for “Hvalkjøtt” with chunks of dark smoked meat beneath it. Knowing that whaling is still practiced in Norway, I asked the woman behind the counter if it was whale.
She said yes, and when I asked what it tasted like, she told me very much like beef. She then cut a tiny sliver off and handed it to me.
It did taste much like salty beef with a slightly fishy taste and was, as is often said about many things, an acquired taste.
Just the same, I think I’ll stick with steak.
How to Get From the Airport To the City Center
There are several ways to get from Bergen Airport Flesland to Bergen city center. They include the Airport Bus Flybussen, the Bergen Light Rail (Bybanen in Norwegian), and taxis.
If you have a Bergen card, you travel for free on Bybanen and all Skyss buses, and you also get a 20 % discount on Flybussen. You can book the Bergen card online and pick it up at Flesland’s Service Center or at The Tourist Information in Bergen. Cost per person ranges from 380 Kroner (about $36) for 24 hours, to 620 Kroner (approximately $59) for 96 hours and are valid for one year. It also provides free entry to many museums, etc.
Bergen Light Rail Line 1 (Bybanen)
This is the cheapest way to get from the airport to the city center. The trip takes about 45 minutes from the airport to Bergen’s city center. The cost is only NOK 40 (approximately $4) for adults and NOK 20 for a child. If you have a Bergen Card, you can travel for free by the City Light Rail and all Skyss buses throughout Bergen and the region. The train departs from the airport terminal.
Airport bus (Flybussen)
A faster way to reach Bergen city center is by the Airport Bus (Flybussen in Norwegian). The trip usually takes 30 minutes. The bus costs NOK 149 (approximately $14) if you buy the tickets in advance online. If you purchase tickets on the bus, there is an additional NOK 30 surcharge. The bus makes several stops in the city center, including the Bryggen, which makes it the easiest way to get there by public transport. The bus boards just outside the Flesland arrival terminal.
Of course, the most direct way to get to your hotel is to take a taxi. A taxi from Bergen Airport to the city center costs around NOK 500 (approximately $48), although prices vary depending on the number of passengers and time of day. The taxis are parked just outside the arrival terminal.
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Bergen Tourist Board
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