Nestled in a mountain valley next to the sea, Bergen, Norway is an ideal jumping off point for those wishing to venture into the spectacular Norwegian fjords. But Bergen deserves a visit all its own! I spent four and a half days exploring the city’s charms and could easily have stayed a week. Museums, architecture, cafes, shopping, and killer views – Bergen has everything!
Your first stop in Bergen will undoubtedly want to be Bryygen, the city’s UNESCO-listed Old Town. In the Middle Ages, the Hanseatic League set up shop along the wharf, turning it into a prosperous center of trade that lasted for centuries. Bryygen’s brightly painted wooden buildings still stand, although they lean so precariously against one another a mountain troll could probably tip them over like dominoes.
The nearby Fish Market is a lively spot for a stroll and a quick meal. Simply choose the crustacean you want and have it grilled on the spot! Yes, it’s pricey, but when else are you going to eat freshly caught seafood in Norway? The market is also a good place to shop for fun souvenirs like moose sausage and tinned fish. You’re welcome, family!
Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains, making for some truly dramatic scenery. Mount Floyen is closest to the city center, and easily reached thanks to a funicular railway (Floibanen) that stops conveniently near Bryygen. We visited Bergen in June during a rare span of good weather (a local told us it rains 360 days a year), and fleeting rays of sunshine danced through cottony clouds over water as smooth as glass. I’d love to go back during a season when the sun actually sets to watch the sky turn a million shades of pink.
Mount Ulriken, Bergen’s highest point, is a popular hiking destination for locals and tourists alike. A vintage cable car whisks you to the top in minutes, some 643 meters above sea level. You can return the same way or paraglide down, if you dare. I recommend giving yourself several hours to hike around the extraordinary mountain terrain dotted with lakes and secluded cottages. Just know that if you take the tourist bus from the fish market, the last return from Ulriken is 5:30pm. We only found this out at 6pm when we showed up at the bus stop and were told we’d have to find another way to get back to town (i.e. walk to the main road and catch a local bus).
Art lovers should make a beeline for KODE, the Art Museums of Bergen. Comprised of four separate buildings in the heart of the city, the museum’s extensive collections could easily take a full day to admire. My favorite was the Rasmus Meyers Collection in KODE 3, the 18th century mansion of Dutch Consul Henrik Fasmer. Visitors can enjoy the historical details of the house before moving into brightly-lit rooms of contemporary Norwegian paintings. Edvard Munch is naturally the star.
Another point of interest in Bergen is Fantoft Stave Church. Although the original 12th century building burned down in 1991, an exact replica now stands in its place. You’ll need to take public transport to reach the church, but it’s worth the effort to see those fantastically carved eaves!
Of course, my favorite thing to do in Bergen was simply to wander its quaintly cobbled streets in search of pretty architecture and cozy cafes. I found both in spades, along with a surprising amount of street art. Bergen is a university town with a cool vibe in a historic setting. It’s the kind of place I could happily call home for a while.
All that sightseeing will work up quite an appetite (at least if you’re me). Thankfully, Bergen’s dining scene has you covered. Cafe Bastant is an excellent lunch spot near Bryygen, dishing up hearty bowls of soup and toasted cheese sandwiches. It’s the perfect way to chase away the chill!
Pingvinen serves traditional Norwegian fare (lamb sausage, grilled fish, lots of pickled things) in a fun brew pub setting. Be sure to sample some of the tasty craft beers, which pair well with the savory food. Pingvinen is incredibly popular so you might have to wait for a table at the bar.
To experience Norwegian fine dining, head to Lysverket and prepare to delight your senses. We opted for the 7-course tasting menu, which involved a lot of interaction with the waitstaff. Each dish was beautifully presented and elegantly prepared, from the artisan bread and butter to the homemade donuts with rhubarb chutney. It’s a culinary adventure I won’t soon forget!
How would YOU spend four days in Bergen, Norway? Tell me in the comments!