As one of Norway’s most popular cruise ship ports, the starting point for the coastal voyage, one end of the famous Bergen railway and its reputation as the gateway to the fjords, Bergen attracts tourists for all sorts of reasons.
Bergen is the perfect starting point to explore the best of Norwegian nature, but visitors shouldn’t ignore the city itself. From a UNESCO World Heritage site at its heart to a stave church hidden in plain sight, here are 25 things to do in Bergen.
1. Properly explore Bryggen: Many visitors take a quick photo of the famous colorful warehouses and walk on by. They miss the fascinating alleyways between the buildings that open out into wooden courtyards and give a much greater insight into the Hanseatic Era neighborhood. Fully exploring Bryggen is one of the best free things to do in the city.
2. Bergenshus Fortress: Between the cruise ship port and Bryggen you’ll find the grounds of Bergenshus fortress. Originally a garrison with a tower acting as the royal residence and a large banqueting hall, the fortress grounds are better known today as an outdoor festival venue. A reminder of the city’s importance during the Middle Ages, Rosenkrantz Tower is one of Scandinavia’s best Renaissance-era monuments.
Explore the nature of Bergen
It may be Norway’s second biggest city but Bergen residents are still very much nature lovers. The city is surrounded by water and numerous peaks, with hiking and boat trips perennial favorites.
3. Ride the Fløibanen funicular railway: Recently renovated, Fløibanen takes visitors up to Mount Fløyen for one of the most famous views of Bergen in just a few minutes. It’s hard to take your eyes off the unforgettable view of the entire city, but it’s well worth exploring the surrounding area to visit the locals goats, playground, gift store, cafe and restaurant.
4. Hike from Mount Fløyen: For those with more time, do as the locals do and explore the sprawling forest along the network of trails that start at the top funicular station. An easy hike for families and a great choice for bird-watchers is the 1.5-hour signposted round-trip to the Fløyvarden cairn.
5. Visit the troll forest: If you don’t have time for a hike but still want to enjoy a nature experience, visit the troll forest (trollskogen) behind the cafe. Here you’ll find various troll sculptures amongst the trees that kids will love discovering.
6. Cable car: An alternative into the mountains comes via the cable car to Mount Ulriken. It’s less popular with tourists than Fløibanen because of its location outside the city center, but the views are even more stunning. To get there, take the direct but pricey bus provided by the cable car or use the newly-opened light rail line to Haukeland Hospital.
7. Beffen ferry: To get a different perspective on the city, head out on to the water. The historic Beffen ferry has operated for more than 120 years around the Bergen waterways. Stops include the Fish Market, Sandviken for the Fisheries museum and Old Bergen museum, and the Nordnes peninsula for the aquarium.
8. Rødne fjord cruise: If you’re not visiting the fjords during your visit to Norway, this year-round sightseeing cruise could be the ideal way to get a fjord fix. While the 3.5-hour roundtrip doesn’t visit the famous fjords, it does visit the wonderful nature of the Osterfjord and sails through the narrow Mostraumen straits.
9. Bergen aquarium: Back in the city, Bergen aquarium was founded to share knowledge about Norwegian marine fauna but today hosts all manner of exotic fish, reptiles and even penguins.
10. Bryggens museum: No tour of Bryggen is complete without a visit to Bryggens Museum to gain more insight into the area’s history. The permanent exhibition reveals the archaeological discoveries from the 1950s dig that saved the district, along with some World War II memorabilia and stories from Bergen’s time as Norway’s most important city during the Middle Ages.
11. KODE Bergen Art Museum: Lining the edge of the city’s lake Lille Lingegårdsvannet, the four buildings of Bergen’s Art Museum KODE make up one of Scandinavia’s largest such museums. Art history from around the world is on display including greats such as Picasso and Miró. Works from the Norwegian romantic era feature heavily throughout the museum, including the abstract fjord landscapes of Nikolai Astrup.
12. Leprosy museum: A former leprosy hospital is now a showcase for the treatment and scientific progress of this terrible disease, also known as Hansen’s disease. At one point, Bergen was the European center for research into the disease. Be sure to visit the small church adjacent to the hospital, where both patients and the general public attended services together, although sat in different areas.
13. University Museum of Bergen: Natural history comes under the spotlight with selected items on display from the university’s collection of more than two million specimens of animals, fungi, plants and minerals. While a little cramped, the museum garden is one of the best green spaces in the city.
14. Maritime museum: Archaeological discoveries from the 5th century sit alongside models of more well-known discoveries from the Oslofjord area at Bergen’s maritime museum. Shipbuildings techniques through the ages come into focus along with an exhibition looking at the Norwegian vessels involved in the Second World War.
15. Gamle Bergen museum: This open-air museum is worth a visit if you’re planning on taking a tour on the Beffen city ferry. Several of the buildings are open to visit including the former pharmacy, while actors play the roles of masters and servants throughout the day.
16. Bergen science center: Walk through Nygårdsparken park to unleash your inner child at the city’s science center. It’s aimed at children but there’s still plenty to interest adults. Highlights include the interactive energy zone, while kids can make their own weather report and learn about the ocean through wave machines and ship simulators.
Country estates of Bergen
One downside of Bergen’s status as a major cruise port is that it can get very hectic during the summer months.
17. Edvard Greig home: It’s hard to miss the legacy of Edvard Grieg in Bergen. The Norwegian composer is celebrated and remembered throughout the city but nowhere more so than at the Troldhaugen country estate. The composer’s former summer villa is now a museum that plays host to recitals.
18. Damsgård country house: This wonderful example of 18th-century wooden rococo is one of the finest in Europe. Built during a time when there was a trend among Bergen’s elite to build luxurious countryside retreats, the lavish home features wonderful gardens and a fully restored ballroom. Visiting the house requires joining a guided tour.
19. Gamlehaugen royal residence: A slice of Western Europe on the edge of Bergen, the city’s royal residence has a fairytale-like exterior and a contrasting Norwegian interior. Visiting the royal residence requires joining a guided tour.
20. Bergen cathedral: Despite suffering fire damage multiple times, the 12th-century stone cathedral remains standing. Much of interest of this spacious but otherwise ordinary church is outside. Locals use the steps as a meeting place, while the splendid stonemasonry of the entrance hall and the cannonball wedged in the exterior wall since 1665.
21. Fantoft stave church: A short ride from downtown Bergen on the light rail system, this remarkable wooden church was relocated piece-by-piece from a fjord village to Fantoft in the 19th century in order to preserve it. Although the church was burned to the ground in 1992, it was rebuilt as close as possible to the original specifications.
22. St. Mary’s church: Bergen’s oldest building is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. Easy to visit just behind the end of Bryggen, the church is worth a look for its unique rococo-style pulpit and paintings.
23. St John’s church: The 19th-century neo-Gothic St John’s Church (Johanneskirken) is easy to spot from the pedestrian-only part of downtown Bergen thanks to its tall steeple and hilltop location.
24. Christmas shop: Inside one of the former warehouse buildings of Bryggen you’ll find a year-round Christmas store, full of traditional Scandinavian festive decorations. No matter when you visit, a trip to Julehuset is a chance to add a Scandinavian touch to your next Christmas.
25. Marken: The boutiques and independent stores lining the cobbled street Marken makes it one of the more interesting shopping districts in the city. If you’re arriving by train, you’ll find the street beginning directly in front of the station entrance. Stop for a coffee at one of the cafes on the street itself or on nearby Kaigaten.