As the biggest city along the vast coastline of western Norway, Bergen is the perfect starting point for a Norwegian fjord road trip. But the historic city is one of Norway’s most popular cities for tourists and deserves much more than a quick stop on any itinerary.
While no Scandinavian city is a travel bargain, there are plenty things to do in Bergen that won’t break the bank. In particular, Bergen offers fantastic experiences for those who like walking, either free or the price of a public transit ticket.
Many tourists rushing through Bergen take a quick snap of the iconic Bryggen wharf buildings and move on. That’s a crying shame, for the narrow alleyways of this UNESCO World Heritage Site hide all manner of intriguing history.
For centuries, these colorful former trading houses were the driver of Bergen’s economy as a key part of the Hanseatic League.
Whereas Bergen’s success was built on trading Norwegian cod for grain, salt and textiles, today you’re more likely to find troll trinkets and postcards. However, hidden down the alleyways are much more interesting galleries, many filled with artwork from locals.
See a stave church
Many of visitors have no idea it’s possible to see an authentic Norwegian stave church in Bergen, as most of the remaining wooden churches are in hard-to-reach rural areas alongside a fjord.
A short ride from downtown Bergen on the light rail, Fantoft Stave Church was moved piece-by-piece from a fjord village to Fantoft to preserve it in the 19th century. Although the church was burned to the ground in 1992, it was rebuilt as close as possible to the original specifications.
Payment is required to enter the dimly-lit church, open during the summer, but it’s still worth taking the trip at any time of year to look at this wonderful example of stave architecture.
Walk up Mount Fløyen
A six-month maintenance project to the Fløibanen funicular railway forced many people to rediscover the joys of walking up Mount Fløyen. Now the funicular is back open, consider walking up the hairpin road that trails behind the lower station instead.
Along the way to what is known as Bergen’s playground you’ll pass through a leafy residential area and a World War II memorial before entering the gravel forest trail. Just before the top, stop off at the child-friendly troll forest, trollskogen.
Hike to Mount Ulriken
More keen hikers might like to take on one of the classic Bergen hikes. From the top of Mount Fløyen, it’s a 9.3-mile hike across open terrain to Mount Ulriken, from where you can take the cable car back down to the city.
You’ll need to allow at least five hours for the full journey, so don’t plan too much else on the same day.
Explore the fortress grounds
At the far end of Bryggen, the Bergenhus Fortress complex is a striking reminder of the city’s former capital city status. Originally home to a garrison with a royal residence and large banqueting hall, the fortress grounds are better known today as an outdoor concert venue.
There is an entrance fee for Håkons Hall and Rosenkrantz Tower, but it’s free to stroll the grounds and soak up the medieval atmosphere and the views across the harbor.
The 12th-century stone building has been damaged by fire multiple times but remains standing, albeit with a lot of restoration and modernization. Inside is fairly ordinary but there’s plenty of interest on the outside.
The stonework of the entrance hall was carved by the same people who worked on Westminster Abbey’s chapter house, while the cannonball still wedged in the outer wall serves as a constant reminder of the 1665 battle between the British and Dutch navies.
Freshen up with a dip in the fjord
Swimming might not be top of your agenda when visiting Scandinavia but many locals think nothing of jumping in a fjord to cool off on a sunny day.
The Sydnes Sjøbad seawater pool near the Hurtigruten ferry terminal is the most central spot while Sandviken Sjøbad is a short bus ride away. Nordnes is a popular facility close to the city aquarium, but entrance requires a fee.
Meanwhile, the lawn and beach at the Gamlehaugan royal residence’s English Park attracts sun-seekers and swimmers in equal measure when the sun shines.