In August I visited Bergen as part of a fleeting six-day trip around Norway with a friend of mine. Considering the high cost of living in the country (and I’m from the UK, which isn’t a particularly cheap place to live), short breaks here are all I can afford unless I get a better paid job, or – even more unrealistically – win a large sum of money.
So, where exactly is Bergen?
Bergen is located on Norway’s southwestern coast, 466 kilometres west of Oslo. It’s surrounded by mountains and fjords (including Sognefjord, the country’s longest and deepest), which means that you never have to look very far to capture a scene worth photographing.
Although Bergen is Norway’s second largest city (with 280,216 inhabitants), it’s possible to walk uphill from the city centre and find yourself in the mountains in less than half an hour. Visiting Bergen feels like the best of both worlds: it’s a city that will appeal to those of you who don’t generally like cities.
Getting to Bergen
By air. Bergen’s international airport is located 17 kilometres southwest of the city, and can be reached either by airport bus (journey time approximately 30 minutes; price 115 NOK) or by Bergen Light Rail (journey time 40 minutes; price – a much more reasonable 37 NOK). SAS and Norwegian Airlines both operate flights in and out of Bergen. We flew from Manchester to Oslo and then back to Manchester from Bergen – both times with SAS. You can check flight availability and prices on Skyscanner.
By train. We arrived in Bergen by train from Oslo. The six-and-a-half journey is meant to be one of Norway’s greatest. We paid 849 NOK (£78.14) for our tickets, booked three months in advance.
By bus. We travelled by bus to Odda and back. The journey is a little complicated to book, as only two departures per day are actually direct (i.e you can stay on the bus for the entire journey), and the indirect ones are a lot more expensive, because they involve a boat trip on a passenger ferry across the fjords. At the ticket machine at Bergen’s Bus Station, choose the ticket that reads “via A – D + F + ferje Tor-Jon” for 137 NOK.
Things to know before visiting Bergen
- It rains here – a lot! Bergen is the indisputable European capital of rainfall, and is rumoured to be one of the wettest cities on earth. My online research suggests that it rains here on average between 240 and 265 days per year, so don’t leave your hotel or apartment without a waterproof jacket, waterproof boots or shoes, and an umbrella!
- The Tourist Information Centre, should you need it, is located down by the harbour near to the Fish Market. There’s a ticket system in place, so grab yours as soon as you walk through the door in order to avoid queuing longer than you have to.
Things to see and do in Bergen
Although we actually stayed in Bergen on two separate occasions, we only actually had the equivalent of just over 24 hours in which to explore the city. So, included in this post is a list of things you can see, do and eat in Bergen if you find yourself here with a similar amount of time at your disposal.
#1 Hike or catch the funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen
Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains, the most accessible of which is Mount Fløyen. It stands 399 metres above sea level, and you can reach the top (Fløyfjellet) either on foot or by taking a ride on the Fløibanen – an 850-metre-long electric cable funicular. Catch the funicular from the station at Vetrlidsallmenningen in Bergen city centre and you can be at the top in six minutes. Or alternatively, you can hike the route – which we did. It’s not a difficult climb if you’re in reasonably good shape, and there are plenty of look-out spots along the way (read: places to catch your breath).
Keep your eyes peeled for trolls in the woods as you near the top.
Google reckons it’s just under a 60-minute walk from the Tourist Information Office, but I’m sure we completed it in around 45 minutes. Mind you, it was raining at the time so our desire to take things slowly or to make stops on route was pretty much non-existent!
At the top you’ll be rewarded with views like these. A powerful visual reminder of exactly why you made the hike up in the pouring rain.
Or maybe you’ll be luckier than us and time your climb with one of the 100 days in the year when it doesn’t rain in Bergen.
Good to know: There’s a cafe close to this viewpoint where you can treat yourself to a congratulatory coffee and a cinnamon bun for making it to the top. Not that you need an excuse to eat cinnamon buns in Scandinavia, but it helps 😉
Cost: If you’re walking, it’s free; if you’re hopping on the funicular it’s 50/95 NOK (single/return)
#2 Soak up a slice of Bergen’s history in Bryggen
From the Norwegian word “brygge,” meaning “wharf,” Bryggen is a historic harbour district in Bergen that was established as a centre for trade in the 12th century. In 1350 the Hanseatic League (a powerful northern European trading confederation) set up one of its import and export offices in Bryggen, and subsequently acquired the remaining buildings in the area in order to grow their trading empire.
Despite being damaged by a number of fires through the centuries, Bryggen’s characteristic wooden houses have always been rebuilt, following old patterns and using traditional building techniques. As a result, the appearance of these buildings has changed very little – nine centuries later.
Nowadays some 62 buildings remain of this former townscape and Bergen was added to the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage sites in 1979.
Bryggen was a lot more touristy than I’d anticipated, but still an interesting part of Bergen’s history. I loved browsing all the little art galleries and shops selling traditional and unique crafts.
Cost: free (but you will be tempted to purchase some of the wonderful artwork)
#3 Try some fish cakes at Bergen’s Fish Market
Whilst the Fish Market is more of a tourist attraction rather than a true local market where Bergen residents actually shop, it’s definitely worth a quick look around. It’s entertaining to watch the fishermen/market vendors get the attention of passersby and drum in their trade, and the produce is all so beautifully laid out and photogenic.
What’s more, the fish cakes (at 15 NOK (£1.38) each) are surprisingly good value for money – and delicious.
Cost: free to browse, but I recommend parting with 15 NOK to sample one of the fishcakes.
#4 Visit one of the oldest fortresses in Norway
Containing buildings dating back as far as the 1240s, Bergenhus Fortress is one of the oldest and best preserved fortresses in Norway. In medieval times, the area of the present-day Bergenhus Fortress was known as Holmen (The islet), and contained the royal residence in Bergen, as well as a cathedral and several churches, the bishop’s residence, and a Dominican monastery. Nowadays just a medieval hall and a defensive tower remain.
It’s possible to climb the hill behind the fortress for some nice views of Bergen’s colourful houses stepped up the hillside, and down on to the city’s harbour.
Cost: free to wander the grounds, but you pay an admission fee to enter the museum.
#5 Photograph Bergen’s colourful wooden houses
We stumbled upon this ridiculously cute collection of wooden houses purely by accident when searching for street art down by the university. In an attempt to provide you with some useful information about where to find them, I spent about an hour on the internet this evening trying to play detective. And then I realised that one of the photographs I took actually has the street name on it!
However, you’ll also find scenes like these dotted all over the city. The Ladegården and Sandviken neighbourhoods (where much of Bergen’s Airbnb accommodation can be found) are also really pretty areas around which to have a wander.
#6 Find the oldest remaining building in Bergen
While you’re visiting one of Northern Europe’s oldest port cities, it seems a shame not to stop by the oldest building in it. St. Mary’s Church was built somewhere between 1130 and 1170 and has been in continuous use since early medieval times. It’s been renovated on several occasions, most recently in 2013.
Unfortunately photography is not permitted inside the church.
Cost: free to enter but if you want a guided tour it will cost you 75 NOK (£6.89).
#7 Head to Bergen’s largest church at the highest point in the city
In striking red-brick Gothic Revival style, and visible from almost anywhere in the city, St. John’s Church is a helpful landmark when you get a little lost or you need to find your way home at night. It’s also the largest church in Bergen, with 1250 seats inside.
It’s located in a lovely residential neighbourhood, only 300 metres from the apartment we stayed in when we first arrived in the city, and also only 300 metres (in the opposite direction) from our favourite Bergen restaurant (below).
#8 Enjoy a large plate of delicious (and cheap – for Norway!) pasta at Kafé Spesial
We stumbled upon this cosy little eatery when we were searching Trip Advisor for “cheap eats nearby” on our first evening in the city, and we loved it so much we returned when we arrived back in Bergen after our Trolltunga hike.
Its diminutive size and dimly-lit interior gives it a relaxed and intimate ambience that immediately makes you feel at home, and the staff will always do their best to squeeze you in somewhere, even when it’s packed – which, incidentally, it usually is.
There’s an extensive menu of tasty reasonably-priced food, including toasted ciabatta sandwiches from 46 NOK (£4.23), pizzas large enough to feed two from 67 NOK (£6.17) and large bowls of pasta from 60 NOK (£5.52). They also serve salads, hummus, Shakshouka, and a variety of meat and fish dishes. If you can afford to drink alcohol over here in Norway, there’s a large selection of craft beers to choose from, along with a long list of teas, coffees (including kopi luwak) and cold drinks.
If I ever come back to Bergen, Kafé Spesial is where I’m heading the moment my stomach reminds me it’s time to eat.
Cost: you decide! How hungry are you?
And that’s as much as we had time to squeeze into our equivalent of one full day (and two nights) in Bergen. If you have more time, you may want to add the following sights and activities to your itinerary:
- Hanseatic Museum. If you’d like to find out more about Bryggen and the Hanseatic League then this is the place to come. When we were in Bergen the museum was housed inside one of the city’s oldest building in Bryggen but the Visit Bergen website informs me now that it’s currently closed to enable restoration to take place, pending relocation to Schøtstuene. It’s due to open at its new location on 1 May 2019.
- Bergen street art. We did try to find some but got distracted by pretty wooden houses instead. However, the majority of Bergen’s street art can reportedly be found around the university or in the Skostredet neighbourhood. Exact locations are listed on the Bergen Street Art blog.
- Fisheries Museum. This museum is located in authentic wharfside warehouses on the Sjøflyhavnen harbour, approximately two kilometres north of central Bergen. It’s a fairly new museum, packed with information and interactive exhibitions about life along the coast and at sea, and the importance of sustainable fisheries in Norway. Adult ticket is 90 NOK.
- Ulriken Cable Car. Bergen’s highest mountain, Ulkriken, is accessible by cable car. If you’re feeling adventurous there’s a zipline up here, which is apparently the fastest in Norway. It transports you 300 metres down to Mount Fløyen for a cost of 390 NOK (£35.67). For the foodies among you, you can enjoy fish and other specialities at Sky:skraperen, while admiring what is probably the best view in the whole of Bergen. Ticket prices for the cable car are 115/175 NOK (single/return).
Accommodation in Bergen
We stayed in two different places in Bergen, one before we travelled to Odda (the jumping off point for those wishing to complete the Trolltunga hike) and one when we returned.
If you fancy staying in your own little apartment, complete with kitchenette and outdoor terrace, then this is probably one of the cheapest you’ll find in Norway. It’s located on the western side of the lake, close to the KOBE Art Museum, in a quiet part of town that’s just minutes from a variety of cafes, shops and restaurants. We stayed in the studio apartment with bunk beds, but there’s also a few available with double beds, too.
At 760 NOK (£70.69) our room at Marken Gjestehus was the cheapest we found in Norway. Yes, the rooms are pretty small (our twin beds were pushed together and there was just about enough room to walk either side) but this seemed to be par for the course for budget rooms in Norway, and it was perfectly adequate for our needs. Shared bathrooms here are clean and there are plenty of showers to choose from, and there are also laundry facilities and free luggage storage. It’s more like a hostel set up rather than a guesthouse, with a shared kitchen and communal lounge area. There’s a 20 NOK charge for towels.
You’ll find Marken Gjestehus on the northern side of the lake, just 300 metres from the bus and train stations.