Before you head out to the fjords, spend some time exploring the dynamic city of Bergen. You’ll be glad you did.
For many travellers, the combination of an urban break with easy access to the fjords and hiking trails of the great Norwegian outdoors is a dream combination. The city is rich with culture and history. The spirit of famous composer Edvard Grieg is everywhere yet the city remains forward-looking with a busy calendar of contemporary festivals.
Top sights in Bergen
Bryggen – This strip of colourful trading buildings offer great photo opportunities and a chance to learn about Bergen’s Hanseatic past.
Today the street is home to shops, restaurants and cafes, perfect for a quick stroll at any time of day. Alternatively, spend a full day exploring the narrow alleyways between the buildings and dipping into the various museums and galleries.
The area’s best museums are the Hanseatic Museum, which gives insight into living conditions for the merchants’ apprentices, and Bryggen Museum, which reveals the discoveries from the 1950s dig that saved the district from demolition. More on these below.
Fløibanen – A funicular railway from the heart of the city to the top of Mount Fløyen, one of the many mountains that surround Bergen. A great place to start your exploration of the city, the view from the top of the funicular helps you get your bearings and truly appreciate the natural beauty of Bergen’s setting.
Head here early in the morning for the best views and the start of many hiking trails. A playground will keep the kids occupied, while adults can grab a hot coffee from the kiosk or something more substantial from the restaurant.
Bergen Art Museum – Lining the edge of the city lake are the four buildings of this immense art gallery. Some of Edvard Munch’s darkest works are on display in the Rasmus Meyer Collection, while the abstract landscape paintings of Nikolai Astrup have recently won international acclaim.
Although paintings dominate the collection, thousands of drawings, sculptures, videos and installations are spread throughout the museum, including more than 2,500 items from ancient China. Allow a full day to explore the full collection, or a couple of hours to just take in the highlights.
Hanseatic Museum – A former merchant’s house has been fully restored to its original condition to shed light on the tough lifestyle despite the wealth generated by the German traders. The same ticket also entitles you to enter the nearby Hanseatic Assembly Rooms.
Bryggen Museum – Dig into archaeological findings from this fascinating district of Bergen. Permanent exhibition includes findings from former digs, World War II memorabilia, and stories from when Bergen was the most important city in Norway.
Leprosy Museum – Also known as Hansen’s disease, leprosy was discovered in Bergen in the 19th century and the city quickly became the home of European research into the condition. This former hospital is now a monument to the thousands of personal tragedies, and an important centre for the dissemination of medical research in the Nordic region.
Other things to do in Bergen
Fish Market – Slightly overpriced but you’re paying for the terrific atmosphere of this bustling fish market. Buy fish to cook elsewhere or ask a trader to make you up a plate to enjoy on one of the many tables. The market is also a useful orientation point for the rest of the city’s attractions.
Bergen Aquarium – Penguins from the Falkland Islands, sea lions, sharks and tropical fish are some of the highlights at this aquarium at the far end of the Nordnes peninsular. There’s also an impressive range of tropical animals including snakes and lizards.
The centre is within walking distance of the Fish Market, but the passenger ferry from the Bradbenken pier is a popular option with families.
Attractions in the suburbs
Although there are many great sights in Bergen, keen travellers should look just a few miles south for some more good options.
Ulriken Cable Car – Soaring to more than 2,000 feet above sea level in just seven minutes, the Mount Ulriken Cable Car takes you twice as high as the Fløibanen funicular and is as popular with locals heading out on hikes as it is with tourists.
Whereas the funicular is perfect for a lofty view of central Bergen, the views from the cable car set the city in context with its stunning natural surroundings. Consider the weather before you go, as cloud and rain can obscure the views.
Fantoft Stave Church – Painstakingly moved from its original location in rural Sogn in 1883, the church was burned to the ground by arsonists in 1992. Five years later, the church was rebuilt as close as possible to its original specifications with the planks, columns, and supports dovetailed or pegged together rather than with glue or nails.