Bergen is a historic yet hip city with easy access to nature, and was the last stop on our journey through Norway. We spent 3.5 days and 3 nights here, after a multi faceted trip from Gudvangen.
Bergen has an international airport and is also frequented by many of the Scandinavian cruises. We departed from the airport to London, however, we arrived by train through our Norway in a Nutshell package. Leaving Gudvangen, we traveled by bus to Voss and caught the train to Bergen. The bus ride was very scenic, and included a ride down the Stalheimskleiva road. It’s the steepest road in Norway, and among Europe’s steepest too. It twists down the mountain with 13 hairpin turns, often at a 20% grade. I don’t know how the buses make it! Peering out the window right over the side of the cliff, I did have some nice views, but the bus inched forward at each turn, taking up the entire road. Beware oncoming traffic!
Hotels, like everything in Norway, are pricey. I found a decent rate at Hotel Oleana and loved it! It’s a trendy, fun hotel with sexy photos in the hallways and glass showers that face out into the rooms. Some rooms also have small balconies overlooking the rose lined street below. Luckily, we had one of these. Staff were friendly and helpful, and they even brought us treats for our anniversary.
The hotel is easy walking distance to all the main sites in Bergen, and not far from the train station either. You can’t beat it for the price!
Things to Do
I highly recommend the Bergen Visitors Center. It’s a few steps from the Fish Market and is the most comprehensive visitor center I’ve seen. You’ll find plenty of entertainment, dining, adventure and general exploration options, and can book with their help. Depending on the sites you plan to visit, the Bergen Card might be a good option. It offers free or discounted museum entrances, transportation, and general sightseeing. Pay attention to the date restrictions, though, as there is variance based on the season. The card is available on a 24, 48 and 72 hour basis.
Otherwise, just get out there and explore! Here are some recommendations from our 3/4 day itinerary.
National Stage Bergen
The National Stage is right by Hotel Oleana and offers performances in the cooler months and tours during the summer season. During our July visit the small side theater, Lille Scene, was showing Norr, a Norwegian Viking themed breakdance show. It received quite a bit of acclaim and the hotel staff recommended it. We figured it would be a unique experience, and it sure was! Never thought I’d see Thor or Odin break dancing to electronic music!
If you do visit Lille Scene, the entrance is hidden off to the right side of the main theater door. We almost never found it!
Ok, yes, it is a bit of a tourist trap. There are high prices, but it’s worth the experience. Fresh seafood lies across ice or still swims in tanks, from the largest crabs I’ve ever seen (dog sized!), to strange monk fish and more. Many items can be cooked to order and then eaten by the stalls, or ordered fresh to take home. Outdoor stalls line the harbor, but there is also an indoor market hall that is open year round.
Eat Fresh Seafood
Just off the stall area is a line of expensive waterfront restaurants, many with fresh seafood counters too. We splurged and had lunch here one day to enjoy the ambiance. It was worth it! Hands down my best and most memorable meal in Norway, we sat outside and enjoyed elderberry cider. Now, I ordered a whale burger, but happy mistake they brought me a whale steak. It was absolutely delicious, quite unlike anything else I’ve had. Whale fishing is only legal in 3 countries- Norway, Iceland and Japan. It’s often been hotly contested, but is a prized right in Norway. They only use sustainable practices, restrict the number of whales per year, and follow guidelines. They aren’t Captain Ahab, nor are they hunting Free Willy. I admit I felt guilty at first, but wanted to try such a local specialty.
Probably the most iconic site from Bergen, the Bryggen is the city’s historic wharf district. The narrow, colorful buildings line the water, providing a network of tiny alleys, crooked stairways and narrow pass-throughs. The former realm of the Hanseatic League, the Bryggen dates to the 1300s. However, after numerous fires and rebuildings, the current structures are 18th century. Today, the buildings are filled with shops and a few restaurants.
The Hanseatic League Museum is here, in the former offices of the league. Daily tours provide historical insight and a depth to the buildings themselves. Even if you don’t have time to visit the museum, it’s worth learning a bit about the Hanseatic League, who ruled the northern European trade routes for centuries. As a history fan, I love to know just to know, but also so I understand the places I’m visiting- why I”m visiting beyond the fact they’re on TripAdvisor’s Top Ten.
The Theta Museum is also in the Bryggen, and a must for World War II fans. Sadly, they are only open Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, so I couldn’t visit. We just barely missed them, leaving at dawn on Saturday. The one room museum acted as the headquarters for the Theta Group, who were Norwegian Resistance fighters. They fought the Nazi regime bravely from 1940-1942, until the group was discovered. Some fled to England, others joined the Resistance beyond Bergen, and some were sent to concentration camps. Their stories are fascinating. When the museum opened, a few members assisted in recreating it as it was during the war. If you have a chance, don’t miss this gem.
The Fortress Trail is actually comprised of multiple buildings and sites. You can walk the grounds freely, but tickets are required to enter the buildings. With roots back to 1070, the site has served as royal residence, church headquarters and military center. In fact. while not an active base, there is still a military installation today.
Of all the sites, don’t miss Rosenkrantz Tower. It’s comprised of two towers joined together- one from 1270 and another in 1560. It’s the most medieval feeling area at Bergenhus Fortress.
Quite frankly, I”m not one to visit aquariums when I’m abroad. However, we were almost to the end of our trip and looking for some inexpensive entertainment. Ten days in Norway had left us feeling a bit poorer than when we arrived. Well, the aquarium isn’t much cheaper than any other tourist site, but we had walked all the way there and figured what the heck. It turns out, there is actually a ferry from the Fish Market to the aquarium, if that suits you better.
It’s a fairly small but nice aquarium. The penguin exhibit is fun and the Californian sea lion show is cute. I kept asking myself why I was sitting in Norway watching American sealife…
One of the must unique museums you’ll likely ever visit, the Leprosy Museum is housed in the former leprosy hospital. The site of a leper colony since the 15th century, the former hospital operated until 1946 when its last patients died. During the 19th century, the hospital was home to the largest contingent of lepers in Europe. Today, the museum pays tribute to the thousands of lives lost, and also recognizes the Norwegian scientific contribution to curing the disease. Some of the displays within the museum are graphic, so be forewarned if you’re faint of heart or with kids.
This was my favorite experience in Bergen! After leaving the fjords I was craving nature despite being in the heart of the city. Luckily, Bergen is a gateway to natural beauty!
Mt. Ulriken is the tallest of the mountain surrounding the city, and can be reached via a long hike, or a cable car. As of this writing, the cable car is closed until May 2021 for repairs, however, during our visit we were able to take it. There’s a shuttle service from near the Bergen wharf to the base of the mountain. The cable car is a fun and quick way to the top!
Upon arrival, you’ll find a restaurant, zipline and shop. Never fear, there are plenty of trails! The landscape it beautiful, dotted with sheep. Of course, you’ll have stunning views of Bergen and surrounding mountains. We had a lovely lunch at the restaurant, which also offers an upscale dinner experience, Ulriken by Night. If we had another night, I would definitely have gone back for it!
Quirky Side Streets
Be sure to explore Bergen beyond the major tourist sites. Spend some time wandering the back streets and you’ll discover some unusual and enchanting stops. The fantastical street art was unexpected!
Beyond that, we stumbled into the strangest shop I think I’ve ever visited. Call it a antique/junk/thrift store? This place had stuff stacked from floor to ceiling, with only a narrow path through it all. A staircase descends under the street, and emerges into the opposite storefront. I’ve never seen so much stuff in my life! Add to that, the strange old man running the shop yelled at everyone who entered “you break it, you buy it!’. It’s a wonder something, or someone, isn’t broken every day!