Characterized by an intriguing blend of small, older, colorful wooden houses and more modern steel and glass structurescentral Bergen is both architecturally interesting and picturesque. However, surrounded by mountains and fjords, Bergen has something for nature lovers and fans of the great outdoors, too. The city offers stunning panoramic views and scenic hiking trails.

As the second-largest city in the Scandinavian state, Bergen might have a small-town feel, but it has big things to offer visitors. It almost begs to be explored as it is nestled under not five, not six, but seven mountains!

A brief history of Bergen

aerial view of cliffside buildings in a fjord at bergen city

Founded in 1070 CE by the king of Norway and named Bjorgvin – the green meadow among the mountains – Bergen was considered to be the capital of Norway until the 1830s when it was superseded by Oslo. A number of destructive fires destroyed a lot of the original buildings from the Middle Ages, but remnants of the city’s ancient layout remain. Of note are the many wide streets or open spaces, known as allmenning, or common land, that run perpendicular to the inner harbor of Vagen.

raining at Torgallmenningen Main Square in bergen

The center of Bergen today is where the city first emerged during the Middle Ages, and Torgallmenningen – the main street and square  – is not open to cars. A popular meeting place for locals and visitors alike, it boasts a wide selection of shops and restaurants. 

Bergen is now a sprawling city with some charming and diverse neighborhoods:

  • Sentrum (the center) 
  • Fjellsiden 
  • Sandviken 
  • Nordnes
  • Solheimsviken
  • Nygardshoyden
  • Mohlenpris
  • Damsgard/frydenbo/gyldenpris 

How to get to Bergen

Flying to Bergen

aerial plane view above bergen city in norway

There are many direct flights to Bergen from Europe, and you can also arrive by ferry or cruise, by train from Oslo or Flam, or by car along the scenic fjords and coast to Bergen.

With a ferry connection to and from the continent, Fjord Line sails to Denmark and the ferry docks are within easy walking distance of the city center.

Getting around Bergen

people walking down a street in bergen norway

As with most public transport options throughout Norway, buses in Bergen are efficient, reliable and clean. With a Bergen Card, you can avail free public transportation and save money if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing.

Taxis are terrifyingly expensive, so if you don’t have your own car, you should use public transport, explore on foot or by bicycle.

Things to see and do in Bergen

small boats in bergen city in summer

UNESCO Heritage Site, Bryggen Harbour, is a wonderful example of the trade heritage that used to exist in Bergen in the Middle Ages. You can see pretty wooden houses of all colors standing next to moored boats now functioning as charming cafes, interesting museums and shops.

You can also explore Bergen’s ancient fish market, where people have been buying fresh fish since as far back as 1276. Nowadays, vegetables, fruit and souvenirs can be bought here, too. If you do visit, you should take a stroll down the cobbled streets between the wooden houses.

variety of seafood at a norwegian market in bergen

Street art is popular in Bergen and you can see some fine examples on many of the city’s streets.

A great place to begin your tour of Bergen is the Skostredet shopping street. If you take an audio tour, you can walk around the city at your leisure and learn more about its rich and fascinating ancient and modern history.

As rainclouds are never far away in Bergen, museums are a popular pastime for many visitors. Fortunately, there are some excellent ones such as the open-air museum of Old Bergen. It is a reconstructed village comprised of 50 wooden houses from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. There is also KODE, one of Scandinavia’s largest and most vibrant art, music and design museums.

Telling the fascinating but grim tale of disease in Bergen’s dark past, the Leprosy Museum gives an incredible insight into the lives of Bergen’s largest concentration of leprosy sufferers in all of Europe, toward the end of the 19th century.

Touring Edvard Grieg’s house is a must for classical music lovers. If you’re lucky, you may even time it right to catch a concert.

If you purchase a Bergen Card, you can get discounted entrance to various tourist attractions and can travel for free on the city’s buses and trams.

Food and drink in Bergen

local seafood sandwiches in bergen at a market

There’s no denying that food and drink is a costly affair in Bergen, and this is usually because most produce is imported. However, with its focus on organic and sustainable seafood, you can sample some deliciously innovative cuisine and revel in Bergen’s UNESCO City of Creative Gastronomy status. 

Fresh seafood, fish soups, fish cakes, codfish or persetorsk are especially delicious, but if you’re not a seafood fan, its many top-class restaurants have dishes for all tastes and you’ll never go empty bellied in Bergen!

If you’re looking for somewhere to wash all the seafood down, why not stop off at the Magic Ice Bar, where the temperature never rises above zero! This trendy bar has several large ice sculptures, one of which represents “The Scream” painting by Edvard Munch. When you buy a ticket online to visit, you get a bundle of goodies to make your experience more pleasurable: winter gloves, a winter poncho and a welcome drink.

Staying in Bergen

bergen city street view in spring in norway

Just like food and drink in Bergen, accommodation can be pricey and the prices rarely alter throughout the year. However, more budget-friendly places do exist, but you’d be advised to book in advance to avoid disappointment. A hostel or Airbnb apartment is a good option if you want to buy and cook your own food to save money. The following hostels are good, clean and comfortable options: 

  • HI Bergen Hostel Montana 
  • Bergen Budget Hostel 
  • Marken Gjesthus Hostel 

Ever thought of camping while in Bergen? How about taking it up a notch with wild camping! Totally legal and best of all, totally free, Norway has “freedom to roam” laws called Allemannsretten which allow anyone to camp anywhere for one night, provided it’s not on cultivated land, close to someone’s property (including a farmer’s field or garden), and that you take all trash away with you when you leave.

cablecar for sightseeing above bergen city

For a less wild experience, campgrounds with excellent facilities are aplenty in the area. But you’ll need a Camping Key Europe card to stay at most, and this can be bought at the campsite itself or online.

Bergen and its myriad mountains have much to offer the visitor. As with any tourist destination in Norway, be prepared for the somewhat steep prices and book your accommodation in advance, especially in peak seasons. You’re bound to have a wonderful time in Norway’s ancient trading capital. Oh, and don’t forget your umbrella!