Bergen, or Bjørgvin, is a must-visit on any trip to Norway– for its temperate weather, laid-back college town vibe, and of course its Hanseatic Port area, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen.
Bergen is the 2nd-largest city in Norway, but it won’t feel this way to visitors– it’s a cozy and charming place, surrounded by seven mountains, the sea, and the breathtaking Sognefjord. Its ample options for urban hiking, delightful architecture, and esteemed place in world history make Bergen an ideal option for a winter weekend trip.
Winter, you say? In Norway? Believe us on this one, Bergen’s location is deceptive! Despite being quite far north, it doesn’t get nearly as cold as much of the rest of Norway during the winter. This is due to its fortuitous location on the peninsula of Bergenshalvøyen, which is highly affected by the Gulf Stream’s warming influences. You may even be able to go out and about in just a sweatshirt in January! However, the flip side of this is that the weather is extremely, extremely fickle– but more on that later…
Bergen Top 5:
- An old seat of the once-powerful Hanseatic League, the adorable building facades in the Bryggen wharf waterfront area date back to the 14th century, though many were rebuilt after a huge fire in 1702. These buildings are the biggest attraction in the city, and are worth visiting both during the day and at night.
- Hike or take the charming Fløibanen funicular up the Fløyen Mountain, the most popular of Bergen’s “7 mountains.” You will be rewarded with panoramic vistas of the city, but keep an eye on the weather.
- Visit the Bergen Fish Market, one of the most respected and popular fish markets in all of Norway.
- Explore more than 40 examples of traditional Norwegian architecture, primarily wood-based, at the open-air Old Bergen Museum.
- For some more history, check out the Bergenhus Fortress, a medieval fortress dating back to the 1200s, which served as the seat of Norwegian royalty back when Bergen was the capital of Norway.
We visited Bergen as the endpoint of our “DIY Norway in a Nutshell” tour, which we began in Oslo.
If you aren’t familiar with Norway in a Nutshell, it’s Norway’s most popular tourist attraction– a tour package that hits many of Norway’s most famous outdoor attractions in one day, sort of like Iceland’s Golden Circle day trip. The trip, done by a combination of transportation methods (trains, a bus, and a boat ride) includes a trip on the vintage Flåm Railway, or Flåmsbana, a boat excursion through the Nærøyfjord (a UNESCO World Heritage site) at sunset, and a bus ride on the famously anxiety-inducing Stalheimskleiva Road and its hairpin turns, among a few other things.
It is absolutely worth it to do Norway in a Nutshell. You will see breathtaking nature, enjoy what is said to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world on the Flåmsbana, and take a boat ride through one of the narrowest fjords in the area, giving you awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains.
However, we were pretty taken aback by how expensive it was when we were first planning our trip. To be clear, calling Norway in a Nutshell a “tour” is a bit of a misnomer– it’s actually a collection of tickets, assembled by the Norway in a Nutshell website or a tour operator like Viator. These tour packages can cost upwards of $360 USD (per person), and… all they really do is assemble the tickets for you, many of which even utilize Norway’s public transit system (for good reason, as their trains are fantastic, but we digress…)
In other words, this is not a guided tour– it is a package of tickets that they send you in advance of your trip. But the good news is… it’s really easy to decipher how to book each segment yourself, and we went ahead and wrote you a step-by-step guide about how to do so.
We wrote an extensive guide about how to book this guide yourself for Europe Backpacker Magazine, which you should absolutely check out for easy DIY instructions, rather than going through a tour company. A word to the wise… you’ll save almost half the price if you do it this way– it’s really worth it.
One last note– since we chose to visit in the winter, fares were lower than peak summer travel time. We also booked on a weekday, which further lowered our costs and made us eligible for the Norwegian train system’s “low-fare” budget deals. Our total trip cost about $180 USD. Again, be sure to check out our Europe Backpacker Magazine article for a really in-depth guide.
Norway in a Nutshell is a long and tiring day– perhaps not so much physically (as most of the day trip is done via various forms of public transportation), but by the time we arrived in Bergen we were pretty chilled and tired. We were fortunate enough to stay in one of the best Airbnbs we’ve ever stayed in, hosted by Christina, in the Nygård neighborhood, a short (less than 10-minute) walk from the Bergen central train station, near the university area. The area was central and convenient, but also very quiet and restful.
A note about the weather...
We may not need to say much more about this, because you can just see for yourself… these two photos of the Bryggen Wharf were taken less than 5 minutes apart.
The weather in Bergen is tremendously fickle. We say this not to complain (it was just as often fickle in a good way as fickle in a bad way!) but to warn you that if it’s sunny out, make a beeline to the top of Mt. Fløyen if you haven’t visited it yet. We really, really recommend hiking up the mountain, as it is breathtaking, but if it looks like the weather is going to turn, take the funicular– it only takes 8 minutes and you can hike up or down later on, even if it’s foggy. Bergen gets the most rainfall per year in all of Europe, and it definitely seems to come in bursts.
The first time we attempted Fløyen, we hiked up, and got a bit lost (well, very lost, actually.) As often happens, getting lost led to gorgeous photos and sights we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, and we had a great time exploring. However, by the time we reached the top of the mountain, it was snowing heavily and was so foggy you could scarcely see your hand in front of your face, much less the panoramic views that we’d come to see!
Luckily, we were able to go back the following morning, and woke up super early to make sure we got good weather– but our biggest piece of advice for Bergen is to orient your plans around going up Mt. Fløyen when it’s sunny– everything else can be rearranged. We scarcely made it the 2nd time before the fog rolled in, and thank goodness we woke up so early!
Your Winter Weekend Guide:
Bergen is eminently doable in a weekend, with a closely-connected city center and all sites walking distance from one another. The best thing to do in town is just walk around, enjoying the sculptures, cute houses, and inviting cafés, boutiques, and small museums to pop into, as well as taking advantage of Bergen’s 7 mountains for more exploring.
As we said above, make a beeline for the Fløibanen funicular or hike up Mt. Fløyen as a top priority if the weather is good. The views from top were spectacular, really rivaled only by Ålesund later in the trip, and it was so beautiful to hike up the mountain. As you can see in the photos above, the weather was already starting to get a bit foggy in the above photos, and by the time we got to the top, it was total pea soup.
However, on our second attempt, the views from the top looked more like this at first:
But very shortly thereafter looked like this again, so time that visit carefully!
After you’re done checking out the Fløyen viewpoint, you can continue to explore around the mountain, or you can head back down to the city center, either by funicular or by foot.
While in the city center, of course the top attraction is the Bryggen Wharf, the picturesque and colorful line of buildings on the waterfront dating back to the Hanseatic League, a merchant guild confederation which established an important regional center in Bergen in the 1300s. This put Bergen on world maps from an early period (interestingly, earlier than London!) and the League dominated trade in Northern Europe for over 300 years, until the mid-1400s. There is a fascinating Hanseatic League Museum housed in one of the buildings on the wharf which is well-worth a visit.
In total, there are 62 buildings dating back to Hanseatic times that have been lovingly preserved, and it’s such a treat to walk around and see them. Today, they house shops, restaurants, and even an old World War II-era hideout.
After you finish up at the Museum and exploring the Hanseatic-era houses, check out Bergen’s other architectural styles by walking around the city center! Bergen has some of the cutest architecture and narrow, cobbled streets we’ve seen, inherently photogenic and fun to explore.
If you’re feeling hungry by now, check out the nearby Bergen Fish Market for a bite to eat– you’ll enjoy the freshest catch in town here, and there’s a good mix of stalls and sit-down. We recommend the stalls, as the sit-down places are very pricey and often fancy, 3-course style menus. A yummy local treat to try is the fish meatballs, or fiskekaker.
In the evening, spend some time exploring the University of Bergen, one of Norway’s 10 public universities, and home to about 17,000 students.
On your second day in Bergen, sample some delicious coffee at one of the city’s numerous popular coffeeshops, such as Det Lille Kaffekompaniet (DLK), Blom, or the gorgeous Café Opera and its art gallery.
If you’re in the mood for a museum, check out one of the four KODE Museum sites in Bergen’s city center, home to more than 50,000 objects– from artwork (paintings, sculptures, etc.) to furniture and musical instruments and beyond.
In the afternoon, take a stroll around the reconstructed Fantoft Stave Church, a replica of the original church (designed in the traditional Norwegian stave architectural style) dating back to the 1100s, which was burned down in a case of suspected arson (!) in 1992.
From there, explore the (also wooden) buildings of the Bergen City Museum, a really neat peek into the past and a great way to keep exploring the city, and the Bergenhus Fortress, which dates back to the mid-1200s and was the seat of the royal palace while Bergen was the capital of Norway. Be sure to check out Hakon’s Hall and the Rosenkrantz Tower while you’re visiting, and spend time exploring around the various nature trails and walking areas nearby.
Bergen is a really special place– it’s cozy, it’s inviting, and you’ll feel right at home while you’re here. The weather, while temperamental, was quite balmy compared to the rest of Norway, and we really enjoyed getting a little break from the arctic temperatures we’d had in Oslo.
We loved exploring Bergen, and think it’s definitely a must-see on any trip to Norway. We hope you enjoyed our winter weekend guide to Bergen! As always, we’d love it if you’d let us know what you think in the comments.
From Bergen, we took an overnight boat ride on the Hurtigruten Ferry to Ålesund, an absolute delight of a city that looks like a music box with its Art Nouveau style– said to be “the most beautiful city in Norway.” Despite our limited knowledge, we’d have to agree for now– and we never thought anywhere else in Norway could beat Bergen!