Norway’s second-largest city is renowned for its mountainous surroundings, with many of the most unique things to do here centred around its natural attractions.
Perched on the country’s southwestern coast, the beautiful Norwegian city of Bergen boasts an illustrious past, having been the nation’s capital for much of its history. Today it attracts large numbers of visitors every year, drawn here by its outstanding natural scenery, colourful wooden houses, and vibrant cultural scene. Here are 10 of its most unique attractions.
Visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site
No visit to Bergen is complete without an amble around Bryggen, the old Hanseatic wharf dating back to the Middle Ages. Perhaps the city’s most distinctive landmark, the UNESCO World Heritage site is lined with achingly pretty wooden structures painted with kaleidoscopic facades that lend the area oodles of character and charm. As well as its picturesque buildings, there’s also a small museum, shops, restaurants and a café to enjoy. And if you’d like to explore the area in the company of a knowledgeable guide, there are organised walking tours available too.
Ascend a mountain by funicular railway
Known as the city of seven mountains, Bergen offers numerous opportunities to rise high above the urban landscape and soak up elevated views down below. The most accessible of these mountains is Fløyen, whose summit can be reached from the city centre by the Fløibanen funicular railway in less than 10 minutes. Once at the peak, you’re free to take in the scenery at your leisure, before catching the railway back down again, or enjoying a relatively easy walk down the mountainside. Alternatively, more intrepid types can keep hiking further into the mountain, or even hire a mountain bike.
Take a wander around an open-air museum
It’s often been described as an ‘open-air museum’ – and it only takes a moment peering around the district of Gamle Bergen to see why. Living history in its truest form, the area is awash with picture-perfect vistas every which way you turn, all brought to life by actors decked out in costumes putting on a regular theatrical performances.. There are some 55 wooden houses here dating back to various times in history, each helping to give the area a truly unique look and feel.
Check out a world class cultural venue
Comprising a total of eight self-contained museum buildings dotted in and around the city, Museum Vest offers a veritable feast of information and exhibits that together tell the story of life along the coast and at sea down the ages. Whether it’s Norway’s maritime history, its fishing industry, or its times of tumultuous war and occupation, the museums – all dedicated to their own topics and themes – offer visitors the chance to get up close and personal with the stories, the people and the places that have shaped the city of Bergen and the nation as a whole.
Venues across Bergen
Featuring a wide assortment of material related to anthropology, archaeology, botany, geology, zoology, art, and cultural history, the University Museum of Bergen is one of the city’s most prestigious cultural institutions. Housed in a magnificent building, among the museum’s stand-out displays is one of the world’s largest collections of whale skeletons. There are also delightful museum gardens and grounds that can be explored at your leisure.
University of Bergen, Haakon Sheteligs plass 10 / Tues-Sat 10am-4pm Sun 11am-5pm Closed Mon
Marvel at an array of incredible marine life
An ideal attraction for a rainy day, Bergen Aquarium is packed full of weird and wonderful marine animals. Among them are a number of species that live along the Norwegian coast, as well as several hailing from further afield, including the tropical rainforest, the great seas and the Arctic regions. Visitors have the chance to get up close and personal with sea lions, otters, penguins and plenty more, as well as taking part in hands-on feeding sessions.
Nordnesbakken 4, 5005 / Mon-Sun 9am-6pm
See the best of Bergen’s seafood industry
There are few better ways of getting under the skin of a city than by exploring one of its public markets. Situated on the main harbour, Bergen Fish Market is a bustling temple of commerce that revolves around the city’s famous seafood industry. Even if you’re not planning to buy any of the fresh produce on display, it’s still a great place to wander around, simply for the atmosphere. And if you do fancy taking some freshly caught shrimp, whale meat, or any number of other marine-based delicacies away with you, all the better.
Torget 5, 5014 / Tues-Thurs 11am-6pm Fri-Sat 9am-10pm Sun-Mon Closed
Admire the magical fjords by boat
With more than 1,000 scattered around the country, the fjords are without doubt the jewels in Norway’s crown. “Top The Fjords” is a family owned travel operator based in Bergen and is committed to redefining what the world perceives as luxury by focusing on great outdoor activities and adventures. As locals, they aim to give their visitors the possibility to escape into the “unknown” and to experience unique and “ungoogleable” places not accessible for every traveller; meeting fascinating locals, getting insider access and simply immersing in different locally based cultures. One of their highlight trips finds place just outside Bergen and is a true adventure – especially for those who are up for a stunning fjord cruise in combination with an out of the ordinary hands-on dining experience.
Tour the official residence of the Norwegian Royal Family
There aren’t many occupied royal residences that can be visited by the public, but one such place can be found in the outskirts of Bergen. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the stately Gamlehaugen mansion is the official holiday residence of the Norwegian Royal Family and is open to the public as a museum, where its thoughtfully preserved interiors offer a flavour of how the nation’s regal elite lived all those centuries ago. Tours of the Scottish baronial-style mansion also include a look around its stables, boat house, greenhouse and potato cellar, while the surrounding park is ideal for kicking back and relaxing afterwards on a sunny day.
Gamlehaugvegen 10, 5230 Paradis
Catch a captivating glimpse of the Northern Lights
While the north of Norway offers by far the best chance to see the incredible ballet of light dancing across the night sky known as the Northern Lights, it’s not entirely uncommon to catch sight of them from the country’s more southern spots too – including Bergen. Nestled on the shores of a fjord, the light pollution isn’t too bad here either, enhancing your chances of spotting the famous aurora borealis from various vantage points across the city.
Attend an acclaimed music festival
One of Norway’s oldest and most well established music festivals, Bergenfest has gained an international reputation over the past 25 years for its diverse line-up of performers. Hels in the scenic surroundings of the Bergenhus Fortress, the four-day event offers best of Norwegian and global music from diverse mix of genres, including rock, R&B, hip-hop, world music and more. Notable names to have appeared down the years include Lana Del Rey, Patti Smith, Queens of the Stone Age, Nick Cave, Ellie Goulding, Pet Shop Boys, and Liam Gallagher.
Bergenhus Fortress / 15-19 June 2021
Watch a local football match
Norway may not have much of a football heritage, but its club sides are keenly supported and in Bergen the local team is SK Brann, who draw a modest but passionate crowd for their home fixtures at Brann Stadion. Unlike more prestigious European clubs, tickets are relatively easy to come by, meaning you can rock up on the day of a game and be certain to gain entry. Fixtures are normally scheduled well in advance and can be found easily online.
Brann Stadion, Kniksens Plass 1
Explore an iconic composer’s former home
Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of classical music is likely to be familiar with the name Edvard Grieg. Perhaps Bergen’s most famous son, the legendary late composer and pianist once lived in Troldhaugen, a large villa overlooking Nordås Lake. Today the home is part of the KODE cultural collection and has been turned into a museum that’s open to visitors who are able to explore its preserved interior, as well as the hut where he composed much of his music, and his final resting place, located in the grounds of the property, where he is buried alongside his wife.
Troldhaugvegen 65 / Thurs-Sun 10am-4pm Closed Mon-Weds
Soak up the rays at Bergen’s largest urban park
Just a short hop from the hubbub of central Bergen, the vast green expanse of Nygårdsparken public park is a comparative haven of tranquility. The park has undergone a major uplift in recent times after year of neglect and offers respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, as well as a natural meeting point for locals, whether it’s for relaxing walks, balls games, picnics, or feeding the pigeons. Among its many features are a large pond, playgrounds, flower beds, and an amphitheatre.
5006 Bergen / Open 24/7