Bergen

On many itineraries, Bergen may feature as the base/gateway to seeing Western Norwegian fjords plus an intraday stop to see the famous Hanseatic wharf.

Bryggen

In fact, the city is much more than that.

The wharf, Bryggen ♥♥♥, is definitely the foremost sight in Bergen, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is picturesque and unique, with a fascinating history. Nowadays, most of its buildings house shops and galleries, which are interesting to peruse in their own right. But if you are here only for its historic value, you can immerse yourself for a few hours, including visits to the outstanding Hanseatic Museum ♥♥, which provides a wealth of information on the history of the trading league and the lifestyle of traders (join a guided tour or explore on your own), an interesting “heat house” ♥ (Schøtstuene in Norwegian), which helps fill some of the gaps, as well as another entity called Bryggen Museum. The ticket to Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene is one and the same; it is excluded from Bergen Pass, but worth the extra expense.

At the central juncture of the wharf is a bustling fish market ♥♥ which stays open until 11 pm in the summer. You can have a full-blown lunch or snack here, or simply browse and taste various foods (not just seafood).

Beyond the wharf, the town center is very vibrant and attractive. If you have an opportunity, go on a walking tour ♥ of the town. Several companies offer them, from private tours to large groups.

On the main pedestrian square of the city, Torgallmenningen ♥, there is an interesting Sailors Monument and Fountain which traces the Norwegian maritime history. Throughout the town, there are a few other worthy monuments at different squares.

Rosencrantz Tower ♥ has several levels of mostly unfurnished spaces, some spiced up with medieval weapons, others with assorted historic expositions. The views from the top are quite nice. The tower is part of the complex of Bergenhus Castle and probably the only component that merits more than an exterior look.

Church of Saint Mary ♥♥ has been refurbished and reopened as recently as 2014. It boasts a uniquely decorated pulpit and nice vaulted ceilings – definitely worth a look. Photography is not permitted inside.

Fantoft Stave Church ♥♥ is another church that merits visiting, although its remote setting means a time allocation of at least an hour and a half. The stave church architecture is fairly unique and rarely seen (although some imitations exist even in North America). It is a small but remarkable structure. There is not really any information about it onsite, the curators at the gate did not strike me as awfully knowledgeable, so read up on it ahead of the visit. To get to the church you need to take the light railway from Byparken to Fantoft (11 stops, approximately 20 minutes) and then walk for about 10 more minutes.

Fløibanen ♥♥♥ is one of the top attractions in Bergen – an unusually long (about 10 minutes) funicular ride with intermediate stops that brings you to the top of Mount Fløyen ♥♥♥. The views from the top lookout area are spectacular, especially at sunset. The angle is wrong for seeing Bryggen buildings, but the rest of Bergen is perfectly in front of your eyes. There is also a large children’s playground, a park with many trails and some fun wooden sculptures, as well as a full-service restaurant.

A couple of other museums worth consideration in Bergen are Troldhaugen Edvard Grieg Museum and KODE Art Museums.

Practicalities

We used Bergen Pass while in town, which is easily a great deal. In our case, three museums, two tram rides, and 50% off funicular round-trip would amount to around NOK 280 per person, while the 24-hr card set us back NOK 200 per. And we only used the card in the afternoon, after completing our morning walking tour. In the course of the full day, we could have included one or two more museums. Keep in mind that the Hanseatic Museum is not included in the Pass.

Dining

As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Bergen. Worthy of a specific recommendation is Pingvinen (on Vaskerelven), a trendy gastro-pub with big portions.

Bergen Railway

It takes shy of 7 hours to get from Oslo Central Station to Bergen Central Station via Bergen Railway ♥♥. What you lose in time compared to air travel you compensate in terms of hassle-free embarkation and disembarkation experience, ease of access to the points of departure and arrival, and, of course, the scenery. This is one of the most scenic train rides in Europe.

The train is speedy enough, reaching a couple of hundred kilometers an hour at some stretches, but it makes quite a few stops, especially close to Oslo. Buying tickets well in advance is essential, with Komfort Class highly recommended. As the name suggests, the coach is comfortable, with reclining seats and extra legroom. There is a free-of-charge coffee machine in the middle of the car. The train also has a full-service café in the middle car, as well as a small children’s playground that was located in a car next to Komfort.

The highest elevation en route is 1222 meters, going through snowy mountains. Many scenic lakes and fjords appear along the way. Better scenery on average is on the left side (Bergen-bound) until about the last 45 minutes of the trip, when the majority of fjord scenery will be on the right. Nonetheless, either side will have something spectacular.

The biggest downside is the absence of Wi-Fi (as of 2015). You can catch a free signal at stations near Oslo, but it’s fleeting and unreliable.

The other downside is timeliness. Large portions of the way are on a single track, serving both directions. There are pockets – mainly, at stations – where two opposite-direction trains can pass each other. The schedule is constructed in a way to maximize such occasions. Therefore, if your train gets delayed by even a few minutes, it can easily snowball to 45-50, as it will keep missing its scheduled opportunities to let oncoming trains pass, and will have to sit in some pockets to allow those oncoming trains to stay on their schedules. Based on our experience, this happens rather often.


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