For your first visit a single day may not be sufficient to be able to appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in the city center, public transport is needed only in a couple of cases.
Don’t miss: catching the sunset from Mount Fløyen.
Worthy attractions: Bryggen; Hanseatic Museum; Rosencrantz Tower; St Mary’s Church; Fantoft Stave Church; Floibanen.
Left for another visit: Bryggen Museum; Troldhaugen Edvard Grieg Museum; KODE Art Museums.
Last visit: August 2015.
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. In fact, the city is much more than that.
Things to See
The wharf, Bryggen ♥♥♥, is definitely the foremost sight in Bergen. It is picturesque and unique, with 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 wealth of information on 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 Bryggen Museum that we bypassed. 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 11pm 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. We took a private 2-hour walk, which was very nice and informative (cost: $50 per person, group tours would be significantly cheaper).
On the main pedestrian square of the city, Torgallmenningen ♥, there is an interesting Sailors monument and fountain ♥ which traces the Norwegian maritime history. There are a few other worthy monuments at different squares.
Rosencrantz Tower ♥ has several levels of mostly unfurnished rooms, some spiced up with medieval weapons that can be touched, others with assorted historic expositions. The views from the top are quite nice. We walked around other parts of Bergenhus castle but only the tower seemingly merits in-depth 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 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 light railway from Byparken to Fantoft (11 stops, approximately 20 minutes) and then walk for about 10 more minutes.
There are a few other churches in town, but we did not step into any more.
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. At the top, there is also a large children playground, a park with many trails and some fun wooden sculptures, as well as a full-service restaurant.
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. Hanseatic Museum is the only top attraction not included in the Pass.
As a side note, we saw quite a lot of advertisements on maps and booklets for Magic Ice, a bar with ice statues. We wanted to see it for a mid-day break, but it turned out that it did not exist and never have been even opened. If you see such an advert and it strikes your fancy, ignore it.
The bus network seems to be pretty extensive in Bergen, but if you stay in the center of town, you can easily reach practically all destinations on foot. Fantoft Stave Church is further afield, so the use of light rail will be required (see the above section). Of the other attractions that we bypassed, only Troldhaugen Grieg Museum is also outside of town center and requires transportation similar to Fantoft.
Going between the airport and your hotel, Bergen Flybussen ♥ merits consideration. The coaches are fairly efficient and frequent, although they do make nearly a dozen stops before they get to the airport. About 40 minutes for the longest journey, at NOK 100 per person.
Places to Eat
TripAdvisor nowadays makes finding restaurant recommendations quite easy, so these vignettes are meant to offer no more than a starting point for your research. All places visited in the summer of 2015.
Restaurant BOHA ♥, around the corner from National Theater, was nearly empty on a weekday. It offered tasty food, with local fish dishes taking front stage. Friendly service; motivational quotes feature prominently in the wall decor, some more risqué than others. Our damage: NOK 1500 for two people, including a bottle of wine and gratuity.
Pingvinen ♥♥ is a trendy gastro-pub a few doors down from BOHA. The kitchen closes at 10pm, just as practically everywhere, although one or two websites claim that it stays open until 3am. The menu is reasonable, big portions, tasty offerings. Our damage: NOK 800 for two dishes with a bottle of wine.
Zupperia Torget ♥♥ across the street from the fish market, boasts an extensive menu headlined by over a dozen different soups. We tried two, as well as one of the variety of main courses. Tasty dishes, good service, reasonably busy place, nice atmosphere. Our damage: NOK 1100 for two people (3 dishes ordered), with a bottle of wine and gratuity.
Lunch at the fish market ♥ is recommended primarily for the experience. The available selection is mainly sandwiches with different seafood. While the ingredients are obviously fresh, they taste a bit bland when prepared on the grill by the stand. Quite filling, though, and inexpensive. Our damage: NOK 200 for two sandwiches.
Historic part of the town is full of nice cafés. We stopped for waffles and coffee at BarBarista ♥ on the street running behind Bryggen – very atmospheric and pleasant.
As with any tourist center, the options for a hotel or an apartment are plentiful on major online platforms. Staying close to Bryggen means being walking distance to most of the points of interest.
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 belies, 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 playground that was located in a car next to Komfort.
The train reaches elevation of 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 absence of wi-fi. You can catch free signal on 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 – specifically, 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.