On our first trip to Norway, we spent 3 magical days in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city located on the southwest coast. To get there, we took the Bergen Line Train from Oslo to Bergen, a 7-hour one-way journey and one of the most scenic train rides in Europe. The trip was long, but with our own private train compartment, we spent hours staring out our large window at mountains, waterfalls, streams, cute little towns and more. (Travel Tip – be sure to secure an international data package as Wi-Fi on trains are spotty to non-existent)
Upon arriving in Bergen, we walked from the station to the Opus XVI Hotel along narrow brick and stone streets…and that’s the moment when I became completely taken with the city’s old-world, storybook-like, Scandinavian charm. From the architecture, to the store facades, to the mountainside homes and of course, the scenic fjord views, Bergen was everything that I had seen in pictures, everything that I hoped it would be, and yet so much better than I imagined.
With just 3 days in the city, we once again, had to be very strategic about how we spent our time. In hindsight, 3 days was not enough time to truly linger and immerse ourselves in all things Bergen. But still, in just 3 days, we managed to see some incredible sights, get back to nature, learn a bit of history and get a taste for true Norwegian food and living.
So, if one day, you should find yourself in Bergen, here are just few things to add to your 3+ day itinerary:
13 Fun Things to Do in Bergen, Norway in 3 Days
1. Admire a UNESCO World Heritage Site – While in Bergen, be sure to take a leisurely stroll through Bryggen, the city’s historic harbor district most known for its vibrantly colored row of wooden houses….and probably the most photographed area in all of Bergen. Rich in history, Bryggen was part of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire from the 14th to the mid-16th century and is the only overseas Hanseatic office preserved today. In 1979, Bryggen received UNESCO World Heritage status due to the role played in Hanseatic history. Although damaged by fires over many years, approx 62 buildings of the original area are still standing and are now occupied by boutique stores, restaurants and cafes.
2. Browse Boutique Shops – Although you will find some larger chain stores (like H&M) in Bergen, the most interesting shopping area is behind the row of colorful Bryggen houses. At first glance, it appears very touristy, at least from the front. But as you walk in between and behind the houses you’ll find all sorts of fun boutiques in the nooks and crannies. Yes, you will definately have to pass many tourist shops selling reindeer pelts and troll figurines, but you can also find some great Norway t-shirts, hoodies, outdoor gear, food items, art, and other specialty items like gem stones and wood carvings. If you can get beyond the touristy-vibe, you’ll eventually come to appreciate this area for all of its historic seaside charm.
3. Embrace Frilufsliv – With 7 mountains surrounding the coastal city, there is no shortage of outdoor activities to choose from, any time of year. Many of the mountains, including Mt. Floyen, have beautiful waterfalls that allow you to get so close you can feel the water spray. Whether you walk, hike or bike, pick a mountain, back your day pack and immerse yourself in Bergen’s version of friluftsliv, Norwegian for outdoor living or “free air” life.
4. Ride the Floibanen Funicular – The hillside railway, known as Floibanen, takes you up to Mt. Floyen for about $12 roundtrip and takes 5-8 minutes minutes to arrive at the top (alternately, you can walk up mountain via the path, which takes about 45 minutes). Views at the top are extraordinary – from fjords to the city below to mountain goats, it’s one of the best in the city. Beyond the views, be sure to check out all of the activities Mt. Floyen has to offer, including trail hiking, biking, boating, kayaking, troll hunting and more. If outdoor activity is not your thing, grab a coffee or ice cream in one of the little stores and just admire the city down below.
5. Sweat It Out in a Floating Sauna – Like Oslo, Bergen has its own floating sauna communities, including the popular Heit Bergen Sauna and City Sauna. We had a great experience booking a private family session at the Heit Bergen Sauna, where we spent 50-minutes alternating sitting in the very hot sauna and jumping into the cold sea water, all while admiring the harbor through our floor-to-ceiling window! The sauna attendant was lovely and was available to add water to our stove which helped maintain or increase the heat inside. She also made sure we had towels and bathrobes to keep us cozy outside the sauna. Hands down, this was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had on a vacation and I highly recommend doing it at least once while you’re in Bergen, or anywhere in Norway!
6. Fjord Boat Tour – A fjord boat tour has to be one of the best ways to see the beautiful landscapes of Norway – and there are many to choose from! Fjord tours from Bergen range from a few hours, to full-day to multi-day tours. Some fjord tours will set sail from Bergen’s harbor while other tours – like the popular Norway in a Nutshell tour – start their journey with a train ride from Bergen station to Voss followed by a bus ride that takes you to the starting point for your fjord cruise. Although we origally planned to take a longer, full day tour, we finally decided on a 1/2 day, roundtrip cruise from Bergen through the Hardangerfjord to the little village of Rosendal, all booked through Rodne Fjord Cruises. This was an outstanding option for us as it allowed us to fully experience the majestic fjords and avoid too much time on buses or trains.
7. Check Out the Catch of the Day – At Bergen’s Fish Market, you’ll find rows of stalls offering fresh fish, seafood and other Norwegian favorites from local merchants. The outdoor fish market opens May 1 and remains open throughout the summer. Given its location around the harbor from Bryggen, the market can be crowded and a bit touristy, but it’s still worth a look and a photo stop.
8. Step Back in Time – Located just beyond Bryggen, the Bergenhus Fortress, Rosenkrantz Tower and Hakon’s Hall, are great stops for lovers of history or architecture, having medieval buildings that date as far back as the 13th century. Rosenkrantz Tower is seen as one of the most significant renaissance monuments in Norway. Built in the 1560s, the tower served as a combined royal residence and fortified tower. Built during the 13th century, Hakon’s Hall is a great, stone hall located inside the fortress. It was once the largest building of the royal palace in Bergen and it is cited as being King Hakon Hakonsson’s old feast hall. While there is a nominal fee to enter the tower and hall, admission to the fortress grounds is free and worth a look just for the historic buildings.
9. Snap an Insta-worthy Photo – Incredible Instagram opportunities abound throughout Bergen. Within a several block radius of the wharf, you can snap some great pics of the majestic fjords, harbor boats and lights, historic buildings, colorful houses up the mountainside, and plenty of narrow streets with lots and lots of character. Be sure to keep an eye out for the quirky, zig zag street (known as ostre murallmennigen) located directly across the harbor from the Bryggen’s Hanseatic Houses.
10. Hunt for Trolls – Troll hunters unite! No, but seriously, Norway does love their troll legends. You can even spot a few (don’t worry, they are not real) in the Troll Forest at the top of Mt. Floyen. The stop is great for kids (and their caregivers) – the trolls don’t bite and there are plenty of play spaces in the surrounding area.
11. Take a Guided Walking Tour – Although we chose to make our own city walking tour using online guides and google maps, there were plenty of guided walking tours to choose from in Bergen. Most guided tours offer stops at all major sites, and some also offer specialty tours like food/culture or historical tours. You can check out TripAdvisor’s Top Walking Tours in Bergen here.
12. Learn about Bergen’s Seafaring Past and Present – About a 15 walk from Bryggen, you’ll find the Bergen Maritime Museum. Through permanent displays, temporary exhibitions, artifacts, and multiple model ships, the museum tells the story Bergen’s maritime history spanning 2000 years. The entry fee for adults is about $15, but children are free.
13. Sip and Snack – Get your coffee and sugar fix by heading to one of the many little coffee and sweet shops around the city. We liked Kaf Kafe in Bryggen because it was tucked away from the heavy tourist area, had great ambience and offered a nice selection of espresso drinks. For dedicated Starbucks fans, don’t miss the rather large Starbucks by the harbor. Be sure to check out the edible Scandi goodies that you won’t find stateside! We also enjoyed Godt Brod for its espresso drinks, yummy pastries, as well as its made-to-order salads and sandwiches. Finally, if you’re a chocolate lover, do not miss the darling Fjak Chocolate Shop and Cafe – they serve all varieties of hot chocolate (you can add espresso) as well as many specialty chocolates and other sweet treats.
As you can see, with all of its Scandinavian charm and magical, storybook qualities, Bergen is a city that is very hard to leave and much harder to forget. Until we meet again, Bergen!
Happy Travels Everyone!