Located at the start of the stunning Norwegian fjords and enclosed by breath-taking mountain views, you’d struggle to find many more picturesque cities in Europe than Bergen. Packing a rich musical and maritime history, as well as a thriving student social scene, we make Bergen one of the true city break gems in the Nordics. Here’s our city guide to the City of The Seven Mountains.
Seasons and Flights
While it might not have the reputation of a Copenhagen or a Reykjavik, Bergen does have a thriving tourist scene. Much of this is down to its location at the beginning of many Fjord Cruises in the country which brings in plenty of travellers, particularly in the summer months. For this reason Bergen’s high season is between May and July, so if you want to avoid the crowds, August and September are maybe better times to visit.
Between the end of September and the end of April, Bergen is a lot quieter thanks to the city’s notoriously murky weather. We wouldn’t let you put this off, however. Quite honestly, Bergen will always see its fair share of rains and if you plan your trip well enough, you can still see everything the city has to offer – you just might not have the buzz in the bars and restaurants.
Flights to Bergen’s nearest airport, Flesland, leave once a day from Heathrow and twice a day from Gatwick. Depending on when you go, you can bag yourself a good value return flight to the city for around the £80 mark.
Bergen itself is a 25 minute bus transfer from Flesland Airport but buses run every 20 minutes all year round and are always good to go as soon as you land. A ticket on the Flybus will set you back roughly NOK 100 (around £9.50) per person. Once you’re in the city, it’s all pretty walkable, and public transport is always running.
Being Norway’s second city, there’s no lack of accommodation options in Bergen. If you’re looking to save the pennies – Norway is expensive enough as it is – we’d recommend checking out Basic Hotel Bergen. Doing what it says on the tin, Basic Hotel doesn’t come with many luxuries – there’s no bar or restaurant on site and sometimes not even a receptionist – but it does provide plenty of space in your room and is a bargain for the city with prices starting at NOK 795 (£75) for a Double Room.
But if you want something with a few more amenities and a little more luxury, Hotel Oleana is perfectly located in the town’s main shopping area and comes highly recommended. Located in a historic building with old details in a modern twist, the stylish hotel features a bar/restaurant and is great value at £125 a night which includes a great breakfast buffet.
Sights to See in Bergen
Bergen has quite the history. During the early Middle Ages, the city was an important seaport and also a member of the Hanseatic League – not to mention it used to be Norway’s capital. The remnants of that bygone era are fully on show in the beautiful old town of Bryggen, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The brightly wooden clad buildings line the eastern side of the Vågen harbour and make for a great meandering space with museums, shops, restaurants and pubs residing here.
As already mentioned, Bergen is the City of the Seven Mountains. As such, spectacular hilltop views of the city are an absolute must. While all of them are hikable in one way or another, the most popular mountain to walk is Fløyen, with the most popular way of getting up being the Fløibanen funicular. The funicular takes just 8 minutes and runs every 15 minutes during peak periods from the city centre.
We’d also recommend a hike up Fløyen starting through the stunning cobbled hillside housing labyrinth. It only takes around an hour and you can always continue further into the countryside for some even better views of the surrounding fjords. For the more hardcore hikers, Damsgårdsfjellet is also a favourite mountain hike among locals when the sun’s out.
There are also plenty of museums in the city with the Kode 1, 2, 3, and 4 buildings housing the majority of the higher profile exhibitions including artworks from Picasso and local boy Edvard Munch. There’s also a water park and Aquarium if you’re heading to the city with your family, and the concert hall has plenty of renditions of Bergen’s own Edvard Grieg during high season.
Excursions Around Bergen
When it comes to Norway, chances are you’re going to want to check out the fjords. And if you don’t have time to head North or East to fully explore them in all their glory, you can jump on one of the many boats around Bergen’s harbour to get a taste for them. There are a few fjord tour companies with boats setting off usually twice a day and lasting around 3 hours.
But for us, even if you just have a long weekend, we think the Norway in a Nutshell tour is an absolute must. The trip takes you through some of Norway’s most beautiful fjord scenery, with the journey consisting of a ride on the scenic Bergen Railway and the world famous Flåm Railway, before heading on a cruise down the Aurlandsfjord and the narrow and dramatic UNESCO-protected Nærøyfjord.
The trip is available as a day tour if time is tight but we’d highly recommend making a stop and breaking the tour into two. Fjord Tours will work around whatever plans you want to make and curate your transportation as such. We stayed in Aurland, 10 minutes from Flåm, and we reckon anywhere around Flåm is ideal – mainly as it’s half way along your journey and you get to wake up with breath-taking views of the fjords. The tour’s prices starts at 1440NOK (around £134) and we think it’s one of the best bargains you’ll find in Norway.
Bergen’s food scene is thriving and has some amazing places to dine. And the restaurant at the top of the pile is Cornelius SjømatRestaurant. Put simply, Cornelius is one of Norway’s best seafood restaurants. It’s situated right by the sea on a small island around 25 minutes from Bergen and comes with spectacular views of the fjord, mountains, skerries and passing boats and ships.
Inspired by the weather of the day, Cornelius serves its famous Meteorological Menu of exquisite seafood and trimmings, prepared using innovative culinary techniques. It’s expensive at NOK 895 (£83) for just the 3-course Meteorological Menu – with wine adding to the cost – but it’s fully worth it for the experience, and the boat trip from Bergen harbour is included.
Other restaurants we’d recommend are 1877 for some more fine dining, Munken Bistro for some homemade classics, To Kokker in Bryggen for their Red Deer, and Naboen, which serves up some of the best valued food we had all week in the city – a plate of Swedish meatballs in gravy for just over a tenner is a godsend when you’re running out of Krona!
In general, our advice would be check out the deals and utilise them. Also load up on breakfast if it’s included in your hotel stay…
If we’ve not made it clear enough yet, Norway is expensive. Very expensive. And that’s reflected in its beer prices; £10 for less than a pint prices are far from rare. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of drinking haunts in the city. Bergen doesn’t have super-clubs but it does have some great joints thanks to a thriving brewing scene.
For us, the best bar in the city is Henrik øl og vinstove. There’s over 50 beers on tap and Henrik easily has the best beer selection in Bergen. It’s not the biggest of places, so probably best avoid it with large groups, but there’s a great vibe with locals, students and tourists all frequenting the bar. There’s board games for entertainment and the staff are some of the friendliest we met all week.
Other great places to check out are BarBarista with its umbrellas hanging off the ceiling, No Stress for some relaxed cocktails, and Appollon which is a record shop by day and happening bar by night.
The first thing people who have been to Norway will tell you is how expensive the country is. A lot of the time warnings like this can be embellished but unfortunately not in this instance. Bergen is one of the most expensive city breaks you’ll probably ever go on if you’re not careful. But you can find deals easily enough and it is doable on a relative budget if you plan your day and are prepared to stay sober.
Despite the price, Bergen is a special city. And it’s proximity to the fjords make it one of the must-visit cities in Scandinavia, if not Europe.
Head over to the Visit Bergen Website for more information, bookings and recommendations.