Last year was kind of a blur for me, with relocating to a new city, starting a new job, and all the things that go with that. So as the holidays came up I realized I didn’t have my travel plans together and rushed to find a ticket (from Kentucky, no less) for a quick trip. After tons of searching, I ended up booking a last-minute flight to Bergen, Norway!
I’d been to northern Norway in winter a couple years back, but never spent time in south. And I fell in love with Bergen’s chill vibe, adorable streets, and yummy food. Bergen is a perfect city for a long weekend visit—very compact and very walkable, easy access to fjords, and the weather is a bit more temperate than further up north.
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I’m giving you the big things I recommend in a 3-day Bergen itinerary. There are two major elements that impact this itinerary though—it was during Polar Night (so I had little daylight), and it was over New Year’s (so there were very few things open).
While I was there, sunrise was technically at around 9:45am and sunset at around 3:30pm, but the actual daylight we got really depending on cloud cover. This is flying in at like 3:00pm, almost dark, and was pitch dark when I arrived at my hotel. It was a bit rainy, windy, and quite chilly when I arrived, but even from the cab I could tell that Bergen is super charming!
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LITERALLY nothing is open around New Year’s, so be prepared. A lot of Norwegians leave the city and go out into the country to visit family. I called ahead to a ton of restaurants and bars, most of which weren’t open. I asked waiters and bartenders for recommendations (and still called and most of them weren’t open).
On New Year’s Eve I got desperate and walked into a restaurant and begged the manager to sell me a bottle of wine for me to take back to my hotel. It’s illegal apparently and I ended up paying him and then having to go around the corner to an unmarked door in an alley to get the bottle wrapped in brown paper from him… #thattimeididabackalleydealinbergen
I’m sure I could have found a place to party if that had been my goal (IT WASN’T) but just normal places to eat and drink were hard to come by not only on New Year’s Eve/Day, but the couple of days prior.
Tips for a trip to Bergen
- Bergen (and Norway in general) is perfect for a solo trip—safe, fun, lots of English spoken, etc. I didn’t find Norwegians terribly chatty or engaging, though, even when I was trying to make conversation. Don’t take it personally, I think it must just be a cultural difference.
- Norway is super expensive. If you’re trying to save money then think about making lunch your big meal, doing a self-catering apartment, and purchasing alcohol at the the duty-free in the airport. But honestly just be prepared for how expensive everything is.
- Speaking of super expensive…taking a taxi from the airport into town is DUMB expensive. I think mine may have ended up costing me like $50-75 for a 20-minute ride. Instead, take the Flybussen…it’s 145 NOK (not even $20) one-way, comfortable, fast, and doesn’t make too many stops. I didn’t book ahead, just showed up.
- If you’re taking a taxi, make sure the taxi driver LOOKS at the name of where you’re going, not that you just say it. He misunderstood me and took me to a different hotel (which was thankfully just a couple minutes from my actual hotel).
- Bergen has great public transportation as well, if you’re trying to get to more far-flung places (or you’re wet and cold and just need a break).
- Bergen is an incredibly rainy city, getting rain 230+ days per year! Even in the dead of winter it’s not absolutely Arctic and freezing, but it is wet and cold due to wind. Its climate is more temperate than up in Tromsø where I’d visited before. Having the right kind of clothing is critical to enjoying your trip.
- I’m doing a whole other post of what did and didn’t work for me in Bergen, but in broad strokes you want warm layers and things that are waterproof and/or dry quickly.
- Good outerwear is paramount. My Helly Hansen coat is my one true love, both warm and water-resistant.
- The wind is crazy so having my merino wool neck gaiter and touchscreen gloves made a huge difference. Merino wool socks were major as well, to keep my feet dry and warm.
- Stay away from jeans (they never dry!) and make sure you have comfortable, sturdy shoes for walking—I thought I did, but sprained my ankle twice on the cobblestones in my low-heeled boots!
The building below is Tourist Information, right on the Bryggen harbor. It can be crazy at times, but it’s where you can purchase tickets for Norway in a Nutshell and other fjord cruises, and they can also tell you what’s going on in the city and answer questions.
What this post covers:
- Where to stay in Bergen
- Exploring the Bryggen old town
- The funicular up Mount Fløyen
- Seeking out amazing street art
- Wandering through colorful buildings and streets
- Trying Bergen’s cuisine—dinners, coffee, pastries
- Enjoying the nightlife—where to drink
- Visting Håkon’s Hall and Bergenhaus Fortress
- Taking the stunning Norway in a Nutshell fjord and train tour
Where to stay: Bryggen old town
In my opinion you definitely want to stay right in Bryggen. From there, it’s really up to you…it’s all super close and walkable, so it depends on your budget. I was actually surprised by the hotel costs in Bergen, because they weren’t outrageous in my opinion (though maybe because it was over New Year’s when tourism is down).
I stayed in Thon Hotel Orion, which was really nice (and basically waterfront). I’d looked at the Radisson Blu as well, which got great reviews and is right on the water. They’re like a 3-minute walk from each other.
The Flybussen stop is at Radisson, right out front, so if you’re staying at either of these hotels you’ll be super close.
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Explore the Bryggen harbor
Bryggen’s brightly-colored buildings provide the most iconic view of Bergen, and have a ton of history as well. This area is the old Hanseatic Wharf, first built in the 14th century when the Hanseatic League established an official office. The Hanseatic League was founded by northern German towns and merchants to help protect trading interests, and Bergen was one of the four headquarters (and the only one still preserved).
The buildings have burned down and been rebuilt numerous times over the centuries, but they always make sure to rebuild on the old foundations (from the 12th century) and with the same layout and building techniques—a big reason Bryggen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not only will you be charmed by the colorful buildings, but you’ll feel you’ve stepped back in time!
Wander through the colorful buildings, but also make sure you walk around the harbor to the other side to look back AT Bryggen (that’s the view in this first pic).
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Take the funicular up to Mount Fløyen
One of the best ways to see Bergen is to take the Fløibanen up to Mount Fløyen. If skies are clear, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the city and the North Sea.
The funicular is right in the heart of Bergen, a super easy walk from the Bryggen harbor. There’s a Godt Brød right there outside it, if you want to snag a coffee beforehand (or you’re like me and show up before the first run). A round-trip ticket will cost you 95 krone (as of 2019), and you can check out the schedule at the official website.
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I sat outside taking pictures until my hands went numb, then went went into the cafe to warm up with coffee and a pastry. Be prepared, it can be quite windy and chilly up on the mountain! Make sure to wear warm layers and bring gloves and a good hat to protect your ears (here are some of my favorite clothes for cold weather trips).
I went back up later in the day to try and catch the sunset (at like…2:45pm), but clouds had moved in and there was sadly nothing to see.
Seek out the awesome street art
Bergen’s street art is pretty great, and you can just enjoy it as you wander the streets (which is what I did) or you can take an actual tour.
Øvregarten (one of Bergen’s main streets), Klosteret, Skostredet, and Kong Oscar are where you’ll find a lot. You can combine this walk with the next “must do”, which is enjoying all the colorful houses and doors. I particularly loved what I dubbed “Viking biker bird”…
Wander the streets and enjoy the colors
Bergen is super walkable and I fell in love with all the fun colors being used! Yes, you have the traditional Norwegian yellow and red, but I saw mint green, coral, dark purple, teal, and so much more.
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A lot of the streets that are great for seeing street art are the same as where you’ll see the colorful buildings, so just go for a long walk and burn off all those pastry calories!
One thing you’ll learn is that Bergen is HILLY! I mean, absolutely insanely hilly. Enjoy 🙂
Become a connoisseur of Bergen cuisine
Food is one of my favorite things about travel, and so I tried to sample as much as I could. Everything being closed for the holidays made that a little tough, but I still did a pretty darn good job. Here are some of the things I enjoyed…
On my first night, I arrived in my hotel and showered to feel a little more human, then hit the pavement to explore. Only a few minutes into my walk I happened upon Bryggelofet & Stuene. I enjoyed a delicious buttery-feeling gravalax, tender reindeer, and a house red that was really quite good. I topped it off with a delightful pavlova topped with crazy tart cloud berries. Definitely a winner to start my trip! Reservations recommended.
I also had a simple but delicious dinner at Enhjørningen (“unicorn”), a simple baked cod filet with carrots and onions in cream sauce, as well as a smoked slamon appetizer and a blackberry dessert.
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I had a whole list of coffee shops I wanted to try in Bergen, but the holiday ended up throwing a kink into my plans. I did get to stop by Kaffemisjonen a couple times, but that was about it.
For my pastry (and coffee) needs there was Godt Brød (literally “good bread”). There are several locations scattered throughout Bergen, including right by the Fløibanen and near the train station. I had some traditional pastries (flavored with cardamom, sprinkled with sugar, and filled with custard)…I will say that Scandinavian pastries are good but maybe not my favorite? They tend to be pretty bread-y. Another that I wanted to try was Baker Brun, but they weren’t open while I was there.
Okay, now let’s talk about a place that I ended up spending a LOT of time (for the drinks)…the Fish Market. Some people would argue that the Fish Market is a must-see tourist attraction, and in the summer it probably is since it’s a big outdoor market (its history also dates back to the 1200s, but you can’t actually *see* that). But in the winter, everything is inside and so there’s really not much to see.
There *is* amazing fresh seafood though, and I sat down to enjoy an incredible fish soup with a local stout beer from Svalbard. The fish soup was creamy and smoky from the white fish, with a ton of flavor! I love it when I find fish soup without shellfish in it. The stout was rich, bitter, and sweet at the same time, and offset the soup perfectly.
For some interesting Norwegian street food, definitely check out the sausage stand Trekroneren (or 3-Kroneren). I was excited to find many non-pork options, and enjoyed a reindeer sausage with lingonberry sauce, mustard, and fried onions. SOOOOO good. I think it was the first non-pastry thing I’d eaten all day as well (at like 3:00pm).
Partake of Bergen’s nightlife
Bergen’s small but does have a decent nightlife. The tough part was that a lot of places weren’t open because of the holidays. Typically, Bergen’s bars close around 2am while nightclubs close around 3am.
Now, I’m not a nightlife person myself, but did want to try and discover some cool bars so forced my introvert self out every night 🙂
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Hands down, my favorite find was a gin bar called Ginial. I went there my first night and was heartbroken that it wasn’t open the rest of my trip. They have an extensive gin list from all over the world, and have paired them really thoughtfully with individual tonic waters and garnishes. I had a delicious English one first (can’t remember which), and then one of the local Bareksten varieties (which I adored).
It’s attached to a BBQ restaurant (yeah, confusing) that actually gets great reviews, so give that a try as well! I did sprain my ankle terribly on the cobblestones as I headed back to the hotel from here, so it’s amazing I have such warm feelings toward it…
Some other bars worth trying:
- No Stress: I got a Bramble, very fresh and strong. There were only a few people there, and I settled into one of the cozy chairs to read my Kindle and enjoy my drink. It felt like a bar where small groups of friends would come to chat.
- Last Monkey: I was the only person here (due to the holidays and it being a Sunday night). I bellied up to the bar and chatted with the bartender (who was from Mexico) and enjoyed my Eclipse, made of bourbon, raspberries, and mint.
- The bar in the Fish Market: I can’t figure out what it’s called, or if it even has a name. But I ended up spending a LOT of time at this bar because it was the only thing open. Luckily they had the delicious Svalbard stout beer that I fell in love with, so even though I should have branched out to other drinks, I stayed true to my love.
- Apollon – This is an old record store that’s also a bar, with some craft beers. If you were with friends I think it could be pretty cool, but alone it wasn’t really a great vibe for me and I wasn’t in love with their beer.
- Sjøboden – This place was great! It was a find on my last night, as I was trying to not be super lame and be back at my hotel at like 8pm. I think this bar has quite a lot of history, but it’s also got live music all the time, a great selection of beers, and super knowledgeable bartenders (including the owner/manager/bouncer??). I ended up chatting with him for like 3 hours and enjoying couple local porters, a Christmas ale, some local digestifs, and also aquavit (a Scandinavian spirit with a cumin-like taste).
Visit Haakon’s Hall (Håkonshallen)
I tried to visit the Bergenhaus Fortress, which was right by my hotel, but it sadly wasn’t open. If it is, though, make sure to pop into Haakon’s Hall. It was built in the 1200s by King Haakon, and over the centuries was the site of many major national events, including the drawing up of Norway’s first official set of laws.
It is also rumored to be the inspiration for the Great Hall at Hogwarts (you can see why here), which is why I’m so bummed to have missed it I’m not bitter, *you’re* bitter.
Do the Norway in a Nutshell tour
This was the #1 thing on my list, because I’ve been obsessed with cruising the fjords for a long time (and it made my list of 10 places I’m dying to visit this year). If the weather had cooperated and I hadn’t been visiting right over New Year’s, I probably could have crammed in one other fjord cruise, but if you’re going to do just one then NiN should be it!
I’ve written an entire other post on this experience with tons more photos and tips (what to expect, where to sit, food options, etc.), so I’ll give you the topline here but definitely check it out if you’re planning your own trip.
This is a long day but completely worth it. You can get your tickets ahead of time at the Tourist Information office, and then you’ll start by taking a train from Bergen to Voss, then you’ll get on a scenic bus from Voss to Gudvangen.
The next two legs are what it’s all about: a stunning 2-hour boat ride on the fjord from Gudvangen to Flåm, and then an amazing scenic train ride up the mountain from Flåm to Myrdal. Then you’ll take a train back to Bergen in the dark if you’re visiting in winter.
The Norway in a Nutshell tour was mind-blowing and as long as you get a decent day weather-wise it is an absolute MUST!
So there you have it—my recommendations for things to do in Bergen if you have a day or a few days to spend. It’s a great little city and I’m so glad I visited…I’d love to get back during the summer and spend more time out on the fjords and doing some of the gorgeous hikes in the area as well!
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