Things To Do In Bergen, Norway’s Historic Second City

red yellow and white wooden buildings on the harbour in Bergen Norway

Bergen is a historical city and a major destination in southern Norway, so if you’re considering a visit there, let me help you with this list of things to do in Bergen.

Norway’s second city is surrounded by mountains on one side and fjords on the other. It has been a major maritime centre for a thousand years – so it’s no surprise that many of the things to do in Bergen involve either that seafaring heritage or the natural beauty surrounding the city.

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Why Visit Bergen?

Bergen is Norway’s second-largest city, after Oslo, and it is located in a beautiful spot between the mountains and Byfjorden. This waterside location gives it a coastal feel, even though the open sea is some way away.  And the mountains around Bergen are why it is known to some as the ‘city of seven mountains’.

But I think the history of Bergen is a big part of its appeal. At the heart of Bergen’s old town is a historic harbour that gives a glimpse into what it was like making a living on or by the water in Norway centuries ago.

Add Bergen to your Norway itinerary for its rich history and surrounding scenery.

old buildings along a seafront with a wooden mountain behind it
Bergen harbour and Fløyen mountain

Things To Do In Bergen

1. Explore Bryggen Wharf

Before I went to Bergen I somehow had this idea of it as a quaint little town, but it’s not. It’s a fairly big place, home to 280,000 people. Bergen has a large operational harbour with working ships and passenger boats coming and going all the time. In fact, at first glance, it’s easy to be unimpressed by the row of wooden buildings on the waterfront, especially as the view of them can be obscured by the boats docked in front and the busses driving past. But look closer…

red, yellow and white warehouses on the waterfront at Bergen harbour
Bryggen wharf

These are Bryggen, a medieval wharf that dates back to a time when Bergen played a key role in trading across Europe. It was part of the Hanseatic League, a northern European commercial federation operating between the 13th and 18th centuries. Bryggen has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

wooden buildings and wooden floor in a narrow alleyway in bryggen harbour, an interesting thing to do in Bergen
Bredsgården street

The wooden buildings have been rebuilt several times after fires, most recently after the great fire of 1702. 62 structures remain and wandering the alleys between them is a lovely thing to do in Bergen.

The buildings and the alley floors are all made of wood, so you can imagine what it would have been like there hundreds of years ago. There are craft workshops, which help the place feel alive, and not purely a museum. Bredsgården street is especially picturesque, in my opinion. 

Out on the main street out front, the wharf has a number of craft and souvenir shops, plus terraces to get something to eat & drink.

cafe terrace with tables and a chair outside the wooden warehouses at Bryggen in Bergen
Bryggen terraces with Bergenhus Fortress in the distance

Close to Bryggen is Dramshusen shed and hoisting boom, one of several that used to be part of the operation of the old harbour. And near St Mary’s Church is Schøtstuene, Hanseatic Assembly Rooms. These are now the Hanseatic Museum, which tells the history of the Hanseatic League in Bergen.

Top Tip: for a view and photograph of Bryggen, go to the other side of the harbour – there’s a good spot near Altonagaten.

2. Take The Fløibanen To Mirador De Fløyen

If exploring Bryggen is the best thing to do in Bergen, taking the Fløibanen funicular to Mirador de Fløyen is a close second best.

Of course, you could hike up Mount Fløyen, but then you’d miss the fun of riding the steep funicular. It costs 150NOK (around £13) and you get on at the station on Vetrlidsallmenningen street. It’s a very quick ride, only 5 minutes. After a stretch of tunnel, you’ll be treated to the view of the fjord and the city opening up before you.

On the observation deck at the top, you can luxuriate in the panoramic view of Bergen and Byfjorden. It really is glorious up there.

view of bergen from up high, the city, the fjord it is on and the mountains around it
View from Fløyen observation deck

The weather in Bergen is unpredictable – so stick around for a while. If it’s overcast or rainy, it could clear if you hang around long enough. And even if the weather is fine, the light can change, giving you a different view of the scenery. I noticed the clouds clearing over the course of 30-40 minutes when I was there – it was fascinating: like nature was putting on a performance for me.

There are hiking paths that connect to the Mirador de Fløyen observation deck, so you could make the most of being on the mountainside and explore a bit of nature up there.  

two people stand on the edge of floyen observation deck, silhouetted against the sky
The observation deck on Mount Fløyen

There’s a café and gift shop at the top, which will provide some shelter, refreshments and distraction if you need it.  There are also toilets.

3. Wander The Cobble Streets Of Bergenhus

The area around the Fløibanen station, at the foot of Fløyen mountain, is one of the older parts of Bergen – not as old as Bryggen, but still fairly old, with cobbled streets and traditional-looking buildings. I found it to be a very charming area to wander on foot.

narrow broken steps between wooden buildings up the hillside in Bergen
Steps off Lille Øvregaten

I think it’s the kind of place that you can just explore without a route in mind. However, if you want some tips, some spots that I found particularly attractive were:

  • Vetrlidsallmenningen is a very attractive street with colourfully painted buildings
  • Lille Øvregaten has some very quaint alleys & steps going up the hillside
  • Skostredet is also very pretty.
  • Kong Oscars Gate has a mixture of cuteness, hipster-type coolness & just a small amount of edginess around the alley to Korskirken (which I would avoid – more on that later)
brightly coloured houses and shops in a street in Bergen

However, if you really want to imagine what life was like in Bergen in the 1800s, visit Gamle Bergen Museum. This is an open-air museum that shows how people lived back then.

4. See Today’s Catch At Bergen Fish Market

Being a major hub on the fjords, it’s no surprise that you will find lots of fresh fish in Bergen.

There’s been a Fish Market in Bergen since the 1200s, but the covered market you’ll find today opened in 2012.  Here you can find a huge variety of fish – some of which I feel like I’ve never seen before! Wandering the stall and looking at the fresh fish and other produce is an interesting thing to do in Bergen.

shellfish and octopus tentacles and other kinds of seafood on ice in Bergen Fish Market
Bergen Fish Market

You can buy fish to cook yourself, but there are also several places you can eat in. If you don’t actually eat fish, there are plenty of food options, including meats and sausages, cheese, cakes and coffee.

Top tip: outside on the terrace is a great place to watch the sunset over the harbour.

sun reflecting on the smooth water of  a harbour
Sunset over Bergen Harbour

5. Explore Bergenhus Fortress

A little further along the harbour from Bryggen, in the Vågen area, is Bergenhus Fortress, a castle compound with foundations dating to before 1100. The buildings there today date from various periods, including the 13th century, 16th century and 19th century.

In the 13th century, Bergen was the capital of Norway, so at that time, this fortress was the seat of the king of Norway.

stone tower wall with arched windows and arches that have been bricked in
Rosenkrantz Tower, Bergenhus Fortress

The most interesting part of the fortress for me was Rosenkrantz Tower, which was first a defensive tower built in 1270. It was then expanded into a bigger building in 1560. Whilst it made me think of the character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it’s actually named after Erik Rosenkrantz, governor of Bergenhus Fortress from 1560 to 1568. The tower housed a dungeon and residential rooms and was later used to store gunpowder.  I thought it was so interesting how the exterior wall is such a hotch-potch, clearly the result of the expansion of the structure.

If you’ve been to Akershus Fortress in Oslo, then Bergenhus will likely feel smaller and with a less impressive vantage point. Nevertheless, exploring the fortress grounds is an interesting thing to do in Bergen.

You can explore Bergenhus independently, but you can also do a guided walking tour of Bergen’s past, which includes the fortress.

6. Visit One Of Bergen’s Many Churches

Bergen’s cityscape is punctuated by the spires of a lot of churches, and I found myself visiting a few of them.

St Mary’s Church (Mariakirken) is the oldest existing building in Bergen. It dates from the 12th century (although it has been renovated a number of times over the centuries). It is built in mainly Romanesque style, but with some gothic influences. During the time of the Hanseatic League, the German population used St Mary’s, leading it to be known locally as ‘the German church’.

white and stone church with two towers
St Mary’s Church, Bergen

Bergen Cathedral (Domkirke) also has very old origins, dating from the 12th century. However, its current building was finished in the 17th Century.

St John’s Church (Johanneskirken) is the most prominent church in Bergen, rising up at the end of Torggaten street. It feels like it oversees the city. It is much newer than some of the other churches, having been consecrated in 1894. Its tall structure and red brick plus green copper spire combination are quite vivid.

There is a church I suggest you avoid, though. Holy Cross Church (Korskirken) is now a city mission. When I went, it had somewhat chaotic and noisy people congregated around it. I saw more than one needle on the floor, and I didn’t feel comfortable there.

7. Watch The Sunset In Vågsallmenningen Square

One of my favourite spots in Bergen ended up being Vågsallmenningen Square, which is a small square dating from the 16th century, bordered by some colourful, attractive buildings.

statue of a man with old fashioned clothes lit up by the sunset
Vågsallmenningen Square

Three things drew me here at first glance and one thing drew me to return. What drew me to this square in the first place was:

  • The statue of Ludvig Holberg caught my eye. He was a writer, essayist, philosopher, historian and playwright born in Bergen in the 18th century.
  • The way this place gets lit up at sunset – it was glorious!

And what caused me to come back to Vågsallmenningen was the Bergen Børs Hotel, which is in a building that used to be the stock exchange.  The hotel has a fancy restaurant and a great cocktail bar. The aquavit espresso martini I had there was perfect!

8. People-Watch In Torgalmenningen Square

Just up the road from Vågsallmenningen Square is Torgalmenningen Square. This is a large, rectangular square than feels like the centre of Bergen. It is a marker between the historic harbour area and the newer part of the city that expanded westwards.

At the eastern end, there’s a large water feature called the Maritime Monument, which depicts Norwegian sailors through the ages. At the other end is the Blue Stone (Den Blå Steinen), a popular meeting point. Between these two landmarks, Torgalmenningen Square is a great place to observe Bergeners going about their business.

wide square with pink and yellow buildings and a green-ish water feature monument in the middle
Torgalmenningen Square

It’s also a shopping area, so you can browse for clothes if you’re in the market for some new apparel.

9. Relax At Festplassen & City Park

Festplassen is a spacious piazza in central Bergen. It has been a gathering place for Bergeners and the site of fun fairs and festivals. It is located between a man-made lake, which has a fountain, and City Park (Byparken), which has some lovely gardens and a pavilion.

round pagoda surrounded by green grass and trees
City Park

This area had an air of peacefulness when I visited – a place of calm in the middle of the city.

10. Pay Homage To Ibsen At The National Stage

West of City Park, there are some more flower-filled gardens along a boulevard that leads to the National Stage theatre (Den Nationale Scene). The theatre is one of Norway’s four national institutions for performing arts and is an example of Art Nouveau architecture.

manicured gardens with a green-roofed building behind them
Den Nationale Scene

Outside the theatre is a statue of Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian-Danish playwright. From 1851-1858, Ibsen worked as a dramatist and stage instructor in Bergen.

Ibsen is often ranked as one of the most distinguished playwrights of the nineteenth century and ‘the father of realism’. I remember reading his tragedy Hedda Gabler at school and being quite struck by it, so I was pleased to see him honoured in Bergen.

11. Take A Day Trip From Bergen

A lot of travellers use Bergen as a base from which to explore southern Norway and it is possible to book a large number of day trips. These are often boat trips along fjords but some combine a fjord cruise with buses and/or hikes to glaciers. After all, the fjords are one of the things Norway is famous for.

Many day tours go from Bergen to Flam, which was an area I had been in before arriving in Bergen. But then Flam is astoundingly beautiful, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that many tours go there.

mountains reflected in the still calm waters of a fjord near Flam
Flam – fjord heaven

In the end, I didn’t take any day trips due to wanting to explore the city further. However, I was most tempted by a boat ride along the fjords closer to Bergen, such as a cruise down Osterfjord or to Alversund Streams.

Map: Things To Do In Bergen

Here’s a map of the things to do in Bergen that I’ve described in this post:

How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one.  If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.

Practical Guide To Bergen

How To Get To Bergen

I arrived in Bergen by train. I was spending one week in Norway, moving around by train, so I arrived at Bergen train station. However, Bergen does have an international airport (sometimes called Bergen Flesland Airport), so it is an option to fly in. Use Skyscanner for good flight prices.

Where To Eat & Drink In Bergen

I enjoyed some great food and drinks everywhere in Norway – Norwegians seem to value high-quality eats and I approve! Bergen was no exception, so here’s a run-down of some of the places I recommend to eat & drink in Bergen

pot of colourful salad with beetroot, broccoli, mushrooms, courgette, humous and seeds
The Daily Pot
  • Daily Pot – my favourite spot for lunch. They serve bowls of soup, topped with cheese and veggies, or salad bowls, stacked high with fresh ingredients. My protein salad pot was colourful, tasty and filling. The building it is in is also interesting, with what looked like original wood panelling on the walls.
  • Bryggeriet Restaurant – this place on the harbour specialises in fish and locally brewed beer. I was served a huge and tasty portion of salmon, which was fish of the day. It came with a rich buttery sauce and nice veggies.
  • Street food stalls on Torget street –  there is a variety of street food on sale, including ‘Viking burgers’ and fish & chips. This is a good way to keep to a low budget in what is otherwise an expensive country.
  • Vågal coffee bar – it was almost too cool for me, but if you like mismatched furniture, 80/ board games and 80s moustaches, this is a good place for coffee. They also have a small cocktail menu.
  • Kaffemisjonen – this was more my vibe for coffee: they’d clearly spent more time perfecting the coffee and cakes than on the décor. For me, those are the right priorities! I loved the carrot cake.
  • Bare Restaurant & Bar På – as I mentioned earlier, I had a drink in the Bergen Børs Hotel bar which is a cavernous and impressive restaurant. I felt all sophisticated!
espresso martini in a glass on a bar
Bar På in Bergen Børs Hotel

Where To Stay In Bergen

I stayed in the Thon Hotel Bristol, which is fairly close to the train station and also the harbour. My room was massive and the breakfast options here were really good, too.

However, if I was to go back, I’d be tempted by these two hotels:

  • Bergen Børs Hotel, the place with the nice cocktail bar I mentioned. I didn’t see the rooms but I had a poke around looking for the toilet and it seemed really nice!
  • Clarion Collection Hotel is right next to Bryggen and has a tower from which you get great views of Bergen. They do let non-guests use it, but when I tried to do it, it was ‘booked’ for a big event. The old-school bar in the lobby has a relaxed comfortable vibe to it.

In Conclusion

Norway’s second city is a vibrant place that has lots of things to do. I hope I’ve inspired you about how to spend your time in Bergen.

And if you need more travel inspo, check out my post about things to do in Flam, my favourite spot in Norway (so far). And I also have an itinerary for spending 7 days in Norway.

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