It’s graduated from cute university town with a good music scene to world-class city with an enticing mix of museums and cultural organizations, New Nordic restaurants, and genteel cafes and bars. It also happens to be the jumping off point for countless fjord trips, day hikes, and overnights excursions to see natural wonders like Trolltunga, all close by and easily accessible.
Whether you’ve been to Bergen or not, you probably have a picture of it in your head, and it includes colorfully painted houses with pointed roofs. This is the preserved, wharfside Bryggen and it appears on many a postcard and guidebook cover. Here’s where you’ll find plenty of cafes and restaurants with tables and chairs that spill out onto the street to catch the sun’s precious rays when the weather gets warmer. But there’s so much more to Bergen than that.
Branch outwards to find equally quaint streets where real life is led, tiny shops selling everything from vintage clothes and crafts to ponchos and umbrellas—a must in one of the world’s proudly rainiest cities. Museums and culture centers celebrate Bergen’s painters, writers, and artists and tell the story of the Hanseatic League, merchants who banded together to dominate this part of the world centuries ago, helping Bergen rise to prominence.
Of course, Bergen holds too much to see in just one day. But the city is small and easily navigable, so if you only have 24 hours, you’ll still be able to do quite a lot.
Practical Tips for a Perfect Day in Bergen
Bergen can sometimes seem like a small, friendly town. But you’re still in Norway, so expect prices that won’t go easy on your wallet. Budget more than you normally would for daily expenses: even a bottle of water can set you back the equivalent of $5-6 depending on where you buy it.
The good news is that Bergen is such a compact city, you may end up spending a day crisscrossing it without once getting on a bus or train. If you find you do need wheels under your feet, turn to Skyss, the city’s bus and light rail system. A 24-hour ticket for the central 2 zones will cost you 97 NOK or about $12 (as of Spring 2018), whereas a single ride will cost you 37 NOK or $5; if you plan on taking at least 3 rides, a 24-hour ticket is most likely your best bet. The city’s tourist deal, the Bergen Card, offers you discounts to 30 museums and tourist attractions, as well as free travel for 24, 48, or 72 hours—perfect for a weekend in this highly accessible city.
Bergen is an extremely safe city, and you’ll find the locals quite helpful if you need directions or a few recommendations for the day. As always, petty theft such as pick-pocketing can occur in highly touristed areas like Bryggen wharf, but not at a higher rate than in many mid-sized cities.
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9 am — Wake up in Bergen
Bergen hasn’t quite caught up to Oslo yet, but it’s got a few hip coffee bars for your morning caffeine fix. Most of them are right behind Bryggen, and therefore within an easy walk of the waterfront: try Kaffemisjonen, Det Lille Kaffe Kompaniet, or Bergen Kaffebrenneri Vagen, all sleekly designed local favorites that serve up pastries, cakes and open-faced sandwiches along with a satisfying cup of joe. The city is also teeming with instagram-worthy cafes that serve breakfast, including waffles or porridge with various sweet toppings. For a scrumptious start to the day in quaintly retro surroundings, try the central Café Opera.
From here, you should greet the day the way most Norwegians would: with a deep breath of fresh air and a deep stretch, admiring the view from Mt. Fløyen. If you’ve got a lot of energy and are in reasonably good shape, you can take the long way up; that is to say, you can hike up to the top of the mountain, though several cute neighborhoods you’re probably unlikely to see otherwise. Most visitors take the Fløibanen funicular, which zips you right to the top, where a glass-enclosed lookout platform offers a spectacular view of the city below. While you’re up there, follow some of the trails into the forests for picnic tables, children’s play areas, and even a small lake where you can rent canoes.
1 pm — An Afternoon of Culture
If you haven’t already, there’s no better place to work up an appetite in Bergen than at the lively harborside fish market, which has actually been around since the 1200s. It’s now located in a newly built indoor/outdoor structure, with walls that open to the elements in warmer weather, offering plenty of space for both fish sellers and seafood restaurants. Wander the rows of glistening scales, snappy crustaceans, and smoked filets, and try some samples, or find a seat at one of the bustling eateries if you fancy a fishy midday meal. The dish to try: the city’s classic fish soup, creamy and chock full of shellfish and succulent morsels of fish meat.
You’ve had your outdoorsy morning and a satisfying lunch, so by now you’re probably ready to take in some culture and history. Luckily, Bergen is practically bursting at the seams with it. The city’s crowning jewel might be the Hanseatic Museum, which tells the story of a league of merchants whose vast network stretched all across northern Europe. They established trade routes that went beyond nationality, culture, and even language, leaving their signature majestic redbrick architecture on many coastal cities in what would become modern-day Scandinavia, the Baltics, northern Germany, and Poland. From there, check out art through the ages at KODE, actually several museums combined into one. Among them are four beautiful buildings and three composer’s homes, including the summertime home of Edvard Grieg. KODE boasts a mindboggling display of Nordic paintings, sculpture, and arts and crafts from a number of eras.
If museum-going isn’t quite your thing, you’ll be pleased to find that Bergen is also known for its street art. A laid-back creative atmosphere hasn’t just produced bands and musicians like Kings of Convenience, Röyksopp, and Annie, it’s also nurtured graffiti artists like AFK and Dolk who make buildings their canvases. Thankfully, they don’t need to do it in secret, as plenty of art collectives like BART Gallerier and Galleri s.e support them, sell their work, and bring them to a larger audience. But there’s no better way to experience it for yourself than to wander around the city; you’ll spot large murals, small figures, delicate stencils and intricate tags in no time.
7 pm — Dinnertime and After Hours
By now, you’re probably ready to relax over drinks or dinner, and there are plenty of places for both in Bergen. The city is packed with nightlife options, many of them catering to its large university-age population. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find some “grown-up” jewels among them. For laid-back cocktails in a serene environment, try No Stress (cleverly named after not just its atmosphere, but the iconic ‘80s streetwear shop that used to be there, called Stress). Here you can sip classic cocktails, and a few signature drinks with playful names like the “Machu Pisco” or the “Mezcalator.” Bergen also has a thriving craft beer scene, anchored by cozy brewpubs like Apollon, Henrik Øl og Vinstove, and Bryggeriet, which offer local brews and some from farther afield in Scandinavia both on tap and by bottle.
Bergen may be smaller than Oslo and less touristy, but in terms of cuisine, it’s beginning to catch up. The most famous of them all right now is undoubtedly Lysverket in one of the KODE museums, where a half-Norwegian, half-American chef has coined the term “neo-fjordic” to describe a cuisine that is even more relentlessly local than mere New Nordic. For traditional Norwegian cuisine in a setting that looks like a 19th-century explorer’s cabin or a ship bound for the Arctic, try Restaurant 1877. Meanwhile, if there’s been one successful “mini-brand” in Bergen, it’s probably Colonialen, which offers sleek, modern cuisine at its local restaurant, brasserie, bakery, and café. If you just want to enjoy more fish while you can (and for a good price) try one of the many traditional restaurants directly on the wharf, including Bryggeloftet & Stuene.
In just one day in Bergen, you’ve managed to cover food and drink, nature and culture. Where you head next is up to you, but check out these extended itineraries to see how Bergen can be a jumping-off point for experiencing the rest of Norway.