Bergen leaves you in awe as soon lay eyes on their postcard worthy colored houses. Take a stroll around the alleyways and check out the wooden houses sprinkled everywhere around the city, or delight yourself with the mystical view of the mountains tucked in the clouds. You can’t put it into words, but if we really had to, we’d go for the “slice of heaven” cliche.
During the 12th and 13th century, Bergen was the most important city of Norway, and its center of commerce. Although it eventually lost its place to the current capital — Oslo — Bergen is currently the second biggest city of Norway, a colorful destination close to the fjords, and still carries an incredible cultural heritage.
By European standards, the city – surrounded by 7 mountains presenting themselves as a nature buffet – feels a tad small, with only 250,000 friendly inhabitants.
For most of its history, Bergen has survived on the sea and long history of commerce, protected and tucked in between 7 mountains. This heritage trio shapes Bergen and its main attractions: the mountains; the preserved Hanseatic houses of Bryggen, the wharf and the fish market.
The mountains offer outstanding views of the urban landscape and its stunning setting, as well as an extensive network of hiking trails for various levels of physical fitness.
We visited the two most popular ones: Mount Fløyen — with easy access from the city center — and Mount Ulriken which is the highest of 7 mountains that surround Bergen.
From Mount Fløyen – set approximately 320m above sea level – you can enjoy the beautiful view where the city merges with the sea, and from the top of mount Ulriken – 643m above sea level – you’ll be able to watch the entire city from different points of view.
If you’re feeling courageous, the two mountains are connected with by a 4-5h hike. Go for it!
Ulriken – The highest point of Bergen
We walked to the base of the funicular and then took it to the top of Ulriken. You can also climb there through 2 different trails, but given how unpredictable the weather is, we wanted to enjoy the summit while the sun was out.
The hike can be tricky, as the mountain is very rocky and has several small rocks on the trails. So if you’re either climbing up or down (as we did), be mindful that the trail can be dangerous if you’re not being careful about your foot holds.
How to get there:
- Starting from Ulriken Cable Car: Walk or take the bus to Haukeland hospital. Cross the footbridge and simply follow the signs to Ulriksbanen. Behind the cable car you can easily spot some stairs that lead up to the forest.
- Starting at Montana: Take the bus 12 to Montana. Follow the signs to Montana hostel and once you get to it, turn right (if you’re driving, there’s free parking close to the hostel). Just follow the path going up, you can’t miss it.
Once you’re at the top, feel free to explore the several different hikes. If for some reason you’re not feeling so confident on climbing down through one of the trails, just use Bergen’s cable car — Ulriken 643.
Fløyen – Spectacular views a few minutes from the city
Fløyen is easily accessible and close to the city, but with the downside of being much more crowded than Ulriken. Still worth a visit, at 320m above the sea level, it offers a closer point of view to the seaward in and out of and the fjords surrounding Bergen.
At the top you will find a restaurant, ice cream and hot dogs trucks and a big play area for kids. In here you can observe tiny Norwegians in formation, moms hiking with their babies (or jogging with their strollers), and two year olds rocking obstacles parks like Navy Seals.
How to get there:
- We walked up to Mount Fløyen from the place we were staying at. The route is easier than the Ulriken one and it took us about one hour from Bryggen to the top.
You can also take the Floyenbannen to the top – it is easy to find – just 150m from the Fish Market. You can spot given the big line at the door. But the hike is quite accessible and worthy it, plus you’ll save some money. We used the Fløibanen to get down, as we had to checkout from our AirBnb — we weren’t even that tired —, the journey is quite nice as well, once again overlooking Bergen and it costs 45 NOK each trip.
Bryggen – The heart of the city
You probably recognize the tall, colorful houses of Bryggen – which means dock in Norwegian – from somewhere else, as they are a postcard from Bergen and Norway.
In 1702, the buildings belonging to the Hanseatic League were damaged by fire.
The front — the postcard part of Bryggen — delight tourists with the colorful wood planks, and keeps the around with all the restaurants, bakeries, and ice cream spots; and there’s always room for one more Scandinavian design, souvenir and even a Christmas store.
The more interesting part of Bryggen might just be what lies behind it. Squeeze through the alleyways and you’ll find lots of new spaces, containing artists galleries, artisan goods such as pottery and leather, the Bryggen museum and a wish fountain (it really works if you believe hard enough!).
The houses resemble those Christmas postcards your uncles sent you every year. Wooden and cozy, these houses boosting charming colors make walks through the city even more pleasant.
Even though it’s not a highlight of Bergen, you can still find some great street art, and if by any chance you miss the murals, there’s plenty of street art galleries around the city center.
“There are a lot of good people around” —by Svein Moxvold on Domkirkegaten. We liked this one especially, as it seems to portray the spirit of the people in Bergen.
Everyone. Is. So. Absolutely. Nice.
The Fish Market
The Fish Market in Bergen – another tourist highlight – has since the 1200s been a meeting place for merchants and fishermen.
You will find also several other things being sold besides fish. You can also buy fruit, vegetables, handcrafted objects and souvenirs (from Norwegian caviar to little trolls).
Every vendor is trying to grab the attention of the tourists walking by, either giving quick tips on on how to prepare fish, spouting trivia about their cuisine, or seducing them with the smell of freshly cooked dishes.
But one needs to be picky when choosing a restaurant / what to eat, as there are many tourist traps. Although I do not have any specific suggestions, we believe you might be able to find better fish in other restaurants around the city or even at the supermarket.
Worth to take a look at, it is always interesting to go to local markets or even supermarkets in other countries.
Bonus: We found Portuguese bolinhos de bacalhau!
Stroll around this side of the water to get a full picture of the Bryggen.
How to get there
We took a short flight from Stockholm with Norwegian Airlines. They fly directly from most European cities to Bergen at good prices. Another alternative would be to fly with Scandinavian Airlines that generally have good prices for Under 26.
There’s also day and night trains from Oslo, which are said to be an experience on its own.
To the city
The best way to go the city is to take the light train. Each trip costs about 35 NOK and it is even more interesting than the bus as you can see different parts of Bergen and it is extremely comfortable. This connections is new, but it’s easily missed because the signs leading to it are not very clear, and you still have to walk a bit from the airport doors. The final stop is in Byparken, which is very close to Bryggen.
If you’re in a hurry (it takes about 30 minutes) or feeling lazy you can also take the airport shuttle bus, it’s probably parked just outside the airports doors and it costs 120 p/ adult, and 100 NOK with student discount.
Norway can be quite expensive, so we tried not to spend all our money in a few days. A few tips on how to do it:
- Watch out for public transportation, bus services seem to be really good even in remote areas.
- Rent an Airbnb instead of a hotel room. It is usually cheaper, central and you will have the possibility of preparing some meals at home. And here you have a 20 Euro discount if you’re creating a new account.
- As we spent most time on the move and on the top of mountains, we opted for the picnic and snacks option. We spent less than 250 NOK in the supermarket on the first day and it lasted for the rest of the days — quite cheap I would say!
- Yes, restaurants — and specially alcohol — are quite expensive, but life is also to be tasted. Don’t forbid yourself from doing something you want. We rewarded ourselves with a last dinner before catching the flight by the fish market watching over the sea and Bryggen.