Bergen is often referred to as Norway’s “second city,” as it is the second-largest city in the country, behind Oslo. But that’s not to say Bergen takes a backseat to Oslo in order of importance. In fact, Bergen has just as many significant historic and cultural sights as the capital. For example, the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Norway, Bryggen was the seat of the Hanseatic League, a powerful confederation of merchant guilds that dominated commercial activity in northern Europe for hundreds of years. Today, this collection of colourfully painted wooden structures gives you a sense of what Bergen was like in its glorious past.
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Bergen is also home to the Grieg Museum, which is dedicated to the virtuoso composer and pianist Edvard Grieg. The museum is located at the Bergen native’s actual home, Troldhaugen. Bergen also boasts one of the most photographed churches in Norway, the Fantoft Stave Church. Tragedy struck this iconic church, which was first built in 1150 when in 1992 it was destroyed by an arsonist; however, it has long since been reconstructed to match its former glory.
And no trip to Bergen is complete without getting a bird’s-eye view of the city from Fløyen, one of the seven mountains surrounding Bergen. It is frequently said that “getting there is half the fun,” and in Fløyen’s case that couldn’t be more true, as you reach the top of this majestic mountain via funicular, the Fløibanen, which happens to be one of Norway’s best-known attractions. The journey to the top of Fløyen is just 5-8 minutes, but the memories created during that short trip will last a lifetime.
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If the aforementioned Fløyen isn’t high enough for you, take an aerial tramway up to the top of Ulriken, the tallest of Bergen’s seven mountains. At Ulriken’s peak, you will not only find a restaurant but free telescopes, which can be used to strategically locate some of the city’s top sights below, as well as help you get your Bergen bearings. If you’re up for the challenge, you can also hike to the top of Ulriken on one of many different trails. Whichever route you take, you are destined to be famished once you reach the top, and thankfully the Skyskraperen restaurant will be waiting for you and your appetite, as will some of the best views of Bergen.
Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf
Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bergen is like stepping back in time. The string of brightly painted historic wooden structures is one of Bergen’s most-visited attractions. Bryggen was the site of the German Hanseatic League’s import and export offices, which were first established in 1360. (Due to numerous fires over the years, the houses have been rebuilt in the characteristic Bryggen fashion.) Today, the wharf is home to numerous cafes, restaurants and shops that sell traditional crafts. Bryggen is also home to the Hanseatic Museum, which depicts how the Hanseatic merchants lived and traded for 400 years. Visitors can tour an authentic trading room replete with a merchant’s office, sleeping quarters and guest room.
VilVite -- Bergen Science Center
If you’re travelling with children, or just love science, you won’t want to miss the VilVite -- Bergen Science Center. It features interactive exhibits, workshops and 3D film shows, including water experiments, robots and expeditions above and below water. VilVite’s newest exhibition, “The Brain and the Gut,” explores the interaction between the two. The VilVite -- Bergen Science Center is a place where children and adults can learn and explore science and technology together.
Another top museum in Bergen is dedicated to world-class composer Edvard Grieg. In fact, it is located in the maestro’s former house, Troldhaugen. Here you will also find the graves of Grieg and his wife, a composer’s cabin, a modern museum, gift shop, cafe and the Troldsalen concert hall, which hosts lunchtime and evening concerts.
Fantoft Stave Church
Chances are you’ve seen pictures of this iconic and innovative church but didn’t even know where it was located, which is outside Bergen, Norway. The Fantoft Stave Church is one of the most unique on Earth, and is made of wood and decorated in the Viking tradition, with stylized dragon heads on the exterior, as it was believed in Viking times that dragons keep evil spirits away. Today, it is one of the most visited churches in Norway.
The Bergenhus Fortress has stood sentinel over the entrance to the city’s harbour for centuries and is one of the oldest and best-preserved fortresses in Norway. The medieval fortress consists of a royal hall, Haakon’s Hall, and a defensive tower, Rosenkrantz Tower. Today, Bergenhus is used as a concert venue and feast hall for public events and is open to the public. It is under the command of the Royal Norwegian Navy. The fortress is also home to the Bergenhus Fortress Museum, whose exhibitions include the Women’s Contribution to the Armed Forces and The Resistance Struggle 1940-1945, which illustrates how a civilian campaign was organized against the Nazis during the German occupation. Visitors to Bergenhus can also learn about the history of the fortress, going back to the beginning when it was King Øystein’s estate.
KODE Art Museums
KODE comprises four venues in Bergen, all located along Lake Lungegard. KODE is one of the biggest museums for art, craft and design in Scandinavia.
KODE 1 is dedicated to fine craft and design. Its permanent exhibition is entitled “The Silver Treasure. Kode 1 also features an education room for children.
KODE 2 is the primary venue for temporary exhibitions, such as “Pablo Picasso. Suite 347.” KODE 2 also houses Bergen’s largest art bookstore, which sells books on the visual arts, architecture, photography and design, as well as books about KODE Art Museums’ collections and exhibitions, and the Cafe Smakverket.
KODE 3 is the proud home of the extensive Rasmus Meyers Collection and numerous works by Norway’s greatest artist, Edvard Munch. Other collection highlights include paintings from the Golden Age of Norwegian art.
KODE 4 is great for kids, as it houses KunstLab -- The Children’s Art Museum, which is the first art museum in Norway specially designed for children. It features a lab where kids are free to explore the world of art through play and experimentation. KODE 4 also displays paintings by Nikolai Astrup, one of the country’s most esteemed artists, and is where the Lysverket restaurant is located.
Do you love fish and other sea creatures? If so, you won’t want to miss the Bergen Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Norway. Here you will find local and tropical fish, as well as penguins, otters, sea lions, crocodiles and more. The Bergen Aquarium consists of more than 50 large and small tanks and aquariums. The aquarium also has live demonstrations, daily shows and screenings, and hosts events and children’s birthday parties. The Bergen Aquarium has a gift shop and restaurant, Biologen Akvariet, which specializes in fish and shellfish. Don’t worry, though, the aquarium’s critters will not be on the menu.
Bergen Fish Market
If you don’t get your fill of fish at the aquarium’s Biologen Akvariet, then head to the Bergen Fish Market, which overflows with tasty selections from the sea. The Bergen Fish Market, located in the heart of the city center, is one of Norway’s most-visited outdoor attractions. In addition to fish, you can find shellfish, fruit, vegetables, flowers, plants and hand-made crafts. If the outdoor fish market is not operating due to season or inclement weather, don’t worry, as there is also an indoor fish market that is open year-round, as well as restaurants and shops.
Old Bergen Open-Air Museum
If you love museums but find them a bit stuffy or claustrophobic, the Old Bergen Open-Air Museum is the place for you. The living history museum is located in the venerated Sandviken district and was founded in 1946 with the goal of saving Bergen’s historic buildings. Today, the Old Bergen Open-Air Museum is a reconstructed small town comprising 50 wooden houses dating from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Visitors can view the historical interiors and ask questions of the museum’s role-players. Throughout the year, the museum hosts special events that emulate typical celebrations from the given period of time, and stages performances in the town square a few times a day. The Old Bergen Open-Air Museum also has a tranquil park, gift shop and small cafe.
Johanneskirken (St. John’s Church)
Johanneskirken is the biggest church in Bergen, with a seating capacity of 1,250. This red-brick Gothic-revival church is also the highest point in the city, due to its 61-meter (200-foot) tower. Johanneskirken, which was built in 1891, is one of the most eye-catching structures in all of Bergen and should be on any visitor’s itinerary.
Explore Local Fjords
Norway is blessed with more than a thousand fjords. They can be found almost everywhere in the country, and Bergen is no exception. If the hustle and bustle of Norway’s second-largest city start to get to you, take a relaxing break and explore one or more of the nearby fjords. This can be done by boat, kayak, bike or on your own two feet. Fortunately, Bergen is located near the longest fjord in Norway, Sognefjord, and one of the country’s most beautiful, Hardangerfjord.
Bergen is often referred to as the “gateway to the fjords of Norway,” which National Geographic calls the world’s most unspoiled tourist destination and “one of the world’s greatest landscapes.” Sognefjord, 205 kilometres (127 miles) long, is also the deepest fjord in Norway and is known as the King of fjords. The shores of Sognefjord are also home to two of Norway’s most famous stave churches: Kaupanger and Urnes.
Furthermore, one of Sognefjord’s arms, Nærøyfjord, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hardangerfjord is the second-longest fjord in Norway at 179 kilometres (111 miles), but just as beautiful as Sognefjord. Hardangerfjord is also home to Norway’s third-largest glacier, Folgefonna, which is also a national park and is dotted with picturesque islands and spellbinding waterfalls.
Hike to Trolltunga
Perched 3,600 feet above sea level sits something that seems to be a tongue sticking out. This is Trolltunga or Troll Tongue, and it is not actually a giant tongue, but rather a rock formation, a Norwegian national icon and one of the most popular hiking destinations in the country.
In fact, over 80,000 people hike to Troll Tongue every year, despite the fact that it’s a 17-mile round-trip journey and quite difficult. This is not a hike for novices, and the Norwegian Trekking Association has classified the Trolltunga hike as “challenging,” but if you’re up for it, the 10-hour hike is extremely rewarding. Troll Tongue juts out into space over Ringedalsvatnet Lake and is the place in Norway for hikers to take pictures.
It is replete with magnificent views for miles, and many consider the view from Trolltunga the wildest and scenic in the country. It is at the top of many a hiker’s bucket list for Norway.
Kløverhuset and Galleriet
If you’re the type of person that likes to mix in a little, or a lot, of shopping with your sightseeing, Bergen will not disappoint. In Bergen, you can find everything under one roof at Kløverhuset and Galleriet shopping malls. Kløverhuset, a multi-level indoor mall that has been around since 1852, is brimming with boutiques, restaurants and even a hotel. If you prefer a more modern shopping centre, Galleriet is a great alternative and has more than 70 stores. Located near the famous Bergen Fish Market, Galleriet is considered the best shopping centre in the city.