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Norway's second largest city is also its most beautiful and alluring. Set in a scenic region of hills and fjords, Bergen's postcard-ready timber architecture, picturesque harbor, and big city cultural institutions win the hearts of every visitor.
But Bergen isn't just a city by itself. Known as the "gateway to the fjords", it's a jumping-off point for cruises along some of Europe's most jaw-dropping coastline. Surrounded by forests and hills, it's also an alpine sports hub and a fantastic place for hikers, cyclists, and climbers.
A beautiful, laid-back blend of urban attractions and natural drama, Bergen enthralls from the moment you arrive.
Bergen was a thriving medieval trading port, so much so that it became part of the famous Hanseatic League. As it grew wealthy, the city built some handsome homes and churches in the atmospheric Bryggen harbor neighborhood. Protected by UNESCO, Bryggen is a lovely place to wander around, with plenty of boutiques and craft galleries to duck into if the crowds become too much.
The region around the city is famous for its beautiful fjords. Take a cruise down the pristine Nærøyfjorden (also on the UNESCO list), or take the Flåm Railway through some extraordinary mountain scenery.
Back in town, Bergen's roster of galleries and museums would suit a city five times its size. The huge Kunstmuseum houses works by famous names like Max Ernst and Picasso, you can visit the home of composer Edvard Grieg, find out about trade at the Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene, and see 50 meticulously reconstructed 19th-century homes at the outdoor Gamle Bergen Museum.
The people of Bergen adore alpine sports, and make a beeline for nearby slopes like Voss and Geilo when the snows arrive. Even closer to town, there's also plenty of great hiking to be enjoyed on the city's "seven hills", while superb views from Mount Fløyen can be experienced by all thanks to a charming cable car from the city center.
Food is one of modern Norway's great obsessions, and Bergen is one of the centers of the New Nordic Cuisine. You can spend all evening sampling local delicacies from the taster menu at Bare Vestland, or book a seat at exclusive Lysverket, where Christopher Haatuft works wonders with the city's freshly caught seafood.
Most tourists will prefer to visit Bergen from around May onward, when the chill of Norway's winter is a distant memory, and people start to think about open air swimming in the fjords. May and June also see Bergen hosting its International Festival, followed closely by the huge Bergenfest music event in mid-June.
The easiest way to reach Bergen is by flying into Bergen Airport Flesland (BGO), which is about 15 miles south of the city center. From there, you can take the Flybussen bus service (leaves every 15 minutes and costs kr100) or arrange a taxi for around kr300. Car rental is another excellent option, and you'll find companies like Avis, Hertz, and Enterprise represented at the airport.
Bergen has a regular rail connection to Oslo, so you could also fly into the capital without any problems. The imposing Gothic Bergen Station is a short walk east of the city center, and a taxi to downtown hotels should cost about kr100.
If you are driving from Flesland, take route number 580 straight into town. Those driving from Oslo have a couple of options. You can either take the coastal E18 (a beautiful, but time-consuming route), or take the E134 across country, then the E39 at Haugesund.
Bergen's main bus station has connections to Oslo, Stavanger, and Kristiansand, and NOR-WAY Bussekspress buses are the cheapest way to get around Norway. You can easily walk to the city center from the bus station, or catch a cab for around kr100.
Bergen's historic harbor neighborhood is probably the most enjoyable area to stay, and has some superb hotels. High-quality options include the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel and the Clarion Hotel Admiral, which has a spa and overlooks the harbor directly. Det Hanseatiske Hotel is a historic property with chic boutique rooms, while Basic Hotel offers comfortable, no frills accommodation in a central location.
Bryggen - the heart of medieval Bergen, Bryggen (literally "wharf") was a thriving port, shipping fish, textiles, furs, and timber across Western Europe. Nowadays, it's an enchanting neighborhood of beautiful timber-framed houses, stores, and hotels, with some fine attractions, not least the sublime Statsraad Lehmkuhl, a lovingly maintained early 20th-century sailing vessel.
Sentrum - the center of modern Bergen is a few hundred yards inland from Bryggen, but no less enticing. Elegant, tidy, and full of energy, Sentrum is where you'll find museums like the Kunsthall, cultural institutions like the Grieghallen concert hall, and fine eateries like Lysverket.
Bergenhus - Bergenhus is dominated by the fort of the same name, which used to stand guard over the harbor. A royal residence since the 11th century, you can tour the fort with expert guides, relax in the extensive grounds, or book a ticket to the many summer music events in the surrounding park.
Bergen's buses cover the whole of the city, but can be a little erratic, so double check on the web to find departure times and the right stop for your journey. Tickets can be bought on board or at bus stop ticket machines, and fares start at kr31. You can also use a rechargeable Skysskort card, available at the bus station, which allows you to save 17 percent on every journey. Aside from buses, the light rail line into southern Bergen could be handy, and costs kr60 per ride.
If you need to travel by taxi, the best way to find a cab is by checking out the nearest taxi rank (not hailing on the street). Cabs aren't usually cheap, with a meter drop of kr44, then a charge of at least kr15 per mile after that.
Driving in Bergen is relatively simple, and there are a couple of large parking lots in Bryggen and Sentrum to choose from. You won't struggle to find a rental outlet, with branches of Avis, Hertz, and Sixt (among others) in the downtown area. Renting is also cost effective (relative to taxis), at around kr130-150 per day.
Downtown Bergen is full of great places to shop. You can start in Bryggen, where stores like Blonder og Stas are packed with Norwegian-themed souvenirs, and you'll find all the Scandinavian knitwear you could ever need at Bryggen Husflid or Audhild Viken. If you are looking for hip boutiques, wander over to Skostredet, where stores like Robot show off Norway's flair for design. Then, head south to Foreningsgatan, where you'll find a clutch of furniture design showrooms - the perfect place to pick up a Scandinavian ornament for your home.
Supermarkets can be found all over Bergen, and include numerous REMA 1000 stores, as well as MENY and Bunnpris. However, grocery shopping is more fun at the famous Fisketorget (fish market) and Kjøttbasaren, the city's gourmet food nexus. Prices are slightly above the US average, at around kr55 for a gallon of milk and kr30 for 12 eggs.
Gourmet food lovers will adore Bergen, which hosts some of Norway's most exciting chefs. The centerpiece of the local dining scene remains Lysverket, on the site of the main art gallery, but it's been joined by a galaxy of similarly accomplished eateries. Check out Enhjørningen Fiskerestaurant in Bryggen for sublime fish dishes, the cozy but wonderful Bryggen Tracteursted, and Søtt + Salt, where seven course meals are routine. Expect to pay around kr500 in most restaurants.