Traveling to Bergen, Norway? Here’s what you need to know

May 20, 2022

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Most North Americans who visit Bergen, Norway, arrive there for just a day on a cruise ship as part of a Norwegian fjords sailing. The Gateway to the Fjords, as the small port city is known, traditionally has drawn few Americans for overnight stays.

But that could be changing thanks to United Airlines’ new nonstop flights to Bergen, which launch today.

The new three-times-a-week flights, from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Bergen Airport Flesland (BGO), will allow New York-area travelers to reach Bergen in just over seven hours — quick enough to make it viable as a weekend getaway.

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In addition to drawing a quick-getaway crowd, the new flights are likely to be in strong demand from the growing number of U.S. cruisers sailing out of Bergen on Viking ships. The North American-focused brand is increasingly using Bergen as a hub for sailings to Scandinavia and the Baltic.

Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about planning a visit to Bergen, whether you’re arriving for just a day on a cruise ship or flying in for a multi-day visit.

Why visit Bergen, Norway?

Bergen’s tourism officials say just 6% of the city’s overnight visitors are Americans — but it’s not for a lack of allure. An important seaport as far back as the Middle Ages, Bergen is home to a historic, UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed old quarter, a cluster of top-notch art museums and a bigger bar and nightlife scene than you might expect for a city of just 271,000 people (the latter may partly be a result in part of having a large student population).

Surrounded by mountains and fjords, Bergen is a hub for exploring the spectacular scenery of Norway’s coastal region. In addition, it’s the southern terminus for ferries operated by Hurtigruten and Havila that travel up the coast of Norway as far as Kirkenes, more than 1,000 miles to the north. Catering to both locals and tourists, the ferries can take you to dozens of small Norwegian towns and offer close-up looks at many of the spectacular fjords along the coast.

How to get to Bergen, Norway

For now, United is the only airline offering nonstop flights to Bergen from North America — and its flights will only run three days a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But more than a dozen major carriers and their partners — including Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Icelandic, KLM, Lufthansa and SAS — offer flight routings from North America to Bergen that include a connection in a European hub such as Amsterdam (AMS), Frankfurt (FRA), London (LHR), Munich (MUC) or Paris (CDG).

Bergen’s airport is about 11 miles south of the city center. From there, one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to get into the city center is via the Airport Bus, which departs every 10 minutes during the day and makes multiple stops near most major hotels. It costs 159 Norwegian krone per person (about $16; buy tickets in advance at visitbergen.com) and will get you into the city in about 30 minutes.

The harbor of Bergen, Norway. (Photo courtesy of VisitBergen.com)

An even less expensive option for a transfer to the city center is a ride on Bergen’s light rail system, which was extended to the airport in 2017. Known locally as the Bybanan, it won’t get you to the city center quite as fast as the bus, but it only costs 40 krone per person (about $4). There also are taxis available that can get you to the city center for around 400-500 krone ($40-$50).

In lieu of flying to Bergen, some people touring Norway will travel to the city from Oslo on the Bergen Railway, a major attraction in its own right. The Bergensbanen, as it’s called in Norway, is Northern Europe’s highest railway and offers glimpses of some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes including lowland regions, forests, lakes, mountains, fjords and waterfalls.

There are four daily departures of Bergensbanen trains on the Oslo-to-Bergen route, each making the 308-mile journey in about seven hours. Fares start around $112 per person, one way.

Cruises to Bergen

As noted above, a large percentage of Americans who visit Bergen currently arrive by cruise ship. Bergen is at the heart of nearly every Norwegian fjords cruise and sometimes is included as a stop in broader Northern Europe and Baltic itineraries, too. As a result, it welcomes more cruisers than any other port in Norway — nearly 600,000 in a typical year.

Most major lines catering to North Americans — including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America — operate cruises to the Norwegian fjords in the summer that include a stop in Bergen, usually out of Amsterdam; Copenhagen; or Southampton, England.

Viking is the only North American-focused cruise line that uses Bergen as a home port for cruises, with sailings out of the city to the Baltic, British Isles, Iceland and other destinations. The line’s signature sailing out of Bergen is a 14-night Viking Homelands voyage that includes stops in Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Germany. (Before the war in Ukraine, the itinerary included stops in Russia, Finland and Estonia, too, but those have been dropped for now.)

In all, Bergen draws about 325 cruise ship visits in a typical year, mostly during the summer months.

In most cases, cruise ships visiting Bergen dock at the Skolten cruise terminal, which is just a short walk away from the city’s historic old quarter, known as Bryggen. Some bigger cruise vessels dock at the Dokken cruise terminal, which is a bit further from the old quarter but still within walking distance.

If you are arriving or departing Bergen by ferry, you will be using the Jektevik terminal, also known as the Hurtigruten terminal. It’s also a short walk from the city center.

Best hotels in Bergen, Norway

Bergen has a wide range of hotels for a city of its size — around 40 in all. But this number includes properties located well outside of the city center, including several near the airport. If you want to be close to Bergen’s marquee attractions, including the historic Bryggen old quarter, the Fløibanen funicular and the fish market, we recommend staying in one of the handful of properties located around the small harbor at the city’s center, known as Vågen harbor.

Among our favorite properties on the Bryggen side of the harbor, in what may be the city’s prime location, are:

  • Clarion Collection Hotel Havnekontoret (Slottsgaten 1). Rooms from $173 per night.
  • Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Bergen (Dreggsallmenningen 1). Rooms from $152 per night.
  • Det Hanseatiske Hotel (Finnegaarden 2A). Rooms from $163 per night.
  • Thon Hotel Rosenkrantz Bergen (Rosenkrantzgaten 7). Rooms from $164 per night.

There also are several hotels near Lille Lungegårdsvannet, a small, five-acre park with a lake at the center of Bergen that is lined by museums. It’s a great option if you think you’ll be spending a lot of time in the museums or if you are arriving on the Oslo-to-Bergen train, as Bergen’s main train station is just steps away. They include:

  • Grand Hotel Terminus, next to the train and bus station (Zander Kaaes gate 6). Rooms from $164 per night. 
  • Scandic Ørnen, which offers modern large and bright rooms (Lars Hilles gate 18). Rooms from $137 per night. 

There aren’t all that many points hotels in Bergen that are tied into the major points programs, but two options include:

  • Opus XVI (Vaagsallmenningen 16), a Small Luxury Hotels property that can be booked for 15,000 World of Hyatt points through SLH’s partnership with Hyatt. The Category 4 property has cash rates starting at $246 per night.
  • Moxy Bergen (Solheimsgaten 3), which participates in the Marriott Bonvoy program. Rooms are available for 15,000 to 20,000 points per night over the coming year. Note that Moxy Bergen is further from Bergen’s top attractions such as the Bryggen old quarter (2.2 miles away) than all of the aforementioned hotels. Cash rates start at $114 per night.

Best things to do in Bergen, Norway

If you just have a day in Bergen, as is the case for most people arriving by cruise ship, you’ll want to head first to Bryggen, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed old quarter, for a walkabout, and — if the weather is clear enough for long-distance viewing — take the Fløibanen funicular to the top of Mt. Fløyen for spectacular views of the city, the surrounding fjords and the ocean. Once at the top, as an alternative to taking the funicular for the return, you can walk back down to the town or hike further into the surrounding mountains.

If you have a few more days in town, head out of the city to explore the nearby fjords (if you’re on a cruise, your ship will take you to some of these) or visit the city’s art museums. The medieval-era Bergenhus Fortress overlooking Vågen harbor is another draw.

Here are the best things to see and do in Bergen.

Bryggen

(Photo courtesy of VisitBergen.com)

This small historic district along the waterfront of Bergen is made up of beautifully preserved wooden buildings that date to the Middle Ages, when the city was an important Northern European seaport, part of the powerful Hanseatic League commercial confederation and Norway’s capital. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is home to narrow alleyways that evoke a long-gone age, as well as the Hanseatic Museum. The latter tells the story of the Hanseatic League merchants who lived and worked in the area.

Mt. Fløyen

(Photo courtesy of VisitBergen.com)

Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains, one of which — Mt. Fløyen — is accessible in just minutes with a ride up the Fløibanen funicular. Located just steps away from the Bryggen old quarter, the funicular will take you to an impressive overlook where, on clear days, you can view the city, fjords and ocean. In addition to taking in the views, you’ll find guided hiking tours, bike rentals, a zip line and other activities available at the top of Mt. Fløyen. Among hiking options is a route from Mt. Fløyen to nearby Mount Ulriken.

Bergen Fish Market

While not huge, the Bergen Fish Market is a feast for the senses, full of a wide variety of fish pulled from Norway’s local waters as well as fruit, vegetables and hand-made crafts. Located on the opposite side of Vågen harbor from the Bryggen old quarter, it continues a long tradition of fish selling along the waterfront of what is Norway’s busiest seaport.

Troldhaugen

(Photo courtesy of VisitBergen.com)

The famed composer Edvard Grieg lived in this 19th-century home for 22 years and composed many of his most famous works in its little garden hut. Today, it’s a living museum with exhibits that include Grieg’s personal Steinway piano, a shop, cafe and concert hall. Grieg’s grave is also at the site.

KODE

Located along the Lille Lungegårdsvannet, a small lake at the center of Bergen, KODE is a museum complex that fills four buildings — all accessible with a single ticket (adult tickets are 150 krone, or about $15.25). The complex includes major works by Edvard Munch, Nikolai Astrup, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and J. C. Dahl as well as displays of craft and design from the last 500 years. There also are displays of silver and gold objects produced in Bergen and a collection of European and Asian antiques, paintings and works by Old Masters.

Fjord tours

(Photo courtesy of VisitBergen.com)

The Bryygen old quarter isn’t the only UNESCO World Heritage site for visitors to Bergen to see. The Norwegian fjords that surround Bergen also make the list.

If you’re traveling to Bergen on a cruise, your vessel likely will be sailing into Norwegian fjords as part of the sailing (many spend a day visiting the visually stunning Geirangerfjord). For those arriving in Bergen for an overnight stay, there is a wide variety of day tours to fjords available. Bergen is located between two of Norway’s best-known fjords — the Sognefjord to the north (the longest fjord in Norway) and the Hardangerfjord to the south.

Bergenhus Fortress

Located at the entrance to Vågen harbor, this 13th-century-era fortress served as the royal palace for Norway’s kings during the Middle Ages and remains one of the best-preserved medieval-era sites in Norway. Visitors can tour Haakon’s Hall, which was built by King Håkon Håkonsson between 1247 and 1261 as a royal residence and banqueting hall. It’s still used for royal dinners and other events. Visitors also can step into Rosenkrantz Tower, parts of which date to the 1270s. Its cellar contains the dungeon for the fortress.

Best times to visit Bergen

The best time to visit Bergen is during the summer, when the weather is relatively warm and the days are full of light. (Due to its northerly location, the city gets nearly 19 hours of daylight in late June.) Temperatures in July and August can be in the 60s and 70s, bringing out the locals and making for a lively energy in the city center.

The spring and fall are pleasant times to be in Bergen, too. Just know that it can be quite chilly — expect temperatures in the 30s or 40s at times. In addition, some attractions in Bergen shut down or reduce hours in the fall through the spring as tourists thin out.

A particularly joyous time to be in Bergen is on May 17 — Norway’s Constitution Day. By longstanding tradition in Bergen and elsewhere in Norway, locals fill the streets wearing the traditional Norwegian clothing known as bunad and there’s a festival atmosphere. It’s quite a sight to be in the middle of it. Just be sure to dress appropriately. While you probably won’t have your own bunad to wear, it’s traditional for visitors to dress nicely, too.

By winter, Bergen is a very cold and dark place to be. You’ll only see the sun for a few hours each day.

What to pack on a Bergen trip

When it comes to packing for a Bergen trip, your mantra should always be: dress in layers. It can be chilly in the morning in Bergen, even in the summer, given the destination’s northerly latitude. But it also can get warm at the height of the day. From June to August, you should be ready for temperatures that range anywhere from the 50s to the 70s, depending on the day and the time.

If you’re planning to do some outdoorsy pursuits, such as kayaking or hiking, be sure to bring appropriate activewear. Don’t forget to pack a rain jacket, if not a complete rain gear outfit, including a wide-brimmed waterproof hat, rain pants and waterproof shoes or boots.

Bottom line

Bergen may be best known to Americans as a stop on Norwegian fjords cruises, but it has a lot to offer the vacationer who wants to visit for an overnight or more. With new nonstop flights to the city from the New York area starting this year — the first from any North American city in several years — it may be time to consider the Gateway to the Fjords for a quick getaway.

Featured photo courtesy of VisitBergen.com.

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