I Travel for the Stars

Bergen, Gateway to the Fjords: Things to Do & Travel Guide

Last updated on May 24, 2024

Bergen is one of Norway’s most visited cities, and with its proximity to the fjords, it was a definite stop on my first trip to Norway. I did a lot more in the city than I feel a lot of other travellers do, so what did I think of it?


The History of Bergen

Bergen was founded just at the end of the Viking age in the 11th century, just like Norway’s other big city, Oslo. Due to its location, it very quickly grew to be a large trading port city which also hosted royal residences and coronations by the 12th and 13th centuries. It had a very international population and was one of northern Europe’s largest cities. Even though Oslo became the capital city around 1300, Bergen remained a huge trading city. It was made one of the four trading posts (Kontore) of the Hanseatic League.

Bergen’s a city of fire… or more, it’s plagued by fire. If you look at a timeline of its history, it keeps burning down and getting rebuilt. The city burned almost completely to ashes in 1702. It’s very impressive that it was able to thrive as a trading port until the 18th century, considering it couldn’t stay intact for more than a few years at a time.

The 19th century saw a bit of a decline in Bergen’s status and it was overtaken by Oslo. Later, a tragedy that marked the city happened on April 20, 1944. While German troops occupied Norway and the city was occasionally bombed, a cargo ship with explosives blew up. Over 150 people were killed, thousands wounded, and a big part of the old town was destroyed. It has since been restored but left a mark on Bergen’s modern history.

Things to Do in Bergen

The place people flock to is Bergen’s old town which is referred to as Bryggen. This is a collection of buildings that date to the 18th century and later, even though they’re in the spot buildings have been since the city’s founding. They are collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even though this area is very cute, it’s also very touristy. The buildings are mostly souvenir shops and when I was there during spring, the cafes were blaring very loud pop music. It was just not a pleasant experience.

Bergen Bergen

Bergen Bergen

Even though I didn’t particularly like the most famous part of Bergen, there were lots of places that I did like.

My absolute favorite was the Bryggens Museum which gives the history of Bergen during the medieval era (from around its founding to around the 14th-15th centuries). It’s a small museum but it has some really cool things, including charred remains of the 14th century houses, rune sticks, and super well preserved shoes and tunics from the medieval era. I thought it was so fascinating and had a great time there. If you like history, you absolutely have to go to this museum.

Bergen Bergen


Next to Bryggen is the Bergenhus Fortress. The fortress is a big area that you can wander around for free, but you’ll need to pay to enter the Rozenkratz Tower. The tower dates to Bergen’s heyday in the 13th century but it was heavily renovated in the 1500s. It’s very bare on the inside but they do have plaques that give you background on what rooms you’re in and the history of the tower. There are a bunch of rooms you can go into, and if you go to the top, you get views of the city! (Which was, of course, closed during my visit.) The rooms are only 15-20 steps up per floor so it’s a segmented, easy climb to the top.

Next to this is King Haakon’s Hall which is very aptly named. It was a hall built in the 1200s by the King for his events. I got in for free with the Bergen Card but I have to say, it is just a room that was heavily restored after exploding in 1944. I would be upset if I paid the 120 NOK to get in and then… that was it. They have an “exhibit” in the basement but it’s really just the foundations of the building with a few small plaques of information.

However, they still host weddings, so if you’d like to get married in a place where kings and queens got married in the 13th century, it’s definitely a venue to consider!



On the other side of the harbor are the art museums. There are 4 art museums under the name KODE and a Kunsthall – all included under the KODE ticket. The Kunsthall has exhibitions; when I visited, it was used for displaying master’s projects by the local university students.

The KODE Museums each have different personalities. KODE 1 (Permanenten) has exhibitions and modern art. There are no plaques or descriptions next to the art so be sure you grab a catalogue to understand what you’re seeing. KODE 2 (Stenersen) is exhibition-based but had a thought-provoking installation on indigenous cultures of the world when I visited.


KODE 3 (Rasmus Meyer) is my absolute favorite and I consider it a must-see of Bergen. Inside you can see a bunch of artwork by Edvard Munch plus artworks from various Norwegian artists dating to around the 19th century. I found a lot of the artwork to be quite beautiful, and if you can’t make it to Oslo, it’s a good chance to see some of Munch’s work.

The KODE 4 (Lysverket) is exhibition-based but was closed when I visited. On that note, there is also the Hanseatic Museum which I wanted to visit but was also closed for renovations.



Another charming place to visit is Old Bergen. It’s about 2 miles out of the city center (easily accessible by bus) and is an open-air museum with buildings from Bergen’s past, dedicated to preserving the city’s history. People work there and it’s open as a museum during the summer, but any other time (like when I visited), the buildings are shut but you are free to walk around. I found it to be very cute, but for a place that’s 2 miles out of the way, it was quite small. It definitely would’ve been more worth it had the museum been open.

There’s a bit more to see in Bergen but those are the main sights, and the ones I saw.

Bergen Bergen

Bergen Bergen

Even though Bergen is Norway’s second largest city, it’s quite sleepy. Walking down most of the streets, it definitely feels like a town. There’s a nice selection of restaurants, though I felt it very much lived up to Norway’s stereotype as an expensive place.

Part of Bergen’s appeal is that it’s built on a mountain and has wonderful hillside views. This means that the town itself is very hilly and has steep climbs, so it’s something to keep in mind when visiting. Bring good walking shoes!

Bergen Bergen

Bergen has a lot and is definitely a city, but it is also just so quiet. I walked around several mornings (9-10am) and was practically the only person there. In the early evenings (6-7pm) it was the same deal, even when walking down the city’s main shopping streets. The shops tend to close early. It was just so strange and kind of felt like a ghost town. I went during a period of abnormally good weather so I feel like it wasn’t just a one off?

I’m wondering if that’s what other peoples’ experiences were like. I was there for three days and even though the afternoons could have a lot of people, the morning and evenings didn’t. I’m curious to know if that’s normal there.

Is the Bergen Card Worth It?

In my opinion, kind of. I bought the 48 hour pass which was 460 NOK. The Rosenkratz Tower was not included, but they told me at reception it gets free entry to Haakon’s Hall, so I didn’t save the money for Haakon’s Hall. (FYI I can’t find this “free entry” anywhere online, so if you’re very concerned about it, I’d ask the tourism office or the hall directly near the time of your visit.) I saved 160 NOK at the Bryggens Museum and 175 NOK for the KODE Museums, which gave free entry to the Kunsthall (again, I can’t find this online). Bergen is super walkable and I took the bus twice (80 NOK). That means I paid 45 NOK extra for the pass than I would’ve for everything individually.

I definitely didn’t overpay but there weren’t any savings. Maybe there would’ve been with the 24 hour pass, which is the time frame in which I actually saw everything. If you plan on using public transit more than I did, then it would probably be a lot more worth it.

If you want to learn more about the Bergen Card, you can do so here.

Also, the Bergen Card website has a very handy list of places to visit plus hours. Those hours are so wrong. Definitely check directly with each place you plan on visiting to see when they’re open.



Bergen was cute. The best part about it, though, is that it’s a city with good links to places in the fjords to see (which were the really magical part of Norway for me). I think it’s definitely worth a stop, but I allotted 3 days to see Bergen and woo, that was way too much time. One day was enough to see what I wanted to – plus I was able to walk around the main parts of the city and acquainted myself with the streets.

Some places I recommend visiting around Bergen are Borgund, Gudvangen, and Voss.

Have you been to Bergen? What did you think?

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About the Author
My name's Lilly and I'm a Baltimore-based travel blogger with a focus on art and history. I work full time and manage to get in several trips a year. Learn more about me.

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