Updated post: 16/12/18 | December 2018
The topic of the weather was on everyone’s lips. In the words of Wesley, HMV Brittannia’s captain, it was “something of a miracle”.
Bergen was three weeks into a heatwave, a new May record set the previous day with the mercury hitting 31 degrees. And this is one of the wettest cities in Europe which averages 240 rainy days each year. The extreme heat had forced the suspension of its light rail system as sparks from the track had triggered fires in the tinder-dry forests lining the railway line. So it was out with the waterproof and on with the shorts!
Formerly the capital of Norway, Bergen is beautifully situated on a promontory, surrounded by seven hills. Furthermore, the self-proclaimed Gateway to the Western Fjords, it is also an attractive and enjoyable city in its own right.
Bergen is a popular stop on Norwegian fjords cruise itineraries and your cruise company will gladly sell you a guided day trip. However, it is a very easy place to explore independently. But what should you see if you only have one day in Bergen? Well here’s how I did it.
How to spend one day in Bergen
1. Ride the Fløibanen funicular
For panoramic views over Bergen and awesome nature trails
Celebrating its centenary this year, the Fløibanen funicular whisks you to the summit of Mount Floyen, 320 meters above sea level in less than seven minutes. Treat yourself to panoramic views over Bergen and explore the abundance of clearly marked nature trails. But watch out for the witches!
Although the exact number is not known, it is believed that from 1560 until around 1700 there were up to 1400 witch trials in Norway. Favoured methods of torture and execution included the rack, boiling sulphur and burning. Around this time, 350 witches were burnt in Bergen alone. But more about this later.
Before moving away from the summit, make sure that you say ‘hallo’ to the goats. Mount Floyen is home to nine Kashmir goats born in 2011. Elvis was particularly becoming.
Next, take the 1.6km loop to Skomakerdiket, with its crystal-clear lake.
After doing a circuit of this lake, wind your way through forest trails, to the soundtrack of birdsong filling the air, before descending a series of steps to the Bryggen neighbourhood and the funicular’s terminus.
How to ride the Fløibanen funicular
The funicular station is at Vetrlidsalmenning 23 A, right in the centre of town.
- Get there early, especially when there is a cruise ship in town. When I got there at 8.15 am there was only a short queue. By the time I got back at 11 am it was around 100 people deep.
- A one-way ticket costs NOK 50 (£5). A return ticket is NOK 95. The funicular runs every 15 minutes. You can also purchase tickets online.
- The Bergen Card will gain you free admission and allow you to queue jump. More about this later.
- If you are walking down, allow at least two hours for your visit.
- If you are feeling fit, you can walk up too. However, if you have only one day in Bergen I recommend taking the funicular to save you precious time. It’s a fun experience too!
- Grab a coffee afterwards at the delightful Det Lille Kaffe Kompaniet at Nedre Fjellsmauet 2
2. Explore historic Bryggen
For a picture-perfect ensemble of stone and timber buildings.
Bryggen, with its closely-packed, brightly painted wooden buildings sitting alongside stone warehouses, is the historic trading centre of Bergen. In recognition of its historical importance, this has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
In the 14th Century, the city became one of the parts of the German Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northwestern Europe. The Hansa merchants reigned supreme for 200 years and, as a result, Bryggen and Bergen flourished. Although Hansa power had evaporated by the 1550s, the last merchant did not leave Bergen until 1764.
A devastating fire in 1702 laid waste to many of Bryggen’s medieval buildings and the replacement wooden warehouses were subsequently demolished to make way for the brick and stone buildings we see today. However, these buildings are sympathetic to the Hansa period style and many of the 18th Century timber buildings have survived.
Today, many of these buildings are home to shops and restaurants. So, if you are in the market for that perfect Nordic Sweater, this is where to go!
How to explore Bryggen
- Bryggen stretches down the eastern side of the harbour and finished at the Torget, Bergen’s main square.
3. Target the Torget
For something a bit fishy.
Although fish is the main order of the day in the market at Bergen’s Torget, it also sells fruit, vegetable and souvenirs. It is a great place to grab fish and seafood such at a not too outrageous price.
There has been a fish market in Bergen since the 13th Century. In 1556, the Fish Market was moved from the Nikolaikirkeallmenning in nearby Bryggen to prevent the Hanseatics from gaining too much power over Bergen’s most important trading place. As the Fish Market increased in size and importance, this precipitated a construction boom in the area, with a large number of buildings dating from the 1700s and 1800s.
How to visit Bergen’s Fish Market
- The Fish Market is located at Torget 5
- It is open daily in the summer months from 8 am until 11 pm (Sunday 11 am – 9 pm).
- It is at its liveliest in the mornings.
4. Check out the street art along Kong Oscars Gate
For a funkier side to Bergen.
Heading east from the Torget, Kong Oscars Gate is a particularly unlovely main thoroughfare. However, it is home to the Domkirke, Bergen’s cathedral and an eclectic collection of street art. The Domkirke was undergoing extensive restoration during my visit in June 2018.
How to check out Bergen’s street art
- Head up Kong Oscars Gate’s side streets to seek out urban art.
- Check out this resource to find Bergen’s best street art.
- Guided street art walking tours are also available.
5. Visit the Leprosy Museum
To discover the story of Norway’s fight against leprosy.
On the face of it, an unlikely tourist destination, but the Leprosy Museum is a worthy addition to your list of things to see during your day in Bergen. Between 1850 and 1900, Bergen had the largest concentration of patients with leprosy in Europe. The museum is housed in St Jorgen’s Hospital, which specialised in the care of lepers until it shut its doors in 1946. The patients’ living quarters have been left as they were, and you can also view their paintings and life stores. A moving memorial to this group of people marginalised by society.
How to visit the Leprosy Museum
- Bergen’s Leprosy Museum is located at Kong Oscars gate 59
- It is open daily during the summer months from 11 am – 3 pm. Admission fee is NOK 90 (£9). Free with Bergen Card.
- Display information is mainly in Norwegian, but the helpful staff will give you English translation booklets. Guided tours are also available for an extra NOK 20 (£2).
6. Visit the Bergenhus Festning Museum
To discover the story behind the resistance in Bergen during World War II.
This friendly and free museum at the entrance to the harbour is dedicated to the resistance movement, both civilian and military, during the Second World War. Make your way to the first floor where the history of the resistance is explored through well-composed displays, including those of photos, weapons and espionage equipment.
The resistance was particularly strong in Bergen and the German occupation forces fought against it with all of their might. This included torturing the city’s citizens before execution or dispatch to concentration camps. Despite this, the movement continued to grow in strength, a testament to the fortitude of Bergen’s people.
How to visit the Bergenhus Festning Museum
- Admission is free! Water, tea and coffee also available there free of charge.
- The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm.
7. Visit Bergen City Museum at the Rosenkrantz Tower
For a spot of medieval splendour.
Near the Bergen’s Festning Museum, the Rosenkrantz Tower is one of the best-preserved fortresses in Norway. But perhaps more compelling is the adjacent Hakonshallen (King Hakon’s Hall), a medieval royal residence and feasting hall.
But the attractions of Ye Olde Medieval Times notwithstanding, my main reason for visiting was to catch the exhibition on Anne Pedersdatter, Norway’s most famous witch. Born in the northern city of Trondheim, Anne moved to Bergen in 1552 when she married a Lutheran clergyman living in the city. In 1575 she was cleared of charges of killing her husband’s uncle through sorcery through her his connections. However rumours of her being a witch persisted, and she didn’t do herself any favours by her hostile reaction to these rumours. Now a rich widow, in 1590 she was accused for the second time. This time the outcome was not so good for her and she was burnt at the stake in Bergen in April 1590. Her case is considered to be the starting point of Norway’s witch trials.
How to visit Bergen City Museum
- Bergen City Museum is located at Bergenhus
- Entrance fee is NOK 80 (£8).
- At the time of my visit (June 2018), the tower was undergoing restoration and was clad in scaffolding.
- Opening times for Hakonshallen are limited, Check its website.
So there you have my pick of the things on a day trip to Bergen. But what if you have more than one day in Bergen? Here are a few bonus suggestions of what I would have like to have seen if I had a second day in this beautiful city.
What to do on your second day in Bergen
8. Visit the Hanseatic Museum
Housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings, the Hanseatic Museum traces the life and history of the town’s Hanseatic merchants. However, it has closed for extensive restoration work and is due to relocate to Schøtstuene in May 2019.
The good news is that the Schøtstuene is just around the corner from the Hanseatic Museum at Finnegården 1A.
9. Visit KODE Art Museum and Composers’ Homes
This cluster of seven buildings houses 50,000 artefacts relating to art, craft, design and music. These objects are exhibited in the four buildings in the centre of Bergen (KODE 1,2,3,4) and in the three buildings which were the homes of the composers Ole Bull, Harald Saeverud and Edvard Grieg.
The museums are open for much of the year. Check the website for locations, opening times and ticket price. Admission free with Bergen Card.
The final two things to see in Bergen are a little way outside the centre of the city.
10. Visit Edvrad Grieg’s home (Troldhaugen)
Built in 1885, Troldhaugen was home to Nina and Edvard Grieg for the last 22 summers of the composer’s life. It became a museum in 1928 and is also where the Griegs are buried.
A good way to visit this museum is to take the daily guided bus tour from Bergen’s Tourist Information Office, operated by the museum (1 May – 30 September only). This includes a return transfer to the museum, a guided tour and then onwards to a piano recital at chamber hall at Trodsalen. During the summer months, the chamber hall at hosts daily lunchtime concerts featuring Edvrad Grieg’s piano music.
To reach Edvard Grieg’s home independently, take the light rail from Bergen city centre, direction “Bergen Lufthavn” and leave the train at the station “Hop”. Then it’s around a 20-minute walk (follow the signs for “Troldhaugen” ).
11. Visit the Fantoft Stave Church
Due to the light rail being out of action when I visited Bergen, I was not able to visit the Fantoft Stave Church. I was gutted. A stave church is a Norwegian must-see in my book, and this was the only accessible one from my fjords cruise.
Stave churches are medieval timber buildings with carvings combining Christan motifs with Viking themes. Although the Fantoft Stave Church is a replica of the 12th Century original that burnt down in 1992, I still feel that it worth visiting.
To reach the Fantoft Stave Church, take the Light Rail from Bergen city centre and get off at “Fantoft” station. From there it’s around a 10-minute walk. It is open in the summer months only.
I hope that these tips will help you plan your perfect day in Bergen. Finally, here are a few general practical tips to make it happen.