Best known as the gateway to Norway’s majestic fjords, Bergen boasts easy access to some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, including a picturesque harbor, lush hills, and rugged coastline dotted with charming islands. Whether you spend an afternoon hiking Mount Ulriken or join a kayaking voyage to see the 5,000-year-old Folgefonna glacier in nearby Hardangerfjord, you’ll soon understand why so many people have found inspiration and soul-stirring gratification in the quiet beauty of these wide open spaces. In fact, many of these nature-loving creative spirits have called Bergen home for generations, resulting in a thriving arts and culture scene. While away the hours at one of the city’s many top-notch museums, hunt for street art, book a ticket to hear one of the world’s oldest orchestras, and search for your own muse on a bike ride to the countryside villa of Norway’s most famous composer, Edvard Grieg.
Welcome to Bergen
Settle into Moxy Bergen, a recently opened waterfront hotel boasting breathtaking views of the harbor and mountains. Dual-certified as a sustainable property by both BREEAM Excellent and Green Key—water from the nearby fjords is even used for cooling the building—Moxy Bergen caters to eco-conscious travelers without sacrificing style or comfort. Catch up on email while sipping a mixed drink in the large co-working space, admire murals painted by local artists in the lobby, and fuel up on fresh pastries, eggs, and fruit at the breakfast buffet before heading out on your first adventure.
Once you’re ready, take advantage of Bergen’s excellent public transportation and ride the light rail or bus into the city center. Your first destination is Bryggen, Bergen’s historic district lined with gabled wooden buildings painted shades of red, ochre, and amber. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the neighborhood—rebuilt after a fire in 1702—was once a thriving medieval port and trade epicenter. While many tourists come to glimpse into the past, you’re here to visit the artist studios and craft galleries that fill the narrow alleyways. Treasure hunt for traditional Norwegian knitwear at Susan Fosse, watercolors and prints of sea life at Gunvor Rasmussen, and viking-inspired jewelry at Svala. Next, have an enlightening lunch at Litteraturhuset, a creative meeting space dedicated to holding literary podcasts, talks, and events with a bookstore and brasserie.
After you’ve fed your body, nourish your spirit with some time in nature. Surrounded by the so-called Seven Mountains, Bergen has no shortage of hikes. While Mount Fløyen is undoubtedly the most accessible, and thereby popular, Mount Ulriken (the highest of the seven) offers the best scenery. Board the Ulriken Cable Car and let it whisk you 643 feet above sea level. There, you’ll find several verdant paths with extraordinary panoramic views of the city below, as well as the fjords and sprawling ocean. During the winter when the mountain may be blanketed with snow, consider a uniquely Norwegian experience: a guided snowshoe hike through the wilderness.
In Bergen, New Nordic cuisine—a culinary movement that espouses seasonal ingredients and an innovative approach to traditional dishes—reigns supreme and blurs the line between food and art. Such is the case at Lysverket, where four Per Se alum and Bergen native Christopher Haatuft serves up multicourse menus featuring freshly caught seafood with bold flavors, such as North Atlantic clams with cabbage and smoked buttermilk and grilled langoustine with coffee added to its shellfish sauce.
Venture into the icy fjords
A trip to Bergen isn’t complete without seeing at least one of the area’s many spectacular fjords up close. Lesser known, perhaps, is the city’s proximity to the third-largest ice cap in the country, Folgefonna Glacier, located within Folgefonna National Park. Surrounded by Hardangerfjord, the “Queen of the Norwegian Fjords,” it’s possible to experience both of these soul-stirring natural marvels in one day by booking an exclusive glacier kayak excursion with the Folgefonni Glacier Team.
To get there, board a cruise through Hardangerfjord from Bergen to Rosendal, where you’ll meet up with your guides. Along the way, soak in some of western Norway’s most striking scenery while passing grand mountains and waterfalls. Once you arrive at your destination, your guides will take you to paddle along a glacier lake where you can pull up to a “young” 1,500-year-old arm of the 5,000-year-old Folgefonna glacier. Get up close—its majestic beauty is something that you’re sure to never forget. Before you kayak back through the serene, icy waters, relax for lunch on a nearby beach and learn about the fascinating science behind the valley and glacier. For your return to Bergen, you can either ride the same boat or travel by bus.
Because you’re likely tired from your journey, keep things casual with dinner at Hoggorm, a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria and natural wine bar from owners with a background in fine dining. The daily menu of pizza may sound funky with playful toppings like dill, chicken confit, bacon, goat cheese, and balsamic hoisin sauce, but the kitchen knows exactly what it’s doing, and even takes the time and care to smoke its own meat.
Find relaxation and creativity in the countryside
Norwegian nature was a constant source of inspiration for composer Edvard Grieg. See why—and maybe feel touched by the force of creative powers yourself—on an energizing bike ride to Troldhaugen, his longtime summer home on the outskirts of Bergen. Enjoy strolling in the idyllic gardens and pop into the cabin where he wrote some of the most celebrated works of the Romantic era. On your way back into town, pause at Gamlehaugen, a residence of the Norwegian Royal Family, where the cheerful lake and lawn are open to the public for a quick swim and sunbathing.
Over the years, Bergen has become known for its impressive cultural institutions, the most notable of which is KODE, a collection of museums for art, craft, design, and music. Four of its top galleries are located in the center of the city in front of the lovely Lille Lungegårdsvannet lake. Take your time browsing, but with over 50,000 items, it helps to go in with an idea of what you’re there for. KODE 3, for example, houses the largest collection of Edvard Munch paintings outside of Oslo, including an exceptional sketch of his iconic work The Scream.
For dinner, head to Bare Vestland in Matborsen, the fresco-filled former stock exchange turned food hall. Specializing in creative small plates of Nordic cuisine, don’t miss the plukkfisk (haddock, potatoes, and onions cooked in a bechamel sauce).
In Bergen, the performing arts often take center stage. End the evening with a moving concert at Grieghallen, home to the Bergen Philharmonic, one of the world’s oldest orchestras. If your tastes lean more modern, listen to jazz at Sardinen or grab a seat for a dance performance with Carte Blanche, the Norwegian National Company of Contemporary Dance, at the National Stage, where playwright Henrik Ibsen was the theatre director back in the day.
Go island and street art hopping
Enjoy one last excursion on the water, this time venturing to the quiet island of Askøy. Less than half an hour’s boat ride from the city’s harbor, this small rural community’s rocky landscape is ripe for exploration. Take the hiking trail up to the highest point at 231 m above sea level and revel in views of the Byfjord and the surrounding islands of Sotra and Øygarden. Arrive back in the city in time for lunch at Marg & Bein, a neighborhood restaurant with a charming backyard and roof for sunny days. Their nose to tail menu and Norwegian produce shows just how creative you can get with simple ingredients.
As a country, Norway has become a must-see destination for street art, and Bergen is undoubtedly one of the epicenters of the conversation. High caliber pieces from top artists like Dolk, AFK, and TEG pop up constantly in Skostredet, Nygårdshøyden, and around Sentralbadet, a public swimming pool that is being rebuilt into a culture centre. All of these areas are within easy walking distance, but for quick transport, you can easily rent one of the city’s convenient public bikes or electric scooters.
Wrap up your vacation with an indulgent dinner at Restaurant 1877. Located in Bergen’s former meat bazaar, the restaurant cites its inspiration as Western Norway’s agricultural traditions. Look for exciting flavors and raw ingredients in dishes like glazed veal breast with fermented rutabaga, botarga, and fennel and mahogany clams with turnips, shrimp, and parmesan.
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