Savvy travelers skip Oslo and head straight for Bergen, a coastal city hemmed in by mountains, for a taste of real Norway.
While the capital Oslo is the essence of a modern, functional Scandinavian city, it’s the west coast city of Bergen that truly shows off the best of Norway. The combination of historic sites, modern restaurants, and proximity to nature places the city high on the list of must-sees in Scandinavia. And the launch of direct flights from New England is making Bergen more accessible to Americans than ever before.
With a historic center built around natural harbors, Bergen is compact and easy to navigate by foot. To fully appreciate its spectacular natural setting, take the four-minute ride up the Fløibanen funicular railway to the selfie-inducing viewing platform atop Mount Fløyen. The more adventurous can explore Bergen’s roof on foot or by rented bicycle on the miles of marked trails through the woods. (Before you descend, let your nose guide you to the plate-sized cinnamon buns in the station café.)
Such glorious scenery stretches well beyond the city limits. Bergen is the perfect starting point for day trips to one of the world’s most breathtaking attractions—the fjords. How you enjoy the region is up to you: Get on the water in a kayak, cycle through orchards, explore abandoned farmsteads, or enjoy a relaxing boat trip so close to the famous slender waterfalls that you can taste the water.
You don’t even need to go to hire a car as guided boat trips run daily from Bergen. Alternatively take the Bergen Line, often voted among the world’s most beautiful railway journeys, and the equally impressive (and surprisingly affordable) Flåm Railway that descends through a lush valley to the edge of a fjord.
Back in the city, the colorful buildings and cobblestone back alleys along the old wharf of Bryggen stand as a testament to Bergen’s importance as a commercial hub during the Middle Ages, when Norwegian stockfish and fish oil were traded here for cereals, textiles, and other goods. The wooden district has survived several fires and today, it’s home to family-run boutiques, galleries, and two museums that delve deeper into the past.
Another noteworthy cultural stop is the vast KODE, a collection of seven museums that features works by Edvard Munch and Nikolai Astrup as well as a special exhibition on Queen Sonja’s art in honor of her 80th birthday. From here, you can take the efficient Light Rail system to the leafy suburb of Fantoft for a dose of traditional Norwegian architecture. One standout is its stave church, reconstructed in authentic fashion following a devastating fire in 1992.
Fast forward back to the 21st century by digging into the craze for local, ethical ingredients and tantalizing flavors known as New Nordic cooking. Top choices include the nostalgia-filled 1877, where the fixed menu changes every six weeks; Lysverket, opened by four Per Se alums and serving up daily tasting menus; and the seafood tapas of Bare Vestland. For more traditional fare, head to Pingvinen for a generous helping of mutton stew, or to Fisketorget for a simple yet satisfying plate of shrimp amid the noise and aroma of the bustling outdoor fish market.
Bergen, and all these experiences that wait there, are now more affjordable than ever. Norwegian—which has been named the world’s best low-cost, long-haul carrier—offers flights starting at $99 one way from Providence/T.F. Green International Airport and New York/Stewart International Airport. A bus transfer option from midtown Manhattan to Stewart International Airport is timed to your Norwegian flight, creating a seamless departure.