When I arrived in the Bergen airport and saw photos of beautiful scenery next to words like Honest and Pure, I thought, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it.” But being in the middle of sheer untouched nature is more beautiful than words or pictures can convey. For me, this was truly the trip of a lifetime and has become my favorite place in the world so far.
So without further ado, here are some of my tips for making the most of a trip to Norway:
Norway in a Nutshell is a popular customizable package of transportation tickets (trains, buses, and a fjord cruise) that takes travelers through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Norway. You can book hotels through Norway in a Nutshell or on your own, as well as choose your starting and ending points.
We did the standard trip and customized it to do the travel in 3 days from Bergen to Oslo. I highly recommend breaking it up this way if possible because I know I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all of the beautiful scenery during one marathon day of travel.
This way we were also able to add an afternoon of white water rafting in Voss with Voss Active plus some walks in the fjord valley of Gudvangen surrounded by waterfalls. I highly recommend the rafting if you like adventure sports and don’t mind getting drenched in cold water! The wet suit really helped to control the temperature and this was tons of fun.
I also definitely suggest spending at least two days each in Bergen and Oslo. There’s so much to see in both of these very different cities!
Bergen is a charming fishing town full of colorful houses set into the mountainside.
If you plan to use public transportation and visit at least three tourist attractions in 24 hours, the Bergen Card is a good deal (also available for longer time periods). The card covers public transportation costs and admission to most of the museums, as well as discounts on several restaurants, shops, and activities.
- The Fløibahnen funicular (50% discount with the Bergen Card) is open late into the day and provides fantastic mountaintop views of the city. There are also nice areas for hiking at the top of the mountain and a restaurant/gift shop.
- Appropriately located in Bergen is the Norwegian Fisheries Museum (free admission with the Bergen Card), a super-interactive museum that gives an overview of the history of the fishing industry in Norway (yes, this is actually very interesting!). It begins with a quote from the late 1800s with something to the effect of there always being more fish in the sea as it was thought to be a limitless resource, continues through effects of war on the fishing industry, changes in technology and international regulations, information on various fish, and an explanation of modern fish farming. The use of hands-on activities and creative games (real and computer-based) makes the content extremely engaging for children and adults alike.
- Fantoft Stave Church is a little under a 20-minute light rail ride from downtown Bergen (free admission and transportation with the Bergen Card) and is a stunning recreation of a traditional wooden church. Few medieval stave churches remain in Norway – imagine how long a wooden building would exist when the only source of light was from candles – and this is a beautiful example with a few pieces of the original church remaining included in its design.
- Magic Ice (15% discount with the Bergen Card) is a pricy but unique experience. It’s new to Bergen (we were actually there on its opening day) and can also be found in Oslo. This is a bar constructed of ice with striking ice sculptures carved into the decor. When we visited, some of the ice sculptures celebrated the work of Edvard Munch, the Norwegian artist who painted “The Scream”. Admission includes warm gear to wear in the bar and a drink served in a glass made of ice. This is very cool (literally and figuratively) to say you’ve done once but could easily be skipped, especially as you probably won’t actually stay in a room at -5°C (23 °F) for such a long time.
Other must-do’s in Bergen?
- Have lunch or dinner at the Fish Market. This is admittedly touristy, but seafood is the main thing here and the eating area atmosphere is like being in a cozy crab shack. The wooden tables under the tarp awnings proved a comfortable and convenient place for us to escape the intermittent rain.
- Nearby is Bryggen, Bergen’s old wharf area where long wooden buildings are currently being reconstructed according to their original design.
- If you love sushi, visit Sumo. We had the freshest fish I’ve ever tasted at the one on Vestre Torggate, though there are several locations in Bergen and one in Oslo.
- There is also no shortage of fun, funky bars to visit here. Enjøningen, located in the Bryggen wharf area under a large wooden unicorn (the translation of the bar’s name), has a nautical feel, live music, and a shuffleboard table in the back. Apollon Platebar is both bar and record store, ensuring a crowd of hipsters and a good beer selection.
- Don’t leave Bergen without trying a Skillingsbolle, a tasty cinnamon bun named for its original one-schilling price that can be found in most Bergen bakeries and cafés.
Oslo, Norway’s capital, has a much more modern feel and is filled with culture.
Several exceptional sights are free and well worth a visit.
- You could easily spend a whole day in Vigeland Park, one of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions and clearly well-loved by residents as well. In addition to beautiful garden areas, an outdoor pool, and sprawling lawns, the main attraction of the park is its intricate sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. The sculptures alone could be studied endlessly, as they individually depict a spectrum of human emotions and work together to tell the story of life in all its joy and tragedy.
- The Opera House is also fascinating to visit for its unique architecture. Visitors can walk straight up the roof from the water.
- Acker Byrgge is a popular area on the water for strolling, shopping, and eating. It has an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, with plenty of outdoor waterside seating in summer.
- On our way to Acker Byrgge we passed the Rådhus (town hall) and Nobel Peace Center. We didn’t go inside either, but they can both be toured – the Rådhus for free in summer, the Nobel Peace Center for free with the Oslo Pass (see more on this below).
- The Akershus Fortress is also not far away and can be visited for free throughout the day.
Similar to the Bergen Card, if you plan to use public transportation and visit at least three tourist attractions in 24 hours, the Oslo Pass is worth purchasing (again, also available for longer periods).
The museums we visited (described below) were all interesting and all located on the peninsula of Bygdøy, a little further out from the main downtown area but easily accessible by public transportation, including a delightful ferry (rides and admissions all covered by the Oslo Pass).
- All I can say about the Kon-Tiki Museum is wow! The stories told here deserve their own separate post – click here to read more. This museum focuses on Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his incredible against-all-odds missions embarked on in the name of scientific research. One of the main features is the balsa wood raft he built to successfully cross the Pacific Ocean from Peru to Polynesia. The museum is filled with original artifacts, incredible and inspirational stories, interesting cultural information about various parts of the world, videos, and more.
- The Viking Ship Museum is fascinating for the well-preserved state of two of its excavated ancient ships and many of the items they carried on board (even some designed cloth). These particular vessels had served as burial ships and had been laden with all the goods the dead were thought to need in the afterlife. The museum is relatively small but the ships and artifacts are thoughtfully displayed and convey a wealth of information on Viking culture.
- You could dedicate a lot of time to visiting the Norwegian Folk Museum, as it has an extensive collection of indoor and outdoor exhibits. The majority of the museum consists of buildings representing various areas of Norway, where guides dressed in traditional clothing and performing tasks like whittling, sewing, and potato peeling answer questions and give explanations about what is presented. We didn’t have time to visit the entire expansive museum, but did get to see a one-room school house called to order, a stave church, houses and barns, traditional dress from all over Norway, and exhibits on Sami culture (for more information on this ethnic minority group, see Sami: Indigenous People in Sweden and Beyond).
- I wish we had had time to visit the Fram Museum as well, whose main attraction is a ship built for research expeditions to the North Pole.
- We really enjoyed shrimp on toast and seafood pasta at Kafè Celsius. The outdoor seating in the cobblestone courtyard areas was filled with people pleasantly enjoying wine and food here into the still-sunny evening.
- Also be sure to pick up a bar of Kvikk Lunsj (“quick lunch”) anywhere in Norway. This popular candy consists of wafers dipped in milk chocolate, similar to a Kit Kat bar. You just might need that extra boost of energy for an exciting trip like this.
(For the fictionalized version of my visit to Norway, see Norway in a Fish Tale.)