Bergen

Bergen, Norway

Itinerary

We had two full days in Bergen. Our itinerary was as follows:

Arrival day: Get acclimated to the lay of the land; drink a few cocktails and soak up the unusually sunny weather

Full day 1: Hike Mount Ulriken in the morning and explore the old town in the afternoon

Full day 2: No plan; we drove the Aurlandsfjellet Scenic Route, stopping at Flåm and the Stegastein Viewpoint

Accommodation

We stayed at the Thon Hotel Rozenkrantz in a Superior Room for three nights. From the moment we walked through the doors, it was obvious that this was a popular hotel for pre-cruise and coach bus tour guests. I think Peter and I were the only non-retired folks staying at the hotel which felt a little strange.

The location of the hotel was great. It’s located in Bryggen, the historic harbor district of Bergen. Bryggen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site most known for the historic commercial buildings lining the harbor.

You may have seen them before? They’re pretty famous.

The hotel was located one block behind the historic buildings. This area of Bergen was busy with tourists but the hotel was quiet, even with the windows open at night.

Our room had a double bed (king-size in the US, super king in the UK), two sitting chairs, a desk, a mini-fridge, and other amenities like an ironing board which was a nice touch.

The biggest downfall to the room was temperature control. There’s no air conditioning in the hotel and even though the temperature outside was mild, our room was uncomfortably hot at night.

Making matters worse was the heated floor in the bathroom with no way to turn it off. Our options were to keep the bathroom door closed and create a sauna in there or keep the door open and indirectly heat the rest of the room.

We chose to keep the bathroom door closed and we slept with the windows and curtains open to allow for a breeze. This solved the temperature problem but presented another problem – a sunny room.

We were in Bergen during the summer solstice when the city has 19 hours of daylight. The sun rose at 4:10am and set at 11:15pm. Having the sunset after 11pm is a total mind game!

Our hotel stay came with a free breakfast buffet and it was an extensive buffet. It was almost at the level of what is offered at all-inclusive resorts. The options were endless – hot foods, cold foods, smoothie shots, fresh-squeezed orange juice, bread, pastries, etc. I enjoyed breakfast at this hotel, however, the food could have been hotter.

The Superior room (including breakfast) gets a rating of 6/10.

Driving and parking

The drive from the airport to the hotel was super duper easy and took about 15 minutes. I was a little nervous because I knew the route would take us through busy Bryggen but the roads in Norway are extremely well-marked and the drivers are so polite that the drive turned out to be a breeze!

The hotel does not have a private parking garage but there is a public parking garage directly across from the hotel and we parked there.

Every parking garage and lot in Norway had its quirks.

The parking garage in Bergen scanned the license plate upon entry. Prior to exiting, we paid at the pay machine which was located at the ground level near the exit. Upon exiting, the license plate was scanned again and the barrier arm lifted when the payment was confirmed.

Protip: Take a photo of your license plate number because it needs to be entered when paying.

We paid 930 NOK for parking during our three-night stay in Bergen (620 for the first exit and 310 for the second exit).

Note: The current exchange rate between NOK and USD is about 10:1, so, 930 NOK is about $93 USD.

Bryggen (old town)

As mentioned above, Bryggen is the historic harbor district in Bergen.

The architecture in Bryggen, especially the buildings lining the harbor, had a fishing village vibe but as we ventured away from the harbor, the vibe changed from fishing village to quaint and charming. Some areas felt like we were on a movie set.

One common theme throughout our travels in Norway was wooden buildings. Bergen is the wettest place in Europe with an average of 195 rainy days per year and I thought it was a little strange that the primary construction material was wood versus something a little more water-resistant but what do I know?

Wooden buildings are uncommon in Europe and they made Norway feel unique. It felt like we were in Europe but also felt like we were in Minnesota at times.

From the air, Bergen was more spread out than I expected and I think that’s in part due to the landscape.

Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains: Sandviksfjellet, Fløyfjellet (Fløyen), Rundemanen, Ulriken, Løvstakken, Damsgårdsfjellet, and Lyderhorn.

The mountains have steep sides and Bergen is nestled at the base of the mountains. Bergen city centre was hilly except for the area lining the harbor.

Hiking and day trips to “fjordland” are the most common activities in Bergen. Two popular hikes from the city centre are Mount Ulriken and Mount Fløyen. Alternatively, visitors can take the cable car up Mount Ulriken and a funicular up Mount Fløyen.

Hiking Mount Ulriken takes a little bit more effort because it requires a bus journey to get to the trailhead whereas the trail to Mount Fløyen begins in Bryggen.

Mount Fløyen

Overall, Bergen met my expectations, however, one thing I did not expect to see were homeless people. They mostly kept to themselves but occasionally, they’d approach tables or sift through the rubbish bins.

We also saw two drug deals take place between buildings in Bryggen. There was little attempt to hide what they were doing. I’m not new to witnessing drug deals or drug use – my eyes saw plenty of these things in Seattle but I never expected to see it in a country with a solid social safety net.

Mount Ulriken

Our original plan for Bergen was to hike up Mount Ulriken and then hike from Mount Ulriken to Mount Fløyen across Vidden, and then take the funicular down to Bryggen.

Protip: This hike can be done in either direction, however, Mount Ulriken is higher than Mount Fløyen, so hiking from Ulriken to Fløyen will give more of a downhill hike than hiking in the other direction.

After researching the hike further, it came to light that I’d misunderstood the estimated hike duration. I thought the estimated hike duration was five hours from start to finish.

In reality, the five-hour estimate was for the Mount Ulriken to Mount Fløyen (across Vidden) section only. It did not include the time it would take to hike up Mount Ulriken or hike down Mount Fløyen (if we decided to hike down versus take the funicular).

Adding in the estimated time to hike up Mount Ulriken and down Mount Fløyen, we decided that a 7-8 hour hike was too much of a commitment for us on our first full day and we decided to hike up Mount Ulriken. Depending on how we felt once we reached the top, we’d hike or take the cable car down Ulriken and catch the bus back to Bryggen.

Our Mount Ulriken adventure began in Bryggen when we walked by a kiosk for the Ulriken Express. I was intrigued by the word ‘express’ because the alternative was to take the city bus which is usually the opposite of ‘express’.

The Ulriken Express bus runs from Bryggen to the Mount Ulriken cable car station. The Express bus runs every 30 minutes with the first and last departures from Bryggen at 9am and 6:30pm.

The last Express bus departing the cable car station is at 6:15pm.

Pricing was as follows (in NOK):

TicketAdultChildFamily*
Ulriken Express roundtrip10050
Ulriken Express one-way5025
Mount Ulriken cable car roundtrip345145790
Mount Ulriken cable car one-way19595445
Ulriken Express & cable car combi ticket (roundtrip only)445195
*Includes 2 adults and up to 3 children

The Ulriken Express bus pricing was fair. On the other hand, the Mount Ulriken cable car pricing was OUTRAGEOUS. It cost us $40 to take the cable car down the mountain, a five-minute journey!

As mentioned above, there are two public transport options to get to Mount Ulriken: a city bus or the Ulriken Express bus.

If taking the city bus, the trail If taking a city bus, then you’ll want to alight at a bus stop near the trailhead at Montana Hostel.

If taking the Ulriken Express bus, the trail begins behind the cable car station. Online estimates say that hiking from the cable car station adds 30 minutes to the hike, however, it only added 10 minutes for us.

Regardless if you start at the cable car station or at Montana hostel, the trails join to form one steep trail with 1,332 stone steps. The steps range in height from 6-18 inches and the last kilometer of the trail is a 20% grade. It was no joke.

We hiked on a perfect weather day and it seemed like there were as many locals on the trail as there were tourists. We saw people of all ages from little kids to seniors. We were passed by a man hiking barefoot and there was a school field trip having a picnic at the top. Two things I did not expect to see.

In total, it took us 54 minutes to hike from the cable car station to the top. We stopped two or three times to catch our breath. It was a breathy one!

At some point, I started counting my steps which was a mistake. Forty steps felt like 80 and that was not good for my exhausted body and brain so, a word of caution, don’t count the steps.

Another drain on my mental capacity was the false summit. False summits sometimes happen and it happened to us on this hike.

When I thought I was near the summit, I started hiking faster. When I reached the “summit,” I saw a shit load of stairs ahead of me. I felt defeated but in the wise words of Peter, there was only one way to get through it and that was to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

Area of the false summit

I was dripping in sweat when I reached the top. It was a level of sweat and a red face that was actually embarrassing.

I sat on the large boulder ledge, took a sip of water, and decided that since my legs were on fire, I’d take the cable car down (wasn’t thinking too much about Peter n that moment).

With the exception of hiking Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh a month prior, this was my first major hike in years. It reminded me how much I don’t like hiking. And as my heart rate came down, I still wasn’t able to fathom continuing the hike from Mount Ulriken to Mount Fløyen as we had originally planned.

As I sat there waiting for my face to change from beet red to its normal color, I overheard a hiker tell his friend that the actual summit of Mount Ulriken was “over there,” and not where we were sitting. I guess that meant there are two false summits of Mount Ulriken.

We rested on the boulder ledge for 20 minutes or so and then walked to the restaurant to see what they had on offer.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much on offer during our visit. Mainly snacks and drinks. We were interested in sipping a beer on the deck but for as large as the deck was, the seating was limited.

It’s picnic table style seating which is OK when both ends of the benches are accessible but one end of the benches butted up to the railing so if you were seated at the railing end, everyone on your bench had to slide out to let you out.

This style of seating doesn’t make sharing a table with random people viable and the end result was two or three people sitting at picnic tables could accommodate eight people.

If you’re are able to snag a seat though, it’s a perfect place to enjoy a beer after that monster hike. And on a random note, it would also be an amazing wedding venue.

If I were to hike Mount Ulriken again, I would:

  • wear shorts and a tank top versus hiking pants and a long-sleeve top
  • fill my water bladder versus a water bottle
  • use hiking poles (big proponent of hiking poles)

Flåm village

On our second full day in Bergen, we woke up to soggy weather and a forecast that was not going to be in our favor so we decided to head northeast and drive the Aurlandsfjellet Scenic Route, stopping at the village of Flåm and the Stegastein viewpoint.

The drive from Bergen to Flåm was about two and half hours and then it was another 30 minutes from Flåm to Stegastein. In total, about six hours of driving for the day.

We stopped in Flåm for a toilet break and lunch. The taco truck had run out of food for the day so we chose to eat at the village cafeteria. We shared a pizza. A Norwegian-style pizza (Maybe? Is this a thing?).

I regret not taking a photo of the pizza.

Sometime in my life, I had eaten this type of pizza before but I cannot place where I’ve had it. The crust was thick, like a deep-dish pizza, but it was airy and crunchy.

The pizza was served on a “wicker pizza plate” (that’s what Etsy calls it) which was unusual because pizza is typically greasy so the plate that it’s served on should probably be of solid material, not something that is more suitable for potpourri.

Anyway.

We didn’t love the pizza but we didn’t hate it either. It was one of those foodstuffs that, given enough time, we’d come to love. Maybe? My feelings about that style of pizza are confusing.

Similarly confusing to bread and butter pickles. Do I hate them? Do I like them? I just don’t know!

We hoped to have another taster of “Norwegian pizza” before leaving Norway but we failed and we’re forever left wondering if we liked or disliked Norwegian pizza which probably isn’t even a thing in Norwegian life.

After lunch, we strolled around Flåm for a bit, long enough for us to need to pee one more time before heading to Stegastein.

Flåm seemed to be a hub for hikers and visitors wanting to explore the fjords in that region (Aurlandsfjord and Sognefjord). For me, I couldn’t imagine staying in the fjords and not having a car but there were a shit ton of people arriving who did not have cars.

Whilst we were in Flåm, a train and a passenger ferry arrived, dumping loads of visitors into the tiny village. As soon as they appeared, they disappeared.

I wondered where they went because I didn’t see many places for accommodation. Maybe they were there for the outlet mall?

In summary, Flåm was a mysterious place that served pizza on re-purposed potpourri plates, sold outdoor clothing at deep discounts, and had a brewery that was only open in the evenings on specific days of the week.

Stegastein Viewpoint

From Flåm we drove to Stegastein viewpoint. I’d read that the road leading up to the viewpoint was full of hairpin turns and I prepped by taking Dramamine so that my driving would not make me motion sick. (I learned that lesson the hard way in Crete last summer).

The road leading to the viewpoint was not only full of hairpin turns, but it was also one lane and precariously cut into the side of the mountain. Peter has a fear of heights and later told me that he had to look at his phone the whole time to keep his mind off us potentially falling off of the mountain.

On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most dangerous, I’d say the road was a 6. In peak season or on a sunny day with loads of traffic, it’d be an 8.

At the top of the turns was the viewpoint, a tiny parking lot (free), and toilets. The parking lot could accommodate ~15 cars and then there were an additional ~5 spaces on the side of the road near the parking lot.

There were two spaces available when we arrived and there was a queue of cars waiting for a space when we left.

Stegastein viewpoint sits 650 meters (2,132 ft) above Aurlandsfjord. This was our introduction to the fjords and it did not disappoint.

The easiest way to describe the scale of the fjords is with photos. They’re really, really big.

As an example, there are two boats in the photo below.

The viewpoint extends 30 meters (164 ft) over the fjord. When standing on the viewpoint, it feels like it is cantilevered but it is actually secured to the mountain.

The viewpoint was neat and worth the drive if you’ve got the time. That said, it was a long day with six hours of driving plus another 1.5 hours for our stops in Flåm, Vinje Church, and Trollafossen waterfall.

I don’t know if it would have been as worth it if we had taken a tour (on a bus) from Bergen to the viewpoint. I reckon that would have been a long and uncomfortable day.

Vinje Church and Trollafossen waterfall

On the drive back to Bergen we made two pitstops.

We stopped at Vinje Church for a quick photo op. We actually drove by the church and I thought I’d regret not stopping to take a photo of it so I u-turned at the next roundabout, took a few photos, and resumed driving to Bergen with no regrets.

Our second stop was at Trollafossen Waterfall located a couple hundred meters off of E16. We saw this waterfall on our way to Stegastein and made a note to stop at it on the drive back to Bergen. You can’t miss it. It’s enormous.

There are a lot of waterfalls in Norway. There were periods of driving where we’d see one every five minutes. The amount of melted snow that is coming off of the mountains 24/7 is mind-boggling. I kept saying, “There’s so much water!”

We spent 10 minutes at Trollafossen. There’s a small shop near the waterfall that sells snacks and gifts. Toilets are available for a fee.

I have one regret about our visit to Trollafossen. I should have bought an ice cream sandwich.

Unlike Norwegian pizza and bread and butter pickles, my feelings about ice cream sandwiches are firm. I love them. And so does Norway. I know this because they are sold everywhere and people eat them all day long.

Two hours later, we arrived in Bergen just in time for cocktails and dinner. Later that evening, we packed up our things and prepared for the next segment of our vacation, the Hardangerfjord region.

What we’d do differently

What would we do differently if we were to do our stay in Bergen over again?

Well, we added in a buffer day to every segment of our vacation, primarily for inclement weather but also so that we had flexibility if we found additional things we wanted to do or see.

Our buffer day in Bergen was a soggy one so we used the day to drive the Aurlandsfjellet Scenic Route. If we had not had a buffer day, we would have driven this route on our transfer day to Norheimsund in Hardangerfjord. It would have been a long day but driving the route and then driving to Norheimsund was achievable.

As it pertained to our multi-day stop itinerary, we would not do anything differently with our stay in Bergen.

However, if we were doing Bergen as a city break over a weekend without any day trips, then we would reduce our stay from three nights to two nights.

We’d take an early morning flight so as to arrive in Bergen as early as possible and then take a later flight on our departure day so as to allow enough time to complete the following:

  • Explore Bryggen
  • Hike Mount Ulriken
  • Hike Mount Fløyen

Resources

Below is a list of resources I used to prep for our vacation in Norway.

ResourceLink
Visit Bergen tourismLink
AllTrails – UlrikenLink
Visit Norway – Stegastein viewpointLink

Eat and drink recommendations

Here are a few recommendations for Bergen.

Business nameTypeNotes
Det Lille Kaffe KompanietCoffee
Savannah RestaurantRestaurantReservations recommended
No StressCocktail bar
VinylCocktail/beer barExtensive selection of beers; cocktails are mostly whiskey-based, try the cold Irish Coffee

Next: the beginning of our adventures in “fjordland”.

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