After our failure to see as much of the Czech Republic as we thought we should, we were committed to “knock out the highlights” of Norway early in our stay in the country. That way, if we moved earlier than planned, we’d at least be able to say that we’d seen the country (or most of it).
First on the agenda? Bergen.
Arriving in Bergen
I used to love arriving at a train station. There’s a sense of excitement that’s different from what you feel arriving at a new airport, most likely because of the old world feel of it. Or at least there can be. I don’t feel that way in Oslo, perhaps because the facilities are too modern. (Although the hustle and bustle at Oslo S can be invigorating.)
The train station in Bergen sparked that excitement in me, though. The station is simple, mostly outdoors, and with a beautiful mural that you walk under as you leave. Not unlike a train station in Italy.
Upon arriving, our first task was to get to our Airbnb. Since Google Maps said it was only a ten-minute walk away (and taxis are expensive in Norway), we decided to walk. As we soon found ourselves away from the more modern surroundings of the train station to the cobblestone streets of the older part of Bergen, it wasn’t the most comfortable choice, though it wasn’t that hard either. (As usual, our stroller did pretty well. The suitcase had more of a challenge, though.)
We meandered the cobblestones until we found our house number. The entrance itself was up some stairs and down an alley—not the most accessible situation, albeit one that we’d been warned about. (And promptly forgot.) Luckily for me, Fernando is very useful for these sorts of things, and we quickly got ourselves inside.
Day One: Fløibanen Funicular and Mount Fløyen
It was late afternoon when we arrived in Bergen, which meant that most things were closed or closing. But the sun hadn’t set yet and the Fløibanen station was just a five-minute walk away, so our plans were decided.
One of Norway’s most famous attractions, this six-minute funicular ride takes you from (almost) the harbor up about 300 meters to the top of Mount Fløyen. (Which is more of a hill than a mountain to this Pacific Northwesterner, but whatever.) Go up two stops (the one in between is to access a seemingly posh neighborhood) and you’ll find 100s of people admiring the city from the lookout. (Seemingly posh because it was there that we saw the only tuxedo that I’ve ever seen in Norway other than on 17 May.) But don’t worry, it’s a considerable space so it doesn’t feel crowded and you should be able to get a front-row view of the sunset even if you only get there a few minutes early.
We had some time to kill, so after taking a quick look at the view, we headed to the playground.
There are a couple of different kinds of playgrounds on Fløyen. The first, which is located directly behind the lookout and next to the restaurant, is your standard playground with slides, swings, and climbing opportunities. It’s nice and big with structures for both young and older children, but after about 10 minutes, Luca was ready to move on. Luckily for him, there is an even better place to play: the Troll Forest!
This place is so cute. In addition to lots of mud to stomp in, there are rope bridges and other climbing opportunities. It’s definitely a challenging area for a not-quite-two-year-old, but Luca enjoyed it.
As sunset approached, we went back to the lookout. It was a relaxing place to sit, and there’s more to see than just the view of the city—you can also admire the local goats!
After the sunset, we headed back down the mountain. For dinner, we tried to go to Colonialen, but it turned out that they only had a tasting menu, which we knew Luca couldn’t handle. So instead we headed to Litteraturhuset. Run by the same company, this little restaurant with a bookstore across the hall was delicious. So much so that we almost went back the next day.
Day Two: The Aquarium and Beyond
Our first priority when planning our trip to Bergen: attending the penguin feeding at the Bergen Aquarium.
I learned so much during this presentation. For example, did you know that Tango isn’t the only penguin in the world with two dads? In fact, it turns out that homosexuality in animals is rampant, and has been documented in hundreds of species in the wild.
After the feeding, we wandered around the aquarium. It isn’t the largest one we’ve been to, but there is a good-sized shark tunnel, which Luca would have spent all day in if we had let him.
After we finished with the aquarium, it was time to head back to the center. On the way, we made a quick stop at Nordnesparken. Located just around the corner from the Aquarium, this isn’t the most accessible of parks as there are a lot of stairs. On top of that, it was raining. So I left Fernando and Luca at the street while I ran down to see what I was looking for: a totem pole sent to Bergen by its sister city, Seattle! After all, what expat doesn’t get excited to see a little bit of their original home in their current one?
There are buses that run from the Aquarium to the center but I thought it would be fun to take a boat instead. The only problem was that we never found it. So instead it ended up just being a long walk in the rain. (On the plus side, Luca was napping in the stroller and this gave him extra time to do so.)
When we reached the water, I thought we’d find the Fish Market from the 16th century, but it was nowhere to be found. (Or so I thought. More on that tomorrow.) On top of that, Luca was still sleeping and Fernando and I were both a little tired, so we headed back to the Airbnb for a bit where Luca continued to sleep outside in his stroller à la Norwegian, while we listened for him from inside an upstairs window.
For dinner that night we knew we wanted to go out. Luckily, our Airbnb hosts had included a local guide with restaurant highlights. For various reasons (such as high tables and/or tapas-style menus) many of the closest places weren’t options for us. But we did find a fabulous place: Marg & Bein. More of an adult restaurant than a children’s one (think minimalist décor with votive candles on the tables) but like other places we’ve been to in Norway, they have high chairs and a reasonably child-friendly menu, so it works. It was even the first time in almost a year that Luca seemed ready to tolerate a third course, so we ordered dessert. Unfortunately, it was a little slow in getting to the table and he started to melt down, so we had to eat it in a rush. But it was still an important night in that now we can get a three-course meal almost 50% of the time we go out to eat.
Day Three: Bryggen, Bergenhus Fortress, and More
For our second full day in Bergen, we decided to see some of the main tourist attractions for families without kids. After stopping to get some pastries for breakfast, we headed to the main tourist area: Bryggen.
This Hanseatic Wharf is what Bergen is most known for. While we’d gotten our pictures of it the day before on our way up to the Aquarium, now was our time to explore. We found a Christmas shop where I had my first (unknowing) introduction to julnisse and also picked up some souvenirs since we’d be heading home to see our families in a month. After that, we wandered around the courtyards behind the building where Luca was able to climb and play with other young kids. We considered going to the Hanseatic Museum, but after Fernando told me that it was cold, smelly, and not that interesting, we changed our minds.
From there we walked another 500 meters to Bergenhus Fortress. We didn’t stay very long because it started raining and my tummy was growling. But if you are in Bergen, you should definitely stop by. While not nearly as well known as Bryggen, it is an important part of Bergen’s history and not one you should miss if you really want to experience Norway’s former capital city.
Finding a place that was open for lunch was surprisingly tricky. But we knew we wanted fish, so after our initial attempts at finding a place to eat fell flat, we decided to search one more time for the Fish Market.
Our meal was fine. Nothing special, but tasty. But the market itself was the biggest disappointment of the trip, at least for me. Don’t get me wrong. It was nice. But I cringed when I saw the sign announcing that this market—currently housed in an all-glass building from 2012—was from 1500. No wonder we’d walked right past it the day before. I was looking for something historical, but other than the ground underneath, there really wasn’t anything historical about it.
Not unlike the day before, we headed back to the Airbnb for a nap. By the time Luca woke up the art museum I’d wanted to see was about to close. So we decided to lounge around for a while before heading out for some Thai food. (After all, while the food in Bergen was good, you can only eat Norwegian food so many days in a row before you start to get bored.)
Day Four: Back on the NSB
The next morning, we got up (somewhat) early, ate what was left in our Airbnb fridge, and then headed back to the train station. The trip back to Oslo is about 7 hours long and we didn’t want to get home too late. After all, while we’ve been lucky that Luca is a pretty easygoing traveler, a toddler can only handle so many days out of their routine. And a toddler’s mom, even more so. So getting him to bed (more or less) on time was an absolute must.
More Information for Planning Your Trip to Bergen
How much does it rain, really?
I struggled so much to figure out an answer to this question before I packed our bags. Everyone says that Bergen rains all the time, but what does that really mean? People say the same thing about Seattle, and that rain doesn’t bother me. But that “rain” is usually just a light drizzle.
In our experience, it definitely rains more in Bergen than Seattle, but it isn’t that bad. At least during the day. While we were there, it was grey and drizzly (perhaps with a heavy drizzle) during most of the day. But after the sun went down, watch out. At that point, it would usually start pouring without warning. Case in point: on our second day when we went to have dinner at Marg & Bien, we decided to walk the ~20 or so minutes instead of trying to figure out public transportation. (One of the downsides of taking the train is that we didn’t have a car seat with us to use in taxis.) Although it was fine when we left the Airbnb, it was dropping buckets of water on us ten minutes later. So we sat soaked through dinner and then had to go back out into the pouring rain to walk home. It was fine, but not exactly pleasant.
Another thing that I noticed is that people in Bergen—particularly parents—are always prepared for the rain. In contrast to Oslo, I didn’t see a single parkdress while we were there—even though there were at least two barnehage groups at the Aquarium on Friday. Instead, they were all dressed in rain dress, just in case. (While it did start raining that morning, it wasn’t so heavy that you needed rain dress and I suspect that at an Oslo barnehage you would have seen more of a mix.)
In short, it really does rain a lot in Bergen. But despite what they say, it doesn’t rain all the time. It’s unlikely that you won’t have any rain while you’re there. But don’t feel like you need to break out the waterproof pants. Unless, of course, you want to, in which case knock yourself out.
Anything else we should do?
There are two things that I’d wanted to do in Bergen but didn’t:
- Visit KODE art museum
- Go on a fjord cruise
As I mentioned, the timing of Luca’s naps prevented us from going to KODE. (The hardest part of traveling with young children is missing out on things because of their sleep schedules!) As for the fjord cruise, we just didn’t feel like waking up early enough. Plus, we were planning a road trip through the fjords for the next summer, so we knew that eventually we’d get our fill. That said, if we didn’t have those plans, we would have been up bright and early to get on that boat.
Should we get a Bergen Card?
Maybe. Will you be using public transportation? Will you be going in the off-season and visiting the Aquarium? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then it might be worth it. Since we were planning on walking rather than using public transportation, we thought that at best we would break even if we bought the Bergen Card. Especially because Luca’s nap meant that we probably wouldn’t go to enough attractions. This was exactly how things played out, so I’m glad we didn’t spend the money.
Can you recommend additional resources for planning our trip?
I mostly used a combination of my Rick Steves’ Scandinavia guidebook and the Visit Bergen website to decide what to do. But here are three blog posts about traveling in Bergen with young children that might be helpful:
P.S. Even living in Norway next to two Frozen-obsessed girls, I had no idea Bergen played a role in the movie until reading these posts!
Have you been to Bergen? What was your favorite part of your visit?