A Guide to Bergen, Norway in Winter
Updated December 9, 2018
Carrie and I combined a trip to Northern Ireland over Christmas to see family with a chance to visit wintry Norway! Before we traveled, we had heard almost endlessly from other travelers about how expensive everything is. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Norway ranks second (after Switzerland) as the most expensive country to live in. The high cost of living comes with a well developed social welfare system and investment in infrastructure, leading Norway to rank constantly at or near the top of the OECD and UN Human Development reports.
Norway and Tourism
In 2013, Lonely Planet considered a budget experience in Norway to be €120 or less a day per person, which includes accommodation, food, and travel. Despite the common assumption that a visit to Norway is expensive, we were determined and successful at planning a (relatively) inexpensive and impactful visit by shopping at grocery stores and markets, visiting local bars and not those in touristy areas, staying in hotels that offered traditional Norwegian breakfasts, and selecting our travel dates to reduce the cost of travel.
Norway offers an enormous amount of sightseeing and adventure opportunities for travelers from its majestic arctic landscapes and famous fjords, to skiing, and gazing at the northern lights. For our five day trip we traveled to Bergen and Oslo. We began our trip in Bergen, a coastal city located in southwest Norway, a popular embarkment point for cruises to the famous fjords. From Bergen we traveled by train along one of the world’s most scenic train rides to Oslo through wintry forests and mountains. We ended our trip with a couple of nights in historic Oslo.
We flew from Dublin to Bergen on SAS, the Scandinavian airline, via Oslo. Oslo’s airport is beautifully designed, with a modern interior that uses wood with extremely high ceilings, making it feel spacious, and yet cozy. Our three hour layover was enough time to sit down and sample our first Norwegian beer. This was our first purchase in the land we had heard was almost unbearably expensive. Our bill was 196 Kroner or $32 for 2 large (slightly larger than a pint) Ringnes beers. A little pricy, but isn’t everything always more expensive at the airport?
Where to Stay in Bergen, Norway
Clarion Admiral Hotel
To get to the Bergen city center we took a coach bus from the airport to the Torget Fish Market, which was two blocks from our hotel. I chose to stay in the Clarion Admiral Hotel, because it had received excellent reviews, was centrally located, offered a breakfast buffet of traditional Norwegian foods, and most importantly was affordable. Clarion is part of a large international hotel chain. The hotel was situated right on the harbor, opposite the Bryggen (historical part of Bergen). The breakfast buffet selection of warm and cold food options was vast and delicious, particularly the fresh fish and was one of the hotel’s highlights.
Through my research I learned that the hotel was undergoing a remodel and I was a little concerned about what state the hotel would be in, but we stayed in one of the rooms that had been recently renovated, and the ongoing construction was only noticeable from the exterior. The room was nicely decorated with a modern, yet cozy design and had a heated bathroom floor. We also had a small view of the Bryggen and the harbor.
What to do in Bergen
The Bryggen, one of Northern Europe’s oldest ports, established in 1350 is a must see in Bergen. The enchanting quarter consists of two and three story wooden buildings of similar size and shape, with stone-stacked or wooden foundations. Much of the original buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1702, but have since been rebuilt and now house galleries and shops. The Bryggen Museum (40 Norwegian Kroner) is worth a visit and does an excellent job of documenting the history of the settlement and includes the foundation of one of the earliest buildings. Interestingly, in its early years water in the Bryggen was usually not safe to drink and therefore everyone consumed beer to stay hydrated, both young and old. One advantage to visiting in the winter is that you don’t have to contend with the crowds that descend on the city in the spring and summer.
Another point of interest in Bergen is the Fløibanen Funicular (70 Norwegian Kroner). Luckily, Bergen is a very walk-able city so nothing we visited was ever more than ten minutes by foot. The funicular took us up a large hill that towers over the harbor and the rest of Bergen. The scenic ride took roughly 10 minutes to climb to the top with several stops along the way. The top of the hill provided a beautiful panoramic view of the harbor, the rest of the city, and the fjords off in the distance.
Torget Fish Market
For Carrie’s birthday she decided we would go to the Torget Fish Market for dinner. Since the market closed at 4 pm that day we ate dinner a little earlier than usual. The fish market is located in modern-designed glass building on the waterfront. Each of the fishmongers sold a selection of pre-made food as well as raw seafood. The fish market was the best place to sample Norway’s fine selection of seafood, which we simply had to try, like Norwegian caviar, and as well as shrimp, crayfish and salmon, and salmon sandwiches.
Later that evening we went to a local bar called Pengiven (Penguin). It was a cozy and ‘cool’ bar as described by Lonely Planet, situated in a part of town we had not visited. Their selection of Norwegian craft beers was vast and well worth the visit. The food, all traditional Norwegian staples, such as reindeer, whale, fish pie, and salmon, are also highly recommended.
Bergen to Oslo by Train
We opted for the longer, but more scenic train ride from Bergen to Oslo, which is frequently referred to as one of the most beautiful in the world. With that in mind we choose a train that left mid-day giving us the most amount of daylight for the scenic early part of the ride. We opted to ride in the NSB Komfort car, or business car for roughly $6 USD apiece more, which meant we could choose our seats in advance. An additional perk to the NSB Komfort car is that noise must be kept to a minimum, so we traveled in peace and quiet. The train was very comfortable, clean, had good WiFi, and left nearly to the minute we were scheduled to depart.
Our journey began as we snaked our way alongside several lakes surrounded by fjords, passing through several tunnels, before ascending around the town of Myrdal high up into the mountains, where the scenery changed from green forests and lakes to snow covered forests and mountain tops. At Finse, the highest train station in Norway, some of the passengers jumped off the train with their skis in hand. The train station, situated in the middle of a large plain surrounded by snow covered mountains, was no more than a few buildings on either side of the tracks with 12 foot snowbanks.
Yes, Norway is expensive compared to most travel destinations, but an affordable and moderately impactful (mainly due to our choice of hotels) visit is completely possible. Selecting centrally located hotels that include breakfast will save you local travel expenses and time in addition to extra meal expenses. As I’ve mentioned in my other past travels shopping at grocery stores for lunch and snacks is another way to save as well as expand your understanding of the country you are visiting, which we did in both Bergen and Oslo. Norway’s infrastructure also means it's very easy to get around by train and bus, meaning a rental car is not necessary if you travel around and between cities.
Looking for adventure? Book yourself a flight north to the frontier town of Longyearbyen located in the high arctic circle! Read about how you can't miss this place!
All Photography by Albert and Carrie Bond
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