Bergen is Norway’s largest cruise port, so if you are taking a cruise to Norway or Northern Europe, chances are you’ll make a stop in Bergen! Since most ships are only in the city for the day, it’s important to make the most of your time here (so many people leave Bergen wishing they had more time), so this little guide is to help you enjoy this beautiful city.
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Bergen’s weather is a top attraction
One of the first things everyone should understand about Bergen is the weather. If you are travelling to Norway in July with the aim of soaking in the sun, getting that tan and enjoying pleasant hike after pleasant hike, you will most likely be disappointed. Perhaps opt for the Mediterranean instead.
Bergen is the rainiest city in Europe (though many Irish passengers tend to want to dispute that!). It rains in Bergen between 240 and 270 days a year, with precipitation measuring 2,250 mm (89 in) on average. This is because the city is surrounded by mountains, which tends to trap in the bad weather coming in from the oceans. Some days, you may even be lucky enough that the clouds cover Fløyen and Ulriken, making the views, well, nonexistent.
But don’t let that deter you from visiting Bergen! The rain has become something of a tourist attraction (you can even pick up postcards and artworks of rainy days), and it’s an experience on the same level as riding a gondola in Venice or drinking a beer in Germany. Embrace the weather with welcome arms – and waterproof and windproof clothing – and don’t let it ‘ruin’ your day. I
I’ll write a more in-depth article about what Bergen’s weather is really like, so keep an eye out for that.
Cash free is stress free
If your cruise is taking you all around northern Europe, it may be a bit of a headache trying to work out all the different currencies that each country uses. Many passengers decide to just bring Euros, which are not accepted in Norway and many shops will either outright reject them or make you pay in Euros at a crazy rate worse than airport currency converter shops. Some passengers may even think that Norwegians will accept Danish or Swedish kroner, which will give you a funny look from the shopkeeper.
Norway uses the Norwegian kroner only. But even if your cruise is just Norway, it’s not always necessary to bring cash.
Everywhere accepts bank cards. Even when you’re buying your rainy day postcard or just a bottle of water. There is talk of Norway going cash free, so even the most remote fjord-side fruit stall will most likely accept bank cards. Just check with your bank beforehand that a) your card will work, and b) there are no crazy fees.
If you want to exchange cash, there are two places to do it. The tourist information centre will do it but at a slightly ridiculous rate, and across the road is Forex, which will do it for a pretty good rate but you have to pay a 50kr fee – which may not be worth the exchange. It does take 15-20 minutes to walk here from the main cruise terminals, and most guides will not pause the tour for you to exchange notes.
On that note, tipping is not really a thing in Bergen (and Norway, and Europe). Staff in cafes and restaurants already make high wages – McDonalds workers in Norway earn more than McDonalds workers anywhere else in the world. However, some guides to rely on tipping to make a decent salary – and we’ll accept any currency.
Finding some free WiFi
Sure, most people come on vacation to escaping the day-to-day grind, sometimes including social media and emails. Still, though, when most cruise ships either don’t offer internet or only offer overpriced, badly working internet, once you find yourself in a new city the urge to jump on Wifi and tell the world you are here, or brag about that latest fjord hike, means that you need to find some free WiFi in the city.
In Bergen, most cafes and some restaurants offer free WiFi – just ask the staff. If you are taking the Fløibanen they offer free WiFi at their lower and upper stations – perfect for sharing the view on social media!
Ships don’t tend to stop in Bergen for too long – some leave as early as 3pm – so if you choose not to do an excursion it’s important to make the most of your short time in Bergen. Here’s where you can go on foot.
Most cruise ships dock at Skolten or Bontelabo (small luxury ships dock at Festningskaien, which is practically across the road from Bryggen). The two cruise terminals are next to each other, so the walking times are more or less the same:
- Bergen Fortress: 2-5 minute walk
- Bryggen, St Marys Church, shops & cafes: 5-10 minute walk (take a short-cut through the fortress for a nicer walk and shave a couple minutes off your trip)
- Fløibanen: 10-15 minute walk (Walk through the fortress and then along Bryggen)
- Fish market, tourist information centre, Forex: 15-20 minute walk (much like Fløibanen, walk through the fortress and then along Bryggen)
- KODE galleries & main shops: 20-25 minute walk (note: the main shops are not souvenir shops but rather clothing stores, shoe stores, book stores, pharmacies, etc).
If you are travelling on a large or budget cruise such as P&O, Costa, or Mein Schiff), then your ship may dock at Dokken. Dokken is not located in the city centre, and you can’t leave the cruise terminal without taking a free shuttle bus. Once on the other side of the terminal, the walking distances are a little further than the other ships, and begin with a slight uphill walk:
- National Theatre: 5-10 minute walk
- KODE galleries & main shops: 10-15 minute walk
- Fløibanen: 15-20 minute walk
- Bryggen: 20-25 minute walk
Ships who dock at Dokken do have the advantage of being five minutes away from Nordnes, one of the best preserved suburbs in the city and perfect for those wanting to do for a walk ‘off the beaten track’.
Public transport options
From Skolten and Bontelabo, buses 3, 4, 5, and 6 will take you to Bryggen in 2 minutes, the Fisheries Museum in 5 minutes, and Gamle Bergen in under 10 minutes. Taxis also stop outside Skolten but are very expensive. Likewise, if travelling back to your ship from Bryggen or the fish market, buses 3,4, 5 and 6 all stop at the stop Bontelabo, which is right across the road from Skolten and Bontelabo.
If you are at Dokken, there are no public transport options. Some people decide to take the hop-on hop-off bus (it stops right at the shuttle bus stop), and others choose to make the walk to town – and it is a very lovely walk!
Which cruise excursion is right for me?
Every cruise ship that comes to Bergen offers some form of onshore excursion – some are free and others are not. Whether or not you do an onshore excursion really depends on what you are hoping to get out of Bergen. If you want to go shopping, walk off-the-beaten track, or hike a mountain, it’s probably best to be independent. But if you want to learn the history or see the museums, maybe the excursions are good options.
Types of Excursions:
- Walking tours of Bryggen – these are among my favourite to do. While Bryggen is beautiful to walk around independently, you don’t really get a sense of the history of the area. Guides are generally very knowledgeable of the Hanseatic history, and these walking tours always leave you satisfied. If you’re lucky, some guides even know secret spots to visit. These tours are generally two hours and will include Bryggen & the fortress, Bryggen & the fish market, or Bryggen & secret streets liked by the guide. You don’t really need a guide for the fish market. The walks are generally very flat, slow-paced and easy.
- Bus panoramic tours – Panoramic tours are offered by almost every ship (Viking offer them for free), and if you want a good look at Bergen, or have mobility issues, they are a good option. They often last for two hours and include at least one photo stop of Bryggen. The first hour is through the inner city, and the second hour is through the suburbs, where the guide tends to talk about what it’s like to live in Bergen. If the second half is not your thing, maybe don’t do a panoramic tour. If you are doing another tour (such as Troldhaugen), don’t do the panoramic tour – the bus route and the guide’s talking points are exactly the same!
- Fløibanen & Ulriken – these tours again depend on how much flexibility you want. Many tours go to Fløibanen often the guide just assists you to the top of the mountain and then gives you free time. You may still have to wait in the long queues, which affects how long you spend at the top – tours have to be a certain length, after all. Fløibanen can easily be done independently. Ulriken is a little more worthwhile – it’s further out of the city and most tours offer free cinnamon buns and coffee at the top. However, if Bergen is rainy, there is a chance the view won’t be there. On a tour, you have to go regardless.
- Troldhaugen & Lysøen – Yes, yes, yes. These are definitely some of the best-value tours out there. Both are located outside the city, both tend to get highly experienced guides, and both tend to involve a concert. Even if you aren’t the biggest fans of Edvard Greig or Ole Bull (or don’t even know who they are) you’ll feel so Norwegian on these tours. They are much more slow-paced than panoramic or walking tours, involve guided tours and independent time, and, as I said, concerts!
- Day trips out of Bergen – Some cruises offer day trips to the Hardanger Fjord or even as far as Flåm, and they are a good option if you just want to see nature or if your ship isn’t going there. Just note that they often have tight schedules, which means there’s a lot of driving and not a lot of photo stops. They also tend to include a free lunch, which, depending on where it is, is hit or miss.
One last tip – if you do a tour in the morning and want to spend the afternoon in the city, ask the guide if you can be dropped off at Bryggen or the fish market. That is perfectly fine!
Lastly, shop local!
Cruises tend to include free meals and some even now have souvenir shops on board, so it is very tempting to eat and shop on board. However, please try and buy local.
There has been a lot in the local news over the last twelve months about the number of cruise ships docking in Bergen and the types of things tourists are doing (such as looking in letterboxes, through windows, leaving trash, or being rude to locals), as well as the environmental impact. While the city is working on cleaning up how cruises dock in Bergen, it’s important that, as a tourist, you show that you are one of the good ones. Being respectful is the first step, but if you can eat locally or buy souvenirs locally you are helping the local economy, making the city want to keep cruises coming! People tend to use the argument but tourism is good for the economy, but it’s not if the tourists don’t spend money in Bergen!