Despite the fact that Norway’s tourist season runs throughout summer, more and more people are starting to visit in the winter months. The biggest draw to visiting Norway in the winter is undoubtedly the northern lights, but those who make the trek here also get to enjoy dog sledding, skiing, reindeer, snowy mountains, and calm polar nights. In fact, I tend to tell tourists that winter is one of my favourite times in Bergen! Getting to live here during the beautiful winter months is a real treat, but visiting is a different story. If you are visiting Norway to see the northern lights, I’d recommend adding Bergen your itinerary (it is possible to fly direct to Tromsø from here). Maybe you’ve booked an 11 day trip on the Hurtigruten and are wondering if you should add some time in Bergen. Is it worth visiting Bergen in winter? What is it really like? Well, let’s get into it!
“There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather…”
Bergen is famous for its temperamental weather. Known as one of the rainiest cities in Europe, every visitor to Bergen will know that it’s possible to buy postcards with Bergen’s awful weather on them. The city almost takes pride in being so rainy, even though tourists tend to be less enthused about the awful weather.
The weather in summer can be pretty surprising; your cruise ship may dock on a sunny morning, but by lunch time there are strong winds, and an hour later it’s raining sideways! Well, winter is somewhat the same, if not worse. It tends to be quite windy in the winter, and with that it can go from being sunny to cloudy very quickly. Last week I went for a walk up Fløyen, and when I started it was overcast. Halfway up the mountain the sun was out, but by the time I reached the top it was cloudy again!
Additionally, I shot this time-lapse from outside my window:
When it comes to temperature, Bergen actually has very mild winters (thank you, Gulf Stream!). The average temperature around December/January is 1 C (33 F), which is often warmer than Oslo, and warmer than other places on the same latitude. It’s not very often that Bergen goes below zero degrees in the daytime, so this means you don’t have to wear several layers of thermals to go out. But the windy weather can be very brutal, and can make the outdoors feel considerably colder. Which leads into the next point…
A lot of people come to Norway in winter expecting snowy mountains and people skiing in the main street (myself included!). Actually, the very first time I came to Bergen in January 2012 I actually saw people skiing near the fish market, and remember walking through the snow at the Bergen Fortress. And still, after living here for three years, I get excited whenever it snows in Bergen. But, unfortunately, the truth is that it doesn’t snow that often.
Due to the fact that Bergen has mild winters, the temperature doesn’t really get low enough to snow all the time. Most times it will snow overnight, and then by the middle of the morning the snow has either melted or frozen into ice (see below).
If you do want to see snow in Bergen, the best months are January and February but, like the weather, it can be very unpredictable.
For the days that it does snow, there are cross country ski fields up on Fløyen (just take the Fløibanen up). You will also see kids tobogganing. Sadly I can’t seem to find anywhere in Bergen that rents skis – if you know somewhere let me know in the comments! If you travel to Voss for skiing, however, you will be able to rent skis there.
Because of the fact that we get snow which means we can ski, Norwegians actually love the winter months. A lot of tourists mention they feel sorry for Norwegians because of the dark days and miserable weather, and last week I even had one tell me they felt sorry for the kids for wearing those puffy winter onesies. But Norwegians love this weather! As long as they can spend it outdoors skiing, of course. I love this weather because I get to snuggle up inside and not feel too guilty about it; the constant sunlight in summer makes me feel like I should always be outdoors.
A quick lesson in ice skating
Bergen’s rapidly changing temperatures and love of rain does create a big problem in the city: ice. It snows overnight, the snow melts in the morning, it gets cold and the water freezes over. Congrats, you’ve now got to walk on ice! It becomes a lot more fun when it ices over, but then snows again, hiding the ice underneath.
The paths around the city can get very slippery in the winter, and this creates a risk not just for tourists but also the locals. Here is an article that was published in one of Bergen’s newspapers earlier this week:
I posted some photos of me walking in Bergen, and the second photo shows what the footpaths generally look like. If it’s not very wet and sloshy (technical term), then it’s frozen over and very slippery.
While most of downtown areas are salted or gravelled in the morning, the most important thing is to take extra care when walking around Bergen – especially on the hiking paths, backstreets, and the wooden planks at Bryggen. Last week I did my first walking tour of the year, and we had to skip a large part of Bryggen as the cobblestones had frozen over and it was impossible for the inexperienced to walk on.
I wear Timberland boots or gumboots when walking around and I tend to run into issues with ice, but my husband wears spikes on his shoes and manages to get by. However, he complains a lot about spikes – having to take them off and on – and he has said that it doesn’t always work.
Is anything even open?
Norway has a very distinct tourist season from May to September, and ‘off season’ tends to mean that many museums close down. That means that you may not be able to see everything you want to. The museums that stay open tend to have shorter opening hours, generally from 11am or 12pm.
Here’s some museums that are open throughout winter:
- Bergen Aquarium (10am-6pm)
- Rosenkrantz Tower & Håkon’s Hall (Sunday 12pm-3pm)
- Fløibanen (keeps same hours all year)
- KODE galleries (keeps same hours all year)
- Troldhaugen (10am-4pm) – doesn’t do the lunchtime concerts in winter but occasionally has performances
One of the main reasons the museums have shorter opening hours is because of the daylight hours. At its worst, Bergen will be light by 10am and the sun sets by 4pm. But this is only in January; if you come in February you will have normal(ish) daylight hours. But the sun in Bergen does rise (though we may not always see it), which is different from northern Norway.
One of the prettiest times of the year
Okay, so the weather is very moody, it doesn’t snow as much as we’d all like, and most places are closed. I may not seem like I’m selling Bergen in winter so far, but there is a huge advantage of coming here in winter: the city is absolutely gorgeous. The winter light creates either this soothing blue (when it’s cloudy), or it’s very bright. Additionally, the air always feels so much fresher during the winters months. Getting to walk around Bergen on a sunny winter day is one of the best things you can get in Norway.
So, if you do get the chance to visit Bergen in the winter months, I’d strongly recommend. Not only are there less tourists, but the scenery is unlike anywhere else in Norway. Just be dressed for the weather and watch where you walk!
What Bergen Looks Like
When Bergen had its first snow of 2019, I went out for a quick walk to take some photos of what the city looks like. Hopefully this gives you a general idea of how pretty the city gets in winter.