Ever since Bergen was the inspiration for the kingdom of Arendelle in the hit Disney film Frozen, this Norwegian town has been getting a lot of attention from travelers. But the city is more than a fairytale setting — although the vibrant colors on the historic buildings in Bryggen wharf may seem straight out of a storybook. Teeming with culture, nature, and adventure alike, some of Bergen’s other proud badges include Norway’s second largest city, the Gateway to the Fjords, and a European City of Culture. Here are five ways to experience the best of all that on a budget:
1. Sample regional specialties.
Stroll through the stalls at the outdoor Torget Fish Market, located right on the wharf, and try some of local favorites like fish cakes, smoked whale meat, salmon caviar, and reindeer. Vendors also grill up seafood dishes at reasonable prices, so grab a plate of something fishy for lunch and take a seat at the picnic tables with views over the old Bryggen wharf. For an inexpensive sit-down meal, Pygmalion is a cozy spot with brick-covered walls and organic fare located near the fish market.
2. Buy the Bergen Card.
Not only does this pass give you free access to many of the museums and attractions in town — such as the Bergen Aquarium, the Leprosy Museum, and contemporary art center Bergen Kunsthall — it also works on the light rail and bus. Other perks include discounts on the sightseeing train tour and the funicular up to Mount Fløyen (free October through April, half-off otherwise). The 24-hour pass is NOK 200 ($33) for adults and NOK 75 ($12) for children; the 48-hour pass is NOK 260 ($42) for adults and NOK 100 ($16) for children. Consider this: The entrance fee for the Bergen Aquarium is NOK 250 alone, so if you wanted to visit even one of these attractions, the pass would be worth it.
3. View Bergen from above.
From the center of town, it’s easy to hop on the Fløibanen funicular for a trip up to Mount Fløyen, which rises 1,050 feet above sea level. There, enjoy sweeping views of the fjords, the island of Fedje, and the islands of Sunnhordland — then go for a hike on one of the paths, stop for a picnic, or canoe at Skomakerdiket (Shoemaker’s Dike). If you want a more active experience on the way back, walk down one of the mountain paths that wind through the cobblestone streets and picturesque old homes. It’ll take about 45 minutes to reach the center of Bergen again. Again, the funicular is typically 85 NOK ($14), but the Bergen pass will get you a 50-100 percent discount.
4. Step Back in time in Bryggen.
Despite numerous fires throughout Bergen’s history, the old Bryggen wharf — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — has managed to virtually look the same as it did back in the 12th century. True, the wooden houses are slightly crooked, but some argue this only adds to the city’s character. The main area of attraction are the 62 buildings in the Hanseatic merchant area dating back to the Middle Ages. Maintaining their original structures, they’re now filled with artisan shops, souvenir stores, restaurants, and museums like the Hanseatic Museum. It’s easy to spend an afternoon walking through the alleyways and narrow streets, exploring the architecture and crafts. Don’t forget to stop along the way at Baker Brun, where you can try Bergen treats like skillingsboller, a Norwegian version of a cinnamon roll.
5. Explore the fjords.
Bergen is know as the Gateway to the Fjords, thanks to it position between Sognefjord, the world’s longest fjord, and Hardangerfjord, dubbed “Queen of the Norwegian Fjords.” Unsurprisingly, the city attracts a number of cruise ships, including the famous Norwegian liner Hurtigruten, which cruises in both directions between Bergen and Kirkenes. While you can opt for a fjord tour or cruise — remember, some discounts are available with the Bergen Card — outdoor adventurers can also explore the inlets on their own. Options include hiking up one of Bergen’s seven mountains, like Løvstakken, or cycling on the 73-mile National Cycle Route no. 4 to Voss, through the mountains and past the fjords.