The small portside town of Bergen is one of Norway’s hidden gems. It has a gorgeous historical nautical village feel about it with colourful wooden houses perched along the cliffs, tiny cobbled streets and laneways full of cool designer boutiques, cafes and old churches and buildings. The UNESCO city may not be super famous but maybe it should be. After all, it is the city that inspired Arendelle in the Disney smash hit Frozen. If you’re planning to visit the Norwegian fjords with kids, this is a great way to experience a city in Norway with kids before hitting the countryside.
There are several buildings of heritage and historical interest that house museums and are managed by Bergen City Museum. Many of these are quite spectacular and will make for excellent photos. You can choose to do as many or as few of these as you like, depending on your kids’ attention span. But the more memorable way to get to know Bergen is put on your walking shoes and use your two feet to explore.
Walk around the township and along the seaside at the Bergen Fish Market and along the Bruggen and Torget boulevards. This charming heritage neighbourhood has restaurants, cafes and shops of every description and price range, boats parked along the wharf areas and street entertainment and live bands. In the summer the locals flood into the streets to eat fresh seafood on the roadside, sip the local beer and enjoy the sunshine.
There are plenty of stalls with delicious seafood on offer (you might also spy some more unique local delicacies); well worth visiting is Fjesllskål which also offers very reasonably priced wines to accompany the menu and has some spectacular mussels and crabs.
Step back a couple of blocks around Korskirken church and there are a series of tiny laneways with small stores, trendy cafes and book and antique stores to explore.
At the paved mall Torgallmenningen are all the high street and department stores. On the summer weekends it’s worth heading over to see if they have any free activities for kids.
Sometimes there are tables piled high with LEGO, giant LEGO pieces for the tiny tots, giant Scrabble, Connect Four and chess, ride-on mechanical animals as well as tables for kids (and adults) to play backgammon and other board games.
There’s also lots of live entertainment (think musical buskers, performance artists and clowns) and families can easily spend an entire afternoon just enjoying the free activities.
Fløibanen funicular is definitely worth a half day. The vehicle rises a very steep vertical to 320 metres above sea level. This is an interesting way to gain some fantastic views over the township and out to sea and the cars are stroller-friendly.
At the top you can pose for pictures, walk around some of the most easily accessible Norwegian woods and there is a café, restaurant and souvenir shop.
But the best part is the free playground where everything is themed troll. Make sure you explore the outskirts of the main playground area to find the wooden trolls who guard over the edge of the forest. This is an area well frequented by local parents and makes for a great casual afternoon of ice creams, outdoor time and a chance to experience every day life in Norway with kids.
A more touristy option is to take the Ulriken 643 cable car to the peak of Ulriken. While there is a restaurant at the peak, this is less of a favourite with the locals and you might find it lacks some of the charm of the funicular.
An easy public bus ride away is the Gamle Bergen Museum (Old Bergen) – an outdoor museum of historical houses set up like a village complete with actors dressed up in period costume to talk you through the displays in each house. This is a fun way to introduce the kids to some of Bergen’s heritage and in the summer there is sometimes a temporary theatre set up with local Norwegian performances in the evenings.
VilVite Bergen Science Centre is a popular attraction where kids can interact, touch and see science live at work. There are several impressive exhibits such as the 360-degree bicycle that allows kids to experience G-Forces and talking robots.
The fine art museum Kunstlab specifically makes fine art accessible to children. It is the first art museum in the world to do so and a good place to start introducing art appreciation to kids.
[For more tips on visiting art galleries with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
There is a good mixture of independent, small and interesting stores as well as the usual tourist trappings in Bergen. If you really want some keepsakes to take away with you, it’s worth exploring some of the antique and curio stores and local galleries in the Ovre-Gaten and Lille Ovregaten areas.
Småting is a very cool kids’ boutique owned by interiors store Ting with toys and cool collectibles for hipster kids.
For equally cool kids clothes in pop bright colours, check out Tiljamid and their very cute play clothes.
The Moose Shop Elg (Bryggen 11, Bergen, Norway, Tel: +47 5521 5488) is a tiny shop space dedicated to all things moose.
If you’re after some local picture book collectibles, try the lovely Litteraturehuset, a bookstore worth exploring if you are also interested in the local adult literary scene.
First Hotel Marin is very centrally located and makes an easy base to explore Bergen with kids. Immediately downstairs is a convenience store for snacks and it is stumbling distance downhill to the major tourist area.
Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Bergen is located at the end of Bryggen so is a little less convenient but it is quite charming to be able to step directly out on to the old wharf structures and be a part of the action.
Bergen is quite easy to negotiate and well equipped with tourist signage and free maps. If you need more information, the tourist information centre is very comprehensive and will provide you with honest and insightful advice on what will work (or not) for your family.
If you are planning on using public transport and visiting at least two museums, it is good value to purchase the Bergen Card. The 48-hour version is particularly good value and will allow you to move around the greater Bergen area too so you can see a bit beyond the heart of town. You can purchase this from the tourist information centre near the Fish Market.
Bergen is a heavily cobbled township. It can be negotiated with a stroller but you need something sturdy and all-terrain, rather than a flimsy and light travel stroller.