Fjords, Waterfalls, and Reindeer: Bergen and Beyond

Norway was a bucket list trip for my mom and me, a place we dreamed of visiting ever since we moved to Europe, so it’s still shocking to me we were actually able to make it happen in honor of her birthday and Labor Day Weekend. Despite having rain every single day, we made the most of every sunny moment we could get, and Norway ended up exceeding my already-high expectations.

We decided to spend our whole six-day trip in Bergen and rent a car so we could do day trips from there, and it ended up working out well and was a lot more relaxing than traveling from city to city. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment attached to a house on a fjord in a quiet neighborhood about 15 minutes outside the city.

I came up with a list of things we did both within and beyond Bergen, as well as a review of our Norway in a Nutshell day trip.

Bergen

Bryggen

The harbor is picturesque with the line of colorful Bryggen houses, which are actually the foundation of the city and a World Heritage Site. They were built after a fire destroyed basically the whole area in 1702 and have remained the same ever since. The houses are mostly home to souvenir shops and restaurants and the historic streets are worth a wander.

Fish Market

Right on the harbor, tourists can walk through the stands of the fish market as the aromas of paella, fish and chips and other seafood dishes fill the air. And of course the scent of fresh caught salmon, scallops and the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen (they put Maryland crabs to shame!). We didn’t end up eating at the fish market because the prices were super high, even for Norway. We did, however, snack on a $2 fish cake that was definitely worth the price! We also sampled and bought whale, moose and reindeer sausages.

Fløibanen

This funicular is easily accessible from the city center, as the lower station is just a few minutes walk from Bryggen and the fish market. For about $12 round-trip, it takes tourists and locals alike to the top of Mount Fløyen for hiking trails and a view over town. For Bergen visitors who won’t have a car or have very limited time, this is a good option.

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Ulriksbanen

The better option for people willing to drive is taking the cable car to the top of Mount Ulriken. While the station is still within the city of Bergen, it’s far from the center, though there is a shuttle that leaves from the tourist office. Anyway, the view here was much better in my opinion because A) the mountain is higher and B) I could see west to the islands on the coast. We could even spot the fjord our Airbnb was on! The hiking trails at the top of the mountain were inviting, but unfortunately I didn’t explore them because it was too muddy.

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Bergen Aquarium

By our last day, we were sick of the on-and-off rain so we decided to just head to the aquarium in the afternoon. The entry price was steep (almost $30 per adult), but it was worth it to have something to lift our spirits through the bad weather. Outside, there was a sea lion show and a penguin exhibit and inside were plenty of fish tanks showcasing tons of different species. I’m always down for an aquarium visit and this one did not disappoint.

Eating out in Bergen

Honestly in my opinion, there weren’t a ton of well-rated, mid-range-budget restaurants, which are usually the ones we go for, but we still managed to have wonderful meals every night. My favorite things I tried were reindeer and plukkfish, white fish mashed with potatoes and topped with bacon. There were also several nice coffee shops for us to eat breakfast. The cost of living in Norway is outrageous, so we didn’t eat out as much as we usually do.

Bryggeloftet & Stuene Restaurant: traditional Norwegian dishes like reindeer (best reindeer of the trip!), whale and salmon

Bare Vestland: upscale, traditional dishes served in a tapas style (go here for plukkfisk!)

Mingel Gastrobar: good variety of modern dishes with something for everyone; the duck was the comfort food I needed

Spisekronen: modern Norwegian dishes; I had whale and moose and was a fan of both!

Kaffemisjonen: coffee shop right in city center next to Fløibanen; goat cheese toast with pickled red onions was a perfect breakfast

Colonialen Litteraturhuset: tons of breakfast options; cheese lovers should try the Norwegian brown cheese on toast with jam

Godt Brød: a bakery chain serving the best almond buns and cinnamon rolls I’ve had

Beyond Bergen

Golta

One of my favorite things we did was exploring the islands west of Bergen. I feel like when people think of Norway, they automatically think of fjords and forget that the coast is not a straight line meeting the ocean but rather thousands of rocky islands. We used Google maps to see how far west we could get without needing to use a ferry and we made it to Golta and stumbled upon an awesome spot for a hike. There wasn’t even really a trail; I just followed the rocks until I was essentially at the edge of the world—or at least that’s what it felt like because the only land due west was northern Canada. It was relaxing because I was the only one out there and could explore as much as I wanted with just the sound of the waves crashing. We found that tourists didn’t venture this direction out of Bergen, just to the fjords, which made it exciting for us to discover things on our own.

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Turøyna

Another stand-out island not far from Golta was Turøyna. As we passed over the bridge, the landscape changed dramatically, where it was suddenly a lot less green and much rockier with big waves crashing on the rocks. There wasn’t much there, as was the case with a lot of the islands, but it was just fun not to have any expectations and be surprised every time we crossed a bridge. The remoteness is what makes it special.

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Hellesøy

At the top of the string of islands containing Golta and Turøyna is the village of Hellesøy. There was a moderate-level-difficulty hiking loop, which was fun for about five minutes until it got too muddy and I had to turn around, but on any other day it would have been the perfect hike.

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Herdla

Like Hellesøy, we barely got to enjoy Herdla due to rain, but it was another village at the tip of a different island chain with hiking trails and a nature reserve. We could have spent the whole day there if the weather were better.

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Saevrøyna

It’s yet another island at the end of a long archipelago, but I was in awe of the beautiful rocks meeting the water. Though all the islands sound similar, I highly recommend just getting in the car and driving and seeing where you end up! It never got old.

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Fossen Bratte

This was the first stop on our daylong drive through the Hardangerfjord region. There is just a pullover on the road, and, after a quick downhill walk, I was at the base of the falls. Good thing I had a raincoat because I got soaked! But it was cool getting that close to these ridiculously high falls.

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Steindalsfossen

It’s pure magic when you’re looking at a waterfall in the middle of a cloudy day and suddenly the sun comes out, creating a full rainbow in the mist. We witnessed this at Steindalsfossen, the prettiest waterfall I’ve ever seen, and it was my favorite part of the whole trip. We were also able to walk under the falls to the other side for a look out over the valley.

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Vøringsfossen

Our next waterfall stop was at the top of a winding mountain road. At the observation deck, the waterfalls themselves are cool, but it was the vast landscape that made it a stunning stop. Plus, there was a paved path to make the viewpoint easily accessible for everyone.

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Skjervsfossen

What stood out about our last waterfall of the day was not the waterfall itself (the viewpoint didn’t have the best perspective) but rather the public restroom next to it. I opened the door, and there was a window in the floor and the wall that allowed you to see the rushing water below! The drive we did in the Hardangerfjord region was actually one of Norway’s designated tourist routes, which probably explains the abundance of clean public restrooms along the way. I would love to follow more of these scenic drives if I were ever to return to Norway!

Norway in a Nutshell

Our friends and Airbnb host recommended the Norway in a Nutshell tour for us to get a day’s worth of sights planned out for us. Basically, it’s a self-guided tour that sets up all the transportation needed to get from place to place, but there is no physical tour guide. I personally don’t mind not having a tour guide, and, as a seasoned traveler, I found it easy to figure out which train and buses we needed to take, although I could understand how it could be confusing for beginners. We could have extended the tour to stay overnight in any of the towns, but we chose to do it all in one day. There are many options, but we chose the Sognefjord route, for it is the deepest and largest fjord in Norway. Unfortunately for us, this was the one day where it rained the entire time without clearing up, and we were frustrated by how much money we spent for a rainy day. In hindsight, we did not need to do the Norway in a Nutshell tour because we had the car, so I would only recommend it to people who don’t want to drive.

Our day started with a train ride from Bergen to Voss and then a scenic bus ride to the water. We then boarded an extremely nice boat for a two-hour trip down the fjord. Despite the pouring rain, we stood on the outside deck to enjoy the view as much as possible. I loved how high the mountains were on each side, the many waterfalls billowing down them, and the colorful boathouses on the water. This was the best part of the day, and I wish so badly we had better weather to appreciate it. We arrived in the town of Flam and had about an hour and a half for lunch. There weren’t many options there at all, so I’m glad we didn’t decide to stay overnight in a town so small. We did find a cart selling hot dogs, and we got to try the reindeer dogs! They were the perfect lunch!

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Then, we had a scenic train ride through the hills, which stopped at the beautiful Kjosfossen, where we had five minutes to hop off and take pictures. The train ride was fine, but it went through so many tunnels, each time with a loud, screeching noise. Plus, when you’re in tunnels, there’s nothing to see. Once we arrived in Myrdal, we ran across the platform to get a train back to Voss. At this point, we were over the rain and were in Voss earlier for the bus and felt like it wasn’t worth getting off the train, so we stayed on until Bergen. While it’s upsetting that our most expensive day was also the rainiest, I appreciate what we saw and have to accept there’s nothing we can do about the weather.

Enough of the negativity because Norway is perfect, and I encourage anyone who’s remotely interested in nature to go! The people were friendly, the food was amazing, and the views felt like they were from a different planet. Now my next goal for Norway is to make it to Tromsø in the Arctic C\ircle, mainly because they have a place where you can play with sled dog puppies!

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