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The capital of Fjord Norway has never had more to offer than today, whether you are looking for great works of art, classical music, rock concerts or folk music, or you’re interested in war history, museums, stave churches and stunning medieval buildings.

Bergen has the feel of a big city, despite it actually only being home to around 300,000 inhabitants. That feeling stems very much from the city’s arts and culture scene. Since the Middle Ages, arts and culture in Bergen has received massive support from wealthy merchants, shipowners, the aristocracy, royal family and a bourgeoisie that knows how to appreciate a good performance. Throughout the centuries, institutions such as the Hanseatic League, the church, museums, art schools, archives, the university, orchestras and theatres have woven a close-knit backdrop of cosmopolitan art and culture in Bergen that stands out from all the other cities in Norway.

Bergen’s status has once again served as a magnet for art and culture from continental Europe, and local talents from Fjord Norway and the rest of Norway have moved to Bergen.

The most important building in the kingdom

In the Middle Ages, after King Olav Kyrre established himself in Bergen in 1070, the first monumental buildings were built in the new capital. Håkonshallen on Bryggen was erected as a royal residence and banquet hall in the 13th century. It is currently open for visitors and has regular exhibitions, which also applies to the Rosenkrantz Tower right beside it. The tower was first erected in the 1270s and later renovated. Here at the end of Bryggen, you can also see Sverresborg and Bergenhus Fortress and the 12th century St. Mary's Church, the city's oldest preserved building.

The UNESCO-listed Hanseatic wharf, known as ‘Bryggen’, is home to what are perhaps Bergen’s most iconic buildings. Here you can buy souvenirs and handicrafts from Bergen and the surrounding area, and enjoy a coffee and pastry outdoors, which is what the locals do on sunny days.

A tour of the city centre will provide a glimpse of buildings from all eras of architecture and art history. The Holy Cross Church from 1150 is closed for rehabilitation until 2024, but the other buildings are open to visitors. The majestic building that hosts the Natural History Museum from 1865 is considered a national treasure. St. John's Church, which sits above the city on Nygårdshøyden, is Bergen’s largest church and a prime example of the neo-gothic style. A smaller but equally interesting church is Fantoft Stave Church, just south of the city centre. Originally built in Sogn, it was moved to Bergen in the 1800s. It consists of three ships and intricate decorations. In the 1990s, the church burned down and was later rebuilt in its original form, which is reminiscent of Borgund Stave Church in Sogn.

The homes of internationally renowned composers

KODE art museums have three exciting and historic composers’ homes as well as four art museums that are open to the public. Troldhaugen was the residence of Norway’s most famous composer, Edvard Grieg, who was born in Bergen. The house is among the city’s most popular tourist attractions and hosts concerts and classical music performances during the summer.

On the island of Lysøen outside Bergen, you can experience the incredible residence of Ole Bull – a world-famous violin virtuoso and composer of the 19th century. The property is currently closed for renovation, but it is still possible to take the boat out to the island during the summer. Lysøen offers great nature experiences, with hiking trails and areas for swimming, and you can also admire the exterior of the house.

Harald Sæverud, best known for the song ‘Ballad of Revolt’ from 1943, lived at Siljustøl in Rådal just outside the city centre. The composer’s home is open to the public under the auspices of KODE art museums in Bergen. There is also an attractive park around the house where you can enjoy a walk.

A paradise for art enthusiasts

People who just can’t get enough knowledge and insight from museums and exhibitions will love their stay in Bergen. KODE’s four art museums are located in a row alongside Lille Lungegårdsvann lake in the heart of the city. You can experience both permanent and temporary exhibitions of crafts and design at ‘Permanenten’, temporary exhibitions and the Rolf Stenersen collection at ‘Stenersen’, the Rasmus Meyer collection showing the golden age in Norwegian art history (1880–1920) and the world's third largest collection of Edvard Munch paintings in the building ‘Rasmus Meyer’, and last but not least, temporary exhibitions, international modernism and works from KODE’s collection at ‘Lysverket’. Lysverket is also home to the Michelin-starred restaurant of the same name.

You can buy one ticket to visit all the art museums, while separate tickets are needed to visit the composer's homes.

KODE art museums and the Bergen Kunsthall gallery are located alongside Lille Lungegårdsvann lake in the city centre.|© Gjertrud Coutinho

At Bergen Kunsthall, you can experience performing arts, tours and lectures in addition to fantastic visual art, installations and other modern art experiences. Landmark café in Bergen Kunsthall is the perfect place to end your visit.

Kunsthall 3,14 is another modern and distinctive contributor to Bergen’s art scene. Here you can see politically charged art with controversial exhibitions, visual art and installations in all categories, and you can participate in guided tours and workshops. On the walls and facades of the cityscape, you can experience street art with everything from graffiti to colourful and politically motivated paintings that appeal to both the young and the old passing by.

If you visit Os just south of Bergen, you can experience Oseana Art and Culture Centre, which hosts performances and exhibitions that often revolve around mystery, folklore, fantasy and Norse myths. Oseana is also a great place to have lunch on a nice summer day and offers magnificent views of the fjord and Folgefonna glacier in the distance.

Street Art in Bergen|© Mathias Falcone/

Museums that engage visitors

At the more traditional end of the selection of museums in Bergen, the city’s folk museums offer great experiences and engaging insights. Bryggens museum gives you in-depth knowledge of the Middle Ages in Bergen.

Bryggen in Bergen on a summer day.|© Robin Strand

At Hordamuseet, situated in idyllic surroundings at the heart of the Fanafjord just a short drive from the city centre, you can wander between old wooden houses that will give you a sense of life in Fjord Norway in bygone times. Here you will also learn more about the people who lived just outside Bergen but close enough to be able to row to and from the city in one day, known as ‘Striler’. If you want to learn more about city life in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the open-air Old Bergen Museum in Sandviken is one of the city’s absolute highlights. Here you can walk through streets and wander into houses that stand exactly as they did in the old days – a guaranteed hit for the whole family.

Bergen’s history also includes war history, and the city has been the scene of shocking acts of war, especially during World War II. Fjell Fort on Sotra island, the North Sea Traffic Museum in Telavåg, the Theta Museum and the Gestapo Museum are places and collections that show the life and struggles of the past.

The capital of performing arts and music

Everyone who has lived in Bergen knows that music, theatre and dance are inseparable parts of the city. At the top of the hierarchy is Bergen’s Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra ‘Harmonien’. Its permanent staff of professional musicians based at the Grieg Hall give regular performances at the highest international level. You can see and hear performances by Harmonien almost every Thursday during the season from May to August.

See Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra at the Grieg Hall in Bergen.|© Oddleiv Apneseth –

Bergen is known for its unique music scene, with artists such as Lars Vaular, Sondre Lerche, Gabriele and Datarock, and the singer-songwriter Jan Eggum. Many musicians live in the city, and there’s a packed concert schedule throughout the year.

Outdoor concert at the fortress in Bergen.

An important part of Bergen’s finer arts and culture scene is Den Nationale Scene, Bergen’s main theatre and one of Norway’s four national performing arts institutions. The national dance company Carte Blanche is a permanent ensemble with 14 professional dancers from all over the world. Its works are often performed on the home stage in Bergen.

Festivals that return year after year

If you’re lucky, your trip to Bergen could coincide with one of the major festivals. Bergen International Festival is by far the biggest and most beautiful festival, with a focus on classical music and international star performers. Bergen International Festival takes place in May, while the famous Nattjazz festival takes place in early summer. Nattjazz is northern Europe’s longest jazz festival and has been held annually since 1973. It features some of the world’s foremost jazz artists.

Other treats on the festival calendar are Bergenfest, which brings together tens of thousands of young people at concerts with nationally renowned pop artists at Bergenhus Fortress every summer. BIT Teatergarasjen – Bergen International Theatre, is another ‘stayer’ on the cultural scene in Bergen, with a 40-year history. The biennials Oktoberdans and Meteor, organised by BIT Teatergarasjen, and the festival ‘Dans - en fest’, as well as a number of other top-quality festivals with a slightly smaller audience, make Bergen well worth a festival trip at any time of year.

Read more about what to do in Bergen