Viking history abounds in the southern region of Fjord Norway, a place of remarkable natural beauty that the descendants of those rugged warriors and explorers still call home. As stunning as it is in summer, it's in cooler weather, from October to April, that the grandeur and excitement of this western coast really comes to life. Snow caps the mountain tops, the region's many waterfalls transform into walls of sculpted ice, and opportunities for adventure and discovery abound. There's no better time to “Go Viking” in Fjord Norway — tackling the region's spectacular nature and embracing the Norwegian philosophy of Friluftsliv, or “open outdoor living,” whatever the season and weather may bring.
As a European City of Culture and the “Fjord Capital,” Bergen offers world-class attractions, including its UNESCO-listed historic wharf, incredible restaurants, and top-notch entertainment. It’s also a lively university town that buzzes all season long with exhibitions, and performances.
In the Hardangerfjord region, nature and scenery take center stage. You can easily explore ancient rock formations, glaciers, waterfalls, and picturesque fjord villages, all of which can be reached via public transportation from Bergen. (Read more about these excursions below.)
A visit to Bergen and Hardangerfjord will stir both imaginations and the Viking spirit — the one that encourages you to don your boots and some winter wool, and get out and explore.
The heart of the region, Bergen puts you in a vibrant city but also keeps you close to some of the world’s most dramatic natural scenery. Take a fresh-air stroll along Bergen's Bryggen — or Hanseatic wharf — a bustling harbor-front of cobbled alleyways and brightly colored timbered buildings that once housed German merchants. Today these steep-roofed structures are home to boutiques run by local artisans and the Hanseatic Museum, which illustrates the unique history of this site. To go deeper, stop into the Bryggens Museum, where local archaeological finds from the Middle Ages are on display, and the Håkonshallen, an imposing structure that served as a royal hall in the 1200s, when Bergen was Norway’s political capital. Both are part of the Bymuseet, Bergen’s city museum. Be sure to also stop into the nearby St. Mary’s Church. It is the oldest building in Bergen, and dates back to the 12th Century. Later, catch a ride on the Fløibanen funicular — a railway that travels 1,000 feet up Mt. Fløyen in less than eight minutes, and allows for stellar city views. At the top, you'll find wooded trails perfect for hiking under brightly colored autumn leaves, or if the weather is a bit cooler, a floodlit cross-country skiing trail that remains illuminated through Bergen's dark winter days.
Embrace Fjord Arts, History, and Culture
Bergen is home to KODE, a collection of seven museums and historic music-related sites. It’s here where you'll find more than 55,000 art objects, including iconic works by Norway's famed expressionist painter, Edvard Munch. The former home of renowned classical composer Edvard Grieg, located about 20 minutes outside of central Bergen by public transportation, is also part of KODE. Check out the museum then visit his namesake in town, the 1,500-seat modernist Grieg Hall, to hear the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra throughout the autumn and winter seasons. Grieg served as the Philharmonic’s musical director from 1880-1882.
If you love delving into local culture and environmental history, you’ll find it in the Hardangerfjord region, too. On Hardangerfjord's northern shore, you'll find the Hardanger Maritime Centre, an interactive museum that’s great for families where you can get an up-close look at nautical crafts like boat building and ropemaking, and test your rowing skills on the water in a traditional craft. Then, delve into regional culture at the Hardanger Folk Museum, where traditional costumes and fiddles are on display. Or, if you’re headed to Folgefonna National Park, with its enormous glaciers and thundering waterfalls, stop into the new visitor center, which has exhibits on the critical ecological issues that impact the park.
Have a Fjord Adventure
Embrace your true Viking nature by getting outdoors during Norway's cooler seasons.
For an easy way to explore the incredible breadth of this region’s wonders, take the “Hardangerfjord in a Nutshell” tour. Presented by Fjord Tours — Norway’s largest tour provider — it takes present-day Vikings round-trip from Bergen to see dramatic natural sights including picturesque villages, dramatic mountains, and waterfalls. Falling into the latter category is Vøringsfossen, which tumbles 600 feet into Norway’s “Grand Canyon.” At Steinsdalsfossen, you can enjoy the sight of water crashing 60 feet over a cliff ledge, but you can also get up close, and even walk safely under and behind the waterfall — without getting soaked. As part of this tour, you’ll travel by bus, as well as by boat and scenic rail. These are not only sustainable methods for seeing the region, they also will give you a sense of how the Vikings used the sea as their main method of transportation through the area. Customize the trip to see it all in one day, or add overnight stays along the route to truly immerse yourself in Viking life.
Embark on a guided trek or snowshoe experience with Trolltunga Active from the town of Odda — Hardangerfjord's hub for outdoor activities — to Trolltunga, the “troll's tongue.” This breathtakingly scenic cliff hovers 2,300 feet above Ringedalsvatnet lake, offering phenomenal fjordland views.
Trolltunga Active and Hardanger Fjordsafari also run RIB boat safaris that are ideal for low temperatures, when icy water and white-washed mountain scenery make for a winter wonderland.
Eating and Drinking, Viking-Style
Bergen is a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, meaning good food, sustainable practices, and local ingredients here will satisfy both high-brow tastes and Viking-size appetites. Locally caught seafood is the norm throughout the area, as is Fårikål, Norway’s national dish, a cozy stew of mutton and cabbage — perfect for winter months.
Tucked within the KODE 4 art museum is Lysverket, which puts a modern spin on classic Nordic cuisine, with a special focus on seafood. Perched on its own tiny island the city's outskirts, the innovative Cornelius serves up a “Meteorological Menu” inspired by the day's weather.
Locally brewed ciders are the beverages of choice in and around Hardangerfjord, and the cooler months are a perfect time to taste test, especially in the fjordside towns of Ulvik or Sorfjorden. The aforementioned Trolltunga Active also offers a RIB boat tour that includes a cider tasting.
Go full Viking with Bergen Fjord Adventures, whose year-round culinary tours include sea vegetable forging and a shore-side bonfire with locally caught crabs, scallops, and clams on the menu.
Choosing the Perfect Stay
From sleekly designed boutique resorts to traditional properties with classic Scandinavian style, the lodging options in and around Bergen are varied and suit hikers and kayakers, families, roving foodies, and anyone else in search of adventure and cultural richness.
In Bergen, you'll find the luxury Hanseatic Hotel, with 37 high-style guestrooms with rustic touches — think twinkling chandeliers under exposed wooden beams — right in the heart of the Hanseatic wharf. For excellent value, the centrally located Thon Hotel Rosenkrantz is a modern and colorful space where your stay includes breakfast and an evening meal.
In Hardangerfjord, head to the Brakanes Hotel in Ulvik for easygoing Nordic charm, and for proximity to the Fruit and Cider Route, an area of orchards and breweries where you can explore on your own or take a guided excursion with the hotel.
For something traditional, Norheimsund's Thon Hotel Sandven is a classic 19th century wooden structure with cozy, individually-styled rooms. Odda's charming — and recently renovated — Trolltunga Hotel embraces its guests' sense of adventure by offering free shuttle transport to the spot where Trolltunga Active begins its tours, from mid-September through November and again beginning mid-February.
If you’re exploring with the “Hardangerfjord in a Nutshell” tour, consider the Quality Hotel Vøringsfoss and Eidfjord Fjell & Fjord Hotel — both dramatically situated properties that fit easily into the itinerary.
Getting There and Getting Around
Accessing this wild country is easier than you might imagine on some of the world’s biggest airlines. Daily flights to Bergen on KLM (via Amsterdam) and SAS (via Copenhagen), put Norway’s fjord region within reach of major U.S. gateway cities.
On the ground, Fjord Tours offers several tours that will get you around the region by public transportation with one ticket. As part of this, you can enjoy a variety of activities using the FjordPass, which allows you to explore at your own pace and includes discounts on everything from culinary tours to car rental, including dog sledding adventures, kayaking, and waterfall walks.
The Hardangerfjord region is just an hour drive from Bergen. Or, book a tour with Fjord Tours that will let you explore this region as the Vikings did, and without any of the fuss.