Bergen and Oslo are almost guaranteed to be on any itinerary taking you to Norway, especially if you haven’t visited the country before. As two of its largest and most historic cities, both have plenty to offer travellers. However, if you’re strapped for time, you might find yourself needing to decide between visiting Oslo or Bergen.
In general, Oslo is a great option for those looking for a big-city vibe with a classic Scandinavian culture to enjoy. On the other hand, Bergen is a great choice for nature lovers looking for a quaint city to visit with easy access to Western Norway’s natural sites.
So, this article breaks down the key differences between the two cities. It discusses the positive aspects and potential drawbacks of each, and can hopefully help you figure out which city to visit between Bergen vs Oslo.
As the capital of Norway, as well as its largest city, Oslo is a cosmopolitan, charming city with a laid-back atmosphere. While it has a number of districts, Oslo is small and reasonably walkable, home to Norway’s royal palace, as well as some of the country’s best museums and cultural landmarks.
If you’re planning a trip to Norway, you might be weighing up Oslo vs Bergen in terms of accessibility. While Bergen’s Flesland Airport is one of the largest in Norway, Gardermoen near Oslo is considerably bigger still and offers better connections both domestically and internationally.
Plus, Oslo is far nearer to Sweden and Denmark, so there are affordable bus and ferry connections available to the Norwegian capital that simply don’t exist in Bergen. You can view bus schedules here.
As mentioned above, Oslo is a fairly compact city, and its downtown ‘Sentrum’ area is especially walkable. Oslo is served by a very reliable, comprehensive public transit network, and travelling around the city generally doesn’t take long at all, thanks to its size.
Renting a car to visit Oslo is certainly not necessary, either. The only scenario where you might want to consider doing so is if you’re planning on road-tripping around Norway or exploring the countryside extensively. You can view car rental options here.
Otherwise, parking can be tricky to come by in parts of Oslo and renting a car is pricy; in fact, it can often be more of a hindrance than anything else.
All in all, prices between Oslo and Bergen are fairly similar. Dining out anyway in Norway is pretty expensive, with costs being more or less the same in both.
This is also true of public transit in both cities, with the price difference between comparable tickets being pretty much negligible, despite the fact that Oslo is the larger city.
In fact, while Bergen is smaller, accommodation there is, on average, slightly more expensive than what you might be able to find in Oslo.
This is probably due to the fact that Bergen is a major tourist destination thanks to its fjords and history, and, being a fair bit smaller than Oslo, also has far fewer options to choose from in terms of hotels, rental properties, Airbnbs, and so on.
Ultimately, if you’re trying to figure out if you should visit Oslo vs Bergen, then affordability will likely be a very minor part of the equation.
Things to Do in Oslo
Overall, Oslo is probably a better choice to visit than Bergen if you want an experience that’s more representative of the ‘classic’ Scandinavian city and atmosphere. It resembles other cities in Denmark and Sweden like Copenhagen or Stockholm more closely and has more of a cosmopolitan, diverse feel.
If you haven’t been to any of the Nordic countries before, or you want to sample a more typically Scandinavian destination, then Oslo will be your best bet.
The same is arguably true if you’re a museum and/or culture buff. Being the capital city of Norway, downtown Oslo is home to Norway’s royal palace, as well as its largest art and history museums and many other attractions, as well.
If you want to learn about the history of Norway in a more general sense, Oslo is definitely the ideal choice; its Fram Museum, Munch Museum, Norske Folkemuseum, and National Museum are especially worth checking out.
It’s worth noting that the Viking Ship Museum, which was one of the city’s top attractions, is currently closed for renovations. You can also book a walking tour or go on a bike tour to experience the city with a guide.
Oslo is also home to a number of large, sprawling parks, which is something that Bergen more or less totally lacks. Vigeland Park is especially worth visiting with its large collection of interesting statues and beautiful grounds. It’s particularly lovely during the warmer weather and makes for a lovely place for a picnic, too.
While Oslo is hardly the world’s sunniest city, it’s fair to say that the weather in the south of Norway certainly beats the weather on the country’s west coast. Bergen is one of the rainiest cities in the world, in fact, and is often beset by thick fog that rolls in from the surrounding mountains.
So, if you’d like to give yourself the best possible chance of a rain-free holiday, then you’ll probably want to visit Oslo over Bergen.
A larger city than Bergen, Oslo simply has much more to offer in terms of diversity of choice, too. There are far more restaurants and shops there than in Bergen.
If this is something that’s important to you, then go for Oslo; while Bergen isn’t tiny, its downtown Sentrum is, with most of the city being largely residential. It has great places to go for a drink or meal, but options there are definitely far more limited than in Oslo.
Many of Norway’s biggest cultural and musical events are held in Oslo, too. Festivals like Tons of Rock, Inferno, and Øya are held in the city annually, making it a premier destination for music fans of all genres. And, plenty of artists who tour Scandinavia will play in Oslo without venturing any further into the rest of the country.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Norway and want to go to a festival, while you’re there, Oslo will be your best bet.
Where to Stay in Oslo
Hotell Bondeheimen – This 3-star hotel in the centre of Oslo is a great option for those visiting the Norwegian capital on a mid-range budget. There are a number of comfortable rooms on offer along with a number of other great amenities for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Clarion Hotel Oslo – If you’re looking for luxury while in Oslo, you can’t go wrong with this cool and sophisticated hotel located in the centre of the city. There are a range of modern and comfortable rooms on offer, a perfect location for exploring the highlights of Oslo and plenty of other amenities available for guests. Click here to check availability
Frogner House Apartments – Those who like to stay in their own apartments while travelling will this aparthotel in the centre of Oslo. There are a number of different fully furnished flats to choose from all in a great, central location. Click here to check availability
K7 Hotel Oslo – This hostel is an excellent choice for those trying to stick to a tight budget while in Oslo. They have both traditional dorms and private rooms available, a central location and good common areas and self-catering facilities for guests to use. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Oslo hotels!
Located on Norway’s west coast, Bergen is arguably the most beautiful and dynamic city in Norway. Lying at the foot of seven mountains and between the stunning Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord, the city is an absolute haven for nature lovers, boasting access to a range of hikes, fjord cruises, scenic train journeys, and more.
And, on top of that, Bergen is home to a number of exciting museums, great restaurants, and easily one of the most dynamic music scenes in all of Norway. This makes Bergen one of the top places to visit in the country.
Bergen is home to its own international airport that serves a number of destinations across Norway, Europe and even further afield. This makes Bergen relatively easy to reach as a standalone destination.
One of the best things about Bergen is how compact the city is, which makes it very easy to navigate either on foot or via public transit.
It’s definitely not necessary to rent a car when travelling to Bergen unless you’re planning on venturing further afield out into the surrounding countryside or doing lots of hiking. In this case, having a rental car isn’t a must, but it’s certainly very helpful.
Bergen’s light rail and bus networks cover basically everything of interest in the city, and the cable car and funiculars to the mountains of Ulriken and Fløyen respectively make it a fairly unique destination in terms of how accessible hiking is from the city centre.
‘Affordable’ and ‘Norway’ are not two words you’d generally use in the same sentence. While Bergen is smaller than Oslo, prices there are fairly similar to what you’d see in the Norwegian capital.
For example, a 24-hour public transport (Skyss) ticket covering Zone 1 in Bergen costs 105 NOK, while a 24-hour ticket for Oslo’s Zone 1 costs 121 NOK.
This is minimal, especially when you factor in how much smaller Bergen is. Eating out in Norway is especially expensive, and prices of an average meal in Bergen and Oslo are more or less the same.
Accommodation in Bergen costs the same as, if not slightly more than, what you’d find in Oslo. Being the smaller city, Bergen has fewer options in terms of places to stay; especially budget accommodation. The same is true of platforms like Airbnb, with median prices in Bergen being slightly higher than in Oslo.
Finally, prices for activities in Bergen are more or less on par with what you would find in Oslo. One exception of this might be live music events – concerts for smaller artists are often somewhat cheaper in Bergen, and Hulen, one of the city’s main venues for alternative acts, is volunteer-run, meaning events there are often free or on the cheaper side.
Things to Do in Bergen
One area where Bergen easily outshines Oslo is in the natural beauty found in and around the city. While Oslo provides easy access to some beautiful peninsulas, forests, and lakes, many travellers will find that they’re not much of a match for the jaw-dropping mountains, glaciers, and steep fjords that are practically a stone’s throw away from Bergen.
For instance, the Hardangervidda National Park is just a few hours’ drive from central Bergen. This area is home to some of Norway’s most iconic natural landmarks, like the cliffs of Trolltunga and Preikestolen.
Hiking enthusiasts will be in heaven in both Hardangervidda as well as Bergen itself, which, thanks to its proximity to seven lofty mountains, is home to plenty of fantastic hikes where you can get panoramic views, too.
The aforementioned fjords surrounding Bergen are easily one of its most appealing features; cruises depart regularly from the city and allow guests the opportunity to see some of the world’s largest and most dramatic fjords, including the Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord.
Basically, for anyone travelling to Norway who’s especially keen on seeing its iconic fjords, visiting Bergen and the surrounding area is more or less a non-negotiable.
Another real strength of Bergen is that it’s basically a gateway to the rest of western Norway. Norway’s Vestland region is one of its most beautiful and interesting, and, from Bergen, you can easily explore the many charming towns and villages that lay on the banks of its striking fjords.
If you don’t have a car to explore the fjords, you can take a half-day cruise that leaves from Bryggen or a full-day tour that visits some incredible nearby nature.
Many would argue that the west of Norway is fairly unique in a cultural sense, too; thanks to its coastline and trade routes, the west coast of Norway has had a closer relationship to places like Iceland and the Faroe Islands than the rest of the country.
This has had a clear impact on the numerous dialects and distinct architecture of western Norway – turf roofs, for instance (torvtak), which have been used in the country since ancient times and are also a fixture in Iceland and the Faroe Islands, can be seen in the western part of Norway.
Bergen’s Bryggen buildings (the UNESCO-listed neighbourhood right on the wharf of the city) are also a classic example of this. Basically, anyone interested in the history of the vikings or Norse, or who just enjoys learning more about other cultures, may find Bergen more interesting than Oslo thanks to the uniqueness of this part of the country.
Finally, fans of alternative or heavy music will want to check out Bergen thanks to its music scene. The city has a sizeable student population and is renowned throughout Norway for producing many of the country’s most talented and creative artists in genres ranging from black metal, folk music, art pop, and even rap.
It’s a great place for gigs, too, with an impressive variety of venues available despite its relatively small size.
Where to Stay in Bergen
Hotel Park Bergen – Mid-range visitors will love this cosy 3-star hotel that’s situated in the centre of Bergen. There are a range of wonderful, cosy and bright rooms to choose from and there is also a hearty breakfast on offer each morning. Click here to check availability
Opus 16 – Those with a bit of a higher budget will love this plush hotel in the city centre of Bergel. Well-located to explore all this charming town has to offer, they also have a number of wonderful rooms to choose from, a restaurant/bar on site and other great amenities for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Fosswinckel Apartments – If you’d like your own flat while visiting Bergan, then these fully furnished apartments are a great option. Centrally located for exploring the city and equipped with everything you may need, they have a range of sizes available to suit all kinds of visitors. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Bergen hotels!
Oslo or Bergen: Which is Better to Visit?
On paper, the Bergen vs Oslo debate is a tricky one; this is due, perhaps, to the fact that the two cities are similar in more ways than they’re different. Both are relatively small, easy to navigate, beautiful, historic, and provide ample access to nature. They’re home to some fantastic museums, restaurants, and architecture.
With that being said, Oslo, as the larger city, wins out in terms of the variety it offers visitors for eating out, accommodation, activities, and so on. It’s also far more akin to most other Scandinavian cities than Bergen and is, therefore, more representative of the region for visitors on the whole.
Conversely, Bergen really can’t be beaten for its spectacular nature, as well as how accessible it is from the city. It’s surrounded by some truly special national parks, fjords, mountains, and glaciers, with some of them being basically within the city limits.
The mighty fjords of western Norway really need to be seen to be believed; Oslo’s much flatter, more bucolic scenery can’t compete.
And, visitors looking to experience something closer to the ‘real’ Norway or the unique culture of the country’s west coast will want to head to Bergen; Oslo, with its more cosmopolitan, pan-Scandinavian feel, is something else entirely.
Whether you choose to visit Bergen or Oslo, you’re sure to fall in love with these Norwegian cities. Both have a lot to offer visitors and there really isn’t a bad choice among them.
Are you trying to choose between Oslo and Bergen? Have any questions about either city? Let us know in the comments!