For me, Oslo vs Bergen isn’t an especially close contest. Bergen is a far more beautiful and interesting city, and is closer to more worthwhile attractions than Oslo is.
With this being said, Oslo is not a city you can write off entirely. This is especially true because it’s almost certainly where your trip to Norway will begin. Even if you feel like you’ve reached the same conclusion I have, this post is still worth reading. (And, more to the point, Oslo is also still worth visiting, if only for a day.)
I’ll dive deeper into how to choose Oslo or Bergen in just a bit, but first allow me to exercise some vanity. I visited both cities during my first sojourn around Norway over a decade ago. After landing in Oslo on a cold and dreary June day, I rode the train over the glacier to Bergen which, in spite of being known as Europe’s rainiest city, was extremely sunny (albeit not warm at all).
While I realize weather is not something you can wholly judge a place on, the reality is that climactic conditions over both Bergen and Oslo matched both cityscapes, and how my time in each made me feel. Although I’ve warmed to Oslo on subsequent trips to Norway, the reality is that it hasn’t even come close to charming me like Bergen has, even if I like it a lot more now than I did in 2012.
How to Compare Oslo and Bergen
Things to do
Oslo may be grey and dreary, but there’s a fair bit to do, from the stunning Oslo Opera House, to the ancient Akershus Fortress, to the provocative Vigelands Park. In fact, while Bergen’s cityscape is generally more interesting (and certainly more colorful), the number of actual must-see attractions might be less. Most of what there is to do in the city centers on exploring the Bryggen area and enjoying the view from Fløyen mountain.
An interesting fact about Oslo, as boring as it seems to the naked eye, is that it technically sits within a fjord. Unfortunately, a fjord is a geographical designation, which refers to the shape of the inlet, not the beauty or majesty of the scenery around it. While Bergen’s own fjord is not quite as impressive as the dramatic ones within day-trip distance of it, its beauty is a great deal more enchanting and…well, Norwegian.
Food and drink
Let’s be frank: Norwegian food is not anything to write home about; alcohol is too expensive here to drink at scale, unless you’re cool with beer. With this being said, if you are looking for eclectic dining options, I’d actually say the array of restaurants in Oslo’s Aker Brygge area will be much more appealing than what you find in central Bergen, as delicious as the seafood on offer in Bergen is, and as much character (relatively speaking) as the eateries have.
Another differentiator to help you choose between Bergen or Oslo? While you’ll need to travel far from Oslo (i.e. halfway to Bergen) to get anywhere remotely beautiful and interesting, many of Norway’s best destinations are easy day excursions from Bergen. These include, most notably, the famous fjords of Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord, the latter of which hides the charming village of Flåm.
From Oslo, you can either take a train across the country to Bergen, or fly north to other destinations like Trondheim and Tromsø—there really aren’t a lot of places to easily continue your journey in its general vicinity. From Bergen, given its location on Norway’s west coast, there are more options. Head south to trek Trolltunga, or north via the fjords to picturesque Alesund, itself a gateway to stunning nature.