Sunburned in Bergen

It rains all the time in Bergen—or at least that’s what people kept telling me.

Nearly every Norwegian I met warned me that I would get soaked in Norway’s second-largest city, reminding me to pack an umbrella and pointing out the city’s annual Rain Festival (no longer celebrated) as proof that my visit would be nothing but a shameless downpour.

Bergen’s bad-weather reputation goes well beyond borders of Norway—even Bergen’s Sister City Seattle reports on their website that Bergen is “temperate with frequent rain”, and if Seattle thinks you have frequent rain, then you know things are seriously wet. Thus I arrived in Bergen prepared for melancholy skies and too many puddles, and yet when I stepped off the speed ferry I found myself shielding my eyes from the sun and quickly stripping down to my T-shirt from the warmth of the quay.

It was sunny—very sunny—and hot, too. By now I was used to such good weather, because that’s all I’ve had here in Norway. For more than two straight weeks, I’ve experienced nothing but sunshine, warmth and blue skies. Bergen was no different: not a drop of rain fell while I was there. Rather, the sun shone so brightly that the entire city took off most of their clothes and worshiped the heat. Everywhere I walked, people were soaking in the sun—in the park, blond girls sunbathed in bikinis, students played beach volleyball and steak-scented smoke rose up from happy backyard barbecues. Runners, bikers, and skaters took over the many footpaths around the city and at times I thought I was exploring Santa Monica rather than Bergen.

I know that I was lucky. According to meteorologists, Bergen receives 235 days of rainfall out of 365, which means it does not “rain all the time” but in fact rains nearly 65% (two-thirds) of the time—still a lot of rain. Back in Washington, DC, where I live, it rains 114 days a year, which is far too much in my opinion.

But in Bergen I observed the city through sunglasses and wiped the sweat from my forehead, reminding myself to never judge a place by its reputation. I’m certain that for those who live in Bergen and know it well, Bergen will always be the always-rainy city. But for me as a traveler who stopped by for a few nights, Bergen is the sunniest place on earth: warm, inviting, and inhabited by some of the sportiest folk on earth. That was my experience and that’s how I’ll remember it.

And I’m just kidding about getting sunburned—I didn’t burn at all. Rather, I got very tan, basking in the inoffensive Nordic sunshine that never sets.

iPhone forecast for the next week in Bergen (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)


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  4. Maurits
    June 12, 2012, 5:33 am

    Great article Andrew! I’ve stayed in Bergen for the past 5 years, and yes – it has been raining a lot. However, what’s happened in the past doesn’t say anything about how it is now or have been lately. Your article proves that point just fine! From when you were here and until now it is still really nice and people are outside all day. I don’t even think about taking my jacket on before I leave the house because I don’t expect the rain to come at all. The weather men and forecasts at any site predicts rain at any time though. It seems like they’re afraid of actually predicting sun in Bergen. As in last weekend they told us it would be raining – a lot. Still it has been sunny every day. At this time, I am proud to say I’m from Bergen because now it is definitely the most beautiful place on earth. People can only experience this by actually going here themselves and see it with their own eyes. And those who don’t, and listen to the reputation because of some bad years earlier, will miss it all 🙂 Thanks for your article, and welcome back to Bergen at any time!!