Our summer trip took us 4,800 miles from home in Jacksonville, Florida, to one of the most spectacular places on this globe – Norway. Taking two young kids to such a faraway land might seem a bit baffling, but I promise the towering waterfalls, mystic trolls, and postcard-perfect fjords make the journey to get there completely worth it. If you are considering making the trek to Scandivania or want to daydream along with me on this trip-of-a-lifetime, read on for a recap and my tips for seeing Norway with kids.
We took off on our 9-hour flight across the Atlantic from Orlando to Amsterdam just after 9 pm local time. In some ways these trips are easier than flying all day, but here’s how I helped make flying overnight more comfortable for everyone.
After arriving in Amsterdam, we had a couple of hours to get a snack, walk around the airport, play in some oversized clogs, browse the souvenir shops, and then board our final plane to Bergen, Norway. As we were landing over Bergen, my son saw some boats dotted along the harbor.
“Are we in St. Augustine?” he asked.
I had to laugh because to him, we might as well be 20 minutes from home – not 20 hours.
After a few hours in Bergen, we boarded the lovely Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol for the northbound route. This was the kids’ first cruise and one that will be hard to top not only because we were literally on top of the globe but also because we saw a total of 35 ports in 6 nights.
My parents had sailed on Hurtigruten before, and while they said it is undeniably the best way to traverse the fjords and see Norway, it was after all designed originally to transport mail, goods and serve as a ferry between sea-locked fishing villages. I thought it would be helpful to share my tips for making this extraordinary voyage with ordinary kids who are not as keen on sightseeing.
1. Spend some precious suitcase space and bring along some small toys and games. The reason is, the “kids room” aboard our ship was more like a kids corner. They had a mix of things for varying ages, but my kids spent more time setting up their own space to build mini farms, put together puzzles, and play with their treasured souvenirs. The ship has a lot of viewing lounges and areas so we found a couple of less busy spots where we could sit and talk while they stretched out and played.
2. Request kids meals for dinner. It took us until day 3 to learn that they had kids options for dinner. You have to make your request at either breakfast or lunch prior to dinner, and we always made the request at the restaurant hostess stand.
3. Bring a lanyard. Every passenger who has a cabin gets a keycard. (Some travelers use the ship as a ferry between neighboring villages and even bring their cars with them.) It’s much easier if your keycard is handy, because not only does it get you into your cabin, but it gets you access to the dining room for three meals each day, and must be scanned every time you get off and on the ship. Putting the keycard on a lanyard means it’s less likely to get misplaced, and my kids loved having one of their own card and felt especially grown up when we let them go back to the room by themselves to grab a quick snack or toy.
4. Remember summer can still mean snow. In Tromsø, we visited Polaria aquarium – the world’s most northern aquarium and then took a cable car up to Mt. Storsteinen on Fløya. In addition to the stunning panoramic views of the surrounding islands and fjords, there was also snow! The kids were delighted to start a snowball fight, and I was happy they had the proper clothing although their shoes did get a bit damp. They also enjoyed their first try at stacking rocks.
5. Splurge on dinner with Vikings. We are so glad we signed up for the Viking excursion in Borg, Lofoten, where the largest Viking building ever found has been replicated. The chieftain and lady of the house invited our group to join them for an authentic Viking meal served with mead in a dark hall where you could truly feel the history all around. The kids especially loved the magic and excitement as the Viking hosts made sacrifices to Norse gods, praying for good health and prosperity, and invited us all to hold hands and dance around the firepit. Watching the kids running free under a golden sky, alongside a few sheep, and in the exact spot of Viking ruins is a moment I will treasure always. The drive back to meet the ship, now in Svolvær, was the most beautiful ever. There was stunning scenery around every turn, plus we spotted a moose just as the guide was mentioning that they are around occasionally.
6. Invest in kid-sized sleep masks. Our ship’s name, Midnatsol, translates to Midnight Sun, and our voyage lived up to its name. The sun never set, and 3:30 am looked a lot like 10:00 pm. The Land of the Midnight Sun doesn’t account for tiny travelers who decide when it is bedtime based on how dark it is outside. The rooms did have blackout curtains over the window, but our camper (which we rented later on) did not, so kid-sized sleep masks help keep the room dark despite the constant light.
7. Make your crossing official. On our voyage, they gave the kids printed certificates for Crossing the Arctic Circle, and there was also a deck celebration with a sea god to mark the occasion. I made sure to put this keepsake memento in a safe place for them to always treasure. I especially love the note at the end translated from Norwegian means:
May good luck and happiness follow you on this voyage and forever after.
8. Create your own games. Outside on the deck is where you will undoubtedly get the best views of what are some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. The majestic fjords, remote farmlands speckled with red barns, picturesque lighthouses, and even a whale spotting if you are lucky, are some of what you can expect to see. Our daughter learned to play chess on the oversized board, meanwhile, the back deck on our ship was often pretty empty and had a helipad, which was simply large circles marking where a helicopter could land in the event of an emergency. The kids used the colorful circles to make up their own games, which resembled hopscotch mixed with tag. This kept them busy, burned off some energy, and allowed us to take in the scenery.
Our voyage on the MS Midnatsol ended in Kirkenes, which is near the Russian border and is the end of mainland Norway. On our way to the airport, we stopped to see the border with Russia. The actual border was not nearly as lovely as this beautiful Alaskan Malamute named Bamse, which means “bear” in Norwegian.
After a quick plane ride south to Oslo for the second part of our trip, we rented two campers for our party of eight that included our family, my parents, and my brother and sister-in-law.
We had the chance to see and explore some marvelous places in the Southern part of Norway. Traveling via camper made things especially easier with kids in tow. It only required one unpacking, avoided many expensive hotel rooms and wasted restaurant meals, and getting from point A to B was part of the fun.
Our first campground was at Hunderfossen. While we didn’t make it in time to go into the fairytale amusement park, it did resemble a woodsy Disney World if you swapped the mouse for trolls. The campground had several playgrounds to explore with all the tractors and even an excavator that the kids loved riding. My son decided he was going to get one for Christmas but his would not take money. He’s a smarty!
Exploring playgrounds with never-before-seen equipment and obstacles (some would never see the light of day in the U.S.) is one of the best parts of traveling with kids. It’s exciting to see their faces light up when we spot a playground in the distance, and it’s also the ideal place for the adults to sit and recharge from the site seeing.
The award for best outdoor playground was on top of Mount Fløyen in Bergen. You have to take the Fløibanen funicular (think, gondola but on a track instead of a cable line) to get there and it’s a bit of way down a wide hiking path. This treehouse-style playground made me want to be a kid again with all the levels, twists, turns and elevated paths connecting the different sections – wow!
Their favorite indoor playground was inside the Norwegian Maritime Museum and is based on the “Legend of Sally Jones” by Jakob Wegelius. The kids had a blast making up all kinds of adventures on the impressive ship docked in a pretend harbor and through the Congo Jungle.
Playgrounds are often set along lovely hiking paths, and while we could hike for days, the kids are less enthused. A tip we found to keep the kids interested in hiking was to tell them we are on an important search for trolls. Trolls are known to live amidst rocks and caves in the mountainsides and are part of Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore.
At one point, my daughter asked my dad who is from Norway, “Are trolls real?”
“Well, sweetie,” he said. “When we were little, we were told if we did not behave, the trolls would be summoned.”
One of my most treasured parts of this entire trip was that my two children had the chance to experience his homeland with him.
As a child, I simply adored visiting Maihaugen, Norway’s largest open-air museum located in Lillehammer. I remember visiting back then and thinking entire families must have picked up and left – leaving farms, homes and town stores just as they were. This visit back was just as I remembered, and I loved experiencing it for the first time through our kids’ eyes. At the same time, it was fun taking a trip down memory lane some 22 years ago when my brother and I were kids together enthralled by all the wonder there.
Maihaugen is a collection of more than 200 buildings from different eras. A complete farm from Bjørnstad was moved to and collected at the museum in order to show how a farm looked during the 1700s with 27 separate buildings placed around two farmyards. It feels like it has been there forever. My son loved playing on the 100-year-old steam train. My favorite was (and still is) the Garmo stave church built in the 1200s. It’s a literal walk through history every step of the way.
You feel like you are stepping right into the 1500s entering the Rosenkrantz Tower, and if you climb up the narrow and dark flights of stairs, you can climb right up onto the roof, which provides impressive views of Bergen. The kids were curious about the dungeon, laughed at the “royal throne” or King’s toilet, and had a ball dressing up in authentic Viking wear. Next door is Håkon’s Hall, which was built between 1247 and 1261 and is still used today for official events.
You will likely have to come to a complete stop somewhere along your journey to let sheep pass. Some are more eager to get out of the way than others. I suppose they fit in well with the laid back, Norwegian summer vibes. If your travels find you near the town of Prestfoss and you love alpacas, stop by the Norsk Alpakka farm. More than 120 alpacas produce wool that is manufactured into lovely (and warm) socks, scarves and shoe inserts. Owner Anne Line let us see her newest member only a couple hours old. She also let the kids give a few curious alpacas some snacks and tour her gorgeous boutique and workshop. Fun Fact: the most famous YouTube alpaca, Olga, calls her farm home.
Vigeland Sculpture Park is a top tourist attraction with beautiful gardens and landscapes, wide open spaces for the kids to run free, and another top pick playground. It is most known for its 200+ human sculptures by Gustav Vigeland in bronze, granite and cast iron. If your kiddos are older, be prepared for some giggling and questions as the statues are not in clothes. At this point in our sightseeing tour of Oslo, the kids were a bit grouchy. We decided to lighten the mood by mimicking a man holding a child in either arm. Our staged photo opp was amusing to onlookers but not so much for our kids. After we got a good laugh, they each looked more like the park’s most famous statue – The Angry Boy. Their mood lightened as soon as we found the perfect, cure-all surprise – Softis!
Norway does a lot of things right including their sweet treats. Softis is unlike any other ice cream you’ll taste. It’s much softer and goes great with chocolate dust or served plain in a cone or cup. Sofis is commonly sold in gas stations and about every tourist spot for good reason. Another delight is waffles, which are a common, yet special, treat. Waffles can be eaten plain, with butter or jam. Norwegian waffles are always heart-shaped making them taste that much sweeter.
Our Norwegian adventures were breathtaking enough to be once-in-a-lifetime, but we’re hoping to make it back again someday. In the meantime, we love reliving all of our favorite memories that are organized and stored for safe-keeping in Soulments.
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