Norway is one of the richest countries in the world. And if you discount the tiny city states that preceed it in the rankings, it is the richest country in the world. But in Norway this wealth is hardly visible on the street. It is hidden in all kinds of benefits to society, like pension funds, road maintenance, airports, hospitals and schools. Most of this wealth is created by oil, which is almost entirely sold to other countries, as the country itself runs completely on clean and abundant hydroelectric power. Norway is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, but that has nothing to do with its financial wealth…
Travelling in Norway is expensive. Petrol prices are high, restaurants are expensive and you want to stay away from beer or wine. On the other hand, camping is cheap, or free, if you camp out in the wild, which is legal in Norway. Most of the best sights in Norway are free too, because nature is the reason why you should go to Norway. Where Sweden may appear a bit boring, as it mostly consists of wooded hills and millions of lakes, nature in Norway is majestic and very different from place to place. Deep fjords, high snow capped mountains, wild streams and waterfalls and endless empty high plateaus, interchanged by dark forests, picturesque lakes and friendly valleys. This is a destination for travellers who like to explore the great outdoors. A car is your friend in this vast country, but public transport is an excellent alternative, including even in some more remote places.
In continuation of our trip to Denmark and Sweden, described in my previous post, we took our two children to Norway in the summer of 2009 (but all info in this blog describes the 2014 situation). Along the way we stayed on campsites with our caravan, often in small towns or on picturesque lakes near national parks. We crossed into Central Norway from Sweden’s Dalarna province, heading to the fjords. This post describes five of the best off the beaten track places to visit in Norway with kids. Please follow me on a little virtual tour:
Top-10 off the beaten track places for kids in Denmark, Sweden and Norway (click to enlarge).
We continue our trip from Denmark and Sweden (previous post) into Norway. On our way to the fjords we pass the Ringebu Stavkirke, one of the largest of the 28 famous Norwegian Stave Churches surviving today, of over 1000 built during the Middle Ages. This wooden church was built in 1220 AD.
#1 Unesco Fjords – Geiranger
The road to Geiranger is one of the best drives in Europe. This tourist route is called ‘Trollstigen‘, the Troll Road. Just before descending to Geiranger you pass this viewpoint at Ørnesvingen. From here you can see the cruise ships in the fjord, the town of Geiranger as well as the Seven Sisters Waterfall.
The best way to see this Unesco World Heritage fjord is by boat. You can catch a cruise, but much easier is it to hop on the Geiranger-Hellesylt car ferry, that has a panorama deck on top. This trip takes you right underneath the mighty falls of the steep fjord.
With a little cafe on board and chairs on the top deck this is a very enjoyable ferry ride. Kids love it! We took the slightly longer Geiranger-Valldal ferry one way and drove the Trollstigen back to Geiranger.
#2 Mountains and glaciers – Stryn and Brikdalsbreen
The fjords are really just valleys in a long coastal mountain range. Driving here takes you high up, where you meet the year-round snowfields of the North. Remember you are at 62 degrees North in this area, about the same latitude as Nunavut and the Yukon in Canada and Alaska.
Driving just south of Geiranger you go up a steep mountain pass where you can exit to Dalsnibba. A spectacular dirt road here gets you all the way to the 1500m high summit of Mount Dalsnibba, offering a great (but windy) 360 degree panorama over the mountains.
Just south of Stryn you enter a large mountain range that is covered in glaciers. This is the Jostedalsbreen National Park. We camp just outside the park at Lake Oldevatn, where we rent a canoe to explore the glacier lake.
The next day we walk up to the Briksdal Glacier, just over Lake Oldevatn. This is a wonderful and easy hike up the slopes towards the glacier tongue. A great path for kids too.
The glacier is spectacular, with the tongue ending in a small lake with small floating mini icebergs.
Views along the trail are magnificent.
In the evening we make a camp fire on the lake. Most Norwegian campsites will allow camp fires in dedicated spots. They will even provide fire wood, often free of charge. Great for an outdoor sausage roast. This is why kids love Norway!
#3 Views and hikes – Laerdal and Flåm
Another breathtaking road is the Aurlandsfjellet route from Laerdal to Aurland and the famous tourist town of Flåm. These towns are located on Norway’s largest fjord, the Sognefjord. In Aurland there is the famous Stegastein Viewpoint, sticking 30 meters out the mountain, bringing you 650 meter over the fjord.
The town of Flåm with its mountain railroad is very touristy, with the nice cruise port town half full of tourist shops. You may want to consider driving through a series of tunnels to nearby Gudvangen, on the end of the Unesco-listed Nærøyfjorden.
Not too far from Laerdal, on the road towards Hemsedal, you will find another classic Stave Church. This is the Borgund Stavkirke, the best preserved of the 28. It was built between 1180 and 1250AD. With its magnificent location in the valley this is certainly one of the most picturesque.
#4 Digging for Silver – Kongsberg Silver Mine
How about living the life of a silver miner for a day? A visit to the Kongsberg Silver Mine, at about an hour from Oslo, will get you deep inside a Norwegian mountain. This train takes you 4 kilometers underground, most certainly one of the deepest tourist mines in the world!
The long and loud ride on the little mining train is the start of a great underground adventure, searching for silver. During the guided tour kids go on a treasure hunt, finding shiny gems stones indicated on a map.
Once outside the mine, kids can explore geology and mining through all kinds of activities. This is a cool hands-on attraction.
#5 Vikings and Explorers – Oslo Museum Island Bygdøy
The best museums in Oslo are grouped together on the small peninsula of Bygdøy, easily reached by car or on the small passenger ferry directly from city center. The most famous of the museums at this peninsula is the Vikingskiphuset (Viking Ship Museum). It is home to two intact Viking Ships, thought to have been built around the year 800AD.
There are three ships (one only a few remains) on display at this must-see museum, plus all the remains that were found in the same burial mounds as the ships. The best collection of Viking-era artifacts in the world.
Bygdøy is also home to the Norsk Folkemuseum, a large open-air museum about the cultural history of Norway. Among the many restored farms and houses is this original (!) 12th century Stave Church of Gol. It was disassembled at Gol and rebuilt here in 1884.
The Folkemuseum shows many interesting elements of Norwegian culture, including the history of alcohol control in Norway, as shown in this early 20th century government liquor store. The museum not only shows pre 20th century life, it also teaches a lot about modern culture.
Bygdøy is the final docking port for two famous exploration ships, each in its own museum. First is the Fram Museum. It houses the Fram, used by Norwegian Arctic Explorer Roald Amundsen on his famous first ever expedition to the South Pole in 1911. The ship is on permanent display in a custom-built museum that tells everything about the person Amundsen and his voyages. Very hands-on, great for kids!
The second famous ship is the Kon-Tiki Museum, home to Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki and Ra ships. These expeditions, undertaken in 1947 and 1970, were an attempt to demonstrate that people could have travelled the oceans in pre-medieval times. This story appeals to children all ages and the tropical exhibits make for a great day out in any weather.
Practical information: This blog covers a lot of ground, as it describes a tour through the country by car and caravan. Travelling in Norway by car or campervan is practical, as the country is really large and sights as described are far apart. Camping is also a cost effective alternative to the relatively expensive hotels. For those less adventurous, most Norwegian campsites also offer cheap and comfortable camping cabins. Facilities at campsites are mostly of good standard, with heated kitchen rooms and showers. Best season to go to Norway is year-round. The peak summer season is from May to August, when daylight is abundant and weather is warmest. School holidays end in July, so August is already end of season at many places. In September winter starts in the mountain areas and up north. When camping, bring warm clothes year-round.
You can travel from central Europe to Norway overland, via Denmark and Sweden. This is a long trip, best undertaken in a few days. Ferries connect several places in Norway with Denmark and Germany. We sailed back on the overnight Oslo to Frederikshavn (Denmark) ferry, operated by Stena Line. You can also take a ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo on DFDS Seaways. If you don’t want to bring a car, there are abundant flights to several airports in Norway on SAS and Norwegian.