168 hours in Norway

I visited Norway for the first time in 2003, when I was dating my now-husband. He had lived in Norway for five years before moving back to the US in 2002, and so when we visited in 2003, and again in 2006, we explored his old haunts and some new ones.

It’s a beautiful country — with historic cities, an adorably pastoral countryside, and wildly rugged scenery, including glacier-topped mountains and deep fjords (narrow waterways cutting through those glacier-topped mountains).

I wanted to show my kids the country at some point, so Norway made it onto our summer list for this last week before school started.

We elected not to bring the 3-year-old for a few reasons. Taking a newly potty-trained toddler on an overnight flight and completely disrupting his sleep schedule with a 6-hour time change would be stressful for everyone. We would have needed to rent three rooms in various places to accommodate 7 people, and since we only have 2 adults, a quick check revealed that many places wouldn’t even let us do this (i.e. have one room be rented to our 16-year-old). We could potentially have brought another adult with us, but it’s also really hard to rent a car for 7-plus people, so then we’d likely be in 2 cars, which just raised the stakes on everything. So this wound up being a big-kids only, 6-person trip.

The big kids mostly did well! International travel can be challenging — so much new stuff can be a lot to process. Some people are temperamentally more open to new things than others. One reason I enjoy international travel, rather than feel deep anxiety over it, is because I can eat anything (well, up until the dairy issues, but I can eat dairy, I just don’t feel good afterwards). Highly selective eaters find not knowing if familiar foods will be available more of an issue — and if you are the parent of a highly selective eater, it becomes an issue for you. I wound up packing a zip-loc bag full of 3 oz yogurt and applesauce pouches for the 8-year-old, along with crackers and raisins. Then we managed to find enough bread, bacon, raisins, and fries to keep him from starving. We found chicken nuggets twice, which was helpful. I had hoped we would find cheeses he could eat, but they tend to serve Jarlsberg and Gjetost on breakfast buffets, and he did not like either. We tried buying Ritz crackers in Norway, but it turns out they’re formulated differently enough to taste a little different, and he was never starving enough to eat them (I thought they tasted fine, but then again…). This was all a little, well, frustrating. On the flight home in particular I knew he had probably not had enough calories to make it through 8 hours plus security and our travel home, and he was, of course, not eating the airline food and I was out of snacks. But I decided not to worry about it too much and he survived.

My children were also highly concerned with the availability of wifi. I will admit to being a bit miffed when we were staying in this cute mountain hut looking over a gorgeous lake and certain children whined that we didn’t have wifi in the room. When it wasn’t immediately apparent how to get wifi on our boat trip through the Norwegian fjords there was even some yelling and storming around (we did eventually get it).

But! Things were mostly good. We drove to Newark on Sunday afternoon with our carry-ons. My philosophy is to never check bags. We did fine with the amount we packed though I wished I had packed one more pair of jeans and just not brought my two pairs of shorts. It was never warm enough to wear them. We quickly realized that the boys’ long pants, which had not been worn since April, were all too small. Everyone’s. So they often wound up in shorts. We had “economy plus” tickets for the overnight flight and so SAS airlines lets you use the lounge. The kids thought this was really fun.

The 8-year-old and my husband slept great on the flight. The rest of us, eh. We got our car, drove into the city, and stayed at the Scandic Holmenkollen Park, near the old ski jump. The view down to the city was great, and Scandic is a very family friendly chain of hotels. We got two rooms but we didn’t absolutely need to — the family suite had two queen beds plus two bunk beds on the wall. (We rented for two nights so we could check in right when we arrived in the morning rather than waiting until 4 p.m. This makes flights to Europe feel more doable!).

After a three hour nap (!) we rousted ourselves and drove to downtown Oslo where we walked along the water front, got overpriced Starbucks, and walked to Vigeland Park where we saw all the statues including the famous screaming baby. Then we miscalculated getting back to our car — my husband took the 8-year-old in an uber to get it, but the uber took a long time coming, and they hit traffic, and it started pouring, and so the three older kids and I wound up taking shelter in some trees. We stayed mostly dry, but whoa.

We needed to quickly clean up because we then went to dinner at one of my husband’s former colleagues’ house (taking taxis both ways — the Norwegian BAC limit is so low that a 6’3” man having a single glass of wine will be over it). We enjoyed chatting with them and seeing their great view of the city (and a giant, full orange moon that rose during dinner).

We slept pretty well, considering. I like the Scandinavian bed set up, with no top sheet, but a sheet-covered down comforter. It’s very cozy, especially if the room is a little chilly.

On Tuesday we had our first real Scandinavian breakfast at the hotel. There were scrambled eggs and bacon for the Americans of course, but also the more traditional little bits of meats and cheese (including gjetost!) and fish and leverpostei. We loaded the car and my husband dropped me and the kids off at the Edward Munch museum (while he attempted to iron out financial matters at DNB – trying to access an old account and have a current one to get his Norwegian pension eventually).

I probably would have spent more time at the Munch museum, but kids are tough as museum touritsts. We did see The Scream. This has a theatrical element to it, as they show three versions of the artwork, and they rotate which is visible every 30 minutes. So a crowd gathers as one version closes and then another opens. We were there when the well-known one (the painting) opened. The kids enjoyed the vampire paintings and the translations I found of Munch’s somewhat dark musings written in what looks like crayon on various pieces of paper. Then we hit the cafe for sodas until my husband got us.

We all got in a big fight about what we’d eat for lunch and wound up just driving out of town, but it was fine because we found a burger and fries type place along a beautiful mountain lake, and everyone could eat there. We ultimately drove about 4 hours up into the mountains, and stayed Tuesday night at Storestolen Mountain Lodge.

This was the place with no wifi, of course (ok, very limited wifi in the main lodge area). We had two rooms — a small room with 2 single beds, and a little apartment with two bedrooms (each with two single beds). I thought it was cozy and cute, though some of the kids accustomed to American hotels were initially taken aback by the single beds. We took a hike straight up the mountain behind our huts before dinner — seeing gorgeous views, and sheep wearing cow bells. It did rain a lot, but that just meant there was a rainbow! I was glad I made everyone bring winter coats that they stuffed into their carry-ons! This was real alpine landscape, with tiny flowers and glaciers visible in the distance.

The next morning, Wednesday, one of my kids and I decided to both try the herring with our breakfasts. It was…ok. I’m probably never going to choose little fish on toast for breakfast, but hey. (I’d also like to point out that I have one child who will eat herring for breakfast, and ordered things like “the trout special” one night, and chose boiled potatoes with an unknown sauce over french fries…and I have one kid who won’t eat a different formulation of Ritz crackers. I did not raise them differently so to anyone writing essays about children and food, maybe you can use that as your opening anecdote…).

We drove on some windy, tunnel-ly roads (one tunnel we encountered that day was 11 km long!) to Flam. Norwegian roads are crazy — you can be on a major highway between two major cities and the road will be so narrow there’s no yellow middle dividing line. You find a pull-out if you encounter a truck going the opposite direction. Near Flam, we hiked up to see a water fall, and then kept going to Bergen, where we had a 2-night reservation on the Hurtigruten ferry. This boat goes up the various points on the west coast of Norway. We checked in, then walked around Bergen (think cute cobblestone alleys, though not too much else to see right by the port) until my husband could drive the car on the ferry and the rest of us could board on foot to get to our rooms.

The Hurtigruten MS NordNorge boat was like a slightly more functional cruise ship. People do take it as a way to get from point A to point B, as it is often faster to go by boat then by car around the winding fjords. That said, a lot of the point of the trip was sight seeing, as we stopped by Alesund around noon on the second day, Thursday, then went down the Geirangerfjord, then stopped back at Alesund that evening.

The Geirangerfjord was absolutely beautiful (if being on a boat was bitingly windy and cold!) From a boat, you can see all the water falls (including the famous Seven Sisters), and mountainous cliffs, and the little villages carved into the hillsides. I took a lot of photos.

We’d rented two cabins, and while we had windows to the exterior, the cabins were pretty tiny — a single bed and then a bunk bed, with only just enough space to pass in between. However with the white noise of the ship’s motor, I slept pretty well both nights. The kids made use of the jacuzzi (I was too cold!) and my husband and I got a drink together one night while the older boys watched the 8-year-old.

We docked in Trondheim on Friday morning and after some discombobulation (my husband had to drive the car off the ferry, which meant he left the boat somewhere other than where all the passengers disembarked), we met up and toured the city. We went to Nidaros, the old cathedral, saw Norwegian crowns in a nearby museum, then took pictures of the colorful Trondheim houses along the water that are on the cover of a lot of Norwegian guide books. We then proceeded to eat at Subway and Burger King because, hey, the kids would eat it.

We drove four hours south to another mountain hut, this time the Lemonsjoen Fjellstue & Hyttegrend (there are various Norwegian characters in that name that I am not even going to have WordPress attempt). This place was just adorable, basically a 3-bedroom ski condo in a building with a sod roof! The woman who ran the place appeared to have three very blonde boys around the ages of my older kids, so she was amused with us (and our questions about wifi — she gave us our own router for the apartment). We ate at the main lodge for dinner, breakfast, and dinner again. The night we were there (Friday) the kids all tried the sauna in our apartment with me. It was steamy. Also, five people is a lot in a small sauna.

The area by Lemonsjoen has a lot of trails, and on Saturday morning, after breakfast, we picked up the electric bikes we’d rented for the day. This was a definite highlight of the trip for me. I love biking, but I’d never ridden an electric bike before. You pedal as normal, but the motor gives you a little boost on uphills.

This turned out to be necessary on the route we’d chosen because, wow, did we gain some altitude. We biked about 20 miles total. My husband had chosen a 30-mile loop, but after it took us 2-hours to go the first 10 miles, and we were on top of a high mountain, we elected to just turn around. I think this was wise, as it made the trip fun, rather than feel like something of a forced march. The kids did complain on the uphill that the boost wasn’t helping that much, but I think they weren’t seeing how impossible that hill would have been otherwise. Anyway, after taking a lot of alpine mountaintop pictures, we cruised down, and made it back to the mountain hut in about an hour and 20 minutes. At that point, we took a waffle break (Norwegian waffles and coffee!) rested, and then had dinner like 2 hours later.

After that, we packed up all the bags, got in the car, and drove a little over 3 hours south to a hotel at the Oslo airport. We stayed there overnight, and got on a morning flight back to the US. We briefly thought about staying at the mountain hut one more night, but we would have had to get up at 4 a.m., and they were also predicting heavy rains with a flood warning so…best to end when things are fun, right?

Anyway, it was a good trip and traveling with kids ages 8-plus makes everything easier than traveling with younger kids, even if they weren’t always perfectly behaved. Norway is a very family friendly country, with things like 6-person hotel rooms, free museum admission for kids (only I paid at the Munch museum) and a family security line at the airport. There was even a microwave at a Burger King if you wanted to heat up baby food separately from what you were buying older family members. I know Norway doesn’t get as many visitors as, say, Paris or London, but if you are thinking of traveling to Europe, it’s definitely worth considering!

Photo: From our Tuesday hike. There are a lot more photos over on my Instagram page — I’m @lvanderkam. 

17 thoughts on “168 hours in Norway

  1. Sounds lovely! I hear you on the highly selective eater. Just 1 of our 4 is very choosy. We took our kids out last night to a place we go often. One kid order the salmon and another the buttered noodles which she declared…too buttery. I am taking her to Paris in a month and plan to bring the pretzels and fruit leather she likes and hope she can survive on macarons and chocolate croissants (both of which she typically likes).

    1. @Gillian – Too buttery! Oh my. Yep, the fruit leather and pretzels should see her through. In retrospect I would have packed even more pretzels/crackers. I just assumed we’d be able to find snack food he’d like…

  2. I loved this write-up!! I’m so glad you all had so much fun. Also love the Ritz cracker versus Trout Special story lol! My husband and I went to Norway five years ago and absolutely loved it. We tell everyone it’s a must-see!! We want to bring our kids back someday in the future (we only had one when we went, and he stayed with grandparents). So fun!

    1. @Molly – definitely bring the kids when they’re a little older. And yes, kids are different! Very different people.

  3. Great trip report! We visited Alesund, Geirangerfjordand on a traditional cruise (without kids). The scenery was amazing! Did you get to go up the funicular in Bergen?
    We’ll be visiting Oslo in a few weeks on our way back from another European location. We had the option to do an overnight layover there. First time doing that type of long layover-not are that I would do that with kids, but for the 2 of us it should be fun. Most of our time there will be on Sunday late afternoon evening, so not a lot is open. However, we are staying at a hotel near the waterfront (The Thief), so if the weather permits I’m hoping for a nice walk along the water.

    1. @BethC – I’m sure you’ll find fun things in Oslo (restaurants if nothing else) and Vigeland park is cool with the sculptures.

  4. Oh how your comparison of your two eaters made me cackle. I simply love the way you share the reality of your trip vs trying to whitewash it as the perfect experience. I believe keeping your sense of humor is key to life and especially to traveling with a group, and yours is clearly intact. The challenges will be the things they remember.

  5. This was so fun to read and, like others, I appreciate you “keeping it real” about travelling with kids. We did a big city road trip last year and while there were glorious moments (going to Broadway twice; swimming on a rooftop pool close to the Chrysler Building)…there were a lot of pretty awful and exhausting moments too. Mostly involving the lack of public bathrooms in cities and complaints about all the walking. I’m so glad we went, but it’s really not the same as travelling without kids in tow!

    I’ve never been to Norway but my husband has worked there many times and LOVES it. I’m keen to visit someday. My brother lives in Denmark and it’s a regular favourite vacation spot for him.

  6. Sounds like an all around great trip for 6 people! Trips always have their hiccups, but it’s refreshing to hear you talk about them rather than sugar coat the trip. The scenery looked gorgeous in your pictures. What is the cost of living/traveling like over there? I’m curious how it would compare cost-wise to a similar US trip.

    1. @Lori C- hard to know – what would be the equivalent? Norway isn’t known for being a cheap place to visit. The kroner is worth around 9 cents currently, and that (11-1) felt a little cheaper than the 10-1 or 9-1 I know it has been at other points. I know when I’m traveling internationally, none of the prices feel real. We paid 189 kroner for a hotel breakfast, which I guess is $17 but is that a good price or a bad price for a hotel buffet? Hard to know!

  7. Norway sounds so lovely! If you’ve finished your Jane Austen project and have never read Sigrid Undset’s trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter, it’s one of my favorite novels. She won the Nobel prize in literature for her depiction of life in medieval Norway.

    1. @Vanessa – Norway is lovely, and yes, I’ve read Kristin Lavransdatter! That was epic, for sure. I was surprised she didn’t seem like more of a major celebrated figure there (Sigrid Undset I mean). Are there statues anywhere…?

  8. I am so glad you made it to *my* country! Sounds like you guys had a wonderful trip. I have lived here many years and still never tasted the herring, so am very impressed that you tried it

    1. @SK – I don’t think it will become a favorite, but it was worth a try! Just like trying Vegemite in Australia…

  9. Oh this was fun to read because we just came back from a family trip where we roadtripped in a van for 2 weeks around Norway and it was amaaazing, highly recommend for any nature lovers

    1. @Maria- that sounds like a fun trip! We were having a good time but needed to get back to real life after 1 week…

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