We decided to spend part of our summer vacation in Norway.
Norway wasn’t our first choice. We had first planned on traveling back home but due to the quarantine requirements in the USA and on our return to Denmark, we decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. We then bought plane tickets to the Faroe Islands. Unfortunately, they changed their policy for testing and quarantining and we opted out of going there (we will eventually go due to non-refundable tickets. We got vouchers).
So our next choice was Norway. We were hesitant since we had already been to Tromsø, Norway (and a we had a frightening reindeer experience there). We had gone in the winter when there was little sunlight and decided summer in Norway may look much different.
The ferry ride from Denmark to Norway is only three hours. We decided that it was completely doable. We made sure everything we booked was refundable yet affordable. I premade all of our meals (eating out in Norway is $$$) and packed everything into coolers. We loaded our car and headed north.
Day 1 was full of driving. We first had to drive to the ferry town of Hirtshals, Denmark. Six ferries leave from this point; four go to Norway cities, one to Iceland and another to the Faroe Islands. We arrived an hour and half ahead of departure. I was a little worried about passport control due to our USA passports and the fact that Norway has one of the strictest corona restrictions in the Nordic countries. But it was a breeze. The teller took one look at our passports, asked no questions and let us through. We parked in our lane and watched the lot fill with cars.
I was shocked at how many people there were. I knew capacity had been decreased due to COVID-19 but man…there were a lot of cars.
At about 45-30 minutes before departure, the cars started loading onto the boat. We parked the car on a lower deck and headed up to where we would sit for the journey. It was hard to keep our distance with so many people coming on but we did the best we could. Claire noticed a sign pointing to the kids area so we headed there. Unfortunately, it was all locked up due to the virus so we just found a table with a good view.
We departed about 15 minutes late to Norway. After about an hour, we were out in the rough, open seas. And it was rough. I was sucking on ginger drops trying to keep my seasickness at bay. Eventually, I had to lay down on the floor and just stare at the horizon. I do NOT have sea legs. But in my defense, my roller coaster riding daughter also got woozy by the end of the trip too. It was a rough sailing day.
After three hours, we docked in Kristiansand, Norway. I was very happy to get into the car and on solid ground again.
We started driving north towards our first stay in Røldal ski center. It was a four and a half hour car drive. But WOW! We were saying “ooohhh” and “aaahhh” around every corner it seemed. Beautiful mountains, roads along the fjords and waterfalls (we lost track counting, that’s how many there were). The mountainsides were full of cherry and apple trees. There were roadside stands every couple of miles advertising fresh fruit for sale. We even found directions to Arendal. Elsa and Anna are from Norway you know…
The girls did absolutely amazing on this first day too. They were supplied with activity books, crayons, chapter books, audio books and snacks. I was shocked at how awesome they behaved having to sit in the car for over seven hours.
Everyone was happy when we reached the apartment. I imagine that this location is quite expensive in the winter time for skiers but for us, it was quite reasonable. The view wasn’t half bad either. (Aren’t the living roofs awesome?)
Wednesday is for waterfalls! I had a list of waterfalls to see on our way farther north. The first one we stopped at was Låtefossen (translation: sound waterfall). I completely understand why it is called that. It was right next to the road and man, it was roaring when we visited.
We were able to get up very close to it and see all the water rushing by. We also got soaked standing so close to it.
Both girls, at first, decided they didn’t care. They were more interested in their books. But Claire decided to explore it with me and eventually her sister did too. They thought it was cool!
Next on our itinerary was to hike to a glacier!
I was a little apprehensive about how this hike would go. Avery HATES walking/hiking. She whines at every walk, geocaching adventure, anything that requires her to walk for an extended period of time. But we rolled the dice and brought along the toddler carrier in case she melted down on us.
First off, the view just making our way to the glacier was stunning. We came into Odda, Norway which is a very popular tourist destination as it is the where many hikers begin for Trolltunga. It is surrounded by mountains and is nestled in a fjord.
We made our way towards the parking lot for Buarbreen (breen is glacier in Norsk). The glacier is actually in a farmer’s backyard and he is kind enough to let others hike a trail to the glacier along with a 150 NOK ($15) parking fee.
This was our view from the parking lot:
Online, the hike is estimated to take 3-4 hours so with fairly happy kids in tow we started our trek.
The husband and I didn’t have great hopes that we would actually make it to the glacier. 1) It’s a 3-4 hour hike…likely 5-6 with kids. 2) It is labeled as a medium level hike. We are typically easy level hikers (two kids). 3) When we reached the gate on the north side of the farm, a sign stated that the river was very full and moving with a lot of force. Caution needed to be exercised.
With this in mind, we decided to go as far as we felt comfortable.
The start of the hike was simple. It was right along the river and it was very apparent that many hikers had left some calling cards along its banks. Rocks were stacked on top of each other to form mini totem poles. Our girls decided to leave theirs.
As we reached the forest, the hike became much more difficult. It was very muddy and slick. Our jumpy 8-year old decided to jump off a slick rock and ended up covered in mud (luckily she was still wearing her waterproof gear at this point). We had to navigate over boulders and narrow paths in the rocks.
After about an hour of climbing, falling and child carrying (yes, we begged her to get in the carrier), we reached the river.
I decided to go first to see what was up ahead as it looked a little sketchy to me.
I was right.
The river was definitely full and rapid. It had actually wiped out part of the bridge leaving just a 2×6 board to cross. With our kids tired and hungry, we decided to just have our picnic next to the river and congratulate ourselves on making it this far.
It did provide some amazing views:
We ate our sandwiches, I helped an elderly woman cross the river (due to her older children not helping; I seethed about this the whole way down) and loaded Avery into the carrier.
It only took us about 30 minutes going down. Likely because we didn’t stop and just had one goal; make it to the bottom.
This is how we all felt once we reached the bottom:
Next stop! WATERFALLS!
We had to start heading north to our next location so I had three more waterfalls on our list to stop by.
The first was Vøringfossen. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Norway. It features a 182 meter (~597 ft) fall with a scenic overlook and a picturesque hotel at the top.
It was certainly busy when we arrived. Not overcrowded but busy. We first made our way to the outlook that looks up to the hotel. There is a bit of a ledge there…WITH NO RAILING! I did NOT enjoy this part. I steered Avery away pretty fast while the husband and Claire stayed a little longer. Claire found a memorial for someone who had fallen over the edge. And it turns out a handful of people have fallen into the falls. We did not stay in that particular spot long.
The official overlook did have better protection and a high fence (thank goodness). It provided a clear view to the hotel and falls.
After taking a variety of pictures, we got some ice cream at the shop located in the middle of the parking lot. It was actually pretty warm (70s°F) so ice cream hit the spot.
We loaded up the car and decided to go up by the falls where there was a much more elaborate outlook.
And man…it was an outlook. My fear of heights would not allow me to go right up to the edge so many of the photos were taken by my husband. Even he said it was a bit creepy. Stunning…but wowza. That would be a fall.
Do you notice the stairs in two of the pictures?
They are actually designing steps to walk over the waterfall! The stairs are still under construction so we didn’t get to experience it (and I don’t think I would have wanted to).
The next waterfalls were Skorvofossen and Skjervsfossen. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a trail leading us to Skrvofossen and we had a 4 year old in a very bad mood. So we just grabbed a quick pic from the road.
Skjervsfossen was much more entertaining. Our 4 year old was still very grumpy but we eventually urged her out.
There is a picturesque bridge you drive over right next to the waterfall. A paved trail then leads up very close to it. It reminded me a lot of the waterfalls around the Midwest. Not a huge fall but still great to see.
We then drove a switchback road to arrive at the top of the waterfall.
The top also has a great overlook that looks almost over the top of the waterfall down towards the road and fjord.
It also has a really neat commode. It is located right over the river that feeds the falls. Complete with stainless steel, running water and glass floor and wall.
Eventually we made our way to our next ski lodge (again, fairly cheap due to it not being ski season).
Fjord tour day! We made our way to Aurlandsvangen to hop on the early Nærøyfjorden cruise tour. We opted for the round trip tour (Aurlandsvangen to Gudvangen) and were happy we did. It was pretty cloudy and dreary when we started but really cleared up by the second part of the trip. It also wasn’t very crowded (the 2nd part had more people due to a tour bus arrival). They were definitely working on keeping numbers down due to corona virus and I never once felt it was too full. The girls picked a corner and did their best to keep themselves entertained while we made our way through the fjord. We ate lunch on the boat, enjoyed indoor seating during the rain and were able to walk outside on the multiple layers of the boat. It was my husbands favorite part of the trip and I definitely recommend it. Below is a slide show of some things we saw on the tour:
The town of Gudvangen also houses Viking City. We didn’t check it out because we only had about 40 minutes before the departure back to Aurlandsvagen. Claire and I did venture off the boat to look around. There was a pedestrian bridge and again, a breathtaking view.
After the tour, we hopped in the car and made our way up to Stegastein viewpoint. It’s a viewpoint that offers a stunning view of Aurlandvagen and Nærøyfjorden.
Hint: You must be confident on handling a car on tight, winding roads and be ready to brake quickly. This was a tiny road with pull over spots here and there. We only had one instance where we almost had an “incident.”
The rest of the day was spent driving west towards Bergen; our next destination (along with a quick stop at the Dale Norway outlet store).
Time to explore Bergen. We first decided to grab some gluten filled breakfast options for the girls. I had packed gluten free muffins for our trip but this day we let the girls eat out. The sweets were HUGE!
With sugar filled children, we started our climb up Mt. Fløyen. Now there is a very easy way to get up the mountain. It involves taking a cable car. It’s only purpose is to take people up and down the mountain.
However, due to COVID-19, we decided we could hike it. The road was going to be paved the whole way and it was supposedly only an hour hike. AND there was a playground at the top. Lots of incentives to hike it.
WRONG! It was hard work. The first leg was probably the hardest as we wove our way through the streets until we reached the trail. It’s pretty intense climbing a mountain. Our 4 year old was not having ANY of it either. We forgot to/didn’t pack the carrier because we figured a paved trail would be easy peasy. Avery did not agree. She was crying, whining, complaining the ENTIRE way up. Sigh. It especially tested her parents’ patience which may have been microscopically thin by the time we reached the top.
Besides the complaining toddler, it was a fairy tale type walk and fairly easy (if you aren’t piggybacking a child).
After a two mile walk, we finally arrived at Klatrelek; the nature playground.
The girls had a great time playing here. They climbed through the tree house, up and down ropes and went on the zip line. We stayed for about any hour.
I decided to make my way over to the look out area and where the train arrives.
Holy people, Batman! It was packed full of people enjoying the view, the cafe and another playground. The view overlooked the city. It wasn’t bad but after seeing the fjords of south central Norway, I was a little unimpressed. I grabbed a quick picture then quickly made my way out of there and back to the nature playground.
We then had an incident (or a couple really).
Avery had to use the bathroom. I knew this was bad. She was going to see the other (more packed) playground and want to play there. I tried to shield her from it to avoid a meltdown but alas, she saw it.
Crying and screaming ensued. I could definitely tell someone was not getting enough sleep on vacation.
We promised her we would stop at another playground that day (along with ice cream). This eventually got her little feet moving down the mountain.
Unfortunately, her and her sister’s feet became entangled on our descent and she wiped out in the gravel. Blood and sand everywhere. Poor girl. She was having a rough day.
Some snuggles later, we were headed back down the mountain a different direction toward the center. This was when we ran into the best slide EVER! It was a long, silver slide and even the adults had some fun on it. More should be put up across this mountain hike for the littles.
We let the girls release some more energy here before we made our way to the center of Bergen.
Bergen was busy. It was a sunny day in one of the rainiest locations of Norway. Everyone was out enjoying the harbor and food.
There was a little food market going on so we decided everyone could pick out one thing. Claire got a donut, Avery picked out mango ice cream and the husband got different varieties of wild game sausage. I just enjoyed my family’s happiness.
But since it was so busy, we decided to make our way back to the car and to our next location; Fantoft Stave Church.
According to Google, it was open until 6 PM. Unfortunately for us, it actually closed at four so we were unable to look inside. Using the internet, we looked up some history about the church. Stave churches are big staple of Norway so I’m glad we were able to see (the outside of) one.
Our next nightly stay was a motel. This was probably my biggest regret of the trip. Why did I book a stay in a motel with no view in beautiful Norway?
Due to this, we escaped our hotel for the beach since it was pretty warm out (70s) for Norway.
The girls swung on some swings then jumped into the ocean with only underwear on. That’s one thing about Europe that is much different than the USA. Swimwear is optional for kids, especially the younger ones.
The girls were thoroughly soaked by the time we left and we all passed out in our smoky, hot motel.
The second longest travel day. It was a five hour trip that involved two quick ferries. We didn’t even get out of the car for the second one as it only lasted about 20 minutes.
We opted not to check out Stavanger mainly because it was a populated area and I really couldn’t find much for the girls to do. But man, it has a HUGE tunnel complex underneath it for those who are just passing through the city (and lots of neon lights). It is called the Ryfast tunnel and it’s the longest undersea tunnel in the world at 14.3 km (~8.9 miles).
Our aim was Eventyrskogen or the fairy tale forest. It is advertised as a family friendly/easy hike with carved figures to find along the way.
We weren’t sure of what to expect but it was a hit with the girls. Even for our 4 year old who hates hiking. They loved finding the different figures but would not stop long enough for me to translate the fairy tale story behind each one. But we did recognize a few like the “Three Billy Goats Gruff”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “The Cobbler”.
It was very muddy but when we reached the top, the girls enjoyed some play time on some swings, a little zipline to deliver rocks to each other and a mini house.
After the hike, we noticed dark clouds in the sky and decided it was time to just call it a day.
We made our way to our cabin.
The campsite was nestled right along a lake looking up towards the mountains. The owners are American citizens who have been living in Norway for the last 25 years. The campsite had a play ground, a camper turned into a playhouse and little trikes for kids. The girls had a blast despite a huge downpour that lasted over an hour (waterproof gear for the win!).
We tucked the girls in then the husband and I enjoyed a good talk outside our cabin. This was the view:
It was so relaxing.
I was sad to leave our cabin. Maybe we’ll go back someday but I would highly recommend it if you are visiting southern Norway and want to be close to some amazing hikes.
Day 6 was not planned until we arrived in Norway. My husband had originally thought about hiking to Pulpit Rock with our oldest. It is labeled a moderately demanding hike and takes approximately 4 hours. But after taking a look at the weather forecast, we decided to instead go for another fjord tour.
We left the campsite bright and early and headed for the Lysefjord tour pickup at the Pink Ferry Dock in Forsand.
If you can’t tell from the picture, we were dealing with fog. Thick, cold fog. So we didn’t get to see all that much of the fjord.
It was still a good tour and we saw many wonderful sights but we couldn’t see Pulpit Rock or Kjeragbolten; two of the major hiker destinations. But it wasn’t all bad, we found out a lot of history: information about two farms that sat directly opposite of each other in the fjord and communicated by a type of Morse code; how families in the higher up houses used to tie their children with ropes to prevent them from falling down the fjord (now they are just vacation homes); the Whiskey Falls had a history of being the location where a German soldier settled down and started brewing whiskey and transported it by zip line across the fjord; the world’s longest wooden staircase is located in Flørli along the fjord and so on. We saw some of these sights but the fog hid a lot as well.
We docked in Lysebotn; a tiny little (mainly) summer homes town. We learned on the boat that it receives 4 months without any sunlight in the winter months due to the mountains. Yikes!
But again…breathtaking view:
We found a little park to have our picnic and let the girls play around before our long drive back to Kristiansand.
But there is something very special about Lysebotn as well. It is the start to one of the most intense switchback roads in the world. Lysevegen has at least 27 tight turns, an average 9.4% gradient and a tunnel at the bottom. Check out the map below:
I was a little wary of this given my history of motion sickness but since we were going so slow, it really wasn’t an issue.
I was look out. I spent the trip looking up the mountain watching for cars coming down. We only ran into a few (thank goodness).
About half way up, we stopped at a waterfall. It was also a spot that allowed swimming. I really would have loved to have experienced that but it was cold and rainy. So I had to settle for climbing up the side of the waterfall and looking down. I couldn’t see much though…darn fog!
We continued our assent to the top of the mountain and emerged victorious! As in we didn’t run into any cars head-on and no one got car sick.
My husband commented how he would rather have been on a motorcycle but he was happy to at least be able to experience it.
The fog was dense at the top of the mountain. There is a huge parking lot for hikers who want to hike to Kjeragbolten. There is also a cafe and outlook to look down the fjord.
We decided to not stop though. We were really only interested in the view and with the fog, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see anything.
So we made our way through the winding mountain road.
It actually became a wonderful (yet long) drive. It showed us what was on top of these gorgeous fjords we had been seeing all over Norway.
Snow and mountain top lakes. We even had to slow down for some sheep who decided to own the road. It was a different type of scenery and beautiful.
By the time we got out of the mountain though, I was a little nauseous and ready to take over driving.
We headed to Kristiansand where we would take off the next day for Denmark.
Yes. We made the mistake of sitting in the back again. While my sea sickness wasn’t as bad this time, still not an enjoyable ride for me.
When we reached Denmark, every car was getting checked by border control (which was something we did not have to do entering Norway). We had no issues getting in but wondered if anyone would be refused entry.
After a quick stop over in Aalborg for lunch and a bit of shopping, we made it home happy, exhausted and ready for the next school year.
Tips on if you want/will travel to Norway:
–It’s expensive! We brought most of our meals to help save some money. I precooked all of our meals. We made sure all our accommodations had a kitchenette so we could have a warm meal at night (sandwiches during the day). Also staying out of the city provided the cheapest accommodations. We likely lucked out on most prices due to the current pandemic.
–Do not bother getting NOK (Norwegian money). Everything is done by a mobile app or credit card. We had no issues using our American card.
–Lots of tunnels and construction in the summer. We had multiple stops along our route due to construction. It’s really the only time of year they can work on roads at that latitude. Just enjoy the ride and allow plenty of time to get to your destination.
–Camping. We really wanted to try a camper van but couldn’t’ find one available for the amount of time we were going to be there. BUT wild camping is allowed in much of Norway. We saw tents everywhere and campers just pulled up alongside roadways. Just be sure you are comfortable driving them on tight, curvy roads.
It was one of our favorite trips (so far) and we’re seriously considering going back. If Norway isn’t on your bucket list, you should add it.