If you were going to design a child- or family-friendly destination for travelers, it would look something like Norway. Norway has famously family-friendly working and pay conditions and this commitment to inclusivity extends to travel.
Throughout Norway, everyone – from hotels and campgrounds to restaurants and outfits offering activities – bends over backwards to make it easy and enjoyable to travel with kids in tow. There's even a dedicated kids' playroom carriage on the train from Oslo to Bergen. Norway also has a host of world-class attractions, to complement its great outdoors, which children love as much as their parents.
Read on for the best reasons to take your kids to Norway.
Is Norway good for kids?
Norway is a model for how other countries could make themselves more family friendly. There is, for example, a near-universal acceptance of breastfeeding in public and restaurants and hotels are genuinely welcoming to children. These attitudes are also reflected in policies such as parents of newborns receiving nearly two years of parental leave at close to full pay – and parents are strongly encouraged to take the leave.
All of this flows into the way that the country treats traveling families. Getting around in most Norwegian towns and cities is easy enough in a stroller or pram, although cobblestone lanes in older parts of some towns can be difficult to negotiate.
In restaurants, high chairs are widely and freely available, while toilets routinely have baby-change facilities. Many hotel rooms comfortably fit families, and most hotels offer some form of family-friendly pricing; in some places, especially in summer, children under a certain age stay for free. Some hotels even have dedicated indoor play areas for kids.
The Thon Hotel chain also has small, moveable stairs at reception so children can see over the counter and be welcomed as part of the whole check-in experience.
The main difficulty in traveling as a family is the cost. Like most items for sale in Norway, everything from nappies (diapers) to formula is ridiculously expensive compared to other countries. The same applies to food. While supermarkets are plentiful, some restaurants have child menus, and snacks like the ubiquitous hotdog can help keep costs down, it can still be expensive making sure your kids eat well and often in Norway.
Where is best in Norway for kids
Most regions of Norway have attractions that will entertain children. Natural landscapes such as the fjords, the glaciers of central Norway, or the Lofoten Islands will impress children of a certain age, while chances to see wildlife – from whales off Vesterålen to walruses in Svalbard – can be very exciting, not to mention educational. Sprinkled throughout Norway are theme parks designed with kids in mind, while museums across the country often have highly interactive exhibits that will entertain even the most travel-weary child.
Best things to do in Norway with toddlers
Theme parks where you can meet trolls
Even the smallest toddler will be eyes-wide-open when they meet their first trolls at the Hunderfossen Familiepark, near Lillehammer, or stare up at the world’s biggest troll at Senjatrollet, on the beautiful northern island of Senja.
Best things to do in Norway with kids
Now you’re talking. Almost as soon as your child has learned to walk, Norway has things to keep them entertained.
Theme parks for all ages
Hunderfossen Familiepark also has rides and fairytale palaces to enjoy. Some wildlife watching can require time and patience, but if your family has neither, or simply won’t be in the right area, Kristiansand Dyrepark in the country’s south combines an excellent zoo with amusement-park-style funfair; you can even sleep overnight. Way up in the north, Polar Park, in Setermoen, focuses on otherwise-hard-to-find Arctic species, while Namsskogan Familiepark, south of Mosjøen, combines Arctic wildlife enclosures with a fun zipline.
Viking stories seem custom-made for a child’s imagination, and Norway has many such stories to tell. If you’re in Oslo, Vikingskipshuset brings old relics to life with reconstructed Viking ships to explore. In some museums, like Stavanger’s Archaeology Museum, volunteers dress up in Viking paraphernalia to help the imagination along a little. They do the same at Lofotr Viking Museum on Lofoten, where you even enjoy a themed dinner in a rebuilt Viking longroom.
Some of Norway's museums will immediately appeal to children because of the subject matter. But others have interactive exhibits and/or children's play areas with toys and activities. And in summer (especially July and the first two weeks in August), numerous museums with a historical focus organize programs for children, with games, activities, and staff dressed up in period costumes.
Some of the best to really inspire the children and keep them engaged are Oslo’s Kon-Tiki Museum, Stavanger’s Oil Museum, Bodø’s Airplane Museum, and the Norwegian Glacier Museum in Fjærland. Stavanger even has the Norwegian Children's Museum, with its marvellous indoor playground for younger kids.
Norway is one of Europe’s best places to see wildlife, and these are some of the continent’s most charismatic creatures. From Andenes and Stø (Vesterålen) and Tromsø, summer is the best time for whale-watching boat trips to see giant sperm whales up close. Like something out of a video game, the musk ox herds of Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park, in central Norway, are unforgettably big and ugly. Most kids also love the chance to free-range moose or elk near Oppdal, Rjukan and Evje. And for animals you can’t see anywhere else in Europe, head to sub-polar Svalbard, where walrus, reindeer, Arctic fox and even polar bears are all possible.
Best things to do in Norway with teenagers and tweenagers
They may feign disinterest, but even the most jaded teenager will be posting online about their experiences in the Midnight Sun and polar night.
Go white-water rafting
Norway’s undisputed white-water rafting epicentre is Sjøa, in Central Norway. Lots of operators run trips, and all of them tailor river descents for families. For younger children and their parents, this should mean calmer waters, but teenagers may get to sample the rougher, more exciting rapids.
Dog-sled through the snow
There’s no better way to explore the Arctic North than to head out into the icy wastes aboard a dog-sled pulled by a team of Siberian or Alaskan huskies. This can happen around Røros, Tromsø, Karasjok and Svalbard; minimum age limits may apply. In summer, they put wheels on the sleds, although it doesn’t quite have the same cachet.
Train for the Winter Olympics
The central Norwegian town of Lillehammer hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics, and they’ve done an excellent job of taking you back in time. Your teenager or tweenager can stand on the dizzying 136m-high summit of the Lygårdsbakkene Ski Jump and imagine Olympic glory. Children of a certain age – 10 to 16 years, depending on the machine – can hurtle down the Olympic luge and bobsled run nearby at Hunderfossen.
Planning tips for traveling in Norway with kids
Road distances in Norway can be deceptively long, so try and concentrate on getting to know one area well, rather than trying to cover the whole country. If you’re going further afield, consider taking the train, or breaking up the journey with more overnight stops.
Speaking of getting around, it can help if you treat transport as part of the fun. Take the Hurtigruten Coastal Ferry as an example. The novelty of traveling on board a very large boat with swimming pools, buffet restaurants and children’s play areas can work wonders, while getting you from one place to next at the same time.