Discovering new cultures and embracing differences is a big reason why many families choose to travel to new destinations. The sweetest experiences are often those that are unplanned and occur spontaneously: amazing street crepes in Paris, an unexpected kindness from a local or stumbling upon a mama sea lion and her pup in the Galapagos Islands.
During a 10-day Norway family vacation, my son and I discovered this Scandinavian country’s unexpected charms. Our road trip throughout the country provided great interaction with the locals, and we returned home with a deep appreciation for the awe-inspiring beauty of the country and its people.
Every country has a reputation for something, and in Norway it should be that the people are so nice. At every turn we encountered kindness and a willingness to help. Attempting to pronounce Norwegian words and names is a comedy worthy of a Saturday Night Live skit, yet no one laughed at us (plus, almost everyone speaks English fluently). From the ticket taker at the ferry lines to staff in the hotels and restaurants, Norwegians make tourists feel welcome and safe.
It’s no secret that the sun shines almost all day during the summer in Norway, but it wasn’t until our return home that I realized we never went to bed before midnight. Norwegians stay up late celebrating the long summer days; in June it was light out at 10p. Finally, at midnight, there was enough darkness to feel tired. Go with the flow and enjoy it.
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The Norwegian fjords are lush with green hills and flowing waterfalls at every turn. The waterfalls come in all sizes and pop up along the roads. They stream down from mountains and spring from melting glacier waters that are so vibrantly colored they appear dyed. The quantity of waterfalls surrounded by scenery that ranges from tropical (though never hot or humid) to Pacific Northwest to winter wonderland is astonishing.
Both my son and I were stunned by the scenery changes during our drive from Balestrand to Bergen over the Vikafjellet Mountains. The hotel reception had told us we were on the scenic route, and we assumed that meant more waterfalls. The drive over the mountains travels from lush to desolate winter moonscape, with meandering sheep in the road, within hours. It is a scene that inspires both awe and a fervent wish that the car doesn’t break down.
The landscape is so wild that we stopped various times to take a closer look. This is the one memory that we talk about often — anyone with teenagers knows that it’s challenging to impress them with scenery alone, so this is something special.
Our favorite can't-miss activities for a Norway family vacation >
Norway routinely makes the list of the most expensive countries to live in, so how does it fare when it comes to family travel? Based on my experience planning trips for families around the world, hotel prices and activities are comparable to other European large cities, but it’s the food that is frustratingly expensive for both visitors and locals. Alternating between restaurant meals and good-quality sandwiches or takeaway food is one strategy to cut costs. Or do as the Norwegians do and buy a disposable barbecue plus grill-ready food in the grocery, then head to the park for a picnic.
Norway is an under-the-radar destination for families, but it is family-friendly. Halfway through our road trip my teenage son thanked me for taking him — the best discovery of all.
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