Norway’s Best Experiences for the Family Trip of a Lifetime

Apr 10, 2019

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I’ve been in love with Europe since my parents first took me on vacation to Germany as a kid and I discovered Haribo. The first time I visited Norway, about eight years ago, it was all over for me. Germany, France, Italy, Holland — they all took second place once I saw this incredible Nordic land.

Norway has the perfect mix of mountains and ocean, fjords and lakes, city highlights and free camping rights (allemannsretten is the national mantra that stipulates the right to roam and even camp for free on public lands).

Spending time outside and enjoying all of the county’s natural beauty with their families is something Norwegians do year-round. Trust them when they tell you “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing,” so layer on the wool to get out there and explore. Norway is a destination with as much to love in the winter months (northern lights, sledding) as in the long days of the midnight sun that arrives during the spectacular spring and summer.

Lofoten Islands Norway
Lofoten Islands, Norway (Photo by Tatsiana Volskaya / Getty Images)

How to Get to Norway

I’m always on the lookout for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) Kids Fly Free deal, where up to eight kids (that’s right, eight!) ages 11 and under fly “free” (only paying the cost of taxes and fees) with the purchase of an adult ticket. SAS offers nonstop flights from Miami and New York, bookable with Star Alliance Miles. Norwegian is also always worth checking, with reliable low-cost fares from many US cities, including Miami (MIA), Boston (BOS) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Oslo (OSL) and connecting cities like Bodø (BOO) and Tromsø (TOS)prime airports for exploring all the beauty of Northern Norway.

SAS Plus (image courtesy of SAS)
SAS Plus (image courtesy of SAS)

You will also find at least a few points-friendly places to stay in some of Norway’s major cities such as Oslo (Marriott Bonvoy, Radisson Rewards) and Bergen (Radisson Rewards).

9 Norwegian Activities Your Family Will Love

For first-timers to Norway, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed. Visit Norway’s website which has tons of great resources for trip planning. Keep in mind that the country is almost the size of California, with hundreds of thousands of miles of coastline to explore, islands everywhere and lots to do inland, too. Follow my tips below for the best activities to do with your kids, and I’ll bet my next trip to Norway that you’re going to have the family trip of a lifetime.

1. Hunt the Northern Lights

The chance to see the northern lights is not the only reason to bundle up for a trip to Northern Norway in the winter (see below for many other incentives, including reindeer sledding). For most visitors, the aurora is at the top of the list for a wintertime trip. Of course, you’ll need a little luck to get clear skies and the addition of solar activity to make the northern lights appear. When you head to Norway’s northernmost reaches from late September to mid-March, the time of year when skies are still dark at night, chances are good you’ll catch the show. Many tourists opt to stay in Tromsø, where the aurora can often be seen right in the city and the guides with Tromsø Safari lead nightly bus tours (about $175 USD per person, ask about discounts for children) to darker surrounding islands to watch the spectacle. Consider heading farther north to the small city of Alta, directly under the aurora oval, where the activity tends to be strongest. Nord Expedisjon is a new company in Alta with experience here and elsewhere in the Arctic. Guides take small groups on van tours ($180 for adults, $87 for kids 12 and under) or walking tours ($115 per person, ask for discounts for kids) in search of the aurora to some of the best locations. Entertaining commentary on local northern lights lore is guaranteed.

norway northern lights
Photo courtesy of Holmen Husky Lodge

2. Take the Kids for a Sled Ride Behind Real Reindeer

You may or may not spot Santa, but there’s no denying that reindeer are real when you visit Norway, where reindeer have been raised and herded by the indigenous Sami people for eons. Kids go crazy for the chance to bundle up under a blanket and go for a sled ride through the winter wonderland around Alta as a reindeer pulls them through the snow. North Adventure can help you book exclusive, private tours with the Sami reindeer herders who own Chavzo Safari, during which you’ll go reindeer sledding and then warm up in a traditional lavvu tent (similar to a teepee, with a roaring fire inside) and sample a bowl of reindeer stew while the kids listen to stories about Sami traditions. The prices are steep — about $380 per person and $298 for kids 12 and under — but the 4.5-hour adventure (including return transfers from Alta) is truly a unique insight into their culture, and worth the splurge for its authenticity and fun factor.

3. Follow the Springtime Reindeer Migration

This one’s a very real splurge (around $4,000 per person, all-inclusive), but for an authentic multiday expedition with Norway’s native reindeer-herding Sami people, nothing comes close to this adventure in the Finnmark region of Northern Norway. Join a Sami family and their children as they begin the annual migration with their reindeer from inland plains where the animals feed during the winter to their summering grounds along the coast. Visit Natives offers a pricy but life-affirming, five-night experience — best for older kids, pre-teen age and up — during which you’ll sleep in a tent while migrating with the reindeer. You’ll have the chance to try Sami skiing and ice fishing along the way. Dates are available from roughly mid-April to the end of May, every year.

Norway reindeer
Photo courtesy of Terry Ward

4. Midnight Sun Rib Boat Safaris in Lofoten

From June until August, you can head out with the family on thrilling rib boat safaris in the Lofoten Archipelago for a view of the midnight sun bobbing hear the horizon in the middle of the night and the chance to see sea eagles and seals, too. Lofoten Opplevelser, a friendly tour company run by Lofoten local Rolf Malnes in the beautiful fishing village of Henningsvær, offers exciting three-hour tours that will have the kids shrieking with joy as you speed through narrow fjords out into the Atlantic Ocean. All ages are welcome, but it’s best for kids ages 4 and up. It’s rare, but every once in a while, whales are also spotted, so keep your eyes peeled. Rates: $116 for adults, $87 for kids 8 and under.

5. Go Whale Watching in Andenes

For the best shot at seeing whales during the summer months in Norway, take the family on a road trip from Lofoten to the tiny, postcard-perfect town of Andenes in Vesterålen. It’s about a 3.5-hour, impossibly scenic drive from Henningsvær to reach Whalesafari Andenes, a company that offers a 100% guarantee of seeing whales (or you get your money back, or the first available tickets on the next tour heading out). While sperm whales are most commonly spotted during the summer months, other species that may be seen include orcas and pilot whales. Winter trips are available, too, and that’s when you’re most likely to see humpbacks. The boats the company uses are large and have wide-open decks, perfect for setting up photo equipment or just scouting for flukes breaking the water’s surface. Kids of all ages are welcome. Rates are $128 per adult, $93 for kids ages 5-13, $58 for kids ages 1-4 and free for kids under 1 year.

whale watching in norway
Photo by Asgeir Helgestad / Artic Light AS / visitnorway.com

6. Sleep in a Lavvu with a Glass Roof Near the Northernmost Tip of Europe

If your kids like camping, they’ll love the elevated experience of sleeping in a glass-roof lavvu (a spin on a traditional Sami tent) with The North Cape Experience, a family-run operation near North Cape. After touring the visitor center and snapping the obligatory family holiday photo at the globe sculpture at the northernmost point in mainland Europe, head to The North Cape Experience to sleep surrounded by fjord views and wide-open nature and partake in activities like fishing and hiking. Your kids can play like the local children do, scouting for critters along the foreshore of the fjord and daring to take a dip into the icy cold waters. Nightly lavvu rates from around $235 for a family of four.

7. Visit an Igloo Hotel Made Entirely of Ice and Snow

There are several places in the world where you can visit and sleep inside ice hotels. To me, the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel near Alta in Northern Norway is particularly beautiful (it’s also the northernmost ice hotel in the world, in case you want to tick that box). Each year, the hotel is rebuilt from the ground up with ice and snow from nearby lakes and rivers and stays open from the beginning of January to the beginning of April. If you want to sleep in a room carved entirely from ice and atop a bed of ice covered with reindeer skins, you’ll be happy to know it’s not as cold as it sounds. You’ll be provided with a sleeping bag for extreme temperatures that will keep you warm. That said, it’s an activity that’s best suited for older kids rather than your toddlers. You can also visit the restaurant for a delicious meal (of reindeer, of course, or local fish) and tour the igloo hotel, with a stop at the ice bar inside for drinks served in cups made of ice. Igloo hotel admission for visitors: $24 per person, $6 for kids ages 3-12 and free for kids under 3.

8. Let Them Mush on a Dogsledding Tour

The chance to mush Alaskan huskies on a rollicking ride through the winter wonderlands of Northern Norway is sure to make the children forget about their tablets and phones for a spell. Until you’ve felt the sheer joy of flying along behind a team of sled dogs, it’s hard to explain just how exhilarating it is. I have two favorite spots, both in Alta. Trasti og Trine is a sweet little spot where the man of the house heads up an incredible kitchen that dishes out local foods with gourmet preparations (definitely plan a meal here — creamy fish soup, perhaps — after you head out dog sledding). Dog sledding tours start at $175 person/$88 for kids under 12.  Holmen Husky Lodge is the place to go for kennel visits ($41 per person, $24 for kids under 12) during the summer months for hourlong dog sledding adventures best enjoyed during the month of March, when temperatures have warmed up a bit in the Arctic and the light is pure magic.

Holmen Husky Lodge, Norway
Photo courtesy of Holmen Husky Lodge

9. Take a King Crab Safari

King crabs are an invasive species in the Arctic waters off Northern Norway, so families can help do their part to reduce the population by feasting on their succulent meat as often as possible. Make an adventure of your meal by heading out on a king crab safari around the North Cape, offered by 71 Nord during the summer and winter months in the beautiful fishing village of Honningsvåg. The 3.5-hour excursions take you aboard 12-person rib boats to pull up the king crab pots and inspect the catch (the crabs can have a claw-span of over 6 feet!). Rates: $183 per person, half off for kids under 12.

Bottom Line

While not a destination for a budget vacation with the family, Norway beckons with inexpensive flights (don’t miss Scandinavian Airlines’ Kids Fly Free and Norwegian’s low-cost fare!) and national perks like free camping almost anywhere at wild sites. For the family trip of a lifetime or for people who love the outdoors, there’s quite simply no place like Norway. Trust us, it’s worth the splurge.

Featured image by Steve Fleming / Getty Images

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