When I planned to take my my children (aged 8 and 9) on a cruise to Norway, I knew they’d have fun on the ship, but I wasn’t sure how much they’d find to entertain them at the ports. I needn’t have worried – Norway is very child-friendly with plenty to interest the younger crowd.
Our next stop after Oslo and Kristiansand was Stavanger, the third largest city in Norway, with a population of 126,500. It is is a wealthy city, and is widely referred to as the Oil Capital of Norway.
At the front of the museum is a historical play park featuring games from times past. The games ranged from the familiar, like this version of skittles with a ball on a rope…
…and sjoelbak, which we also played on the (Dutch) cruise ship…
…to the hilarious…
…and just plain silly!
The equipment for each game is neatly stored in wooden drawers with laminated instructions in both Norwegian and English. We had the place to ourselves so we had plenty of time to play!
The inside of the museum is small but there’s plenty to see, learn, and play on.
Back outside, the children (and, for a nanosecond, I) had a go on stilts.
A pretty ten minute walk past the lake and the cathedral…
…led us back to the harbour, where the kids went on an enormous ferris wheel…
…and re-boarded the ship for yet more games!
This post is part of a three part series about taking children cruising around Norway. On our final cruising day we sailed up the the world’s third largest fjord, the beautiful Hardangerfjord, stopping in at the pretty town of Ulvik – I’ll tell you about that next time.
We had a wonderful time in Norway! Here are some highlights, to give you a flavour of our trip. And I’ve added a few more detailed tips for anyone who might be thinking of actually taking their children on a Norwegian cruise – it’s great value if you live in the UK.
I’ll write today about our time in Oslo and Kristiansand – I’ll save Stavanger, Hardangerfjord and Ulvik for next time.
Places are always more interesting to visit if you know a bit about them beforehand. I helped C(9) and J(8) get familiar with the names and sights of Norway by making a memory pairs game using Google Images. It was very cool hearing them say “Oh! This is Stavanger!” as they caught sight of a row of pretty houses they recognised from a photo, and seeing them compare the little picture with the real life scene. (See the preparation we did for our Norway trip.)
I’d also shared with the children our cruise itinerary so they knew which days they were free to splash around in the ship’s pool all day and which days they’d have the chance to find their fun on dry land. Expectation management always helps!
Our first port was Oslo. Norway is a very (oil) rich nation and this is reflected in its clean, modern capital. The city is small enough to see most of on a ninety minute hop-on/hop-off bus tour. Here are my recommendations for how best to spend a day in Oslo with children.
Start out by buying a multi-museum ticket from the tourist office right next to the ship, then hop on a bus to begin your tour. Stop at any museums that take your fancy – definitely try the Viking Ship Museum, the Norwegian Folk Museum, and the Kon-Tiki Museum (all fairly close to each other in Oslo Old Town).
If you have time, stop off and wander through the Vigeland Sculpture Park, the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist.
Alternatively (or as well, if your kids have more touring stamina than mine), get off the bus near the Holmelkollen Ski Jump – the world’s most modern ski jump. The site also houses a ski museum with a ski simulator. We saw Holmelkollen from afar – it’s an impressive structure that makes for a super-easy to spot landmark. If we ever go back to Oslo we’ll definitely make the trip to see it up close.
Bonus Tips for Travellers
* A multi-museum ticket is the best value if you plan to visit more than one museum. I recommend buying one so you can wander in and out of each museum depending on everyone’s interest level and don’t feel obliged to waste time somewhere just because you’ve paid £15 to get in.
* Don’t buy a bus ticket from the first ticket-seller you see – the route varies slightly between the different bus companies. Check the map before handing over your credit card.
* Take your own headphones (if you have them) to listen to the tour commentary. Cheap headphones are provided, but these aren’t always a great fit for kids.
The next morning we woke up in Kristiansand (I love that about cruising). This beautiful city was our family’s favourite port.
We picked up a map as we got off the ship and walked along the coastline parallel with Østre Strandgate. This is a delightful water’s edge stroll, with green lawns, fountains and little sandy beaches strewn with the most intricately decorated sandcastles we’d ever seen. Locals sunbathed and picnicked alongside us.
The whole bay is strewn with play equipment, from toddler swings to adult outdoor gym machines, and everything in between. My 8 and 9 year olds were in heaven!
We saw lots of ducks, ducklings, swans and cygnets, which sparked a discussion about how we don’t usually find these birds in the sea because they prefer fresh water. I’ll share what we later discovered is special about fjords that makes this possible when I talk about our time in Hardangerfjord, next time.
Bonus Tips for Travellers
At the end of the stretch of promenade is a headland (with the biggest rope climbing frame we’ve ever seen). Turn around here and walk back along the shoreline until you get to Markens gate, and follow Markens gate up to Dronningens gate. Revitalise with free wifi at McDonalds* and then make your way along Dronningens gate, popping into as many pretty beach-themed home decor shops as your kids can tolerate before you head back to the pool on the ship.
(* I’m torn between wanting to look good (me? – wholesome homeschooling mum, take my kids to McDonalds?!) and giving you, who might one day visit Kristiansand, the benefit of being able to check your email and refresh your blog reader in the middle of a week-long offline stint. I opted for altruism – please take that into account in my defence. ;-))
Next Ports of Call
Our next stop on the cruise, Stavanger, was very different from Kristiansand and Oslo, and our final port, a tiny town at the top of the world’s third largest fjord, was one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. I’ll be back to tell you about these soon.
And if you’re considering a Norwegian cruise but aren’t sure how you’ll entertain the kids in port – go for it. I’m glad we did!
In two weeks’ time we’ll be waving goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover, bound for the Norwegian fjords.
To get the most enjoyment and educational value out of our trip, we’ve been learning a bit about Norway.
I printed off a map of the area we’ll be cruising, plus a map from the cruise line showing our complete route from Dover. We also found Norway on our giant map of the world.
The children looked at our printed itinerary and located on the map each of the ports we’ll be visiting. They noticed how far inland Oslo seems, and traced the fjords which connect Norway’s capital city to the sea.
I found pictures of each of the ports we’ll be stopping at on Google Images and added text labels using iPiccy, before printing them. For Oslo I also selected a few landmarks we might spot – famous statues, the harbour and the giant ski jump.
Edvard Munch’s The Scream is housed in Oslo so I added that to our set of pictures. For more on Edvard Munch, see The Tiger Chronicles’ excellent unit, Scream.
Here’s a great orchestral version of the famous In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt. I say “famous” because it’s one of those pieces of music that’s made it into popular culture such that even I’m familiar with it – and now I know it’s by Grieg!
How not to make memory pairs printables
I completed our set of pictures with the Norwegian flag, a map of the area we’re cruising, and the map of our route.
I printed off and laminated two contact sheets of the pictures* and we played memory pairs, which also gave us practice saying and hearing the Norwegian place names.
(*Confession. I’m a printables rookie, so what actually happened was this: I printed off the pictures (so far so good). Then I realised you could see through the paper – no good for memory pairs. My dear husband suggested sliding in a dark backing sheet before laminating, to solve the problem. Then I laminated them – without sticking the two pieces of paper together. Guess what happened?! One full hour and much Sellotape later, I had a set of cards. Let’s just say it was a learning experience…)
I can’t resist the opportunity to dabble in a new language when I’m about to visit a foreign country. I haven’t done any formal Norwegian with the children but they’ve also enjoyed picking up a few phrases as I’ve been learning.
I started out using Norwegian In 10 Minutes A Day which I really enjoyed. It comes with a CD Rom which the children and I had fun with, guessing the rooms in a house or food items in a kitchen, for example.
To take away with us I’ve bought a pocket-sized phrase book which comes with a pronunciation CD. I’ve loaded the CD onto my phone and listen at odd moments like when I’m cleaning my teeth.
I’m not sure how much I’ll get to use my Norwegian, given we’ll be eating and sleeping on an American cruise ship, but I’m determined to visit at least one cafe and say “Jeg vil ha to kopper te, takk” (“I would like two cups of tea, please”), and perhaps I will ask for directions to the gallery, even though I won’t be able to understand a word of the reply – I can’t even follow English directions!
History – the Vikings
As part of our trip preparations we’ve reviewed what we learned about the Vikings back in September. And we’ve finally finished our model Viking ship! It’s made out of a milk carton – for full instructions see here or watch this video.
As we’ll be cruising through some spectacular natural scenery, I thought we’d find out how fjords are created. This is the best explanation I’ve found:
Fjords are found in locations where current or past glaciation extended below current sea level. A fjord is formed when a glacier retreats, after forming its typical U-shaped valley, and the sea level rises to fill the valley floor. This forms a narrow, steep sided inlet (sometimes deeper than 1300 metres) connected to the sea. The terminal moraine pushed down the valley by the glacier is left underwater at the fjord’s entrance, causing the water at the neck of the fjord to be shallower than the main body of the fjord behind it.
I showed the children a Brainpop video about glaciers, and some photos of U-shaped valleys. We then made our own mini-glacier to see how glacial plucking changes the landscape as a glacier moves through it.
To do this, we put some garden soil in a container, and added some small rocks and pebbles. Then we poured in water to represent the glacier’s liquid base layer (caused by pressure), and piled ice cubes on top for the solid glacier.
We left the container in the freezer overnight and next day discovered the earth and rocks were completely stuck to the ice!* We talked about how the earth and rocks would be pulled downhill as a real glacier slowly moved.
*The instructions we followed said to use an inch of earth and to add enough water to saturate the top layer of earth so that “some pooling occurs”. I wondered if we used too much water because the whole block of earth froze, so we tried it again with less water, but the whole block froze again. We might try it again using a deeper layer of earth, to see if we can achieve the effect of just a few rocks and some of the earth sticking to the “glacier”. C(9) said this was the best science we’d done in ages, though, so it must have served its purpose.
We’ll be taking our laminated memory pairs on our trip to use for a scavenger hunt – I’m determined to eke every bit of use out of those hand-crafted cards!
Look out in a few weeks for a first hand account of our trip to the Norwegian fjords.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I paid for and use the books mentioned.