Beer and Fjords in Western Norway
“Wow. Just wow.” I utter, probably for the thousandth time. We emerge from yet another tunnel, carved through the belly of a mountain, only to be met–well, slapped in the face actually–with the dramatic panorama of steep mountain greeting water. A fjord.
Blue skies dappled with clouds give way to mountains dappled with snow and waterfalls. Our little rental car grips onto the road, switchback after switchback, as we climb higher–each turn granting us a different, jaw-dropping view. I grab the oh-shit handle above my head and gasp at how small the quaint farms and villages below us are beginning to look. “Slow down!” I plead to Hubs, going a dangerous 11mph. He hates it when I freak out.
We finally find a good place to stop for some pictures and pull over. I take a deep breath and try to commit to memory the feel of the air on my skin. It feels cool and soft, if that makes sense. I smell clean air, water and sheep. Positioning the sun to my back, I can’t help but marvel at how blue everything is–from sky to water. It is exactly how I always imagined Norway to be. This is the Norway I always wanted to see.
It doesn’t matter where we are, honestly. Our route is taking us from Gol to Flåm to Bergen, north to Geiranger and then back down to Oslo via Lillehammer. One thing about Norway is that beautiful views of the fjords are found everywhere. Much like great beer.
After cooperating for as long as toddler will, Wee Man wants to get too close to the edge and it’s stressing me out. We want a beer anyway. We reverse our path and head back down the twisty-turny mountain where the road is wide enough for one car but needs to fit two. I stick my arm out the window to feel more of that gentle air. I know this moment will leave an indelible mark on my mind, forever. We switch back again.
“Slow down!” I freak out. Wee Man repeats. Oops.
How we did a family brewcation in Norway
We understand why the cruise ships–and their thousands of passengers–pull into places like Oslo, Bergen and Flåm. They offer the taste of the fjords and the unparalleled beauty of Norway. There’s great food, great beer and a certain charm in all three. But, as I mentioned, great food, beer and fjords are abundant in Western Norway. So we ventured a bit off the beaten path. And as far away from the cruise ship crowds as possible.
Wee Man is a great traveler and pretty adaptable (and eternally patient when mommy is still finishing her beer at 9pm…) So we’re fairly confident that we can trust him not to make a scene if there’s a particular pub that we want to go to. Nevertheless, there’s always a concern about bringing a small child into certain pubs, bars or restaurants. With that said, we found that even though we have a toddler in tow we weren’t restricted to child-friendly places with mainstream lagers and fish nuggets. Awesome.
We made our trip during the last full week of May and we thought it was amazing. It’s still a couple of weeks before the high season but the weather was awesome and the crowds weren’t as big. I think maybe we saw two stores the whole time (outside of Oslo) that weren’t open for the season yet. We made the most of the long days while in Norway, which allowed us to cover a lot more than usual. Even though we’re still paying for Wee Man’s week of 11pm bedtime. Our itinerary had a couple of travel days where we had about a 5-6 hour drive. Wee Man didn’t love it but we broke it up with a stop at a waterfall or somewhere to eat and he managed quite well. This also meant that we switched hotels/AirBnBs daily, which wasn’t ideal but with a bit of planning, doable.
Obviously, every child’s and family’s preferences and personalities differ. But here are our tips for what worked (and maybe didn’t work) for us:
My tips for a family brewcation in Norway
- Rent a car. We rented a Volkswagen Golf. It was a diesel. We drove the whole route (pickup/return in Oslo) and filled up once. Booyah.
- Be flexible. Of course you’re already going to be flexible with children but I mean plan your driving days flexibly. We loved the surprise waterfalls, scenic viewpoints and 12th century churches we stumbled upon by following signs and having the time to do so.
- We felt comfortable having the Wee Man in most pubs until about 8pm. A bartender told us that technically you could “legally” have children in a pub for as long as they serve food (in most cases, about 10pm). That’s not how we roll.
- You’re going to find great beer pretty much everywhere you stop for a beer in Norway. Yippee! Take it slow.
- You can only buy beer in grocery stores until 8pm during the week, until 6pm on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays. And it won’t be over 4.7%. If you want something stronger, you’ll have to go to a Vinmonopolet during their store hours.
- Outside of the cities, you’ll have a hard time finding somewhere to stop to eat and most places stop serving at 9pm. We found that restaurants in hotels or resorts were serving a bit later.
- Not that we needed to, but most gas/petrol stations require a chip-and-pin card to pay. Many will have an attendant until about 9pm if you need to pay with cash.
- If you’re in Bergen, want to take the funicular to the top of Mount Floyen and there are cruise ships in town, well, don’t do it. If you must, buy your tickets in advance or walk up the hill (it’s not that bad) to the next stop on the funicular. Also plan to walk back down. It’s nuts how many people were waiting in line as their big “shore excursion.” They easily waited hours.
- Don’t bother eating at the fish market in Bergen. Overpriced, slow, not cooked very well and the fish wasn’t that fresh.
- If taking the Flåm train (Flåmsbana) sit on the right hand side going up and the left hand going down. Prettier views.
One final note: be prepared to shell out the cash in Norway or eat lots of hot dogs. It’s all true what they say. Roll with it or ditch the cable TV now.
Where to eat, drink, stay and see in Western Norway
Ps: I’m keen to go back to Norway, so if you’ve got any suggestions for me please do leave them in the comments below!