Bergen, Norway is among the rainiest and most expensive cities in the world. There are no public restrooms (though shopping centers have pay toilets), and the cobble-stoned streets will wreck havoc on the tiny hard plastic wheels of any travel stroller you bring along. On the other hand, breastfeeding in public is completely acceptable and children with iPhones or iPads in restaurants are a pretty common sight. You win some, you lose some! Here are my tried and true favorite things to do in Bergen with kids…
1. Bergen is surrounded by 7 mountains, two of which are easily scaled by public transport. A funicular will take up to the top of the most central of the mountains, Fløyen. On a nice day you can get a one-way ticket up and then walk down (if your old-lady-mommy-knees can handle it). At the top of Fløyen there is a public playground and there are plenty of round-trip walks into the forest of various lengths. Buy a one-time-use-bbq-grill (available cheaply at all grocery stores during summer months, “engangsgrill”) and a package of hot dogs and you’ve got yourself a picnic. The wooded walk closest to the playground is especially for kids, follow the signs for the “aktivitetsløype” which is decorated along the way with wooden carved trolls.
2. The other easily accessible mountain is called Ulriken. It is much higher than Fløyen – even in summer you’ll want warm clothes. To get to the top you need to take a cable car, an adventure in itself. Of course, either mountain can be hiked by the fit and adventurous. You can also hike between the two mountain tops, but plan at least 6 hours for it with kids, and tell your hotel receptionist your plans so they can call in help if you don’t turn up in the evening! There are no designated activities for kids on Ulriken as there are on Fløyen, and you’ll want to bring your own food and drinks.
3. It’s highly likely it will be raining while you are here, so you’ll want some indoor activities. The aquarium is very popular with young children, with lots of crocodiles, penguins and sea lions. Unfortunately, it isn’t very easy to get to, but it’s worth the trip. If you know you want to visit Ulriken as well, you should consider a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus because it will take you to both places.
4. The children’s science museum is wonderful, but PACKED on weekends. Every time I go, I swear I want to come back alone because there are plenty of fun activities that adults would enjoy too if they didn’t have to follow their ADHD kids around all the time. The art museum Kode 4 has a permanent installation just for kids, called KunstLab. Don’t rule out the other museums, either, all of which have something for the kids (like playing dress-up at the maritime museum, which has free entry for kids and students).
5. Not central at all but well worth the bus ride, is an indoor water park called “Vannkanten” with nice warm pools, a couple big water slides, a climbing wall, and a kiddie area. Right outside the pool entrance is a chain pizza restaurant with a play area, and in the same complex is a McDonald’s with a (small) play structure. Next door to the water park is an indoor ice skating rink where you can pay for beginning curling lessons (call in advance to book), a great activity for families with older kids. There is also a bowling alley attached to the complex, so you could easily fill a whole day. Weekends get crazy, you’ll feel like a sardine in the pool on Sundays.
6. Need a kid friendly meal? Pasta Sentralen is a popular local (and cheap) Italian restaurant we love. It even has a play room of sorts — nothing to get all that excited about (some mismatched legos and a foosball table) — but the kids will be thrilled to have some new toys to play with.
7. The lower park of Nygårdsparken is popular with students and families on sunny weekends (located across the street from the science museum) and safe as long as it’s busy. Bring bread to feed the ducks, and a frisbee to toss around. Feeding pigeons at Festplassen is also popular with the little ones. Be aware that Bergen has a big drug problem – don’t allow children to crawl around in bushes in parks or take their shoes off as it is not uncommon to find used needles, even in really popular and upscale areas.
8. Bergen has the largest IKEA in the world, it’s a bit of a bus ride but nothing you can’t handle because…wait for it…they have a huge indoor playground that is staffed, so you can drop off your kids for free and go get a coffee in the cafe for an hour. The cafeteria is also among the cheapest in the city, so you can make an event out of it and get dinner there too for a lot less than what you’d pay in the city. Note that Ikea is super busy on Saturday and closed on Sunday.
9. Go for a ride on the tram (“bybanen”). There is free wi-fi onboard, and at the end stop “Lagunen” you’ll find a large shopping mall with a staffed playground for kids under 7 (not free).
10. Ambitious and keen to get off the beaten track with a toddler? Ask your hotel receptionist to help you search online for nearby “åpen barnehager” which are usually run by churches (but are never religious in content) and are free meeting places for children aged 0-6 with their parent or nanny. Most of the kids will be 1-3 years old but all pre-school-aged children are welcome and the facilities are usually quite good. The people you meet there will primarily be low-income or immigrant moms, always plenty of English speakers. They are generally open from 9am-1pm on weekdays.
Bonus point 11… With the exception of a few movies for the very youngest viewers, films are subtexted, not dubbed, so if you are totally at a loss for something to do, check the movie listings. Free 3D movies are shown in English at the science museum and aquarium as well at set intervals. Free children’s movies are shown on Sundays at the Public Library, these will be dubbed, but they are older “classic” movies that your kids probably know by heart anyway.
Have fun in Bergen!