by Ania Krasniewska
Before children, an ideal holiday for me consisted of visiting cities without doing much of anything, lying on great beaches with a stack of books to lose myself. As any parent who’s tried to read more than two consecutive sentences in the presence of small tots knows, that vacation style changes when you have children.
Our style changed even more when our child entered a forest kindergarten, a perfectly normal set up here in Scandinavia where kids spend the entirety of their day outdoors in the woods. All of the sudden, the forest became not only a fixture in my daughter’s daily school life, but trees and hikes and outdoor time worked its way into our vacation life as well, in order to keep up with her need to burn energy and breathe fresh air simultaneously. In Norway, we found the perfect mix of this new vacation life. Vast landscapes lent us some tranquility as adults, far removed from the business of everyday life, but plenty of outdoor activities and space as far as the eye could see meant the kids were busy, in a good way.
We started out in the city of Bergen, affectionately known as a gateway to the fjords. One of the most worthwhile attractions is practically right in the center of town, just a ride up the mountain. Nearly a million people make that trek up every year, and nearly all of them miss out on the best part. The cable car system has been taking people up to the top of Mt. Floyen for nearly a hundred years. Not only is the viewing area spectacular, but there is a restaurant and shops, and even a playground. People usually stop there, taking the funicular (cable tram) back into town, going about their day, not realizing that the true way to see this beautiful place is to skip the ride, and use your own two feet instead, entering a magical place. Welcome to the Troll Forest.
You don’t have to be an expert hiker, nor do your children. The troll forest path is mellow, downhill, and easy to follow. At the start, there are small clearings in the woods that open up to become home to hand-carved troll forest sculptures. Some are out in plain sight; some you have to hunt for to discover. But all make most children go wide-eyed. It truly is a fairy tale come alive, regardless of whether you’ve actually read about trolls with your children or not there is certainly magic in the air.
As you pass through the troll forest, the path continues, sometimes steeper, sometimes a little less so, but always remaining friendly and passable, even with a stroller. Hidden coves are home to waterfalls; big pine trees covered in moss become inviting climbing structures, natural jungle gyms in the truest sense of the word. In the end, we had so much fun doing this troll forest hike as a family last August that we returned in December with even more extended family and did it all over again.
As it turns out, giving children the opportunity to say I climbed down a mountain with trolls while beaming with satisfaction, is something that makes it an ideal vacation for just about everyone.
Getting there: Bergen is Norway’s second largest city, though it doesn’t feel big at all. The city is accessible by flights, rail, car, and is often a cruise stop on many fjord-themed itineraries. If you are a cruise passenger, the troll forest hike should be easily doable in the time you have allotted at the Bergen port if you head to the cable car immediately after disembarking.
To reach the top of Mt. Floyen, take the Floibanen funicular to the very top. In the wintertime, it might be just your family and a handful of locals, but in the summer, lines can get very long. Consider purchasing tickets ahead of time online. You will still have to wait with other ticket holders for a ride up, but it is considerably less time than also having to wait to purchase the ticket itself.
Know Before You Go: While the hike down Mt. Floyen is a relatively easy one, keep in mind that it will take a couple of hours to do so comfortably. If you have younger children who are less used to walks, consider bringing a stroller or carrier. And – This may sound obvious, but don’t forget to set the brake on your stroller each time you stop!
Bring a few snacks and water for the walk down. Again, the walk is not strenuous, but being able to stop and have a quick refuel of a granola bar or some crackers and fruit helps to add to the sense of adventure for kids and keeps energy levels up.
The chance of rain in this part of Norway is always high. Even if it looks clear, pack a light rain jacket, as it is almost certain you will use it.
There isn’t much for bathrooms along the way. While I saw plenty of fellow visitors ducking behind a tree here and there, I’m not sure if that’s officially allowed. In the summertime, some of the paths, especially lower down can have lots of foot traffic on them so it’s not always opportune either. Try to take advantage of the bathrooms at the top of the mountain before setting off on the troll forest hike.
Bring a camera, but don’t hide behind it. You don’t need to document every step of the walk that would make you miss out. But the amazing greens on the trail, the troll forest statues scattered at the top of the mount, and the sweeping views of Bergen make for great shots, especially of the children, and it gives them a real sense of accomplishment to see the photos later.
When you finish the hike, you’ll end up close to the city center. Relaxing for a bit near the port and taking in the historic waterfront over a coffee or ice cream feel like a well-earned treat after your walk. Visit Bergen is a great resource for planning the rest of your stay in town or for venturing further out into the fjords for day trips.
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Ania Krasniewska is an HR Consultant by profession and a blogger by hobby. Mother to two tots and wife to one diplomat, she documents a life lived around the world at The New Diplomat’s Wife, and their adventures of forest schooling and parenting in Denmark at A Toddler in the Trees.