We left Oslo via train and headed north to Dombås and then on to Åndalsnes on what ended up being quite a scenic ride on the Rauma Railway. While the first leg of the journey cuts up the middle of Norway and takes you past Lillehammer and the home of Peer Gynt, the second leg winds slowly down into the Rauma River Valley across amazing bridges and towering cliffs typically named after trolls!
Although this is an all-day trip (we left Oslo at 7:30 in the morning and arrived in Ålesund via a bus from Åndalsnes just after 4pm), there is plenty to look at and the novelty of train travel kept the children fairly well entertained. Please note that the sightseeing trains, which stop for pictures and provide commentary in English, German and Norwegian, only run from May 29 – August 29.
We stayed a five-minute walk outside city center at the Quality Hotel Waterfront, a hotel so new that the promised children’s play room was not yet open to the public! Our room was very nicely equipped and provided plenty of separation between the children’s sleeping area and our own, which makes for a nice stay. Although breakfast was lovely, the beer menu outstanding, and the children’s menu appealing, dinner for the adults still needed some work when we were there. Hopefully they’ll get the kinks worked out after this first season, because the dining room overlooks the water and could make for a really stunning setting.
We chose Ålesund hoping that its small size and distance from other major cities would make it a bit off the beaten path and we weren’t disappointed! The lack of crowds made it easy to explore the beautiful Art Nouveau architecture that put Ålesund on the map. The town’s history and architecture interested us: when fire destroyed most of the town in 1904, the entire nation pitched in to help rebuild it, employing the best and brightest in Norwegian architects and lending the then-contemporary Jugenstil a distinctly Nordic flare. The Jugenstil Museum (Apotekergata 16) has a nice summary of the rebuilding, as well as a nicely-restored Art Nouveau home, and is worth a visit.
When we weren’t wandering around searching for dragons and vikings (how else could we convince Gabriel and Lily to walk the streets ogling architecture???), we were visiting one of the many small cafes and restaurants that made eating in Ålesund a pleasure. In particular, we enjoyed Nomaden (Apotekergata 10) because of historic building that houses it, as well at its cozy seating and good sandwiches, cakes, coffees and calzones. We also had a nice dinner of reasonably-priced and excellently-prepared fish in a child-friendly setting at Hummer & Kanari (19 Kongensgata). Conveniently, these are two of the most gorgeous streets to visit and very close to town center.
When traveling with children, finding the balance between site-seeing and child-appropriate play can be a challenge. We had rainy days when I’m certain the children would have rather sat in the hotel playing Lego than visit another museum or historic building. So we took the better part of a day to visit the Atlanterhavsparken (Ålesund Aquarium). While not large by Sea World standards, it has exhibits accessible to even very young children, a fantastic large outdoor sandbox/water play area that my children proved was fun even on a drizzly day, and plenty of nice walking trails with views of the coast.
From Ålesund, we boarded the famous Hurtigruten line of cruise ships and headed inland up Geirangerfjorden to the town of Geiranger and the Union Hotel. The cruise is quite beautiful and takes visitors past three stunning waterfalls tumbling down into the fjord, but I have to admit that the bus ride out of Geiranger returning to Andalsnes was even more stunning with its steep switchbacks and beautiful views.
The comfy foyer of the hotel is full of couches and big log-burning fireplaces, and has a wide range of snacks and drinks (alcoholic and non) available all day long, making the Union Hotel a nice place to take in the views of the Geirangerfjord before moving on to Bergen.