Thundering waterfalls, pristine mountain wilderness, gargantuan glaciers, chocolate box villages and quite possibly the most celebrated coastline in the world: Norway has everything you could possibly want for the more adventurous family camping holiday.
Well, almost everything…
Based on our experience, the one thing Norway seems to be lacking is a decent choice of quality family-friendly campsites.
Perhaps we’re just big softies, but after becoming accustomed to the excellent range and quality of family-oriented campsites in France and Spain – and even neighbouring Denmark and Sweden – Norway came as a bit of a shock to the system. There are, of course, some pretty valid reasons why Norway is at a natural disadvantage here:
- The camping season in northern Scandinavia is very short, and Norway is expensive. It may not make economic sense for campsites to invest into top-notch facilities if they are only attracting paying visitors for a month or two each year.
- Due to (1) above, many Norwegian campsite owners try to smooth their income by allowing private stationary caravans to remain on their sites all year round. However, these make the campsites less attractive (occasionally downright ugly) and lacking in the dynamic international atmosphere found in many of the better continental campsites.
- The weather in Norway is – how can we say this? – notoriously inclement. One night (in mid-August!) the mercury almost touched freezing. Luckily we were (just about) prepared:
All this means that campers arriving in Norway tend to fall into one of two polarised groups:
- Hardcore campers who pitch their hurricane-proof two-man trekking tent out in the wilderness; or,
- Motor home owners, who shelter from the elements in their luxurious heated vans whilst watching satellite TV and choosing their next restaurant online (and, by the way, there is nothing wrong with that).
We, however, fell firmly into the sparsely-inhabited middle ground between these two very different types of campers. France caters for our particular niche very well, Spain and southern Sweden too, but we got the impression that Norway wasn’t quite ready for us yet (or possibly we weren’t quite ready for Norway…).
But then we found the Hallingdal Feriepark in Ål.
Now, before we go any further, just a quick (non-) disclosure: Hallingdal Feriepark did not ask us to write this article, nor did they sponsor our stay in any way whatsoever (apart from undercharging us one kid’s meal at the restaurant, but I presume that was just a happy accident).
We are writing this article because we really, REALLY enjoyed our stay at this campsite and we think that other semi-adventurous families like us may enjoy it too. It’s as simple as that.
The immediate appeal of Hallingdal for us was that they had a communal kitchen (we were almost out of camping gas). In our experience, many campsite and youth hostel kitchens are cramped and slightly grimy places, good for meeting other travellers and picking up food poisoning, in that order.
But – Holy Thor!! – take a look at Hallingdal’s kitchen!!!
Modern, spacious, great equipment and spotlessly clean: this was comfortably the best communal camping kitchen we have experienced anywhere. Mind you, the animal-themed kids’ bathroom facilities were even funkier:
Private family bathrooms are also available (at an extra fee) but with the Norwegian school holidays already finished, we almost always had these wonderfully Scandinavian facilities all to ourselves.
With our basic needs so spectacularly taken care of, we could simply relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of camping life.
Situated roughly half-way between Bergen and Oslo, Hallingdal is conveniently located as a one-stop “best of Norway” base camp. Fjords*, glaciers, stave churches and – our particular favourite – the surreal sub-Arctic landscape of the Hardangervidda: they are all an easy day trip away.
But be warned! Your kids may not want to leave the campsite at all. Onsite you’ll find the self-proclaimed “biggest indoor play centre between Oslo and Bergen”, which sounds mightily impressive until you factor in that there is essentially nothing but reindeer between Oslo and Bergen. Nevertheless, it is indeed rather large and our kids absolutely loved it. There’s also a decently-priced and high-quality kids’ menu in the restaurant, a refreshingly original “adventure golf” course and the ever-popular petting farm.
But the star attraction is undoubtedly the high ropes park. Open to the public as well as campers, the Høyt&Lavt climbing park claims to be the biggest of its type in Norway north of Oslo. We dedicated an entire day to extracting the maximum possible adrenaline rush from this labyrinth of ladders, obstacles and zip cords. In particular, Poppy (6) and Ash (12) were amongst the first ones up on the ropes at the beginning of the day, and the last ones to climb down at the end. Check this out:
However, Hallingdal is not perfect. In the interests of a balanced review, here are some things to bear in mind before you rush off to book your trip to Norway:
- Inexperienced staff. They were friendly and enthusiastic, but didn’t know much about the campsite nor the surrounding region. A more accessible and knowledgeable senior management presence would have made our stay even better.
- Toilets and kitchen distant from pitches. The (fabulous) bathroom and kitchen facilities are located underneath the reception building, a couple of hundred metres away from some of the camping pitches (including ours). A midnight pee can turn into quite a trek.
- Watch those extra costs. Norway is pricy, but a basic camping pitch at Hallingdal is surprisingly reasonable (for us, around €30 per night). However… your kids want to visit the indoor playground? That’ll cost you (quite a bit) extra. Same goes for the petting farm, use of the private family bathrooms and certain other onsite facilities (communal kitchen is free). The climbing park costs around €40 each for a day pass. In short, be prepared to say no to your kids’ pestering… or dig deep into your holiday budget.
- In our opinion, the indoor playground and farm should be free to campers, or unlimited access given for a small fixed fee.
- Road noise. The main road between Oslo and Bergen runs directly alongside the campsite. Be sure to ask for a spot closer to the river – some of the roadside pitches may be uncomfortably noisy.
- Pitch privacy and shade. There is none, although small hedges do separate the generously-sized pitches.
But despite these minor quibbles, Hallingdal was quite simply one of the best campsites we have ever stayed at. If you are looking for a comfortable base for an active family camping holiday in Norway, we would highly recommend it.
Disclosure: We are a tester family for Outwell, who provided us with our Bear Lake 6É tent and certain related camping equipment. As a reminder, this article was not sponsored by Hallingdal Feriepark. As always, all views and opinions are our own.
Daisy the bus visited Hallingdal Feriepark, Norway in August 2017. Anecdotally, she didn’t want to leave (flat battery) and needed to be jump-started…
(c) 2018 Jonathan Orr