A family-friendly road trip through Norwegian ski country
Explore Norway's wilderness on this three-day road trip from Oslo to Hemsedal.
When I initially floated the idea of teaching my Florida-based kids to ski in Norway, I’ll admit it seemed pretty far-fetched. But doing just that in the country with the most Winter Olympic medals was one of the best family-bonding experiences that we could have imagined. To kick off our ski journey to the popular Hemsedal Ski Centre, a road trip from the country’s bustling capital, Oslo, was in order.
It’s not a long route—you can drive it in a few hours—but we built it out into a three-day road trip that celebrated the country’s medieval history and love for the outdoors (with plenty of refueling stops), filled with moments of memory-making for our family of four. Below, how we pulled off our adventure, from city to slopes.
Total mileage: 41 miles
MORNING: An appetite for the outside
An intro to Norway’s picturesque mountains naturally begins in its capital, Oslo. The largely modern architecture you find here may be a far cry from the country’s verdant mountainside, but the buzzy, industrious coastal city lays the groundwork for Norwegians’ affinity with nature. Fuel up for a robust outdoor day with a leisurely breakfast buffet at The Grand Hotel, a regal site where luminaries like playwright Henrik Ibsen and explorer Roald Amundsen frequented.
Next, make your way to the 79-acre Frogner Park, where if the weather is mild, locals will welcome you to run, jog, and picnic alongside them, or unleash your childlike wonder (like my own kids did) at the city’s largest playground. Walk further into the park, where you’ll come across the famed Vigeland Sculpture Park, home of 200-plus pieces by famed Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland, including “The Angry Boy,” which my daughter proceeded to imitate.
AFTERNOON: Screams art and culture
Feel a different type of Norwegian energy as you drive 12 minutes or so east along the scenic Oslofjord to The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. An architectural marvel that is designed to feel like it rose from the nearby harbor, it offers panoramic views of Oslo’s majestic fjord. Roaming the building (inside and out) is free, but paid guided tours are also on offer.
Next, walk next door to the beloved Munch Museum, home to a large collection of artworks by famed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, including “The Scream.” Be sure to set aside at least three hours for this 13-floor museum filled with over 26,000 pieces by the tormented artist, a tip my husband wished he followed instead of rushing through the exhibit rooms.
EVENING: Knights along the harbor
Before the sun dips, walk toward the Akershus Castle and Fortress to explore the remaining halls of this medieval palace along Oslo’s harbor. Climb up the stone steps to the top of the ruins to grab a breathtaking photo of the sun setting against the fjord (just remember the sun sets as early as 3:15 p.m. come winter).
When it’s time for dinner, walk down the bustling harbor and treat yourself at Lofoten Fiskerestaurant, an award-winning spot known for its modern, fresh seafood. Though the à la carte menu may be tempting, we opted for the chef’s coursed menu, with options for three, four, or five courses that progressively blew our socks off with its innovation and ode to Norwegian cuisine. (Our kids shared the mussels platter off the à la carte menu, plus had a soup each.)
Total mileage: 130 miles
MORNING: Scenic routes with a waterfall
Fuel up for your mountainside road trip with breakfast at Sommerro, a chic hotel with a breakfast buffet that’s as luxe as its setting, including famed Norwegian brown cheese (my son was a big fan). Then, to prepare yourself for the weather in the mountains, pick up some classic Norwegian wear in the form of a Dale of Norway sweater from the brand’s boutique on the famous Karl Johans gate street.
After you’ve properly bundled up, take the E16 highway to explore Norway’s mountains, where you can break up the drive with a stop at the charming town of Hønefoss. Nab a few photos of the waterfall (at its strongest in summer) and then amble along the mid-sized Kuben shopping district to sight see.
AFTERNOON: Getting wild
Before heading back on your journey, grab a sandwich at Hønefoss’s Brasserie Fengselet to sustain you through the next part of your trip. Make your way on Riksvei 7 highway to Langedrag Nature Park, a family-run working farm that’s home to more than 350 animals and around 20 species, including wolves, lynxes, and Arctic foxes. Along with spotting the majestic animals, fill your entire afternoon here taking in views of the mountains, lakes, and rivers by foot, bike, or on horseback. If outdoor sporting is more your speed, be sure to book ahead for fishing and canoeing.
EVENING: A dose of coziness
The Norwegian mountains are magical at night, a moment to snuggle up to loved ones as the temperature drops. There’s even a word for it, “kos,” which loosely translates to a warm coziness. Experience the ultimate mountainside kos with dinner and hot cocoa inside the laid-back Nystolkroken Kafe, an alpine cafe that overlooks the expansive terrain and is known to welcome in skiers and hikers after a long day of activity.
Total mileage: 38 miles
MORNING AND AFTERNOON: A day on the slopes
Skiing in Norway’s Hemsedal Ski Resort is not for the faint of heart, so it’s best to load up on carbs at The Bear House in Nesbyen before making the trek up the mountains. The Norwegians take their bread making (and eating!) seriously, so don’t hesitate to grab a loaf or two of rye bread to-go from the restaurant.
Then, it’s time for a full day of skiing at Hemsedal Ski Centre, home to three peaks and a variety of slopes (plus onsite cabins, apartments, and a hotel), including backcountry skiing. Even if you’re not a skier, be sure to take the lifts to the highest peak, and you’ll find yourself looking at unobstructed views of the country’s gorgeous treetop landscape. If you’re like my kids and still learning the ski or snowboard ropes, book a session at the ski school, where experienced instructors are ready to turn any novice into a more confident athlete. (If you’re traveling during national holidays or on peak ski weeks, reserve your lesson in advance—otherwise, you can book it on arrival.)
Be sure to take breaks inside the warm ski center, which has a variety of dining options, including Hollvin Restaurant & Bar with attentive après-ski service. Kids can also roam free and meet other children at the indoor playground.
For those arriving in non-ski months, take advantage of the property’s hiking and biking trails, and rivers filled with trout for avid anglers. The nearby nine-hole Hemsedal golf course features the river Hemsila, which adds a fun challenge to avoid while playing.
EVENING: Party in style—Hemsedal style
Cap off the adventurous afternoon with comfort food, like meatballs and fish, and wine, two staple après-ski options that Norwegians enjoy themselves. During the winter months, dinner at Kjøkken Kroken is a must thanks to its elegant atmosphere and hearty meals, including the beef tenderloin with a creamy béarnaise sauce.
If your energy level is still high, head over to Stavkroa, where four nightlife venues come alive as the night darkens. Enjoy a drink at the Refuel Lounge before heading to the nightclub, where DJs and entertainment keep the crowd pumped up through the night. For those who have kids, babysitting services are on offer for guests at the resort (advanced booking is recommended).
In the following days, stick around the mountain as long as you like before heading back to Oslo, a quick 3.5-hour drive back the way you came.