Bergen is Norway’s second city. With its United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage-recognized old wharf and vibrant restaurant scene, it seemed just the right speed for our family to explore for a week.
Getting there from Oslo requires taking what has been called Europe’s most beautiful train ride. It’s seven hours through some of the most striking scenery in the world: glaciers, fjords, mountains, and waterfalls. The only catch was that we would need to keep our 8-, 4-, and 2-year-old children entertained for most of a day on a train.
Our kids were already excited about the trip: My son hoped to see a troll, and the girls couldn’t believe we were flying to the country in which “Frozen” was (loosely) set. The train ride, however, sealed the deal: Even before we left New York, my girls were telling anyone who would listen about the playground train.
It was the train ride of our dreams
For us, coming from the US, traveling by Norwegian rail was a dream. Each train had a family carriage with room to park strollers and an enclosed two-story soft play area built into the front of the car. The area has floor-to-ceiling windows so you can keep an eye on your kids from your seats if you don’t want to crawl in there with them. Inside are well-worn books; our train had Norwegian, Russian, and English offerings and a TV playing “Peppa Pig” on a loop.
My son quickly climbed to the second story and curled up in a reading nook, while the girls befriended children from Germany and Taiwan. They exerted their energy climbing up one ladder, crawling through the small tunnel, and back down the ladder at the back of the car.
Bdi — a bird that can’t fly — and Brdi, a goat who can, are the mascots for the family carriage. You can even download their app and play games with the characters.
My husband and I could enjoy the trip while the kids played
Traveling this way was a pleasure, in part because my husband and I could sip coffee and enjoy the stunning scenery without hearing every five minutes, “Are we there yet?”
The whole experience meets children where they are and helps them feel like they are welcome travelers. Instead of quietly sitting still for the entirety of the ride, they can enjoy a developmentally appropriate area where they can climb, play, and make friends.
Even better, traveling in the family car means you don’t have to worry about your children disrupting other passengers. A little Norwegian child overdue for her nap had a meltdown, and her parents got sympathetic nods and grins from every other family in the car, instead of the eye rolls that happen so often on planes and buses in the US.
Vy, the Norwegian rail company, seems to get it, too. Its website reassures parents: “We encourage little ones to play and run around in the playroom, so there is no need to worry about whether you may be disturbing other passengers.”
Attune to the whims of picky eaters, the caf car sells a variety of kid-friendly foods and will warm bottles and baby food for you. The delightful attendants won my children over with small kindnesses, including offering them free brunost — a brown cheese that tastes vaguely like caramel — to try. They decided it was an acquired taste but loved sitting in the car and watching the mountains go by before returning to the playground.
The rest of the trip was unforgettable, from a fjord cruise to a hidden troll playground on a mountaintop to sampling every single ice-cream shop in Bergen. Even so, the playground train is still what my kids talk about first. When we arrived back home, they eagerly inspected our subway, only to be disappointed that there’s still no playground on the D train here in Brooklyn.