Q&A: The Independent parent: your questions answered

Can we visit Norway without breaking the bank?


Q I once spent a wonderful few weeks in southern Norway on a school exchange programme. I now have two children of my own (aged seven and 11) and thought this would be somewhere different to take them on a summer holiday. My mum is keen to come too. However, as a single parent and a pensioner our budget isn't big, and we only want to spend around £1,300. My overriding memory of Norway is that as well as being incredibly beautiful, it is very expensive. Any suggestions?


A Garrett, York

Q I once spent a wonderful few weeks in southern Norway on a school exchange programme. I now have two children of my own (aged seven and 11) and thought this would be somewhere different to take them on a summer holiday. My mum is keen to come too. However, as a single parent and a pensioner our budget isn't big, and we only want to spend around £1,300. My overriding memory of Norway is that as well as being incredibly beautiful, it is very expensive. Any suggestions?
A Garrett, York

A Norway is not cheap, but it's not as expensive as it once was in relation to the UK. There are also ways to minimise costs, so it should still prove a viable destination for your holiday. If you can, visit towards the end of August as Norwegian schools go back around 15 August and prices for accommodation come down considerably. At this time of year, the weather is still pretty good, with average temperatures in southern Norway just a couple of degrees cooler than the UK.

One of the most cost-effective ways to travel to Norway as a family is to take your car with you. Petrol costs only a fraction more than in the UK, the roads are good and, with a population of just four million, traffic jams are rare. Both Fjord Line (0191 296 1313; www.fjordline.co.uk) and DFDS Seaways (08705 333 111; www.dfdsseaways.co.uk) sail to Norway from Newcastle.

Fjord Line serves Bergen, Norway's second city, good for exploring the fjords; DFDS sails to Kristiansand, handy for the sandy beaches of southern Norway. It's a long journey – around 20 hours – but you will be able to sleep through some of it, and in peak season there are plenty of onboard activities to keep children amused. Both ferry lines offer self-catering holidays, which generally work out cheaper than booking ferries and accommodation separately.

A nother tip for cutting costs is to take food – and particularly drink – with you. Supermarkets in Norway tend to be more expensive than the UK and alcohol is heavily taxed. Each adult is allowed to take one litre of spirits and three litres of wine or beer into Norway.

For somewhere with family-friendly facilities, Fjord Line offers cottages set within holiday parks such as Vesterland Holiday Park near Voss on the Sogne fjord, about 240km from Bergen. This has an indoor swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, plus bikes and boats for hire as well as mini-golf, outdoor chess and a restaurant. Departing on 22 August, a seven-night holiday, including a return ferry crossing with an economy cabin, will cost around £326 per adult and £266 per child, a total of £1,184.

You will be ideally situated for exploring the rugged beauty of the fjords and the Flam Railway (00 47 57 63 14 00; www.flamsbana.no). The track, which plummets down into the Flam Valley, is one of the steepest in the world and affords spectacular views. Single fares cost from NKr135 (£12) per adult and NKr35 (£6) per child (aged four to 15).

In southern Norway you can travel with DFDS Seaways to the Tredge Holiday Centre about 35km from Kristiansand. All the cottages have sea views, and facilities include an outdoor pool with slide, a children's pool, boat hire and a restaurant. For departures on 22 August, a seven-night holiday, including a return ferry crossing in a four-berth cabin, will cost a total of £1,118 for all of you. Local attractions include Kristiansand Dyreparke (00 47 38 04 97 00; www.dyreparken.com), a large theme park and zoo.

If you would rather fly to Norway, both of the options I have mentioned above can also be booked as accommodation-only packages. The lowest flight prices are likely to be with Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) from Stansted or Prestwick to Torp, around 80km south of Oslo. Fares start at around £60 return per person, but it will prove a more inconvenient location for getting to both Kristiansand and Voss. At the end of this month, Ryanair also starts flying from Stansted to Haugesund, between Bergen and Stavanger. Braathens flies daily from London Gatwick to Bergen with return fares in August starting from around £120 per adult and £90 per child (aged two to 12).

Wideroe offers flights from Newcastle to Stavanger from £155 per adult and £114 per child. Both can be booked through Scandinavian Airlines on 0870 60 727 727 or www.scandinavian.net. Most of the larger resorts can be reached relatively easily by public transport. For example, a train from Bergen to Voss takes around an hour and costs from around £12 per adult and £6 per child (aged six to 15) one way. For bookings telephone Deutsche Bahn on 0870 243 5363.

For a cheaper alternative, you could stay at any of the 77 youth and family hostels dotted throughout Norway. Hostelling International (00 47 23139300; www.vandrerhjem.no) can fax a comprehensive list on request or you can find all the information on its website. Most hostels offer family rooms which sleep four, and prices range from about £9-16 per bed per night. You will also need to become a member of the YHA, which costs £13.50 per year per adult (accompanying children up to 18 are free). For further information call 0870 770 8868 or see www.hostelbooking.com.

The Norwegian Tourist Board (0906 302 2003, costing 50p per minute) offers a Fjord Norway brochure which gives details of accommodation options. Alternatively see www.visitnorway.com

Q My son (aged eight) is studying the Victorians at school. Are there any good places we can visit in and around Birmingham (we are visiting relatives over Easter), where he can learn a bit more and have some fun at the same time?
J Barwell, Bucks

A You are in luck. One of the UK's best living-history museums, Blists Hill Victorian Town, is located at Ironbridge (01952 432166 www.ironbridge.org.uk) near Telford, a 40-minute drive from Birmingham. There are 10 different museums at Ironbridge covering the history of the gorge from the 1700s to the 21st century. The complex was awarded the Good Britain Guide 2003's "Family Attraction of the Year Award".

Blists Hill Victorian Town has to be top of your list. Visitors to the open-air museum begin by exchanging their modern money for farthings and half-pennies. These can be spent in shops in the town. Your son will be able to mingle with the townsfolk, who stay in character at all times, and visit their homes, workshops and factories. There's also a pharmacy where your son can hear gruesome tales of the dentist's chair, and a photographer's studio where he can have his photo taken in period costume.

The museum is open seven days a week from 10am-5pm, but tomorrow and Easter Monday it will be open until 6pm. Admission is £8 for adults, £5 for children; under 5s are free.

A nother place you may also want to take your son is Shugborough, a magnificent stately home in Milford, near Stafford (01889 881388; www.staffordshire.gov.uk/shugborough), about 25 miles north of Birmingham. Here, costumed guides will tell him what life was really like "below stairs" in the Victorian laundry, brewhouse and kitchens. It is open Tue-Sun, plus Bank Holiday Mondays, 11am- 5pm. Adults cost £3.50 and children under 16, £2.50.

Right in the city centre there's the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in Chamberlain Square (0121 303 2834; www.bmag.org.uk). The museum opens every day until 5pm, but opening times vary: Monday-Thursday and Saturdays, it opens at 10am; Fridays10.30am; and Sundays 12.30pm. Admission is free. There are a variety of exhibits relating to the Victorians, including a scullery where children can dress up in servant's clothes and help with the chores.

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