Photo courtesy of Visit Poulsbo
Velkommen til Poulsbo! Nestled right on Liberty Bay, equidistant from the Bainbridge Island and Kingston ferries, lies the historic town of Poulsbo, Washington. Often referred to as “Little Norway” or the “Viking City,” this charming town’s rich Norwegian heritage is evident as you wander downtown and explore the surrounding area.
Fill a day or a weekend with wonderful local shopping, kid-friendly breweries and several notable museums. In December, witness Vikings deliver a solstice proclamation, pay a visit to a Nordic Father Christmas and enjoy holiday light displays adorning the downtown. I live here, yet still find myself “playing tourist” as Poulsbo has much to offer. Unique seasonal events make it even more of a worthwhile destination in winter.
Explore Front Street for public art, shopping and treats
If you are like me and prefer to begin exploring a new town with a warm beverage in hand, Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse is a great spot to start for its panoramic waterfront views or walk down the hill to visit Vineland Marketplace for a cup of local Viking Brew coffee. This stroller-friendly cafe and gift shop has an extensive offering of gluten-free and vegan foods and treats, including the Kitsap Peninsula’s famous Dude’s Donuts. For a quintessential Poulsbo experience, enjoy your hot drink while you wait in line (there is usually a line) for a pastry from Sluys’ Poulsbo Bakery.
As you make your way down Front Street, kids can enjoy picking out a gift for a friend at The Curious Child or trying on Viking helmets outside Cat’s Meow. Indigo Plum has shoes for everyone in the family. A trip to Poulsbo isn’t complete without a stop at Nordiska for beautiful Nordic-inspired housewares, gifts, children’s clothing and toys. For book lovers, Poulsbo’s downtown boasts two independent bookstores, Away with Words and Liberty Bay Books; both are worth visiting for their curated children’s selections.
For a sit-down meal, downtown Poulsbo offers many kid-friendly eateries. Paella Bar and Burrata Bistro share a coveted outdoor heated patio, and Juicy J’s Smoked Burgers is popular for its 100-percent plant-based burgers. You can order just a slice or a full pie at Poulsbo Woodfired Pizza, or choose from the extensive “Little Amigos” menu at Casa Luna.
As you wander, take note of the Viking ship adornment on street benches and count the many Viking-themed murals all over town. Don’t miss posing in front of the red phone booth at the corner of Front Street and Jensen Way.
Stroll to a nearby playground
If your in-town wandering leaves your legs wanting more of a stretch, stroll along the Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park to take in the gorgeous views of Liberty Bay. Head north, along the boardwalk and a short path, to American Legion Park to find a small playground structure and greenspace where kids can run. The larger Lions Park playground is less than 1 mile from downtown and makes for a lovely 15-minute walk along the water to the south.
Visit a museum
For a small town, Poulsbo, and the surrounding area, offer an impressive collection of high-quality museums, most with free admission. Winter is a particularly great time to visit these indoor spaces, where your kids can captain a boat, touch sea stars, visit the gravesite of Seattle’s namesake or pretend to drive a submarine.
As you take in the sights and sounds downtown, be sure to stop by:
- SEA Discovery Center. The center offers kids a hands-on experience and a chance to learn about Salish Sea marine life. Open Fridays and Saturdays, by donation.
- Poulsbo Heritage Museum. The museum displays cultural artifacts with a focus on inclusive history and encourages (gentle) hands-on exploration. Open daily, by donation.
- Maritime Museum. Next door to the Heritage Museum, this museum has a small children’s room, a scavenger hunt game and a play boat in its “boatyard” that my kids love. Open daily, by donation.
If you’re up for a short drive, find your way to:
- U.S. Naval Undersea Museum. Visitors have the chance to step inside a real submarine control room and learn about the Navy’s undersea history and technology. Open Wednesday–Monday, free admission.
- Suquamish Museum. The museum displays artifacts and shares the history of the Indigenous people of this region. Walk across the street to visit Chief Seattle’s gravesite and let your little ones stretch their legs at the Suquamish Shores Natural Play Area. Open Wednesday–Sunday, $3–$5 fee.
Combine kid-friendly hiking with Legos and the best breakfast sandwich in the Northwest
Poulsbo’s Fish Park boasts a 3-mile network of flat, easy trails that wind through forest, wetlands and over several boardwalks. It’s a perfect spot to let the kids get a walk in and possibly spot wildlife. Following the trails under the bridge to the south will take you to a small nature play area and playground structure at Nelson Park.
Two of my favorite places in Poulsbo are a short distance from Fish Park. My kids love to build a minifig and shop the new and used Lego collection at Viking City Bricks (housed with Rockin’ Ruby’s Records). It’s also an easy walk or drive to Oxalis Kitchen for a coffee, house-made pastry or other scrumptious, locally sourced breakfast fare. It serves lunch, too.
Relax at a local family-friendly brewery or cidery
Poulsbo has an extensive network of local breweries with two kid-friendly standouts. Slippery Pig Brewery, located downtown, offers a back room containing more than 10 arcade games; the brewery also has a lengthy menu of sandwiches, salads and tacos. Bushel & Barrel Ciderhouse, located a few miles north of downtown, is great for the whole family, even in the cooler months. Kids can pet and feed the goats, alpacas, sheep, miniature donkeys and a Scottish Highland cow. You’ll find heated tables outside along with cornhole and disc golf, weather permitting. In the cozy indoor space, you can play board games and munch on bottomless buckets of popcorn.
Attend a seasonal holiday event
There are few more charming places to visit than Poulsbo during the December holidays. Each weekend, beginning the weekend following Thanksgiving through Christmas, children can greet a Nordic Father Christmas and pose for a photo inside his cozy cottage. On these same weekends, you are likely to hear local carolers filling the air with holiday music throughout the day.
If you enjoy festive lights, join the town to watch the waterfront park alight on Friday, Nov. 24 at 5 p.m. at the annual tree lighting, or sip hot cider and watch the boats cruise through Liberty Bay during the Lighted Ships Parade in early December. Just north of town, for a small entrance fee, you can take a walk to see over 65,000 lights on display at Christmas in Big Valley. In the opposite direction, Clearwater Casino Resort has a beautiful display of waterside lights to enjoy.
For a most memorable day, visit Poulsbo during its annual JuleFest. On Saturday, Dec. 2 from 10 a.m. to dusk, kids will love to see Vikings in full regalia all around town. They may enjoy tasting lefse (a thin potato pancake) dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and noshing on småkaker (cookies). Shop at the Nordic Market and plan to stay into the evening to marvel as the Lucia bride is escorted into town by boat to the giant solstice bonfire, where the Viking king delivers a solstice proclamation. Photos with Santa and Vikings often follow.
If you go ...
Getting there: Poulsbo can be reached via car from the Seattle area by taking either the Edmonds/Kingston ferry (10 miles), the Bainbridge Island ferry (12 miles), or a 50–60 minute drive from Tacoma.
Where to stay: Hotel Scandi is a nine-room boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Poulsbo. Each room offers a kitchenette and can sleep from two to four guests. Poulsbo Inn & Suites is a short walk from downtown. Looking for an indoor pool? Fairfield Inn & Suites has one open year-round.