We just got back from an amazing trip with our 5,7, and 9 year old and one of the places we got to visit was Iceland. AKA The land of Fire and Ice because of all of the Volcanos and Glaciers. AKA The land of the midnight sun because being so far north in the summer the sun literally does't set until almost midnight. Iceland is a truly magical place for so many reasons. If you are thinking about visiting here my advice... do it! Iceland is super safe and very affordable to get to. Before we left my 9 year old did a class presentation on Iceland which was fun for him to learn so many facts about the country before we visited. Here's a few facts: It's one of the most tectonically volatile places in the world with more than 200 Volcanos, 600 hot springs, and using that energy Iceland is almost entirely off the grid. They heat 85% of their homes with geothermal energy. The majority of Icelanders believe in Elves, faires, and rock trolls. In fact, freeways have been rerouted during construction where when seers felt like the road would be going through areas inhabited by "hidden people." Remind your kids throwing rocks here is forbidden, as you don't want to upset them. Our kids loved making up stories on our drives about all the rock trolls, faires, and elves that were out there. Icelanders speak Icelandic but most of them also speak English.
WHAT TO PACK...
We visited in Late April/Early May and the temps were mostly in the high 30's to high 40's. We wore jeans and lots of layers (think Patagonia Puffy for the win) and brought multiple pairs of tennis shoes. I wish we would have brought waterproof pants, hiking boots, gloves, and beanies. The weather is pretty erratic and its best to have options. Also don't forget your bathing suit for all the geothermal baths.
HOW TO GET THERE..
WOW Air was recently running a deal with direct flights from LA to Iceland for $78 one way! We flew WOW and were concerned about their luggage policy- you can only bring one small personal item (that can fit under the seat in front of you). Any other luggage you get charged for. We packed accordingly cramming all of our stuff into 5 bags that could fit under the seats in front of each of us. We were pleasantly surprised at check in to learn that WOW had given us 5 complimentary overhead luggage tickets. If you book with WOW check your tickets our gate agents said they often do these upgrades for families. Another reason WOW is great is because you can have a long layover in Reykjavik, Iceland (Like us for a week) before you fly to your next destination (for us this was Edinburgh). All and all we paid about $1600 for all five us to fly round trip. WOW was great but it is definitely a budget airline. I'd recommend boarding having eaten a meal and with lots of snacks. I'd also recommend bringing loaded I-pads for the kids with lots of movies as our WOW flights didn't have any entertainment. Netflix has lots of great movies and episodes you can download for free and access later without Wifi on Airplane mode.
RENTING A CAR...
We landed in Reykjavik and picked up our car rental. While we were checking out the car it started snowing (In late April) our kids were so excited they ran outside and started catching the snow flakes on their tongues (they are clearly so-cal snow deprived children). We checked out a simple Fiat and were told to open doors with two hands because wind guests can blow the car doors backwards and almost right off. We laughed until it almost happened to us. If traveling here in the winter months I'd recommend renting a car that handles well in the snow. I'd also recommend purchasing Wifi with the car rental. It's the same price as renting the GPS and from what we've heard it's a better all around option as you can use Google Maps like we did and you can take the wifi with you every where you go. You can also play I Heart Radio with the Wifi which enjoyed on the long drives. We left the car rental place and headed to the Bridge Between 2 Continents as it's about a 10-minute drive from the airport. It's a bridge where one side is the North Ameriican tectonic plate and the other side Eurasian Tectonic Plate. It's similar to Silfra Fissure, a crack between the tectonic plates in the ocean that you can snorkel- however I've heard the water is super cold! Anyways, the snow kept falling and we ended up getting stuck and started slipping around quite a bit. We didn't make it to the Bridge that day but did another day and it was worth seeing. We thought it was totally worth renting a car in comparison to doing day trips with a tour company on a bus. With a car you can have your own agenda and go off the beaten path.
We stayed in a Air B and B in Hafnarfjörður which is about 10Km south of the Capital of Reykavik. Hafnarfjörður is a charming fishing village that I'd recommend checking out. We got to our place and felt gross from sitting for so long on our flight. I opened my Swork It Ap and did a fun work out with the kids to get our bodies moving before bedtime.
Now is a great time to remember how affordable it was to get to Iceland because the food will get you. Eating in Iceland is not cheap! We saved by picking up breakfast, lunch, and snacks and the supermarket and I'd recommend it. I forgot to mention, Iceland has 3 major supermarkets, Bonus (look for the drunk looking pink pig logo), Kronan and Hagkaup (this one is more like walmart). A couple of our favorites were Skyr- its basically their version of greek yogurt and is super yummy! We also loved a Citrus Carrot Juice that was sold everywhere. Keep in mind most grocery stores close around 6pm. Also bring your own bags or pay for bags and I'd advise you to bring refillable water bottles. If you are brave enough to want to sample dried fish... it's very popular in Iceland... I found it was very... well fishy
We ate out for dinner and here were some of our favorite spots...
Iceland's most famous restaurant is a hot dog stand. Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is a little stand almost across from the Harpa Concert Hall and across the street from the Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel. This is a gathering place for both tourists and residents. It's name means "the best hotdogs in town." Pylsur is Hotdog and they are usually made with pure Iceland (no-fat) lamb or lamb plus pork and beef parts. I'd recommend ordering it with the "the works" eina med ollu. They use a sweet and brown mustard (Pylsusinnep), Ketchup, raw onions, a mild tangy mayo type sauce, and small bits of crisp fried onions (cronions). I'm not usually a big hot dog fan but these were amazing!
Hamburgafabrikan (Hamburger Factory) was one of our families favorite meals. Located across from the Hofdi House, which was where US President Reagan and Russian leader Gorbachev met in 1981 in an event many believe started the wheels ruling to end the Cold War. waitresses offer DVD players to kids with Icelandic cartoons and headsets while they wait for their food. Our kids passed on the screen time and happily colored their kids menus. They also have gorgeous cupcakes for dessert that look just like mini cheeseburgers. This place was awesome! (Keep in mind all food in Iceland is pricey)
If you want a real Icelandic Meal you can have a Viking Dinner in Hafnarfjorder at Fjorukrain. I ordered the Lobster Bisque which was great. My husband ordered the Viking Sampler which included things like shark, whale, and sheep testicles among other things. Our kids loved the staff dressed up like vikings walk around with swords, singing, and asking them questions. Again it was pricey but all food in Iceland seems expensive.
WHAT WE DID...
DAY 1: (This was basically the Golden Circle Tour) From Reykjavik we drove south and saw the Bridge between the Continets
* Seljalandsfoss - there are 3 awesome waterfalls here. One you can walk behind if you have the right clothes on. Also keep walking the path and you see a Cave at the end of the trail (it's not far) this cave is almost in a cave (again if you are wearing the right clothes you can walk right up to it)
* Kerid Crater Lake- this is a former Volcano with beautiful relish colored dirt while the water is a bright green color. You can walk from the rim down to the water and it's worth it. Not hard to do with kids.
*Gulfoss Waterfalls- I've never seen anything like this. It's similar to Niagara Falls and this is a must see in Iceland.
* Stroker Geiser- This geyser was really cool and erupts about every 5 minutes. Stand in the wrong spot and you can get soaked.
* Leaving Stroker we drove through the National Park on our way back to Reykjavik for Dinner.
DAY 2: We did a great hike at Esjustofa. It wasn't super far but it was beautiful though forest and up a hill with great views of Reykjavik
* Next we drove 6Km under a Fjord- think longest tunnel drive ever.
* Next we visited the Grotta Lighthouse and walked around the rocks and beach
* Next we drove around the Hvalfjordur Fjord- the views were stunning and the kids tried to count all of the waterfalls we passed. There are waterfalls everywhere here
DAY 3: On a Super Rainy day I'd recommend exploring Reykjavik. We went to the National Museum where they have lots of Viking artifacts and Icelandic Historical pieces. We also visited the national gallery downtown which was also fun to wonder.
* We booked a tour with Extreme Iceland to go Lava Tubing. This might sound crazy but pay attention to the conversion rate... I was super excited because I thought I booked an excursion at about $35 for all of us however I wasn't paying attention to the exchange rate and it was actually $350. Thankfully my hubby laughed about it as is very forgiving. All of us really enjoyed this tour. They pick you up in Reykjavik and drive you to the location where you hike down into a cave and explore the Lava Tubes. Keep in mind you do crawl at certain points so it wouldn't be great for some one who is Claustrophobic but, our kids loved the adventure of this tour and I'd highly recommend it.
DAY 4: The Blue Lagoon. This is a must see! Get the face mask package, but I'd bring your own towel to save $. Most helpful advice I read here was to condition your hair before and try to keep it up so it doesn't get too wet at the Lagoon. The Lagoon's water is rich in Silica which is great for your skin but makes your hair like cement. It took about a week to get my kids hair back to normal. The bathrooms at the Lagoon are gorgeous and spa-like. We got there at 8:30 which I'd strongly recommend. Get there early so you can get pics with less people around you. You also want to get there before all the tour buses arrive. Once you are there you can stay as long as you want. They have a cafe and restaurant or you can bring your own food in. In the Lagoon check out the cave with the audio that tells you all about the Lagoon and it's history. Also check out the waterfall for a natural massage on your neck and back. We stayed and played here for a long time. You can also order drinks at the swim up bar. Don't miss this!
WHAT WE WANT TO NEXT TIME ...
If we had one more day, we wanted to drive to Vik where you can walk through the ruins of an old plane crash. You can also explore black sand beaches and depending on the time of year see Puffins. You can also hop on a ferry to go to an island where all the Puffins are. Here are other things on our Iceland Bucket list for next time...
*Past Vic a couple of hours on the coast you can find a Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. I've read it looks like something out of a movie with Glacier pieces floating all around and ice crystals floating up on the black sand beaches.
*Northern Lights ( You can book a tour that will take you to spots where you can see Aurora Borealis) If you really want to Splurge check out the Bubble Hotel to lay in bed in a clear bubble and watch the Northern Lights from your Hotel room
* Dog Sledding (Check the age requirements, our youngest wasn't quite old enough but we wanted to do this)
*Glacier Ice Cave Tours (The pictures of this are AMAZING- Imagine walking through Ice Caves in a Glacier. Nuff said.
* Tour Inside a Volcano (Again the pics of this tour are ridiculous, Imagine being inside a Volcano surrounded by Stalagtites and Stalagmites
*Rent an RV and Road Trip Iceland. I know this sounds crazy and when my husband had the idea I vetoed it pretty quickly as I'm not a camper but, having been there, I can't think of a better way to see the whole country. My caveat would be that I would want to road trip it in the summer when the roads are good and no blizzards are on the horizon. I've read that September is the best time to go to Iceland.
* We didn't go to it, but there's an awesome Whale Museum in Reykjavik
*We also didn't go to Laugardalsalug in Reykjavik (it's another geothermal pool, there's also an ice rink, zoo, and gardens) There are geothermal pools everywhere.
* The Iconic Solar Sculpture in Reykjaviks waterfront resembles a Viking Long Ship and is a must see in town.
ONE LAST CAVEAT.... We only hit the south of Iceland. There is so much more to see in Northern Iceland as well as in the middle like Bruarfoss- a bright blue waterfall in central Iceland. We also considered going north of Reykjavik and visiting steaming waterfalls which sounded cool. Either way. Go visit Iceland. Its beauty will knock your socks off, it's mystery and enchantment will keep you smiling, and the sights will make you want to go back once you leave.
We had our kiddos journal daily all of the things we were seeing and doing. Our 5 year old drew lots of pictures and we'd write for him but our 7 and 9 year old enjoyed documenting our adventures.