Iceland has always been our ultimate bucket list destination. It’s been a long eight years of remodeling our home, and we had never felt the liberty to take a trip as daring as this one. At times, I thought I was crazy or selfish for planning this trip for my family. It wasn’t going to be easy or cheap. And exactly one week before our departure, lighting struck a tree next to our home - killing our healthy poplar tree and destroying several items in our home, including one of our air conditioners. Our home needed us more than ever. But quite honestly, this home had drained us physically and emotionally and at the time we truly did not need IT. What we needed was intentional time together in a different setting to feel inspired again.
Summer in Iceland was absolutely perfect. We arrived at the end of August and stayed for 9 days. The landscape was just beginning to transition into fall colors and although the weather was pretty windy and cold the first couple of days - the sun remained in the sky and at times we were able to shed layers. The sun would heat our homes each day and at night we could open the windows and let the clean, cool air in. It was heaven. It only rained on our last day which we didn’t mind at all. We came prepared with waterproof everything. You’ll be able to shop our Amazon picks in my next post so be sure to subscribe!
Day One: Blue Lagoon & Reykjavík
Many people suggested visiting Blue Lagoon right after landing at the airport and I can see why! It’s so close by and it was a great way to wash off all the airplane germs. I know some may say the tourists make it unbearable, but I was pretty happy floating in the aquamarine water and drinking my cold beer. The Lagoon is large enough to accommodate all the tourists so not once did I feel overwhelmed or claustrophobic. I will say the only thing I regret was getting my hair wet. Or letting my daughter get her hair wet. BIG MISTAKE. The leave-in conditioner they provided didn’t do much. All the silica from the water destroyed our hair and we dealt with tangles and gross hair for the next 4 days! It was only after 4 days and 4 washes did our hair finally recover. So if you are planning a visit to Blue Lagoon just remember - it is worth the money but don’t get your hair wet. And don’t forget to pre-book your visit at least a week in advance. Our flight landed around 9:15AM and I booked our Blue Lagoon visit for 1pm. After going through customs and getting our rental car, I was very thankful I had booked the later time. We arrived 2 minutes before 1pm. Note: You only have a 1 hour window to make your appointment or you could lose your reservation!
We left Blue Lagoon and headed towards Reykjavík to check into our hotel. We stayed at Ok Studios. It was ok. It was located on a very walkable street (Laugavegur) but the self check-in process was a nightmare. At this point we were so tired and confused we needed this step to be a little easier. If you stay your first night in Reykjavík (especially if you have kids in tow) pick a hotel with that’s close to attractions, has full service, and free parking. Having someone to check us in and not having to figure out the parking meters while we were jet-lagged would have been a lot easier!
My daughter and I crashed around 8pm after spending an hour brushing through our tangles. The boys explored on foot, saw the Sun Voyager and picked us up some Fish 'n Chips from Reykjavík Fish Restaurant.
Day Two: Reykjavík & the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
We did a quick morning tour of Hallgrimskirkja, the Sun Voyager and Harpa Music Hall. We found an amazing hot dog place called Reykjavík Street Dogs which was actually VERY affordable - about $5 USD per person. No lines, great service and the kids loved it.
Our next three days would be spent in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, in an area much more remote than Reykjavík . So we knew we had to stock up on groceries while we were in the city. We chose the Bónus on Skipholt because it had easy parking and seemed to be one of the larger of the downtown stores. We were able to get several days worth of groceries for around $120 USD. We chose simple meals like spaghetti with ground pork (so much cheaper than beef), frozen pizzas, and tacos. For lunches we planned to eat mostly PB&Js and stocked up on plenty of chips & snacks. I forgot to mention that we brought several staples over in our checked luggage. You are allowed up to 3kg of food per person. So we brought peanut butter, coffee, cliff bars, canned chicken salad, oatmeal and applesauce packets from home. And we ended up eating almost all of it!
After loading up our rental car with groceries, we started our 2.5 hour drive to Grundarfjörður. And let me tell you, we were completely enamored for the entire drive. It felt like 2 minutes because there was so much beauty to entertain you. One of my favorite moments of the trip was taking this drive and listening to the new National Album.
Day Three: Arnarstapi, Helnar, and Budir
By far, the most picturesque day. We drove on back mountain roads from our Airb&b in Grundarfjörður to the Buoakirkja Black Church in Búðir, passing hundreds of sheep and an incredible A-Frame camping cabin. From Búðir we drove to Arnarstapi and then to Hellnar. We had planned to make the coastal hike that connects these two towns, but like I said earlier - it was far too windy. We drove to Hellnar instead, passing by a beautiful cluster of black rental homes. I had stalked these homes on Google Earth, hoping to stop and capture some good images. And I’m so thankful I did. After slightly trespassing to get photos of the black houses, we parked at a coastal overlook, enjoyed the scenery then walked over to a local restaurant to grab some coffee & hot chocolate. Architecturally speaking, it was my favorite day.
Day Four: Whale Watching in Ólafsvík & Kirkjufellsfoss
We booked tickets for a whale watching tour just 20 minutes from our AirB&B in the fishing village of Ólafsvík. However, I am sad to report that we did not see whales on our tour. The waters were a little choppy, and we were not in the peak Orca season - thankfully Laki Tours offered us free tickets to come back anytime. Very kind folks. According to their staff wildlife photographer, May & June is when you want to book a tour like this. Your chances of seeing whales (and PUFFINS!) are a lot higher in the early summer months. There is also a Laki Tour location further north in Holmavik where humpback whales are active during the later summer months. The boat ride made us all a little sleepy, so we ended up heading back to our rental and taking naps. But I have to say, our little home away from home was so beautiful that I was thankful for some time to rest and enjoy the scenery. After our naps, we drove a mile down the highway to Kirkjufellsfoss and let the kids run wild. It’s a stunning little waterfall, with a view of Kirkujufell Mountain directly behind it.
Day Five: Rest, Play, & Good Food
Sadly, it was time to leave our little slice of paradise in Grundarfjörður. We left the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and made our way to South Reykholt. I booked a 2 night stay at this sweet little AirB&B. It was conveniently located by Gullfoss, Geysir, and the Friðheimar. After the long drive, we filled up on tomato soup and fresh bread at Friðheimar Tomato Farm, a geothermal tomato greenhouse & restaurant. It was incredibly fascinating and the kids loved the famous Friðheimar bumble bees that live and work within the greenhouse! Although the restaurant takes walk-ins, it is best to make reservations beforehand. I did so by email. They are very helpful and quick to respond. With full bellies, we headed back to our home for the night and enjoyed the kid-friendly outdoor space. Once the kids went to bed, we filled up the geothermal hot tub and saw the Northern Lights. Although it was very early in the viewing season and we didn’t see the full range of colors, it was still a site to behold.
Day Six: Gullfoss and Geysir
We spent this day making some touristy stops. Not usually my thing, but these natural attractions did not disappoint. We saw Geysir erupt around 5 times and shopped around the incredibly stylish cafe and gift shop. From there, we headed over to Gullfoss. I didn’t get any good photos because it was so incredibly bright that day. Jarrod ended up getting the better photo with his DJI Osmo Pocket. But really and truly, photos cannot do this place justice.
Day Seven: Vik, Dyrhólaey, & Reynisfjara Beach
Oh my gosh, this day couldn’t have been any sweeter and quite honestly it was what I was looking forward to the most on our trip. We made the drive from South Reykholt to Vik, home of the black sand beaches. When we arrived in Vik, we drove up the steep cliff to Dyrhólaey. There was a beautiful viewing area with a Wes Anderson-ish lighthouse which makes for a great photo op. It was still a little bright outside so we stopped by Hotel Kria for happy hour cocktails and appetizers while we waited for the sun to go down. Feeling good after our one and only cocktail in Iceland (oops, we forgot to buy duty-free at the airport and alcohol is REALLY hard to come by) we headed over to Reynisfjara Beach. The basalt towers were a little bit of a tourist trap, but if you walk down the beach away from the towers you can find a little solitude. As we were walking, a seal popped his head out of the water and followed us down the beach. The kids played in the rocks and sand, and each one of us eventually ended up with water in our shoes. But we didn’t care. It was such a special place that those small discomforts didn’t phase us at all. We reluctantly left the beach and headed over to our home for the evening, Hotel Skógafoss. We changed out of our wet clothes, showered, then enjoyed dinner in the hotel restaurant. We ordered hamburgers and fries. And maybe this is just the grateful, tired traveler talking here but I swear that hamburger was one of the best ones I’ve ever had in my life.
Day Eight: Skógafoss & Kvernufoss
We woke up, enjoyed our free hotel breakfast, and packed lunches for the big day of adventure ahead. We spent time at the base of Skógafoss, probably the most spectacular waterfall on the planet. Once again, this place is pretty touristy but will a little patience you’ll get that photo everyone wants: you (or your beautiful kids) alone with the giant waterfall. We let the kids explore at the base for a little bit then ate our packed lunches in our car. I remembered reading about a nearby waterfall that was a little bit more secluded, so I opened our Lonely Planet Iceland Guide and got all the details. The book told us to walk through a pasture, hop over a stile, and follow the footpath to Kvernufoss. It was so magical. We were walking alongside only a few other tourists. The fall was surrounded by lush green grass and plenty of rocks and streams for the kids to play in. It was one of the only waterfalls we visited that we were easily able to walk behind. People kept commenting how they felt like they were in a Lord of the Rings movie. Out of all the attractions we visited, this was our very last stop and probably the most special. We lingered for quite some time. It was hard to leave. We passed some cattle and sheep on our walk back to our car, said goodbye to the Icelandic countryside, and made our way back towards the airport.
Day Nine: The Reluctant Journey Home
Many travelers spend their last night in the city, but I knew that our last day was going to be packed full of adventure, so I opted for a quiet place close to the airport. We stayed at Harbour View in Grindavik. The little black houses were our favorite. They were so modern and the beds were so cozy. We all snuggled up on the sofa bed, ate fish n’ chips from the local seafood joint, and watched How to Train Your Dragon on Netflix. We may have shed a few tears as the Jónsi song came on during the credits. It was such a special trip, one that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. It was so hard knowing that this was our last night in this magical country. If you happen to be tired DIYers like we were, and you struggle with the idea of getting away…trust me, you need it. Your home will be home when you get home. A trip as epic as this one will always be worth every single penny (or in this case, krona).
SOME BTS CELL PHONE SHOTS:
The best advice I can give you for traveling to Iceland as a family:
Get pocket Wifi from the airport and keep your phone on airplane mode during your entire trip. If you plan on being separated during any part of the trip, I suggest getting two.
Bring comfort food from home in your checked luggage.
Bring a power strip (and converters!) from home you can easily charge everything at night.
Get a copy of Lonely Planet Iceland, it helped us so much with planning.
Keep waterproof pants in the car and ask your kids to put them over your clothes before each stop.
Keep extra socks in the car.
Opt for a rental car with automatic transmission.
If you used a credit card to book your rental car, call them beforehand and ask if they offer rental car insurance. Ours did and it saved us over $400. The additional insurance from the rental car companies is PRICEY!
Make sure you call your bank and credit card company beforehand and let them know your travel plans and that you need a 4 digit pin (yes, even for credit card purchases).
The tap water is safe to drink! But don’t be surprised by the sulphur smell of the hot water, which is natural geothermal water. Our kids were terrified of it. Best to prep them beforehand! If you switch over to cold water and let the water run for a minute or two, the smell (and taste) of the sulphur goes away.
Iceland is very kid-friendly. The locals are very kind to families and there is very little crime in this country. However, there are several steep cliffs, icy paths, and other naturally dangerous areas. Make sure your children are old enough to respect rules and boundaries and always keep them close by!
Save money by eating hot dogs, N1 gas station sandwiches, sharing meals, and packing lunches. Eating out in Iceland (especially when there are more than two of you) can really add up!
© Stacy K. Allen and Mountainside Home, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stacy K. Allen and Mountainside Home with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Don’t Steal Images.