Twenty years ago I met two awesome Icelandic girls. Once we made beds at the Grand Hotel by day and explored Brighton’s bars by night, now we are all grown up with kids. Iceland has called me over to see them three times now, once when Mr A won tickets to the Air Waves festival in Reykjavik, once with an old teaching friend in the Summer and last year in March on a press trip.
Now I really want to take my kids to meet my Icelandic friends’ kids. I’ve seen enough to know my family would absolutely love Iceland’s incredible natural phenomenon and history. Iceland is firmly on our family bucket list.
All of my travels in Iceland were South, the Golden Circle is an area packed with incredible natural phenomenon, but there is so much more to see. I have my eye on Route 1 road trip taking in the whole fantastic island. So here are some of my favourite adventures from my 3 visits that I know kids will love, plus some I need to go back for…
A Geyser takes less than 10 minutes to boil, sending a magnificent column of steam and water up to 30 metres into the air. Guaranteed to instill respect for the power of nature in even the most impatient of little ones, watching the faces of kids anticipating the next eruption was nearly as entertaining as the main event. The first time I saw it pre dated mobile phones, so it was peculiar to see the line up of cameraphones at the ready last year – try to watch it through your eyes and not just the lens.
2, Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss is something else, the signs in the park argue in wildness and fury it outdoes Niagra Falls, it’s definitely much more than a sheer drop of water. As you approach you keep thinking you have comprehended it, but with each bend of the path it brings new unfathomable twists and turns.
3, Kerið crater lake
How thrilling to climb up and inside a volcano? I will never forget doing this and I predict kids will love it too. Kerið is wonderfully colourful too, due to a mix of red volcanic rock, moss lining the crater and the striking aquamarine colour of the lake within, which is due to minerals from the soil.
4, Þingvellir National Park – Viking Parliament and Teutonic Plates
Thingvillir National Park is full of treasures, the Viking Parliament established in 930AD, a world first, stunning views, fascinating legends and a walk through probably the only place in the world where you can see evidence of the teutonic plates splitting above sea level. It’s an awe inspiring and fact packed round walk, there is a cafe at the top and lots of signs bringing the history of the site to life.
5, Efstidalur Ice Cream Farm
While exploring the Golden Circle we stopped at a small Icelandic farm to taste Skyrr (a thick Icelandic yogurt, now available in the UK), cheese and ice cream. This too was family run and the welcome was warm and cosy.
With it’s brightly coloured houses, Reykjavik feels a lot like a real life Lego city might, it also has plenty of little shops to spend pocket money in and cafes to refuel in. You’ll be repaid with amazing views from Hallgrímskirkja church, the main landmark and the highest church in the country – you can’t miss it, Reykjavik is small and easy to navigate, good for little legs.
Rekjavik Roasters was a random find. I’ve since found it listed in plenty of top 5 or 10 coffee houses in Rekjavik. We had warm cinnamon scones with jam and cheese, with some David Bowie on the record player. Awesome.
7, Friðheimar tomato greenhouse and cafe
I really didn’t expect to find myself in a tomato greenhouse in the middle of Iceland downing shots out of a cored out plum tomato, eating the most beautiful tomato soup that made my mouth truly ping with excitement, followed by the most amazing cocktail. Happy Mary includes green tomato, gin and ginger goes down as the best cocktail I have ever tasted. Plenty for grown ups and kids here!
I spotted this article in a frame, from The Guardian foodie traveller, pronouncing Friðheimar the home of the best Bloody Mary in the world, so I am really not exaggerating when I say this was the best cocktail I have ever drunk.
We started with a quick tour of the greenhouse, learning how geothermal energy powers the greenhouse, about Icelanders love for the humble tomato that just couldn’t grow naturally here and about the bees that are flown over from Holland to pollinate the plants.
Eating and drinking in a greenhouse was a wonderful experience, it is so lovely to be among the food you are eating and my goodness these tomatoes are otherworldly. Friðheimar is a family run centre with warm and friendly service. I loved carving my own hunks of homemade bread to go with the soup.
It is also super kid friendly – pizza and pasta also feature on the menu and the red tomato and strawberry dessert sauce is the perfect topping for ice cream.
Friðheimar is also one restaurant where it makes perfect sense for your tomato cheesecake pudding to come served in a miniature flowerpot. Just incredible.
8, Sólheimar Eco Village
Solheimar is an eco community where 100 people with and without special needs live and work together. It is renowned for its ecological, artistic, and international community ethics. Founded in the 1930s as a children’s home along Steiner principles, it is inspired by the relationship between the individual and the environment.
There is a lovely shop selling gifts and organic products as well as products from the six workshops on site: candle-making, weaving, organic soap-making, art, ceramics and woodwork. The bright airy cafe has toys and is child friendly. A lovely place to visit and to support.
9, Saga Centre/Njálurefill, Hvolsvöllur
When I visited, in the tapestry room at the Saga Centre a tapestry of the most well known of Iceland’s sagas was being sewn. Everyone can take part in adding to The Nal’s saga tapestry, and full instruction and guidance is provided.
10, Blue Lagoon
Although one of the most visited attractions in Iceland and therefore fairly expensive and sometimes described as too touristy, the Blue Lagoon is an incredible, otherworldly experience – Mr A and I did this over 15 years ago and still talk about it. One bonus is that entrance is free of charge for all children from age 2-13 years, when accompanied by a guardian. It’s located not so far from Keflavik airport, but not so close to the other attractions I mention, so good to do on your way in or out of the country. Under 2s aren’t permitted and children of 8 or younger must wear inflatable armbands.
11, Lugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Spa and Cafe
For a cheaper geothermal spa experience close to the Golden Circle tour, check out Fontana. It’s a gorgeous and a peaceful, budget way, to experience warm geothermal pools and natural steam rooms. The pools overlook the stunning lake Laugarvatn. You can also book in for a tour of the geothermal bakery where rye bread is baked in the ground buried in hot volcanic sand each day, just as Icelandic grandmothers have been doing for decades.
Swimming is very popular in Icelandic culture and facilities are very different from local leisure centres in the UK. There are lots of high quality swimming pools around the country, mainly open air in pretty locations, with hot tubs and saunas. My South Icelandic friends recommend Thorlákshöfn Thermal Pool, Borg Swimming Pool and Selfoss Swimming Pool.
13, Saga and Heritage Trail
The Saga trail represents 34 sites around Iceland which tell the story of Iceland’s history and sagas. Perfect if you are looking for places to stop on a self drive holiday around Iceland. See these mapped out and find out more here. If you happen to be in Iceland in mid June, check out the Viking Festival.
14, Viking Museum
The museum has five exhibitions offering a unique opportunity to learn about the history and lifestyle of the Vikings of the North Atlantic a thousand years ago. You can see Islendigur, Gunar Marel Eggertsson’s Viking ship which he sailed to New York in 2000. It is an exact replica of the Gaukstad, which was sailed to America by Leif Eiriksson’s in 1000. Visitors can enjoy the magnificent view of the ocean from the cafe as they contemplate taking to the seas in a Viking longboat.
15, Route 1 Road Trip
Go the whole hog and explore the entire island via a self drive camping or motorhome trip around Route 1, the ring road that circles the whole island. In the Summer Iceland is perfect for camping and there are so many amazing things on the route to stop off and explore. It can be driven in 24 hours, but 10 days is a realistic time frame if you are going to fit in all the natural wonders that wind off this main road. National Geographic have more inspiration an Icelandic ring road road trip.
Thanks to my Icelandic guides for showing me so many of these places. Have you been to Iceland or are you planning a trip? If you are looking for more information here is a useful travel guide about Iceland.
Why not pin this to your travel bucket list board on Pinterest?
Photo credits – Penny Alexander, Kerið photo on flickr, Fontana.