Our family just returned from a wonderful week in Iceland. When I was planning our family’s big trip for the summer, I was playing around with a number of ideas, both domestic and international, and Iceland was the one that interested everyone, and for good reason! Iceland is a truly special place, and we did everything from hiking to horseback riding to whale watching. Here’s all that we packed into our time there. (This post also deserves a special shout-out to C for all the great photos!)
Day 1: Reykjavík
We landed in Reykjavík mid-morning and sped through the arrivals and rental car process. Keflavik Airport is small and efficient, so before long, we were on our way to downtown Reykjavík, where we had reserved a cozy Airbnb in the central pedestrian zone.
We spent the afternoon and evening walking around downtown Reykjavík. We made our way down to the harbor and back through the eclectic city center to the imposing and very unusual Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, the country’s largest church. The girls enjoyed the public art on the pedestrian streets, and we all enjoyed the snacks and treats along the way.
Day 2: Golden Circle and Southern Iceland
After a good night’s rest (a miracle, given the jet lag and midnight sun), we packed up our rain gear and made our way to Ölfus for a horseback riding excursion. We had been on the fence about going horseback riding while in Iceland, but W made the excellent point that this would be one of the few times that we could ride Icelandic horses. Icelandic horses are a special breed and the only breed to have a fifth gate, called tölting. They also are the only horses allowed in Iceland and can be found dotting the landscape up and down the country.
The guides at Solhestar Family Riding were fun and friendly and made our ride enjoyable despite the freezing temps and rain. Pro-tip: wear rain gear AND borrow theirs for an additional layer.
After our ride, we warmed up with some hot chocolate in the stables and then had the first of what would become many meals featuring hot dogs. (Oddly, hot dogs, or pylsa, are the unofficial national food of Iceland.). With thawed hands and fully bellies, it was time for some hiking.
We decided to make the 5-mile roundtrip hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs. The weather was increasingly miserable as the hike went on, culminating in a temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit coupled with rain and a healthy dose of wind. Nevertheless, we had on all of our rain gear and hiked up to the promised mountain springs. When we finally go there, the kids changed into their swimsuits (outside, mind you, with no cover and still in the freezing rain) and jumped in. We were expecting to hear them tell us how wonderfully warm the water was, but alas, instead they started shivering. Turns out it was freezing! The hot springs had been diluted by the cold, pouring rain and for reasons unbeknownst to us, we never even checked the temp. Parenting fail! Needless to say the 2.5 miles back to the car were…not fun.
Day 3: Reykjavík to Akureyri
On the recommendation of a friend, we decided to spend part of our trip on Iceland’s northern coast. We took our time driving on Iceland’s main road as we made our way north. We enjoyed watching the sheep and horses graze along the way.
We made a stop to tour Cave Víðgelmir, Iceland’s largest lava tunnel. It was really interesting to learn about how the lava flows created the tunnel and how the lava fields continue to filter the water that flows in the nearby rivers, making them crystal clear. In fact, we stopped at the nearby Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls to see the powerful and incredibly clear water that had been filtered by the lava rock over hundreds of years.
We continued our drive until we reached the northern city of Akureyri, where we had rented another Airbnb, this time with a hot tub that filled on demand with geothermal-warmed water. Only in Iceland!
Day 4: Akuyreri
The main item on our agenda in Akuyreri was whale watching. We had a mid-morning sailing with Whale Watching Hauganes, Iceland’s oldest whale watching tour company, located 25 miles up the fjord from Akuyreri. The sun was shining; our waterproof, warm, and flotation-device outfits were on-point; and our guides were again friendly and knowledgeable. We got to see a humpback whale and a pair of porpoises while enjoying the beauty of the fjord. We appreciated how conscientious the captain was of not crowding the whales. When too many boats came to the area, we moved along. We also had the chance to do some catch-and-release fishing. N caught a fish almost right away and the captain offered her the chance to give it a kiss before he threw it back into the sea. Not too surprisingly, she passed on the kiss but enjoyed the opportunity nonetheless!
After our whale watching tour, we spent the rest of the day enjoying the city.
Day 5: Akureyri to Hveragerði via Thingvellir National Park
On day 5, we took our time to driving back to the southwestern part of Iceland, enjoying the scenery and going off the beaten path whenever possible. (There are not that many actual roads in Iceland so there weren’t a ton of options!)
Along the way, we stopped at some of the main attractions along the Golden Circle: Thingvellir National Park and Öxaráfoss, as well as Kerid Crater. Time and again, we were struck by the ever-changing beauty of the Icelandic landscape.
After a full day of driving and sightseeing, we arrived at our hotel for the night, the Greenhouse Hotel in Hveragerði. We all really loved this hotel. The neighborhood is unassuming, but inside, the hotel is bustling. The food hall offered a range of speciality restaurants, which were a welcome break from the many hot dogs we had consumed on the trip thus far, and the decor was quirky and sumptuous, as was the little boutique. We’d highly recommend it!
Day 6: Hveragerði to Home
We kicked off our last day in Iceland with a trip to the Secret Lagoon, which is the oldest natural geothermal pool in Iceland. We arrived at the same time as a large tour bus, but luckily I had made our reservations in advance, so after a quick change, we were able to enjoy the pool and the mini geysers that surrounded it. We learned our lesson from earlier in the week and tested the water before jumping right in! (We also got a kick out of the elf houses, especially since we had re-watched “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” in honor of our Iceland adventure.)
After these last two stops on the Golden Circle, it was time to start the drive to the airport and begin the journey home.
IcelandAir gave all the passengers cake in honor of Iceland’s independence day. Unfortunately, the guy behind us gave us Covid…Definitely not the souvenir we wanted to bring home.