We’re back from a 2-week trip to Iceland + Norway with the big kids and I’ve got lots to update!!
As with most of our adventures, this particular one began with the discovery of an excellent airfare to Oslo. Norway has been on my travel list after watching Frozen and turns out, Qatar Airways was flying to Oslo for a sweet $660 per person. After some research (that the airfare onwards to Reykjavík was $90 each), we decided it was gonna be Iceland -> Bergen -> Oslo -> Trysil with Tru, Kirsten and Finn.
We went back and forth on whether we could bring the 2 babies along but 5 kids in unfamiliar territory did seem a little reckless, plus the minimum age for most of the activities like snowmobiling and ice cave exploration was 6 years old so the babies stayed home for this one :(
You guys, Iceland is like a dream.
I still have difficulty wrapping my head around the fact that a place like this exists in the world. There are waterfalls and geysers and volcanic rocks and black sand and ice caves and floating ice diamonds and the sky is painted in pink and purple and orange and the prettiest shade of blue. I can’t say that I’m a fan of rocks but I spent a lot of time looking out on the horizon feeling like “wow ok, these rocks are something else.”
Most places, you drive several hours to get to one magnificent spot but in Iceland, every spot is trying to outdo the last one like it’s a competition for how we can make nature more breathtaking. Like “Oh you liked the waterfall? Here are a couple more, and here’s some boiling water shooting out of the ground, and look at these giant ice diamonds in a glacial lake and how about a solid blue ice cave right here?”
In 6 days, we went to the Golden Circle, drove along the south coast all the way to Jokulsarlon and then back again to Reykjavík.
Okay I love trip planning and I have the most fun putting together all our trips but planning this one was by far the most challenging ever. This was largely caused by the decision to make the drive in an Icelandic winter. According to most of the forums, Icelandic winters are brutal, with insane snow storms, whiteouts with basically zero visibility and winds that can blow your car door right off. The dude at the car rental made it a point to repeat that many car doors have been blown off and the insurance does not cover missing car doors so if there’s a storm, sit tight and whatever you do, do not open the car door.
The consensus on the forums were mostly “unless you’re an expert at this, you must be insane to self drive in an Icelandic winter” and yes, we are just about insane enough to try because we find tour groups insufferable and there’s nothing like an exciting road trip where your life might be in a tiny bit of danger.
J/k, we are very responsible parents so I had planned for several contingencies. There were plans A to E with multiple backups in case of bad weather, which meant having to keep the itinerary fluid. I usually have everything planned and booked way in advance but for this trip, I was booking some of the hotels 12 hours prior, after we decided it was safe to make the drive for that day.
Thankfully, we had the most beautiful weather for all 6 days so it turned out to be plan A all the way, which is this:
Day 1: Reykjavík (explore the city, try to get over jet lag). We stayed at Fosshotel Baron – nice location, decent rooms, excellent breakfast.
Day 2: 1-hour drive to the Golden Circle, starting at Thingvellir, to Geysir, Gullfoss, then back to Laugarvatn for a night swim at Fontana Spa, a geothermal lagoon. We stayed at an Airbnb cabin in the middle of nowhere and it was amazing.
Day 3: 2.5-hour drive to Vik, visiting Skogafoss and the black sand beach along the way. We stayed 2 nights at Icelandair Hotel Vik – fab rooms, not so great breakfast. Go grab a croissant from the cafe across the street for breakfast instead.
Day 4: 2.5-hour drive to Jokulsarlon to look at floaty ice diamonds + ice cave expedition. Drove back to Vik for the night. We wouldn’t have done this 5-hour drive to and fro if the weather had been rough but it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day and this was probably my favourite day in Iceland.
Day 5: Back to Gullfoss for another ice cave tour + snowmobiling, nose-nuzzled some horses along the way. Spent the night at Bjork Guesthouse at Laugarvatn – superb rooms and only for $150 a night. My second favourite day.
Day 6: Back to Reykjavík. We went shopping at Kringlan, grabbed hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, hung out at the old harbour and Seltjarnarnes, then went swimming at Laugardalslaug. Spent our final night at 41 A Townhouse Hotel – gorgeous rooms, amazing location.
These are some of the things you might want to know if you’re planning a trip to Iceland.
1. Iceland is beautiful. If you’re sort of sitting on the fence about this, I’m here to tell you that it is absolutely worth the trip.
2. It’s very kid friendly. The only thing you’d want to consider is that some of the activities have a minimum age requirement of 6-12, so if you’re bringing young kids, one adult will have to sit out on them.
3. Food is pricey. The mains at an average restaurant costs about $35-50 and a straight up black coffee from a cart is $5. Even at food trucks, it will cost $25 for a box of fish and chips. Only hot dogs are okayish, at $5.50 each. Also, they’re deliciously lamby (yeahhh meat!!) and pretty perfect topped with a mountain of crispy onions.
4. Kronan and Bonus supermarkets are your best friends. Considering the cost of food in Iceland, the supermarkets are surprisingly reasonable. Stock up on fruits, milk, beverages, snacks, sandwiches – your wallet will thank you.
5. Pack your swimsuits. Icelanders love their pools and I can totally see why. There’s nothing quite like being dressed in your swimwear in -2 degree weather and then jumping into a delightfully warm geothermal pool.
At Laugardalslaug, the kids went up on a slide multiple times and the pool with the slide was considerably colder than the hot tub I was in. Like unacceptable level of cold in the winter and I had to follow them to make sure they were ok.
It was cold, hot, cold, hot, cold, COLD, COLD COOOLDDDD I’M DYING OF HYPOTHERMIA GUYS I LOVE YOU BUT I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN PLEASE DON’T DROWN!!
6. Dress warm. As they say in Norway, there’s no bad such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. With good thermals, fleece or wool layers, a water-resistant coat, proper gloves and snow boots, you’ll be warm and toasty.
7. Go see the ice caves. If you can only make it for one activity, this is the one to go for. This phenomenon only happens in winter when the water freezes over and it is out of this world.
8. Snowmobiling is the most fun and terrifying thing I’ve ever tried. I love that in Iceland, they don’t coddle you with watered down, overly safe activities. Like you want to ride a snowmobile? We’ll take you out for an hour into the wilderness of snow and you’ll have to keep up.
We took a 30 minute ride out to the ice cave deep in the mountain and Finn was behind me so I went slower at first. But too slow is not good because the group ahead had disappeared into the mountain and some stretches, I could see nothing but empty white snow everywhere. If we got lost and had to Revenent our way out like Leonardo Di Caprio, we would 100% not make it. I do not possess those life skills.
On the way back, I decided to speed it up to keep up and that was more terrifying because we hit several patches of uneven snow and flew up from the seat. It was buttocks off the seat legit hang time kind of flew and I gripped the handles so hard my hands started cramping. On the last bump, Finn fell right off the snowmobile and was dangling off the side. He’s ok thanks to the helmet and padding but my heart stopped for a moment.
When we got back to base camp, I realised that Finn fell because he was holding on to a piece of ice from the cave the whole time, which by then had started to melt. “I fell off the snowmobile for nothing, it’s all water now,” he said sadly. This sweet little boy just wanted to bring it home for Theo and Hayley 😭
9. One of the things we wanted to see was the Aurora Borealis but after 6 days in Iceland, we didn’t get to see it once. Some of the remote locations we were in were great spots for finding the northern lights but it required one to step out of the cabin to look at the sky at various times throughout the night. I had planned to wake up every hour to check the sky but when the alarm went off, I considered suiting up and hauling my bottom out into the cold, but I took a deep breath, snuggled deeper into the warm blankets around me and thought “urgh, it’s only lights in the sky”, then went back to sleep. So that’s the story of our northern lights adventure.
Oh wait, there’s part 2. On our last night, we figured we’d join one of those northern lights tours to go hunt for the Aurora Borealis because c’mon! we’re committed to this. We made the kids suit up at 10pm and took them on a tour back out towards Laugarvartn. Except there was very little hunting and a whole lot of standing around. There were about 40 people on the bus and they dropped us all off at a remote carpark somewhere in the wilderness and told us to stand around to wait for the lights to appear for the next 90 minutes. Eventually, 6 other tour buses full of people showed up and we were all just clustered around waiting.
The guide was like “you have to be patient and if you have no luck tonight, you can join the tour for free again tomorrow” and we were like “we paid actual money for this?? I could have done this from my apartment for free and we’re spending 3 hours on a cramped bus to look at a sky of black.” I thought they would have some inside intel on where the lights were going to appear and there would be some actual hunting instead of a “here, stand around and wait” situation.
On the bright side, they kept the heat on in the bus so the kids could sleep while the husband and I shared waffles and a coffee in the cold, dark night, making jokes about our unusual predicament. I know I’ve got it good because this man makes me laugh when we’re standing among some bushes for 90 minutes in the cold, looking at nothing but black sky.
10. On our next trip back, we’d probably still drive but then again, we were extremely blessed with beautiful weather. We could just as easily have been stuck in Reykjavík the whole time or snowed in for days in the middle of nowhere or blown off a cliff by freakishly strong winds.