Iceland – beyond the Northern Lights!

 

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Iceland has emerged from the economic woes of the financial crisis with a new-found confidence. Fleets of new tour buses and hire cars have replaced the old, ready for what promises to be a bumper 2017 in terms of tourism for Iceland. We visited in February 2017 to experience what Iceland has to offer as a family destination; be it for a short break or brief stopover. We’d heard about the high food and drink prices, stunning natural scenery and fermented shark, but would Iceland hold any surprises for a family of four?

1. The Blue Lagoon (and a child-friendly alternative)

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. Wallow in the naturally heated salt water pool whilst applying a silica face mask. Children 8 years or under are supplied with compulsory armbands. Get there early to avoid the crowds and see the sun rise and remember to bring a towel unless your package includes rental. Kids will love the novelty of it all (body parts in the water nice and toasty, anything outside positively freezing) but younger ones will soon be looking for the (non-existent) water slides.

For an alternative child-friendly bathing experience visit the wonderful Laugardalslaug swimming pool in Reykjavik. Large indoor and outdoor pools for those looking to do lengths, along with an outdoor kids pool and water slides. It’s all geothermally heated so don’t let snow and ice put you off. A series of plunge pools of differing temperatures including one that’s icy cold will sort out the brave from the sensible. You can round it all off with a sauna. Impeccably clean changing rooms and great value (approximately £25 for a family of four) makes it a worthy alternative (or better still, addition) to the Blue Lagoon.

2. Grindavík Quad Bike Tour

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Located just ten minutes away from the Blue Lagoon, an exciting ATV quad bike tour will see you taking in lava fields, shipwrecks and stunning vistas. The bikes are fully automatic, straightforward to drive and children six years or older can be a passenger. Remember to check your travel insurance covers you for undertaking quad biking, and any other activities you’ll be getting up to.

3. Reykjavik Food Tour

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Food is costly in Iceland. Venture into the convenience shop in the airport arrivals hall to get your first taste of, at times, exorbitant prices. £3 for a manky little pear? Was my daughter’s first reaction. But look to the food that’s produced in Iceland (lamb stews, cucumbers and tomatoes, rye breads and smoked fish and meat) and things start to look a lot brighter. If you want to try as wide a variety as possible then a food tour is a great way of doing it.

Taking in ten dishes across six establishments, our four-hour tour was informative, fulfilling and great value in comparison to visiting all of the restaurants individually. Delicacies such as puffin, pancakes, lobster soup, skyr, seaweed, lamb stew, hot dogs and the dreaded fermented shark all feature. Our friendly and informative guide was a wonderful host who only had one prerequisite; arrive with an empty stomach. Rick Stein fans will be able to spot a certain mannequin that featured in his Long Weekend in Reykjavik in one of the establishments.

4. Walk Inside and Snowmobile on a Glacier

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It’s a sad fact that Iceland’s glaciers are receding. While the opportunity’s still there, the man-made tunnel through Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjokull, is a unique opportunity. Just getting there is an experience in itself. In the Winter months, take the specially fitted monster trucks from Húsafell or get to the ice tunnel entrance by way of an hour long snowmobile tour. Children from 6 years up can ride as a passenger on the snowmobiles which zip you over pristine snow onto the glacier. Warm overalls, gloves and helmet are all provided, though still wear plenty of layers to keep out the chill.

Once inside the glacier, visitors don over-shoe ice spikes to wander the several hundred metres of dramatically-lit tunnels that include a variety of chambers including a chapel. Learn how glaciers are formed and move, with the help of amiable child-friendly guides who encourage the little ones to explore.

5. The Golden Circle

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Iceland’s popularity as a tourist destination is based on the awe-inspiring natural landscapes that dominates the country. Don’t expect the forests you see in some Scandinavian countries (Icelanders say that if you get lost in one of Iceland’s forest, just stand up) but instead, enjoy the dramatic landscapes featuring rock, water, ice and no shortage of heat and steam. The Golden Circle tour is the best way to experience the pick of Iceland’s geological delights in one day. Multiple tour operators run day trips from Reykjavik, or for a more leisurely pace, hire a car to visit at your own speed. If doing this in the Winter months, a 4×4 would be advisable, as would carefully checking weather forecasts and travel advice.

Stops on the Golden Circle tour will usually include Þingvellir National Park, the site of Iceland’s first parliament, geysers at Haukadalur and the impressive Gullfoss Waterfall. Some will also visit the volcanic crater lake at Kerid. Over 18s of an adventurous persuasion can tag on a unique scuba diving experience, diving between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in ice cold, crystal clear waters.

6. The Northern Lights

Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is a magical experience – or so we hear! It’s wise not to solely base your Iceland trip on seeing the ethereal, colour-shifting lights. Sightings are by no means guaranteed and if, like us, you find cloudy skies dominate during your stay then seeing them may well be a lost cause. Head to northern Norway instead to increase your chances of seeing them.

If the weather gods are on your side when in Iceland, the Icelandic Met Office’s Aurora forecast will give you a good idea of when and where to catch a glimpse. Plenty of operators offer Aurora Borealis viewing tours from the capital, and, if all else fails, Reykjavik’s Northern Light’s Center offers interactive displays, history and a photography introduction.

 

If you’ve got a trip to Iceland booked, don’t forget to arrange your travel insurance before you go. It could be that an Annual Multi Trip policy is right for you, if you have a few short breaks planned, or maybe a European single trip policy is the best option. Take a look at the policies we offer, and get a quote here. You can even get an extra 10% off the cost of your policy, if you ‘Like’ our Facebook page and make a note of the Discount code, which you can use when getting a quote.

Take a look at our customer feedback on Feefo  to see why we’re a great choice for trips of all durations and types! 

Also! If you’ve been to Iceland -or anywhere else – and had lots of fun whilst you’ve been away, then make sure you enter our photo competition #Keeptravelfun and your photo may just win you one of the great prizes on offer, including an All – New Fire HD 8 tablet. Check out the details here. 

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