Iceland with Kids: Part III

OK – let’s be honest. If you ask my toddler what the best thing about travel is, he will say jumping on other people’s furniture. Truth. And, that is exactly what he did in Reykjavik.

We spent four days in Reykjavik, and stayed in a studio apartment right in the city center, with a private kitchen and bathroom. Every apartment in the building is decorated in a one-of-a-kind theme, and we got the one with the teddy bears crucified on the wall.


Initially a shock to the senses, believe it or not, I actually grew to love everything about that apartment. Despite the scary teddy bear theme, funhouse colors, retro furniture, Scotch plaid décor, and the silly, silly bed that took the skin right off your shin every time you (invariably) bumped into it rounding the corner.

It was fun and felt like home, but more specifically, I loved it because 1) the kids had a little more space to play, 2) it had a small but fully functional kitchen that we cooked all our meals in, 3) the sofa bed pulled-out right on the floor, giving our toddler a safe place to do his favorite thing of late: jump on the furniture. It was in a great walkable location in the city center, and much cheaper than Reykjavik hotels (which are upwards of $200 USD per night, yikes). The cherry on top was the fact that they provided cribs for our kids, which was one of the main reasons we chose it.

Iceland’s capital and home to two hundred thousand people, Reykjavik is more than “just a city.” It has cool nightlife (more for those traveling without babies and toddlers!), a killer art and music scene (everyone is a creative here), and its own old-town charm.


The “must-sees” include the Hallgrímskirkja, (the modern-looking Lutheran church with a beautiful tower), the recently built Harpa opera house (which was once a controversial building project, but now loved by locals), and the city hall which houses a 3D topographical map of Iceland the size of a large conference room. We enjoyed seeing all of these. But what we loved most about Reykjavik was just walking around and soaking in the city vibe.


The city does not feel touristy at all. The streets are lovely. Beautiful murals, street art, and sculpture in the space between shops, bars and restaurants are everywhere. (A lot of the street art is sponsored by shop or restaurant owners.) The locals we met were very friendly. And, its harbor location is beautiful. All great reasons to spend a couple of days here. There are also many day trips possible from here. These were some of our highlights.

Þingvellir, Geysir, & Gullfoss, a.k.a “The Golden Circle”
There are many organized excursions available, but we chose to drive it ourselves. The route, which includes three famous natural wonders: Þingvellir (anglicized as Thingvellir), Geysir, and Gullfoss, is under 300km and very easy to do in one day if you have a car.

Our first stop was Thingvellir, which holds geological and historical significance. It is on this spot that the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, and are gradually drifting apart. How cool is that!? We actually hiked along the Almannagjá fault, to a beautiful little waterfall, Öxarárfoss. Our toddler walked most of this trail on his own.


Thingvellir is also the site of the oldest parliament in the world, where the first Icelandic settlers met and organized a government in 930 AD. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, on this basis. Overall, Thingvellir National Park is magical, and is worth a visit.


Next, we visited Geysir, a geothermal area not far from Thingvellir. The second tallest geyser in the world, named Geysir, the world’s fourth tallest geyser, named Strokkur, as well as a bunch of smaller ones are located here. Geysir is not currently active, but we did see Strokkur shoot scalding water 30-meters into the air several times, as it erupts pretty regularly every 5-10 minutes.


I have never seen anything like this ever before. The sulfur made the air smell like rotten eggs. If you look closely at the deep blue water and wait and watch, you can actually see each phase of it…the blue color deepening, then whitening, the white bubble that suddenly forms, then gets bigger, until suddenly it erupts! I was absolutely mesmerized by this fascinating place.


We tore ourselves away eventually and rolled on to Gullfoss, our last stop on the Golden Circle.

Many say that Gullfoss is the best waterfall in Europe. The Hvítá river drops dramatically into a ravine, with two successive cascades forming a ninety degree angle.


We caught some rainbows from the top, followed the steep concrete pathway down and peered over the edge, marveling at the sheer force of these falls!


There were so many other beautiful places we saw in Iceland that I would love to share with you all, but I don’t want to go on and on. I do want to share our experience with the food and Icelandic swimming pools – simply because it was so unique.

A Note on Iceland’s Swimming Pools
Swimming pools are crazy popular in Iceland. We learned that the swimming pool is to Icelanders what “the coffeeshop” is to Americans, or “the pub” is to the British. It’s where you go to relax, mingle, and catch up with all your old friends (or meet new ones). It’s really hard not to unwind at an Icelandic swimming pool – they’re geothermally heated, and many are outdoors. The warm water feels especially wonderful against your skin when the cold winds blow! Didn’t pack a swimsuit? No problem. You can rent one at any pool, kid and adult sizes are available! On a drive around Northwestern Iceland one day, we spontaneously decided to stop and try the renowned outdoor swimming pool in Hofsós. It’s tucked into a hillside that drops into the sea, and you can see the mountains and Drangey Island across the fjord. The view alone makes this pool most Icelanders’ favorite, but they also have water toys for kids, and a large sauna. Johann and I got into the pool and had a blast! Ryan hung out with Arya on a lounge chair and chatted up a friendly Canadian couple who were also traveling around Iceland with a six-month baby. It’s always nice to see that we are not alone in our adventures.


In this spectacular setting, with the view, the infinity-pool-like atmosphere, and the geothermal water warming our skin against the bitterly cold winds, the whole experience was other-worldly.

A Note about Food
Food in Iceland is expensive. We took advantage of having our own vehicle, and bought groceries every few days – which was cheaper than eating out. We stocked up on milk and other groceries throughout our trip at two local supermarket chains, Bónus and Netto. (We also found diapers and wipes there when we needed them.) Our guesthouse in Akureyri had a shared kitchen and a refrigerator that we took advantage of, and we enjoyed cooking in our apartment in Reykjavik.


Skyr was a big hit – this is a wonderfully thick Icelandic-style yogurt, and we had some for breakfast or snack everyday. Strained and thick like Greek yogurt, but much milder in flavor.


We found one brand of Skyr available in our local grocery stores back home here in the US!

We still wanted to experience the local cuisine (one of the reasons we love to travel – we are foodies!) so we budgeted our trip money so that we could still eat a few meals out. And, we ate our fair share of well-prepared Icelandic fish!

Thanks for reading, and letting me re-live the experience by sharing our adventure with you all. I am so grateful we got the opportunity to go to such a beautiful country. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and it has made me fall in love with this place we call Earth in a whole new way. We would love to go back, someday. We had an amazing time, and so did our kids. Nowhere else have we seen so much vastness and variety in the landscape, in a relatively small geographical area. While we wanted to stop everywhere and see everything, it really helped that we didn’t try to cram in too much. There was lots we didn’t do. We didn’t go anywhere Southeast at all. And, we didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon, either. A stone’s throw from Keflavik International Airport, the Blue Lagoon is actually Iceland’s most famous attraction. Everyone told us it is pretty cool, but also that it is a shameless tourist trap. The water is a tad too hot for babies anyway. We decided to skip it. But maybe next time!

If you are interested in traveling to Iceland (with or without little ones), let me know and I’d be happy to try to answer any questions you have!

Iceland with Kids: Part II

Last month, Ryan and I traveled around Iceland for ten days, with our two-and-a-half year old son and our six-month old daughter. I’ve been enjoying talking about our trip, so thanks for following along!

What to do in Iceland with Babies and Toddlers?
We already knew that Iceland was a beautiful country, and we were eager to experience its wild and raw landscape. Between, fjords, geothermal springs, volcanoes, stark glaciers, desolate lava fields, small towns with ice-cream colored houses, and even bigger ones with artistic charm, there is something for everyone. Let’s not forget all of Iceland’s cool wildlife and domesticated animals. Did you know that in Iceland, sheep outnumber humans by more than 2:1?


Icelandic horses are all over the countryside, too. They are so beautiful and graceful to look at, and you won’t see them anywhere else in the world.



Faced with all these choices, we chose to spend our time exploring the North, Northeast, and West. We really wanted to go slow, take our time, and explore places well without trying to cram everything in or rush. It is just part of how we do things, and building in some down time is always beneficial in the unpredictable world of traveling with babies and toddlers.

It was our first overseas travel as a new family of four, and we were pleasantly surprised at Iceland’s child-friendliness. Nature reigns supreme in Iceland, and Icelanders sure do make it easy for everyone – even very young children – to enjoy natural wonders on some level. But, more practically, it is easy to find high-chairs if you eat out, and whatever baby stuff you need in local markets. The latter is key, for those of us who travel light!

Driving in Iceland
Driving in Iceland is easy, and great fun. Our plan was to rent a car, arm ourselves with good maps, take it slow and soak it all in. We did just that, and we were still surprised at how much we saw. Having your own vehicle is really the best way to go at your own pace and experience the Icelandic countryside, and tucked away wonders off the beaten path. There is no traffic outside the capital, and no one is in a rush to get anywhere. The weather was a slight concern, as it was still early Spring, and many roads were still buried under snow or closed. There is one maintained road, the “Ring road,” that goes around the whole country. It had a couple of hairy stretches going through the mountains, sometimes without even a guardrail standing between you and oblivion, and those got our hearts racing!


But, we used common sense, didn’t attempt to drive across any rivers, and had a pretty great driving experience. Just driving and exploring was one of our favorite things about Iceland.


We spent several low key days just driving around various peninsulas, exploring tiny fishing villages, finding lagoons, waterfalls, hikes or other hidden gems along the way.


The best thing about the roads in Iceland are all the places to pull off safely to eat, play, nurse, change a diaper or simply admire the views. Our kids are great at car travel; they napped during the longer stretches, and we stopped when needed to stretch our legs, play, eat, and change diapers.


Some rest areas are just an expanded shoulder, but many have maps of the local area with points of interest well-marked, picnic tables, and incredible views to admire. There are never “boring stretches of highway,” since the scenery all around is simply fantastic.


We also tried to maintain our routine, and alternated very active days (or long driving days) and slower days with shorter activities, so the kids could still get in plenty of play time, sleep and function.

We landed in Reykjavík and followed the Ring road north and east towards Akureyri. 

Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland, boasting a population of about eighteen thousand people.


It has a friendly small town vibe with sweet mom and pop stores, brightly colored homes, and a beautiful shoreline. It’s so pretty it makes me want to paint or sing or write poetry.


We spent five nights here in a spare but charming, well-established guesthouse, and found plenty to do nearby. Here are a couple of our highlights.

Lake Mývatn
Lake Mývatn – formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago – is lovely on it’s own, but it’s also a microcosm of birds and waterfowl.


It was an easy day trip from Akureyri. Duck enthusiasts note: this is the place to spot several duck species, including Barrow’s Goldeneye, which nests nowhere else in Europe.We saw some of those, and many others!


You can see these shallow placid pools in some areas of Lake Mývatn.


Of course, our toddler had a blast exploring the lakeshore, watching ducks and other birds. None of this was terribly interesting for the baby. But, she had her own plans…

On our drive back to Akureyri, we climbed up to see Krafla, a volcano that most recently erupted in the 1980s. As we all stood on the side of this volcano, shivering against a windchill of negative five degrees Celsius, taking in the vast expanse below us bathed in sunshine, Arya decided that there was no better time or place to blow out her diaper. It was the blowout to conquer all other blowouts, and I should mention that the crater Krafla left behind is conveniently named Víti (Icelandic for Hell). The irony is not lost on us. Ah, memories. Good thing we had spare clothes in the daypack.

Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. You really do feel the ground rumbling beneath your feet as you take in the power of these falls. We trudged over two kilometers across four or more feet of hard packed snow to see Dettifoss.


Truly worth it!


This was also the perfect opportunity to use the second Ergo carrier that we had borrowed from friends, to save our toddler from attempting to navigate this (and to save ourselves from the inevitable frustration, meltdowns and fussiness). Both kids were quite happy to ride with us, and enjoyed the roar of the falls but also playing in the snow afterwards.

There were some other things we wanted to see in the National Park near Dettifoss, but we had to turn around due to road and gate closures and big scary signs proclaiming that not even high-clearance 4×4 vehicles would be allowed through, and that anyone seen would be ticketed. Okay then, back we went!

Next, I’ll talk about Reykjavík, and some other cool things we saw around there, along with how we handled food, and other special situations we faced with our baby and toddler. Thanks for reading, and following our adventure!

A special note to young families thinking about traveling to Iceland with little ones: it really is worth it, and you and your kids will have a blast!

An Ode to Opportunities

Sometimes a thought pops into one’s head that is so compelling, one must drop everything to consider it.  To pursue it. To follow its course and see that thought through to an argument. A case for something. And when one is done wrestling within one’s inner monologue, it leaves one completely convicted, breathless, until truth is the only thing that remains. Friends, today this happened to me.

I was going to publish my final post about our recent trip to Iceland. But this is too important. I had to get these words out before they made my head explode.

I’m reading a book right now, in which a widowed father is taking care of his young, disabled daughter. They’re not wealthy. For her birthday, he gives her a book, something he knows she will love. He sees how happy it makes her, and then he explains that this is only part one of two books, and that if he saves up enough, perhaps, by her next birthday, they could buy the second part. But she doesn’t care. She has already started reading.

It brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m a new parent. Maybe it’s because I want to give my children anything they want (even though I won’t). And when they want something I don’t have, or cannot control, it breaks my heart. Maybe it’s because this very story is in a book that I got from my local public library – an incredible freedom and privilege that I take for granted even though it touches my life directly every . single . day. My family and I have access to virtually any book we want to read, at the click of a button. It costs me nothing. It is free, and freedom is a beautiful thing. It makes you stop what you’re doing, and makes you observe a silent moment of gratitude for the things you know you take for granted. Do that, right now.

Friends, there are so many opportunities we have every day that we don’t spend enough time thinking about. If you’re reading this right now, you are alive, breathing, not living in modern slavery or extreme poverty, not lacking clean water or nutritious food. You likely have the ability to go outside and explore your neighborhood, read or listen to books, eat a scoop of ice cream when a craving hits (sugar-free, gluten-free, non-dairy options, anyone?), save up enough money to fix something broken in your home, or take your kids on an outing to enrich your time together or broaden everyone’s horizons. These are wonderful opportunities.

So, when we are faced with senseless tragedies nearly every day, let them remind us that nothing is guaranteed. Not our health, not our jobs, and certainly not tomorrow. But we can find strength in the Hope that we have now, and happiness in the moments we give thanks. Take a deep breath, and savor it, knowing that every breath is a gift. Go take a walk around your neighborhood, read a library book, utter a silent prayer, have that conversation with your spouse that you know you’ve been meaning to have but just haven’t yet, and give thanks for those freedoms and opportunities. Hug your loved ones extra tight this week, my friends.