A family adventure aka Iceland revisited

Last year, we embarked on the most adventurous trip we've ever taken as a family - a trip to Iceland. As a photographer and Instagram user (ha! seriously, Iceland is like the country du jour for the hip) it massively appealed to my aesthetic and adventurous side. My husband too has always been a keen traveller, both of us loving to throw ourselves into the new and explore the different. But with our kids? We hadn't quite done that yet. 

This is the trip and place I get asked about most, and a holiday i adored, so I thought I'd revisit it and relive the highs and lows of family adventure...


We've never been what you would describe as resort holidayers - before or after kids. Yet since having them we have definitely done trips that seemed do-able. I mean, it's still a holiday after all, right? We've done France, Portugal, Spain... New cities, new landmarks, new food and cultures. But always in our comfort zone. 

Then one day we saw a post on Facebook from an Icelandic family looking to house swap with a family in Brighton - and a snap decision was made. We were going to step out of our comfort zone and head off to the land of fire and ice. At the time, A had just turned 1 and wasn't yet sleeping through the night, and S was almost 6 and hated long journeys...but come on, ICELAND!

With 10 days we knew that we could cover quite a bit of the country, and knowing that this is probably a one off trip and that we won't be returning soon, we decided to do everything we could sanely fit in. That sane part is important when travelling with kids. I researched and planned and read and pinned like a beast.

We decided to split the trip into sections: 
  • Part 1-  Reykjavik
  • Part 2 - Road trip with overnight camping
  • Part 3 - Golden Circle

We had a lovely house in Rekyavik as our base for the duration of our stay. Here were some of our favourite things in the city:

Harpa. Easily my favourite spot in the city and the kids loved it too. It's a concert hall on the harbour, but a ridiculously beautiful one. It's all glass and shadow and light and pattern and nooks to get lost in. There is a restaurant here but we just made sandwiches and wandered around enjoying the space and the light and the calm. It seems like a pretty social place; there was a parent and baby group there one day, someone on their lunch with a sketch pad, tourists like us gazing at everything.

Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach. This is a really cool place. A man made beach about 20 minutes from the harbour (easily to get to on the bus). I think we were the only tourists there - it's definitely a local thing. The beach is super clean with a small play area, a little lagoon to splash and swim in (with a smaller inner pool that's a little warmer and a properly hot long tub in which you sit shoulder to shoulder with locals - it's a MUST. There's a cafe and music and the whole thing on a sunny day had a great beach party vibe. GO!

Lake Tjörnin. Known locally as the pond. A great place to walk around in the downtown part of the city, with loads of local birds which are great to watch.

Hallgrímskirkja Church. This church looks out over the city, giving the most beautiful view of Reykjavik. It's an amazing building, completely different from any church I've ever been to. Our 5 year old loved looking around it and climbing to the top, so a winner all round.

The Harbour. There is loads going on at the Harbour. If you want to do any boat rides/tours (we did a short puffin watching ride that was great for our kids as lots to see in a short space of time, and PUFFINS!) then go here. There are also some great food places, a cinema, museum and the big metal sculpture which is a good place to sit whilst the kids clamber.

Hotdogs Yeah hotdogs! There's a little shack at the Harbour that does the most delicious Icelandic hotdogs - there's even a picture of Bill Clinton tucking into one. The glorious thing about holidays is the rules go out of the window - so there we all were, way past bedtime, all sat along the sea wall munching hotdogs in near perfect daylight despite it being midnight. Magical.

Next, the road trip.

We researched the things we really wanted to see in Iceland and very high (if not at the top) of both of our lists was the Glacier Lagoon. If you google 'Iceland Glacier Lagoon' you will be inundated with glorious images of other-wordly ice, breathtaking and ethereal. You will think "I WILL DO ANYTHING TO SEE THAT". 

Anything, it turns out, is driving for 8 hours with two children under 5 in the car.

BUT. Adventure! Floating ice! Glaciers!

In all fairness, when we planned this trip we didn't realise it would take 8 hours. We thought it would be closer to 4.5. HAHAHAHAHAHA. 8 hours, dear reader, is what happens when kids get involved. What with their needing to be fed and watered, and then to get rid of that water and food and then be entertained and all. that. jazz.

About half way there, when we realised we were only half way despite driving for what we thought would be the total duration, we arrived in the semi darkness (perpetual daylight, remember?) in the lashing rain to the bleakest place in Iceland. Vik. With it's deep black, foreboding shoreline, and the sheets of rain falling in every direction, it felt like an omen. A very. bad . omen. My husband and I looked at each and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Should we go on driving? Should we try and find somewhere to sleep for the night? Should we just run into the ocean never to return? We wrapped up, huddled the babes through the rain and into the warmth of a cafe - chips and hot chocolate, we decided, would solve everything.

And it did. With full bellies and a break from the car exploring the rock museum, we found the strength to carry on. Driving that distance across Iceland was *mostly* amazing. The landscape could not be more different from one hour to the next. We drove through lava fields, past black beaches, around mighty waterfalls and finally we arrived to our campsite, at the bottom of a glacier. 

Let's be clear, our children were rockstars. R O C K S T A R S. It's really quite ridiculous to ask two small children to be strapped into a small moving space for hours at a time and be happy about it, yet they did their best. They even enjoyed some of it. They really hated some bits, yes, but didn't we all?

Arriving at the campsite was absolutely magical. Sach was so excited about his very first camping trip, and even though it took another hour to set up, and despite forgetting the sleeping bags (thank God for the 57 wool blankets we remembered to bring) he thought it was amazing. And that joy spread through all of us and hunkering down, the four of us snuggled in that tent that night made the drive totally worth it.
At the time of our trip I wrote on Instagram:
'The thing about travelling with kids is that sometimes it feels like you're being selfless - overlooking places or things that you want to do but that wouldn't suit you as a family. But really, you're being somewhat selfish in taking your kids on a big trip in the first place. It's hard being 5 and understanding that to do this very cool thing you may have to sit in a car for hours on end, which you hate with passion. Over the course of the trip we managed to gently balance all our needs (not easy, but hey, what is when it comes to growing as a human?) and that was a great thing to accomplish for our family.'

That part about balancing our needs? This drive was the turning point for that. I mean, I like to think we're considerate parents. We love our kids and want them to enjoy the amazing sights whilst being comfortable and making sure to remember that they are small. But moving through the frustration of not being able to stop to take photographs or sight see everything was a really important reminder for us. A reminder that sometimes the 5th waterfall looks exactly the same as the other 4, and stopping at every crumbly shack that you want to photograph really isn't worth it. It reminded me of this blog post which says 'it's their day too'. The needs of the group, of the family, are greater than mine or his or ours.


The final part of our trip was The Golden Circle. This is an ideal trip with (or without) kids. There are regular stops, wide open spaces, limited time in the car. And so much beauty. We did this trip in a day, setting off at a decent time and spending a glorious few hours at bedtime swimming the lagoon. You can really make the trip as long or as short as you want depending on stops. The Þingvellir National Park is amazing, you could easily spend the whole day here wandering and picnicing. It would also be an epic place to camp. Also the toilets at the visitors centre are the most picturesque place to wee ever, so go do that.

And did I mention The Secret Lagoon yet? No? At the end of the day we arrived around 7pm. We weren't sure what to expect or how the kids would be seeing as it was technically bedtime, so when we rocked up to this little quiet place in the middle of a small village, we had no expectations. We got changed in the little wooden cabin and walked through to the pool. It was beautiful. We all sunk in, and it was honestly just magical. The heat and the surroundings, the golden light and the hushed hum of everyone relaxing...It did something to us, to the kids. They were in a little trance, we all were. Sach was the most beautiful I have ever seen him. His face flushed rosy red from the water, he spent hours collecting the algae from around the pool and piling it up, happily chatting to himself. Arla was half asleep, happy to be held and whooshed through the water, us passing her back and forth so we could swim around and float and breathe. It was the highlight of that trip. Of that year. It's become my happy place, and sometimes I find myself wistfully thinking about it and pretending I'm there (instead of making this weeks 543rd meal).
So then, the best thing about that family adventure? That lessons learned; knowing we could work through things as a team and work better for it after. And of course being left with some amazing memories. Whilst our kids may have been too little to remember many specifics, I hope it gave them something deeper - the feeling of adventure, the confidence to launch themselves into new spaces and a curiosity about the world.

Plus, did you see our photos?!

This is a post for the Trips100/Family Adventure Company blogger challenge!