I’m kicking off my #40daysofholidays with a goodie…7 days in Iceland!!! And oh my goodness it was truly the most epic adventure we’ve ever been on as a family. Iceland has been on my bucketlist of places to visit for a while now and February half term seemed the ideal time to get it ticked off. Yes going at this time of year meant it was cold, but it’s all about the layers and regular hot chocolate stops.
Talking of hot chocolate, go make yourself a brew then sit back and have a read of our Icelandic adventures.
Where We Ate
We love eating out as a family and now the kids are getting slightly more adventurous (well one of them is at least) it’s always a great joy to discover local cafes and restaurants in different countries. Some of course vary in quality, both in terms of food and dining experience, so if we leave with smiles on our faces and full bellies we know we’ve found a goodie.
Reykjavik did not disappoint in the foodie fare it had to offer, with plenty of variation and lots of choices for the fussier ones among us, here are some of our favourites:
Rosso Pomodoro is an Italian restaurant on Laugavegur that does the usual Italian fare of pizza, pasta etc. Nothing fancy, but really tasty food, the fact we all had spotlessly clean plates at the end can vouch for that…or maybe it’s because we’d warned the kids so much about how much their food was costing they were too scared to leave anything! £90 got us 3 adult sized pizzas, a child’s pasta, 2 beers and one soft drink…and this was one of our cheaper meals.
Opposite the dramatic Hallgrimskirkja, the iconic church of Reykjavik – it looks like a giant pipe organ and it’s jewellery box dulcet tones chimes every 15 minutes – is the quaint Cafe Loki. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but the menu has a whole spectrum of traditional Icelandic goodies and in fact the best hot chocolate we tasted whilst we were there. It was also my first taste of the popular Icelandic treat rather amusingly called Love Balls, a kind of stodgy, doughy ball flavoured with raisins and lemon and bang on perfect for dunking in hot choccy!
Luckily for us it just so happened to be Pancake Day when we were there and it would have been an unforgiveable crime if we hadn’t celebrated it, because ummm hello…pancakes! Eldur & ÍS is the only place you wanna be heading for pancakes – seriously good and ALL the toppings, ranging from classics like syrup, right through to Toblerone. They also have an impressive ice cream and hot chocolate selection and the vibe in there is kinda disco meets boho – über trendy, but in a welcoming way. We demolished 2 Nutella and Banana, one Lemon and Sugar and one Orange and Toblerone – so good it barely hit the sides!
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian and you’re thinking of going to Iceland, then I must warn you that there are a couple of restaurants that advertise puffin and whale on the menu. We are full on out and proud meat eaters, but even we had to draw the line at eating puffin (mainly because our daughter took great offence and gave us mega evils every time we dared suggest it, as having been in puffins class at school last year she couldn’t shake he association). However my husband did try Minke whale steak at Geysir Restaurant and I’ve got to say it was mega tasty – like the leanest beef steak you’ve ever eaten. I ended up with food envy that night as I had Icelandic fish stew which was a bit of a disappointment – it looked beautiful but tasted like a very cheesy fish pie, although the rye bread on the side was the best I have ever eaten. We also treated ourselves to a bottle of red wine, which was delish, but maybe not quite as delish as the £60 price label!
A place we dropped into a couple of times for (more!) hot chocolate and treats was Kaffi Brennslan also on Laugavegur. It does the yummiest waffles, and is a real cosy candlelit snug of a place that wait for it…does free coffee refills…yes….FREE!
But by far our favourite restaurant of the lot, and actually the simplest, cheapest and most fill your tummy to satisfied place was Svarta Kaffid, an unassuming wooden chalet located about halfway down Laugavegur. They offer literally just two choices, so there’s none of this umming and ahhing over ridiculously long, wordy menus, nope you have meat soup or you have vegetable soup. And I know that sounds boring, but trust me it is the best soup you’ll EVER eat. The soup choices change on a daily basis, when we went it was either Mushroom or Beef, Lamb and Pepperoni, and they come served in a hollowed out crusty bread roll. Soooooooo scrummy! We all loved the simplicity and it was nice to get our insides all nicely warmed up before heading out into the cold again. This is an absolute not to be missed if you ever visit Iceland.
Museums and Art Galleries
We like a good museum and art gallery as much as the next family, although don’t always visit them when we’re on holiday as they can sometimes be overpriced and well…boring. However, when it’s super cold and you’ve done the stop for hot chocolate at the cafe thing, you need to find respite from it somewhere. The first day saw us trekking through an arctic snowstorm and it was proper biting, frostbite cold. In fact at times the wind made it virtually impossible to walk and you know when it’s windy on a beach and the sand blasts against your skin that was exactly what the snow was doing. The kids struggled with this the most and had it been like this all week it would have been an absolute nightmare, but we carried on trekking, snot streaming, eyes half shut, slowly shuffling until we arrived at the warm inner sanctuary that is the National Museum. This museum looks at the history of Iceland from the early settlers right through to modern day. It’s got a good mixture of interesting stuff for the adults; I loved the exhibit all about the discovery of a lady called ‘The Lady in Blue’ whose remains were found in 1938 in East Iceland and because a copper brooch had covered her cheek it meant part of her cheek and jawbone had been completely preserved, and the kids loved the interactive listening points, pull out drawers, dress ups, Viking armour and the book nook.
Where do you take your kids when you visit Reykjavik? Why the Icelandic Phallological Museum of course! Yes we are those parents. From miniature hamster dicks right through to massive sod off sperm whale knobs there is a willy for everyone; there’s even, heavens forbid, a human one in there – apparently you can donate your own penis when you die! Each pickled specimen is displayed in a labelled jar and gives you a bit of info, but let’s be honest we’re not interested in what the blurb says, it’s more about giggling at the wrinkles and hair. It’s a small museum, so you don’t spend long in there (when you’ve seen one you’ve kinda seen them all) but it’s good on a bad weather day and guarantees a snigger from adults and kids alike.
If you want a museum that’s a little bit different, has the best views across Reykjavik and just so happens to be very Instagram photogenic then Perlan museum is a must. This museum is all about Iceland’s natural wonders and features a reconstructed ice cave, which you wander through with a guide who explains all the various geographical bits and bobs. Once you’ve finished the ice cave tour you can look around the interactive section all about glaciers and how they are gradually disappearing. But the best bit by far is located right on the top floor, where there is an observation deck showing off 360º views across the city. And if that wasn’t enough there is also a gorgeous cafe and restaurant inside the giant glass domed roof that is perfect for people watching and does a mean hot chocolate and banana cake.
Icelanders clearly love their art as there are tonnes of art galleries in Reykjavik as well as a vast array of impressive street art emblazoning many of the city centre buildings. We picked one day that we called ‘Art Day’ and challenged the kids to see how many photos of street art they could get, which worked wonders for getting them to walk a bit longer without moaning! Some of the galleries are linked to one another, so for instance we visited Hafnarhús which had lots of modern art including a pop art exhibition which the kids loved, and our ticket also allowed us entry into Kjarvalsstaðir and Ásmundarsafn. I’ve never seen the kids so interested in artwork before and it was great watching them get involved with the art pieces. They were so inspired that one evening we set each other drawing challenges and pinned the pictures up on the wall of the apartment.
If you aren’t doing the Blue Lagoon thing on the return airport run then I would highly recommend a quick stop off at The Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Situated in Keflavik, so literally a stones throw from the airport, it charts the history of Icelandic music, which turns out is way more varied than Björk…literally the only Icelandic musician I’d heard of. The best bits were the various booths where you could play the drums, electric guitars, have a go on the mixing desks and do a spot of karaoke – I’ll never forget just how cute it was watching my daughter sing along to Ed Sheeran 🙂
We had so many fab experiences in Iceland, and it’s so tricky to get across just how amazing they were. Highlights for us were without doubt the Blue Lagoon (an Iceland must and apparently one of the 25 wonders of the world…although I’m not quite sure when that changed from 8!?!) and the Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel.
We visited the Blue Lagoon at night, mainly because we left it so late to book and that was the only timeslot we could get, but it was just as magical an experience, albeit a very different one to if we had gone in the daytime. Obviously being dark and all, we couldn’t see the blueness of this sensational geothermal lagoon, but bathing under the very clear starry skies, wandering through the steam and wallowing in the pure tranquillity and magical aura that quite frankly can only come at night, was a moment I will never forget. You get a two hour slot, which when you book doesn’t seem very long especially considering the price, but the water is so hot in places that it is definitely more than enough time. It’s a very strange sensation being surrounded by snow and freezing air, but feeling absolutely boiling! If you do feel light headed there are plenty of places you can get out on the sides, a bar to get a drink or water fountains if you’d prefer not to pay any more money, plus stop offs at the silica mud mask bar, caves and waterfalls mean there is plenty to keep you occupied.
Also featuring in our top 3 Iceland faves was the lava tunnel at Raufarhólshellir – one of the longest and best-known lava tubes in Iceland. It’s located about 30 minutes from Reykjavík and is easily accessed by road, just remember to check whether they are open beforehand if there has been a lot of snow. When we went they had to dig out the pass to enter the cave and it had taken them 4 hours the snow had been so bad, but that of course made it feel like even more of an adventure!. Kitted out with helmet and torch, crampons for extra grip on the feet, and a tonne of anticipation we entered the cave via the small dugout path. None of us have ever done anything like this before and I wasn’t sure what the kids would make of it – it could of gone one of two ways, you don’t know unless you try right, but thankfully they both loved it. The tunnel was formed by the flow of lava that came from the Leitahraun eruption, which occurred east of the Bláfjöll mountains about 5200 years ago, which absolutely blows your mind when you find yourself stood somewhere that old! From sparkling ice stalactites and stalagmites, towering snow cones, bacteria that is the same as that found on Mars, it is a geography student’s dream, and indeed for a family of four! Sometimes you’ve got to take a risk with what you think your kids are capable of and what they may or may not enjoy; they will always end up surprising you.
And finally, the tour that everyone talks about when they think of Iceland, the Golden Circle. What did I think of it? Disappointing. But it’s a toughie, because you kinda gotta do it if you visit Iceland, it would be totally wrong if you didn’t, just don’t go with high hopes, as like everything that’s any good in the world…it’s been totally wrecked by tourism. We were lucky in that we had our own car so were able to avoid sitting on a tour bus for hours on end, but that didn’t mean we avoided the crowds entirely, as it is unfortunately just one long trail of people being herded from place to place. So if you’re not in a traffic queue, you’re slowly traipsing around the sites behind tour group after tour group, it’s completely unavoidable and for me completely took away from the experience. If you don’t know what the Golden Circle is, it’s basically a tour of three natural sights in Iceland – Þingvellir National Park, the geothermal area in Haukadalur which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, and the Gullfoss waterfall. It’s an all day thing, purely because of the traveling involved and yes of course watching a mass load of water erupt into the air is impressive, but when you’re fighting to get a view of it with Japanese tourists who want to make the peace sign for another selfie, it kinda loses it’s appeal!
If you’re going to do it, and like I said you kinda feel you have to, then my top tip would be to do it in reverse. You won’t be as amazed – the waterfall is deffo the best of the three and the furthest away distance wise, whereas the National Park certainly in the winter time just looks like any other snowy landscape – but you will hopefully avoid the crowds.
So what did we actually make of Iceland? Well you can probably tell from the way I’ve wittered on! However, I asked everyone what their top 3 things were and we all said the same:
- Blue Lagoon
- Lava Tunnel
- Soup in a bread roll
It was a fab holiday and OK so we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights, but oh my goodness we got so much more than that. Plus watching the kids play in proper snow, something they’ve never been able to do before (although maybe they’ll get another chance if the weather forecasters have got it right this time for the UK!), was just pure parental joy.
If you’re planning a trip to Iceland soon, I’ve put together another blogpost which includes a load of tips to help you save a bit of cash and give you a heads up on a few things before you go -> https://artofhealthyliving.co.uk/reykjavik-top-tips/