Visiting Reykjavik, Iceland, made us feel as if we stepped into a photo shoot for Eddie Bauer. All the tourists dress in Gore-Tex jackets, zip-off pants and hiking boots! (Locals, on the other hand, sport jeans, T-shirts and flip-flops!)This northern-most capital city offers a chance to explore nature and then relax in one of the many thermal springs pools. Getting to Reykjavik is easy with free stop-overs offered by Icelandic Air as well as many other carriers flying into the city. If traveling with children, check out the “Little Passports” program to give them an overview of what to expect on their trip.
Reykjavik City Card
Since we had five days to experience Reykjavik and the surrounding area, we took advantage of the Reykjavik City Card. Just flashing this card gave us free, unlimited rides on all the city buses in the city’s central area, along with admission to any of the seven thermal swimming pools. The card also includes free admission to many of the city’s museums. A specially reduced price for children makes the pass a good value for families.
Time for a Hot Soak
Many brochures claim a visit to the Blue Lagoon is not to be missed. This giant swim area located in a lava field lagoon filled with geothermal seawater stays at 100 degrees year round. As we headed out to swim in the Blue Lagoon, several tourists (and one local!) told us to save our money. They all said the experience was overpriced and a trip to a local swimming pool provides almost the same experience. The Blue Lagoon is so popular a deluxe hotel is being constructed to enhance the swim and spa experience, so obviously not everyone is in agreement with the people we met. We decided to use our City Card and took the bus to a great outdoor pool complex. Different pools and hot tubs had water with varying temperature. I soaked in a luxuriously super-hot spa while watching some brave souls sit in a tub with water colder than we have in Puget Sound. And that is cold! With seven pools in the area, most hotels are located within walking distance of a pool.
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Did You Study Icelandic History in School?
Most of us probably know very little about the history of Iceland. That’s why visiting some of the museums in Reykjavik will make you an expert on Icelandic history and culture while playing your next Trivial Pursuit game. The National Museum gives a perspective on the history and daily life of the Icelandic people. Kids can push buttons on interactive displays while also dressing up in period costumes. The main exhibit alone has over 2,000 artifacts.
Since Iceland has a strong fishing and boating culture, it made sense to visit the Maritime Museum. Many of the displays realistically conveyed the hard work and danger involved with fishing. Sort of like being on the set of Deadliest Catch! I enjoyed the exhibit on the fishing women of Iceland which goes to show women can handle hard conditions just like men.
Reykjavik offers many other museums, including the ever-popular “Phallic Museum”. The museum displays hundreds of …well…you know…phallic specimens. The majority are from whales, birds and mammals. (Including one human specimen.) I’ll let you decide if you want to take your kids!
Hit the Road in an ATV
We always try and do something new when visiting a city. Since we’ve never ridden an ATV, a trip with Safari Quads helped us cross off another item on our bucket list. Our friendly guide picked us up at our hotel for a short ride to the Safari Quads facility. Don’t forget…you need a driver’s license in order to drive a quad. Younger children (or chickens like myself) can ride behind a qualified driver.
After getting helmets, gloves and a safety lesson, we were off. I simply clung to my husband’s waist and yelled the entire time that he was driving too fast. He pretended not to hear me through his helmet. The route includes paved roads, gravel paths and tracks with steep ruts and boulders. While I’m thankful I have no neck or back problems, I did get jostled and bounced to the extent that I was sore the next day.
Riding the ATV resulted in getting us to the top of a mountain where we overlooked the entire city of Reykjavik. Later, we rode through a small creek and then ascended another mountain for more 360-degree views. Our guide pointed out various landmarks and gave us information about the unique landscape in Iceland. Did you know there are no native trees on the island? All of them were planted! Older kids will probably enjoy the chance to see Iceland from a fast and furious perspective.
The Golden Circle Tour sometimes described as a tour of “Geographic Disneyland”. While you won’t see costumed “cast members” operating roller coasters, you will see a variety of landscapes and natural rock and water formations.
The driver with Iceland Horizon picked us up at our hotel right on time. With a small bus, getting off and on at each stop was quick and easy. (Obviously I enjoy efficiency!) At first I was hesitant about signing up for an eight-hour tour, but the frequent stops made good use of time. Having a local driver made the tour interesting as he shared facts as well as personal experiences about growing up in Iceland.
This Golden Circle tour gives a great overview of Iceland’s geologic attractions. We stopped at majestic Gullfoss waterfall where a group of tourists from Kansas couldn’t stop oohing and aahing about the waterfalls. The entire group had never seen a waterfall so I enjoyed watching their enthusiasm. Speaking of efficiency, the Stokkur Geyser erupts about every three minutes, so if you miss it while tying your shoe, another eruption is soon to come. Remember helping your children understand tectonic plates? The Thingvellir National Park offers a dramatic example of just how the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are diverging. You can actually stand in North America and Europe at the same time.
We spent five days in Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. In retrospect, three days is plenty of time to see what we did. Many people opt to rent a car and spend a week to ten days driving around the island. While we enjoyed our visit, I’ll honestly say Iceland didn’t live up to the grand descriptions I read about. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we have many hot springs, ice caves, mountains and volcanoes, so the natural attractions in Iceland didn’t have the “Wow” factor I expected. However, seeing the excitement from the Kansas tourists reminded me how travel is an individual experience. My positive memories of Iceland include their looks of awe at seeing their first waterfall.