A Spontaneous Adventure
I’m here to present to you the joys and ease of a mini adventure break to Iceland!
I have to confess that Covid has somewhat knocked my solo (i.e., without my husband) travelling confidence.
This seems somewhat ridiculous given that when my children were only 8 and 9, I took them halfway across the world to Auckland alone. Now I was feeling nervous taking an 11- and 12-year-old to Europe…
To counteract this, I decided the best option was to get back on the horse as it were. One Saturday morning I woke up and the thought of Iceland popped into my head. I checked out the Covid restrictions, which all seemed to work for us. (Children born after 2005 are exempt from any testing, vaccination or quarantine requirements).
Next up, I found some cheap flights for the following Saturday-Wednesday. Feeling somewhat impulsive, we booked them. A perennial planner, this is about as spontaneous as I get when it comes to travel!
Then followed a full-on week of trying to juggle teaching the children, taking them to their many classes, alongside researching and booking accommodation, trips and transport! But the following Saturday, the three of us were on a plane heading north for once. Huge smiles were plastered on our faces!
And boy am I glad we made that decision. It turns out Iceland is the perfect destination for an action-packed mini winter adventure break. I will return in a heartbeat!
There are SO many exciting adventures to be had in this beautiful country. Far more in fact than I could possibly squeeze into our short time there. Even just playing in the thick snow and sliding on the abundant ice would have satisfied the kids, having never encountered that much snow.
My experience of driving in icy conditions is limited, so we opted for basing ourselves in Reykjavik and taking organised tours from there rather than hiring a car. This was a great option. The roads were treacherous. Although the Icelanders seemed very confident, I met a wobbly tourist very shaken after losing control on the ice.
Many tours are available from Reykjavik, in fact overwhelmingly so. They’re not cheap, but worth every penny. Furthermore, they’re always accompanied by an amusing and interesting Icelandic guide. Here’s what we chose to do on our mini adventure break to Iceland.
Snowmobiling on a Glacier, The Golden Circle & a Super Jeep!
Mountaineers of Iceland are a well-respected and safe company, many of whose guides have experience on the national rescue team. The fact that their tours include transport in a super jeep sealed the deal for us (Harry was beside himself with excitement at this prospect!).
We booked their Pearl Tour. This was a full day excursion including snowmobiling on the Langjokull glacier as well as visit to the main attractions of the Golden Circle: Geysir, Gullfoss waterfalls and Pingvellir National Park.
Pingvellir National Park
At 8:30am our monster truck arrived. After collecting a few others, we headed out to the glacier in the dark (it doesn’t get light until 10:30 in January). Arni our charismatic driver, then spent the next 90 minutes regaling us with fascinating stories of the history of Iceland; the genetic make-up of its people; their animals, food and weather.
Oh, and that it was “total bullshit” that Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover America! The Icelandic Vikings had been travelling back and forth to America many years before the Italian explorer accidentally bumped into the island of the Dominican Republic!
Our first stop was Pingvellir National Park. This was the site, in the year 930, of the first democratic parliament in the world, i.e., all men – rich or poor – were allowed a vote (but not the women, so not that democratic!). Set in a rift valley with many waterfalls, rivers and lakes, it was a beautiful setting.
But the most exciting part for us was the opportunity to walk between two tectonic plates! In the below picture you can see the North American plate on the left. This is, very slowly, pulling apart from the Eurasian plate on the right. Pretty cool!
Back in the car park, Arni prepared the jeep for the drive on the glacier, attaching tubes to the wheels so he could adjust the air levels from inside. Harry was fascinated and engaged Arni in a long chat about things like differentials…
Next was our trip up the glacier to the snowmobile site. Now we really had the chance to see what this super jeep was made of! The ride was an extremely bumpy and exciting – Arni called it an Icelandic massage!
Exiting the jeep at the top was a surreal sensation: like looking at a wall of white. You literally couldn’t tell where the ground stopped, and the sky started. Somewhat disorientating but amazing.
We suited up and the kids played on slow sides down the sides of the huts. Finally our group headed out on the snowmobiles after a brief instruction on how to drive them.
I paid extra for Rosie to go with a guide as you needed a driving licence to drive and could only fit two per snowmobile. This was a blessing in disguise for my speed demon girl. The rest of us had to follow in a line as the conditions were so bad. But the guide, and Rosie, whizzed up and down the line helping where needed.
Quite a few of our group were very cautious and going slowly was more dangerous. Without the momentum over the uneven ground, they just gently toppled over… Great excuse for me to go fast! Harry and I hung back, waiting to see how fast we could go, but only reached speeds of 35kmph. Rosie, however, was speeding along at 70kmph+. Lucky girl! It was an extremely exhilarating experience, despite the difficult conditions.
Gullfoss Waterfalls & Geysir
By the time we returned down the glacier, the snowdrifts were so thick, our truck got seriously stuck in the snow… The giant super truck pulled us out several times and Arni was a determined man. Eventually though, we had to be transferred to the bigger vehicle to get down the mountain. It was sad to leave Arni, but without the weight of his passengers, he made it down before us and we transferred back at the bottom. This took a while, but was all part of the excitement for the kids.
With limited daylight left, our next stop was the stunning Gullfoss waterfalls, tumbling down a two-tiered drop into a rugged canyon below. And finally came our visit to see Geysir, the original hot-water explosion after which all other geysers are named. It was semi dark by this stage. We watched it burst a couple of times (it performs every 5-10 mins) before heading back for the journey home.
We were all exhausted but there was more to come. Our Northern Lights tour was cancelled the previous two nights, but this night it was running…
The Northern Lights
After some rather fast driving by Arni, we arrived back to the hotel at 7:30, with just enough time to run into town to grab a quick pizza before our next tour arrived at 9pm.
I wasn’t holding out much hope for seeing the lights as every other tour was cancelled that evening. But I’d done my research and Iceland Everywhere seemed to get exceptional reviews primarily because of the persistence of the guide Siggi in hunting out sights to spot these wonders.
On our drive out towards the airport, the only spot on the island clear of clouds, Siggi explained the science behind the Aurora Borealis phenomenon. The kids listened intently to his stories of solar storm clouds of gases travelling to Earth, with some of them being captured in its magnetic field and accelerating down into the atmosphere. Here they collide with oxygen and nitrogen, heating them up and making them glow to make a beautiful curtain of colours.
Harry listened to most of it but then promptly fell deep asleep! The day had just been a little too much for the little man.
I let him sleep until we arrived, when Siggi spotted that the lights were out already. It was only 10:30pm. We were lucky – they’re often not out until much later. I woke Harry and we all stepped out to watch this hauntingly special sight.
At first it looked like an uninspiring band of wispy white cloud. But switching my camera to night sight to take a photo, brought the green hues vividly to life. Simply magical. As the evening progressed and we steadfastly stood fixed to the spot, battling the cold and wind (although a lot warmer than our daytime glacier experience), the lights developed into a distinct arc of green across the sky. From our position sheltered behind a small hut to block out the light pollution, we watched the colours dance around with the naked eye.
It was a serenely exceptional experience. One I shall never forget.
Rosie was the most entranced. Even when everyone else had returned to the warmth of the bus and a hot chocolate, she stood gazing up into the sky. Siggi asked me what I fed her that she was still going strong after such a hectic day. For her, it was spiritual.
The Aurora lasted for over an hour, and we waited until midnight to see how it might develop, but by then the clouds had set in, so Siggi called it a day.
We were back in bed by 1:15am. A very long day, but we needed to get some rest as we had to be up in a few hours for our next tour…
Exploring a Lava Tunnel
The next morning, we found ourselves on another tour bus chattering happily to another couple from our hotel the thirty minutes it took to reach the magnificent lava tunnel, Raufarhólshellir. Fitted with helmets and chains for our shoes, we followed yet another amusing Icelandic guide into the tunnel.
The lava tunnel is one of the longest in Iceland at an impressive 1,360m. It was formed after a low viscosity lava flow from a nearby volcanic eruption developed a hard outer crust where it met the cold air. This thickened and hardened as the hot molten liquid continued to flow inside it.
Some parts of the roof had caved it, but the majority was intact, with a range of different colours of the various minerals melded into its walls. The children were equally as fascinated by the stunning natural ice sculptures found within.
As tired as we were from the previous day’s excursions, the fascinating guide held our attention for the hour-long exploration and geology talk. And as usual, the kids had many questions for him…
An easy half-day excursion from Reykjavik, I would highly recommend.
Some people say the Blue Lagoon is overly commercialised and there are better geothermal pools in Iceland. But for me, just 45 minutes from Reykjavik, it’s the perfect mini adventure on your break to Iceland.
- It’s extremely beautiful – a cyan blue spa set in a black-lava field.
- Kids go free (which sort of offsets the high adult entry!)
- You sit, float and swim in superheated water (a perfect 38 degrees) whilst it snows around you.
- The water is rich in mineral salts, fine silica mud and blue-green algae, which leaves your skin beautifully exfoliated.
- Whilst you do all this, you can sip a cold drink and try a silica mask to boot.
What’s not to like? Needless to say, the kids and I loved it.
Fly Over Iceland Simulation
With one afternoon remaining on our mini adventure break to Iceland, I let the kids chose which of the many museums to explore. Harry opted for the Fly Over Iceland simulation. This was located in the Old Harbour, a forty-minute walk through the snowy (and quite icy) streets of Reykjavik.
Even with the one-child free offer, it was still expensive (like most things in Iceland) but like a big kid, I loved it. After some introductory videos about the history of the country, you strap into the ride, and are suspended, feet dangling, whilst you’re taken on a 4D simulation of a flight over this magnificent country.
You fly over glaciers, erupting volcanoes, up and over its highest peaks, skirting over the tops of its rivers and down its many waterfalls. Simply stunning. I wanted to do it again as soon as we’d finished!
Here’s the link to the promotional video.
Logistics & Tips
If you fancy a mini adventure break of your own to this unique country of Iceland, below are some tips and advice about logistics.
Food is top quality but eye wateringly expensive! For my growing boy, I need quantity over quality in this regard. So, we took a LOT of food with us – pittas, wraps, meat paste, peanut butter, jam, apples and snacks. Turns out the kids are quite fond of a meat paste wrap… That way, I had breakfast and lunch covered and only needed to eat out in the evening (at as cheap a place we could find!).
It was extremely cold (-7 degrees Celsius on the glacier), so you need layers, preferably with an underlayer of Merino wool thermals. Hats, snoods, waterproof gloves, trousers and coats, along with sturdy hiking boots are a must.
I also massively appreciated the inner, thinner pair of gloves I bought, for taking photos without freezing your fingers! Some ice grips to slip over the boots would have also been an excellent idea to stop us slipping on the ice.
We stayed at the Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel in Reykjavik. It was excellent, I would 100% return. The beds were super comfy, the rooms warm and sound proofed. This was a huge relief as on the first day, Rosie had to film a last-minute self-tape audition which involved her literally screaming for help! We repeated it several times, and I was a little nervous someone would come and investigate, but clearly the soundproofing was very effective.
The hotel was a mile from the centre but near lots of restaurants and all of the tour buses stopped here. There was a very relaxed vibe about the place and the staff (like most Icelanders) were highly efficient and very friendly.
Oh, and the breakfasts were amazing – we treated ourselves on the last morning. Kids are half-price, which given how much my two eat, made it extremely good value for money.
As mentioned above, we opted not to rent a car given the icy conditions, but in the summer, this would be a great option.
You do need to pre-register before arrival into Iceland. Simply fill in this form here before you go.
At the time we travelled, adults needed to be double vaccinated and have a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours of arrival (or alternatively present a positive PCR test older than 7 days but less than 180). Children born after 2005 do not need to pre-register or be vaccinated. Nor do they need to test to enter the country.
So, what are you waiting for? Why not book a mini-adventure break to Iceland of your own!