I set out to document our entire family vacation to Iceland. The hope was to give some ideas for anyone going there, and offer a little friendly help to people traveling with infants or with soy/dairy allergies (despite what you read, there can be a definite language barrier at times). I got sidetracked with work, grad school, training for a bike ride, raising a kid, and a few other things. Rather than junk the blog, here’s a salvaged version. I threw in some pictures too because everybody likes pictures. (And if you’re here for allergy-related, baby-related, or general Iceland-related info, feel free to skip down to ‘Things To Know’)
At the end of an exceptionally smooth 4 ½ hour red eye flight on Icelandair (and no, I don’t get paid to link to them, but they were THAT good) from Boston to Kevlavik, running on about one hour of sleep, we picked up and packed up our economy-sized rental car (booked separately through Orbitz) and embarked on a journey we surely will never forget. We drove along the coast, surrounded by lava fields, with sprawling mountains off in the distance. After about 45 minutes, we arrived at the hotel, the Hilton in Reykjavik (also fantastic accommodations, particularly for parents with young kids, because a bit away from the bustling city center) to drop off our luggage. We had about 4 hours to kill before check-in, which was “sometime around noon.”
Being Sunday, the grocery stores (and everything else) were closed. The baby needed some sleep, so we decided to hop in the car and do some exploring. After driving for about 10 minutes due east, our aimless tour brought us out to a spectacular countryside.
We drove around mountains, circled Pingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, and eventually wound up traveling down a dirt road that we were probably not supposed to be on with a 2-wheel-drive vehicle (there are a lot of those), before making our way back to the capital city.
After check-in, we managed to locate a dive of a burger joint within walking distance. Communicating a dairy and soy allergy was difficult, to say the least, but apparently successful.
From there, we headed to the downtown/harbor district. This is the place to be in Reykjavik. We wandered around, took in the breathtaking view of the coast, saw the fishing and whaling ships, and ate whale for dinner — which, might I add, was not very good. But we’re tourists, we had to at least try it. We ate dinner at Tabasco’s, a Mexican restaurant that serves traditional Icelandic food, for dinner. It, like everywhere else we went, was kid friendly. Allergy-wise, meh. Despite the server seeming to understand Jessica’s allergy, a pile of sour cream managed to find its way on the plate.
We eventually made our way back to the hotel, and despite a heavy cloud cover, the sky was still light when we went to bed at 10 pm. (April 29)
Exhausted from day one and not bothering to set an alarm, were able to hide from the sunlight behind blackout shades until about 9 am, which, with the time change is 5 am EST. Little did we know, the not-so-subtle sun would make sure we would not be allowed to “sleep in” for the remainder of the trip.
Our first stop was a place where a lot of Icelanders apparently like to hang out: the mall. Traveling with a baby means a lot of extra luggage. Before the trip, we got in touch with a couple of kind local bloggers (Ask Iceland and Something About Iceland on Facebook), confirmed that Pampers-brand diapers (fit-wise, diaper brand makes a difference) and Gerber (branded as Nestle) baby food are all widely available at local supermarkets. Bonus (discount supermarket), attached to the mall was our decided destination.
In the meantime, we explored the mall and I even picked up a nice pair of winter gloves that would come in quite handy later on in the trip. As a Bostonian, I was quite amused by the parking situation at the mall. You can choose to park in the one-hour lot or the two-hour lot – both at no charge and apparently on the honor system.
Some shopping and a couple espressos later, we headed for the famed Golden Circle. Weather conditions were a bit on the rainy side. Temperatures hovered in the mid-40s. The Almannagja Fault was our first stop. There, we walked between two towering cliffs that are the edges of two different tectonic plates. Ten-thousand years ago, the two cliffs were connected. Now, they have become separated by a narrow valley that has stretched to 230 feet wide, while sinking 131 feet in that time. This was perhaps the coolest sight of the entire trip.
After the fault line, we hit Geysir (grabbed a bite to eat at the Geysir tourist center), stopped at a famous waterfall, and popped our heads inside a church famous for a priest who was beheaded. After a long day, we stayed at the hotel for dinner – Vox at the Hilton. Baby-friendly, allergy-friendly, and great food.
Kicked off day three with a whale watch. Depending on the wind direction, there’s a chance they bus you to Kevlavik and set sail from there. If that’s the case, you may want to take the trip another day. It’s a long boat ride back — especially with an 8-month-old.
Back in Reykjavik we walked some more, wandered past the unassuming parliament building and checked out the pond.
Lunch before the boat ride was at Paris Café. It’s popular among tourists and locals alike. Allergy-friendly, kid friendly — but not Icelandic. Dinner was Fish & Chips. Recommended by a colleague. Oh man. You have to try this place.
This is about where the writing let off. So here are the highlights:
The Zoo. The Arbor Museum — we were the only guests on the tour, it was a pretty cool history lesson. We saw a ‘painting’ made of hair, grass houses, and more.
Day 4 was also pool day. The pools, which are indoor/outdoor are all fed by natural hot thermo-spring water. It’s 45 degrees out, but there are a ton of people hanging out outside.
Lunch: The famous Hot Dog place. Look for Bill Clinton’s photo hanging on the wall inside the stand. Apparently the hot dog is the favorite food of Icelanders. Oh, and it takes credit cards. We went the entire week without spending a dime of cash. EVERYWHERE TAKES CREDIT CARDS. Dinner: geyser bistro in downtown. Good.
Westman Islands — or Westfjords. If there’s one place you should absolutely go in Iceland, it’s here. This was the highlight of highlights on the trip. Just pulling in on the ferry made it worth it. The scenery’s breathtaking, the hiking is amazing (we climbed to the top of a volcano — baby in the backpack), the tiny island has the largest puffin population (along with all kinds of other sea birds) around, black sand beaches, rolling volcanic hills, the part where we sat and watched a pod of whales or dolphins splashing off the coast was pretty cool too. Go on a nice-weather day. You can drive around the island in 1/2 hr or you could hike all day. Either way. We didn’t stay the night, but it’s certainly possible. Book the ferry in advance. Also, check sunrise/sunset times. Driving back to the hotel with the sun in your eyes at 9:30 pm is no fun. On your way back, make sure to stop and check out the waterfall that you can see driving up the road from the ferry.
Other notes: Ate lunch at the Volcano Café on the island. Meh. Stopped at grocery store on the main strip (lots of American foods) and had a picnic for dinner. *not much in the realm of restaurants for off-season. Maybe more on season.
The Tunnel you ride through to get there is long and crazy. Follow the speed limits, there are cameras in the tunnel and along the roads. There’s a toll after the tunnel. No one told us about it. Luckily they take credit cards too.
Bring a winter coat too, we drove up into the mountains and there was lots of snow and ice (50s F down at sea level)
Raddison Blu 1919 for dinner. Great food, despite its fanciness, very accommodating to the kiddo.
Things to know:
– Heilsuhusio – the u & the o are u’ and o~ — organic health food store. Very allergy friendly.
– Lyfja – baby friendly Pharmacy
– There’s a Toys R Us in Reykjavik
– Hagkaup supermarket/clothing store. Clothes, gloves, household items. Had a gluten-free section.
– Bonus – Icelandic supermarket. Cheap. Plenty of produce, not much in the realm of English labels.
Bonus supermarket with the pig on it. Okay selection – Hagkaup grocery market had a better selection with a lot of American choices and a gluten free section. Bought baby clothes.
– 66 North – the North Face of Iceland. Everyone wears it there.
– Diapers and baby food (including organic/allergy friendly) – all readily available at most supermarkets.
– You have to buy your bags at supermarkets and pack them yourself.
– Gas is expensive. Unless you’re planning some serious off-roading, get a compact car.
– Some places are ‘pay at the bar’ vs. waitstaff brings the check.
– Food is expensive – but, tip is included… so it’s not as bad as it seems.
– Everywhere takes credit cards. Everywhere. Even the hot dog stand. We brought cash, but never used it. The 3% ‘foreign conversion fee’ for credit cards is a better deal than walking into a bank and exchanging American $ for Islandic Krona.
– We didn’t find a restaurant that wasn’t baby friendly. Some even had play areas for toddlers.
– In Reykjavik, Friday nights are as crazy as everyone says they are. Tip: If you don’t plan on sleeping, stay in the harbor district. If you would like to sleep, the Hilton was perfect for that. Grand Reykjavik Hotel was also a little bit away. Buses go by both of them. It’s probably a mile or so from the harbor area/downtown.
– Follow Speed limits
– English is widely spoken. Icelandic is more widely spoken. Don’t be surprised by the occasional language barrier — especially outside the city.
– Not all Icelanders are “Nice” and “willingly helpful”. We found that all of the Icelandic people we spoke to are courteous, though.
That’s about it.