six days in iceland

We went to Iceland in August 2021 and it’s even more breathtaking than I could have possibly imagined. [It’s also well-vaccinated, has extraordinarily low Covid rates, and is welcoming of tourists: it all felt right for us.] You can see a whole lot of the country in a well-planned week but we travel as a group of four adults with five kids and try to find the right balance between not overdoing it and catching the things we most want to see. Please note: As always, absolutely nothing here is sponsored or comped in any way.

Day 1: Reykjavik

Jetlag is no joke when your 4.5-hour flight is supposed to constitute a night’s sleep. But, as it was approximately 8:30am, our room wasn’t ready at the apartment hotel [Reykjavik Residence Hotel] so we got some coffee, chocolate milk, and amazing pastries Brauð & Co. and drove around, ending up at the Grótta Island Lighthouse, which also the first time it hit me that all the sand in Iceland is shades of black, from a long history of volcanic activity. After an epic nap, we got a last-minute reservation at 27 mathús & bar. The food was fantastic (please don’t miss the house blue gin that turns purple when tonic is added), and like most restaurants in Iceland, they were wonderfully tolerant of our kids, handing out kids’ menus without us having to ask. We had ice cream at Valdís and then conked out. As is practically traditional on these busy trips, we almost forgot it was our wedding anniversary (16th!) — almost!

Day 2: Golden Circle

Our apartment hotel delivered a daily breakfast basket with freshly baked bread, butter, jam, cheese, Nutella, yogurt, some fruit, a vegetable, and a few hard-boiled eggs (the room had a pod coffee maker, including kid-pleasing hot chocolate pods) and is it okay to say this kind of thing makes me weepy? It’s nothing fancy but absolutely perfect to have such an easy, satisfying breakfast around your table, like at home, before heading out for the day.

We hit the Golden Circle, stopping at a scenic overlook in Bláskógabyggð en route to the geothermal bread-baking demo we’d booked at Laugarvatn Fontana, which is absolutely as cool as it sounds. Then, we dipped in the thermal pools and much colder lake. We brought what we needed, but you can rent bathing suits, robes, and more, and the locker room and showers have everything you need.

Next we went to Friðheimar, an Icelandic horse farm and giant tomato greenhouse with a tomato-themed restaurant, for lunch. Definitely a busier spot than others, but it was fantastic and I loved learning about how they grow tomatoes in a country without the climate for it.

Our third stop was the stunning Gullfoss Waterfall. We were promised rainbows, but it was too rainy and cloudy. You will get very wet, so please don’t let your 6 year-old go, just for example, in sneakers and an absorbent jacket without a hood. Iceland in the summer is, at its warmest, a cold spring day in New York.

Our fourth stop was Geysir, aka The Great Geysir, which is literally where the word geyser originated, and Strokkur, another geyser a couple of minutes away that explodes every 3-7 minutes. It’s easy to get to and we had lots of chances to see it in action.

Our final stop was Öxarárfoss, a waterfall in Þingvellir National Park you walk to through a ravine where two tectonic plates meet, and I cannot express in words how cool this is. [Game Of Thrones nerds like me may recognize this from some scenes with Arya and The Hound]. This is true *even if* you are with a cold, wet, exhausted 6yo who has absolutely, understandably had enough for the day.

Day 3: Reykjavik

After our hopes for a whale-watching boat tour were dashed by bad weather and too-choppy water, we decided to take it easy, wandering around the city, admiring the colorful buildings while reading up on the architecture (functionalism! corrugated aluminum! tarred wood!) and stopped for Icelandic hotdogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which did not disappoint. Weary of the rain, we loaded up on child-placating crafts and toys at Flying Tiger and ducked into Einstök Bar, which turned out to make incredibly unique gin-and-tonics for the adults and plied the kids with orange soda and snack mixes with salted peanuts and chocolate raisins. We found ourselves at a park/playground with a zip-line, which is probably all my kids will remember from this trip. We laughed at how few warning or safety signs there were (zero) compared to how it would be in the U.S. After dinner we we went to SKÚBB Ice Cream, our favorite yet.

Day 4: Vik-Bound

En route to our next lodging — we stayed two nights at an AirBnb in the hinterlands, a town called Kirkjubæjarklaustur, outside Vik — we stopped at Kerið Crater Lake, one of the most amazing things I have ever seen, and then, whoops, I spoke too soon, the actually most amazing thing I have ever seen, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. I know there are a lot of waterfalls in Iceland but you can fully walk a circumference around this one and the image of this will stay with me forever. There’s a short hike/walk to another waterfall, Gljúfrafoss, that’s basically inside a cave hidden by a cliff, and you should not miss this, either. We hung out with some beautiful horses (I hope you’ll read about Icelandic horses with their short legs, thick manes, special trots/gaits, and protected breeding) before stopping at a small restaurant, Gamla fjosid, that was absolutely perfect for lunch. (I had the volcano soup.) Note: If you rent a house in the middle of nowhere, please think ahead and buy some food to make for dinner or you might end up scrambling the eggs you bought for breakfast for the adults, and thanking your earlier self for having the idea to throw two boxes of TJ’s shells-and-cheese in your suitcase for kid emergencies.

Day 5: South Iceland

Another full day of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen being bumped for the thing I saw after. We stopped for a bit at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon before going to Diamond Beach, a place I’ve always wanted to see. The water and beach are filled with chunks of glacier. The sun came out and it was particularly glittery, especially against the black sand. We did not kayak in the nearby lake, but you can. We had lunch at the side-by-side fish and chips and langoustine trucks; both were excellent. Both have vegan options! I absolutely loved this in Iceland; almost every menu, without any fanfare, has a vegan main, usually something that seemed substantial, never just pasta. Because we get smarter everyday, we drove to a grocery store for dinner stuff before heading back, grilling lamb, roasting potatoes, cauliflower, roasting a few heads of garlic and I made a burst tomato sauce on the stove we scooped onto grilled bread smooshed with the roasted garlic. Plus buttered noodles for the pickiest kids, sigh.

Day 6: Vik and back to Reykjavikk

We only had one big stop this day, the famous black sand beaches (Reynisdrangar and Reynisfjara) which are also heavily featured in Game of Thrones. There is nothing like this on earth, nothing; I’m so glad we went. We also saw puffins, crossing another item off our Iceland wishlist. We did not get to see an erupting volcano, alas. Back in Reykjavik for our last night, we had dinner at Matarkjallarinn Foodcellar and then ice cream at Gaeta, which was wonderful.

Last day: Reykjavik

We’d hoped, once again, to go whale watching but it turns out not enough for any of us to get up and get kids fed in time for the 9am boat. [One of my children, not naming names, wasn’t sleeping well on this trip and her parents were a little ragged by this point.] We had breakfast at the Laundromat Cafe (an actual laundromat downstairs!). We had a few hours to try on some Icelandic sweaters (I settled on a scarf), buy some salt, Omnom Chocolate, salted licorice, and stuffed puffins for our kids before heading out to the airport, ready to retire our hiking boots and waterproof insulated jackets until at least after Labor Day.