I visited Iceland over the July 4th holiday weekend - as part of a long weekend family getaway - with my wife, kids (age 4 and 1) and our dear friends (husband, wife, 3-year-old son) with whom we often travel. Iceland is interesting because it is so far north that a summer visit means it is light outside for 24 hours a day and the warmest the weather gets is 60-65 degrees (often not on consecutive days). Luckily, we got four wonderful weather days in the low-60s, no wind and all sun. From the east coast (NY/NJ-area), the flight time to Reykjavik (KEF) is under 6 hours (basically going straight north). We rented a car which was very convenient, fairly inexpensive and enjoyable (taxis can be extremely expensive and there is no ride-sharing). The roads are very good, and the alternatives are expensive so having a car worked well. Iceland is generally an expensive country (most things have to be imported) given it is a pretty low-key country but overall the trip can be managed economically and there are many fun activities and attractions for adults only and families alike.
We stayed at the Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik hotel downtown. There are not many branded, global hotel brands in the city (although this is evolving) and our decision was made easy as we are Hilton loyalty members (there is another Hilton uptown, but it is not walking distance to most of what we wanted). The location and quality of the hotel is excellent. Being downtown, everything we wanted to do was easily walkable. I wish the hotel had a pool but almost none of the hotels in town have pools (likely prohibitively expensive to have space and maintain for limited use). Most hotels don’t have parking, so public lots are relatively economical – there is a public lot right across the Canopy. The hotel is new and nestled nicely into the surrounding streets. The suites offer enough room for families and the breakfast options are great before a long day of exploring. Overall, the feel was very warm and intimate, and the staff was wonderful. Furthermore, we were able to do our standard practice of putting the kids to bed in the hotel room at night and then going out to adult dinners – Eileen from the hotel was an awesome babysitter for each of the nights!
- Dining: Reykjavik’s dining scene is fun, casual and growing with many options for everyone – although we found meat options easier than vegetarian (half of our group was vegetarian). Our favorites for lunch in town included Primo and Essencia (Italian), Tommi's Sandwich Shop (sandwiches) and the awesome Hlemmur Food Hall. We also had to visit the super tiny but world famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur “Hot Dog Stand” where the only allowable option is a hot dog with everything! The lines can get vary long so go during off-times or be prepared to wait. For dinner, we loved Rio Reykjavik (Mexican/Latin) in the harbor, Austur-Indíafélagið (Indian), Caruso (Italian) and the superfun Grillmarkadurinn - Grill Market (eclectic meat/veg menu). We also considered Hradlestin - the more casual, sister Indian restaurant to Austur which was next door - but we went with Austur given the overwhelming recommendations, ratings and ambiance. Also - while there is a Caruso in downtown and further at the harbor, we chose the one in downtown on our favorite walking street – Austurstræti (also the harbor gets cold at night, there is not much around it and it’s a ten minute further walk). Finally, we couldn’t help but get a taste of home – and not to mention kid-friendliness - with the Hard Rock Café - Reykjavik (our first visit to HRC in many years). For ice cream/gelato in the evenings, we liked Valdi’s Ice cream – this is the famous place although the options were very odd, toppings non-existent and this was the first time we’d ever seen a ticketing system for ice cream. Our true favorite was Eldur og Ís Ice cream and Crepes which had some familiar flavors, great toppings and almost no line.
- Activities: There are many activities across the island and the further you go out of Reykjavik, the more remote and beautiful it gets. We chose the day trip options out of Reykjavik – especially given that we had the kids with us. On the first day, we explored Reykjavik – visiting Laugavegur Street for the best shopping, Austurstræti's cobblestone street as the main artery for downtown walking and the Old Harbor for the massive boats and trains (we also took our fun family pictures here at the Marina with Flytographer). On the second day, we did an awesome Superjeep tour – it ended up private because of our group size (the car normally seats 6 but with 3 small kids we fit 7). First stop was the Golden Circle where we visited one of the earliest parliaments and the beautiful landscapes of the Thingvellir National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the majestic Gullfoss Waterfall (where we saw a rainbow) and some of the most amazing (and hot!) active geysers at Geysir. The Superjeep then took us off-roading through massive rocks and onto the massive Langjökull Glacier. On a future trip we may consider venturing out to the even more massive Vatnajökull Glacier or take several leisurely days to drive around Iceland along the Ring Road. The next day we went with Elding tours to do a Whale and Puffin Bird Watching excursion from the Harbor (the kids also spotted Dolphins and some Jellyfish!). On the last day we visited the country’s most famous destination - the Blue Lagoon hot springs – where we were immersed in “natural” Sulphur water and surrounded by massive lava rocks and mountains. While you can reserve a seat and take the bus there, we ended up driving and it was great. We also previously really enjoyed a walk up to the city’s main landmark – the Hallgrimskirkja Church - and going horseback riding on the lava rocks with Íshestar, which is just 15 minutes from Reykjavik by car.
Iceland is such a fun, relaxing yet activity-filled place to visit. Everyone is so welcoming and warm, and the city feels extremely small and homey. Given its proximity to the east coast, it was easy to do in 4 nights (4 days) after a short overnight flight. I highly recommend make reservations for all the activities and restaurants in advance (especially the Blue Lagoon and Superjeep Tours) as the most popular spots get booked up – especially on US holiday weekends! It is a bit strange at first to be in sunlight 24/7 but you eventually get used to it and the kids got so tired everyday that we managed to have them sleep easily without blackout shades. Given the proximity and amazingness of the attraction, we would consider coming in the winter – where it would be cold and dark for the entire day - for a short trip to see the majestic Northern Lights. We also might check out the planned Edition hotel that Marriott is imminently supposed to be opening with a big splash in Reykjavik. Enjoy your trip!