Friday, 15 January 2016

Iceland with the family

For a family adventure, you need look no further than Iceland.  Only 3 hours from the UK and serviced by the budget airlines, this destination will make a massive impact on everyone - I defy any member of your family not to fall in love with this island.

Flights to this ethereal country are dearer than other destinations but the almost other-wordly appeal of Iceland is worth the extra cost.

For families, Iceland is a perfect choice - it is one of those countries who have their priorities straight; children are seen as the owners of the future and, as a result, nearly everything is free for kids in Iceland and this makes this (otherwise slightly pricey country) a viable option for a fascinating city break with 'littlish' ones in tow.

Reykjavik (meaning Smoky Bay in Icelandic) is compelling. This compact capital can be explored easily on foot and, being so tiny, you'll think you'll missed a chunk.  You haven't - it really is that small.  In a couple of hours, you'll feel at home and the village feel of the city will make you feel welcome.  And with only 115,000 Icelanders living in Reykjavik, you'll make friends quickly!

Ambling through the streets of wooden houses, you'll soon come across Hallgrimskirkja, as this beautiful church is a landmark which can be seen across the city.  Designed by Guðjón Samuel in 1937, the design is inspired by the effect of volcanic lava cooling into basalt rock.  To climb the tower offers panoramic views of Rekjavik and the ocean. 

Another attraction of Reyjavik is its very own shoreline.  Blues of every shade cascade into the ocean and a windy walk along the promenade chills your cheeks and warms your soul.  The colours are so vibrant; the whites are pristine and the silvers almost dazzle.

Only 321,000 people live in Iceland and it shows!  There is never a queue, there is seemingly little traffic and the air has a glorious purity that smarts your lungs.  Even the parliament building looks like someone's house!
The population is so small that, in 2013, an app was launched which allows Icelanders to see how closely they are related; an app much-used by the younger generations on nights out!

What this island lacks in citizens, it more than makes up for in wildlife.  There are more ponies than people in Iceland, puffins dart in and out of the water at whim and whale-watching companies touting their fascinating trips line the harbour.  So few citizens to share the most wonderful scenery... 

When visiting Iceland, an absolute must is the Golden Circle day tour.  This guided coach tour leaves from the centre of Reykjavik and its an amazing trip of stunning natural contrasts. This trip (free to children under twelve years) takes you to the very spot where the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate meet in Thingvellir National Park.  Almost lunar in appearance, Thingvellir is remote and seemingly barren yet, upon closer inspection, it is alive with a million geology lessons rolled into one. This trip allows you to see the original parliament of Iceland, Althing.  Originating in 930, this special location means a great deal to the Icelandic people and, when you see how beautiful it is, you'll understand why.

The Golden Circle trip also takes in Gullfoss, a torrent of the river Hvítá.  The spray from this waterfall alone is enough to soak you through to the skin and the noise of the rushing water is deafening.  And, as if that wasn't enough natural beauty in one day, a stop at the Geysir geothermal area is included in the trip.  Watching the kids' faces as they wait for Strokkur, the most active geyser in Iceland, to erupt is priceless. 

Obviously, another natural phenomenon is the majestic Northern Lights.  Trips leave nightly for nature's laser show and, again, kids under twelve are free.  Tour guides explain  the science bit and the lightshow is unforgettable.  The colours, the hues and the crisp air all combine to bring the night sky to life right in front of your incredulous eyes.

So, practicalities...

Accommodation and eating out are both expensive in Iceland but these costs can be counteracted by renting an apartment rather than paying over £150 for a family room in a hotel.We stayed at Reykjavik Residence Hotel which, just along from the tiny parliament building, offered us a luxurious two-bedroomed apartment with a full kitchen.   Catering for the family is easy as just off the main square in Reykjavik is a minimart where provisions can be bought.  We dined out just the once at a fish and chips restaurant.  Yes, we needed to take out a small mortgage to buy them (£60 for the four of us) but it was by far the freshest fish we've ever tasted.

Looking at flights, April and May seem to be the cheapest months to travel north from the UK.  It's also worth considering Iceland as an add-on to a stateside holiday as airlines fly direct to the east coast of North America from Reykjavik for as little as £170 return! 

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