From volcanoes and glaciers to vast stretches of untouched wilderness, not to mention a fascinating Viking history, Iceland certainly packs a punch if you're looking for a family holiday to remember, discovers Brooke Chenoweth.
Relax in Iceland's famous Blue Lagoon.
Iceland is known for its mineral-rich geothermal pools, and the most famous of these is the Blue Lagoon, a short ten minute drive from Keflavik international airport. Named a “wonder of the world” by National Geographic in 2012, the pristine blue waters are high in silica, microalgae and other bioactive elements believed to have a heap of health benefits.
Don’t miss - the in-water mask booth with free-flow silica face masks, sauna, steam room, and a swim-up bar.
The dramatic, raw power of the Earth is on full display in the Þingvellir National Park (also spelled Thingvellir). As the only place on the planet where you can walk, swim and dive between two tectonic plates, this Mid-Atlantic rift between Eurasia and North America is a must-see. The plates move apart at the rate of a few centimetres a year, creating a valley filled with lava fields, breathtaking ravines, and incredible crystal clear pools and waterfalls.
The area is also a site of historical significance, Iceland’s first parliament was formed by a gathering of clans on the fields.
Snap some insta-worthy shots at Gullfoss waterfall, one of Iceland’s most popular sights. Fed by the Langjökull glacier, the river Hvítá runs through ancient canyons, creating jaw-dropping waterfalls - and awesome rafting opportunities in the process.
Stunning geothermal activity in Iceland.
And no trip to this part of the country would be complete without stopping at Geysir geothermal area and hot springs in the Haukadalur Valley. The Strokkur geyser erupts in spectacular fashion every five to ten minutes, reaching heights of up to 40 metres. Raincoats are essential!
Don’t miss - dog sledding, riding a snowmobile, or hiking to Kerid crater, a volcanic lake.
Iceland’s iconic capital city lies on the west coast, and while it may be small, Reykjavik is the heart of Icelandic culture. With a thriving art and music scene, as well as offering plenty of opportunities to sample the local cuisine, it’s a must on any itinerary. Getting around the city is easy too, as most of the main attractions are within walking or cycling distance.
A great place to start is the Perlan glass dome where a 360 degree viewing platform provides a spectacular view over Reykjavik city and its surroundings, and is the perfect spot to get your bearings. Also worth a visit is Hallgrímskirkja church, the design of which was inspired by Iceland’s towering basalt lava columns.
Don’t miss - exploring the museums and attractions of the city centre then hopping on a boat at the harbour for a whale watching tour or a northern lights cruise.
One of Iceland’s most famous attractions, Jökulsárlón is a 200m deep glacial lagoon fed by meltwater from Breiðamerkurjökull, an offshoot of Europe's largest icecap. The lake is filled with icebergs as they break off the glacier, some of which are several stories tall. You can experience this incredible natural phenomenon from a boat on the lake, or from the safe distance of the lagoon’s shores.
Icebergs fill the lake at Jökulsárlón.
Take a walk on Diamond Beach, where the icebergs from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon eventually break up and float into the Atlantic Ocean, before being tossed back and smashed against the shore by the waves. The black sand beach is covered in smaller chunks of shimmering blue ice in all shapes and sizes, sparkling like diamonds in the sun.
Don’t miss - venturing inside the glacier’s blue ice cave for a view that’s out of this world (winter months only).
The East Fjords
The East Fjords boast the most diverse range of wildlife in Iceland.You’ll find wild reindeer, dolphins and seals, and in the summer even puffins. And the rural villages set in the Vestrahorn mountain range are rich with local traditions; think elves and faerie houses, folklore, arts and crafts.
Don’t miss - viewing Petra’s Stone Collection, the world’s largest privately-owned stone and mineral collection displayed within a beautiful garden. Or stop by Eggin í Gleðivík, where giant sculptures line the coast representing the eggs of all the resident birds of Iceland.
South Coast Iceland
Iceland’s south coast is easily accessible from Reykjavik and offers stunning coastline, as well as a host of natural wonders. Glaciers feed a number of spectacular waterfalls like Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. Reynisfjara, a black sand beach, provides another jawdropping scene as the massive waves of the Atlantic meet the unique basalt columns in the cliffs above the sand.This area is a haven for puffins and dozens of other unique species in the summer months.
Don’t miss - hiking the Sólheimajökull glacier, or visiting the DC3 Plane Wreck at Solheimasandur, abandoned on the vast black beach in 1973.
When to go...
Now! June, July and August are the best months to visit Iceland. Days are long and the weather is relatively mild, with temperatures in the low to mid-teens. Rainfall is minimal at this time of year, too, so conditions are ideal for hiking, cycling, horse riding and birdwatching. It is peak tourist season so it's well worth booking ahead.
A guided tour is one of the best ways to experience what this remote and rugged island has to offer. Marina Travel offers a range of private and self drive tours, ranging in length from five to ten day tours, depending on where you want to explore. For more details, see www.marinatravel.is
This feature was produced in collaboration with Marina Travel and first appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Asia Family Traveller.