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Discovering Iceland's Winter Treasures: A Week of Family Adventures

We embarked on a journey of discovery as a family, exploring Iceland's winter wonders over the course of a week filled with enchanting adventures in ice caves, whale watching, and breathtaking waterfalls.


Family marvels at the stunning beauty of Iceland's icy landscapes, exploring enchanting ice caves, encountering majestic whales, and witnessing awe-inspiring waterfalls during a week of unforgettable winter adventures.

map Iceland - one week itinerary in winter - road trip in iceland

Day 1 - Reykjavik

Day 2 - Whale Watching Excursion & Þingvellir

Day 3 - Geyser & strong wind

Day 4 - Gullfoss, snowmobile on Langjökull glacier and northern lights

Day 5 - Skógafoss, Black Beach & Hirfunes Nature Park

Day 6 - Diamond Beach & Ice cave in Jökulsárlón

Day 7 - Wood burning hot tub

Day 8 - Reykjavik



Day 1 - Reykjavik


We flew from Zurich airport to the airport just outside Reykjavik (Keflavik). Geneva airport is closer to us but the only direct flight with Iceland Air from Switzerland left from Zurich at that time of year. The flight took about 3.5 hours. Keflavik airport is well organised and there were a lot of wheelchairs and pushchairs available on arrival.



There are lots of ways to get around including public transport and organised tours but we decided to rent a car which we collected at the airport.  Since driving conditions can charge rapidly with the weather, it’s important to get a decent car with spiked tyres and full insurance just to be safe.   We had a Kia Sorrento which was a good size for the four of us and all our luggage.  We hired the car through Blue Car Rentals which is a bit of a walk across the airport car park but the collection process was really easy.



We booked Reykjavik Residence Apartments in the centre of the city for the first and last nights and were really impressed with the standard of accommodation which was spacious, clean and well appointed.


It was getting dark when we arrived so we were happy to have chosen to stay in Reykjavik for the first night.  We parked the car in the street but make sure you pay for your parking with the app Parka. We dropped our bags and headed out for a walk and to find somewhere to eat.  The city centre is really pretty and the main shopping street is full of twinkling lights, bars, restaurants and little shops.  We stopped at Sumac Grill which serves Middle Eastern cuisine and delicious cocktails.  The food was very nice but expensive even by Swiss standards.  


We were all pretty tired and happy to fall into bed early before our first Icelandic adventure the following morning.


Day 2 - Whale Watching Excursion & Þingvellir


We were up early and enjoyed the breakfast which was waiting for us in the fridge, with fresh bread on the doorstep in the morning.   Our first activity was a whale watching boat trip so we wrapped ourselves up as warmly as we possibly could, checked out tof the hotel and set off for the port.   We found a place to park not far from the Elding Tours ticket office where we went to collect our tickets before getting on the boat for a three hour excursion. 


We were soon underway and within minutes, the guide told us he could see some water jets in the distance which were likely to be coming from whales.  We all took our places by the rails and surely enough, we soon saw our first whale.  From then on, we saw quite a few more whales which was a dream come true for Jean and we all loved the excitement when they made an appearance above the surface.  



The boat trip was guided by a marine biologist and his fascination with the sea life we encountered was clear from the beginning making it a really interesting experience.  



I’m not going to lie, it was really cold and windy so the part of us which were exposed (our faces) were quickly very cold and I wished I had brought a balaclava.  I would also suggest using glove liners too (we got ours from Decathlon) which are thin gloves you can wear underneath your bigger ski gloves.  After about 40 minutes, it became a bit much for Jude and Alba so we went inside where they could drink a hot chocolate and warm up a bit.  We went back out again for the last hour of the boat trip.  By this point the top deck was almost empty as most people who had crowded out at the start of the trip had gone inside so there was much more space.



It was a beautiful experience if ever you get the chance.


For lunch we stopped at Apotek which was offering lunch and brunch menus.  Jean had a duck waffle and I had sourdough toast with avocado and shrimps.  Jude and Alba were happy with waffles :-).  It’s a nice, lively spot for lunch.


For the next few days, we would be staying at an AirBnb in the Pingvellir national park.  We had read that supermarkets are few and far between outside Reykjavik so we stopped on the way out of town and stocked up before heading out into the countryside. 



The drive was breathtaking with incredible scenery all around us.  We arrived early so we decided to stop at the visitor centre of the Pingvellir park where there is an amazing viewing platform.  A lovely snowy walk took us down to more viewing platforms where we could admire the views.  There are plenty of longer walks to do around here but we didn’t want to push our luck with the children so we headed back to the car after a little while.  The walk back up hill was quite steep so we soon felt like we had burned off our lunch.    



Since we were close by, we decided to stop at the Öxarárfoss waterfall in the park which was a short drive away followed by about a ten minute walk.  The waterfall was impressive in the snow which had created a sort of ice shield around the rushing water.  I have just googled it to look at photographs from the summer months and it’s hard to believe it’s the same place.  Really beautiful.



Our next accommodation was a cabin we found through AirBnb which is in an incredible remote location on the edge of the Pingvellir park.   It’s a beautiful cosy spot with a hot tub and incredible views.



Day 3 - Geyser & strong wind


We woke up on Monday to a very cold, cloudy day with strong winds.  We were told that is is imperative to check the weather and road conditions before leaving the house so we double checked that the roads were okay before setting off.  We decided to head to Strokker Geyser which is the oldest active geyser in Iceland.  The parking is very close to the geyser so it’s a short walk.  We had seen pictures of the geyser but were slightly disappointed by what we could see, since it was windy and the weather wasn’t good.  It’s still worth a visit if you are in the area.  I had a few other things I wanted to do this day but the weather rather hampered us.  I would have liked to visit the Friðheimar tomato farm which is famous for its tomato soup (book in advance) or the Fontana geothermal bakery but visibility was becoming a challenge so we decided to head home.



Day 4 - Gullfoss, snowmobile on Langjökull glacier and northern lights


On our fourth day we had booked a really exciting adventure.  We were taking the children on a snowmobile trip.  The meeting point was at Gullfoss waterfall and we couldn’t miss the bus which was a huge modified monster truck!  The children were already excited as we began our 1.5 hour bumpy off-road trip to the 195 km³ Langjökull glacier.  Once we had arrived we were given our warm suits and helmets and given the safety instructions before we set off. The Langjökull tour is one of the few snow mobile tours suitable for children since it’s relatively flat and a gentle pace.  I was with Alba who absolutely loved it and kept telling me to overtake other riders :-).  We stopped at an amazing viewpoint to admire the spectacular scenery before heading back to the base.  As we rode, there was a moment with the sun in front of us and the wind blowing snow across the surface of the glacier and I remember thinking it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. 



The journey back on the bus was just as stunning and we were soon back at the car park where we started.  Since we were there, we decided to take a look at the Gullfoss waterfall which is a short walk away.  It’s an impressive landmark and definitely something to visit.



Back at the house and my patience finally paid off and we saw the Aurora Borealis.  It was just as beautiful as I imagined and I was able to sleep without fear of missing out.



Day 5 - Skógafoss, Black Beach & Hirfunes Nature Park


Day 5 was Valentine’s Day so we started the day with a nice breakfast and packed up the house because we were changing to another AirBnb on the south coast. I was sad to leave the house which was one of my favourite Air bnb's of all time.


We checked the roads again before setting off and saw that the roads to the main ring road were very icy but passable, so we took our time and went very carefully.  Once we reached the ring road, the roads were clearer and driving was made easier. We also used this opportunity to get rid of our recycling in the bins which you can find along the roads.



We stopped off at Skógafoss which is a huge waterfall just off the ring road making it easy to stop on the way past.  It was a lovely sunny day and we even saw a rainbow in the falling water.  



We decided to have lunch at the Black Crust pizzeria in Vik which is a small town on the South coast.  The pizzas were really good and we were ready to begin the rest of our journey after a quick shopping trip to get some souvenirs including my Lopapeysa which is a traditional Icelandic wooden sweater. We also stopped quickly at the glorious Vik church.



We still had some time before we could check in to our next Airbnb so we stopped at the Black Beach Reynisfjara on the way.  Again, the car park here is a short walk away from the beach which is famed for its black sand and rock formations. Be careful, sneaker waves make Reynisfjara beach one of the most dangerous destinations in Iceland so check the panel when you arrive and behave accordingly.



Our next Airbnb was REALLY off the beaten path and the road to reach is was icy but had thankfully been recently cleared of the huge snowfall of the day before.  We were staying at a cottage in Hirfunes Nature Park which is close to Kirkjubaejarklaustur.  The location is spectacular and the house itself was spacious and clean with another jacuzzi outside :-).



We got ourselves installed and ate dinner before heading to bed for an early night.


Day 6 - Diamond Beach & Ice cave in Jökulsárlón


We had a busy day planned that day and were up and out early.  


Our first stop was Diamond Beach: This was one of the first places I added to the itinerary when we started planning our trip.  The beach is black sand and scattered with large chunks of ice which have broken off from Icebergs out at sea and drifted to the shore.  The light shining on them really gave the impression of glittering diamonds and we were all mesmerised.  



Across the road from Diamond Beach is Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.  With its blue water and icebergs, it’s a really impressive sight.  We even saw some seals swimming in the water.  There are a few food trucks next to the car park and it is also the departure for lots of tours including the glacier cave tour that we were doing in the afternoon.



For our tour, we met in the carpark and hopped on another of these modified trucks with enormous tyres and headed to Vatnajökull glacier, which is the largest in Iceland.  On arrival we were given helmets and crampons for our shoes and began the walk to our first cave.   We saw three caves in total and they were all absolutely beautiful with the layers in the ice clearly visible.  It was surprisingly light in the caves but probably not suitable for claustrophobia sufferers as some of the spaces were quite narrow.  Jude said he felt like an explorer and we loved discovering the caves together.  A really beautiful experience for the whole family. Our guide was really lovely and gave us lots of interesting information about the country and kept us entertained on the drive back to our car.



A quick note about the beach/lagoon area.  There were lots of tour buses arriving in the late morning which meant VERY long and slow moving queues both for food and the toilets which is not pleasant if you have small children and are pressed by your own tour departure time.  I would say if it’s possible to avoid the busiest times, it’s prudent to do so. Same applies for the food trucks.


Day 7 - Wood burning hot tub


On our last full day in the nature park, the weather was foggy with light snow showers so we decided to stay at home and enjoy the place, as well as recharge our batteries a bit.  We had a nice lunch, spent a long time playing in the snow, building igloos and having snowball fights, before hopping in the hot tub and sauna.  The wood burning hot tub took 40 minutes to fill and 4 hours to heat so it was a real labour of love for Jean but worth it to sink into the warm water at the end of the afternoon and admire the views and the tranquility of the area.



Reluctantly at the end of the day, we started to pack up our things before we headed back to Reykjavik the following morning.


Day 8 - Reykjavik


We woke up to a very different Iceland on Saturday with slightly higher temperatures and rain which somehow made leaving a bit easier.  We made the drive back to Reykjavik which took just over three hours.


Back in the city, we dropped off our rental car and went for lunch at Höfnin Restaurant which is in the port with views of the sea.  There was lots of fresh fish on the menu including fish and chips for the children.  The food was excellent.


We spent the afternoon shopping and exploring Reykjavik including its famous church.


In the evening we went for dinner, again not far from the church at a restaurant called Forréttabarinn.  This is a modern place with open kitchen and lively buzz.  The food was good and the service was efficient meaning we were back at the hotel early to try and maximise our sleep before the alarm went off at 3am in time to get us back to the airport at Keflavik.



We had an absolutely incredible time in Iceland.  It really was like nothing we had ever experienced in the past.  The scenery, the weather, the landmarks and activities available made it a really unforgettable location for a winter break.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to adventurous families looking for a unique holiday in this truly spectacular place.


Some Useful Information:


Car Rental 

We used Blue Car Rentals and the whole process was very easy.  Our advice would be to take all the insurance on offer.  We saw lots of cars which had come off the road on our travels so it’s important to take a 4x4 with spiked tyres.


Currency

The currency is the Icelandic Krona but in fact we didn’t need cash anywhere as all the places we visited took card payment.

1'000 ISK = 6.40 CHF


Petrol and Food Shopping 

There are plenty of supermarkets and petrol stations in Reykjavik but as we headed out to the Golden Circle and the South coast, these became few and far between.  On our second day in Pingvellir in fact we had to go back to Reykjavik for more food because there were no shops around us. 


If you see a petrol station or supermarket, stock up on the things you need/use the toilet facilities because the next chance could be far away.


Clothes

Here's a list of clothing items that we bought from Decathlon for us and the children (the reference is in French as per their website) - you can watch our video here.


Adults - from head to toe - Jean


🎩 Bonnet De Ski Grand Nord Adulte Made In France Bleu Blanc Rouge

👕 Sous-vêtement Thermique De Ski Homme - Bl 980 Laine Mérinos Seamless Haut - Gris

🧥 Veste Polaire Chaude De Randonnée - Sh500 Mountain - Homme

🧥 Doudoune De Ski Chaude Homme 900 Warm - Bleu

🧤 Sous-gants En Soie De Trekking Montagne - Mt 500 Noir - Adulte

👖 Sous-vêtement Thermique De Ski Laine Mérinos Homme - Bl 900 Bas Bleu Marine

👖 Pantalon De Ski Chaud Homme 180 -noir

🧦 Chaussettes De Ski Et Snowboard Jaquard Adulte - 500 - Bleur Clair


Children - from head to toe - Alba


🧥 Parka Chaude Et Imperméable De Randonnée - Sh900 -17°c - Enfant 7-15 Ans

🧥 Veste Polaire De Randonnée - Mh150 Corail - Enfant 7-15 Ans

🧤 Sous-gants Tactiles De Randonnee - Sh500 Mountain Soie - Enfant 6 - 14 Ans

🧤 Gants De Ski Chauds Et Imperméables Enfant - 100 Bleu Et Rose Fluo

👖 Pantalon De Ski Enfant Chaud Et Impermeable - 100 Rose Fluo

🧦 Chaussettes De Ski Et Snowboard Enfant 100 - Rose




Day 1 - Reykjavik

Day 2 - Whale Watching Excursion & Þingvellir

Day 3 - Geyser & strong wind

Day 4 - Gullfoss, snowmobile on Langjökull glacier and northern lights

Day 5 - Skógafoss, Black Beach & Hirfunes Nature Park

Day 6 - Diamond Beach & Ice cave in Jökulsárlón

Day 7 - Wood burning hot tub

Day 8 - Reykjavik


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