We started dreaming of an Iceland vacation in June 2016 after we returned from our Scandinavia holiday with the kids. That trip, we travelled across Norway, Denmark and Sweden but couldn’t continue on to Iceland due to work commitments. It was the only nordic country we had to miss. We promised ourselves we must return…but never did we envision it to materialise one Summer later.
Most people associate Iceland with the Northern Lights but it is only visible during the winter months (Sep to March each year) when the conditions can be too harsh for kids. Having fallen in love with Scandinavia, we started considering the possibility of touring Iceland in Summer where day light is long and we can maximize it for sightseeing. From our research on the internet and from well-travelled friends who’ve been to Iceland, we were told that the best (and most economical) way to discover Iceland is to self-drive. Which was what we did – and it made all the difference.
Once we set our minds on Iceland, the wife spared no time in securing the air tickets (at a steal!) and thus, began her almost year-long itinerary planning…literally. She planned the itinerary from scratch and learnt how to plot it onto Google Maps so we can have a clearer idea of the driving distances and directions each day. Essentially, we did a round island self-drive in 9 days – an adventurous feat, considering this was our very first time stepping foot in Iceland, and with young kids in tow.
An interactive map of our Iceland itinerary
The more we planned, the more eager we became. Iceland is one of the most remote countries in the world yet it is extremely safe, hygienic with scenery still largely unspoiled. Best of all, surprise surprise, everyone speaks English in Iceland! Yes, the kids study English in schools from 6 years old.
With the Kids?
Why not? We’ve always believed in creating core memories with our kids and what better way then to bring them on our travels. Besides, they are growing up so fast and we are growing older even faster. So while we still can, we travel and see the world together as a family. Till today, 4 months after we returned from Iceland, our 3 yr old Buddy still talks fondly of the waterfalls and geyser he saw on our trip. There may not be any man-made attractions such as theme parks but there are beaches, icebergs, waterfalls, large outdoor spaces, horse riding, thermal baths and lots of fresh air to make an equally memorable vacation.
- Lots of pristine, non-commercialized scenery spots. Those stunning waterfalls and black sand beaches are breathtaking and completely void of pesky souvenir touts.
- The Land of the Midnight Sun: With only about 1 hour of complete darkness in Summer (around 3am), the long bright days allow free and easy travellers (like us) to see more of Iceland, safely.
- Rich European history that dates back to the time of the Vikings (wow!).
Besides, Iceland is perfect for families because it is:
- One of the safest countries in the world. These days, with many parts of Europe facing security risks and terrorist threats, Iceland is undoubtedly a safer choice. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the world…even safer than Singapore! Virtually no police presence around yet there’s a overwhelming sense of peace and order. Very different from most parts of Europe!
- Very hygienic: Iceland is one of the main sources of natural spring waters in the world. Their tap water is perfectly drinkable…In fact, people also drink from their waterfalls. Pristine, sparkling clean. We wish we bottled some back!
- English is widely spoken here. The locals are very comfortable and fluent communicating in English.
- Very kid-friendly facilities.
- Friendly locals: The Icelanders are very helpful and obliging folks. Really one of the best experiences we’ve had interacting with locals in our travels!
- First world country conveniences and amenities (gas stations, supermarkets, restaurants, concert halls, churches, hotels, guests houses, airbnbs etc).
- Oh yes, talk about cashless society, credit cards are accepted everywhere in Iceland, even at the tiniest hot-dog kiosks!
Here’s an overview of our trip:
a. Our self-drive team and gear: We travelled in a group of 10 family members (5 adults, 4 school-going kids and 1 toddler) in a convoy of 2 cars from Lagoon Car Rental (highly recommended).
b. Total distance travelled: 2200 km!
c. Total duration of the trip in Iceland: 10 days, 9 nights
d. Our self-drive gear and set-up consist of:
• 4 Wheel-Drive (4WD) Cars: This is a necessity. Although we didn’t plan to go off-road, there were stretches of road under repair and we had to drive for miles in gravel and sand (esp East Iceland). There were also stretches along the Golden Circle where it was quite steep going up and down and with the car load full with passengers and luggage, we needed all the horsepower we could get. We will share more self-drive tips soon in a follow-up post.
• 1 pair of Motorola walkie-talkies: To communicate between the cars. Excellent long lasting batteries and excellent transmission range.
• Wi-Fi-routers: We brought along 2 Changi Recommends Wi-Fi-routers (one for each car) and they were reliable and indispensable…even in Iceland! We used Google maps to give us the updates on the day’s road and weather conditions (critical!). The Changi Recommends Wi-Fi routers enable up to 6 devices to be logged on per unit. It’s great for long car trips to check attraction updates as well as traffic conditions while on the move.
• GPS: This came with our rented 4WDs, one for each car, more of a backup. We had to rely on GPS on 2 occasions when we were at such a remote part of Iceland that there was totally no Wi-Fi /3G/4G signals. We used the GPS to navigate us to the nearest town where Wi-Fi came back effortlessly again so we can switch back to using Google Map.
• BabyZen Yoyo+ Stroller: Our indispensable compact, lightweight stroller. Although Buddy can walk confidently, there are times when he needed to nap while we are walking or having our meals.
• Luggage Size: We took Iceland Air and only luggage that fit the specific dimension allowed for check-in (refer to airline webpage here). So, leave the huge Bangkok shopping luggage behind. It was a blessing in disguise actually because they made fitting-into the 4WD much easier and faster.
• Airline: Thai Airways (from Singapore to Copenhagen, Denmark) then Iceland Air (from Copenhagen, Denmark to Keflavik, Iceland).
We cannot complete our experience of Iceland in one post. It won’t do this exceptional country justice. For this post, we will start off by sharing our itinerary.
Day 1: COPENHAGEN – KEFLAVIK / REYKJAVIK
– Iceland Air flight from Copenhagen to Iceland
– Clear customs at Keflavik Airport (or the lack of it!)
– Lagoon Car Rental
– Blue Lagoon!
– Dinner: Takeaway Pizza
– Accommodation: Reykjavik Airbnb
Day 2: REYKJAVIK WALKING TOUR
– Free Reykjavik Walking Tour
– Lunch: Laundromat Café (a local iconic dining place)
– Solhestar Icelandic Horse Tour
– The Hallgrímskirkja Church
– Dinner: Thai Noodle Station (Pricey but comfort food, hard to find Asian food anywhere)
– Accommodation: 2nd night in Reykjavik Airbnb
Day 3: REYKJAVIK / GOLDEN CIRCLE TOUR / SELFOSS / VIK
– Drive towards Thingvellir National Park
– Efsti Dalur Ice-cream Barn (open 9am to 11pm)
– Strokkur Geyser
– Slakki Petting Zoo
– Kerið Crater
– Dinner: Subway
– Accommodation: Golden Circle Airbnb (beautiful landed property near the lake)
Day 4: SOUTH SHORE / VIK
– Reynishverfi Black Sand Beach
– Lunch: Black Sand Beach Cafe
– Solheimajokull Plane Crash (we skipped this as it’s a 4km walk to and fro each way)
– Turf Houses
– Accommodation: 2nd night in Golden Circle Airbnb
Day 5: VIK / JÖKULSÁRLÓN / HOFN
– Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (Amphibious Duck Boat)
– Dinner: Parkkhus Restaurant (Yummy food!)
– Accomodation: Fosshotel Vatnajokull (Our fav hotel this trip!)
Day 6: HOFN / EASTFJORDS
– East Fjords Scenic Drive
– Dinner: Italian Family-style café near hotel
– Accommodation: Fosshotel Eastfjords
Day 7: EASTFJORDS / LAKE MYVATN / AKUREYRI
– Myvatn Nature Baths
– Dinner: Home cooked
– Accommodation: Akureyri Airbnb
Day 8: AKUREYRI / HVAMMSTANGI
– Turf Church at Víðimýri
– Glaumbaer Turf Farms
– Lunch at Siglufjordur Fishing Village
– Dinner at hotel restaurant
– Accommodation: Hotel Laugarbakki (with outdoor hot tubs)
Day 9: HVAMMSTANGI / REYJAVIK
– Whales of Iceland
– Dinner: Home cooked
– Accommodation: The Swan House, Reykjavik
Day 10: REYKJAVIK / COPENHAGEN
– Drive back to Keflavik Airport
– Return rental car and take flight to Copenhagen. Stay overnight in CPH before catching an morning flight back to SG.
– Accommodation: Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers (Excellent hotel near airport and right next to the largest mall in Copenhagen!)
Stay tuned as we bring you our detailed trip report (and more tips) of our Iceland Self-drive holiday in the coming weeks!