We spent five amazing days in Iceland. Here’s our full Iceland holiday itinerary with our advice and reviews on what we got up to on our family trip to Reykjavik…
The May half-term arrived and, despite looking for several weeks for some last-minute getaways, we’d found nothing suitable and thought we’d have to shelve our plans of going away, especially as not only were we struggling to find any available options last-minute that were within budget, but the weather around much of Europe was looking pretty dull and not much better than home.
Then on Sunday evening we discovered a new feature on Skyscanner, which lets you search flights to ‘anywhere’ from airports near you – a really useful feature that takes away the need to have a destination in mind and just lets you see flights to all destinations from your chosen airports, listed in price order.
One of the cheapest flights was from London Luton to Iceland – somewhere we’ve always wanted to go.
A quick check of the weather forecast for the week ahead revealed unbroken sunshine for the whole week – not something we expected from a country of which half is in the Arctic Circle.
Another search for accommodation on Airbnb revealed some reasonably priced options and, before we knew it, we were frantically packing on Sunday night and working out our Iceland holiday itinerary ready to depart on Monday morning.
We had an amazing time and were blown away by this spectacular country so were really pleased we took the plunge and booked such an ultra-last minute trip, even if we were panicking about what we’d forgotten to pack after such a hurried decision.
So if you’re considering a family holiday to Iceland, hopefully all this information below on our full Iceland holiday itinerary will help you know what to expect, where to go and what to do…
Iceland for a Family Holiday: What to Expect
Iceland is not a typical family holiday destination, which is exactly why we were so keen to go. There are no theme parks or all-inclusive resorts – pretty much all of its attractions are natural and its appeal is in its unique volcanic landscape and geological features.
Not exactly the most appealing holiday for kids aged 10 and 14 you may think. But you’d be wrong! It was a perfect destination for 5-days away in the May half-term and even our increasingly hard-to-please 10 and 14 year olds had a great time and loved the unusual and different stuff we got up to.
You may not be surprised to learn it’s cold here, given its name and its position so far north. We had an amazing week of weather with bright sunshine every day – but this is pretty rare in Iceland. Usually it’s wet, grey and cold even in the summer months.
Average temperatures even in peak summer are only around 13-degrees or so. Despite the glorious sunshine we had at the end of May it was still chilly. We needed jumpers and coats most of the time but, when the cold breeze dropped, it did become pleasantly warm and we could get away with t-shirts – so layers are important at this time of year.
Temperatures during our stay hovered around 10-degrees or so, so it was like a relatively mild English winter day – but one which you would definitely take a coat with you on.
Over the summer months it never gets dark in Iceland. While we were here the sunset was about 11.30pm and sunrise again at about 3am so even in the middle of the night it was still daylight. It was pretty disorientating waking up at 2am and feeling like it was breakfast time because it was still daylight out.
And of course it’s the opposite in winter, never getting properly light. It was weird, but also pretty cool and actually helped with one of our full-day excursions as we got back late but didn’t have to worry about it being dark.
Best times to visit
We visited in May half-term, which is at the end of the month. It seemed like a perfect time to us – not bitterly cold like the winter months beforehand and also not crazily busy like the peak summer months. We had the benefit of the long daylight hours and none of the difficulties in getting around in the dark and snowy conditions of winter.
The only thing you do miss out on at this time of year is the Northern Lights. They’re not typically visible at all after April – but other than that we felt we’d come at a perfect time of year.
Most visits to Iceland are pretty short stays. You wouldn’t typically come here for a full week’s holiday. We had five days (Monday to Friday) and actually could’ve got everything done within four if it weren’t for having to fit in with a particular return flight on the Friday. We felt that anything more than five days maximum would be too long (and expensive) as all the major sights can be covered within that time.
Prices and cost of staying in Iceland
Our flights and accommodation were really reasonable so we hadn’t given much thought about the cost of living in Iceland. That was until we were at the Travelex bureau changing our money and the lady serving said “I hear it’s really expensive out there”.
She was absolutely dead right! After we’d arrived on day one we went to a nearby restaurant for some dinner and were horrified as we converted the menu prices in to £GBP. We just had a simple pizza each – no drinks – and it was nearly £100 for the four of us!
There’s no escaping it – Iceland is a very expensive place to visit. Shopping, eating out, petrol – everything’s just shockingly expensive when converted to £GBP. But you can get away with it because most visits here are pretty short ones – almost always less than a week.
Flights to Iceland
We found plenty of flights on the flight comparison sites to Keflavik – Iceland’s international airport which is about 45-minutes drive from the capital Reykjavik, which is where all the action is.
We flew from London Luton – the only London airport that had direct flights on the week we travelled. The airline was Wizzair and for four of us (hand luggage only) we paid just over £500.
However Wizzair is one of the airlines that recently changed their baggage policy to not include hand luggage for free. After trying to book the flights through several different agents, we found that by booking through Lastminute.com, we could configure the luggage arrangements to give us ‘priority boarding’ (which does include hand luggage) at a lower cost than the other operators were charging just to add hand luggage to the booking.
Car Hire in Iceland
There are plenty of easy transport routes from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik but we wanted to hire a car so we could do the ‘Golden Circle‘ route ourselves rather than being reliant on a tour provider.
If you can drive, we’d strongly recommend getting a hire car as it was just so much more pleasant and convenient – and gave us far better access to the main sights of the island.
We hired a car through Go Iceland and the experience with them was fine. The only slight inconvenience was their office is about a mile or so away from the airport so you have to be picked up by their minibus and taken to it, which added a bit of time either side of our journeys. There are car hire desks at the airport itself but costs with those companies are much higher.
The place to stay in Iceland is Reykjavik. This is the centre point for all the action in the country and is within very easy travelling distance of all the major attractions, including the airport itself.
Staying anywhere too far outside of Reykjavik risks leaving you a bit isolated from all the amenities of the city and the excellent transport links to all the major sights.
We had an apartment booked via Airbnb which we were really pleased with. It was pretty basic but very modern, well-equipped, in a quiet part of the town – and literally within a few minutes walk of the city centre, the harbour, a supermarket, restaurants, shops – and everything else.
Book the apartment we stayed in on Airbnb here: https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/7555200
Eating Out in Iceland
There are loads of restaurants around Reykjavik – from traditional Icelandic ones serving things like whale steaks (not a popular idea amongst our family!) to English food restaurants and many recognisable fast-food names like Dominos, KFC, Subway and more. There is no shortage of places to eat whatever your tastes.
All of these restaurants were within walking distance of our apartment in Downtown Reykjavik. The only downside is, as described above, the cost of eating out, which is going to cause some serious pain in the wallet.
On to the activities we got up to on our half-term holiday to Iceland…
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is the name for a circular road route that runs from Reykjavik out in to the Icelandic countryside, taking in all the major natural sights and attractions that appeal to Iceland’s visitors.
This is the route you’ll need to follow if you want to see geysers, waterfalls, volcanic landscapes, hot springs and lagoons. It’s all do-able easily within one single day. We highly recommend doing this route under your own steam in a hire car but, if this isn’t an option, there are many tour operators running bus trips around the Golden Circle.
The next day, we did another of Iceland’s popular tourist activities, which is whale watching – taking a tour boat from Reykjavik harbour out in to the bay where we saw lots of Humpback and Minke whales playing and feeding.
This was a spectacular day and an excursion we’ll all remember probably for a lifetime. Seeing whales is never 100% guaranteed but most whale watching tour operators have sightings almost all the time.
The Blue Lagoon
This is Iceland’s most-famous tourist attraction – a large naturally heated lagoon full of mysteriously coloured milky blue water. A resort has been built here that includes a hotel, spa – and facilities for day visitors to come and relax in the skin-nourishing water of the lagoon.
Although this has become a bit of a tourist trap and can get very busy in peak season, it was relatively quiet when we visited in May and was a day we really enjoyed.
Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland but, being a small country with a small population, the capital isn’t much larger than a typical small market town in England.
We took a walk around Reykjavik one afternoon and evening, heading to the main ‘Ingolfur’ central square and then up the adjoining Laugavegur road, which is the main shopping high street lined with Icelandic tourist shops.
From the top of Laugavegur we headed round the corner to take a look at the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral – a stunning-looking building that we’d spotted from the water.
On our last day in Iceland we had half a day to kill while we waited for our flight time, which was at 6pm. Because it was such a nice sunny day – albeit still a bit chilly – we headed to Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach – a man-made beach about 5-minutes drive out of Reykjavik, with a big stretch of golden sand and some steam baths which heat the seawater.
Finally, we headed back to Keflavik, dropped off the hire car and back to the airport for our flight back to Luton.
We all agreed we’d had an amazing time and loved every minute of our half-term trip to Iceland – adults and kids alike. It’s somewhere we’d highly recommend for a holiday experience a bit different to the norm.
And if you follow the same kind of itinerary that we’ve described above, you’ll have taken in all the main sights and experiences the country has to offer within a four or five day stay, coming away with memories of a stunning, unique country that’ll last a lifetime!