Holly Barradell is a drama education specialist, living in London. She visited Iceland for New Year with her family and shares her tops tips.
It’s great to able to write a guest blog for Kirsty and I love the fact that I can write about somewhere Kirsty hasn’t been to… yet! Plus my travelling over the last 18 months has changed focus somewhat, I now travel with a one-year-old. So Iceland, first of all it isn’t as insanely cold as some might think and we went over New Year.
Planning your trip to Iceland
You do of course need to be prepared and certainly don’t go without gloves, hats and coats in abundance but you will be boiling when you go into any shop or restaurant as they are well heated. The airport is outside of Reykjavik (near Keflavik) and there is no train network in Iceland so you do need to get about by bus or hire a car. I would strongly recommend that you hire a car – don’t worry about the ice or snow as the tyres are studded so you will travel confidently. If you’re travelling with a young family, I wouldn’t recommend travelling to Iceland without hiring a car.
The area where we stayed is called ‘Reykjanesbaer’, which is a municipality on the Southern Peninsula of Iceland. It was created in 1995 when the inhabitants of the 3 towns (Keflavik, Njarovik and Hafnir) voted to merge them into one. We stayed in the town of Keflavik and had wonderfully comfortable accommodation at Hotel Berg (a guesthouse) at the most northern point of Keflavik overlooking the harbour to the south and the Greenland sea to the west. The guesthouse couldn’t do enough to make you feel at home, especially as a family.
The lounge area was like a home from home and just what you needed to warm up after a day out exploring. The best part was popping the little one down to sleep and for us to be able to slope off into the lounge and share a bottle wine from the honesty fridge bar and relax playing scrabble watching the fireworks. The fireworks went off not only on New Year’s eve but they went on for a few days before and after but on New Year’s eve – what a display! A friend of mine said we would be blinded by it… it was rather spectacular and went on for over an hour! It certainly makes the London fireworks look less than average by comparison.
Icelanders love children (and all speak fantastic English), which once again makes it a great destination for a family (as well as just a 3hr flight from London). We actually had a meal out, AT NIGHT, and the restaurant were more excited to have their one year old dining guest than they were the adults! This is really special when you have eaten out only at lunchtime for the last year. Our New Year’s eve was much better for this, well until you get the bill! Iceland is renowned for being expensive and going at New Year won’t help of course, plus the fact that the staple diet is fish, which is never cheap. The food is very nice, although strangely not that hot temperature wise and I did ask for some of my meals to be warmed through so you might find some meals tepid – perfect if you have a little one that is hungry though!
We didn’t spend an awful lot of time in Reykjavik, it feels very much like Copenhagen and is a mass of little lanes and plenty to explore but Iceland is definitely more about the great outdoors! Don’t miss Reykjavik though and pop into Babalu restaurant for the lamb soup and spinach pancakes – it’s homely and just what you need to keep you going on your adventure.
Places to see in Iceland
We were only in Iceland for five days and we dedicated one of those days to the ‘Golden Circle’ as it has to be done. We left at 10am (this meant still leaving in darkness) and half way to Pingvellir National Park the sun finally rose at 11.15am! We made it to the top and the windchill did mean starting to walk at -12º, which wasn’t easy with a one-year-old high up on a back carrier… so we quickly diverted into the National Park Cafe for Cauliflower soup… An interesting floury texture but fortunately my husband and son will consume anything!
Another 2 hours drive, with sunlight ticking away we made it to Strokkur, the ‘erupting’ Geyser and what a vision that is. The final stop another 40mins onwards is Gullfoss, the breathtaking waterfall, but sadly by this point it was 4pm and the sun had well and truly set but we still got a magical photo.
On our last day we decided to explore the southern-west tip of Iceland. It’s not really a sightseeing area and definitely somewhere you can only access with a car but if you like peace, tranquility and photography it is definitely the place to visit. We started off by driving up to Gardur, where I climbed up a lighthouse and took a rather magnificent photo of the view from up high.
Don’t miss the Blue Lagoon
At dusk we headed to the Blue Lagoon – you can’t be a tourist in Iceland and not visit the Blue Lagoon. I paid for the standard package, which was €40, with no add ons and to be honest that was just fine as what you are really going there for is the feel of the natural hot water and the chance to put the silica mud on your face. You do need to book in advance – we went at 5pm as that was the only slot left for the whole 5 days we were there but the Blue Lagoon by night was even more spectacular. You can read more about the Blue Lagoon from their website but just to be really clear… you do need to shower naked before going into the Lagoon, this is normal and nothing to be embarrassed about!
Don’t expect to see the Northern Lights
We sadly didn’t see the Northern Lights, partly because of cloud but I’m fairly sure the 3 nights of fireworks wouldn’t have helped either – you can get a night time coach trip off into rural Iceland to seek out ‘Aurora Borealis’ but this isn’t really an option with a little one! So if it means a lot to you to see the Northern lights, New Year maybe isn’t the best time to go.
As always with my husband and I we love an adventure and our little boy is growing up embracing travel, weather and time zones (although Iceland was on the same time as England) in much the same way, don’t be put off travelling to a cold country with a little one after all they do look very cute in a snowsuit!
Holly Barradell works as a Drama Education specialist and is based in London and the South East with her husband and young son. Holly has recently graduated with a Masters in Education and is particularly passionate about Children’s theatre and is a reviewer for Children’s Theatre. By day Holly takes on the challenge of working in Drama assessment and reform. You can tweet Holly at @drama_holly or read her own blog (which she must keep more up to date!).
Sadly Holly didn’t buy me a souvenir but here’s 10 perfect Icelandic souvenirs to buy for yourself or your friends!