Iceland Travelguide - Roadtrip with kids on a budget

Welcome to A call to the dreamers!

Some of you may already know us from Instagram, we decided to go bigger and from now on won`t just post pictures with travel tips, but to write Travelguides about all the places we explore. Some will be with kids, some without, but always on a budget. 

About us, we are a patchwork family from switzerland, Michael, Faye and Milow. Faye has been travelling for years, but since she met Michael both of them want to explore the world together. Whenever possible, Milow travels with us, and hopefully one day we can travel full time. We got a mission, to allow more people to look behind the curtain and to show the world that there is no better way for kids to grow up than on the road, then being as close as you can. That it`s the easiest way of learning, to help build up a generation with a deeper connection to our enviroment, to culture and themselves.

Can`t wait for this journey and where it leads us, so let`s start!



Iceland. The country of fire and ice, where glacier meets volcanos, the home of elves and puffins, where the sun never sets or never gets up. This Island has one of the lowest populations world wide, and also one of the lowest crime rates. So what place could be better to feel the freedom of backpacking, of doing a roadtrip? We will tell you more about it a bit further down, but let`s just say that this is a paradise for kids of all age, travellers, nature lovers, backpacking parents and driving enthusiasts!

How to travel?

Iceland lies between Europe and America, actually thats where the two continental plates  meet each other, the only place where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is above the surface. There are frequent flights from both sides, a few years ago the budget airlines started flying to Keflavik too which makes it much cheaper these days than years before. Wow Air does fly from Europe and the US, Icelandair on the other hand is Icelands version of Swiss and offers a bit more comfort, more of a package, but for sure also comes with a higher price. There is always the option to search for flights with a stopover, which we did, to Keep it cheap. Airports have many options to Keep kids entertained and are exciting anyway, so we would definately do it again if it would be cheaper than a direct flight. Be aware that there are two Airports, the international one is places in Keflavik and a 45 minute drive from Reijkavik, while the one for Inland flights is directly in the capital. 




The island is made for roadtrips. With all the tourists coming these days, there are so many options, but if you got at least five days, rent a car and drive the ringroad. Yes, correct, there is a road that leads around the whole country! The road itself is mostly paved, only a small part in the eastern fjords is gravel road but completly bearable with 2wd. The famous roads aren`t always the ones in better condition, for example the Golden Circle road isn`t in the best condition all the time while some other roads far north are perfect. What car you need depends on the season, for winter and if you wanna go inside the country you`ll Need a 4wd, but if you wanna do the ringroad and go in summer, spring or fall a 2wd should be fine if you know how to drive in extreme weather conditions. There are many car Rentals available either directly at the Airport or beforehand online, if you wanna be free and safe a bit more money, rent a campervan which comes in all sizes, for all roads and with insurances for the conditions in Iceland. Make sure you do get the insurances for sand and ashes, glas protection etc., it can get a bit wild out there. We went with Kuku Campers and where really happy with them, our Citroen Berlingo was perfect for us, with three seats in the front and space for the child seat in the middle. If you got more kids, they have tons of other reasonable priced optionsm the one we had was especially for small Familys on a budget. If you can`t drive or don`t have enough time, there are many bus tours that can bring you to nearly anywhere in the south or around Reijkavik directly from the airport.




That Iceland isn`t exactly made for strollers should be clear, and if you plan to head out of the capital don`t take one. Instead, take a child carrier with you, there are so many beautiful hikes and kids up to four years old probably won`t be able to do them Walking. We brought or backpacking carrier, where you can also store Food and drinks for the hike underneath, and it is extra light when carrying it without the kiddo. For short trips to see something we just let him walk, but for longer walks we chose to take the carrier with us so we were able to go wherever we wanted and if he was exhausted, he could just get in and rest but still see the exciting nature.



Where to stay?

Everything in Iceland is expensive. Like, crazy expensive. Hotels aren`t an exception, the ones in Rejkjavik cost a fortune, Guesthouses and Hostels may be a tiny bit cheaper but not really. There are numerous of Guesthouses around the ringroad, we saw so many but be aware if you wann stay in one of them you need to book at least a few months in advance, especially in summer. 
The cheapest way to sleep in Iceland? Camping. As mentioned above, we rented a campervan with Kuku Campers with a matress in the back. Our model had enough space for two adults and a child, if you travel with more kids they have other offers with more sleeping space available. Wildcamping is forbidden in Iceland due to the ignorant thinking of some tourists, you have to stay on a camping ground. They aren`t cheap either, but much cheaper than a night in a guesthouse or similar, we payed around 2000-4000 ISK per night with two adults, a kid and a campervan. The exact location of every campinground we stayed at is visible in the map below, this is where we stayed on a six day trip and what extras the sites offered. Click on the title and the campsites website will open: 

Rejkjavik City Campsite Laugarverdur

We used this place as our start and end point, it is located quite close to the city center, probably a 20 - 30 minute walk. It offers a big kitchen and dining room, a buildung with toilets and showers as much as a barbecue place outside. In winter, the opening times are a bit shorter and not all facilities are open but you are allowed to use the next door hostels kitchen and bathroom if you need it during an out of hour time. It was ok clean, not perfect but I assume thats because it was off season too. Otherwise it was well equiped, friendly staff and it is open all year around, no need to book in advance. There isn`t that much space to run around, but a big public Swimming pool is located just next door with slides and everything a kids heart desires.

Hamragardar



This was one of the most scenic camping sites on our trip! It is located just a few minutes behind the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall, next to a hidden waterfall you can only access if you walk through a little river. There is enough space for quite a few camping vans and a house with a small kitchen, tables and bathrooms. If you want to shower, there is another really cute icelandic building above the main one with some showers. In off season, there won`t be any staff there before 7pm, so just set up your stuff and pay later. There is so much space for kids to run around and explore, perfect little oasis in the south. No Need for reservation either.

Skaftafell


Right next to the visitor center, there is a big camping ground. In winter, they only open one part of it but thats already a big one. IF you go in high Season, this was the biggest camping ground we have seen on our trip and you will find your space here no matter how many other campers are there. They dont have a kitchen or dining room, we just cooked our meal in the camper that night. There is the option to have dinner in the visitor center restaurant, but as always ist quite expensive. Showers and toilets were really clean, they are currently building a new, bigger one for summer. Some of the most beautiful hikes start here, like Skogafoss and Skaftafell Glacier. Again, there is much space to run and Play, tables are placed outdoor at some spots so you can eat outside if the weater allows.

Djupivogur


Deep in the east fjords, not many campsites are open off season. In the little village of Djupivogur, place inside of a fjord, is a bit of a hidden ground. In summer, there is someone next to the service house for check-in, if your coming any other time you need to do that at Hotel Framtid. We arrived at a rather rainy day, so we went to the close by public swimming pool which has an extra kids pool and toys for use. Its actually quite cheap, around 800 ISK per Person and kids are free. The camping itself has a service house with a kitchen, dinner and living room, shower and toilet area which is all clean and well equipped.

Hlid Myvatn


Only five minutes away from the famous Myvatn baths, this camping ground offers a lot of space. In summer they have an extra kitchen tent, we were allowed to use the hostels facilites and camp next to it. Which actually is quite amazing, we had a big kitchen and dining room all for ourselves. Tons of space to play and the area allows you to explore lake Myvatn by foot easily.

Gladheimar Blönduos


Our last stop and actually the only one with a decent playground, Milow loved it and stayed on it for hours. They also rent out cottages, and were the cheapest with only charging us 2000 ISK for all of us. The nature here is stunning, there is a small Island accesible with a small one person bridge, waiting to be explored and like a big children dream. They don`t have a public kitchen or dining room, but the toilets and showers were clean and in good condition.

Where to eat ?


Avoid restaurants if you are on a budget, you will probably pay more of one meal out than for a whole week of self cooking. We once treated ourself with a famous icelandic ice cream, and I heard that a place called "Icelandic Street Food" in central Reykjavik offers reasonable food if you want to eat out. For shopping, stick to Bonus, it is by far the cheapest option for groceries, but check out were they are cause sometimes you are driving for days without one so make sure you pack enough food and drinks for a few days. Don`t by bottled water, icelandic water is one of the best worldwide so just refill your bottle at any point. Hot water can taste a bit like sulfur, thats because it is heated naturally

What to do?



We did the Ringroad, Highway one. If you got more time you can also do the north and west fjords, or the Snaelfsness Penninsula.  You can either do it clock wise, or anti clock wise which is actually the more popular option. The attractions below are listed in that way, so you can see each by each what comes next and save if you like. If you want to use my map for yourself, here is where you can find it -> Map 
Be Aware that it was made for a seven day roadtrip with a camper, thats what the different colors and days stand for.

Thingevellir National Park







 This is the place were the tectonic plates from europe and north america are visible. There a few hiking tracks, a beautiful landscape to explore and it is placed on the Golden Circle, so it is the first stop for many travellers. The paths are in good condition, so even smaller children can walk it on there own.

Geysir




On this geothermal area, a few active Geysirs are placed. The first one, Strokkur, errupts every few minutes so you are going to see it for sure. On the other side of the road is a tourist center with souvenirs and a restaurant. There are barriers, so kids can`t fall in but as everywhere on this beautiful Island, make sure that they know that they are only allowed to walk on the path to not harm the nature.

Gulfoss


 An enormous, impressive waterfall, because of ist location always full of visitors. A must see, it was one of the most beautiful waterfalls on our whole trip. There is big carpark just next to it and only a short walk to the waterfall itself.

Kerio




The only place were we had to pay a small fee for entry, the use it to keep the nature intact. Its a volcanic crater lake, you can walk around the lake and on top around the crater. Really impressive place, the water looks different every season and is frozen in winter.

Seljalandsfoss





The famous waterfall you can walk behind. We chose to carry the little one here cause you have to climb a bit and it is slippery. If you follow the path, you will get to a crack in the stone, get in and you will find this amazing waterfall inside. You have to walk through the water to get there, but with a pair of good boots completly doable and so worth it!

Skogafoss


Another big waterfall, you can get quite close and even take the stairs on top! Its really windy up there, so make sure you carry smaller kids cause it would probably blow them away on there own, never underestimate icelandic winds! 

Unknown waterfall


 

This one is placed on road 1 but I can`t find a name to it.
 Its a good stop to walk around for a bit after a long drive, there is a parking spot right next to the waterfall and some old abandoned houses just on the other side.

Black beach and Fjardrarglufur

We went to the beach on a really windy day, so we didn`t take our camera and couldn`t let Milow walk on his own, it was that strong. The beach itself is beautiful, but be aware of the sneaker waves on that beach. Even on such an extreme day tourists ignored the signs and went down way too close to the water, as a surfer you know how dangerous the ocean can be so take caution, especially if you got children with you. Same goes with the cave on the beach, be cautious when entering it and alway watch the water.

The canyon Fjardraglufur was closed when we arrived, due to damage to the nature by tourists who didn`t walk on the paths. Even with all the signs that you are not allowed to walk further, people still did it and some even just drove around the road closure sign which is just disgusting and shows no respect to the nature. It should be open again summer 2018, I will keep this updated if it is.

Skaftafell: Svartifoss and Skaftafell glacier






Starting at the Skaftafell visitor center, you can take the hiking paths up to Svartifoss, the waterfall with impressive big black basalt collumns or the one to the Skaftaell glacier. In summer, more hiking paths are open, but in off Season even the ones mentioned aren`t always accessible. Both paths are in great condition, they are quite a walk , so make sure to have something to eat and drink with you. They are so worth it though! The waterfall is one of a kind, and standing in front of such a big breathtaking glacier, well, it is something you will never forget.

Diamond Beach and Jokulsarlon




This place is incredible and an absolute must see! Sometimes there are days where there isn`t that much ice on the beach or at the lagoon, but most of the time it is an incredible view. The lagoon is on the opposite side of the road from the beach, you really can`t miss it and there are parking spots. If you are lucky you can even see some seagulls! Ice from the glacier drifts into the lagoon, out on the sea through a river and back on the beach with the waves, thats what brings these crystal like ice blocks there.

The east fjords




The east fjords are one of the most amazing drives, there are multiple spots to park next to the ringroad every few minutes and you should definately take that chance. You can see how much power these northern waves really have and how rough the coastline looks like, this is also the only part of the ringroad were it is gravel for around 20 minutes and it is not paved.

Egilstadir



The village itself doesn`t have much to offer, but it is a great stop to stock up on food. There is a Bonus and along the way to Myvatn you can watch the scenery change drastically, especially if you`re going off season, with suddenly finding yourself up high in the mountains. This part of the ring road is often closed in winter due to the conditions, so definately check beforehand if it is managable. 

Dettifoss




No waterfall in europe has more power than this one. It is huge, and you got multiple platforms to watch it from you can choose. The western road is new and all paved, it is recommend to take this one instead of arriving from the east. When there is snow, they go out and try to signalise a path every morning cause it is quite a hike through the snow from the carpark so I would recommend taking the carrier if you got smaller children with you. 

Myvatn geothermal area, lake and baths





Right after the snowy part, a place that looks like Mars lies before you. It smells like sulfur, but that first doesn`t do any harm and you are probably already used to it if you`ve done the ringroad this far. Definately don`t miss it, it is amazing for kids and adults to see the earth cooking undernearth your feet and how active this area really is! 
We chose to got Myvatn baths instead of the Blue Lagoon, cause in our our eyes it is way too touristy and feels kinda "fake". Oh and Myvatn is actually even better anyway, it is half the price (still expensive though, around 4000ISK) and you got really nice view over the like. Kids are welcome and they even provide swimming vests, the water is warm all year around because of the geothermal activity. 
The lake itself is really pretty and quite popular, but in summer it is full of midgets and people wear full head nets because of them so keep that in mind if you visit during the summer months.

Godafoss




The last big waterfall on the ringroad. Get there early cause there are some daytours from Reykjavik and you`re left with thousands of tourists even if it is still the North. Quite an impressive one, you can even go down to a stone beach and watch the nature showing of its power. It got its Name from an tale which says that when the reign of Iceland made catholics its official religion, he threw a statue of the old gods into the waterfall, and thats why it is now called the waterfall of the gods.

Grabnik





On the way back to the capital, there are two moss covered volcanos to explore. It is quite a long drive from North to south, so this is a good possibility to get some fresh air and climb a bit. The volcano is still in quite a good condition, the paths are marked well and it is really interesting to see this in person. 


Reykjavik 

Personally, I imagined that the capital would be way cuter. There isn`t much to see or do, the church is new but famous due its extraordinary arcitecture, sadly overpriced so we didn`t made it to the top or inside. It is ok for a stroll on an extra day if you got the time, but I wouldn`t suggest to plan a whole day or skip something else for it.


Useful Apps

In a country with so many uncommon conditions, some apps are really useful. Make sure to check These websites and apps every morning before you start your day, they can seriously safe lifes ->

- 112 Iceland -> for emergencys only, it sends the Rescue team your location

- Vedur -> THE weather app for Iceland, it tells you if there are warnings too and what to do in that case. This happens quite often, we had three weather warnings on our way during our trip.

- My Aurora Forecast -> if you want to see the northern lights, make sure to check these app which tells you about all the important factors that must be right for you to see them

- Iceland Road Guide -> It is like a mini travel guide, useful tipps and can help you if you`re looking for a quick fix on where to go or whats close

- safetravel.is -> really important to check this for any alerts, it also has important tips for hiking trips on it

- road.is -> shows conditions and openings of nearly all roads on the island, definately check it before you head out cause road closures can happen quite often but are normally released after a few Hours


If you made it to this point, thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed it and I wish you all a wonderful trip. 
Feel free to ask me anything you want, any tips on what you would want to read more about in future guides or just your thoughts in the comments, I will respond to every single one. 

Lots of love,

Faye, Michael & Milow







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