It is great to drive around on your own time without any dependence on pre-fixed schedules or destinations. You can just enjoy the unique landscape of this rugged island on your own time. If that is what you have decided I‘m guessing you are an independent traveler. That‘s great, just make sure you know all about driving in Iceland before you start your trip!

Driving in Iceland is not like driving in most other countries. It is important that you are an experienced driver and that you can react when conditions change such as weather, quality of the roads and so on. If you are well prepared and well informed, you should be able to have a worry free and an enjoyable trip. Here are a few tips for you to keep safe and understand the rules on the Icelandic roads:

  1. The Icelandic road system is fairly easy to navigate. Our most traveled route in Iceland is highway no. 1, often called the Ring Road. During winter it is sometimes necessary to close parts of it due to weather conditions. They usually do not last for more than a day or so. Many major roads are paved but a large portion of the road system is made up of gravel roads, particularly in the highlands. Gravel roads are often with potholes or washboard surfaces. Most of them though are in a fairly good condition although care must be taken while driving. Loose gravel can be difficult to drive in and always be careful when passing another vehicle. Furthermore, sand and small rocks can easily cause damage to cars, such as cracked windshields or a ruined paint job. While driving on gravel, slow down when an oncoming car approaches you. Also make notice that mountain roads are often narrow and not made for speeding. Same goes for bridges, which are often only wide enough for one car at a time.
  2. Make sure you check the weather before starting your trip. Driving in Iceland demands certain attention to conditions, especially if you are heading into the highlands. Also, be sure your car is a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so you do not get stuck in the middle of nowhere. There you can encounter rough terrain and unabridged waters. The highland roads are closed in winter times and weather sometimes causes other roads to be closed as well. Here you can find the weather forecast.
  3. A lot of people stop on the roads to enjoy the breathtaking views surrounding them. Some cross the roads walking, while looking around taking all this nature in. Please do not do this. This is very dangerous. There are plenty of stops on the roads designed for you to park, take a photo and enjoy the views surrounding you. There is no need to stop in the middle of the road putting yourself and others at great risk.
  4. Many rental cars have a GPS system where you can type in your destination and the GPS tells you where to go. That has not always worked liked it should for travelers in Iceland, as many towns have the same street names or old farms have the same names as town streets. That is why it is advisable to also have a map in your car to know which direction you should be going and compare it to your GPS. You can buy a map at tourist information centers, gas stations and book stores. That way you can be sure it is taking you the to the correct destination and you do not loose any time getting lost.
  5. Off-road driving is prohibited by law in Iceland. Because of our short summers the soil and vegetation can be very vulnerable. Please be respectful to the nature, treat it carefully and stay on the roads.
  6. Most gas stations are automated self-service filling stations. They are operated along the main roads and in the towns. Distances between the stations may vary so make sure you have enough fuel to reach the next one.
  7. Stay alert for warning signs which indicate danger ahead, such as sharp bends. Also take notice that there are generally no separate signs to reduce speed. It is your responsibility to choose a safe speed according to conditions. The general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt roads.
  8. For your safety, you are obliged to keep the head lights on at all times, day and night. You are also obliged to use safety belts. It is forbidden to drive under the influence of alcohol and driving while talking on a mobile phone.
  9. Most mountain roads are closed until the end of June because of snow and muddy conditions. When they open they are often only suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles. You can check the conditions here.
  10. It is wise to let someone know where you are going. You can leave your travel plan with Safe Travel. If you ever find yourself in immediate danger or lost please dial 112 for emergencies and you should get immediate help or advise.

 

 

 

It can be a bit stressfull travelling with children if you are not sure what to expect. We don‘t want you to be stressed so here are a few tips on what to bring and what to do in Reykjavik as a family.

While visiting Reykjavik you  probably want to walk around and get to know the city. If travelling with a small child bring a stroller with a rain cover. It just makes everything easier. Then you have to make sure the children are always warm. The best thing is to dress in layers. That also goes for grown ups. Even during summer it can get a bit cold. We highly recommend wool base layers, than clothes and overcoats according to the weather. There are many outdoor activity stores where you can buy warm clothes, for example at Ullarkistan on Laugarvegur. There you can find soft merino wool for both children and adults.

Reykjavik also has a variety of food and snack stops. Restaurants, cafés, small shops, bakeries and supermarkets are on every corner where you can pick up bread, yoghurts, fruits and other snacks. If you are looking for something familiar supermarkets have baby food by brands such as Ella‘s kitchen, Hipp and Semper. There aren‘t any McDonalds but you can find KFC and Taco Bell. There are excellent Icelandic fast food options though, such as Búllan (Burger Joint), Hamborgarafabrikkan,  Steikhúsið and several pizza and kebab places.

Restaurants and cafés in Reykjavík are generally very child friendly. If you are travelling with a small child you can be sure that the restaurant has a high chair for your baby. We like for example Laundromat Café which has a great play area on their ground floor where you can also get food service and the pizza place Eldsmiðjan on Suðurlandsbraut which also has a play area for children (a bit outside the center though). If you want to select your restaurant based on food rather than toys we would say that really all restaurants here claim to be family friendly and should be able to cater to your needs. There are at least 3-4 vegan restaurants around our main street Laugavegur, including one called Á næstu grösum. For you mommies that are breastfeeding, you can breastfeed anywhere, anytime, as breastfeeding in public is very much accepted. So please feel comfortable feeding your litle one without any worries about your surroundings.

For activity we love going to the public swimming pools. They are truly for all ages. Our baby boy was just a few months old the first time we brought him. Laugardalslaug is the largest one and the most popular, with many hot tubs, a good swimming pool, a large play area and a few slides for both the smallest and older kids. The pools are heated so don‘t let bad weather stop you, we go all year around. There are many pools scattered around the city so you can even go to more than one.

Just by Laugardalslaug you have The Reykjavik Zoo. There you will find domestic animals, seals and arctic foxes. Also a great family park with play area and rides. The coffee shop is open all year long. The zoo is very popular especially during summer holidays so often its better to show up early.

Public libraries are a great place to catch your breath. The downtown library is popular among the locals who bring their children to play in a small but lovely play area or to look at picture books, try on costumes or just read books. Great to meet other children as well. It is without any charge.

There are several open playgrounds in Reykjavik. There is one at Arnarhóll, the hill overseeing the concert house Harpa. Its hidden behind trees and bushes, is perfectly located and well maintained. Than there is Hljómskálagarður, the park on the opposite side of the pond (Tjörnin) from the city hall. Great for running around, playing ball and there is a small playground as well. A bit further out by the museum Kjarvalsstaðir you have Klambratún, a really lovely park with a fantastic play area, frisby golf, basket and volley ball courts, the museum and a coffee shop. Great for sunny days.

Another fun activity is to visit the Open Air Museum called Árbæjarsafn. It is a small village with more than 20 buildings which form a town square, a village and a farm. It was an established farm well into the 20th century. There you can learn about the life in Iceland, meet the animals, see the artwork, relax with a coffee and a traditional Icelandic pastry or shop in the two museum shops. Great place for children to run around and play and even learn some history on the way.

 

 

 

 

hiking mount Esja

It‘s fair to say that those of us living in Reykjavik have a particular love affair with Mount Esja, which dominates the skyline to the north of the city. We look to it to predict the weather, we go there for hikes and runs, we talk about it and even sing about it.

Mount Esja is actually a large mountain range with a very popular hiking trail. Many people hike up there once a week for sport, some even run, but that‘s for the insane.

It takes about 20 minutes to drive there from Reykjavik. You can also take a bus from BSI bus terminal. There is a parking area and a café called Esjustofa at the start of the trail. From the parking you just head straight to the mountain where you will see the hiking trail. After a short walk up the trail you will find yourself at a crossroad where you can choose to go left or right. The left path is shorter but steeper. The right path is longer and not as steep, but quite rocky, so make sure you are wearing good shoes.

Mount Esja is 914 meters high but most people hike up to the Stone (Steinn) which is 780 meter high. Once up there you will have the most beautiful view of Reykjavik and surrounding area. We don‘t recommend going all the way up unless the weather is very good and you are used to hiking. Also beware during wintertime as the weather can get pretty bad quickly. Stopping by the Stone is also perfect for a bite to eat and to strike up a conversation with the locals, also taking a breather before heading down again.

The hike itself takes about 2,5 hours, depending on how fast you are. Its a great way to spend half a day. Just make sure you dress in layers, that you got good hiking boots and remember this is Iceland. The weather can change quickly and it can get very windy.