A weekend away in another world: in Reykjavik Camilla and family abandoned coats and scarves to bathe in glorious geo-thermal pools, headed out to sea to spot hump-backed whales – and hoped for a glimpse of the Northern Lights…
Who went: Camilla and her daughters, Phoebe 15, and Liesel 12
Where did you go, how did you get there and how did you get around: Camilla: “We flew from London Gatwick to Reykjavik with Icelandair and booked the flight and hotel together. It was our first package holiday – I’m usually the queen of independent travel but as we didn’t know anyone who’d been to Iceland, didn’t speak the language and were going for such a short time we decided to play safe. And it was a really good deal! In all it cost just over £1000 for flights and accommodation for the three of us, including the organized trips. For me the lovely thing was letting go of responsibility – I enjoyed being able to chat on the bus with the girls and not having to be tour leader or drive us all everywhere.
When and for how long: Three nights and two days in the February half-term, 2013.
Where did you stay: A budget hotel that was part of the package, very clean, tidy and hospitable. The common areas were nicer than the bedrooms but I’d still recommend it and the girls really enjoyed it. It’s located at the old airport so it’s spacious but a quick taxi ride from the town itself. There was a good continental breakfast with slices of ham and cheese as well as the usual pastries. The Icelanders who were staying there had cod liver oil shots – there was literally a big bottle of cod liver oil with shot glasses on the breakfast buffet. I had to try it – but washed it down with coffee. The girls decided not to!
Why Iceland? We particularly wanted to see the Northern Lights. It was annoying and a bit disappointing that we didn’t – but we still had a great time.
First impressions? Reykjavik is tiny. Despite my fears everyone speaks English!
Your weekend itinerary? We arrived late on Friday night so went straight to the hotel. On Saturday we took an organized tour to the Blue Lagoon. On Sunday we went on a whale watching trip and after that explored Reykjavik and in the evening went to a municipal outdoor pool.
The Blue Lagoon – Day One: we went on a tour bus to the Blue Lagoon which is a geothermal spa about half an hour from Reykjavik. When I’d looked at the brochure I’d wondered if it might be a bit tacky – I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was 5 star awesome and like nothing I’ve seen before even though I’m a big fan of New Zealand. In fact it gives you a little bit of the New Zealand hit without having to fly all that way.
The lagoon is huge and the water temperature is a constant 37 – 40 degrees C so you can laze in it for hours. The floor is a natural surface: smooth and squidgy in places so it’s like walking on marshmallows. There are hot spots and it’s deep enough to swim in some parts though too warm to do anything energetic. It really does look blue when the sun’s on it, then the clouds descend and are all around you as you bathe. The water renews naturally and contains minerals, silica and algae which are supposed to be amazing for skin issues.
We tried the white silica mud mask for your face and body and then washed it off again in the lagoon. There are saunas and steam rooms cut into the lava rock too and massages and beauty treatments that you can book separately. When we arrived we were given state of the art wristbands which control personal lockers and let you order drinks from the swim up bar.
There’s a café and restaurant, a relaxation zone and viewing platform: we stayed all day playing in the lagoon. Its fun and different and smart.
Whale watching and Reykjavik – Day Two: The whale-watching was another tour which we’d booked with the package. We went out to sea on the boat from the old harbour.
It was rather choppy and cold, though none of us were seasick. The hump-backed whales weren’t difficult to find and they were unforgettable – especially the sight of a tail as it lifts out of the water and is silhouetted against the sky.
After this we mooched around Reykjavik which is small enough to get around on foot. The girls enjoyed the Viking helmets and big Icelandic jumpers in the tourist shops. There’s an amazing new building called the Harpa which is a concert hall and opera house, so we went to have a look at it on the harbour.
It’s stunning, all glass and asymmetric and it reflected light in such a way that it looked a bit like the Northern Lights. Everyone was talking about it.
On our final night, when we realized there’d be no Northern Lights to see we decided to take a cab to a municipal pool in town which I’d researched beforehand. There are several outdoor thermal pools in Reykjavik – this was a vast one, quite basic and not chi-chi or fabulous like the Blue Lagoon – though it was £10 each to hire a towel! But there were lots of young people there sitting around and chatting in the water; there was no bar, just whole posses of friends social-spa’ing. The stars weren’t out but it was a nice enough night and the girls had fun going up and down the water slides in the dark. The water was warm in some places but absolutely freezing in others!
What was the weather like? Not as cold as I thought it would be – we wore jeans and coats.
Highlights: We all thought the Blue Lagoon was the best bit. It’s hard to describe what it feels like in that water. It’s so beautiful that it’s like something out of a dream. The trip on the whale-watching boat was awesome as well.
What went wrong? We didn’t see the Northern Lights! But the whale-watching and the Blue Lagoon did make up for it. Also eating out was quite expensive but of course there was lots of fish, amazing fish with names I’d never heard of.
We wish we’d had time to…… take a trip to the Golden Circle in the middle of the country where there are waterfalls and you can walk and ride. I’d ideally like to overnight there in a little cabin, something quite basic. I’d love to hire a car to get there but my issue would be the road signs and all the ‘j’s and ‘k’s in the Icelandic language – I’d be driving and no one would be navigating which is exactly the kind of pressure I want to avoid on a holiday – so perhaps I’ll farm that job out to a bus driver who already knows the way!
Things we’d do differently if we went again: I’d book the Blue Lagoon for the last day of the trip because it’s quite near the airport so makes sense to do it on the way home and zen out before your flight.”
Family Holiday in Iceland
Camilla and family booked a weekend city break package with Icelandair
If you are travelling independently it’s important to book ahead for the Blue Lagoon.