Gullfoss waterfall is part of many Golden Circle tours. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Feature image (above): For a great view of the Northern Lights, stay overnight in the countryside. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Despite the implications of its name, Iceland is not a freezing tundra year-round. In fact, this small island nation of 300,000 people stays around 32 degrees Fahrenheit in winter in the lowlands (14 degrees in the highlands) and can be quite pleasant in the summer, when temperatures range from 50 to 77 degrees. But it isn’t the weather that brings families here.
Following are five destinations within Iceland that entice travelers looking to dive into the natural beauty of this Nordic wonderland.
Ramble in Reykjavik
Iceland’s capital city is the easiest place for families to settle down, especially if their visit is brief or if they don’t plan to rent a car to explore the island on their own.
Set aside time to take the elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland, for great views of the city. Families might also brush up on Icelandic history at National Museum of Iceland.
For a kid-friendly adventure at sea, book a whale- or puffin-watching tour out of the Old Harbour. Mid-May through mid-August, local operator Elding Whale Watching offers puffin cruises that sail near the rocky shorelines of Akurey and Lundey islands, where the birds often perch. Whale-watching cruises are available year-round. Depending on the season, travelers might spot humpback and killer whales, dolphins and porpoises in Faxafloi Bay.
Tour the Golden Circle
For first-time Iceland visitors, experiencing the Golden Circle is a must. This popular sightseeing route loops from Reykjavik to central Iceland and back again, giving travelers a good taste of what the country has to offer.
On most tours, clients will hop on and off a bus and have plenty of time to explore sights such as Strokkur, a fountain geyser; the mighty Gullfoss waterfall; and Thingvellir National Park, an area that was once home to the original seat of parliament during Viking times. Reykjavik Excursions and Extreme Iceland are two tour companies with itinerary options that highlight the Golden Circle.
Chase the Aurora Borealis
The Northern Lights shine brightest October through April, when daylight hours are at a minimum. Tour companies can bring travelers out into the harbor by boat or into the countryside via bus for better views. For the best experience, families should book a hotel in the countryside that offers a Northern Lights wake-up call, such as southwest Iceland’s comfortable Northern Light Inn.
Soak in the Blue Lagoon
As the trip winds down, parents will want to make sure they have visited the Blue Lagoon — and if they haven’t, it’s a stop that’s often (and easily) made en route to Keflavik International Airport.
The mineral waters in the lagoon have a restorative quality that are sure to help loosen the aching muscles created by hauling kids and their gear around the island. The swim-up bar is at parents’ service as well, offering smoothies, wine, beer and more, all without leaving the water.