DISCOVERING THE HIDDEN SIDE OF ICELAND
8 Reasons why your family should book a tour when visiting Iceland
As the CVO (Chief Vacation Officer) of my family, I typically do all the research and planning for our family trips. Truth be told, I like the discovery process. I get a rush from crafting the perfect itinerary that meets not only my and my husband’s needs but the often overly-demanding needs of my teenaged sons. This DYI approach tends to give our family a greater degree of flexibility.
However, when planning a recent trip to Iceland, I actually booked a 2-day tour of southern Iceland through a small boutique company called Hidden Iceland. The tour operator specializes in small, personalized tours with a maximum of 12 people. As a member of the Family Travel Association, I appreciated the company’s commitment to serving the unique needs of families. It ended up being a very wise decision.
KidTripster Tip: Many tour operators have age restrictions on their tours. With Hidden Iceland, you need to be at least 10 years old to do a tour that includes a glacier hike. However, it’s possible to arrange a private tour just for your family if you have younger children.
KidTripster Tip: Not all tour operators are equal. I would strongly advise against booking a trip with a company that piles 50+ people onto a behemoth tour bus. These large tours tend to move too slowly for families with kids. The buses can’t travel to out-of-way places which tend to be the most interesting, and lodging options can be rather cookie-cutter.
Here’s a look at why using a respected tour operator may be a good idea when visiting Iceland.
1/Leave the driving to someone else
My son and I visited Iceland as part of a free stopover through Icelandair after having spent the previous ten days in Ireland. In Ireland, we drove ourselves. We put a lot of miles on that rental car. So I can’t tell you what a relief it was to climb into the Hidden Iceland van and leave the driving to someone else for a few days - no pounding coffees to stay awake, no GPS directions to follow, no wrong turns down narrow country roads.
Instead, I could actually look out the window and see the scenery - and believe me, along the southern coast of Iceland, there are some awe-inspiring sights to be seen. In the van, we had WiFi the entire time and could easily post photos of our trip in real time.
Plus, most of the time, our guide Ryan was teaching us something along the way - either about what we were seeing or about what life is really like in Iceland. It was fascinating stuff! And when Ryan had to catch his breath, he had some rad playlists that entertained me and my companions.
2/Learn fascinating facts about Icelanders
Guide books can be helpful in planning an itinerary, but they don’t typically answer your questions about daily Icelandic life once you’re there and witnessing it. That’s when a local’s knowledge becomes invaluable. Why is the Icelandic language so impossibly difficult? Why does the water smell? What’s up with all these sheep, and why do they seem to running wild? (That’s a very interesting answer. For more, click here.)
3/Spark your young scientist’s interest
Our guide Ryan didn’t have a degree in volcanology (yep, that’s thing!), but he might as well have. His knowledge of Iceland volcanoes and glaciers was immense. He was able to communicate complex scientific ideas simply and with such enthusiasm. If you’re looking to get your kids excited about science, Ryan’s the man for the job!
4/Don’t miss the good stuff
On the first day of our tour along the southern coast of Iceland, we covered 267 miles and passed by more than a dozen glaciers and a half dozen volcanoes plus countless waterfalls. As someone who enjoys photography, I would have been tempted to stop everywhere if I’d been driving myself! But that’s certainly not practical.
When you go with an experienced tour guide with local knowledge, he knows exactly where to stop. He’s not going to let you miss out on the best bits. With Hidden Iceland, that doesn’t mean that you’re just going to the touristy spots - those you could find on your own. You’re also discovering some more hidden gems.
5/Know when to stop
Knowing where to stop is just part of the equation; understanding when to stop is the other. Case in point: our stop at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. On the first day, we reached the lagoon in the evening. The light reflecting off the water and the newly-formed icebergs was just perfect. Ryan took us back the following morning as we doubled back along the same route, just to see the difference. The scene wasn’t nearly as magical because of the position of the sun.
Diamond Beach is another example. While we were at the lagoon the first time, Ryan drove over to the beach to check conditions. There were no ice chunks on the beach. If we’d have been traveling by ourselves, we probably would have said “what’s all the fuss about” and moved on. But Ryan knew to return the following morning when the icebergs had made there way out to sea and had started to wash up on the beach, earning the nickname “iceberg graveyard.” These ice chunks were spectacular; some looked polished like glass. It was one of the most memorable sights on the trip.
6/Able to adventure safely
To the uninitiated, a glacier hike may not seem like a big deal. You may be tempted to jump out of your car and give it a try. You shouldn’t. First, it requires the right equipment. I don’t know about you, but I typically don't travel with my own personal set of crampons, and TSA frowns upon packing pick axes in your carry-on luggage. A tour operator will have you covered with all the necessary gear plus all the safety ropes and equipment, in case something goes wrong.
And something could go wrong, if you don’t have an experienced guide reading the glacier. There can be weak spots in the ice that if not avoided could collapse, sending you or your kids into a crevasse. My point here, glacier hiking is relatively safe if you’re being led by an well-trained guide.
7/Offset your environmental impact
Iceland is one of those places where you can see global warming at work. Glaciers are receding at an alarming rate. Hidden Iceland is one tour company that’s taking a stand. The company has a public environmental policy where it promises to offset 100% of all carbon emissions from its vehicles plus an additional 10% for associated personal emissions on its trips via its partner Climate Care.
8/Get a language lesson
I’ve traveled all over the world, and without a doubt, I found Icelandic to be the most difficult language that I’ve ever heard or seen. For example, how would you pronounce this one: F j a ð r á r g l j ú f u r ?
The good news is most everyone in Iceland speaks perfect English. But when you do want to know the name of what you’re seeing, it’s helpful to have a guide.
Oh, that word… listen to Ryan.
For our suggested itinerary for Iceland from one to seven nights in length, check here.
Note: We visited Iceland on a free stopover on our way back from Ireland. We booked the tickets on Icelandair through a KidTripster partner called AirTreks. Each ticket was $450 cheaper than booking directly through the airline! If you book through this link, KidTripster gets some coffee money from AirTreks at no additional cost to you. Thanks in advance for your support!
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah hopes to return to Iceland during the winter to take in the ice caves and the Northern Lights.
This writer received some complimentary activities for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.