We’ve been extraordinarily lucky to do a good deal of international travel, mostly with kids in tow. Since it feels a little overwhelming to go back through and document everything in order, I thought I’d start a “Wanderlust Wednesdays” series to share some of our favorite experiences from around the globe.
We visited Iceland as a family of 5 (kids ages 5, 3, & 1) in January of 2016. We knew we’d be moving to California from the East Coast of the US in a couple of months, so when we saw a crazy flight deal from DC (less than $1000 for all of us), we knew we had to go for it while we were still within 5-hour flight range.
We flew WOW Air, which we’d never done before, and we weren’t sure what to expect. Turns out, it was totally fine! We did pay extra to check one bag; we thought we could probably fit everything into just backpacks (WOW charges for carryon suitcases), but we figured it would be more comfortable with little kids to not have to deal with that many backpacks stuffed to the brim (winter travel is always tricky with space constraints due to all the extra layers – and boy did we layer!).
The day we left, there was a giant snowstorm going on in DC, one of the worst in years. In retrospect, it was fortuitous that we flew WOW, as it was one of the only airlines that got off the ground. Most other airlines cancelled all their flights, but we kept checking and WOW kept saying they’d depart on time. Sure enough, we got up there and we even managed to take off a few minutes early because there was a brief break in the storm! As WOW is an Icelandic airline, the flight attendants right before takeoff announced, “If you’re worried, don’t be. We’re from Iceland. This is no big deal.”
One of our favorite local hacks in Iceland was all the neighborhood “hot pools,” as our then-3-year-old daughter liked to call them. Of course, everyone has heard of the Blue Lagoon. But the Blue Lagoon had changed its rules not too long before we visited and no longer allowed children under the age of 2. Since we had our 1-year-old along, we’d have to switch out, and we knew he’d be sad to miss out on the fun. Plus, from what we’d heard and read, locals rarely went to the Blue Lagoon because it’s super touristy, expensive, at times not extremely clean, and only had one water temperature in a giant lagoon.
Instead of visiting an expensive tourist trap, we wanted to know what the locals do. Turns out, Reykjavik and many other towns in Iceland have their own thermal pools that locals visit all the time. Reykjavik has several that are super nice, clean, and cheap. We visited Laugardalslaug, which was beautiful and well maintained. We LOVED our time there and would’ve happily returned several times if we’d had time in our itinerary (unfortunately, we only visited on the second to last day of our trip, so we didn’t know how much we’d love it).
Before getting into the pools, everyone is required to shower with soap and shampoo, which is provided. They are very strict about enforcing cleanliness (which I loved). No one is particularly concerned with covering up in the gender-specific bathrooms, but no one will be put off if you do. There were even diagrams showing how to wash yourself to make sure you get squeaky clean!
There were probably 5-6 pools of varying size and temperature, including a large, lukewarm kid pool with a slide. That one was a bit chilly for me considering the outside temperature was around 20 degrees F, but Dan and the kids enjoyed popping into it. We spent the most time in a round, shallow pool that went from zero depth to about 1.5 feet in the middle. It was a comfortable 90 degrees F or so. It was perfect with little ones and we met some lovely locals and just a few tourists (generally ones who’d visited before, or had family connections). I hopped into a couple of the hot tubs (the hottest was about 110-115 degrees F), and even saw a couple of little kids in those. They certainly had a higher tolerance for heat than our kids did! It really was invigorating being in steamy hot water while it was frigid out (you can see the snow on the slides in a couple of the photos.)
Overall, it was a lovely and relaxing experience without the crowds and expense of the Blue Lagoon, and provided an opportunity to spend time with some locals. Plus, it was great to allow our kids to join in on the fun with varying temperatures that were comfortable for them. Finally, it has the added advantage of being right in the city, instead of out by Keflavik airport, like the Blue Lagoon. I highly recommend adding a local thermal pool onto your Iceland itinerary!
(Disclaimer: these are all pretty darn terrible photos because they were quickly snapped with a phone in a steamy, humid spa area. Sometimes, you’re too busy enjoying the experience to care about a decent photo.)