Dancing flashlights in the sky - that is how I explained the Northern Lights to my four-year-old son before we flew to Iceland. He didn't care about electrons or protons, but colored lights sweeping across the Icelandic sky sounded OK to him. We boarded a flight to start our hunt.
Taking your kids to Iceland may not be the first thing you think about when planning your winter vacation. It's cold, snowy, and did I mention cold? But it is one of those experiences you don't want to miss with your kids.
Let the hunt begin
There are many ways to gaze up at the Northern Lights in Iceland. Hop aboard a boat in Reykjavik to bob around Faxafloi Bay. Bring some seasick medicine though; the seas can get choppy in winter. You can also book a bus tour out into the snow where light pollution is almost nonexistent. Whether you take a boat or a bus, be prepared for disappointment. Most tour companies will give you a free rebooking if you don't catch the lights, but that may not stem the tears pouring down your son's face when he doesn't see the lights his first night out.
There is a better way to catch these illusive lights with your kids that will save your sanity and a few tears. Book a hotel outside of Reykjavik with a Northern Lights wake up call. This way you can sleep soundly in your bed and only get up if the Aurora Borealis is putting on a show. It will save you endless hours of waiting in the cold with cranky kids. It will also give you more than one chance to catch the lights.
There is so much more to explore
You can't spend your days sleeping and nights looking up at the sky. Not when you have kids at least. Luckily, Iceland has so much more than the Northern Lights to wow your family. Book the Golden Circle tour for a daylong adventure to some of Iceland's most popular sights - Geysir, Gullfoss, and Thingvellir.
Every 8 minutes or so Geysir, the most famous geyser on the island, bubbles up, exploding hot water out of its geothermal resting place. You can walk across the hills peeking down at smaller pools hissing away and blowing steam in every direction. Just don't get too close. Those puddles of water may look warm and cozy, but they will cause some serious burns if you touch them.
The mighty waters of Gullfoss roar over cliffs, making their way through the crevices of the earth. Gullfoss is beautiful in the summer, but is a magical place to explore when it is covered in snow and ice begins to form over the water. Nothing can keep that waterfall from flowing down its destined course.
Thingvellir may have been the original seat of parliament in Iceland, but this is no stuffy old stone building. Walk the paths the original settlers roamed in 900 A.D. as they discussed business, made marriage arrangements, and punished lawbreakers. Sit on one of the massive stones on this hill that the Viking chiefs held meetings on as they looked over the valley and lake.
Warm up on your way out
The Blue Lagoon is Iceland's most popular attraction and for good reason, sort of. The price is steep for what you get. The Blue Lagoon is a massive geothermal pool spa. It is a great spot to begin or end your trip as it is on the way to the airport. Kids are welcome to soak with their parents, enjoy a Skyr yogurt smoothie, and experience the healing powers of this cloudy blue mineral-infused water. It is great for healing eczema and other skin ailments too.
If the price is too steep for your family, there are several public geothermal pools around Reykjavik you can enjoy for a nominal fee. Some are even indoors. There are spas scattered around the country for you to enjoy as well. They may not have a swim-up bar like the Blue Lagoon, but they will still warm up your bones and give your muscles the relaxation they crave after hiking, carry kids, and exploring this unique country.
Whether you see the Northern Lights or not, you will not be sorry you visited Iceland. The landscape is like no other you will see; it is easy to visit with your kids (even in winter) and will definitely give you enough dinner table talk for the next few months and probably years to come. The Aurora Borealis is worth the hunt. Are you up for it?
Have you ever seen the Northern Lights? Where were you?
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