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Published on Monday, August 20, 2012

Budget flights make Iceland one of hottest destinations of 2012

New low-cost flights from London to Reykjavik with easyJet, Iceland Express and Wow! have boosted interest in Iceland, which is turning out to be one of the hottest - or should that be coolest - destinations of 2012.

Truth be told, it's a ruinously expensive country but the fact that you can now fly there from as little as £28 one way has brought it within the reach of your average Joe.

With budget flights available from Gatwick, Luton and Stansted it should be an easy sell to families who are used to splashing out on a ski holiday and want a similarly active summer holiday, or couples looking to do more than fly or flop.

Reykjavik, famed for its Friday night runtur (pub crawl) has long been attracting the cool crowd who like to weekend somewhere different, but it can also serve as a convenient base for an active family holiday or the starting point for a round-the-island tour.

Organising excursions from Reykjavik is simple, tour companies will pick up from most hotels, or you can pre-book off-the-shelf packages through operators including Exodus and Explore!

For me, the highlight of a recent family trip to Iceland was a tour inside the magma chamber of a dormant volcano, but my kids were more thrilled by a rafting trip along the Hvita River. It didn't offer much in the way of rapids - for more extreme white water rafting you have to head to the north of the island - but the 6ft cliff dive gave them an adrenaline rush and me a near heart attack.

You can book the rafting through Arctic Adventures, which will also bundle rafting together with other activities - some of them offered by different companies - for a complete day trip.

We booked the slightly scary-sounding Full Throttle tour, which started with a rush on quad bikes through a mountain valley, just a 15-minute drive outside the city. To be honest, the white-knuckle ride in the pick-up truck from Reykjavik to the base camp was enough excitement for me - our young guide was a mental driver - but the kids absolutely loved racing on quad bikes over bumpy lava and down the steep slopes of the mountains, even though they had to ride pillion.


After lamb stew at a diner across the road, we were picked up by Arctic Adventures and driven to the rafting base about an hour away. The rafting guides were truly excellent. I was nervous about taking my youngest on the river (the recommended minimum age for the trip is 12 and he's only 11) but we always felt in safe hands and the river is ideal for first-timers.

Not sure I liked the fact that the guides, egged on by the children, deliberately capsized the boats to add to the excitement, but still.

On another day trip we combined a horse ride with a glacier walk. The ride, with Eldhestar, was tame in comparison with the rafting expedition, but the Icelandic horses were so good natured that even the youngest riders who'd never ridden before were able to trot along untethered with the rest of the group. All gear, including waterproof jackets, trousers, gloves and boots, was provided.


After a quick lunch at the Hotel Eldhestar, we were picked up by Mountain Guides and driven about 90 minutes east along  Iceland's Ring Road to the Solheimajokull glacier, which is still covered in ash from the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010. Kitted out with ice picks and crampons we walked for about an hour on the icy tongue which extends from the Myrdalsjokull glacier - Iceland's fourth largest - but didn't get as far as the main ice cap, which was shrouded in mist.

Other easy excursions from Reykjavik include the Blue Lagoon hot spring, a must-see on any itinerary, the sights of the Golden Circle including the Gullfoss waterfall (a big wow for even the most reluctant sightseer) and the Geysir hot springs and whale watching cruises from Reykjavik Old Harbour. A couple of cruise operators offer regular sailings throughout the day in the summer and sightings of whales are almost guaranteed.

I'd highly recommend Iceland for a family holiday, just tell clients to take plenty of spending money!


Read about the top 7 things to do during a trip to Reykjavik here.


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