Are you considering taking a trip to Iceland with kids? Do it! Iceland is the darling jewel of travel destinations these days and as such it has come to the forefront as an ideal family destination. With an abundance of amazing things to do in Iceland with kids from dramatic waterfalls, erupting geysers and other fabulous natural wonders, it’s no wonder it has soared to popularity.
That said, planning a trip to Iceland can also prove to be overwhelming. The sheer amount of information on the internet combined with the fact that very few of the names are even remotely pronounceable can make it frustrating to plan a trip there.
After weeks and weeks of sorting through blog posts and visiting the country ourselves a few times, we have come up with the ultimate guide to Iceland with the best things to do in Iceland with kids or without! Many of these things can be done throughout the country depending on your itinerary which is nice since you don’t have to drive all over the place to do a few amazing things. While some activities require kids to be older, most are things all families can enjoy together. Read on for our top things to do in Iceland with kids along with suggestions on where to stay and how to get around.
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11 Magical Things to Do in Iceland with Kids
Ride an Icelandic Horse
If you aren’t in love with the adorable Icelandic horses from the moment you get out of the airport, then I can’t help you! These famously cute horses are unique in more than just their looks. Icelandic horses have a specific gait called the tolt which is a smoother trot/canter that must be felt to be believed. Having ridden horses my entire life I was just as excited as my son to ride these cuties. While they are small like ponies, they are horses.
There are many stables all over the Golden Circle and down towards Hella that you should not have too many problems finding one even with short notice. We went with Icelandic HorseWorld in Hella with a beautiful selection of well trained, well cared for horses. Rides can be as short as 1 hour or as long as a few days. After our 1 hour ride, we now want to return for a full day ride just to experience the tolt a little bit more! Rides can be organized for beginners to experts, just ask.
Search for Turf Houses
Icelandic turf houses were the product of living in a difficult climate and having access to limited building materials. These traditional homes look like they are built into the surrounding landscapes with only the front door and possibly windows showing through the turf. Traditional Icelandic turf homes can be found all over the country as well as smaller huts now used as shelters for horses and sheep. Keep your eyes peeled as you drive around the country and you will be sure to find one. Otherwise, head to the Skogar Museum where they have replica houses for visitors to check out up close.
Eat Geothermal Baked Bread
As soon as my son heard about the option of eating local bread baked in the hot lava sands of Iceland he had to do it. While it’s not the most iconic thing to do in Iceland with kids, it actually is surprisingly cool and a great learning opportunity. Head to Laugarvatn Fontana on the Golden Circle where two times a day staff dig up a pot of Icelandic Rye that has been underground for 24 hours. After a short introduction, the bread is removed with a new pot of dough buried in its place.
While advance bookings are not mandatory, during high season it is helpful to book in advance. Dig times are at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily.
When you are here, enjoy some lunch, hot chocolate and maybe even a dip in their amazing hot springs. The perfect thing to do in Iceland during the winter months.
Hike a Glacier
One of my son’s top items on his bucket list is to hike a glacier. Unfortunately there is an age requirement for glacier hiking (10 years old) which means that we still have to wait a few more years for this. To safely glacier hike you need to book a tour. TripAdvisor has great reviews on the different operators in Iceland.
However, if you really want to get up close and personal with a glacier, but don’t want to hike on one, head to Jökulsárlón Lagoon where you can get in an amphibious vehicle to see the broken off icebergs up close while on the water.
In addition to glacier hiking, there are also opportunities to check out ice caves that can appeal to kids of all ages. Langjokull Ice Cave is one of the largest and most spectacular to visit during the winter.
Gush Over a Geyser
With limited opportunities in the world to experience a geyser up close a visit to Strokkur Geyser is a must do on a visit to Iceland with kids. The original geyser at this location, the Great Geyser does not seem to be active any longer, but thankfully Strokkur Geyser has taken its place. Every 3-7 minutes the geyser goes off expelling the pressure built up inside.
Even with the crowds, it’s difficult to not get excited about seeing a gush of steamy hot water explode from the ground into the sky. You can easily spend an hour here waiting with bated breath between each burst of water. This is one of the most popular stops on the Golden Circle road trip.
Spot a Puffin
Iceland in the summer is a bird watcher’s paradise, especially with the presence of the colorful Puffins nesting on the island. There are many places to see puffins during their nesting season (May – August), but the easiest places are not too far from the capitol.
Take a boat from Reykjavik to Lundey for a day trip,a ferry to Westman Islands or drive down to Dyrhólaey. While it is not always easy to get up close to these shy birds, your best bet of seeing them up close is here during the summer. This is still on our bucket list as our shoulder season visits have not proved fruitful for puffin spotting.
Go Waterfall Chasing
With over 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland, you will be sure to see a few during your visit. While there are tons all over the country, a few have made it to the top of the tourist itinerary for their grandness. Our top three waterfalls in the south of Iceland are Gulfoss, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. These are spectacular in their own ways, offering different perspectives of a waterfall.
Gulfoss is massive and one that you only can see from above, while Seljalandsfoss is one of the few that you can walk all the way behind making it a visitor favorite. Skogafoss is a fun waterfall in that you can get up close at the base of the fall as well as hike to the top to get an view looking down. There are plenty more all over the country – search on Instagram and you will surely have a long list of waterfalls to visit during your trip. No matter what make sure to schedule times to visit one or more!
Looking for even more? Check out these amazing 15 waterfalls and where to find them.
Hike into a Magma Chamber
How cool would it be to actually go inside of a volcano? Here in Iceland you can descend into the magma chamber of a dormant volcano. Iceland is the only place in the world where something like this exists. Kids ages 12 and up can go on one of the many day tours offered from Reykjavik to the Thrihnukagigur Volcano. Visitors start out with a 2 mile hike before being connected to a harness and lowered down into the magma chamber 198 meters below the earth’s surface. The journey down takes about 6 minutes where you can take in all of the amazingness of being inside a volcano where lava once came up from the core of the earth.
Bathe in Hot Springs
There are so many hot springs throughout the country, I would be surprised if you managed to make it out of Iceland without a dip in a few different types! For those of you who want a more luxe experience, the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik is a must do. It is pricy, and very busy, but it is still worth it.
For those of you on a budget, there are tons of natural geothermal waters throughout the country, many of which are free. If you visit the Laugarvatn Fontana on the Golden Circle, their geothermal nature baths are very family friendly with shallow pools and kid toys as well as deeper hotter tubs overlooking a beautiful lake.
If you are driving the Golden Circle, check out the Secret Lagoon (which is definitely not secret anymore) for a fun hot spring experience with an added bonus of a small geyser that erupts occasionally! Regardless of where you go, you definitely should check some at least one geothermal spring during your stay.
Learn about Volcanoes at the LAVA Center
One of the most informative museums on the island is the LAVA Center and Exhibit located south of Hella. This small exhibit packs a punch with a great deal of information and hands on learning for everyone in the family. Be aware, some of the rooms are very loud and can be a bit scary for young children when they don’t expect it. Even with the warning, both myself and my son got scared momentarily in one of the earthquake sound simulator rooms! The front desk has headphones for kids that are sensitive to loud sounds. Even with all the amazing nature scapes we experienced in Iceland, this museum continues to be one of my son’s favorite things to do there.
Here you will learn about the formation of Iceland through time, about magma plumes, volcanic rocks, rock formations and more about the most active volcanoes in Iceland. This museum is perfect to explore lava fields more and to learn about the tectonic plates that make this island what it is. Definitely worth a stop on your South Iceland itinerary with kids.
Chase the Northern Lights
If you visit Iceland outside of the summer season when there is the midnight sun, you must find yourself in the middle of nowhere with little light pollution to try to spot the Northern Lights. The problem with chasing the Northern Lights is patience! They do not appear when you want them to, nor does the weather always agree with your plans. Instead of trying to do it all on your own (like we did!), I highly recommend booking a tour that will drive you to clear skies and guide you in seeing this fascinating display of science.
For kids (or adults) who want to learn a bit more about this amazing phenomenon, check out this Wow in the World podcast episode that tells you all about it. If you are planning to chase the lights on your own, check out the forecast for the northern lights here.
There is so much to do in Iceland with kids from exploring Reykjavik to visiting waterfalls, whale watching tours, black sand beaches with crashed planes to soaking in hot springs that you will be hard pressed to fit it all in during one visit. We have been twice now and still haven’t completed everything on our list. There are even more amazing museums to delve deeper into the history of the country like the Skogafoss Museum, the SAGA Viking Museum by the airport and the Elves Center.
Where to Stay in Iceland with Kids
One of the biggest struggles of booking a trip to Iceland is figuring out where to stay. There are not a ton of hotel options located in central areas, which means you need to determine your route before you book accomodation. Or maybe you end up booking your route based on the availability of accomodation! Don’t let this stop you though as Iceland is truly a magical destination for a family vacation.
Below are some of the places that we have stayed on our various trips to Iceland over the years.
Hotels in Reykjavik
Many visitors arrive into Reykjavik and choose to make the capital city their homebase. It is easy enough to do this as long as you don’t plan to go very far past the Golden Circle. Our recommendation would be to stay here for either the day you arrive or the day your depart only. The Alda Hotel Reykjavik is a popular choice for families visiting the capitol with family rooms. Another favorite is the Canopy Hotel by Hilton.
The local chain IcelandAir Hotels are also a good bet throughout the country. They are clean, modern hotels.
If you are searching for cheaper accomodation options, there are a ton of Airbnb options in town and outside of town that are well worth checking out to save on accomodation and food costs. (If haven’t signed up for Airbnb yet, use this code for up to $30 off your first stay).
Hotels on the Golden Circle
Depending on how early/late your flight arrives, I would suggest choosing a location along the Golden Circle. Accommodation in Laughbatan is good if you arrive mid-late afternoon. This gives you time to see the national park and enjoy the hot springs at Fontana.
Otherwise if you have a full day, carry on further to Gullfoss Waterfall area / Fludir. We choose to stay at the Foss Hotel Hekla which was clean and convenient.
Hotels on the Way to/in Vik
We chose Skogar as a central point between Foss Hotel and Vik so that we could minimize backtracking. It’s a super cute village right under the shadow of Eyjafjallajökull. We stayed at Hotel Skogar (that we booked on Booking.com, but I don’t see it there now) and enjoyed it.
Hotel Ranga is a great option for those looking for a rural hotel with great amenities.
In Vik, check out Icelandair Hotel Vik as a good option for families with triple bed rooms for bigger families.
To get a visual of where the hotels are in Iceland and what is available during your stay, check the map below. For the best results and to get your bearings, zoom out on the map so you can see more of the island. There are no perfectly situated hotels when you want to see a good deal of the country, so expect to move around a bit!
Tips on Driving in Iceland with Kids
The reality is that to really enjoy travel to Iceland you will need to rent a car. Luckily driving in the country on Icelandic roads is quite easy. We love Iceland and highly recommend every outdoor loving family make their way there at some point as it is the ultimate in family travel.
To make your life a bit easier, here are some of our top tips on driving in Iceland with kids.
- Distances are far so minimize backtracking as much as you can. You will have to weigh which is better for your family – staying in fewer accommodations or spending less time backtracking. For us it was spending less time backtracking which meant moving hotels every night.
- Roads are 1 lane in each direction which means you can get stuck behind slow tractors. Budget plenty of time for delays
- Be prepared to stop constantly! Between horses, sheep, turf houses and amazing scenery, you will stop often!
- Gas is expensive! Our mini car cost $80 to fill up. Get the smallest car possible for your family. For the most part 4×4 is not needed.
Have we missed out on any of your favorite things to do in Iceland with kids? If so, please share them below!
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