Need a summer vacation? I’m sharing my list of the best things to do in Iceland with kids!
For the past few summers I’ve taken one of my kids on one on one trips. My mother did this for me starting at the age of 10 and I wanted the chance to relive the bonding experience with Kenya and Chloe (as soon as Gemma turns 8 years old she’ll get the same fun). The past two summers I took Chloe to Paris and London while my husband took Kenya to Portland and Spain.
I’ve had a bucket list of places in the world I’m dying to see and Iceland is at the top of the list. From the first time I saw Icelandic people swimming in warm geothermal pools in the dead of winter and images of the countryside I became fascinated. With a population of just over 400,000 I wanted to take a deeper dive into the myriad of adventures and food culture all over the country and what better partner than my 12 year old son.
Before we left I rented a one bedroom apartment on the 7th floor overlooking Reykjavic harbor with views of the ocean, mountains and on a clear day a glacier in the distance. It was the perfect spot as it was close to many restaurants and shops. Reykjavic is the largest city in the country, and is totally walkable as it isn’t vast in size.
Since we only had 7 full days and nights, our best bet was to do day trips from our apartment as our home base. I booked a few excursions ahead of time and also left a few days completely open for flexibility in decision making. I do this with every trip because there will always be at least one thing that you’ll want to do at the spur of the moment, or something you didn’t know about ahead of time.
When I’m traveling with my kids I try not to burn them out with jam packed schedules. So I focus on one or two activities a day. The one thing I can say is that we loved everything we did on our adventure. It’s rare when this happens, but it speaks to the kindness and warmness of the people who live in Iceland, the endless beauty and array of activities you can do on any given day.
We were lucky to have nearly perfect weather during our trip. We were told the previous year had only 4 rain free days the entire summer. During our week in Iceland we had only 1 day of partial rain which we actually loved. The other thing to note is that Iceland only has 2-3 hours of dark a day at this time of year. That means as we were trying to fall asleep around 10:30-11pm there was still plenty of sunshine. It’s weird at first, but luckily we got used to it.
Here’s a peek at our days and nights if you’re thinking about the best things to do in Iceland with kids:
Day 1: We had traveled for 16 hours by the time we arrived, so we were exhausted. We rented a car at the Keflavic airport and drove 40 minutes into Reykjavic to see our apartment which I had rented for the week on airbnb. We were starving, so we went across the street to have a vegetarian brunch at Skal which had been on my list and turned out to be a truly magnificent experience. We ate oatmeal pancakes with birch syrup, a poached egg on toasted sourdough with pickled carrots to resemble lox, roast celery root which Kenya wanted seconds on and a salad with homemade ricotta.
We then took a much needed 90 minute nap before driving around Reykjavic to get ourselves acclimated and having an early 6:30pm dinner (most diners go out at 7:30pm or later). We ate at Grillmarkadurrin where we enjoyed perfectly cooked fish and vegetables from the restaurant’s wood burning oven. They also have puffin and whale on the menu, but I couldn’t do it being that I was with my vegetarian son and it would have broken his heart. Beware that food in Iceland is quite pricey, but we found the portions to be plentiful, so a little goes a long way and the quality of the food is supreme.
Day 2: After sleeping late to get over our jet lag we went to Braud for breakfast which became a daily occurrence for us with their freshly baked croissant, cinnamon rolls, caramel filled puffed rolls and breads popping out of the oven every few minutes. It’s magnificent to watch and simultaneously devour.
At noon we checked into the Blue Lagoon, about 35-40 minutes from Reykjavik. I knew this would be one of our indulgences for the trip, so we went for it. Upon check in we received our towels, robes and slippers (adult sizes only, so make sure to bring slippers for kids) and headed into the locker rooms to change. We headed to Lava restaurant and enjoyed a delectable 3 course lunch (the vegan menu for Kenya was incredible) and sitting around in our bathrobes felt unique and special as we looked out into the lagoon.
We chose the premium package which was only a little bit more, but included amenities like 2 face masks while you wait in the water, enjoying the sauna, spa and even your choice of any drink. The best park is that kids under 14 years old are free, so it really was like 2 for the price of one. We finally left at 5pm rested and relaxed in a way I hadn’t felt in years. The geothermal water is know for it’s skin healing properties and I agree my skin felt amazing.
That night we were so relaxed (and exhausted) we picked up tasty (and affordable) tacos at Fuego Tacqueria before checking out the gorgeous view of the city and then falling asleep for 12 hours.
Day 3: One of the biggest reasons to visit Iceland is the magical Golden Circle. The 160-mile loop can easily be done in one day as we did by leaving at 9am and coming back into Reykavik at 7pm that night, not once feeling rushed. We began our day visiting the Kerid Crater which is filled with electric blue water and best seen in summer followed by relaxing at a geo thermal hot spring called the “Secret Lagoon”. It’s more rustic than the Blue Lagoon, but a fun way to start the day living like a local. In general you want to make sure you keep your bathing suit and towel in your car at all times, so you don’t miss the geothermal pools town to town.
Our third stop was Faxafoss which is a 5 minute drive off the circle, but totally worth it as we loved climbing the short walk to the top over the cobblestones. One of our favorite meals we had in Iceland was at the Fridheimar Greenhouse and farm (open noon-6pm everyday). I recommend you booking in advance. You eat lunch in the greenhouse where all of the tomatoes grow and every last thing on the menu has tomatoes in it from the all you can eat tomato soup and fresh baked bread bar to bloody marys, mussels in tomato sauce and even tomato cheesecake. Each table even has a fresh basil plant on it with scissors attached so you can snip fresh herbs onto your meal.
Next stop was the sulfurous hot springs of Geysir (it’s the Stokkur geyser that erupts about every 5 minutes (Kenya was timing it) with a 90-foot plume like clockwork. Next up the glacier-fed waterfall, Gullfoss, which felt like the star of the show. We lucked out into being there on one of those days where it was sunny and just barely sprinkling, so there were rainbows over us at every turn.
Some friends had told me about a working farm that serves the best food and most decadent ice cream I would ever eat and they were right. Efstidalur Farms is a must for an animal lover willing to gorge themselves on irresistible ice cream flavors as well as stay over a night or enjoy their restaurant serving classic, farm raised Icelandic cuisine.
Our last stop of the day were the Tectonic plates at the Pingveller National Park situated on a tectonic-plate boundary where North America and Europe are tearing away from each other at a rate of 1mm to 18mm per year. It’s super fascinating and a breathtaking site over the countryside.
Day 4: After a long sleep we decided to spend the day taking the scenic route towards Northwest Iceland. One of Kenya’s favorite parts about the trip was driving in the countryside making me stop to see the sheep and goats all over the mountains. We stopped for lunch in Borgarnes at the Settlement Center to enjoy their buffet of locally grown foods which was scrumptious and had plenty of vegetarian choices including fresh bread, homemade soups, salads and more.
Never wanting to miss a waterfall we stopped by Hraunfossar and walked over the sweet bridges as we headed towards our midway point of the trip, the Hotel Husafell. We planned to stay here to enjoy their hot springs, take a few hours to read, rest, enjoy a delectable meal and prep for the next day. Everything about our stay was spot on and especially the view from the restaurant, breakfast included in our stay and 4 star dinner.
Day 5: After grabbing a huge breakfast we decided to spend an hour swimming and chilling out before checking out and heading to what turned out to be one of the best experiences of our trip: The Into the Glacier Ice Tunnel Tour (1 hr 40 from Reykavik and 20 minutes from the Hotel Husafell). Hailed as the world’s largest man-made ice tunnel, Into the Glacier stretches for more than 1,800 feet beneath the Langjökull glacier.
After suiting up in waterproof suits we rode on a truck with massive wheels to glide over the top of the glacier to find a spacious cave in the center of the ice cap, and even a chapel carved from ice and snow. The experience took about 4 hours in total and felt like a once in a lifetime experience to say the least.
After driving 2 hours back to to Reykajavik we stopped by Rok for dinner. You generally want to make reservations ahead of time, but luckily we were able to snag two seats at the bar. This turned out to be our favorite restaurant in the city with tapas style small plates you can easily share that burst with flavor in every bite. Unique combinations of local flavors added to the magnificent yet casual culinary experience.
We got up early knowing it would be a big day of driving and touring and headed south for our first stop in the small fishing village of Vik to meet our Super Jeep Katla Fast Track Ice Cave Tour. We drove out to the glacier, suited up with helmets and our rain gear, walked and climbed learning about the glacier during this hands on guided experience. We learned all about the volcano eruptions in the area and the evolution of glaciers plus what’s happening with global warming.
After our tour we drove to Reynisfjara, a magical world-famous black-sand beach found on the South Coast. With its enormous basalt stack rock formations, massive Atlantic waves and stunning views. In 1991, National Geographic voted Reynisfjara as one of the Top 10 non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet.
On our drive back to Reykjavik we drove by two of the most breathtaking waterfalls on the island. First Skogafoss which can be seen from the road and an easy short walk from the parking lot. You can go as close as you want, but beware that it comes crashing down in a monstrous fury that’s incredible to view. You will definitely want your rain coat as the water and mist get intense the closer you get.
Our final stop and one not to be missed is Seljalandsfoss (about 1 hr 30 from Reykavik). It’s right by the main ring road of Iceland. You won’t miss it and a delicate waterfall fed by the glacier on Eyjafjalljokull – possibly Iceland’s most famous volcano. If you’re looking for the most magical picture of your trip this could be it as you have the opportunity to walk behind the glacier getting to view both sides and it is mesmerizing.
Day 7: We decided to make our last day adventurous and full of animals (one of Kenya’s favorite parts of the island). We started by saddling up for a horseback tour over the lava fields. No matter your level of riding from first timer to experienced rider you’ll be supported and challenged if you want to. Next we drove to the seaport for a quick lunch of homemade carrot lemongrass soup and sandwiches at Rost and then off on a boat on a Puffin watching tour. We thought it would get us close and personal with the puffin, but binoculars would have to suffice. Either way I wish we had done more boating excursions as it’s gorgeous looking at the scenery from the water.
Our trip wouldn’t be complete without one more stop on the way back to the airport at the Blue Lagoon to lounge in the geothermal pools, steam, sauna and shower before our flight back to Boston. Especially if you live on the east coast, Iceland is a must visit for a simply magical family vacation!
Iceland can be expensive when it comes to things like food and alcohol so be prepared.
Gratuities are built into your bill, so no need to tip extra money.
Everything, and I mean everything, in Iceland can be paid for with credit card. We never had the need for Icelandic money even once.
The water in Iceland is truly incredible. We were told by several locals to never buy water when you can refill your bottle anywhere and it’s better than anything sitting in a plastic bottle.
Rent a car at the airport and zoom around the country. There’s something magical to see at every turn and it’s fun to get off the beaten track to find a hidden gem. Another option is to rent from Campervan Iceland to save money while still seeing all of the vast island.
Regardless of the time of year, you should spend more for a sturdy vehicle with four- or all-wheel drive as the terrain can be rugged in spots.
Don’t leave home without a T-shirt, thermal base layers, a rain jacket, hiking boots, a swimsuit, towel, a hat, sunglasses, waterproof hiking pants, gloves, and other jackets. I know it seems excessive, but the weather can change on the drop of a dime and on any given day you can go from the beach to the top of a glacier.
We found a super affordable one bedroom apartment on airbnb with car park and all the amenities. I highly recommend going this route as the apartments in Reykjavik are quaint and minimalist.