Iceland is known as an extreme adventure destination famous for its volcanos, waterfalls and glaciers but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a fantastic family vacation destination as well.
Iceland for kids is a great option – with many kid-friendly activities available.
In addition to all of the volcano hopping and glacier trekking that you probably already have planned…
Iceland for kids: Top kid-friendly activities in South East Iceland
1. Bounce on the moss covered lava fields
Once you get even ten minutes outside of Reykjavik, you’ll see them. Rolling, green, glorious fields beckoning your kids from the backseat of your rental SUV. Pull safely over and let them loose. The moss that covers the lava field is extremely resistant and bounces back to little running feet. They can hop or run and their foot steps will feel super charged. It’s bound to add to some family fun!
Some fields are better than others in terms of the ‘bounciness factor’ and our tour guide took us to the field pictured below. Ask your tour operator for recommendations or just rely on trial and error, there are fields almost every where you look once you are out of the city.
2. Experience an Earthquake at the Earthquake Exhibition
On your way to the volcano area from Reykjavik is a solid two hour drive, you can break it up by visiting an exhibit on the 2008 Quake that shook Iceland. You can actually take a look at an 5,000 year old earthquake crack displayed under glass under ground, see what a kitchen would look like after a quake and even feel what a +6 Richter quake feels like by taking a turn in an earthquake simulator. The exhibit is free, the simulator is not.
The exhibit is located in the same building at the Tourist Information Center in the shopping center of Sunnumörk in Hveragerdi which is about 45 km east from Reykjavik.
3. Watch skateboarders and take in the art at the local skatepark in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is an unexpectedly family-friendly city (one of the best cities of Iceland). There are a few parks around town but my favorite was the colorful skatepark in the city center. Slides for kids, skate ramps for teens and a huge spray-painted sea lion mural makes sure there is something for everyone. The park is near The Lebowski Bar which is a great place for beers for the big kids (you!) after the little ones are off to bed too.
4. Make friends with some Icelandic horses
Iceland is known for it’s beautiful breed of Icelandic horses. Smaller and stockier than most horses, Icelandic horses resemble ponies and are so sweet and cute. We pulled over on the side of the road and patiently made friends with a docile-looking bunch. Farms and ranches are everywhere along the highways outside of the city so ask your tour guide if he or she has any they can recommend to visit with the kids.
5. Visit the Local Thermal Baths
The Blue Lagoon is a luxurious retreat and something very special for mom and dad but after you have spent a day relaxing at Iceland’s most famous lagoon, make it a family trip by going to a local city thermal bath with the kids.
My favorite is the one by the sea in Reykjavik (join a Blue Lagoon tour from Reykjavik). When I was there, local and tourist families were grilling dinner on the barbeque, parents were relaxing in the hot baths and kids were running around and playing on the sand in the warm sea (it’s the run off from the thermal bath)- even though it was cloudy and cold outside!
I can’t give specific directions to here but if you ask around to locals for where the Thermal Baths are by the beach and sea in Reykjavik, they should be able to point you in the right direction. It is about a 15 minute walk from Bus Hostel and SADCars Rental car (read more about staying at Bus Hostel in downtown Reykjavik).
A few tips to make your Iceland family holiday more enjoyable
The weather varies in Iceland from windy to chilly to downright rainy and cold. Be sure to bring breatheable, layering pieces that dry quickly if wet and can be shed as the day heats up. I personally love LL Bean Kids because of their 100% Guarantee, if your kids are tougher than their gear just bring it back and get a new one at anytime – my mom LOVED this policy for us when we were little.
Rain gear is a MUST. For little ones I recommend a full plastic rain suit, ponchos or a long rain jacket for adults (make sure it will cover your thighs as you are walking up volcanos or through lava fields in the rain) and a travel umbrella to throw in your purse for days spent exploring the city.
Bring two pairs of outdoor shoes for the kids on every expedition. One pair of high-top hiking boots to keep out loose gravel on more intense hikes and a pair of sneakers that you know you kids feel comfortable in to change into as soon as you’re off the volcano or out of the wet area. Most likely your tour guide will carry a backpack that you will be able to stash things in so you and your family can explore hassel-free but ask first.
Keep an extra pair of clothes and shoes in your rental car. Iceland is best explored by car so you will be spending a good amount of time traveling in your car or in the car of the tour company you are with- take advantage of this by stashing a small bag of extra clothes and an extra pair of comfy shoes for you (the kids shoes should be in your guide’s backpack.) These will come in handy if you get soaked one of the waterfalls (like we did!) and it’s nice to change out of hiking boots and into sneakers when you can. We toured with Jon from South Iceland Adventures for two days and just left our bag in his car overnight, I would assume whatever tour company you are with will let you do the same.
24-hour daylight is hard on kid’s sleeping patterns. At least a week before your tip to Iceland, start your kids on sleeping with eye masks. It feels weird and they will rip them off at first but after a few nights, the masks should stay on tight. Make it special by ordering a fun mask online like this Zombie sleeping mask or a matching Kitty night dress and mask.
Iceland’s history is as fun as a fairytale. Look for kids books on vikings, volcanos, puffins and whales and read them together in preparation for your trip so the little one’s have things to engage their imagination and look forward to on your vacation.
Food in Iceland is mostly fish and meat-based and not exactly picky-eater or kid-friendly. However, in a pinch most petrol stations sell hot dogs and most restaurants can make kid-friendly fair if you ask. I am vegetarian and even though most of the time there was nothing veg on the menu, they were able to whip me up something wonderful at every place we ate.
Iceland surprised me with how kid-friendly and family oriented the culture is and I’m sure you and your family will fall in love with it as much as I have.
Iceland for kids is a possibility!