Last Updated on December 13, 2021 by Nellie Huang
Iceland with kids is easy, fun, exciting and oh so rewarding. An Iceland family vacation is a dream come true for active parents who want to add some adventure into their kids’ lives.
Iceland: a land of fire and ice, brimming with the works of Mother Nature. Its coastlines are fringed with ragged fjords, and its interior is speckled with lava fields and active volcanoes and topped with larger-than-life glaciers.
With a slew of waterfalls and horse-studded meadows, Iceland has a fairy-tale-like setting that is magical for both adults and kids alike. At night, the Northern Lights dance in the skies like a magical show.
We’ve recently returned from a week-long road trip in Iceland with our two-year-old daughter. It was our second trip to Iceland, but our first time traveling there with Kaleya — and needless to say, Kaleya too has fallen in love with this stunning country.
Table of Contents
- Iceland with Kids
- Why Iceland is Great for Kids
- How Easy it is to Travel Iceland with Kids
- How to Get to Iceland
- Things to Do in Iceland with Kids
- When to Travel Iceland with Kids
- How Much Time for an Iceland Family Vacation?
- How to Get Around Iceland with Kids
- Why a Camper Van is Perfect for an Iceland Family Vacation
- How to Get Travel Insurance for Kids
- Where to Stay in Iceland with Kids
- Camping in Iceland for Kids
- What to Eat in Iceland for Kids
- Safety for Kids in Iceland
- What to Pack for Iceland with Kids
- Practical Tips for Traveling Iceland with Kids
Iceland with Kids
Why Iceland is Great for Kids
Iceland is one of the best places to travel in Europe with kids. There may not be any themed parks or kids-oriented attractions in Iceland, but the whole country is an adventure on its own with its wide-open spaces, wildlife and science projects brought to life.
Kids can hike up glaciers and waterfalls, go horseback riding and whale watching, or take a Super-Jeep to the top of an active volcano— there’s so much to see and explore that I can’t imagine any kid getting bored here!
Besides the vast abundance of nature, Iceland is very child-friendly. Many cottages and farmsteads offer rooms that accommodate families, with play areas or entertainment facilities. Larger hotels often have cots (cribs) and high chair — including Grimur Hotel and Hotel Ranga If you’re camping, children aged two to 12 are usually charged half-price.
How Easy it is to Travel Iceland with Kids
Car hire companies like SAD cars have plenty of baby seats that can be hired for just 5 euros a day. Most bus and tour companies offer a 50% reduction for children aged four to 11 years. Many Iceland tours are free for kids under 11, and half-price for those aged 12 to 15.
For younger kids, you’ll find baby supplies like formula milk, diapers or puree food everywhere but it’s best to buy them at the big supermarket chains as they’re cheaper. There are a few chains on the island: Kronan, Netto and Bónus (with a giant cartoon pig as its logo) which is the cheapest. They are still quite pricey, so if you’ve got space in your luggage, it might be wise to bring some from home.
Families might like to check out the Íslandskort barnanna (Children’s Map of Iceland) for attractions and sights that cater to young kids. Many restaurants in Reykjavík and larger towns offer discounted children’s meals, and most have high chairs. Toilets at museums and other public institutions may have dedicated baby-changing facilities; elsewhere, you’ll have to improvise.
How to Get to Iceland
It is relatively cheap to fly to Iceland these days from the US and other parts of Europe. We flew WOW Air from Spain, and we were definitely impressed by their low fare and high quality service.
Flights from other parts of Europe to Iceland are of course even cheaper, with airfares from London to Reykjavik starting from $44.99 each way; Barcelona to Reykjavik starting from US$75.99 each way; and Tel Aviv to Reykjavik from $99.99 each way. Our flight from Alicante to Reykjavik only took four hours each way.
Things to Do in Iceland with Kids
With bountiful nature, there is no shortage of things to do on an Iceland family vacation. Ditch the iPads and playstation and prepare your kids for one hell of an adventure!
Take a Dip in the Geothermal Pools
The biggest hits in Iceland for kids are the open-air geothermal pools (82–109°F) dotted all around the island. Skip Blue Lagoon! It’s over-priced and extremely crowded. Myvatn Nature Bath is a much better option as it’s cheaper and less touristy.
But families will be happy to know that there are plenty of public pools around Iceland that may not be natural but are cheap and kid-oriented. Many of them also have slides and fountains, and shallow pools for the little ones. Children 2 years and above are welcome at these pools, with children under 14 free.
We went to quite a few and loved ALL of them! Kaleya’s favorite was the pool in Hofn as the water was really warm and they had slides and a baby pool. My favorite was Sundlaugin á Hofsósi, that had an infinity pool overlooking the fjord. It looked like the Icelandic version of Santorini. Check this website to find all the public swimming pools in Iceland.
Both Akureyri and Husavik in northern Iceland offer great whale-watching opportunities; the nutrient-rich water attract plenty of humpback whales especially from June to September. We saw more than 20 humpback whales on our whale watching tour in Akureyri, and they got extremely close.
Our 3-year-old daughter absolutely loved spotting the whales. She was pretty cold but the staff made sure to keep her warm with blankets. They also had life-saving vests for young kids like her. This was definitely the highlight of our Iceland family vacation for her.
Try Ice-Climbing on Glaciers
This is a dream come true for active parents. We hiked the Sólheimajökull Glacier which included ice-climbing and traversing across the crevasses, and it was extremely fun and definitely adrenaline-pumping. You’ll need to go with a tour operator to climb up glaciers with proper equipment (helmets and crampons), and most tours have a minimum age limit for kids. This would only be suitable for older kids from the age of 9 onwards.
See the Northern Lights in Iceland
Thanks to its location close to the Arctic Circle, Iceland also happens to be one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis are visible here for over eight months a year, from early September to the end of April.
But seeing Northern Lights in Iceland isn’t as easy as many imagine, because of several factors including weather and solar activity. I recommend booking a Northern Lights tour as experts know where to find them. Check out this 4-hour small-group Northern Lights tour that departs from Reykjavik. Alternatively, you can also book a private aurora hunt on 4WD Super Jeep.
Chase the Waterfalls
There’s no shortage of waterfalls in Iceland; they’re all spectacular and have fun trails around them to hike on. It’s easy to walk the trails with even toddlers. You won’t be able to push a stroller on the hiking paths but it’s a good opportunity to encourage your kids to walk more. Kaleya had so much fun jumping from stone to stone or walking up and down the steps. Plus they are all free to visit!
Gulfoss is the biggest and the most impressive — but it can get crowded. Dettifoss is plenty of fun and there are several trails to hike. I also like Skogafoss where Kaleya had a great time climbing all that stairs that lead up to the top.
Snorkel between Tectonic Plates
In Thingvellir National Park (just an hour from Reykjavik), you can swim in the Silfra rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The visibility of the glacial water is outrageous — I’ve heard that scuba divers can get vertigo when you’re down in the depths as you can get confused where the water surface is.
We did it in summer and definitely felt comfortable in our dry suit. The snorkel tour in Silfra was out of this world and I highly recommend it to ANYONE who loves water. But the minimum age for this is 14 years, so it’s only suitable for teenagers.
Go on a Super-Jeep Tour
This can be a super fun trip for an Iceland family vacation, thought it’s more suitable for big boys who love adventure. We did a Super-Jeep tour up the active Eyjafjallajökull Volcano on our first trip and it was beyond cool (even though we were stuck in a snow storm). It’s not suitable for young children, but do check with the Super Jeep tour operator for age limit.
Go Horseback Riding
Icelandic horses are seriously gorgeous and unique, and you’ll see plenty of them all over the island. There are plenty of leisure horseback riding tours great for families. Kids will love short horse-riding day trips on the black sand beach or even up multi-day horse-riding tours. This is definitely one of the best things to do on an Iceland family vacation.
When to Travel Iceland with Kids
Summer (June to August) is the best season to travel Iceland mainly for the weather. In summer, temperatures rise to a balmy 50-60°F (10-15°C) and the midnight sun promises 24 hours of daylight from the beginning of June to end of July. The weather also isn’t as unpredictable as it is in fall and most roads are passable.
I would actually recommend traveling Iceland in fall (September and October) for the lower prices and less crowd. You’ll still find snow and the Northern Lights in Iceland during this time — a winter wonderland reminiscent of your child’s favorite new Disney movie, Frozen.
Winter (November to February) can get extremely cold, but it is also the best time to see the Northern Lights. It is usually fairly easy to spot the Aurora Borealis in Iceland, even in downtown Reykjavik. Temperatures dip to -4°F (-20°C) so be sure to dress appropriately.
How Much Time for an Iceland Family Vacation?
I would recommend a minimum of seven days for an Iceland family vacation. There is so much to see in Iceland, from spectacular waterfalls to glaciers, lakes and canyons, that anything less than seven days would be too much of a rush.
We drove the Iceland Ring Road, a 828 miles (1332km) route that circles the entire island. It took us six days (with a day for Reykjavik), as we usually ended our days only at 8-10pm. We didn’t mind though, as we had lazy mornings and late starts. The midnight sun in summer also gave us a lot more daylight hours to drive.
One week was enough to see most of the sights on the Ring Road, but 10 days would be optimum. If you want to do the activities like whale-watching, you’ll need a lot more time (at least two weeks). Most activities take an entire day and need to be booked in advance, especially in summer which is peak season. Refer to my Iceland Ring Road itinerary for details.
Here’s a general estimate:
- 3 days: Stay in Reykjavik, and do day tours
- 5-7 days: Cover one or two areas, but not the whole country
- 7-10 days: Cover the whole country on the Iceland Ring Road
- 2 weeks: Drive the Ring Road + do some activities like ice-climbing or glacier hike
How to Get Around Iceland with Kids
Renting a car is undoubtedly the best way to explore Iceland’s Ring Road. There are bus tours that ply the route, but having your own wheels lets you travel independently, at your own pace. You’ll enjoy the freedom and flexibility of stopping whenever and wherever you want, which is important for those with young kids.
It’s also really easy to drive in Iceland, as roads are clearly marked and sign posts are easy to follow (even though they are in Icelandic). The country is practically designed for road trips: roads are well-paved, and there are regular rest stops and gas stations for refuelling. I recommend getting a local SIM card or using data roaming to have access to GPS and other travel info (like campsite addresses etc).
Prepare your kids for more than eye-filling scenics. You’ll be in the car a lot — so stock up on some snacks, and prepare a music playlist or Icelandic audio books to help while away the hours and give your passengers an earful of Norse sagas and eerie folktales.
Why a Camper Van is Perfect for an Iceland Family Vacation
We rented a camper van from SADcars and it was perfect for any Iceland family vacation. Having a camper van allowed us to explore the back roads and sleep in spectacular settings. It saved us loads of money on accommodation and restaurant meals. I loved how self-sustaining we were with the camper van as we had everything we needed.
Our camper van was a brand new, 2016 model Dacia Dokker with custom built interiors. The van was small yet comfortable, and easy to drive around. The size was perfect for us (but might be too small for those with bigger kids) — you really don’t want to be driving big and bulky motor homes on the narrow mountain roads in Iceland. We found it perfect for navigating the Iceland Ring Road.
Despite its small size, our camper was equipped with all we needed, including a mattress (that doubled as a seating area and a bed), a portable gas stove, dishes, cutlery, pot, pan and water container. The camper also had stand alone heaters which are connected to the diesel fuel tank.
All of the above were included in the price of the rental, which was 95 euros/night. The only additional cost was hiring a car seat for Kaleya, which was only 5 euros a day; and bedding for 75 euros (We could have also brought our own sleeping bags to avoid that cost.).
How to Get Travel Insurance for Kids
In Iceland, all car rentals include the obligatory Third Party Liability Insurance (TPL) under Icelandic law – this covers third party damage or loss in an accident. I highly recommend getting travel insurance as well as it covers personal loss, theft, and medical on top of damages that may incur on your camper van or vehicle in Iceland. These days, it’s particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19.
Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
Where to Stay in Iceland with Kids
We stayed at a series of cottages on our first trip and loved being able to stay in the countryside without spending too much. Families can enjoy the space and facilities in cottages and it can be a great way to stay in a beautiful house for the same price as a hotel room. These days it’s very easy to book cottages in Iceland online.
On this trip, we slept in our camper van most of the time, but also stayed at two hotels (one at the start of the road trip and another at the end):
Grimur Hotel is a brand new modern Scandinavian style hotel in the suburbs of Reykjavik and just a 10-min bus ride to the center, with spacious rooms that are great for families. I like their location which is not right in the city centre but close enough.
Located near the Golden Circle is a gorgeous lodge set that runs alongside the Ranga River. This landmark hotel has unique around-the-world themed suites and traditional Arctic flair, featuring a polar bear statue at the entrance and reindeer horns on their chandeliers. It’s our favorite hotel in Iceland and we stay here every time we travel Iceland.
Camping in Iceland for Kids
For those on a budget, camping or staying in a camper van can be a great way to save money, have some flexibility, and sleep in spectacular settings. Since November 2015, it has been illegal to camp anywhere other than at a proper campsite.
Parking at these campsites usually costs 2000 -3500 ISK ($20 – 35) per vehicle per night. The campsites in Iceland tend to be well equipped with 24-hour WC and showers, electrical outlets, free WiFi, nice dining and cooking areas and even BBQ spots. For more information on where to camp, read these guidelines from the Icelandic authorities.
What to Eat in Iceland for Kids
Food is expensive in Iceland: even at a gas station cafe, a burger costs around $10 and a soup is around the same price. If you’re looking for a proper fish or lamb meal in a nice restaurant, expect to fork out at least $30 for each dish. A cup of coffee usually costs at least $5 and a hot dog would be around $5 as well.
I recommend cooking on your own and buying groceries in the supermarket chains I mentioned earlier. It’s best to stock up in Reykjavik before leaving on your road trip. Once you leave southern Iceland, it might be hard to find big supermarket chains until you reach Egilsstaðir in the east. There will be small grocery stores and mini-marts around, but their prices are usually higher.
Safety for Kids in Iceland
Safety is always an issue when traveling with kids or toddlers, but Iceland is extremely safe and clean. Tap water, local foods and environment present no health hazard and you can take in the beautiful landscape without worrying too much about the little ones. Some waterfalls or trails might not have fences or railings to keep your kids off danger zones, so keep an eye on them.
Remember to respect the Icelandic nature and its mood swings. This means no hikes in bad weather, no driving outside the roads and keep in mind that ocean and river currents can be strong and treacherous.
Keep off the F Roads and make sure you only traverse roads that your vehicle is capable of managing (no off-road driving if you don’t have a 4WD). Icelandic roads tend to be narrow and windy and for those of you not used to gravel roads keep in mind that soft moves is the key here.
What to Pack for Iceland with Kids
I’m a firm believer of less is more. The less you carry, the easier it is to move around. Besides you’ll be able to get most things in Iceland.
On our 7-day Iceland family vacation, we used the following suitcases and backpacks. Check out my detailed Iceland packing list.
- Eagle Creek Gear Warrior 32
- Deuter child hiking carrier
- Kaleya’s Pockit lightweight stroller
- Lowepro Photo Sport 300 AW camera pack
Thankfully they all fit into the back seat of our small Dacia Dokka camper van. Space was pretty tight though and we had to move our gear around to set up the bed every night, but we got the hang of it pretty quickly.
Practical Tips for Traveling Iceland with Kids
- Be warned that weather can change quickly in Iceland, regardless of when you visit. A sunny morning can easily turn into a whiteout blizzard. You can easily experience four seasons in one day.
- Road closures are common in winter and it can be dangerous to drive during harsh weather conditions. Check the website vegagerdin.is or download its app for real-time road conditions.
- Note that off-road driving is strictly forbidden in Iceland. If the road does not have a number, do not drive on it even if there are tire tracks. It will damage nature for decades and you’ll get a serious fine. For those interested in learning more, check out www.drive.is.
- Stock up on snacks and prepare lots of music and entertainment for the kids. You can usually find facilities dotted all along the Iceland Ring Road, but kids who are toilet-trained may have to do some of their business behind trees (if you can find any).
It’s absolutely easy to travel Iceland with kids, and I can’t think of a better place to introduce some adventure to your kids’ lives. For the active parents who want to show their kids how to be adventurous, you will be definitely love Iceland.
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