Top Things To Do In Iceland With Kids
Trip planning for families is always fraught with unknowns, especially in foreign countries. And trying to plan a trip when you only have a few days in a country is even more perilous as you don’t have the luxury of time to hit every recommended activity. Add in jetlag for both adults and kids, and you can be left feeling like a stopover simply isn’t worth the extra effort.
But know this: Iceland is definitely worth your time. It’s a stunningly barren and beautiful island that is chock full of activities for adults and children alike.
So pack your hiking shoes and a rain jacket (even in summer!) because Iceland is calling.
Without further ado, here are our most favorite activities during our five day Icelandic stopover in August of 2015. Our children were aged 1.5 and 4.5 years.
#1: Southern Iceland
As you drive the Ring Road south beyond Selfoss, the Golden Circle crowds slowly begin to drop away and are replaced by open pastures, enormous glaciers, and herds upon herds of wooly sheep. We loved this part of Iceland: it’s stark, raw, and wildly beautiful. That’s not to say that you won’t find crowds at the waterfall hot spots (Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, in particular) but the open spaces leave you feeling very small in this vast environment. We particularly enjoyed hiking in Vatnajokull National Park and watching the icebergs float out to sea at Jökulsárlón Lagoon. Add in an outdoor pool (below) and gorgeous waterfalls, and it becomes an outdoor mecca for adventurous families. Our area lodgings, Giljaland Cottages, were magically remote and quiet.
#2: Seljavallalaug outdoor swimming pool
This was my favorite activity in Iceland, although it is not for the germaphobes or those with exacting sanitary standards. Seljavallalaug is an ancient outdoor pool set in a lonely valley with only the rushing river to keep you company. A glacier sits far above, and streams of water cascade down the fog-cloaked mountain. It’s an easy 20 minute walk from the carpark and it was simply magical to discover a geothermally heated pool set amidst such spectacular settings. Hopefully the beauty will help you overlook the spartan changing rooms and pea soup-colored water. You can read more about our adventure to Seljavallalaug here. If you don’t mind a bit of adventurous bathing, than this activity is a must-do for you.
Iceland is a fabulous place for hiking and many trails are accessible for families. If our children were older, we would have made a beeline for the mountain treks around Landmannalaugar Hot Springs. There are several established trekking routes with spartan sleeping huts that can be rented for some-what reasonable fees. Best of all, many of the trails end at Landmannalaugar, where you can soak your bones in a naturally heated creek.
There were numerous hiking options available in Vatnajokull National Park and crowds will thin considerably beyond the tourist-heavy Black Waterfall trail. Glacier walks are also available from Vatnajokull, although many have minimum age requirements of 12 years.
Our very favorite hike was the short but oh-so-sweet Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, in Southern Iceland. We arrived at 8pm and set out along this gorgeous canyon with only the sheep to keep us company. Keep a firm hold on the kids as there are no guardrails along the rim. Look this one up on Pinterest and you’ll see why it’s so enchanting.
What comes to mind when you think Iceland? Beside Bjork, of course. 🙂 Waterfalls! Iceland has cataracts spouting from every nook and cranny. Our kids adored the waterfalls, especially Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, as there were trails to explore and stairs to climb. Seljalandsfoss is especially fantastic as the trail goes directly behind the roaring water. Come equipped with full rain gear and hold on to the little ones as trails can be wet and slippery.
One of our vacation rentals had sheep and cows that grazed in a nearby pasture and the kids enjoyed taking daily walks to check on the livestock. Farm stays are quite popular in Iceland and will often incorporate animal feedings and interactions as part of a visitor’s overnight experience. Arrive during the Spring lambing season and you’ll be waist deep in bouncy, furry babies.
#6(Bonus): Iceland ‘Hot Pots’
Even in the summer Iceland can be a cold and rainy place; we loved settling into an Icelandic hot pot (otherwise known as a hot tub) at the end of a day spent outdoors in the elements. Many Icelandic villages have community pools and hot tubs, but nothing beats a nice hot soak in a tub located on the back porch. Both kids and adults will enjoy this simple pleasure and you’ll be grateful you shelled out the extra moolah for a vacation rental with an adjacent hot pot. Many rentals primarily serve as vacation homes for Icelanders and thus are fully set up to accommodate families. Our Golden Circle rental came equipped with high chair, bunk beds, and an outdoor swing set, in addition to the aforementioned hot pot.
If We’d Had Older Kids
Horseback riding. They may be diminutive in size but Icelanders will by annoyed if you refer to their shaggy horses as ponies. Several outfits offer horseback riding tours of both beaches and further inland.
Glacier Trekking. Strap on the crampons, rope up, and head for the ice. Someday we’ll walk on glaciers and sip pure mountain water…just not on this trip. Minimum age for the tours is typically 10 or 12.
4×4 Tour or camping in Iceland’s interior. On the flight home Chris was already plotting about our return trip, specifically how we could make it into Iceland’s rugged interior. It takes a sturdy vehicle and camping gear to explore off the Ring Road, but we’ll be back for further off-road adventures.
Places We’d Have Liked to Visit
We had such a wonderful time at Seljavallalaug outdoor pool that we wanted to also visit Hrunalaug Natural Hot Spring and Flúðir (the Secret Lagoon), both located near the Golden Circle. We’ve added them to our list for our next Iceland visit.
The Icelandic Attractions I didn’t Love
The Blue Lagoon. Yes, it’s true, I didn’t love the Blue Lagoon, although I’d have probably enjoyed it more without young children in tow. It was crowded and I didn’t think the facilities were especially kid friendly. Children have to wear bright orange water wings and the white silica mud gets everywhere. It’s expensive, kind of kitchy, and the water left me feeling grubby..but it’s such a quintessentially Icelandic activity that I don’t regret visiting the one time. But we’ll skip it the next time around.
The Golden Circle. We’re going to sound a bit jaded here but there were waterfalls we enjoyed so much more than the Golden Circle’s Gulfoss. And having been to Yellowstone and Rotorua in New Zealand, we didn’t find the Geysir to be particularly stunning. And we especially weren’t impressed by the hordes of tour busses that descended on these attractions. Thingvellir National Park was lovely (and far more uncrowded) and I wished I’d had time to scuba dive in the Silfra Crack. Do the Golden Circle if you must but don’t spend more than a day in the area; other parts of Iceland have much more to offer.
Iceland Farm Stays: http://www.farmholidays.is/