Well, you can’t come to Iceland and not see the world waiting outside the capital city. There are so many things for a child to enjoy. Though Iceland is small by some standards, we love kids and families. Family-friendly fun is everywhere.
On a long drive, you may think the car is not big enough for all of you, so make sure to embrace the opportunity to open the doors and stretch your legs. If you stop to look at things (or have a family activity), that will give you something to talk about on the rest of the ride. (Research shows that there are only so many games of Slug Bug or License Plate Bingo you can play before going insane.)
You can explore the cave, from the fantastic colors caused by mineral-enriched rock tempered in the heat of the eruption to the rock formations all around the stony chamber.
This tour is best for the outdoorsy type, as you will make your way from a parking area at Blue Mountain Country Park to the lifts which will lower you down into the chamber. The hike will be across the moon-like landscape of lava field and will take around 45 minutes or about 3 km each way.
Because of this, the age limit is set at 12 and up, for those who can handle a good length hike over uneven terrain. You can send a message to the tour providers if your children are younger, but you believe they will be able to handle the trip. Altogether, the tour will take 5-6 hours.
Yeah, I know. The Golden Circle is Iceland's most popular tour and can get pretty crowded since there are lots of Golden Circle tours. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less awesome. Get on the bus, or drive along Road 1 heading north out of Reykjavík, and you’re practically there already.
Þingvellir is a good place to see the beauty of Iceland. Your kids can stomp down the divide that marks the rift between continents and climb the bleachers that mark the spot where the lawspeaker might have stood to deliver the law of the land to thousands of people standing in the valley below, or clamber across bridges that span the fissures.
Make a wish and toss a coin into Peningagjá, “Money fissure,” which on sunny days sparkles with the offerings others have left behind. Get outside and enjoy the fresh air (or even the fresh rain).
You can add some action to your visit and go drysuit snorkeling in Silfra in one of our most popular tours. There is also the option to go wetsuit snorkeling in Silfra, which will be much colder than the drysuit tour near the surface, but will allow you to dive below the surface and explore deeper. The same rules apply for both tours: children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult and meet the height/weight requirements.
If your kids aren’t tall enough, and you can’t find a Zoltar machine to make them bigger, try this snorkeling tour for kids age 12 and up.
Equally cool are the other locations on the Golden Circle, Geysir, and Gullfoss. Geysir geothermal area is a multicolored hellscape of burping mud, fizzling vents, hissing hot springs, and geysers rocketing hot water into the air every few minutes.
If you like, you can zoom around on buggies here, too (the driver must have a valid driver’s license, but kids age 6 and up can ride in the passenger seat).
Finally, Gullfoss waterfall completes the trip with beautiful scenery and a walking path where they can wander directly down to the water as it thunders down into the gorge below and try to spot rainbows in the mist.
You can make a day of it with a horse riding tour that takes you riding in the country around a working horse farm in the morning and, after a stop for lunch, on a minibus tour of the Golden Circle. Children as young as 7 can ride the easy trail, led by a guide, but you must be sure to arrange this with your guides beforehand, so there will be extra guides available.
If you’ve rented a car, there are plenty of other spots near the Golden Circle to check out, as well. Take them to Fontana Geothermal Baths (there’s free entry for kids up to 12 years old when accompanied by an adult) for a swim and a taste of bread baked directly in the hot sand near the water. Don’t forget to check age limits for individual activities, like snowmobiling, before you book.
This is a fab way to get to know Iceland by one of its greatest cultural exports: Brennu-Njáls saga, or The Story of Burned Njál. There are interactive activities and Viking costumes for the family. If you are bringing a group and make sure to plan things in advance with the museum, they can put on a performance for you in the great hall.
One unique ongoing project is a long tapestry based on the story of Njáls saga, modeled after Britain’s famous Bayeux Tapestry, which tells the story of the Battle of Hastings. Everyone is invited to contribute a few stitches to the fabric, following guidelines mapped out by the designer.
Then, you can sign your name to the book which records contributors from all over the world. It’s just one way for you and your family to leave your mark on Iceland’s culture.
Just look at the picture! FLUFFY KITTIES! Every kid's heaven.
The Dýragardurinn í Slakka petting zoo is conveniently located on the south coast near the Golden Circle. If you’re going to Gullfoss, or on your way to check out other attractions, this is a nice spot to make a furry friend. They have so many cute animals, like kittens and puppies, calves, piglets, mice, rabbits, parrots, fish, chicken and even a pair of turkeys.
There’s also a mini-golf course, two pool tables, a playground and an arcade for the slightly older kids who don’t want to admit that they like fuzzy, adorable things.
There’s also a café to offer a burger and some refreshments while you’re here, in case the kids are getting parched on the way to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and you ran out of juice boxes back in Hveragerði. The ice cream shack should hold your kids' interest for at least a few minutes, too!
In 2017, the petting zoo will be open from 11-18 every weekend in April, and every day from 11-18 from May 1 to September 1. In September, it will again be open on weekends only, from 11-18. Also, it is possible to arrange a group visit of Slakki Petting Zoo outside regular opening hours, but please note that bookings for groups need to be made in advance.
If your kids are a little older and major thrill-seekers, those 12 and up might enjoy a tandem paragliding flight over the village of Vík on the south coast. You and your family will soar over Reynisfjara beach in one direction and the solemn black cliffs of the interior in the other.
You’ll have a whole new heart attack as you watch your child step off a cliff into thin air and go soaring away. Your co-pilots will record the entire flight in HD video for you, which makes an entirely new kind of souvenir. (You are welcome to bring your own camera, but it’s a long way down if you lose your grip!)
In the summer, especially, you will get an eyeful of the beauty of Iceland: the purple lupine will be in full bloom, and the birds will be back, circling the cliffs as you fly by.
A boat tour at Jökulsárlón
The duck boat tour at Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon usually run from May to September, when the lagoon is not so icy and angry, but the tour may also be available in April, October, and November, but this depends on the weather, so watch that link!
If your children are age 10 and up, you can also pile into a zippy Zodiac boat and go for a spin around the water.
Even if the tour isn’t available, you can visit Jökulsárlón at any time of year (though bundle your kiddies up warm in the winter - the wind off the water can be quite sharp!). One of the most popular spots in the entire country, it has been called “the jewel of Iceland’s nature.”
Vatnajökull glacier, Europe's largest glacier, looms over the scene as huge chunks of ice crack off a glacial tongue and tumble down the landscape, splashing down in the lagoon before finally washing out to sea.
Facing the road, if you walk with the glacier lagoon at your back, you’ll find a small section of beach on the other side of the bridge. This is Diamond Beach, where chunks of ice might wash ashore one last time on its way to the water and sparkle on the black sand like gems.
The stretch of black sand curves around the water, and seals like to play in all seasons (particularly summer, when they can warm themselves on the rocks!). Seabirds can often be found circling the lagoon as well, checking on their seal buddies.
River Rafting on Hvitá
Hvitá river sits in the canyon below Gullfoss. All that power and endless churning current from the waterfall above it makes for a great river rafting tour!
The age limit for this activity is 10 for the more gentle beginning half of the river, and age 12 and up to go the whole distance. The best part is that, if you decide to spend a little extra, you can be picked up from your accommodation and taken to the rafting base camp for a BBQ before you do a little swimming and rafting. (Make no mistake, when I travel, I’m all about the food).
The “dark cities” are some of the coolest formations in Iceland, so mysterious and strange in the blackened landscape, caused by (what else?) an eruption long ago, that it was said that when Satan fell to earth, he crash landed here.
Dimmuborgir was created when lava pooled over a small lake during the eruption. As the lava flowed across the wet earth, the water of the marsh started to boil and the vapor rising through the lava formed lava pillars of different sizes and shapes.
As the lava continued flowing towards lower ground in the Mývatn area, the top crust collapsed, but the hollow pillars of solidified lava remained. The lava lake must have been at least 10 meters deep, as estimated by the tallest structures still standing.
Today, visitors to Dimmuborgir like to imagine that there may be elves or dwarves or other supernatural creatures in residence, hiding among the small tube caves or perched atop the tallest towers. Will your children spot them? If you are visiting in the winter, you might find our famous Yule Lads hiding there, too!
If you decide to give the Dark Cities a go, keep in mind that this area is vast, and you can quickly lose a giggling troll or two among the rock formations. The path is strictly marked, as well, since we Icelanders want to preserve Dimmuborgir for future generations. Please keep track of your children and encourage them to stay on the path!
If you’re in the north, spend a few hours on a Family Rafting Tour on Vestari Jokulsá. You can swim together, try hot chocolate made directly from spring water and enjoy the scenery as you float along.
There are 3 main seal watching locations on Vatnsnes peninsula. The Icelandic Seal Center is the perfect place to stop and learn about the seals on your way to any one of them. You’ll find exhibitions about the different seal species, their habitat, and behavior.
There is also a small café where you can purchase a drink and a gift shop with locally made gifts and books on Iceland and seals for adults and children.
One thing you can feel good about is that any purchases made in the bookshop benefit the research done at the center, which includes things like seal colony counts and examinations of the effects of tourism on the seals. So maybe, just this once, it’s okay to cave if your kids are asking for souvenirs.
Dog Sledding in the Lake Mývatn Area
Look at those furry faces! Snow Dogs and the dogs of the Unchained Siberian Husky Kennel at Heiði farm are ready to take you on an amazing ride on this dog sledding tour.
Before you go, you'll tour the kennel and get to meet these adorable fluffballs of snow-pounding power, and there will be plenty of opportunities for photos of the dogs and the mountainous landscape in the distance.
You'll learn the tricks of the trade as you hop on the sled with your professional Musher, who will tell you all about the care and training of these special animals. The sled is so large that it can seat 2, with the Musher in the back!
They have special discounts for children under the age of 12, but be aware that they may not be allowed to drive the sled by themselves. There is no weight limit, either, but it's a good idea to let the tour provider know if you are more than 100 kg or if anyone in your family has special needs, so they can make arrangements for you.
Vatnshellir cave is just one of the many caves in Iceland you can visit, but it is most popular for its amazing array of colors caused by minerals embedded deep in the lava rock, and the cool formations and shapes found in this 8,000-year-old lava cave in Snæfellsjökull National Park, one of three national parks in Iceland.
The cave is an easy journey, but tour guides ask that children can walk by themselves in the cave, so the age limit is 3 and up. Be sure to dress your children especially warmly; even if it is a warm day in Iceland, you will be exploring at least 35 m (115 ft) below the surface, and it can get quite chilly down there for little fingers and toes.
Bjössaróló Playground in Borgarnes
The Bjössaróló Playground is a special one in the hearts of Icelanders. While Iceland has many play places for kids, this was constructed by Björn Hjörtur Guðmundsson beginning in 1979. He continually added to it and maintained it until he was well into his seventies. All the play equipment is made from discarded and salvaged materials, painted in colors that harmonize with the surrounding environment.
Björn loved children and used the design of Bjössaróló to teach them his wisdom about life. Ahead of his time in his promotion of recycling, he was frugal and tidy and wanted children to learn the same virtues and to approach nature with respect and care. The site has views over the coast, so while the children are playing their parents can enjoy the scenery.
Since his passing in 1998, Björn has been honored as one of the first environmentalists in Iceland, focusing on reuse and sustainability in creating a fun place for families to hang out.
These helicopter tours have an age requirement of just 2 years old and up, making it easy for the whole family to hop on board. You can take a ‘copter to a variety of locations around the country, in addition to the popular tour flying over Reykjavik that I mentioned in my article What to Do with Young Kids in the Reykjavik Area.
You can also take a helicopter to far-flung locations and skip the bit where you’re trapped in the car for hours as you wind your way around a fjord. Icelandic parents were so tired of the journey around Hvalfjörður fjord with their kids that they rioted until a tunnel was built that would cut the journey down from 1 hour to a mere 7 minutes. Children that were still fussy after that were immediately left on the side of the road for the fairies to take.
That’s totally not true, but you gotta admit, you’ve thought about that last part. While the Hvalfjörður Tunnel is just one way that travel around Iceland was made easier for everyone, a helicopter tour takes you high in the sky and gets you to one of our famous glaciers or the essential spots in Iceland in no time at all.
This Into the Glacier tour takes your family into one of the hidden places of the earth. Getting there is even part of the fun! The kids will get a kick out of climbing aboard the monster trucks needed to plow through the Icelandic countryside on the way to Langjökull glacier, which is just one of many glaciers in Iceland.
You can do some sightseeing as you get a little exercise. Then, you’ll take a walk across the glacier and down into the tunnels that extend hundreds of feet int the glacier.
This tour is educational, too! (Don’t tell the kids.) Your guide will show you the layers in the age-old ice, and you can learn all about how glaciers are formed, and the efforts of glacier experts all over the world to preserve these beautiful structures in the face of climate change.
Raggagarður is an activity park in the Westfjords village of Súðavík. There’s lots of playground equipment here, and it’s a safe place to let your kids run and jump as you relax in the sea breeze and regain your equilibrium after a while cooped up in the car.
The park is fully equipped with barbecue pits and bathrooms in the summer, but in the winter these facilities are locked tight (starting in early September). The playground equipment is still accessible, though, and could make for a fun stop on your way around the Westfjords.
Finally, the Museum of Icelandic Witchcraft and Sorcery at Hólmavík is a great place if you have kids who like spooky things (some of the recreations may be too scary for our more sensitive tots, so take a look at the link above and judge for yourself before making plans to visit!).
This place highlights all the weird and wonderful aspects of Icelandic culture, like everyday spells and incantations to the more serious invocations which led to a full-blown witch hunt lasting from 1625-1683.
One of the accused, Jón Rögnvaldsson, was burned for witchcraft in 1652 for trying to raise a zombie. You can see a reenactment of this terrible crime right there in the exhibition. There are a pair of magical pants made from the flayed skin of a human corpse (though the ones in the museum are a replica, the real pair is out there somewhere).
There are also some rather unsettling depictions of a worm-like milk-sucking demon used by witches to make off with their neighbor’s milk supply.
You can even learn a spell to turn yourself invisible, though you might want to keep an eye on your kids at this point. Don’t they already know how to do that? At the grocery store, the toy store, or really anytime it’s time to go and you can’t seem to find them? And you just saw them a second ago? *spooky theme music plays*
Maybe kids already have magical powers, and they don’t need extra help. But this is a fun way to spend an afternoon, for those who don’t mind a few thrills or chills.
You might enjoy a trip to Bíldudalur, even if there wasn’t a fantastic little museum like this waiting for you. As “The Good Weather Capital of the Westfjords” you might enjoy taking a small break from driving if the wind, rain or snow has been pummeling your car along the way.
Even in the sunshine and blue skies, Bildudalur is a lovely little place; the same mountains that ring the town and protect it from the worst of Iceland’s weather provide beautiful scenery.
This place celebrates the murky goings-on in Arnarfjörður fjord, the deepest fjord in Iceland. There have been more than 180 sea monster sightings there since Viking times!
Inside the museum, you’ll find a very atmospheric space with recreations of the monsters, so be sure to take a look at the photos in the above link to see if your kids will be interested in spooky monsters rather than scared on your vacation in Iceland.
There’s also a campsite near Bildudalur village by the sea, so you can bring a tent and spend the night staring out at the waves, searching for monsters with your little monsters.
What are your favourite things to do in Iceland with your children? Share your memories below!