What is it like travelling to Iceland with kids? What tours, activities and adventures are you allowed to bring your children on? What are the most exciting possibilities when you want to have an Icelandic family holiday? Read on for all the information needed to plan the perfect family trip to Iceland.
As a travel destination, Iceland stands out as one of the most family-friendly places you can visit. The local culture offers an attitude of general safety, and it is common for native kids to play outside, even after dark, when the cold winter months provide only limited sunlight each day.
Boasting a relatively low-crime rate, Iceland even topped the Global Peace Index (GPI) report ten consecutive years in a row. This societal feeling of safeness is so integrated that some Icelandic customs might appear strange—or even reckless—to visitors not used to the convivial nonchalance.
An example of this laid-back atmosphere would be the standard practice of infants being left, seemingly unattended, in their strollers and buggies outside cafés and restaurants, often on a busy shopping street. But when you spot one of these critters don’t be alarmed; the parent is most likely right inside keeping a watchful eye on their young one.
And because of the purity of our air, it is commonly believed to be healthy for the child to catch a shut-eye out in the open. Icelandic parents are also well aware of how cold it can get, meaning they have, in all likelihood, attentively bundled up their bundle of joy.
Even if you don’t feel like participating in this oddity of a local custom; if you are planning to travel to Iceland with your children, you should know that you have reached a remarkably safe and family-friendly destination.
When planning your perfect family holiday, there is an array of possible adventures that the lot of you can embark on together. But can you bring your kids on volcano tours? On glacier hikes? Onboard a whale watching vessel? What are the different age restrictions and child-friendly recommendations for different tours and activities?
In this article, we have gathered useful information on things like age limits for specific tours, and top recommendations to keep both you and your children entertained during your travels around the island of ice and fire, no matter the season.
So read on for some of our top recommendations when planning an unforgettable family holiday, to discover just what to do in Iceland with your kids.
Seljalandsfoss on the South Coast which boasts an accessible cave
One of the easiest ways to take the whole family around the island's renowned natural attractions is to book a self-driving tour or package, where you are in full control the pace of your journey and which sights to visit. When you book a self-drive, your transport, accommodation and excursions are all organised before your arrival, along with a personalised travel itinerary prepared by local experts.
- Click here for a selection of Summer Self Drive Tours
- Click here for a selection of Winter Self Drive Tours
- Click here for a selection of Budget Self Drive Tours
There’s much more to such a journey than sightseeing, where the possible array of activities is sure to excite your children and provide them with a myriad of memorable and educational adventures. With that said, different activities sometimes have different age limits, so continue reading to find out the details of various Iceland adventures.
Visit the Golden Circle
Visiting the sights of the Golden Circle is the ultimate Icelandic excursion and the entire country’s most famous sightseeing route. The views on hand include the erupting geysers of Haukadalur Geothermal Valley, the mighty cascade of Gullfoss Waterfall, and the stunning continental rift valley of Þingvellir—filled to the brim with Viking history.
Despite boasting all of these varied attractions, the route is conveniently located close to the capital of Reykjavík and can easily be traversed within a single day. Driving between the sights does not take long at all, and you don’t have to drive back and forth along the same way, instead circumferencing a route boasting a distance of approximately 230 kilometres (140 miles).
If you are staying in Reykjavík City with your family, and renting a car or booking a self-drive doesn’t adhere to your travel plans, you can also enjoy the Golden Circle via a bus tour. While bus tours usually have no age limit, they differ in length and extra activities, so for families with very young children, we recommend shorter versions to better fit the stamina of the young ones’ sightseeing abilities.
- Click here for a mere six-hour Golden Circle tour
- Click here for a complete selection of Golden Circle tours
Bathe in Hot Springs and Geothermal Pools
Swimming in the country's geothermal waters has followed the Icelandic nation as a favoured family activity ever since the Age of Settlement, where the heat from beneath the country's young terrain has forever offered welcome warmth to dwellers of the island's icy surface. Public swimming pools are today found in near every town and village under the Icelandic sun, where most include facilities for children such as wading pools and small-scale water slides.
- See also: Best Swimming Pools in Iceland
Iceland is also known for its myriad of natural hot pools, which you can locate yourself if you are renting a car or embarking on a self-drive tour. If for instance, you are traversing the Golden Circle route, you can stop at the geothermal valley Reykjadalur by Hveragerði and hike up to the natural hot springs that dot the area.
For the ultimate hot spring experience, however, establishments across the country offer geothermally heated nature baths, often built right into their natural surroundings. The forerunner of these would be the world-famous Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa located in between Reykjavík City and Keflavík Airport, where children as young as two-years-old can enter to enjoy the warmth and bright blue waters surrounded by a black lava field.
The lagoon is a forever popular option but by far the only one regarding its acclaimed benefits. The Fontana Geothermal Baths in Laugarvatn have no age limit, as well as offering free entry for children under thirteen—the same goes for the Mývatn Nature Baths in North Iceland. The stunning Secret Lagoon at Flúðir Village also provides free admission for kids under the age of 14.
Iceland might not sound like the venue for a beach holiday, but if the weather is nice, you can pack up the sun-screen and volleyball and head to Nauthólsvík, a man-made resort where geothermal heating is used to warm the Atlantic Ocean within a barricaded bay. You'll find outdoor hot tubs and changing-rooms amongst sun-bathing locals, on a fair-coloured strip of sand situated by the Reykjavík University.
With a selection like that at hand, wherever you are basing your travels, your whole family can enjoy doing what Icelanders love best—which is to soak, swim, play, relax and renew—outdoors together in warm and restorative waters.
Get to Know the Animals of Iceland
What child doesn’t love animals? In Iceland, your kids can encounter magnificent creatures such as whales, seals, horses and puffins, where the young ones can enjoy educational, as well as exciting, excursions of nature’s wonders. Here are some of our top recommendations for adventures sure to satisfy animal-lovers of all ages.
On a whale watching adventure, spectators of all ages can witness these majestic sea mammals roaming wild and free in their natural habitat. The different species of whale that inhabit Iceland’s shores are most commonly alluring minke whales, followed by acrobatic humpbacks, playful white-beaked dolphins, timid harbour porpoises and vigorous orcas. After a successful tour, your child is sure to have picked out their favourite of the bunch.
Whale watching tours on traditional vessels don’t have a particular age limit and are available throughout the year from the Old Harbour of the capital city of Reykjavík, as well as Akureyri and Húsavík in the North, and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in the West. As long as the waters are calm, you are free to bring even the very youngest onboard.
To make such an activity even more special, during the summer, whale watching tours often include puffin watching. These are usually conducted onboard a RIB boat, where the age-limit is ten-years-old. If your child hasn’t reached that age, don’t worry—puffins can still be found on self-drive tours of the South Coast or Westfjords, be it the season of April through September.
Coming into close encounters with these gentle creatures is an experience no child should miss out on, placing whale and puffin watching tours amongst the most ideal family-friendly adventures available in Iceland.
- Click here for a complete selection of Whale Watching & Puffin Tours
- See also: Where to Find Puffins in Iceland
- See also: Whale Watching in Iceland
Ride the Icelandic Horse
Despite horseback riding constituting as a popular activity for kids all over the world, perhaps none are as ideal for small or inexperienced riders as the Icelandic horses. Short in stature but strong, charmingly independent but famously temperamental and friendly, the Icelandic horse has long since been a favoured friend to the locals and their children.
These incredible animals arrived at the country with its very first settlers, and since they’ve known no predators in their natural environment, they are hard to spook and easy to smooch. Children as young as seven are allowed on riding tours with these gentle souls, but the trips vary in length and location, allowing you to pick out the ideal horse riding adventure for you and your family.
- Click here for a complete selection of Horse Riding Tours in Iceland
- See also: The Icelandic Horse | A Comprehensive Guide
Dog Sledding by Lake Mývatn - Credit: Snow Dog
A relatively new addition to Iceland’s varied activities, dog sledding is fast becoming a not-to-be-missed experience for all visiting nature and wildlife enthusiasts. On a dog sledding adventure, your kids can encounter Greenland Dogs, as well as Siberian and Alaskan huskies—different species of sled dogs, all equal in their loveliness.
These tours operate all through the year, where the skis of the sled get replaced with wheels as the snow melts away during the summer season. Your guide is called a musher, who will inform you about the basics of dog sledding and introduce your kids to their new, furry friends, with plentiful opportunities for cuddling before hitting the road.
While most dog sledding tours available have an age limit of six, there are those that allow children as young as two to ride the sleds, as well as some operators offering reduced prices for children under twelve. If your kid loves dogs—and what kid doesn’t—why not make their trip especially memorable by allowing them to shoot across the Icelandic countryside like Inuits?
- Click here for a Dog Sledding Tour in the North for children as young as two-years-old
- Click here for a complete selection of Dog Sledding tours
See the Seals
The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon counts as one of Iceland’s ultimate attractions, where massive icebergs floating in a deep blue lake share a home with Icelandic seals, many of which are curious enough to greet visitors to their domain. A boat ride of the lagoon boasts no age limit if the vessel is an amphibian boat, but for the zodiac, passengers must be at least ten-years-old.
Imagine the memories your kids will take back with them, after spotting Arctic seals lounging on massive icebergs, up close and all around. Tours of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland also include seal watching, as well as there being a fine chance of spotting these doe-eyed dogs of the sea on any coastal activity of the island.
If your kids are really into these captivating animals, the Icelandic Seal Centre on the Vatnsnes Peninsula is a must-visit. The centre offers a wealth of information on these fascinating creatures, from their anatomy to their place in Icelandic culture and fables. The centre is not only educational and entertaining but an important research institution that monitors the animals’ populations to help build a sustainable seal-watching industry in Iceland.
Visit the Petting Zoo Slakki
Dýragarðurinn í Slakka is a conveniently located petting zoo and farm on the South Coast of Iceland. The animals who live there include kittens, puppies, calves, piglets, rabbits, mice and parrots. There is no age limit for visiting, so bring all your animal-loving family members for a memorable day of reconnecting with nature and farm life.
The location also boasts pool tables, a playground, an arcade and a mini-golf course, as well as a café and ice cream shop. Slakki is open every weekend of April and every day from May through August. If you are travelling with a group, it is possible to arrange a visit outside regular opening hours upon contacting the establishment.
Go on Adventures
For a family holiday brimming with excitement, there is an array of adventure tours available for kids of different ages to participate in. Following are our top recommendations, along with information on age-limits, for outdoor adventures in Iceland.
Walk Up or Go Inside a Glacier
A classic Icelandic adventure is to go on a glacier hike up one of the country's many stunning ice caps. For most of the shorter tours of easy difficulty, the age limit is ten or eight. However, this tour of Skálafellsjökull Glacier offers to take you most of the way onboard a Super Jeep and then walk on the ice, with an age limit of five-years-old.
There are two ways to explore the insides of a glacier in Iceland, an increasingly sought-after activity to adventurous visitors, where one can either go into an authentic, naturally formed ice cave during the winter season, or venture through a man-made ice tunnel all year-round.
To be allowed on an ice cave tour, your child must have reached the age of eight. However, for an educational journey inside the man-made ice tunnels of the country’s second largest glacier Langjökull, there is no age limit as long as parents are aware that they are responsible for their children.
- Click here for a short tour of Langjökull’s ice tunnel for all ages
- Click here for an extensive selection of Ice Cave tours
- Click here for an extensive selection of Glacier and Ice Cap tours
Rafting in Hvítá River - Credit: Arctic Adventures
If you want to take your family river rafting, the glacier river Hvítá in South Iceland is one of the most popular rafting venues of the country. The first half of the river consists of gentle currents, where children over the age of ten can join. For the whole distance, the age limit goes up to twelve.
In North Iceland, however, the beautiful river of Vestari Jökulsá boasts a specialised family rafting tour for all children aged six and up. The tour includes not only rafting but swimming, water-fighting and the savouring of hot chocolate made from the area’s natural spring water.
Raufarhólshellir Lava Cave - Credit. The Lava Tunnel
Going inside a lava cave allows your family to explore the underworld of Iceland's geothermal activity, where colourful tunnels offer caving adventures for all daredevil kids to enjoy.
Within Snæfellsjökull National Park in West Iceland, you’ll find the lava cave Vatnshellir, a colourful underworld so easy to navigate, that children as young as five-years-old can join in on the excursion. Another cave with the same age limit is Iceland's most visited lava tube Leiðarendi on the Reykjanes Peninsula, conveniently including pick-up to and from the capital of Reykjavík.
An extremely accessible cave for all ages and abilities, however, is Raufarhólshellir close to Hveragerði in South Iceland. The cave includes steps, so if your child can walk on their own, or if you can carry him/her down a flight of stairs, the age limit is non-existent. And what's more, children under twelve are allowed on the tour for free.
- Click here for a Vatnshellir caving tour for children aged five and up
- Click here for a Leiðarendi lava tube tour for children aged five and up
- Click here for a Raufarhólshellir caving tour for all ages
Fly in a Helicopter
For unparalleled views of Iceland’s natural wonders and rugged terrain, there exist numerous helicopter tours that take you across the sky to different touchdowns around the country. The age limit for most of these is two-years-old, while the duration of the tours differs from 40 minutes up to several hours. Some helicopter operators even offer specialised seatbelts that allow you to hold your infant onboard if the child is younger than two. We're not sure if the little one will appreciate the view, but they don't have to get left behind.
- Click here for a Reykjavík City helicopter tour that allows for children under two-years-old
- Click here for an extensive selection of helicopter tours in Iceland
Reykjavík with Kids
The Sun Voyager by central Reykjavík's seaside is the perfect family sightseeing spot
Now that we’ve covered what sights and activities are best suited for children while navigating the countryside, it’s time to explore the family-friendly options within the capital. Reykjavík City is a bustling, miniature-scaled metropolitan, that seems to strike an ideal balance between big city excitement and the wholesome innocence of a small harbour town.
The centre, or the downtown, is the city’s most densely populated area, and where most travellers find themselves staying during their time in Iceland. Our first recommendation, therefore, is as simple as taking your kids on a stroll around the centre, where a myriad of shops, cafés, restaurants and boutiques await for all ages to enjoy.
A local tip would be to visit the Laundromat Café especially, giving they boast a play-room for kids downstairs so that parents, exhausted from their travels, can enjoy a much-deserved espresso in peace.
- See also: The Best Restaurants in Reykjavík
- See also: Top 21 Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurants in Reykjavík
- See also: Cafés in Reykjavík | A Guide to Icelandic Coffee Culture
If you are visiting Reykjavík in summer, you can always spend a sun-drenched day in one of the capital’s public parks. These include the spacious Klambratún, a large area of greenery harbouring the museum Kjarvalsstaðir and such sporting apparatus as a volleyball net and frisbee golf court. Another park of note is Hljómskálagarðurinn, a picturesque esplanade boasting a pavilion and a small sculpture garden, located right by the city pond.
Another local activity favoured amongst Icelandic families is to pay a visit to said pond, known as Tjörnin, a precious inner-city gem. Local children have for decades enjoyed bringing bread to feed the ducks and swans that harbour the pond. However, lately, it is not suggested that the birds should be fed in summer—since their food sources are already plentiful and the bread will not only upset their stomachs but lure predatorial seagulls that prey on the chicks.
- See also: Tjörnin | The Pond in Reykjavík
Seemingly floating on top of this scenic body of water is the landmark building of Reykjavík City Hall, where we at Guide to Iceland operate the city’s official tourist information centre. After taking your kids to explore the famous 3D map of Iceland, located within the building, you can get your hands on the Reykjavík City Card; the most surefire way of exploring the culture and attractions of Reykjavík if you are spending time in the capital.
The Reykjavík City Card is available for both children and adults, for either 24, 48 or 72 hours, and by purchasing it, you receive unlimited access to all city museums and galleries. These include the Árbær Open Air Museum, an interactive Adventureland where kids can explore and partake in different time periods of Iceland’s history.
The family-friendly merits of the card continue, as it serves as a voucher for the myriad of geothermal swimming pools in Reykjavík, out of which near all include kiddie pools, toys and slides. If you are without a car to reach all of these destinations, don’t worry, the card functions as a bus passport as well.
The card also grants access to The Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo, an action-packed amusement park and farm-animal zoo in Laugardalur Valley. Now, the card is available for adults on the one hand, and children aged six to sixteen on the other, but the reason for why children younger than six aren’t included is that most of these Reykjavík activities are already free of charge for children that young.
And speaking of free of charge—in Laugardalur Valley, right next to the Family Park and Zoo, you’ll find the Reykjavík Botanical Gardens, the perfect place for frolicking in nature and getting to know the flora of Iceland. These picturesque gardens are home to over 5000 different species of plants and are open all year round, without charge to the public. Within the park, we recommend enjoying refreshments at Flóran Garden Bistro, an adorable pavilion nesting by a pond populated with colourful Koi fish.
Before leaving Laugardalur Valley, take note that across the gardens you’ll find the Reykjavík Ice Skating Rink, an indoor venue offering skates for rent. The valley is also home to the geothermal swimming pool Laugardalslaug; a favourite to many minors since it boasts one of the biggest water slides in the country.
- See also: The Best Swimming Pools in Reykjavík
Last but not least, the Reykjavík City Card doubles as a voucher for the daily ferry trips from Reykjavík Harbour to Viðey Island. The island of Viðey rests in Kollafjörður Bay just outside of Reykjavík’s central harbour area, where it is home to historical remains and over a 150 species of birds. It’s the ideal venue to enjoy a picnic and a day off from the bustling city streets, all the while providing educational fun for your children.
The island houses remains from deserted villages, old turf houses, a monastery and the “father of Reykjavík” Skúli Magnússon’s 12th Century home and church. Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower is also located on the island, where it is lit up each year between the dates of John Lennon’s birthday and death, from October 9th until December 8th.
Of course, when it comes to creating quality time with your family in Reykjavík, the sky's the limit. The Reykjavík City Library is located close to the harbour, boasting books both in Icelandic and English for interested bookworms, as well as special events including crafting, computer programming and art workshops.
Right next to the library you’ll find the Kolaportið Flea Market, open on weekends, where you can rummage for trinkets and authentic wool sweaters amongst stacks of DVDs, vinyl and books from all over the world.
Plenty of tours also operate from the city, including horse riding, whale watching, city walks and adventure tours. You could also hike through the forestry of Öskjuhlíð to end up at Perlan, a rotating glass dome built on top of six sizable water tanks, with an observation deck boasting panoramic views of the city and its surroundings.
Recent renovations at Perlan include the Glacier Exhibition of Iceland, an interactive venture of the island’s glaciers and ice caves. If your child isn't old enough to go on glacier tours, this exhibition is the next best thing and sure to amaze. In the near future, the further exhibitions ‘Land, Coast, Ocean’ and ‘Northern Lights’ are set to open, as well as Iceland’s very first planetarium. The venue also houses a restaurant, café and gift-shop.
Instead of opting for hiking or driving a rental, you might be interested in purchasing tickets for the Hop On - Hop Off City Sightseeing Bus, which allows you and your family to explore some of the city’s most excellent locations, including Perlan, Hallgrímskirkja Church and the Whales of Iceland interactive museum.
So whether you prefer circumferencing the island on a self-drive, or staying in the city and going on tours, the sightseeing possibilities are seemingly endless, and we have established many of the adventures to be suitable for even the youngest members of your family.
Now there’s nothing left to do but plan your Iceland adventure, and know that you can do so by contacting one of our certified locals, that are more than happy to help you organise the perfect family holiday. Iceland looks forward to you and your family’s visit!