Iceland is a perfect travel destination for kids, in every sense of the word. The whole country is an adventure on its own, with its wide-open spaces, dramatic nature and science projects brought to life. There may not be any themed parks or kids-oriented attractions in Iceland, but its fun geothermal pools, dramatic waterfalls and plunging canyons are enough to pique every kids' interest. Children can hike up glaciers and waterfalls, go horse riding and whale watching, or take a Super-Jeep to the top of an active volcano— there’s so much to see and experience in Iceland that are fun and exciting for travellers of all ages.
For those who are thinking of traveling Iceland with kids, here are some of our Iceland family travel tips that will hopefully help you plan your own adventure to the land of fire and ice.
Many cottages in Iceland offer rooms that accommodate families, with play areas or entertainment facilities. Larger hotels often have cots (cribs) and high chair. If you’re camping, children aged two to 12 are usually charged half-price. Those under two year old usually stay for free. Some campsites also have playgrounds and facilities like high chair.
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.
Car hire companies 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. Some of our family-friendly 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.
If you're looking to visit when it's relatively warm, then summer (June to August) is the best season to travel Iceland. In summer, temperatures rise to 50-60°F (10-15°C) and the midnight sun promises around 20 hours of daylight per day. The weather also isn’t as unpredictable as it is in fall and most roads are passable.
This also means that it’s the busiest period for tourism. Hotel prices are at their highest and it will likely to be much more crowded than usual. Iceland has become a hugely popular tourist destinations in recent years, so don't be surprised to find big tour buses and long lines at attractions.
I recommend traveling Iceland in fall (September and October) for the lower prices and less crowd. You’ll still find snow and the Northern Lights during this time — let’s not forget the ice will create 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 in Iceland. 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.
Renting a car is undoubtedly the best way to explore Iceland. 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).
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. The Icelandic Transport Authority has made a video about dangers while driving in Iceland. For those interested in learning more, check out www.drive.is.
The most popular route to drive is the Iceland Ring Road, a.k.a. Route 1, that circles the entire island. Spanning 828 miles (1332 km), this route will show you the best of the island. Weave your way through rolling hills where Icelandic horses roam, past jagged cliffs with gushing waterfalls, and snake alongside sapphire blue rivers.
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.
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. With the harsh conditions and extreme weather, your camper can easily suffer from damages.
Many travel insurance providers offer free travel insurance to cover kids who are traveling with their parents, or even grandparents. There is usually a one-to-one ratio, that is you usually have to have at least one insured adult per traveling child to earn the free coverage. Travel insurance plans usually have a minimum (around 6 months) and a maximum age (17 to 20s) for traveling kids to qualify for the free coverage.
Whether your kids are two or 14, they won’t get bored in this natural, adventure-filled land. Beyond the natural sights, there’s a slew of outdoor activities and adventures that active kids (and parents) would love. Ditch the iPads and playstation and prepare your kids for one hell of an adventure!
The biggest hits in Iceland for kids are the open-air geothermal pools (82–109°F) dotted all around the island. 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. For safety reasons, children 8 years and younger are required to wear arm floaters.
Another great activity for kids of all ages is whale-watching. 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.
There’s no shortage of waterfalls in Iceland; they’re all spectacular and have fun trails around them to hike on. Gulfoss is the biggest and the most impressive; Dettifoss was plenty of fun and there were several trails to hike.
In Thingvellir National Park (just an hour from Reykjavik), you can go snorkeling or scuba diving in the Silfra rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The visibility of the glacial water is outrageous and it’s really not that cold when you’ve got a dry suit on. The minimum age for this is 14 years.
A Super-Jeep tour can be a super fun trip for big boys who love adventure. You can catch a Super-Jeep up the active Eyjafjallajökull Volcano and take a hike up to the summit of the volcano.
Icelandic horses are seriously gorgeous and unique, and you’ll see plenty of them all over the island. Kids will love short horse-riding day trips on the black sand beach or even up multi-day horse-riding tours. Join this family horseback riding tour, that's perfect for anyone who loves animals or anyone travelling with children.
In Iceland, you can easily hire big and spacious cottages in Iceland and enjoy all the facilities and space. It can be a great way to stay in a beautiful house for the same price as a hotel room. Check out this family house in Snaefellsnes that has plenty of space for kids.
For those on a budget, camping 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. You can find all campsites in Iceland on the interactive map on Visit Iceland’s website, including the summer campsites and the year-round campsites (click on ‘List’ to see details of each 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.
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.
Here are the types of food in Iceland that are worth trying.
For those worried about safety of your kids, 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.
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 at all since it's illegal). 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.
The less you travel with, the more convenient it will be for your family to move around.
Obviously warm gear is essential, even if you’re traveling in summer. 3-4 layers should do: including a wool bottom, a fleece, and a down jacket or water and windproof outer layer. If you can’t see yourself using it daily, you probably don’t need it. For those who are camping, you won’t be needing clean clothes for every day of the trip since it’s usually too cold to change out in the open, plus you’re camping.
If you're traveling with kids younger than 2 years of age, you’ll most probably need to travel with a stroller and/or a baby carrier. Be sure to bring a hiking baby carrier or backpack, to make it convenient to explore the backcountry with your baby in tow. Here's more info on what to pack for Iceland.
All in all, Iceland is an excellent destination for family travellers, regardless of the age of your kids. Bring a sense of adventure and pack lots of outdoor gear -- and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime!