Planning a family holiday in Iceland? Find out what to do with younger children, age 6 and under, in the Reykjavik area.
Having kids transforms every area of your life, but you’re still the same person who loves to travel. On the other hand, it can be difficult to visit the great cultural centers of the world and find kid-friendly restaurants that have a children's menu, or activities the little ones will enjoy.
For this article, we’ve polled a few parents and teachers, both foreign and locals, to see what they thought would be a good way to spend time in Iceland and share activities for the whole family.
You might also consider The Reykjavík City Card for your stay, which includes free admission or discounts for you or your children to many of the attractions listed here. Admission to the museums is free for those under 18 years of age.
We can’t make a list of family fun in Reykjavik without mentioning the most famous of them all: the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. Blue Lagoon is famous for its silica-rich water and blue-green algae which provide both the healing, skin-smoothing properties as well as the dazzling milky blue colour. Relax and let the children play as the geothermal heat steams in the cool air.
Children, 2 years and up are welcome at the lagoon, with children under 14 free with a parent or guardian (only 2 children/teenagers per 1 adult). For safety reasons, children 8 years and younger are required to wear arm floaters while in the Lagoon. The water is milky and opaque, which can make it difficult to see if little swimmers are in trouble. Arm floaters are free of charge for those who need them, but you are welcome to bring your own.
Other parents who have visited Blue Lagoon remind you to bring snacks and sunscreen as well as a robe or cover-up for the children (although these are also available from the spa for a fee if you forget!). It can be quite cold getting out of the naturally heated pool, particularly if you visit in fall or winter.
If you have long hair, the silica can make hair rough and stiff, so it’s best to protect it (especially the delicate ends) by putting it up before you enter the water. If you’re the parent who is already fighting to help your child brush his or her hair in the morning, this may save you some tears. The effects can last for days, so do yourself a favor!
Another thing which surprises some visitors is the openness and casual attitude toward nudity in the locker rooms. Patrons are expected to shower fully before entering the lagoon. If need be, have a chat with your kids about these differences in culture so they will be prepared and can focus on having fun!
Nauthólsvík Beach is a man-made beach and artificial spring well within walking distance of Perlan and the perfect way to while away an afternoon. Some visitors may find our black beaches of crushed lava rock foreboding, so this friendly-looking place is just the thing!
Remember to bring sunscreen and something to wrap up in, as your children might find it chilly getting out of the pool after giving the hot spring a try. That’s brisk, baby!
Reykjavik is filled with community pools. If you’ve heard that Blue Lagoon will be jammed with people (and at peak times of the day, it is), you can try any of the local pools. All the facilities in Reykjavik are heated with geothermal water and kept in good condition by the community. Children and teenagers will enjoy the pools, hot pots, slides and saunas available at various locations.
At the link above, find a listing of all the pools in the area, their hours, which buses will take you there, and amenities. Particular favorites for children include Kópavogslaug, with 4 big slides, 7 hot tubs, and a children’s pool. Swimming is a great sport in Iceland, especially with the low cost of water. Everyone has an opinion on which is the best pool in town. Local paper Grapevine has even ranked all the pools in the Greater Reykjavik Area to find their favorite.
Many of the facilities have indoor pools, as well, making this a great option for a rainy afternoon. They get some of those wiggles out, and hopefully, you can stay sane through whatever you’ve planned for the exciting evening.
Note that there are also entrance fees for children (age 6 and up) at the thermal pools.
The Animal Zoo and Family Park is a favorite stop for families with young ones. You’ll be able to meet (and feed and possibly pet!) all major Icelandic farm animals and wild land mammals such as foxes and reindeer as well as the ever-popular seals.
There are not many animals native to Iceland, as the weather can be cold and inhospitable, so we cherish what we’ve got. This place is small, but especially charming for little kids, but even the most surly teenager should enjoy petting a reindeer!
There is an admission fee for those 5 years and up at the Animal Zoo and Family Park.
There are plenty of options for any animal lovers in the family who would like to go horseback riding while in Iceland. The Icelandic horse is friendly and cute, and not quite as intimidating as other horse breeds, being slightly smaller than its Continental cousins (don’t tell them, you’ll hurt their feelings).
Stables set age limits for their tours depending on the length and difficulty of the trail, so you can search horse riding tours to find one that fits your family best.
If you book your tour in advance, most stables allow very young kids to be taken around the paddock on a lead, even if they are too young to hit the trail. If you find a tour you like, be sure to ask the tour provider about all the options.
There is also Fákasel, the Icelandic Horse Park, which puts on nightly performances featuring stories of Viking history, culture and myth while explaining to the audience how important Iceland’s horses were to the people’s survival throughout history.
You’ll see all their tricks, including the famous tölt, an especially smooth gait known only to this breed. If the horses do not have an early bedtime, you may even be able to tour the stables and meet the stars of the show!
Laugardalurinn is a recreational center within walking distance from the Botanical Garden and the Animal Zoo and Family Park, and offers a little more action for the sporty types among us.
There is a swimming pool there, football stadium, gym, tennis court and indoor tennis and badminton courts, skating rink, a concert hall, a baseball field and an amusement park. Some of these activities are housed indoors, which makes them a nice option if the weather isn’t so great.
Walk up Laugavegur Street and follow Skólavörðustígur to Hallgrimskirkja
Laugavegur Street is the main shopping street in Iceland, in the heart of the downtown area, within walking distance of the Old Harbor and the National Museum. The famous church Hallgrimskirkja is just a short distance away, towering over the city.
You never know who you might meet on a walk! The trolls pictured above are sometimes found in Akureyri, the capital of the North, but recently made the long walk across the highlands to see what is going on in Reykjavik. They like to hang out on Laugavegur, where you’ll find stores like 66° North, Cintamani, Zo-On and Icewear.
If the shopping center has only piqued your interest, there is a free city walking tour with experts who will tell you about the landmarks and historical buildings. Reykjavik as a settlement has a history stretching back more than 1000 years, and you don’t want to miss the chance just to wander and soak in its uniquely Nordic atmosphere.
In addition to the cool boutiques and shops, you’ll also see plenty of street art and have your pick of restaurants and cafés in the city, offering many kinds of food, from Italian to Thai, in case you get hungry on your walk. (Don’t tell the kids, but there are several delicious ice cream stores along the way, too.)
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (The City’s Best Hot Dogs)
Speaking of food, of all the places you can find on a simple stroll around the city, you have to try the best hot dog in town, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, going strong since 1937. Sometimes the line goes all the way down the street! It ranks #1 on our Best Value Places to Eat in Reykjavik. What kid would turn down a hot dog, let alone the best one on the island? That’s crazy talk.
The traditional hot dog with everything is topped with ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crispy fried onions and raw onions, but you can customize it to your children’s taste.
At the end of the street, the figure of Leifur Eriksson (called Leif in the US) guards the front of Hallgrimskirkja church. Next to Perlan, the view from the spire over the city can’t be beat. Leifur is one of the first in a long line of famous Icelanders.
Kids can play on the grass or on the base of the statue of Leifur himself while you take some photos and capture the moment. (There is also usually a waffle truck nearby, ready to send you and your family to hot, carb-y heaven at any moment.)
If you’ve just gotta go higher, you can also consider a helicopter tour of the city. You’ll swoop over Reykjavik, and touch down on the nearby peak of Mt. Esja. The age requirement for this tour is only 2 years old, so even toddlers can join in on the excitement.
Sólfarið (The Sun Voyager)
The Sólfarið sculpture is another worthy stop on your wander around town, a short distance from Harpa Concert Hall and right on the waterfront. You can let your kids enjoy the sea view, touch the famous Viking ship or get a rad photo of the whole family in front of it. Iceland has a great tradition of art and art museums, but Sólfarið is one that captures the spirit of the past.
Grasagarðurinn í Laugardal (Botanical Garden)
If you’re looking to get out in nature, but don’t want to go too far from home, Grasagarðurinn í Laugardal provides plenty of pretty scenery and park benches for you to relax on while the kids play on the grass.
The area is a conservation space, though, so be careful not to damage any plants! More than 5,000 species are found here, all carefully labeled for you to explore. The place is a special treat in the fall when the autumn colors are bursting from the trees.
Photo credit: Visit Reykjavik / Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson
On a sunny day, there is much to see at Tjörnin. Most folks in the downtown area will walk by to see the sun shining on the water, or watch the birds playing. There is a small adventure playground and climbing net at the far end, but most are content to see the ducks, geese, swans, pigeons, starlings, seagulls and terns that can usually be found here.
Many people like to feed the ducks, as well, but it is recommended not to feed them bread, especially in the spring and summer when baby ducks are young. The bread will attract seagulls to the lake, who will then snack on the ducklings. Nature is cruel, and it might be better to just enjoy the view rather than witnessing the traumatizing end of a fluffy baby duck.
Instead, offer the ducks things that seagulls will turn up their beaks at: grapes cut in half, cracked corn, thawed peas or – if you can find it – duck feed pellets. In your face, seagulls!
The Hop On, Hop Off Sightseeing buses are bright red and designed for convenience, even when dragging a baby stroller, a tote bag large enough to fit a TARDIS in, and a toddler around an unfamiliar city.
Get on and off at any of the stops around the city, arranged around major attractions like the harbor, including the new Whales of Iceland museum, Harpa Concert Hall, which was only recently built, and the Hallgrimskirkja church. Or, simply ride around and take a look out the windows to get the feel of Reykjavik.
Whale Watching and Puffins
Iceland loves its whales. Tours for Whale Watching and Puffins are a classic choice for anyone with children. Bundle up your babies and head out on the ocean waves. Choose a slow and steady tour from a larger boat with a comfortable viewing deck if your kids are so excited, and they just can't hide it. The gentle slap of the ocean waves and the peaceful views should relax them as you make your way around the bay.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for family thrills, take a RIB boat tour. RIB boats are smaller, lighter, and lower in the water, allowing you to zip across the waves at high speeds and get right up close to the whales and birds you may see.
Keep in mind, though, that the RIB boats require you to be a little quicker on your feet, and brace yourself against the speed and power of the ocean waves, so the age limit is 10 and up.
You can also combine your tour with fun activities like sea angling.
While whale watching can be enjoyed year-round, if you have your heart set on seeing some puffins, remember that they only visit the island in the summer months to breed. The best time to go puffin watching is late May to mid-August.
Real Viking Boat Trip
For those with children 6 and up, you can sail like a Viking on a Real Viking Boat Trip. Your ship is a true 9th century Viking vessel, modeled after The Gaukstad ship, which was discovered in Norway in 1880.
This tour lets you appreciate the open sea in a whole new way: like the Scandinavian sailors of old. Your tour guide will tell you all about period sailing techniques, and let you try your hand at the oars. Pull, kids, pull!
Whales of Iceland
If you’ve got a “dinosaur kid” in the family, or a future marine biologist, he or she will love learning about these giants of the sea. Whales of Iceland has exhibits all about (surprise) whales, educating everyone with life-size models of 23 different species and the latest scientific discoveries.
The museum is a hit with both visitors and locals - so far, more than 3,000 schoolchildren have taken a tour and learned so much from the fully interactive exhibits.
Located in a beautiful house on the Old Harbor, Saga Museum is open every day from 10-6 PM. The exhibits features carefully reconstructed figures and clothing and artifacts designed to look and feel authentic in every day.
Best of all, you can dress up in your own Viking garb and become part of the story! The photo opportunities alone make this a great stop for you and your kids.
Árbæjarsafn Open Air Museum
Árbæjarsafn Open Air Museum was once a farm and is now a collection of renovated original buildings dedicated to preserving a little piece of “old Reykjavik” for future generations. Hosts wear period clothing and go about the business of working the farm, which includes sheep, cows and even ducks on the nearby Elliðaá river.
There are many buildings here, including a General Store, a blacksmith’s home and smithy, church and vestry, and the very first Boy Scout hut built in Iceland.
Children can play pretend in their own special room and put on a show in the play theater. There are also old-fashioned mid-century toys that the children can play with. A museum where you can touch things is pretty cool, as far as kids go.
This museum is open during the summer and has extremely limited hours in spring and fall, but if you’re in Iceland around Christmastime, Arbæjarsafn also has a special Christmas program you don’t want to miss.
The houses will be dusted with snow and children can play outside, or come in and sample holiday delights, like in the general store, which becomes a confectionary. Other holiday activities are demonstrated by staff, such as candle making, laufabrauð cutting, and lamb smoking. You’ll get a taste on this tour!
The Settlement Exhibition (Reykjavík 871 +/- 2)
The focus of The Settlement Exhibition is the remains of a hall from the time of settlement more than 1000 years ago, which was excavated in 2001, along with other objects discovered in the area. These finds tell us a lot about where Icelanders come from.
The Viking age longhouse is reconstructed as it was unearthed in the center of the museum, and dates to the year AD 871 +/- 2, which gives the museum its name. The videos and other materials here give visitors an idea of what it was like when the longhouse was the only structure around, so very long ago.
You’ll find a special corner designed for families, with a small playhouse from the Viking Age, along with furs and masks for playing dress-up. There is also a coloring table and toys on display from the Viking era which children can play with.
Inside the museum, children are welcome to try special interactive exhibits which teach visitors about the animals of Iceland, how to write their name in runes, and more.
The Reykjavík Maritime Museum
The Reykjavík Maritime Museum was built around Iceland’s main source of food and industry in the last millennia: fishing. Housed in an old fish freezing factory in the Old Harbor, the items and exhibitions tell the story of the lifelong fishermen and growing cities that made Iceland the bustling community it is today.
In 2008, the retired Coast Guard vessel Óðinn was anchored to the pier just outside the museum and made part of the guided tour.
The Reykjavík Maritime Museum offers a fun treasure hunt throughout the main exhibition, and children love to come on board the Óðinn. You can fit this museum in during an afternoon of whale watching, or with other museums such as Whales of Iceland (see above).
Viðey is a quiet place filled with nature. It has peaceful grass fields and beaches, and numerous birds which call the island home.
It’s also a center for interesting geology: Two million years ago Viðey was an active volcano, which is known as the Viðey volcano, and the rock of Viðey island is the oldest in the Reykjavík area.
Currently, Viðey Island is home to a number of outdoor art installations, most famously the Imagine Peace Tower, designed by Yoko Ono as a tribute to her husband, the late John Lennon.
Visitors can reach the island by ferry. In the summer ferries leave daily from Skarfabakki, Harpa, and Aegisgarður pier. In the winter, ferry service is from Skarfabakki only and only on weekends.
The Reykjavík City Card includes free ferry transfer to and from the island. Otherwise, there is a fee for children on the ferry (age 7 and up).
If you’re in Iceland for a long haul vacation, and your accommodation doesn’t provide good access to a washing machine and dryer, you might appreciate a few hours spent in the Laundromat Café.
You can order your food in the restaurant upstairs and then take it to the lower level, with washing machines, dryers and a large play area for the kids. Borrow a book to read while you wait.
It’s a popular, cozy place, especially on drizzly days, and there is a small children’s menu with simple favorites. If you have a budding foodie with you, he or she can try plokkfish, a traditional Icelandic school lunch of blended white fish and mashed potatoes with a side of rye bread.
Icelanders love to read, so our libraries are treasured places. The Reykjavik City Library is perfect if you have any bookworms in your group, or if you just want to relax in a family-friendly atmosphere.
The library has books in both English and Icelandic. In addition, there are special events such as Christmas crafting, computer programming, art and other workshops throughout the year; take a look to see if there is anything fun scheduled when you’ll be in town.
If you’d like to stay active, rather than relaxing at the library, there are also Literary Walks with different themes that take you through the downtown area, and most are free (in English and Icelandic). To learn more, contact the library here.
Did I miss anything, readers? Use the space below to tell me your ideas for the most fun you can have with kids age 6 and under in the Reykjavik area!