If you’re thinking about traveling to Iceland with kids like we did last summer, let me just say you’re in for a special treat. Our trip in August 2018 was one of my all-time favorite family vacations.
Whether you’re currently planning an Icelandic vacation, or you’re curious about what it would be like to visit Iceland with your family, here’s everything you need to know.
Iceland: Getting There
We booked our flight to Iceland online through Icelandair, with ticket prices that could not be beat. It definitely depends on when you want to go and where you are flying from, but airline tickets were probably the cheapest part of our trip: around $380 per person.
You can also check out WOW air, but a few friends of mine gave them questionable reviews, and quite honestly, the ticket prices were exactly the same for Icelandair.
I will say that Icelandair is one of the nicest airlines I’ve flown, particularly in Economy where each seat has a TV and USB charging port, plus access to free movies and television shows. Also, the kids always get a free activity pack and meal on every flight, so it really can’t be beat.
From the Northeast (Newark for us), the flight was just about 5 hours, so it’s a manageable distance for kids. And with just a 4-hour time change, the jet lag wasn’t an issue at all.
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What to Pack for your Iceland Trip
My son forgot his hiking boots, but thankfully it wasn’t too icy or cold when we were there.
You might think that even Iceland would be warm in August, but that is not the case at all. The highs were around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lows were pretty cool, in the mid-30s. It was also rainy, which is pretty typical. But, no umbrellas were necessary and I don’t think you need to pack them.
Considering you’ll be spending most of your time outside, it’s best to dress in layers, with a good warm base layer and a waterproof outer shell of some kind and waterproof hiking boots. We wore our raincoats, wool socks, and hiking boots the entire time, so if you don’t already own them, they were definitely worth the investment for us.
Depending on how cold your kids get, I’d also pack hats and gloves; my kids are always cold and by the second day, they were begging for mittens. You’ll see lots of lists suggested waterproof pants, however, we never used them on our trip. The rain never really lasted for more than a few minutes at a time, and usually it was just a drizzle at that (save the one day we were in Reykjavik and it rained the entire time).
If you’re headed there in the winter, snow pants or rain pants with a warm base layer would be ideal.
Oh, and make sure you have the correct power adapter. We brought one for Europe which… didn’t work. Iceland uses Northern European electrical standards with recessed outlets, so check photos and be sure the one you have is correct. Thankfully we were able to make ours work enough to charge phones using USB ports.
Where to Stay in Iceland with Kids
Through my own research, I found there were a couple of different ways to approach Iceland accommodations. Many families book a few days of accommodations on different parts of Iceland, with time in Reykjavik, then the Golden Circle, and then the South (near Vik).
We decided that with a family of 6, it would just be too much for us to unpack and then pack again so frequently, so we rented a more central home that would allow us to drive about an hour at most to various spots on Iceland.
Our beautiful cabin!
On Homeaway, we found a gorgeous cabin near Selfoss (this is not the exact one, but similar)which is on the Golden Circle route, and we couldn’t have been more pleased — in fact the price was comparable to a stay in an upscale hotel. The home had a full kitchen, washer, grill, and Jacuzzi filled with geothermal water. And it was within an hour or so to all of the major areas we were hoping to visit.
To save money, we cooked our own meals, then packed lunches and snacks — be aware that Icelandic food is very expensive. And, we were able to do laundry so we cut down significantly on our baggage.
Related: How to use AirBnb to book your next family vacation
A Word on Car Rentals in Iceland
Given that we were staying in one place for our entire visit, a car was essential, but wow, rentals are very expensive! Especially for a family of six.
The folks at Blue car rental were kind enough to offer us a small press discount, which did help make it a bit more affordable. I had discovered them through my research, and they came highly recommended in part because of the extensive insurance coverage included in the price.
Their customer service wasn’t so awesome I must admit; nothing terrible, but they weren’t the friendliest of people when we picked up and dropped off our car, which was surprising considering how nice everyone else at the company had been.
While you can find some affordable-ish car rentals, be sure to check the fine print, especially when it comes to insurance! The roads in Iceland are often unpaved, so you’ll want to be sure the company you select offers extra coverage. (Also double check your credit cards to see what kind of rental insurance is included as a member benefit.)
As for us, we never did any off-roading, and the summer weather eliminated concerns about icy roads. We only got caught once on a terribly unpaved road, but it was still reassuring to know we had rented through Blue, and we’d be covered if any rocks flew up in the air and came down on the car.
Also, it’s a smart idea to download the Google Map of Iceland since your Wifi and cellular service will probably be spotty. We were fine, for the most part, with T-Mobile, but it really depends on your provider. And because Icelandish incorporates a variety of letterings and sounds, know that you will often see destinations and towns spelled a few different ways which can be confusing.
Related: 5 budget family travel tips we swear by to help you save money
Food, Glorious Icelandic Food
There’s a reason why you don’t hear much about Icelandic cuisine: Iceland is not necessarily known for its food. So if you know that going in, you won’t be disappointed.
Also, what you will find is expensive. There are lots of hot dogs (with interesting toppings), that are probably the most affordable on-the-go food for kids, but I would plan on shopping at the local grocery store, then cooking your own meals when possible.
That’s not to say we didn’t have some amazing (albeit expensive) meals. The stop at the Fridheimar tomato greenhouse was delicious, but if you have kids who won’t eat tomatoes, skip it; every single thing on the menu is made with tomatoes.
We also enjoyed a tasty pizza meal at Olverk after the long hike to the Reykjadalur Hot Springs. And we super splurged on dinner at Slippurrin (below) on the Westman Islands. It was memorable, if not really necessary for a family of six — though my kids still talk about the lamb on the kids menu.
Also, the ice cream at Efstidalur farm is well worth the stop.
We sustained ourselves quite well with all the non-perishables and snacks we packed, along with food from the local grocery chain, Bonus.
As far as what foods to buy, the lamb jerky is amazing, as is, well, the lamb itself, which we grilled up a few nights for dinner. You’ll see that sheep roam free in Iceland, and it’s one of their most common meats.
Oh, and don’t miss Icelandic butter. It’s delicious.
My overall suggestion: take some time to plan out your meals, and what you plan on doing at each location you’ll be visiting so you’re not desperately searching for a place to eat. Pack a small cooler bag in your suitcase, along with non-perishables that you think you’ll eat a lot of (oatmeal, cereal, snacks), and hit the grocery store as soon as you first arrive.
And don’t buy water! Icelandic tap water is the same water you pay lots of money in the U.S when it’s bottled.
Iceland Loves Kids
Lots of places for kids to climb, too!
Pretty much everywhere you go, you’ll notice that kids are very welcome. Their admission is either free or deeply discounted at museums, and meals for kids are always available and generally pretty hearty — and healthy. It was certainly a bonus traveling with four of them; as much as you might be spending on yourself, know that in most cases, traveling with kids will be affordable.
Related: Pro tips for saving a ton on family travel
What to See and Do in Iceland with Kids
You’ll find no shortage of amazing sights, and adventures in Iceland, which is why it’s such a wonderful family destination. Be prepared to be active, however, with lots of walking, hiking, and in some cases climbing.
Here’s a list of everything we did and saw, with some commentary that I hope helps you plan your itinerary.
(The Rick Steves travel book that was left in our rental home was super helpful as is the site Iceland with Kids.)
Reykjavik: We spent an extremely rainy day in Reykjavik so I’m not sure we had the best impression of this lovely capital city. There’s lots of cool shops though, which we did enjoy. In fact, it was probably the best opportunity to find cool things to bring home — nice, since my kids weren’t begging me for stuff the entire trip, ha.
If your kids aren’t into shopping and historical sites, you could zip through the city in a day, instead of spending a few days like many tours, bloggers, and travel writers recommend.
Blue Lagoon: Because of the close proximity to the airport, this geothermal spa is a great stop right after you arrive, or right before you leave. It’s definitely worth the hype, but know that there’s not a lot to do; it’s basically a gigantic hot tub, so depending on your kids, it may not be the most fun. Either way, I wouldn’t plan on staying for a long time if you’re making a family visit, but it is a beautiful site to see.
Sundholl Selfloss: My kids had a blast at the Sundholl in Selfloss, which is basically their community pool. They’re geothermal pools, so even in the cold they’re nice and warm, with a couple of water slides and kid play areas to keep your kids entertained. There are also some smaller Jacuzzi style pools set at various temperatures.
It was extremely affordable and my kids stayed for a few hours, even befriending a nice family from Maryland while we were there.
Pro tip: Icelandic people (and well, Europeans in general) are very comfortable with nudity, so be prepared to not have the privacy you may be used to in changing rooms and showers. At this particular pool, you must shower completely nude before going outside, and you also need to dry off completely before you return to the locker room. I know this because…we got scolded for not drying off. Oops.
That’s us climbing out of our Lava Tunnel tour with The Cave People.
Cave tours: We did two different cave tours and enjoyed them both. If you’re feeling adventurous, I’d suggest booking a tour with Laugarvatn Adventure The Cave People. We had a private tour of the Gjábakkahellir cave and wow, it was amazing, but know there’s actual climbing involved. Nothing steep but it definitely requires some athleticism. Our guide was friendly and kind, and even brought along some hot chocolate for our mid-climb break.
We also toured The Lava Tunnel, which is beautiful and easy to walk through thanks to a metal walkway that has been built for visitors. We probably did not need to do both of these, so I’d suggest choosing one based on the ages of your kids. If you’ve got little ones, I’d definitely opt for The Lava Tunnel.
The Gullfoss Waterfalls (yes, we walked to where the tiny people are down at the edge)
Golden Circle stops: A simple search for “Golden Circle” will afford you a list of all the Golden Circle stops, so I won’t list them all here. We did pretty much all of them in one day, and were very glad we did. They’re touristy and crowded, but worth the time for sure.
Just be prepared to do a lot of parking, hopping out to see something, then hopping back in your car — with lots of walking in between. We had never been to Yellowstone, so Geysir was pretty exciting, and you can get pretty close, which also means, be careful!
If you stop at Thingvallir National Park and the continental divide, the answer is yes, you can drink the water.
Slakki Animal Farm: This random little petting zoo had all sorts of small animals like bunnies, birds, and cats, as well as a mini golf course. If you need a short break to stretch your legs and play, this is a fun stop, but not necessarily something to go out of your way to find.
Westman Islands: We’re so glad we opted for a short day excursion to the Westman Islands. Book your ferry tickets in advance, and bring your motion sickness meds with you; while the ferry is large, the water can get rocky at times.
It’s a perfect single-day trip because there’s not a ton to do on the island, other than stop at the small Saeheimar Aquarium to meet a Puffin (like my son did, above), and visit a few of the island’s museums. I’d say the Volcano Museum was the most fascinating of the three.
We ate at Slippurinn, which was extremely delicious — and extremely expensive. A wonderful treat to end our trip, with a menu of local fish, foraged herbs and greens, and incredible free range lamb.
In hindsight, I wish we had done an actual puffin boat tour while we were there, but the kids did entertained themselves with a large pillow bouncer in the middle of the town that I believe is set up all summer long.
And I personally wouldn’t suggest staying overnight. This is a totally doable visit as an out-and-back.
Hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs: Was the payoff worth the almost 3-hour hike? I thought so, but my kids might have other things to say. This very long, difficult, and hilly hike is full of weird flies that you’ll be batting away the entire time, though it culminates in a hot river where you you can bathe.
It’s a beautiful site to see, and pretty cool to sit in nature’s Jacuzzi, but keep in mind that the walk is tough. And then you’ll have to strip down into your bathing suit — then carry all your wet stuff back. There are no mosquitos in Iceland, but there are flies, so I suggest bringing netted hats and bug spray if you plan on doing this hike, particularly in the summer months.
Icelandic Museums: We stopped at a couple of museums, including the Whales of Iceland and The Lava Centre. Icelandic museums are all visually breathtaking, interactive, and very small, so they’re perfect for kids, especially if yours have very short attention spans like a couple of mine do. Don’t expect to spend longer than 30-40 minutes at most at any one spot.
Northern Lights: Much to my youngest’s chagrin, we didn’t see any Northern Lights, though that wasn’t a surprise to us considering August is not the season for them. We were told they might be visible, so we dutifully checked the skies each night. But if the Northern Lights are on bucket list, be sure you go to Iceland at a time they can be most visible.
While we didn’t get to see everything there is to experience in Iceland — which is almost impossible to do in a week — we did keep ourselves quite busy, while still enjoying some quiet time exploring our property and sitting in our natural hot springs hot tub. It really was a week to remember.
I hope you enjoy your Icelandic vacation as much as we did!
Cool Mom Picks is an Amazon affiliate. There was nothing sponsored about this trip — just sharing the great experience of traveling to Iceland with kids.. Ask me anything!