I’m so excited to share our ‘Iceland Family Travel Diary’ here on Chalk Kids. I thought I’d go over what we got up to during our 6 day stay along with some of the places we’d recommend visiting in Iceland with young children. After some dilly dallying we chose not to travel during peak season and instead focused on making the most of seeing Iceland in winter, which also turns out to be the best time of year to see the Northern Lights, avoid the huge crowds and save a bit of money.
Before setting off we read up on what we needed to pack for our trip when visiting in late October and we found a real mixture of comments on what the climate might be like, so we decided to pack for all scenarios. I’d highly recommend thermals and ski-wear for the kids as they’ll really feel the temperature drop, we had rain-gear plus a thick jacket and sallopettes. We saw all forms of weather whilst we were there so I’m glad we were prepared! I strongly believe that being in the right kit for a trip like Iceland can make or break your holiday.
We decided to dedicate one full day to explore Reykjavik. It’s a stunning city and everything is easily walkable, even with kids. There’s something for everyone close by and I only wish we could have spent more time in some of the stunning interior stores we walked by, especially Geysir and Iglo + Indi!
The Whale Museum – We only managed to visit here for a short time as we arrived near closing time, but this museum is well worth a visit if you’re travelling with or without little ones. It’s a warehouse with life-sized whale models and beautiful displays, plus there’s a few VR’s available to try too.
Harpa – This concert hall and conference centre features a stunning coloured glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. It’s even more spectacular being set down by the waterfront with the snowy mountains in the distance.
Hallgrímskirkja – If you want to see some stunning views, get the lift up to the top of Reykjavík’s Lutheran parish church. It’s 73 metres tall and is among the tallest structures in Iceland (see second photo!)
The Volcano House – Perfect for a rainy day, inside they have a mineral exhibition and a Volcano Cinema, which screens famous eruptions in Iceland and an Emmy-nominated film about the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, which halted air traffic all across Europe.
Laugardalslaug – This is a local heated outdoor pool complex with hot tubs, water slides and plenty to keep the kids occupied. We were surprised just how much we all enjoyed it here! Just remember to bring your own towels, they’re pretty expensive to rent.
Compared to the UK, the food in Iceland is extremely expensive. Whilst delicious, we’re talking £15 for two crepes or £6 for one cappuccino! Since we were staying at an Airbnb we ate in most evenings, either having noodles (you’ll find lots of noodle bars nearby), something from the local Thai (delicious) or some good old hot dogs. During the day we either ate out or made a packed lunch with some supplies from the local supermarket.
Baejarins Bestu – This is the best hot dog in Europe according to The Guardian! To be honest, they tasted just like any other hot dogs we had there…
Cuckoo’s Nest – This place is part of a really trendy block in the Grandi area by Reykjavik harbour. The restaurant has a cool interior, nice food and even better it’s kid friendly! Right next door was a gorgeous looking bakery, ice cream parlour, butcher and other boutiques.
Coffee at Reykjavik Roasters – Our Airbnb was a stone’s throw from the best coffee shop in Reykjavik. The coffee was delicious and apparently, their hot chocolates are incredible too!
Braud & Co After your coffee, head a few feet down the street and pop into the best bakery you’ll ever go to! We might have had something from there every day of our stay.
Dining that we missed out on this time but were recommended – Dill, Mokka, Matur og Drykkur & Kopar.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular day trips in Iceland, as it allows you to visit a number of stunning sights starting with Thingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year. Followed by the Geysir geothermal area where water shoots up to 30 metres (98 ft.) into the air every 4-8 minutes (absolutely amazing to see). Finally, you end up at Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, which pours into a crevice some 32 m (105 ft.) deep.
We hired a car throughout our stay rather than doing any tours (easier with young kids). Our first tip before driving The Golden Circle would be to make sure your car has winter tyres fitted, especially if you’re travelling in October like us. On our first attempt to visit, we had to stop halfway after a tourist bus ahead came off the road due to the unpredicted snowy conditions. It was a real warning to us how treacherous the roads can be. We turned back and went again the following day.
The bonus of going in your own car means you can pull over for photo stops or squeeze in another outdoor pool session at Laugarvatn Fontana, another highlight of our trip! This outdoor pool and wellness centre is located by the beautiful lake Laugarvatn, which you overlook from the heated pools. Both Olly and I decided to have a quick and freezing dip into the lake’s icy water (photo above). You feel truly peaceful here, which is saying something when visiting with two young children (they have armbands and water toys for kids to play with). Unlike the Blue Lagoon, babies are allowed. It was the perfect end to our day as we watched the sunset before heading back inside for a dinner buffet, which was healthy and delicious! On the drive back we made sure we kept an eye out for the Northern Lights…
The Northern Lights
There’s a number of tours to try see the Northern Lights: boat / super Jeep / bus. We’re told the super Jeep is your best chance but they are pricey and of course there’s no guarantee. We decided to drive out ourselves most evenings if the Northern Lights forecast was positive, trying out a couple of different suggested sights. The boys slept in their car seats (tucked up in their PJ’s) as we drove out to try and catch them in the evenings.
During our stay, the Aurora Forecast was above 5 every night, which is what you want. We were super lucky and managed to see spot them on our third night. That night we’d headed towards Thingvellir National Park to limit the light pollution, however, it turned out they were dancing right over Reykjavik as we drove home. It’s all down to luck! Our tips for hunting them yourself would be to pop into an Icelandic tour shop towards the end of the day, where they have the forecast up. Usually, they’ll tell you where the road tours are heading that evening to give you an idea of where’s the best place to search.
The Blue Lagoon
We almost didn’t get to visit the infamous Blue Lagoon as we hadn’t appreciated just how quickly it gets booked up, off-peak season or not. We managed to get their last remaining slot for the week at their 8 am session. It was super early and dark when we arrived, but it was breathtaking getting to watch the sunrise over the lagoon. After enjoying Laugardalslaug & Laugarvatn Fontana so much I wondered if The Blue Lagoon would be too touristy in comparison, but it more than lived up to its reputation.
It’s so relaxing to be immersed in this giant lagoon, where you can put your face masks on and take in the views. We signed up for their ‘Comfort’ package, which we felt was perfect for what we were after. If you’re wanting to purchase any of the masks to take home I’d recommend not buying anything at the lagoon shop itself and to wait till the airport, as they have a store in the departure lounge.
Unfortunately, children under 2 can’t go in the Blue Lagoon. To get around this Olly and I took it in turns, with one of us sitting in the cafe with Parker, which is right beside the lagoon with large windows to watch from. It wasn’t Finlay’s favourite out of the 3 outdoor pools we visited, but by this stage near the end of our trip, he was pretty tired from the busy days before. I suspect the face masks scared him a little too!
We’d highly recommend the 8 am slot, as it was already filling up by the time we left and apparently later in the day it gets VERY busy.
It’s hard to put into words just how magical Iceland is. It’s one of our favourite holidays we’ve been on as a family, there’s something for everyone and it’s rare to find a place that speaks to both adults and kids alike. It’s not flashy or material, it’s all about connecting with untouched landscapes that make you step back an appreciate the beauty you’re surrounded by. We’ve caught the Iceland travel bug bad and will definitely return to see more.
Places on our list for next time are the glaciers, Crashed DC 3 Plane, Godafoss waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, Vik beach, whale watching, the lava fields and so much more. Until next time, Iceland!
If you’re travelling to Iceland and have any questions at all feel free to ask in the comments below. Likewise if you have any tips on any must see places that you discovered, I’d love to hear!