Guest post by Paige McEachren
The natural wonders and laid-back culture of Iceland provide an endless amount of activities, especially for children. There are so many things to do in Iceland with kids! Kids can chase waterfalls, hike glaciers or go horse back riding. The entire country is full of child-friendly adventures to explore.
Families can feel comfortable doing adventurous activities that give you that jolt of exhilaration, yet safely so. It’s not just the natural landscape that entices children. You won’t need to journey far to find tales of trolls, Vikings and stunning natural wonders. Here are some of the top sights and activities for families in Iceland.
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Things to do in Iceland with kids
It seems no matter where you go in Iceland, you’re sure to find cascading, mystic waterfalls. Not all the waterfalls are appropriate or accessible to children (like walking behind the 360° Seljalandsfoss waterfall). There’s picnic area at the base of the path leading to Seljalandsfoss, but behind the fall itself is slippery and treacherous, even for adults.
The Gullfoss waterfall on the Golden Circle Tours has three viewing levels, and is great for families. If you’re parking, choose the middle level. It sports the best view, and you can easily walk over to the other levels – letting kids burn off some energy.
In Southern Iceland, Svartifoss Waterfall in Skaftafell National Park offers ice-cold water running off the Svinafellsjokull glacier. An easy 1.5 km walk into the park provides visitors with amazing views of water surging over a cliff of basalt columns and falling 80 ft into a shallow stream. This stream is perfect for children to do a bit of splashing and exploring if weather permits.
If you’re traveling West, you will want to visit Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, especially in summer. The waterfall is similar to others you’d see, but the open spaces and the Kirkjufell Mountain in the background make it unique and a fantastic space for kids to run around.
Horseback riding Iceland
Imported by the Vikings over 1,000 years ago, Iceland’s pure-bred horses are small, but mightly powerful. With everything from one-hour to multi-day treks, there is no better way to see Icelandic nature and landscape than on a horseback riding tour. Known to have few diseases, these pony-sized horses are famed for their fifth gait that offers gentle, bounce-free strides. Their small stature and smooth ride make these horses ideal for inexperienced riders. There’s usually an age minimum of 6-years-old for shorter adventures and 15-years-old for all day adventures. Make sure you check with your tour operator before booking.
Glaciers in Iceland
Did you know glaciers cover 11% of Iceland and are generally found above volcanoes? (Jody didn’t!) Many glaciers are 10-15,000-years-old and are melting at an increasing rate, partially due to geothermal activity and environmental impact. Depending on the age of your kids, there’s many ways to explore glaciers in Iceland. You can strap on crampons and go for a 1 to 10-hour hike, go snowmobiling (if you’re over 18-years-old) or kayak in the lagoon at the base of the glacier that was formed by melted glacier water. Like many activities in Iceland, these tours are for adventurous children and should always be done with a qualified guide.
One great glacier to visit (with very informed guides) is Sólheimajökull. It’s on the South Tour. When you walk up to the glacier, you can clearly feel the cool breeze, while peering at the intensely old blue ice. What’s surprising is that what you think is dirt on the ice is actually ash from the nearby volcano!
Black Sand Beach Iceland
If heading south to visit Sólheimajökull, be sure to stop at the Black Beach Reynisfjara, located near the small fishing village Vik. Kids may not recognize this world-famous beach shown in Game of Thrones, Star Wars Rogue One or James Bond movies, but for sure they’ll find it mesmerizing. Children are delighted to learn the beach is black because the sand is actually heavily eroded volcanic rocks. (It was formed from cool lava which turns black as it hardens.) This Icelandic beach is one of the most recognized in the world thanks to its colour and dramatic volcanic basalt columns, which are home to thousands of nesting seabirds including adorable puffins. Iceland’s black sand beach is easily accessible by car or a tour, and shouldn’t be skipped.
Pro tip: While admiring the powerful force of nature, make sure to keep the kids away from the tremendously powerful Atlantic Ocean waves.
Iceland hot springs
The hot springs of Iceland have no doubt been taking over your social media feeds in the past year. When you visit, it’s not hard to see why. The world-renowned Blue Lagoon is located in a sparse, flat, black lava field. And the high natural levels of silica and algae give the mineral-rich geothermal water this milky-blue colour. A visit is guaranteed to melt away stress and can help skin problems like psoriasis and eczema. Additionally, your entire family can slap on a rejuvenating silica mask. Located 20 minutes from the airport, the Blue Lagoon is ideal to visit after arriving on an early flight or just before departure. Children under 8-years-old must wear arm floats (provided by the lagoon) and it’s not recommended for children under 2-years of age.
Want to go off the beaten path a bit? There’s loads of hot springs located all over Iceland. One that’s easily accessible for families is the Secret Lagoon which can be found on many Golden Circle tours. The Lagoon is located near Fludir, where, fun fact: 90% of mushrooms in Iceland are grown. Formed naturally by rocks, the lagoon is fed from an adjacent bubbling geyser. Unlike the Blue Lagoon, there’s a natural dirt floor, and showering in a communal shower is required before entering. However, it has the benefit of not drying out your hair like the Blue Lagoon. In fact, all the minerals in the hot springs are great for your hair. It is not recommended for children under 2-years-old, and kids 8-years and under must wear arm floats provided by the Lagoon.
Iceland whale watching
The waters around Iceland are many a whale’s natural habitat, and Iceland has plenty of top spots for whale watching. Whale watching tours are mostly located in the North and West of the country. If you’re visiting on a layover, you can easily go on a tour right from the capital Reykjavik. The most common whales sighted are minke, humpback, sei, fin, blue and migratory baleen whales. There’s usually no minimum age for tours, but remember the North Atlantic waters are extremely cold with giant waves. It’s not uncommon for kids to get sick while on the open ocean. Because of this, the best season for whale watching in most parts of Iceland is between April and October.
Most flights and stopovers come through Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. With over 2 million visitors in 2017, this small country is well equipped to handle tourists. (Even the likes of Travels with Baggage readers!) There are museums, a Viking ship and Icelandic hot dogs for a crash course in Icelandic culture. One of the great things about the city is its central location. Everything is within walking distance or accessible by bus.
Photographers and Instagrammers take note! You can visit Hallgrímskirkja Church and go up the tower for a 360° view of Reykjavik. If you’re looking to do some sightseeing outdoors, try walking from the Harpa along the seawall to the Sun Voyager sculpture. If you want to see life-sized replicas of local whales, then take a visit to the Iceland Whale Museum. It’s easy to plan an entire kid-focused vacation without leaving the city.
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P.S. You may also want to read:
Montreal local Paige’s recs for the best things to do in Montreal
Have you ever visited Iceland? What are your favourite things to do there?
Paige McEachren spent over 20 years working in corporate communications for world-leading technology, health care and pharmaceutical companies. In 2015, she decided to leave the professional workplace to stay home and help her young kids navigate life with ADHD and dyslexia. When not taking care of her kids (three including her husband), she loves to plan family vacations, struggles with the love of baking and challenges herself to try new things. If she’s lucky, she finds herself a bit of quiet time. Follow Paige on Instagram or Twitter.