Iceland may seem like an extreme environment for kids —glaciers and hot geysers are not exactly the definition of child-friendly—but the truth is, it has just as much to offer to the youngest members of your family as it does to adults. And since Iceland is one of the smallest European countries, you won't need to travel long to reach your next adventure. Whether you decide to explore the breathtaking natural sights of the South Coast, or opt for a family ski trip in the snowy North, there are plenty of fun activities in all of Iceland's regions that will keep your little ones busy and entertained. Not only will they love the land of fire and ice, but they'll want to return again and again.
East Iceland doesn’t attract as many tourists as the West or the South, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet, this is the perfect place for you and your family. East Iceland’s biggest town is Egilsstaðir with a population hovering around two thousand, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do here. In fact, there are a lot of kid-friendly activities such as frisbee golf in the town’s Tjarnagarðurinn public park, hiking, and biking.
If you’re looking for a more educational experience, head to the East Iceland Heritage Museum, that has a fun reindeer exhibition on permanent display, or the Wilderness Center, an open-air exhibition space where you can learn about what life in East Iceland was like in the past and even spend the night in a unique old-fashion accommodation. The center offers several types rooms and a dormitory all furnished in the spirit of 19th and 20th century Iceland, with modern conveniences available at your request, of course.
If your kids can ski, the Stafdalur ski area, only a 10-mile drive from Egilsstaðir, has excellent kids facilities including lessons and a special lift.
The North is the home of Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest town, which offers a plethora of family activities. In addition to several children’s pools and waterslides, which you can enjoy in the summer, the town’s botanical garden is also a popular spot among local families. Kjarnaskogur woods, a recreational area south of Akureyri, is Iceland’s most visited forest - and was actually planted in the last 50 years. It offers several hiking trails, two playgrounds, picnic areas, and even a campsite if your kids love the outdoors.
Operating in the friendly Icelandic way, many farmers open their farms to the public so your kids can take a closer look and pet some domestic animals or take a quick horse-riding lesson. At Gauksmýri, there are regular horse shows where your kids will learn all about Icelandic horses and their history - you can even stay overnight.
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Since trolls are taken very seriously in the land of fire and ice, head to the Trolls’ Park at Fossatún, a recreational area created by the owners of the land that is part of their farm. There, your kids can climb into a cauldron and have their photo taken as well as learn more about the importance of trolls in Icelandic culture, explore Fossatún, and see if they can spot all the (man-made) trolls that are hiding there.
And if you’re looking to really score points with your children, take them underground for an unforgettable cave tour. Vatnshellir Cave, located in Snaefellsnes National Park, is an 8000-year old cavern that dips 144 feet below the earth's surface. Your child has to be at least five years old to go in, and entrance is free for kids 5-11 years old. Another option in the area is Viðgelmir, the largest lava tube in the country.
Iceland is also known for its Viking heritage, so there is no better and more fun place to explore the culture than Eiríksstaðir, an old farm that belonged to Erik the Red and is the birthplace of Leif the Lucky who, Icelanders believe, was the first European to see America. Your kids will experience what life was like at the time, and they can even dress like Vikings.
Iceland's South Coast is the country's most popular region, and it's predictably packed with things to do and see. If you're in Reykjavik, make plans to visit Skautahol, an ice-skating hall with a rink that accommodates up to two thousand people. Another popular spot for ice-skating is the Tjornin Pond in downtown Reykjavik. Don’t worry, the pond is quite shallow (2.4 feet at its deepest point) and extremely safe.
Take a stroll back in time at the Arbaer Open Air Museum in Reykjavik and learn about what life in Iceland used to be. The museum is made up of 20 buildings, most of which have been relocated from downtown Reykjavik, and now form a town square. There is also a farm with domestic animals in the summertime, and the museum is open year-round with tours available in English.
If your kids are into Vikings, then they will surely appreciate a visit to an abandoned Viking Village. It’s actually a replica, located near the town of Hofn in the southeast, built in 2010 for a movie that was never shot. The village is open to visitors and consists of several houses with traditional moss-covered roofs that could definitely be mistaken for authentic. And don’t forget to take advantage of the many natural swimming pools, or sundlaugs, in the area. Even in the small fishing village of Vik, there is a warm public children’s pool with a slide.
Tips for Traveling with Kids in Iceland
If you plan to explore Iceland’s beautiful natural sights with toddlers, bear in mind that there are no formal bathroom facilities at most of them. Factor extra time in your itinerary for stops in nearby towns and villages.
Pack extra wool layers for your kids if you're visiting in the winter, and always bring windproof, waterproof jackets and pants even during the warmer months.
Don’t let your kids swim in rivers or the ocean - the currents are extremely dangerous, even for adults. Stick to the natural hot pools listed in this article instead.
Pack extra snacks for long drives. In remote areas of Iceland, gas stations may not sell food - or the “station” may, in fact, be just a couple of self-service machines by the side of the road. And speaking of roads: weather is extremely unpredictable in Iceland, so always check the conditions before you drive.