To plan some family holidays
with a difference, it doesn’t get much more exotic than the capital of Iceland
with kids. Due to the rising popularity of its national airline carrier,
Iceland (and Reykjavik in particular) is becoming a hot tourist destination and
it’s easy to see why. The stunning surrounding landscape is a mixture of pretty
harbour meets lunar-style volcanic fields. The people are quirky, interesting
and memorable. The seafood is some of the freshest you’ll get anywhere. And
then there are the family-friendly spas. Yes, spas. It might make for an
unusual holiday destination, but Reykjavik with kids is a must.
The Destination: Reykjavik With Kids
This quaint little town doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a family holiday destination. Most tourists jet in and use it as a base to do a very quick stint around the Golden Circle before flying on elsewhere. [For more family travel tips on the Golden Circle with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
But if you’re after a great family holiday, it’s worthwhile spending at least a couple of nights in Reykjavik to hang out and chill. The town is small and easy to navigate, the people are friendly and it’s quite safe making it a good base to catch up on laundry, sample some of the local food and take in a few sights before your start up your road trip with kids all over again.
[For a more general introduction to Iceland with kids, see the many travel tips in the suitcases&strollers story here.]
The Attractions in Reykjavik With Kids
The most popular tourist destination in Reykjavik (and maybe in Iceland) is the Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater spa complex. This manmade lagoon surrounded by rock pools contains thermal waters that are touted to boast medicinal healing powers. The set up is fun, if a little kitsch. The majority of the water is outside which means you make the mad dash through the cold to the warmth of the water where you can order drinks (including crushed iced frappes for the kids), put on mud masks and generally loll around relaxing.
There are several different pool areas all around the complex so you can opt to sit in a cave, get a waterfall massage or choose different temperatures to bathe in. (Warning: some of the areas are far too hot for children.) There is also an indoor pool if the temperature outside is just too cold for you. If you are prepared to split parenting duties, it’s definitely worth trying out their in-water massage service as well. Look out for the various sizes of kids’ life jackets at the door just before you exit to the outdoor pool.
Once you pay and enter the Blue Lagoon you go directly to the changing rooms where you must take a shower before entering the water. (High chairs are available so you can safely have babies in the shower with you.) If you have a stroller and the downstairs rooms are signed as closed, ask one of the staff and they will usually open them. There is a sizeable kiosk at the Blue Lagoon to cater for food too.
Thermal outdoor swimming pools are like public playgrounds in Iceland – they are scattered throughout most neighbourhoods and are a place locals frequent regularly. If Blue Lagoon seems a little too touristy for you – or there isn’t enough to keep the kids entertained there – then opt for one of the more local pools such as Kjalarneslaug (which is small complex and has a water slide and kiddy pool) or Laugardalslaug (the largest public pool in the city that has two water slides, kiddy pool and mini golf course). Entrance to both pools is included in the price of a Reykjavik City Card. (See below.)
Reykjavik proper is a waterside town with lots to explore in the streets and cute little curio stores. It’s quite easy to walk around most of the town (if you are traveling with toddlers or infants best to bring a stroller because the distances might seem longer for shorter legs); there is plenty to see in the pretty buildings and serene water frontage.
Walk up to Hallgrimskirkja – the large church in the centre of town – to hear carols and take pictures next to the unique architecture. Walk to the top of the tower for views back over town.
From here, the main bulk of the tourist shops and restaurants can be found and you can easily spend a couple of hours wandering and exploring. While this might initially look like a tourist trap, it’s definitely worthwhile walking and looking around you.
Icelanders are known for their blunt and off-beat sense of humour and you might spot some amusing signs and sights along the way.
If you don’t plan to see more of Iceland with kids than Reykjavik, it’s worthwhile booking a cruise to see the puffins. The famed local birds eat, swim and play around the surrounding waters of Reykjavik and it’s quite easy to spot them. There are also whale spotting tours on offer. If you have younger kids or kids who find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time, puffin tours make more sense than whale tours because it is more likely you will see the animals sooner and at closer proximity. Head to the cute Reykjavik Old Harbour and the tour operators are all lined up for you to choose from.
If you are a keen fisher, Old Harbour can be a good place to cast a rod from the pier.
A trip to Iceland isn’t complete without an obligatory interaction with a Viking. Fjorugarourinn restaurant at the Hotel Viking offers live entertainment daily at dinnertime to amuse the tourists. The entertainment can vary from the crowning of a guest as a honourary Viking to a simple man in a Viking suit serenading at your table. While it’s tacky and the locals will deride you for going, for younger kids especially, it’s a fun and exciting experience to eat traditional Viking food in a traditional Viking hall from traditional lamb horns. Call before you arrive to find out what’s on.
If you have a little more time, half an hour outside of Reykjavik are the ski slopes of Blafjoll and Skalafell which have 20 lifts between them. Opening times vary depending on weather conditions.
[For more travel tips on downhill snowboarding and skiing with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Food in Reykjavik With Kids
Iceland is famous for its seafood so if your kids don’t eat it, bring lots of travel snacks for kids with you. [For more travel tips on traveling with allergies and dietary requirements, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
The local specialty is the Icelandic lobster (really more of a scampi or langoustine) which comes in delicious soups or just broiled and covered in butter. The aptly named Icelandic Fish & Chips restaurant serves delicious variations of both dishes in a restaurant environment that is still casual enough for kids. There is a small playtable in one corner to keep little ones occupied before the food arrives.
About 60 kilometres from Reykjavik is the famous Fjorubordid restaurant that only really serves one thing – lobster.
Icelanders take their lobster very seriously so apart from lobster, there are only two kids’ menu items (chicken nuggets and a ham and cheese sandwich) and only two other non seafood menu items. But if you really want to experience a serious lobster feast, this is definitely worthwhile.
If the weather is particularly cold and nasty, Svarta Kaffid in the heart of the tourist district is a tiny cafe that’s really all just about soup. (Their alcoholic drinks menu is much larger than the food menu.) There are two daily changing specials that come served in bread bowl making them fun for kids. Children will also enjoy the funny little Super Mario closet toilet. The restaurant is upstairs and quite cosy inside so you will need to carry your stroller and be prepared to fold it and store it somewhere out of the way.
It might seem odd to go all the way to Iceland with kids just for a hot dog, but that’s probably what the children will enjoy eating the most. The Baejarins Beztu Pylsur stall is claimed by some to sell the best hot dogs in the world (yes, really) and the queues outside the front are testament to their fame.
If you’re after a café style meal or a snack, the Laundromat Café is excellent. If you’ve been on a long road trip with kids then Reykjavik is the best place to have a rejuvenation stopover and get that pesky laundry done. While the café upstairs is a spacious and welcoming enough to be a nice environment for a pit stop, downstairs is an actual laundromat with a large playroom full of toys. Best of all, you can order food and beverages (yes, including beer) upstairs and then bring it down to the laundry to consume while you watch the kids and wait for your washing.
Since Iceland is an expensive family travel destination, the washing machines do get busy. If you arrive before opening, it is still likely that even if you walk downstairs immediately all the machines will be full. Contrary to what you might think, the laundry is actually quieter in the afternoons that early morning but, if you can have a beer while you wait, does it really matter?
[For more travel tips on saving money while traveling with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Traveling On A Budget (With Kids)]
Family Friendly Accommodation in Reykjavik
The historic Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel, Reykjavik is in a great location right near the waterfront and next door to the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand. Many nautical architectural features have been preserved giving the property a warm and charming feel that you might not expect from a big chain. There are two entrances and it is a very close walk to either the Old Harbour or the town centre. The deluxe rooms (one up from the entry level) are large enough to comfortably fit a family of four and the service is excellent. Perhaps the one major downside is there are no high chairs in the restaurant.
The Blue Lagoon has its own boutique hotel which really caters to the spa retreat crowd. There is an age limit of 2 years old.
A more family friendly accommodation right next door to Blue Lagoon is the Northern Light Inn which has large spacious family rooms and, if you’re lucky, views of the Northern Lights. [For more family travel tips on how to catch the Northern Lights with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.] While the restaurant doesn’t have much in the way of kids entertainment or menu, the staff are very welcoming of families and the atmosphere is quite relaxed and unassuming.
The Practicalities of Reykjavik With Kids
The weather in Reykjavik (and, indeed, all of Iceland) is unpredictable to say the least. The vast majority of visitors come in the summer months because of the long sunlight hours and the warmer weather. (The city is virtually closed for tourism during the winter.) Summer in Iceland doesn’t necessarily mean consistent or warm weather though. Come prepared with all your winter gear as it can be blue clear skies one day, then windy, rainy and very cold the next.
The long hours of daylight can be difficult to juggle with young children if your kids are very reliant on sleeping in the dark. It is possible to bring travel blackout curtains with you or you can ask at your hotel about whether they have these in the room.
[For more travel tips on getting kids to sleep while traveling in foreign environments, see the suitcases&strollers interview with Save Our Sleep author Tizzie Hall.]
If you plan to do a lot of museums and catch public transport, it’s worthwhile considering getting a Reykjavik City Card. This allows you free entry to some museums, galleries, public pools and free use of the public bus network. All museums are free for kids in Reykjavik under 18, but the buses and pools are not, so there is a kids’ version you can purchase. The pools included in the price of the ticket do not include the Blue Lagoon.
The most common way to commute from the airport to Reykjavik town centre is via bus. Buses depart regularly and will stop at most of the major hotels.
If you’d prefer to hire a private driver to take you around Reykjavik with kids or even for private tours of the Golden Circle get in contact with Haukur Geirsson (+354 893 3668).