Family travel in Iceland
If it’s adventure you’re looking for then Iceland is the place to come! Active parents (and kids) will be in their element here. Iceland’s magical landscapes are an eye opener for most adults. But a child’s imagination and sense of wonder can’t help but be piqued by so many incredible natural wonders. Even moody teenagers might just be coaxed off of their smartphones and into the great outdoors. There will be glaciers to hike across, black sand beaches to discover and fascinating thermal mud pots to marvel at. Active volcanoes, powerful waterfalls and of course the magic of the Northern Lights are all waiting for you in Iceland.
Having said that there is always a flipside. Here are some things to bear in mind if you are travelling in Iceland with kids. Although the sights are mainly outdoors you will likely spend quite a bit of time travelling between them by car or camper. So very young children will need to be entertained. There is also the weather and the chilly temperatures to consider. Parents will need to pack plenty of layers for young kids and keep fingers and toes warm.
With a little planning though all of these potential hardships can be dealt with. Iceland is very kid friendly and an excellent place for a rewarding family vacation. In this post we run though some of the best activities for a family trip to Iceland. We will also look at tips for family travel, covering the best time of year to travel, what to pack and more.
When is the best time of year for a family friendly trip to Iceland?
Family travel in Iceland is almost certainly easiest in the summer months. The weather is calmer and the days are longer. With the midnight sun, especially in June and July, you will have far more daylight hours to explore. The roads will all be open and you won’t need to worry about snow tyres. The weather is far less harsh at this time of year but it can still get cold, especially at night so do come prepared. This is also the busiest time of year to visit Iceland, Be prepared for busier roads and more crowded scenes at the big sights.
If you do visit Iceland in winter you are better off travelling shorter distances. Perhaps stick to South Iceland only and consider taking day trips. There are many winter travel pluses though. You will be blessed with opportunities to see the amazing Northern Lights. Iceland under a dusting of snow is just magical too, as are glacier and ice caving tours to name but a few. The shoulder months of April-May and September might well offer the best of both worlds if you can take the time out of school.
Where to stay and how to travel on a family holiday?
Hotels and guesthouses in Iceland are on the pricey side, but they are very well equipped for children. One of the best budget ideas for a family trip to Iceland is to rent a campervan or a motorhome and take an Iceland road trip. Which one you choose will depend on the size of your family and the trip you want to take. If you have a bigger family or older kids then a motorhome will probably suit your needs. There will be much more space for cooking, hanging out and sleeping. You can whip up a quick, cheap dinner or snack to feed hungry teens and you’ll have somewhere to play cards on a rainy day.
If you are travelling with one or even two small children then a campervan rental could easily be big enough for you. You won’t have an on-board bathroom though, which can be very helpful. But you will have a smaller vehicle to manoeuvre and you will certainly cut costs.
One of the most important points to consider is how far to travel. Our advice is don’t try to do too much! If you are hiring a motorhome it could be wise to stick to travelling in South Iceland only. Shorter distances to travel might make all the difference for your sanity and for the family dynamics. You want to get out and about enjoying the country and not be too cooped up in your rent a car or motorhome.
So scale it back and don’t be too ambitious. If you have upwards of ten days for your family vacation then you might consider heading north around the full Iceland ring road. If you have a week or less then stick to the south. Perhaps heading to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula or to Iceland’s beautiful South Coast. You may even take your time around the Golden Circle or base yourselves in one spot and take a day trip or two.
What to pack for a kid friendly trip?
Even in summer Iceland can get cold and windy so you will need to pack plenty of layers for everyone. Sturdy shoes for walking across uneven terrain are a must. Warm socks, hats, gloves and scarves and extra pyjamas and bed socks for chilly nights. You will also need rain and windproof jackets. Waterproof trouser suits and boots are a good idea for little ones.
Think about long car journeys or rainy days when you will spend time indoors. Board games, audiobooks and a movie download or two can all be very helpful. Familiar snacks could be a good idea for little ones and also for saving a little cash.
Eating and drinking in Iceland
Families with teenagers with big appetites beware! Eating and drinking in Iceland is notoriously expensive. A simple burger can easily set you back about $20. If you hire a motorhome you can really save some money in Iceland. With a full kitchen you will be able to rustle up some budget-friendly pasta dinners and sandwiches for lunch. Cut the soft drinks out too and stick to water. The tap water in Iceland is pure and totally safe to drink. Fill up your water bottles in cafes and gas stations whenever you can.
Even supermarkets and convenience stores are expensive, so bringing some food with you is great money-saving advice. This is especially true if you are visiting Iceland for a week or more. Pack cereal and snack bars, bars of chocolate, bags of chips, nuts and dried fruit. Believe us you will be glad you did.
When it comes to supermarkets the bigger towns and cities will have more budget friendly options. Bonus supermarket is the cheapest but HagKaup is also reasonable. So do stock up when you are in urban areas as the smaller stores will be pricier. Bakeries are a good bet too with lots of reasonably priced and delicious buns and doughnuts. Naughty but nice!
Safety tips for Iceland family travel
If you are travelling with very young children then you will need to be vigilant when you are out sightseeing. Iceland is a wild place and most of the attractions are unfenced. This is great in many ways but it also means that you will need to keep an eye on your little ones. For example some of the pathways around waterfalls can be steep and slippery. Coastal cliffs can be high and unfenced and the same goes for geysers and mud pots in the geo-thermal areas. If you are walking on the beaches and near rivers, be aware that the water is icy and there are strong currents and waves. Older children should be warned well and the whole family should be aware.
The best activities for a family holiday
There is so much to enjoy in Iceland. From hiking up a volcano to ice caving and whale watching boat trips. Water babies will rejoice. Iceland is awash with fabulous places to take a dip. From wild outdoor hot springs to swimming pools with slides and shoots. The Blue Lagoon might be the most famous but there are many more options. Many are free to enter and much less crowded than the blue lagoon too.
If you are visiting Iceland with older children or teenagers then hiking is a great option. There are three (very big) national parks in Iceland with innumerable hiking trails to enjoy. The Vatnajökull National Park has many exciting trails to discover and is Iceland’s largest national park. However you choose to explore Iceland you are sure to make some incredible memories along the way.