This week I asked my followers on Facebook and Twitter to share their experiences about traveling to Reykjavík with kids and I got a lot of good answers. I would recommend you check them out by visiting our Facebook page.
The common theme was that you should do your research, cater the trip to your kids needs as well as your own and always have snacks ready because patience and hunger don’t go well together when you are five years old. Below are some of the things these parents shared with me as being great things to do with your kids in Reykjavík which I infused with our experience with the princess.
1) The pools
Here’s an important piece of information about kids, especially for those who don’t have them or don’t have access to pools where they live: Children love the water! Whether it’s jumping in puddles (which we have enough of, because of all the rain and all) or going head first into a crowded pool much to their parents’ dismay – most kids would move their address to the nearest pool if it was offered. They might even trade in a sibling for it.
If there’s one thing Iceland has in abundance it’s water. Hot and cold and everything in between. And we are very good at using that water so we have a wide range of pools to fit everyone’s taste. In Reykjavík we mostly have thermal pools and then in the summer you can also visit Nauthólsvík geothermal beach.
The great thing about the pools in Reykjavík is that we have plenty of them so if you are staying for a week you can visit a new one every day. Some of them have amazing slides, others great play areas but what they all have in common is that they are very kid-friendly.
Kids in Iceland learn to visit these magical places at a very young age when their parents dip them into the water in infant swim classes that are quite popular. Later on, when they start school, it’s part of the curriculum to learn how to swim so trips to the pool follow them from the first day of school until they graduate at 16.
Outside of Reykjavík you will find more touristy places like the Blue Lagoon and the likes along with natural pools you can bathe in. Just always be very careful with the natural pools as you never know the temperature of them and we want your whole family to return back from Iceland in one piece.
2) The Museums
I think we Icelanders sometimes suffer from an inferiority complex when it comes to our museums (and a lot of other thigns for that matter). People are not very excited about them, maybe because they never visit them, and we’re always comparing them museums in big cities with populations 10 times bigger than Reykjavík. Even if our National Museum is not exactly the British Museum or the Museum of Natural History in New York (both excellent museums) I think our museums are still worth visiting.
The National Museum and The Settlement Exhibition are both fun options for kids because even if they don’t like the history part these museums are both quite interactive and there’s a lot of cool features they can still enjoy. The National Museum,l in particular, is a great option for families with children. There are a lot of things to see and try without it being too overwhelming. hey also have a play area where kids can dress up as characters out of Icelandic history and the last time I visited they had a nice scavenger hunt that kids can do while their parents learn about the history of Iceland.
I’m also a big fan of the Árbær open air museum and remember it being my first choice when I was asked where I wanted to go as a kid. People sometimes mention the toy exhibition as an especially interesting part of the museum for their kids. The on a good day it’s just nice to walk around there and get some waffles and cream at the little cafe they have there.
There are more museums in Reykjavík and I haven’t visited them all. I like the art museums but understand that not all kids enjoy them as much as the grownups. The Reykjavík art museum often has events for kids on the weekends that I would probably check out with the princess if she was younger (and if I wasn’t always working). Some people mentioned Whales of Iceland as a good option for kids and even though I was not very impressed with it I can see how kids would like it. It’s also been a while since I went there so maybe they have updated it and fixed the things I had a problem with (like lack of information and interactivity).
Many museums have free entrance for kids so that is an additional bonus.
3) Just being outdoors
Although it may feel like you are stuck in this scene from Trainspotting when you try to drag your teens and tweens out to nature (just replace the angry rant about being Scottish with an angry rant about how you are the worst parent ever and alcohol bottles with smartphones) everyone should find something to love about being outdoors in Iceland.
In Reykjavík you can take long walks and enjoy all the amazing views surrounding the city or even visit the top of Hallgrímskirkja church for an overview. I personally love walking around in the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area where you have cute toy-like houses and amazing street art around every corner. There’s a great playground in Hljómskálagarður park, frisbee golf course in Klambratún park and little playgrounds on the other side of alleyways you’re not sure you’re supposed to walk down. Walking up and down Laugavegur, pressing your nose against the windows to see what’s on offer inside, and stopping for some hot chocolate and kleina at one of them many cafes is always popular too. The possibilities to be outdoors in Reykjavík are endless.
In summer the main streets are full of street performers and lovely folks enjoying the beautiful weather on outside tables by bars and restaurants (which is actually winter weather where you come from). Then if you are ready for some more intense nature you can hike Mount Esja or visit Heiðmörk nature reserve. You can rent bikes, do walking tours or even a Segway tour as someone suggested on Facebook.
Just remember that there’s no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothing!
4) Day tours
Although some of the day tours leaving from Reykjavík have age limits that is not the case for all of them. Whale watching tours, and puffin tours in summer, are always a great family activity and my family especially likes the sea angling tours from the old harbor (the princess like that much more than the whale watching tour we took her on).
For kids that are a little bit older, you can do a horse riding tour (the age limit is usually 5-6 years), ATV tours or even a Lava cave tour.
If you want to go further away from the city, most day tours that don’t include glacier hikes, snowmobiling, snorkeling and such would be OK for kids. Advice from parents that have done this before: pack snacks and try to choose tours that are shorter like the Golden Circle Express tour. The little ones just don’t have the patience to sit around on a bus for as long as we grown ups. Another good option, although it’s the usual 8-9 hours, is the Hot Golden Circle that includes a visit to the Secret Lagoon.
One thing I remember the princess loving, although it was kind of boring to us, was the Hop On Hop Off Reykjavík tour. It’s not the best way to see Reykjavík, and definitely not the best way to really experience it, but just being on the open top floor double-decker bus was enough for her. She was probably 8 at the time.
In the summer I also recommend renting a car to explore outside of Reykjavík because it gives you much more flexibility than the tours. You can also do it in winter but a lot of people would rather not because of the “colorful” weather we often experience during those months.
5) Laugadalur valley
If you are traveling to Reykjavík with young children I think Laugardalur valley is a great option. It’s not that big but offers a lot of things for younger kids like the petting zoo and the Reykjavík Family Park (huge playground basically). In the summer it can also be nice to visit the botanical gardens and in winter you can visit the skating rink which is also located in this area. Laugardalur valley is also the home of Laugadalur pool, the biggest and most popular pool in Reykjavík, so you can easily make a day out of it.
Also in Laugadalur is the Ásgrímur Sveinsson art museum. Although the art is probably going to be more interesting to the parents, the building itself is kind of neat and there are big sculptures in the garden that are always popular with kids who can’t fight the temptation to climb them.