Traveling To Iceland With Kids
YOUR GUIDE TO ICELAND
If you haven't seen Iceland, you haven't yet seen the best our planet has to offer. Pure and simple!
Family Vacation In Iceland:
A Wondrous, Alien Beauty
The island nation of Iceland, with its abundance of unearthly landscapes, suits travelers of various creeds alike: for the newbies and the solo travelers, the landscape photographers, the seasoned adventurers, the folks on family vacation with kids, as well as older folks. The locals are amazingly friendly, the country is among the most progressive in the world, the scenery is something to die for, and air tickets are generally cheap; in other words, you don't have a good excuse not to visit the country. We've visited the country multiple times, and in multiple seasons, every time with our kids in tow, so have excellent tips to share with those planning their trip to Iceland with kids.
"We've visited the country multiple times, and in multiple seasons, so have excellent tips to share."
True to its fame, Iceland is indeed a land of fire and ice. All of Mother Nature’s bounties have filled the nation to its brim. Its entrails promise lava fields galore, and the oval-shaped coastline around the country is studded with untold number of scruffy fjords. At times, active volcanoes spew fire and debris, their belching smoke enveloping the skies above Europe for days, much to the chagrin of vacationers and a stalled airline industry.
If you ask me to sum up the beauty of Iceland in one word, I’d probably use the word magical, and that magic is complete with the flashy surreal dance of the multicolored Northern Lights above. This by itself is truly impressive, considering that the country doesn’t own a single theme-park of any kind. One might honestly wonder how kids survive without a form of entertainment that’s been taken for granted in our western society; but what Iceland offers is simply nature at its best.
Bits of Icelandic glaciers look like ice sculptures, and many come ashore to awe you with their larger-than-life embodiment. Then there are the Icelandic horses. These cute, short, stout creatures that are not found anywhere else in the world will earn your family’s immediate admiration just by virtue of their appearance against this fairytale backdrop. Whichever direction you look, the scenery is simply astounding, and no adjective – whether real or imagined – could frankly do justice to it..
"The scenery is simply astounding, and no adjective, whether real or imagined, could frankly do justice to it."
The nation's safety records are unparalleled. And I mean quantitatively unparalleled, since for the tenth continuous year running, the country has been the winner of being as the safest place on the planet. This means that going to Iceland with kids is safer than taking your kids to any other place in the world. The word is that you’ll find little kids strapped in strollers near restaurants and street corners minding their own business, while the parents are elsewhere minding theirs. Even the police don’t carry a gun; and since they’re never really busy, occasionally they’re happy to act as cat rescuers, helping little kids retrieve their pets stuck on trees.
And if this isn’t the epitome of safety, I’m not sure what is.
"The blueness of the ice and its transparency arise from the chemical composition of water. But the macrostructures they create, the bubbles, the glass-like edifices, are out-of-this-world."
Traveling to Iceland with kids has never been easier in the history of travel. What I’m trying to say is, kids make for great travel companions to the country. If your kids have school vacations for even a week, a short trip to Iceland will be rejuvenating. As I’ve said to my friends countless times, traveling to Iceland at least once in your lifetime should almost be considered a sacred duty, and if possible, should be repeated multiple times.
Our kids fell in love with the country the moment we headed out of Reykjavik in our rented car. Not too far from the airport we came across wonderfully cute and mysterious mossy green lava fields. This was a unique experience to my naturalist kids, who made us stop by the roadside to explore the mossy green that surrounded us. Iceland is a small country and when visiting with your family, you could basically drive around the entire nation in just a day or two. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to experience even a tiny fraction of what it has to offer on such a short trip; traveling around Iceland with kids should easily take your family weeks, if not months, if you’d really like to see them all. Case in point: on each of our Iceland family vacation we felt the days were never enough. And if you consider how different the country looks and behaves during different seasons that might give you an excuse to do just that.
Until then, here are some of the many things you can do in Iceland with your family and kids.
"If you love to travel, then traveling to Iceland at least once in your lifetime should almost be considered a sacred duty, and if possible, should be repeated multiple times."
Magnetism Of A Surreal Kind
A major attraction of Iceland has long been the stunning Northern Lights, especially during its long Arctic nights. It’s ironic then that there are places in the world that will offer you a more reliable viewing condition than Iceland. Even then, the backdrop of the unearthly landscapes of Iceland can be rarely matched. If your kids have witnessed fireworks on the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve, tell them this is fireworks of a different kind, a more dazzling and unforgettable one, and one in which there isn’t any fire of any kind. The science behind it is also quite exciting and might kindle kids’ brains, so being the nerds that we are, we’ve gone ahead and done some explaining you’ll find interesting.
There are several resources available that can reliably track the prevalence of Northern Lights and the geographical area from which they’ll be best visible on a certain night. One of these is from the Icelandic Met Office, and we’ve found it to be pretty helpful during our family vacation. An aurora is nothing like a bolt of lightning as I’ve found many of us wrongly assume. Instead, its light swirl around in the sky like a scarf on a windy day. And the colors? Well, that you’ll need to see for yourself. But remember that much like the colorful NASA images you see of distant galaxies and nebulas, the best pictures of the aurora borealis are achieved through the lens of a camera, since the human eye cannot tease out those details.
So, it goes without saying that getting decent shots of the aurora would be among the top things to do on your Iceland family vacation. But in spite of the images you see on flashy nature magazine covers, shooting underneath a dark sky where your subject is nothing but dancing light can be tricky to say the least. This is why we give you a detailed account of the correct techniques you’d need along with the photography gear that would enable you to get your award-winning shot being selected upon returning from a family trip to Iceland.
"We give you a detailed account of the correct techniques you’d need to get your award-winning shot."
Waterfalls Beyond Words
Among the many, many places our family has been fortunate to visit with our kids, we’ve come face to face with countless waterfalls. Yet, no place has kindled that awe-inspiring majesty, poetic beauty, and yes, otherworldly serenity of Iceland’s waterfalls – all wrapped up in a neat and tidy package.
"Half the fun is in the gentle walk you take towards the grandeur and power that they exude."
"There are many great waterfalls in Iceland, some of which are accessible only after a long and arduous hike."
Indeed, planned well, even a few days of Iceland family vacation with your kids would let you see all the major waterfalls. Not that you should rush, since half the fun is in the gentle walk you take towards the grandeur and power that they exude. Indeed, there are many great waterfalls in Iceland, some of which are accessible only after a long and arduous hike. Thankfully, the most attractive are all quite easily accessible for families with kids. If you’re on the Golden Loop going anticlockwise, here’s how your journey will unfold.
Seljalandsfoss will be the first one you’ll see, and boy, what a beauty she is! As you walk up to it you’ll see the trail going behind the fall from where you a rather strange vantage point – from behind the waterfall! The kids loved this view from the other side of the waterfall so much that they were willing to get soaked in the cold mist. And fans of Tintin will recall him as having swept inside a similar waterfall in the book Prisoners of the Sun, a classic children's comic by Hergé. Unlike the story, however, there’s no buried treasure here, but rest assured that when the sun shines inside the shallow cave behind this waterfall, you do get to see some ridiculous golden light that’s no less hypnotic.
"When the sun shines inside the shallow cave behind the waterfall, you get to see some ridiculous golden light that’s hypnotic."
Next up: Skógafoss. This is the one that always keeps at least a couple of pet rainbows on itself, something our kids invariably love. Not only that, the uniqueness lies in the fact that there’s a considerable amount of open space leading up to the base of this fall, so you get to experience the massive pillar of water as you walk right towards it. Don’t forget to climb those stairs to the right to take a peek from above the waterfall to get a different view altogether.
"Skógafoss is the waterfall that always keeps at least a couple of pet rainbows on itself."
Moving eastward on the Golden Road you’ll see Svartifoss, which is as much of a natural architecture as it is a waterfall. inside the remarkable Vatnajökull National Park, its cliff is bordered on all sides by lofty black basaltic columns which bear resemblance to pipes of a giant organ.
"It is truly a mesmerizing work of art from the infinitely creative repertoire of Mother Nature."
The next two major waterfalls in fact exist as a twin. Dettifoss is unquestionably the most powerful waterfall in Europe and clearly looks more menacing of the two. One unique feature of this fall is that you and your kids can actually walk right up to the gushing water’s edge without barriers of any kind which is quite cool (but probably a bit risky) if you asked me.
"Dettifoss is unquestionably the most powerful waterfall in Europe."
Although the twin falls are situated within a mile of one another, you’d need to cross Dettifoss in order for you to get to the next one. Just note that this isn’t one of those kid-friendly hikes that should be taken lightly given that the path is moderately treacherous, with jagged boulders lining the way. At the end of this short hike, which your kids might or might not be able make, you’ll find Selfoss, which, overshadowed by its monster twin Dettifoss, exists in relative anonymity. But don’t be fooled by its many-mouthed appearance and apparent calm – even though this one has a great deal of open space around it, in certain seasons it does have the reputation of transforming into a formidable force.
"Twin Selfoss, overshadowed by monster Dettifoss, exists in relative anonymity."
As you climb back up on your route you come across gorgeous Godafoss. Don’t be put off by its “classic” appearance, because this is very likely seen as the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland, and that’s saying something for a country that specializes in waterfalls.
"Don’t be put off by the “classic” appearance of Godafoss, because this is seen as the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland."
Your family’s last stop in the waterfall tour would be the famed Gullfoss, located a mere two hours from the capital Reykjavik. This waterfall can be considered as existing in two stages, the first being a shorter cascade, followed by the second drop in between the canyon walls; due to this, the fall appears to magically vanish before your eyes.
"Gullfoss appears to magically vanish before your eyes."
Of course, there are many other wonderful waterfalls to be seen on your Iceland trip, but if you’ve seen the beauty and diversity of these seven most prominent ones, you should be proud to have seen some of the most beautiful falls in the world on such a short vacation trip.
A Marvelous Thing
On any family vacation trip, and especially when active kids are involved, wide-open spaces are necessary to keep things sane along the way, and here in Iceland, although wide-open spaces aren't that hard to find, you'll get a real taste of that freedom once you step into the Thingvellir National Park. I’m sure that your kids will be excited to learn that this is the marker from where the continental drift had pushed away the North American tectonic plate toward its merry way, splitting from its Eurasian counterpart. You’ll actually be able to see the fault lines that shows you where our planet's crust was split in two. Icelanders also consider the place their spiritual hub, one that has garnered attention for over a millennium, much of it catapulted by the Vikings.
Although chances are remote, your eagle-eyed kids might be lucky enough to spot some extremely rare mammals in this region, including the Arctic fox. Fingers crossed!
"Your eagle-eyed kids might be lucky to spot some extremely rare mammals, including the Arctic fox. Fingers crossed!"
Overcrowding in the park has been of some concern lately. The flora and fauna surrounding Thingvellir rift valley are quite fragile and with the explosion of family travel to Iceland has sustained enormous pressure.
In other words, traveling to Iceland with kids gives you the privilege to see firsthand the wonders of nature, but also some responsibilities along with that. And families like us can care and preserve that by being mindful of our activities. Perhaps some of the simplest of these are done by following marked trails and keeping our kids under a short leash. Don’t worry, if your kids are like ours who go out of the way to care for the environment, then they’re the ones who will remind our generation to follow the letter of the law and preserve the crumbling ecosystem.
The Blue Blob Appears
Strokkur Geyser in Iceland is famous for all the same reasons as Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, where you might have also taken your kids on family vacations. But know that this Icelandic geyser also has a few other tricks up its sleeve. And while Old Faithful erupts once every hour-and-a-half, Strokkur does so dutifully roughly every six minutes. So, yes, if your kids tend to run low on patience, visiting Strokkur would be a better fit for the family.
Some of the other noteworthy features that give Strokkur an edge over Old Faithful is the intense turquoise colors that show up in slow motion right before each eruption, as well as the fact that you can approach this geothermal outburst much closer. yes, most important of all, at least from our own family’s perspective, is that anytime of the year you’re planning to visit, you can rest assured to receive much less crowd.
There are several other geysers in Iceland, such as the Great Geysir, which are definitely worth visiting with your kids. In fact, the entire country sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, so with an abundance of geothermal energy it’s a no-brainer for the Icelanders to adopt this as their main form of energy supply.
"The Great Geysir is another prominent attraction that is definitely worth visiting."
"Icelanders have adopted geothermal energy as their main source of energy supply."
In many ways, Iceland is the model country for renewable energy.
The Clowns Of The Sea
On a family trip to Iceland during the summer season, you should ask your kids to look up towards the sky to see if anything’s moving. Chances are that with better eyesight and greater curiosity than adults, they’ll be able to spot a clownish feathered flyer. Very unlike anything they’ve seen, this bird will likely be the Atlantic puffin.
"There are customized puffin tours that are determined to show you all you’ve ever wanted to know about these odd-looking birds."
If your kids start to complain that they’re the only rare and unfortunate ones to not be able to see this bird on this trip, rest assured there are customized puffin tours that are determined to show you all you’ve ever wanted to know about these odd-looking birds. So, how does the life cycle of an Atlantic puffin look liked? Well, it turns out that they have a compelling story to tell you if you’re willing to listen.
Iceland happens to be the breeding grounds for more than half of the entire puffin population of the world. Ornithologists think there are as many as 10 million puffins in this island alone. Birdwatchers clamor for space as the adults return to their nests adorned with a mouthful supply of neatly lined up fish. These are gregarious birds, noisy as they congregate, but lead solitary lives during the winter out in the open ocean.
"Puffins return to their nests adorned with a mouthful supply of neatly lined up fish."
A Beach Of Scattered Diamonds
When you’ve imagined the beauty of Iceland, I bet you’ve thought about the summer months. But for the other families who have already visited Iceland once in summer and wish to check it out a second time, or if for families of brave souls who don’t mind a little adventure, then come to Iceland in the winter. I promise you that it’ll blow your mind away.
One neat experience you can reliably count on is viewing the wonderfully strange shard of ice hanging out on the black sand beaches of Jökulsárlón. As you step around them you will feel you’re in a museum or art gallery.
The stunning crystalline appearance of these huge and abstract forms look more attractive than any diamond would. And they’re free! Your kids will have loads of fun as they explore, touch, taste, climb, and play around these pristine structures. Unfortunately, the rest of the family will have to be content with simply taking pictures of them in the act. Before you leave this place, plan to catch a glimpse of either a sunrise or a sunset from this place, they’re beyond awesome.
"Kids will have fun as they explore, touch, taste, and climb these pristine structures."
"Plan to catch either a sunrise or a sunset from this place, they’re beyond awesome."
"The rest of the family will have to be content with simply taking pictures of them in the act."
If you walk across the bridge to the other side of the road, you’ll find more glaciers; these aren’t transparent like those on Diamond Beach, but the light reflecting off of them gives a spectacular bluish-white color. Inevitably, there will be tripods and cameras lined up at the edge, and if the time is near sunset or sunrise, you can bet that they'll be vying for the best spot. Yes, the price of real estate during these times can be exorbitant.
Locally, this place has long been known as the Diamond Beach, and that name has never been in doubt. The place is ever-changing, so if you return the following morning, your kids will find that the “diamond” crystal they climbed the day before has vanished, while there are newer designs that need to be conquered. Quite like snowflakes, no two of these are ever exactly the same.
"Quite like snowflakes, no two crystals are ever exactly the same."
The Rugged Sentinel
If Iceland feels to you like an alien planet, then Vík is what’s most of all contributing to that feeling. Its popularity, like Iceland itself, has skyrocketed in the recent past, and for good reasons. Its black sand beaches are the main picturesque attractions, but the quaint village of Vík by itself is an interesting place. Most families, however, come to Vík for experiencing its surreal beaches.
Seasonally, this is a great place for birdwatchers; other than puffins, which are the most common, you’ll get to see other feathered friends, such as fulmars and auks. Finding seals near the shore isn’t uncommon, but if you’re lucky, the kids might even be able to spot dolphins from the shore.
"Vík is also a great place for all kinds of outdoor adventures."
Vík is also a great place for all kinds of outdoor adventures. For many of these, all family members can join in, including little kids. Nearby, you can go on a guided trip for a hike up the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. If you’re more adventurous you can go kayaking or snowmobiling near the Katla Volcano. Then there’s ziplining and paragliding for all the non-kids in the family. Lastly, going on a horse-riding tour along the black sandy beach can give you a kind of satisfaction that’s hard to get anywhere else in the world.
"If your family is into astrophotography, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to capture the arm of the Milky Way from the beach. And there’s always the glamour of shooting the auroras against the backdrop of those outlandish outcrops."
While traveling to Iceland with kids, our family has had the good fortune of visiting Vík in the winter as well as the summer, and this part of Iceland has always been a hit with the kids. If anyone in your family is into astrophotography, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to capture the arm of the Milky Way from the beach. And there’s always the glamour of shooting the auroras against the backdrop of those outlandish outcrops. For these activities, the best months are during the winter season, and the best time to bring your family and kids to the beach for this activity is during the wee hours of the morning. My expert advice: bring flashlights along, don’t lose sight of your kids, and stay safe.
A word of caution around the sea here as it pertains to your kids. It can get quite rough, to put it mildly. What’s so interesting is that if you drew a straight line pointing south from this part of Iceland, the only significant land mass you’re going to hit is the frozen continent of Antarctica. In other words, the tidal waves here get the entire length of the Atlantic to gain strength and can be unpredictable at times. But it’s generally safe for your kids to run around and have fun, and there are also weird-looking rocky caves and especially hexagonal structures that make Vík so famous.
The Triumph Of The Lava Fields
The moss-covered lava fields are another bizarre factor of Iceland that has always intrigued me. First, you can’t view these during the winter as they remain completely ice-covered. But if you’re in Iceland over the summer or shoulder months, you can’t miss these if you’re driving out of the Keflavik International Airport.
This green and spongy growth over the lava fields and to my knowledge isn’t seen anywhere else in the world. So by all means, pull up on the side of the road and admire the unending green. Then, capture some memorable pictures of this bizarre landscape before moving on. But don’t forget to remind your kids not to step on them. These take many years to grow, and stomping on them will make the damage irreversible.
"Capture some memorable pictures of this bizarre landscape before moving on."
A Translucent Dream
Just as the green lava fields are a very much summer affair, your next candidate is only a winter attraction, reminding you once again why you must bring your kids and family back in Iceland during multiple seasons.
"Visiting an ice cave can be a breathtaking, overwhelming, and humbling experience, because you get to see, touch, and feel the innards of a glacier."
But visiting an ice cave? That’s a breathtaking, overwhelming, and humbling experience, because you get to see, touch, and feel the innards of a glacier. So if your family trip to Iceland is between late November and mid-March, this should definitely be an activity high up on your list of must-do’s (I know, Iceland simply has too many of these must-do’s). A family selfie in the ice cave would give you a lot of bragging rights. Besides, with the amount of ice you’ll tread in the monster trucks that get you here, your kids are going to love it.
"A family selfie in the ice cave would give you a lot of bragging rights."
Keep in mind, however, that ice cave tours are greatly dependent on weather, and several days of relatively warm local weather, or frequent rains might bring an end to your tour even before it started. It’s a good idea to warn the kids beforehand so that there’s no strained relations in the family.