Iceland with a Toddler
If your toddler is anything like mine, then the world has the potential to be their playground. Give my kiddo some open space to run around, and he's more than thrilled. Iceland is such a wonderfully easy place to travel with babies, toddlers, and kids of all ages. The country is truly a natural playground, most activities can be enjoyed with kids in tow (and usually for free, depending on your child's age), getting around is a breeze, restaurants and hotels are extremely accommodating, and English is widely spoken.
My 1.5 year old son and I recently spent 6 days in this beautiful country, and his crazy, energetic little self had a great time. (I did too of course, but any parent knows that parenting in itself is perpetually exhausting no matter where you are.)
We flew from the east coast of the U.S. on Icelandair. Flights from anywhere on the east coast to Iceland take about 6 hours. The airline was pleasant and accommodating. Although he was booked as a lap child, we were able to secure an extra seat on both flights, making things so much easier for everyone. They also gave him a little activity bag when we boarded the plane.
Icelandair has also been promoting that you can add a free stopover in Iceland on your way to elsewhere in Europe. This means that, for example, you could book a flight originating from the U.S., stop in Iceland for a couple days, and then continue on to another city in Europe all on one plane ticket. Such a great way to see even more on your adventure!
What to Bring
I strive to be a minimalist when it comes to packing. Back in the old days, I could usually survive on just a backpack for any length of trip. However, little ones typically require much more stuff for any measure of time away. Regardless, I won't bring more than I can carry myself, especially if my husband isn't along for the adventure.
I brought a stroller, which was great to use in the airports and easy to push around Reykjavik. Keflavik Airport also has strollers that you can use free of charge. If I couldn't fit the stroller in a restaurant, I would simply leave it sitting outside. I also brought a carrier so that I could wear R when we were outside of the city. Depending on the age of your child, you may be able to get away with taking just the carrier and leaving the stroller at home.
I did not bring a car seat. It was simply more than I wanted to lug around. Buses and day tours were able to provide a perfectly nice car seat free of charge. Just verify with the company at the time of booking. I also rented a car for a couple days and was able to rent a car seat without any trouble. Do note that car seat laws are strict in Iceland for kids under age 2, so you will need to use one at all times if you have a little one.
We stayed at Airbnb's, and they were able to provide a pack and play for my son without any trouble. It seemed that most guesthouses that I looked at had cribs available for no extra charge.
Diapers, wipes, formula, and snacks are easy to come by in the supermarket. I brought some of these things along simply to save some money (Iceland is expensive!), but you could certainly get away with buying everything that you need on arrival.
As far as what to wear, we visited in October and found that the weather was chilly but not unbearable. Definitely pack layers, as weather can change quickly. I think it rained at some point almost every day, but not all day, and we didn't see any snow, except during our glacier trek (read on!). My son and I both had boots, a heavy winter jacket, a hat, and gloves. Long pants and sweaters or thermal shirts were generally sufficient underneath.
What to Do
This was roughly our itinerary, which I found to be a good balance of city and country. Iceland is known for its beautiful scenery, but I also didn't want to spend our whole trip in a car/bus or have to take our luggage somewhere different every night.
Day 1: We arrived at 6:30 am, so we took the Flybus to Reykjavik, dropped our luggage, and explored the city until we could check into our room. It was easy to find cafes and restaurants as we wandered. Reykjavik has lots of great museums depending on the age of your kids. My son especially loved the Whales of Iceland Museum, and I especially enjoyed the Tales of Iceland Museum. You might also enjoy the Viking Maritime Museum or the National Museum of Iceland. The best part is, most of the sights of Reykjavik are within a 30 minute walk of downtown.
Day 2: I arranged to spend another day in Reykjavik so that my son and I could both sleep in and adjust to the time change. We found that there is lots to do within Reykjavik that little ones will enjoy, and we really only got to do about half of the things that I had in mind. How much you accomplish will definitely depend on the age of your kids and how motivated you are.
In the morning, we strolled around Tjornin Lake and watched the ducks. There is also a playground right by the lake. We then made a quick stop at the public library to escape a storm. The library has a wonderful play area upstairs for babies and toddlers and books in multiple languages.
After lunch, we stopped at the Harpa Concert Hall and Hallgrimskirkja Church and strolled around Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur, two of the main shopping streets. You might also head to one of Iceland's awesome pools. Two great ones in Reykjavik are Vesterbaer and Laugardalslaug. There is also a nice zoo in the city.
The Perlan has a viewing platform and an underground glacier cave. While you're nearby, you can also stop at Nautholsvik, a geothermal heated beach. Unfortunately, the Perlan was under construction when we were there.
Depending on the time of year that you're visiting, you can also take a whale and puffin sightseeing cruise from the harbor or go on a Northern Lights tour.
Day 3: No trip to Iceland is complete without a lap around the Golden Circle. This is probably the most popular activity within Iceland and would be very easy and leisurely to drive on your own. I opted for a bus tour so that I could hang with my son and entertain him during the drive. This was also less expensive than me renting a car for the day, as little ones are generally free to take on these sorts of tours.
At minimum, you'll want to stop at Geysir, the largest hot spring in the country; Gullfoss, one of Iceland's incredible waterfalls; and Thingvellir, the national park where you can see the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. This loop is a great sample of the nature of the country.
Day 4: This was, by far, the most epic day of our trip! We went on a glacier trek inside of Langjokull Glacier, the second largest glacier in Iceland. I booked with the company 'Into the Glacier.' They had great reviews (which I now agree with), and they were also kindly willing to accommodate my toddler.
The day started with pick up in Reykjavik and a drive to their base camp, Husafell. The bus also made a couple other stops along the way to see some geysers and waterfalls. After lunch in Husafell, we were driven in monster trucks up to the entrance of the ice caves. Our entertaining guide led us on an hour trek inside of the glacier and explained the geology along the way. The trek was simply stunning and unlike anything I've done before.
If you are traveling with little kids, do realize that this day requires a lot of driving time. If you have a baby or toddler, you'll absolutely want to use a carrier for them for the time inside the glacier. Both of those things said, this was definitely the highlight of our trip and such a unique experience that I would highly recommend!
Day 5: In the morning, we picked up a rental car and drove along the Ring Road down the southern coast towards Vik. There is simply so much to see along the way that it would be impossible to stop at all of it. Our first stop was in Hveragerdi, a cute little town with some shops and eateries best known for its geothermal activity. You can also wait and stop in Selfoss, just another 15 minutes past Hveragerdi. Just north of Selfoss, you'll find the Kerid crater lake, a quick detour off the Ring Road.
Not far past here, we made an unplanned stop to meet some of the wild Icelandic horses. There were about a dozen of them hanging out right off the side of the road, posing for photos with visitors. My son is an animal lover and particularly enjoyed petting the friendly horses.
Another hour down the road, we stopped at Seljalandsfoss, a beautiful waterfall with a nice hiking trail behind the falls. Just past here, you'll also find Skogafoss, another great waterfall with stairs that lead to a viewing platform at the top. The falls are free to access, but you'll pay for parking if you are in a rental car.
As we continued down towards Vik, we stopped at Reynisfjara, a black sand beach. The geology here is so cool and unique and definitely worth a stop. Just watch your kids around the waves, as I understood the rip current to be especially dangerous in this spot.
Had the weather cooperated with us, I had also planned to stop at Dyrholaey, a lighthouse on a cliff offering beautiful views of the sea. Unfortunately, we were battling thunderstorms by this point (and I was battling a sleepy toddler).
We spent the night in an Airbnb west of Vik, which was the perfect stopping point for us. Dining options were sparse along the way, but they do exist. I had packed a lunch for us, and we ended the day at a random, cozy cafe right on Route 1 for dinner.
Had we had another day, I would have spent it on the southern coast and explored further west beyond Vik. We had enough time to see the highlights without exhausting ourselves, but there is so much to see in this part of Iceland.
Day 6: On our last day, we headed back to Keflavik and stopped at Viking World, a museum with a life size viking ship and a nice kids area. This is a good stop if you have an hour or two to spend before heading onward to the airport, as the airport was only 10 minutes from here.
Another popular stop if your children are at least 2 years old (or if you have another adult to take turns with) is the Blue Lagoon, a luxury geothermal spa. Do realize that this is one of the most popular destinations in Iceland, and you'll need to buy tickets in advance.
Of course, you could also make either of these stops at the beginning of your trip. There is a shuttle at the airport that takes visitors straight to the Blue Lagoon if you'd like to do things in reverse.
Traveling anywhere with young kids is never restful or relaxing. However, I would say that Iceland is the easiest place that I have visited with my son. If you are looking for a great destination for all ages, then look no further.
Have you been to Iceland? What was your favorite experience?