Iceland with Kids – The Itinerary Roundup
Iceland often felt like a Willy Wonka adventure – chartreuse marshmallow moss; pots of smoky, boiling chocolate mud; rivers of crackling ice; holes in the ground exploding with scalding water that turns to froth; and azure lakes with floating blue diamonds. With all these unbelievable sights and a culture of belief in fairies and elves, Iceland is a natural destination for families. This Iceland Itinerary will help you plan your own trip.
Iceland isn’t a well-kept secret. The country has transformed its economic structure since the financial crisis in 2008 and is now struggling with being a little too amazing. They have more tourism than capacity and infrastructure to manage but, for better or worse, that is changing.
- Make sure to check out our Iceland reading list. One of my all-time favorites is on there.
- Rent a campervan. Because Beija says so in this post. Driving was easy, the roads were smooth (when you were on-road), and the maps we got at the rest stop gas station were very accurate.
- It is extremely expensive. Buying groceries was shocking.
- Going in summer? Bring eye shades so everyone can sleep. It is never dark.
- Be ready to initiate conversation if you want it. Icelanders are like me: introverted but friendly when engaged.
- Stop and hike everywhere, get off the main road! There are amazing things tucked behind every hill.
- Learn a few words that will help you navigate locations like jökull (volcano) and foss (waterfall), but almost all Icelanders speak English better than I do.
This is a map of our 14-day trip, starting in Reykjavík and looping all the way around the country. We took the first three days and went horseback riding in Þórsmörk (say Thor’s-mork, a mountain range named after the god Thor) then went back to Reykjavík for our campervan. That’s why you see the looping in the southwest. We weren’t actually lost. Since we had the campervan and cooked for ourselves most of the time you won’t find many restaurant or hotel recommendations here.
Summary of all the good stuff
Trip Length: Two weeks – 3 days on horseback and 11 days in the campervan
Time of year: Late June
Van rental: Camp Easy, but there are lots of others
Reykjavík: Laundromat Cafe, Tapas Barinn, Icelandic Fish & Chips, Fiskfelagid, Grillmarkadurinn, Bæjarins Beztu, and Snaps.
Thórsmörk: Íshestar horseback tours
Geysir: for the geyser
Fluðir: Gamla Laugin to swim and between Geysir and Fluðir, Friðheimar to eat
Skógafoss: for the waterfall
Heimaey: Ferry schedule and Eldheimar museum
Vik to Höfn: Kirkjubæjarklaustur for a walk, Kirkjugólf for the rocks, Vatnajökull/Svínasvellsjökull park and glacier hike, Jökulsárlón
Past Höfn: Brunnhóll for ice cream
Bakkagerði: Álfacafé for the best fish soup on the planet and visit the queen of the elves
Reykjahlið and Mývatn: Swim at Jarðböðin Nature Baths
Húsavík: Kaðlín Handicraft for local art
Vatnsnes Peninsula: Hvítserkur and Illugastadhir for walks
Bjarnarhofn: Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum
Borgarnes: The Settlement Centre museum
Vatnsnes Peninsula: Hvítserkur and Illugastadhir for walks
We landed in Reykjavík and started walking right away. Partly because if we didn’t there was a very real possibility that we’d fall asleep standing up. We cruised around the central downtown area checking out public art and leaping off of anything leapable.
We listened to an amazing organ musician in the beautiful, geometric Hallgrímskirkja church. It makes me a little dizzy going between the angles of these two photos – does it do that to you?
We watched groups of people jogging in party dresses.
And, of course, eating. Restaurants I’d recommend are Laundromat Cafe (great menu and ambiance) and Tapas Barinn (amazing variety and flavors). There is also the Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stands if you are so inclined. Our friend Anneli, a frequent Reykjavik traveler, recommended these spots too. Reservations might help. Icelandic Fish & Chips (on the fancy side, delicious), Fiskfelagid (fabulous), Grillmarkadurinn (same!), and Snaps (Nordic comfort food).
Our three-day horseback riding trip was perfect in every way. You can see a short photo essay here that captures more of it. Íshestar did a great job with everything. It was basic, but met every need. I usually like traveling independently, but when there are horses involved it goes beyond my skill set. I am having a hard time choosing which picture to show you so make sure to check out the photo essay above. All that Icelandic pony mane is irresistible. Riding past glaciers and having your horse swim icy, raging rivers with you astride is an experience that you shouldn’t turn down.
Driving the Circle Road
Day 1: Hveragerði, Geysir, Flúðir, and Skógafoss
We spent our first night in the campervan at a formal campsite in Hveragerði. We never had a problem finding a spot in a campground, but we were told that you can camp anywhere if you check in with the farmer who owns the land. Beija slept in the loft above the main area and the back seats folded out to make a bed for Jay and me. It was perfectly cozy and as the door says, “simply easy.” A nice shower to clean off the horse smell, a little rain to go on top of our bacon, and a monster peering out of the van.
We cruised up the road to the famous Geysir and got our first taste of tourist buses. Just as we parked our rig to check out the steaming hot pools and geysers three tour buses pulled up with loads of people. It was a little overwhelming, but Beija figured out how to get right next to the big event and yet be perfectly alone…put on your rain jacket and stand in the spray. She did get drenched, but that is what rain gear is for. Iceland isn’t big on warning signs so anything dumb you do is on you.
We decided after the tour bus experience that we were going to try to get more off the beaten path. And the Gamla Laugin hot pools in Flúðir was it! We were the only ones there most of the time and enjoyed a peaceful connection with the steamy water and the slimy bottom.