Melissa from A Little Time, and a Keyboard is guest posting today and sharing her favorite family finds in Reykjavik, Iceland. I am insanely jealous because I have wanted to visit Iceland for a long time, and after reading this post, I want to book a flight tomorrow! Warning: after your read this, you’re going to want to book a ticket too!
Family Finds in Reykjavik, Iceland
Before our first trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, I was nervous that we would be in over our heads with a young child in tow. However, we were entirely entranced from the moment we arrived–so much so that we returned the following year. Iceland is such a magical island full of unique landscapes and geological activity. How can you not be captivated?
Exploring the world’s northernmost capital city
Iceland is all about exploration and Reykjavik is a magnificent place to start. We visited during summer when it is light around the clock. It was surreal to walk around at 10PM without a hint of darkness! We loved walking through the capital taking in the scenery and interesting sculptures throughout. One of our favorite spots is the serene lake Tjörnin filled with plenty of ducks and swans!
There is a lot to do in the world’s northernmost capital city! One of our favorite excursions was to the Reykjavik Family Park and Zoo. You will not find a huge range of animals in the zoo—which makes sense due to the climate. However, you will become familiar with animals typical to Iceland and the harsh climate. We enjoyed visiting with the Icelandic horses and seals as well as exploring the petting zoo. The Family Park portion is a fun and active place for family play with plenty of places for kids to climb, jump and more! We loved a portion where we had to use ropes to pull ourselves across a stream!
Next to the zoo is the Reykjavik Botanical Garden. The garden is not overly huge but I was amazed by the range of plants that were present considering the island’s challenging climate and topography. Many of the plants actually grew within rocks and bloomed brilliantly! The botanic garden is free, so how can you say no! Visiting the two attractions together make for a nice afternoon.
Learning about the Vikings
The 871 +/- 2 The Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik was one of our favorite attractions. Iceland was originally settled by the Vikings. However, if you travel to Iceland in hopes of seeing Viking structures you will be disappointed. Constructed of peat, their structures did not survive. However, some ruins have been discovered throughout the country. This particular exhibition shows the foundations of a Viking longhouse. The exhibit is interactive and engages you from the moment you step is using sound and light to enhance the ruins.
A view from the top
One of the most prominent structures in the city is Hallgrimskirkja which is the largest church in Iceland. The church truly makes a graceful addition to Reykjavik panorama and the perfect perch for viewing the city. My daughter enjoyed a few laughs while trying to peek from behind the church’s clock. Also on church grounds is a magnificent statue of Leif Erikson who was born in Iceland.
Visiting the harbor
Although it can get quite nippy, walking along the harbor area is pleasant. The architecture is interesting—some brightly colored. Plus, you can take in views of the opera house, the iconic Viking Ship sculpture and the Hofdi House where Reagan and Gorbachev met for the 1986 Reykjavik Summit.
When in Reykjavik, you do need to experience sea life! Several tours into the harbor are available including Puffin Island visits and whale watching expeditions. Puffin Island was particularly memorable because you just feel like a swarm of these adorable birds are flying all around. Because of their body structures, they need to flap their wings rapidly to stay in the air. Cute to see! Puffins are only found in nature a few places in the world, so a great experience!
If you are looking for a slice of a rural setting without really leaving Reykjavik, Videy Island is the place. We visited on a horse riding tour and the island’s landscape is breathtaking. You can also visit for hikes on the island or maybe even enjoy a community event there. The island holds some art pieces including Imagine Peace by Yoko Ono. There is also a little café where you can enjoy a waffle and hot cocoa! Videy is a short ferry ride from Reykjavik.
Exploring outside the city
I recommend exploring outside of the city as well. The iconic Blue Lagoon is near Keflavik Airport so a range of tours can take you either right before or after a flight or even in the middle of your vacation. We actually took a one day layover on our way to Paris once to get over our jet lag at the relaxing spa!
From Reykjavik, you can take all sorts of tours around Iceland to enjoy the raw, natural beauty. A popular tour is the Golden Circle which includes stops at Geysir after which all geysers are named, Thingvellir where the Eurasian and North American plates split and the magnificent waterfall Gullfoss! There are many tours you can take and there are plenty of options depending on how active you would like to be. Hiking on a glacier. Check! Relaxing in a geothermal spa. Check! Riding Icelandic horses. Check! You can also rent a car, which is pretty easy in Iceland, and explore on your own.
Where to eat
When we initially planned our first trip to Reykjavik, we were nervous about finding food options for our daughter. I am happy to report that there were no issues! We love Café Paris in Reykjavik and have eaten there several times. Café Paris is the type of place where you can get soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees if you like. I definitely recommend the lamb stew if you are looking for something more traditional.
The hot dog is one of Iceland’s national foods—so what kid will turn that away? We love Bæjarins Beztu Pyslur right on the harbor. What looks like a small stand is one of the most popular restaurants in Iceland. Every time we have visited, there has been a long line for pyslurs (hot dogs). But, the pyslurs are the most affordable food in Iceland and really great when you just need a quick bite. Bæjarins Beztu Pyslur is an institution and has been open since 1937—well worth a visit!
Everyone asks me how to dress in Iceland. Layering is definitely key because the weather can be very changeable. If you are going on any of the sea tours, it does get quite cold on the North Atlantic so be prepared. Having rain resistant outer layers and water resistant pants that you can easily put on when trekking are useful. We did wear gloves and hats during our summer visits. However, there were times when we didn’t need them.
A magical land you will not forget
This year, my dream came true. Icelandair announced that it will begin flying out of my home airport of O’Hare next year. Once you have been to Iceland, you will want to return to the magical island. My whole family has been craving a return visit to find some balance and tranquility while enjoying Iceland’s inspiring landscapes. Now that Icelandair will be flying out of Chicago, we are hoping to fit on a return trip sooner rather than later!
Have you been to Iceland? How about it, do you want to visit now?
Melissa Schwartz is a contributor and editor of A Little Time, and a Keyboard, a hyper-local blog in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. She also manages the social media for Norton’s U.S.A., a general store in Barrington, Illinois only selling products made in the U.S.A. She has a passion for traveling a little off the beaten path and finding gems that others have overlooked. She especially enjoys creating special travel memories with her husband and 10-year-old daughter.