Iceland is a hidden gem in the Atlantic ocean that people have only recently begun to discover. As an industry, tourism is just finding its legs. Before Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010, there were only a few hundred thousand people per year visiting the country. That number has recently skyrocketed to around 2 million. I would caution that Iceland is by no means overcrowded (France had over 80 million tourists in 2017 as a comparison) but there is certainly a right and wrong way to see Northern Lights in Iceland, hidden ice caves, the Golden Circle, glaciers, and volcanoes. It’s especially important when you only have a limited time and want to give your kids a once in a lifetime experience. We’ve asked Ryan Connolly of Hidden Iceland to share his best tips for how to plan an Iceland vacation with kids and here’s what he had to say.
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How to Plan a Trip to Iceland with Kids
Traveling to Iceland with your family has a bonding quality that is hard to explain until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Visitors often express how their kids can’t stop talking about their time in Iceland. Whether it’s gazing at the Northern Lights in a secluded farm Guest House after a day traveling along the south coast, or entering a 5000 year old Hidden Iceland with rainbow colors spread across the inner walls, only hours after bathing in the Blue Lagoon. Even teens who visit take an interest in how to become a glacier guide or volcanologist after hiking on a Hidden Iceland that’s flowing down from the tallest volcano in the country, Oræfajökull.
So here are a few tips that we always offer to families visiting Iceland with kids, wanting that perfect experience:
1. Opt for a private Iceland tour
I am of course a little biased since I run an immersive travel company, Hidden Iceland, that specializes in these kinds of trips, but to be honest Iceland is far bigger than it seems (around the same size as England) and there are so many incredible sights to see along winding and difficult roads (especially in winter with potentially bad weather).
Why not take the stress out of your travels and let a skilled and passionate guide show you around the country? The Golden Circle, along with the Blue Lagoon, are the busiest area for tourists. Both for good reason, as these sites are unbelievable. Erupting geysers, crashing waterfalls and shifting tectonic plates. That doesn’t mean the Golden Circle in Iceland is too busy though.
Our little company does the whole ‘circle’ in reverse to avoid the worst of the big bus company routes. Instead of queuing to get into the Blue Lagoon we take a dip in the Secret Lagoon just as it opens in the morning for a moment of calm before heading to the Friðheimar tomato farm for lunch among the tomato plants. This one day trip from Reykjavik also stops at the famous Gullfoss waterfalls and Þingvellir National Park.
2. Make your own Iceland adventure
Action packed should be the word used to describe your trip to Iceland, not rushed. Make sure that you are not simply checking things off a list. Many tourists make the mistake of trying to travel all the way to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in one day from Reykjavik. That’s 750 kilometers round trip. That just isn’t a good idea with kids. Not a good idea for any age in all honesty.
I suggest breaking up the drive with multiple stops and including some action. On our 2 day trip to the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon we include strolling along the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, walking along the Fjaðrárgljúfur gorge (made famous by Justin Bieber), and sneaking behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall all the while making our way to the Black Diamond Beach and the Glacier Lagoon. The following day as we drive home we spend half of the day hiking on a moving glacier, suitable for 10 years and up. If you have very little ones then other fun activities can easy being swapped in if you opt for a private adventure.
3. Where to stay in Iceland with kids
This is a tricky one. There are few places, even in Reykjavik that offer family rooms. Airbnb apartments may well be the best option for you while in the city or just browsing Travelocity for deals. Once you are out on the road, triple rooms can easily be found, but if you are looking for a room with 4 beds or adjoining rooms it can be difficult.
The quaint and comfortable places we stay on our multi-day trips are family friendly, but even these struggle with the aforementioned. So the most important thing to do is plan in advance so you can at the least get rooms next to each other. When searching for the Northern Lights in Iceland, or the midnight sun along the south coast we love to take families to the comfortable Hotel VOS, or the luxurious Hotel Ranga and Hotel UMI. In the far southeast of the country, staying overnight at the secluded Lilja Guest House or the more affluent Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon never disappoints.
4. The best time to visit Iceland with kids
There is no wrong time to visit Iceland, but of course people have many different factors that play into their decisions, so here’s a quick run down of why you should come in certain times of year.
Summer in Iceland (June to August) is marked by three characteristics that, in my view, make this season great for families. There are long, warm daylight hours searching for the midnight sun, newly-born lambs bouncing around the fields, and spotting puffins during mating season. The only drawback is that the summer is one of the busier, and more expensive times of year.
If you visiting Iceland in winter (November to March) you will find two main activities that are great for families: hunting for the Northern Lights in secluded areas of the country and discovering winter ice caves. On Hidden Iceland’s two day Iceland itinerary you get to do both. The main concern for these months is that the weather can be unpredictable. Wind and rain can cause the best planned trip to be delayed or cancelled. On the flip side you might also get an all day sunset and snow covered mountains.
Travel to Iceland in the shoulder season can be amazing (April/May/September/October). These months have the benefit of being almost as warm as the summer but being a lot quieter. April and early May are especially great for finding moments of solitude in otherwise busy attractions.
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About the writer
Hi, I’m Ryan Connolly; Co-Founder, Glacier Guide, and Marketing Manager of Hidden Iceland. I’ve guided in multiple countries around the world and stepped foot on all 7 continents. I’ve made Iceland my home for the past few years. My passion for science, the outdoors, nature, glaciers and volcanoes has led me to study and write about many aspects of my adopted home, Iceland. I’m most at home walking on glaciers with families who are ready for an adventure and a learning experience. If you would like to us to help you plan you perfect trip to Iceland please click here and we can help you find the best of Iceland.