An Impossibly Cool Family Vacation to Iceland

First discovered by Celtic monks and Nordic Vikings over a millennium ago, Iceland remains a tiny, rural country. Smaller than Cuba, it has only 329,000 people. Thanks to influence from continental Europe and the British Isles, its economy is quite developed. But the island’s distance from Europe ensures that it retains a wild, natural landscape full of beauty and mystery.

Don’t be fooled by its unfriendly name: Iceland offers a warm retreat for families who want adventure among friendly and welcoming locals. Whether you’re looking for geysers, volcanoes, or glaciers, the dramatic landscapes and shifting scenes will give your kids an altogether memorable vacation.

Getting There

As part of Europe’s Schengen area, Iceland doesn’t require a visa for Americans staying up to 90 days. Grab the family collection of passports and check the State Department travel site for any important weather news.

The main entry point is Keflavik Airport, about 30 miles southwest of Reykjavik. SAS, IcelandAir, EasyJet, Norwegian, Primera Air, WOW Air, and Flybe service the island year-round. During the summer months, more carriers pick up service from Europe. Delta is the only US-based carrier with flights to Iceland. Flying from New York takes five and a half hours; Los Angeles is ten and a half.

Two dedicated buses, the Airport Express and the Flybus, both make connections from Keflavik to local hotels in Reykjavik. Transport from the airport takes about 45 minutes and can be booked in advance. Public bus route 55 takes passengers to the central bus terminal.

However, renting a car is highly advised, especially if you plan to make your way around the island on the Ring Road. Rental agencies are located near the P2 parking facility. Bring your kids’ car seats with you, if you’re concerned about the safety of the smallest tots.

Water in All its Forms

Water, vapor, and ice can be found in abundance – and often in parallel – throughout Iceland. The three forms of H2O define pretty much all of the activities on the island, which your budding chemist will immediately recognize. Make a game of being the first to spot a form of water at every stop-off.

Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa

Dive into summertime swimming holes, in the form of Reykjavik’s 18 open-air geothermally heated pools. The island, situated above an oceanic mountain range with constantly shifting tectonic plates, is one of the world’s most active geological zones. The resulting volcanic eruptions and hot springs power the country with geothermal energy. The swimming pools, where kids can splash until midnight during the long summer days, are a pleasant by-product.

Ring Road

Pack your winter gear for a trip around the island’s 1,800-mile Ring Road. Stock up on folkloric stories-on-tape, along with Sigur Rós and Björk records to make all the hours of driving a real Icelandic experience. Set your kids up to come up with their own legends, too.

Drive 30 miles up the steep glacier Vatnajökull for snowmobiling, ice climbing, or ice fishing; then, check out the floating icebergs in the lagoon below, where you can take an unusual boat ride through waterfalls and into the ocean.

Strokkur Geyser

The landscapes continue to change along the Ring Road, from the alien fields of dried lava in Leirhnukur to the black-sand beaches of Dyrhólaey, situated below the volcanoes. Myvatn’s tufts of sulfuric gas and steam, erupting from geysers, are yet one more strange planet landscape you can encounter on this tiny island.

The Stuff of Legends...

In Reykjavik, head to the Saga Museum, where you’ll learn through visual re-creations all about Viking history, ancient storytelling, and the country’s most important legends and myths. Think ice trolls, guardian spirits, and invisible people – all great fodder for keeping kids entertained on the long journey on the Ring Road.

Enjoy local hospitality in small fishing towns like Seydisfjördur or Egilsstadir, where your family can stay in a guesthouse or farm and get to know the local proprietors. Ask about regional food specialties and make sure to ride ponies, explore caves, go whale-watching or seal-spotting, and – of course – check out the Northern Lights!

Stop in Iceland’s second largest city, Akureyri, for the Ein Med Ollu Family Festival in August, or to participate in an annual medieval festival on the grounds of the historic Gasir Trading Place. Summer Solstice also plays a special role here, as the summer nights are practically never-ending.

Northern Lights in Iceland

Bedding Down

Ask about family rooms, which can sleep up to five people and include a kitchen, at any hotel, hostel, or guesthouse. It’s common for properties to have one or two available, but they’re not necessarily advertised.

Check out the local spots along the road: charming farmhouses, bed and breakfasts, and cottages in the country are all part of the Farm Holidays network, which gives families tons of customized options for staying almost anywhere in the country. Choose from location categories like historic sites, farm stays, and local dining to find the perfect venue for your family. Prices are usually less than standard hotels.

For a themed adventure, Fjorukrain’s Hotel Viking, just outside Reykjavik, offers 42 rooms and suites, the larger of which can sleep four. More beds can be ordered for an additional charge. Dinner parties include a Viking performance, complete with staged kidnappings and meaty delights.

Find a first-class experience at FossHotel, a family-friendly, upscale chain of hotels around Iceland where kids under 12 stay free and breakfast is always included. Hotels are located all over the country’s scenic coast, along the Ring Road, and make for perfect stopover destinations if you’re touring the whole island.

What sights are you hoping to see in Iceland?

Keflavik Airport by Daria Medvedeva/shutterstock. Tour Bus Iceland by Badahir Yeniceri/shutterstock. Blue Lagoon by SurangaSL/shutterstock.

Tags : travel   Iceland   

Kira Smirnova
OMG is all I could say!
Tricia Goss
Elodie Nilsson
This is my dream!