Have you heard about the IcelandAir stopover benefit? If you fly IcelandAir between North America and Europe, you can add a free stopover up to 7 days to your itinerary. You pay for your hotel and incidentals, of course, but you don’t pay more for your flight. This was an option for a recent trip to London, so I quickly organized the best things to do in Iceland with kids. This is a worldschooling trip, of course!
What is worldschooling? More on that below.
Our kids loved Iceland, and I loved an Iceland family vacation for so many reasons. First, it was a short flight and a nice, easy entry into Europe. From Seattle, it was a 7-hour flight direct to Keflavik International Airport outside Reykjavik.
Don’t get confused – the city will say Reykjavik, but the airport will be Keflavik. There is a Reykjavik airport, but it is for regional flights only. I had a mini panic attack thinking I had booked to the wrong city!
Besides being a short flight, it was easy to manage the kids in Iceland. Everyone spoke at least a little English and most were fully fluent. Most signs are in both Icelandic and English. The Icelandic people we interacted with were friendly, welcoming, and helpful. We never felt unsafe, even exploring solo as a woman or as a mom and 2 kids.
The main thing I loved about doing a family trip to Iceland is how many amazing natural wonders there are for kids to explore. It wasn’t hard to get them off their screens and into the world when the options are, “volcano or glacier?” It was incredibly easy to teach the kids a ton in Iceland and they didn’t even realize it. Even if you’re not planning on doing any schooling and this is purely a family vacation, the kids will absorb a ton while having a great time. It truly was one of the best places we’ve taken them yet.
Getting Around Iceland
You need to have your transportation pre-booked when you arrive in Iceland. If you’re coming from the west coast of the US, you will land in the mid-morning in Reykjavik. Immigration was quick and our oversize carryon that was gate checked was already waiting for us in baggage claim by the time we got to it. Customs was self-reported and you can just walk through the “nothing to declare” lane and you’re on your way.
I booked a round-trip private transfer through Snaeland Travel, with a 2-hour stop at the famous Blue Lagoon on our way to Reykjavik. They were waiting with a sign with my name on it, handled the luggage, had a booster seat for my 6-year-old, gave us a little extra time at the Blue Lagoon, and transported us to our door in Reykjavik. On the pickup, they were on time despite a 4:45 am departure and got us safely back to the airport. Everything you’d want and need in a private driver in Iceland.
And it was also…not cheap. The round trip with the driver waiting was around $500. My research showed this was pretty average, and I found several other options that were more expensive. Plan to drop a lot of money on your transportation when traveling with kids in Iceland.
There are a couple of bus options that you can take from the airport into the city, including one that goes to the Blue Lagoon. However, I found that the bus to the Blue Lagoon only ran twice a day, and the timing didn’t line up with when our flight landed. If we wanted to go to the Blue Lagoon on our way into town (which I highly recommend – more on this below), then we would have to organize private transport.
Renting a car is another, possibly cheaper option, than having a private driver. However, with only 2 days in Iceland and a partial day on arrival, I didn’t want to be responsible for managing a rental car. I knew we wouldn’t need it much.
Is Iceland Safe?
I found it to be very safe to do a family trip to Iceland. This trip was myself, my kids ages 6 and 8, and our 25-year-old female teacher (We travel with a teacher?! Yep – see how we worldschool). She wandered the city alone in both daytime and nighttime and went solo to see the Northern Lights with a tour group and never felt unsafe.
If you stay in the populated parts of Reykjavik, you will find things to be well-lit, busy, and no issue at all. I can’t speak to the outskirts of the city or other towns, but our experience in Reykjavik and driving the southern part of the island were no problem at all. In fact, I felt safer knowing that pretty much every country has stricter gun laws than the US!
1 Day in Iceland
If you are just doing an overnight in Iceland, you definitely need to stop at the Blue Lagoon after your plane lands. It is more convenient to visit it on the way to or from the airport than to go to Reykjavik and get settled and then head out. That’s because it’s southeast of the airport and southwest of Reykjavik by about a 45 minute drive. You would waste a lot of time going to Reykjavik first and then turning around and going to the Blue Lagoon.
If you do a private transfer, they can store your luggage for you so you don’t have to lug it around. There is luggage storage at the parking lot in case you take a bus, and you don’t want to bring it all the way to the entrance because there isn’t storage big enough in the locker rooms.
Pro tip: Organize everything you will want for the Blue Lagoon together in your suitcase so you can grab it and go.
We had to open every suitcase and unpack various things looking for our swimsuits, hair ties, and other toiletries we wanted. It ate up a lot of time and it was hard for young kids to wait after a long plane ride. It was also hard to shove everything back into the suitcases and I wasn’t going to spend time meticulously arranging the suitcases like I had when I first packed them.
What to Bring to the Blue Lagoon
You will want the following things with you at the Blue Lagoon:
- Plastic bag or wet bag to store your wet items when you leave – they have some biodegradable bags in the locker rooms but they weren’t entirely waterproof and felt very flimsy
- Hair ties or some way to keep your hair out of the water – the silica in the water will really dry out your hair – you want it out of your face and off your neck!
- Waterproof phone cover – You’ll want to take some photos but need to make sure that your phone or camera stay dry. If it’s raining, you may want a waterproof cover
- Change of clothes – You’ll need to put clothes on after the lagoon, and you may not want to put on the same clothes you wore for many hours on the plane. If you’d like fresh clothes, plan to bring some in with you.
The lockers at the Blue Lagoon are pretty small. I was able to barely fit my clothes and jacket along with my kids’ stuff as well. I had to unload the entire locker very carefully to access certain things. Minimize what you take to avoid frustration.
Blue Lagoon with Kids
The process can be a bit confusing, and you will definitely want to have your kids with you in the locker rooms at the Blue Lagoon. Don’t be intimidated though – this was a great first stop in Iceland and a literal warm entry into the trip. It was one of both kids’ favorite places and they couldn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the trip.
Read all our tips for bringing kids to the Blue Lagoon.
After the Blue Lagoon, travel on to Reykjavik and check into your lodging. Aim to stay in the city centre so you can walk to a couple of major attractions. We stayed at this Airbnb, and I would recommend it with caveats.
The area I stayed was very noisy and kept us all awake. It was super convenient but I wouldn’t recommend it to families unless you come with a noise machine (we used a multi-hour YouTube ocean sounds video that worked well) and/or earplugs.
Other solid options for families include:
After you’ve dropped off your stuff and refreshed a little bit, take a short walk around downtown Reykjavik to Hallgrimskirkja, the largest and most recognizable church in town. It is also the best place to get a birds-eye view of the city from the bell tower. Adults can visit for 1200 IKR ($6.75 in September 2022) and kids under 7 get free admission. Kids 7-16 are discounted at 200 IKR ($1.25).
The elevator to the top is right at the entrance to the church, before the ticket counter, and we did see someone sneak inside without paying, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The bells toll every 15 minutes and you don’t want to be up top when they do, so time your visit to enter just after they have finished tolling so you have the most possible time in the bell tower. You will want to leave about 3 minutes before they are set to toll again to give yourself time to get down and out of the building.
Pro tip #1: There’s a swing set just outside the church and some stone blocks to play on.
My kids loved running around the blocks, jumping off of them, and creating obstacle courses with them. It’s a great way to run off some energy before you go into the church.
Pro tip #2: There are no bathrooms inside the church except during services, so don’t plan to use the facilities here.
That’s a pretty full 1 day in Iceland itinerary, so grab some dinner and enjoy a much-needed rest. Iceland has a few high-end restaurants but most are pretty casual and serve things like fish and chips, fish stew, burgers, and hot dogs.
Worldschooling Topics Covered
You can cover all kinds of lessons with just 1 day in Iceland using this itinerary:
- Geothermal power (Blue Lagoon)
- Scientific properties of silica (Blue Lagoon)
- Leif Erickson and the Vikings (there’s a statue of him outside Hallgrimskirkja)
2 Days in Iceland
If you have a second day, get ready for some incredible things to do in Iceland with kids. Use this day for a guided tour of the south coast of the island along the ring road. We opted for this private tour and I can’t recommend it enough. The whole family loved this day, even though it was a long one. Our guide, David, was incredibly knowledgable about all things Iceland.
In 10 hours (it seems like a lot but it went quickly) we saw the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the Skogafoss waterfall, endless small waterfalls, a turf house, Icelandic horses, tons of sheep, black sand beaches, a glacier, geothermal steam vents, and volcanoes from afar. If you see nothing else, the spectacular waterfalls on this trip are worthy of any bucket list.
We learned some Icelandic phrases and grammatical rules. We learned that Icelandic horses are prized because they are genetically pure – no horses have been allowed to enter the island since the times of the Plague. We learned that hot water in Reykjavik comes directly from the ground and is piped from outside the city in insulated pipes, losing just a few degrees before reaching the taps.
We learned that because the island is so “young” in geological terms, there are only a couple of inches of topsoil over the volcanic rock, making it difficult to farm and leading to the recent push into greenhouse farming. We learned that the glaciers are shrinking faster than they are being replenished.
We learned SO MUCH on this one day, our brains were full. We were in awe of the incredible beauty around us. It honestly was one of the best day trips we have ever done while traveling.
Having a private tour was the best way to do a one-day road trip for several reasons. We could move at our own pace, and never felt rushed from one place to the next. We had the flexibility to rearrange the tour to get the best weather at each place. We could stop for bathroom breaks as needed. We had room to store anything we wanted to bring with us on the trip. In short, it was well worth the expense to be able to create just the day we wanted.
Worldschooling Topics Covered
It’s hard to think of a topic we didn’t cover during this tour:
- Geothermal water and power (plugging up steam vents and channeling the pressure into power plants)
- Igneous rocks
- Tectonic plates, earthquakes, and volcanos
- Glacier advancement and melt
- Climate change
- Agricultural practices
- Icelandic language, customs, and history
- Icelandic Christmas stories and traditions (the “Yule lads” were in every gift shop we saw! We bought a children’s book to read at Christmas)
- Climate and weather patterns of Iceland
If you have someone to watch the kids at night, consider adding a Northern Lights tour. Plan to do it early in your trip, because most guides will give you an opportunity to reschedule if the weather doesn’t cooperate the first day. This is your best bet to make sure you actually see them.
Most tours meet at a central point in Reykjavik and take you in Jeeps out of the city where you won’t be bothered by city lights. The Northern Lights are most visible in the winter months, but they can be seen as early as September. Our teacher saw them briefly on her solo tour while I stayed with the kids in the Airbnb.
This isn’t a great option for young children because it is late at night, cold, and there’s a lot of waiting around with no promise that the aurora borealis will appear. Best to tag team this on different nights if you have multiple adults traveling or get a babysitter.
3 Days in Iceland
With a third day in Iceland, you can explore the capital city further. Because it’s small, you can hit every main attraction in one day.
We started with the Reyjkavik Maritime Museum, where we spent less than an hour and which they kids quickly got bored of. It shared a lot of history about Iceland’s fishing industry, boating artifacts and the native fish of Iceland. I would add this to your list if you have kids who love boats or fish, but otherwise, you can consider skipping this one.
After the Maritime Museum, we walked along the water to view the navy boats in the harbor, and had lunch.
We then continued walking to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. That’s right, the penis museum. The boys unanimously and enthusiastically approved of this stop, but then got a bit weirded out when we were actually there. Seeing lots of penises in jars wasn’t their thing, apparently. I do think it is a quirky and fun thing to do, especially for kids.
We could have headed over to the gorgeous Harpa concert hall which is very close by, but I find that small children have little patience for architecture, so we skipped this. Instead, we wandered up the touristy streets leading toward Hallgrimskirkja, which we had not visited on our first day.
There are several cafes and gift shops on this route, and a particularly tasty ice cream shop that kept the kids busy while I strolled the streets. After playing around outside and visiting the top of the church, we headed back to our Airbnb for a break before going out for dinner.
If you already visited the church, you could switch it out for the National Museum of Iceland or a whale watching boat trip. Splitting our time between Seattle and Mexico means we’ve seen a ton of whales, so we didn’t do this one, but it’s a great way to see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat and a must-do for animal lovers!
Worldschooling Topics Covered
- Fishing industry – how commercial fishing works
- Native fish of Iceland
- Biology – all about phalluses and whales
- Architecture – if you go to Harpa concert hall
4+ Days in Iceland
If we’d had more time, I had plenty of things to do in Iceland with kids planned. I would have gone further out from Reykjavik to Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and European tectonic plates are slowly pulling away from each other. You can walk in the valley caused by this separation and move from one continent to the other – a fantastic way to make science come alive for kids. Iceland is the only place on earth where this separation of plates happens above ground, so it’s the perfect place to cover this part of geology.
From there, I would continue on the Golden Circle to see Gullfoss Waterfall and the geysers and geothermal pools around Geyser (the area from which all other geysers get their name!)
What to Pack for Iceland in September
We visited Iceland in mid-September. Weather was cool to mild, ranging from 55 degrees to 65 degrees. It rained off and on, and a dedicated rain jacket would have been useful. We had fleeces with some rain protection but needed a true waterproof layer to be fully comfortable.
For the day trip on the south coast, close-toed shoes were a must. We were climbing slippery rocks around waterfalls and got quite wet even when it wasn’t raining, so dress for comfort and safety on this day.
Walking around Reykjavik, whatever you would normally wear at home will be fine. We found the vibe to be quite casual – more fleece and jeans than suits and heels.
Overall, September is a great time to visit Iceland with kids – there were still lots of people on the south coast, but it wasn’t as packed as during the summer months and not as cold as during the winter months.
Iceland is one of four countries on this three-week trip, and I managed to do the entire thing in a carry-on! #TeamCarryOn all the way over here. How did I do it?? I had a few secret weapons that I bought just for this trip:
- Vacuum bags – I had used these when moving and to store bulky bedding, but never for travel. I bought a multi pack that included a hand-held vacuum pump and it significantly cut down on bulk.
- Travel steamer – to get out all the wrinkles caused by the vacuum bags, I bought this little steamer. It’s the size of a small hair dryer, and makes it easy to look put together. Note that you do need a power converter (not just an adaptor) to keep it working well in different voltages.
- Laundry detergent – I knew we’d have to do laundry on the trip, so I bought 2 options. I got these dry laundry sheets, which dissolve in hot water and would be good for doing a load by hand in a bathroom sink or the bathtub. I also got a stain remover and hand wash bar that looks like a hotel-room mini bar of soap. I haven’t used either of these, because I found a dry cleaner that offers wash and fold across the street from our hotel in London. That was easier than doing it myself and honestly I didn’t account for how dirty the kids’ clothes would get. All told, it was 30 GBP for a load of wash and fold turned around the next day – cheaper than checking a bag one way, and enough to get us through the trip.
- Trip journals – The kids’ major writing assignments come from completing this journal. I looked at several options and didn’t fully love any of them, but this one has been a nice mix of “fun” pages and thoughtful writing prompts to help them process and remember all they are learning.
Managing Food Allergies in Iceland
For our family, food allergies are a way of life. One of my kids is anaphylactic allergic to eggs, nuts, and peanuts. It is manageable but always a challenge when traveling. In nearly every restaurant, there was a sign stating to ask your server about allergy concerns. I found everyone willing to double check ingredients. Some of the big “gotchas” for us with eggs in particular tend to be breads, hamburger buns, and ice cream – it’s 50/50 whether those things will have eggs or not and often restaurants can’t confirm because they don’t make them on site.
The Blue Lagoon was the hardest place for my son to eat, and after a long night of travel, we were all eager to check out the cafes. There are a few nicer restaurants on site that may have been able to accommodate him better, but I wasn’t up for a nice sit down meal with two wiggly kids. The cafes had almost nothing he could eat.
In Reykjavik, the fish and chips were typically safe (not that he really wanted to eat them, but good to know!) Several places could switch a vegan bread or bun for the regular one to ensure there were no eggs, and even the Domino’s pizza crust was safe. In Mexico, the Domino’s crust contains eggs, so I have learned that I have to ask even when eating at American chains that are safe for us at home.
At the airport on our way out of the country, we found a cafe with a bagel, which was the only egg-free breakfast item they served. Luckily, bagels are one of our go-tos, so this was met with excitement and not resignation. Generally, though, I am finding bakeries in Europe to have little to nothing my egg-allergic kid can eat. The odd vegan item they do have usually has nuts, making it a no-go for us.
What is Worldschooling and Why are We Doing It?
We are on a worldschooling adventure this year, meaning that we are homeschooling our kids and spending as much time traveling and learning in the real world as possible. This is something we’ve wanted to do for years and decided this year was the best time to jump in. Our kids are old enough to remember our adventures and young enough to not be fully committed to friends, activities, and sports yet.
We are covering the main subjects each day while we travel, spending 1-2 hours in the hotel or Airbnb doing sit-down school before heading out on our adventures. Our typical subjects include math, reading, and writing. Sometimes we get Spanish in there as well.
Then we go out Into the world and focus our exploration on things that will be both fun and educational. We lean on museums, educational tours, and making real-world connections over purely tourist activities.
Though there are many people worldschooling their kids, we are pretty unique in that we are doing it with a full-time teacher on staff. She organizes their lessons, teaches all their subjects, and travels with us wherever we go, tailoring her lessons to the places we will be seeing.
Is Iceland a Good Travel Destination for Families?
Resoundingly yes. We loved our time in Iceland and my kids are already asking about when they can go back to the Blue Lagoon. I am asking when we can go back so I can learn more about the geology, geothermal activity, and generally be blown away by the beauty. I likened it to Ireland on steroids, and there is so much of the country that we haven’t seen yet.
If you are looking for a friendly, approachable, nature-focused trip with kids and can swallow the high prices, Iceland is a great place to take kids.