Iceland with Kids: How to Plan the Perfect Family Road Trip

Iceland with kids

Visiting Iceland with kids makes for a fantastic family holiday. But travelling with toddlers and children often requires a bit more planning. There are considerations to make when packing, tailoring the destination to a child’s attention span and nap schedule, as well keeping little ones safe and comfortable on the road. With a bit of planning, Iceland is a destination the whole family will love!

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland with kids, you may also be interested in Plan a trip to Iceland, Iceland itinerary for driving the ring road, as well as the more general Travelling with Kids.

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Getting around Iceland with Kids

To experience Iceland without signing up for a tour, the best (and only) way is to take a road trip. This is true if you’re visiting Iceland with kids, or not. If you have little ones who can’t bear car trips, perhaps wait a year or two. But if they can tolerate a few hours in a car seat Iceland makes a wonderful family destination.

Hiking to glacier Iceland Atlas Introspective

Entertainment

Audiobooks, handheld games and portable devices may help pass the time. But be sure to encourage little passengers to take in the view for it will be unlike anything they’ve ever seen: volcanoes, glaciers, and landscapes that look like a planet from outer space. I challenge you to find a child who wouldn’t sneak a giggle at bubbling mud that smells like farts.

Navigation

Hiring a GPS with your car is an absolute necessity. Other travellers may have time to get lost and risk a late arrival, but those visiting Iceland with kids, cannot. Maps sold at service stations are also worth buying to keep you on track.

The amount of time you spend in the car each day will be dependent on the length of your trip. I recommend about 10-14 days to complete the ring road at a comfortable pace. When there is so much to explore in those wide open spaces, who wants to sit in the car all day? If time allows, stay in one place for a couple of nights on 2-3 occasions throughout the trip. Both children and the driver will appreciate a rest day.

Which car?

Visiting Iceland with kids invariably leads to more luggage, so a car with a large boot is essential. We went with the Kia Ceed sportswagon. There was plenty of room in the boot and it ran on the smell of an oily rag. There is a car hire service located at the airport so you can pick up your car and drive it into Reykjavík.

Sheep September Iceland Atlas Introspective

Farm-Stays

Once you leave Reykjavík, you won’t find many hotels, in the traditional sense. But where Iceland really comes into its own as a family destination are the farm-stays. Many locals open up their farms to tourists and guests can experience a taste of Icelandic farm life. If you travel to Iceland with kids in September, you can take part in the annual sheep roundup. Alternatively there are plenty of one and two bedroom stand-alone cottages on farms which are the perfect accommodation when visiting Iceland with kids. Family trips already revolve around the children’s schedule, accommodation with a separate living area ensures that the evenings are reserved for the adults.

Sites

On days when the chorus of, “When are we going to get there,” is ringing from the back seat, Iceland offers an array of experiences guaranteed to delight young and old. What child wouldn’t revel in the bragging rights of telling their mates they visited a real volcano, held an iceberg in their hands, saw the earth belching steaming water from geysirs and stood next to the waterfall featured in Prometheus and Game of Thrones. There are parts of Iceland, particularly in the North that are like nature’s chemistry set, with lakes of bubbling mud and earth so hot that the ground is literally steaming.

Iceland with kids

Whilst it’s true that a lot of the trip will be spent taking in the view from the car, there are many opportunities for fresh air and exercise along the way. From hiking to glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls, horse riding, whale watching, swimming in geothermal hot pools, or rounding up sheep.

Cost

There’s no getting around it, Iceland is expensive. But take solace in the knowledge that visiting Iceland with kids is no more expensive than without. Chances are you would hire a car regardless and the majority of sites you will be visiting are mother nature herself with no entrance fees. Most guesthouses have cottages with kitchens or shared kitchen facilities so you can offset some of the expense by self catering meals.

Customs at Reykjavik airport allow each passenger to bring 3kg of food in their suitcase. I recommend bringing the full allowance as food is likely be cheaper at home. We brought sweets, dried fruit and nuts, trail bars, cereal and ramen noodles; and stocked up on groceries from Bonus supermarkets, dotted throughout the country.

Family rooms and cottages with multiple rooms are easy to find throughout Iceland, so you will have plenty of space to yourselves after a day in the car. And the wide open spaces surrounding the cottages allow plenty of room for children to run and play, while you enjoy the fresh air and a sun-downer.

Fairies, elves & trolls

Iceland was isolated, both geographically and climatically, until very recently. So it makes sense that a country at the mercy of extreme elements find solace in the supernatural. Fairies, elves and trolls are taken very seriously in Iceland. Roads and village settlements are all planned with the location of troll caves and elf gardens in mind, for fear they arouse their vengeance. For me, the beauty of the landscape is all the magic I need, but children will delight in the stories. Perhaps if they look hard enough they may see a troll hiding in that lava field? While you’re in Iceland, a childrens book makes for a wonderful souvenir.

Iceland with Kids: A word of caution…

Fiona E geysir Iceland Atlas Introspective

Nanny state, this is not. When you’re in Iceland with kids you will need to keep an eye on them at all times. There are no barriers surrounding sites, the great majority of which pose a safety risk if you wander too close. There are sharp cliffs, groaning glaciers and steaming earth that can literally melt the soles off your shoes. If your children are old enough, use the opportunity to educate them about personal safety. If they are too young to have developed a healthy risk awareness, opt to take turns with your partner or use a sling.

Iceland with Kids: What to pack

  • Car seat/ booster seat. These can be hired with your car or take your own,
  • For toddlers a stroller is useful, despite taking up valuable boot space. You may find it handy in Reykjavík and Akureyri as well as on a few stroller-friendly walking trails. But, you won’t have the opportunity to a stroller often, so if your children will walk- by all means let them,
  • A sling, such as the Ergobaby is great if you have an infant or small child and wish to hit the hiking trails. My son hiked a volcano and to within dummy-spitting distance of glaciers, securely strapped to our back,
  • A few scoops of laundry detergent in a zip lock bag for hand washing,
  • Cooler bag for picnics en-route,
  • Drink bottles for all. Why buy drinks when the crispest glacial water in the world is free and on tap?
Child volcanic dirt Iceland Atlas Introspective

These days parents struggle to get their children outside, so give them the gift of adventure and set them free in natures amusement park.

What was your favourite experience when visiting Iceland with kids?

Read on for more articles about Travel with Kids.