Most of ours’ ultimate dream are to travel across the globe, probably after we retire. But a few of us have been lucky enough to pursue their passion with their regular life. Juggling work, looking after the family, and still soaking in the unexplored parts of the world is what we consciously made our destiny. But challenges are part and parcel of this passion. And the hardest among all the challenges is to find places that the little members of the family can enjoy too.
As committed globetrotters and equally dedicated parents, we consciously find places that are a beautiful combination of a tourist’s paradise and a kid’s zone. And on our recent winter trip to Iceland, we made a point to stay in Reykjavik, which also happens to be its capital city.
A trip to Iceland with kids made us realize that Iceland with its amazing landscapes is totally worth the visit. The location has something for everyone but let’s start with the top things to do in Reykjavik with kids.
Free things to do in Reykjavik with kids
A general misconception is that you need to have a lot of money to travel. But the fact is that money can’t buy you experiences. To have experienced, all we need is just some money and a lot of smart ways. This is what we exactly put to the test during our trip to Reykjavik. Because many of our readers are just like us; regular working people with their free-spirits packed inside. Here are a few free things aka smart-yet-priceless experiences that we had with kids, and you can have them too.
Take a free tour around Reykjavik
We were told about the famous walking tour by a local that begins at the green clock tower on Laekjartorg Square. It was a two-hour long free tour around Reykjavik which we thought ended too soon as it was quite interesting. As informed by a local, we showed up at the clock without a booking. Our guide took us through the town, discussing its history and evolution in a fun and friendly manner. We also got to know about the Icelandic culture in general. There were no food stops or toilet breaks during the tour, so prepare your kids in advance.
Walk along the scenic Reykjavik waterfront
To consume the serenity of the town, it is best to take the Sculpture and Shore Walk around the Reykjavik harbour area. This 3 miles long path along the waterfront began when we took east from the Grandagardur station. The beautiful view of Kollafjordur Fjord accompanies the views of some popular sculptures like The Cairn, Sun Voyager, and Partnership and the sight of an amazing glass mural, Harpa Concert Hall.
Feed the Ducks at Tjörnin Pond
A popular recreational spot of Reykjavik, Tjörnin Pond offers stunning scenic views right from the center of the city. One might feel it a man-made pond at first, being surrounded by urban developments. But the pond, which is technically a lake, is au-natural. And the presence of more than 40 different bird species testifies this fact. The simplest things in life are the happiest and this lake was a catalyst in this realization for us all. Feeding Eider Ducks, Arctic Terns, Seagulls, Mallard Ducks, Greylag Geese, et al proved to be the most satisfying pleasure ever.
Northern lights for your winter excursion
Also known as Aurora Borealis, there has practically been no travel enthusiast who does not have Northern Lights visit on his bucket-list. You’ll feel amazed simply looking at this natural light display that can put any laser light show to shame. Happening at altitudes of 60 miles and beyond, it is a result of a collision of charged particles of the sun with the Earth’s magnetic field. To have your free natural laser family show, visiting them near Equinoxes of March and September. The second best time is winters. And to make the experience richer, choose a moonless night.
Spend a morning in Reykjavik Family Park and Zoo in Laugardalur
A little far away from the city center, you will find Reykjavik Family Park and Zoo. Located in Laugardalur valley, it is a must-visit on a trip in Reykjavik with kids. The recreational park offers a variety of fun activities for children like boats on the water, Segways, a train, a carousel. It also offers family barbecue facilities for us. We got a free entry to the small zoo, though we are not sure if it is always free. A notice outside the zoo displayed the message mentioning the same. All the Icelandic farm animals, minks, reindeer, seals, foxes, and foreign reptiles could be seen there. Birds like pigeons and hens also were a part of the zoo. With a large sandbox and a few castles, the place makes it apt for kids to have fun. Don’t forget to enjoy the coffee when you visit and let kids enjoy soft ice.
Foods to try in Reykjavik
Eat Hot Dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is a globally famous hot-dog spot after having served US President Bill Clinton in 2004. Located in central Reykjavik, the red food truck is impossible to miss with long queues nearby at any point of day or night. We also wanted to be a part of the ‘elite’ club and taste it. No wonder almost every Icelander and Hollywood celebs like Kardashians have tasted this slice of heaven. A must try out of all Icelandic Food.
Eat some Ice Cream in Reykjavik
We heard missing ice-cream while in Reykjavik is like not having gelato while in Italy. You’ll find more ice-cream parlours in the city than public hot-tubs. And strangely enough, they all are never out of business. Ice-cream is a staple in Reykjavik, and how can we not become an Icelander when in Iceland?
We found a variety of ice-creams there. There is something for all. If you are diet conscious, try sugar-free ones at Herdís; if you are lactose intolerant, get your vegan scoop at Arna; if you are a gelato or sorbet lover, visit Hafís for all the creamier options. And you’ll still have hundreds of more parlours to go. Our personal favourite was Ísleifur heppni, located in Hlemmur Food Court. They have various flavours made from nitrogen served with unique toppings like liquorice lava.
Other activities and attractions in Reykjavik
Visit Harpa Concert hall
The most distinguished landmark of Reykjavik, Harpa Concert Hall is a spectacular glass architecture. The hexagonal glass pane on the exterior is set at angles, so it sparkles in the light. Though inspired by Iceland’s geology, the design instantly reminds of a beehive. The building is twinkly and Mozaic-like but only in the winters!
You can have a guided tour of the inside hall or attend a concert if you happen to visit at a perfect time. The place, otherwise, is a fun visit itself with two restaurants, shops selling music, books, artifacts, flowers and other gift items.
Go skating for winter fun.
Visiting Iceland and not trying ice-skating is like visiting Dubai and not trying desert safari, you just miss the fun. There are numerous places to bring out your inner ice-skating champion. The frozen Tjörnin Pond, the Christmas-special makeshift ice-rink at Ingólfstorg Square, or Egilshöll Ice Rink outside the downtown area. But we heard a lot of praises about Laugardalur Ice-skating Rink. Located in Laugardalur, a famous recreational spot, the rink is famous for disco skating. Just imagine: songs playing in the background, disco lights flaring up and you are simply gliding through the air, an amazing experience.
Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach is summer’s delight
Also called the Golden Beach, Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach was made by importing golden sand and constructing seawalls to form the lagoon. Iceland’s ‘very own Ibiza’ is a swimmer’s delight as it has heated lagoon water, hot tubs, and steam bath facilities for tourists. Simply having your meal by the side of this beach and drifting away to sleep while the kids play with their new friends feels satisfying.
Visit any of Geothermal Pools
See the views from Hallgrímskirkja Observation Tower
Hallgrímskirkja is to Reykjavik as Eiffel Tower is to Paris, one can see it almost from anywhere in the city. The design has its inspiration in the cooled lava structures which makes it an architectural wonder in itself. Standing tall at 245-feet, the observatory offers unparalleled views of the colourful capital of Iceland. The visiting hours vary seasonally but be it any season, the church stays open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m except Sundays.
Visit Saga Museum
A beautiful and heart-touching recreation of all the historical events that made Iceland what it is today pretty much sums up our memorable Saga Museum tour. How the Medieval Icelanders braved not only volcanoes, avalanches, and other catastrophes but also the ‘Black Death’ plague that wiped out more than half of Icelanders. Hearing the history of Bravehearts ‘Icelanders’ on supplementary audio files whilst having a look at all the life-like replicas would surely make your heart go out for each one of those who fought endlessly with life. This Saga aka Viking Museum came out to be a pure entertainer, especially for the kids with its interesting concept and the way of presenting it.
A former-fish-factory turned museum, the location brilliantly explains Iceland’s connection with fish and ocean. The star of the museum is its permanent exhibition ‘Fish & Folk’ that vibrantly presents Iceland’s biggest fishing hub’s history, Reykjavik. And that too in the most artistic manner; pictures, texts, and kid’s favourite; games.
Iceland’s biggest historical relic, The Coast Guard Ship Óðinn, is docked just next to the museum. Another docked ship is Magni, the first steel ship of Iceland. All these display the coast culture of Iceland beautifully and offer guests an opportunity to witness its centuries-old fishing and coast life.
Whales of Iceland
You must visit the largest whale exhibition in Europe in Reykjavík’s harbour area. With 23 life-size models of various species of whales, the place is ideal for learning about these beauties. Staff at the exhibit was extremely friendly and informative. These man-made structures were soft to touch and felt real to us. We got to know that they are hand-painted to mimic the natural markings of the actual whale. Along with learning about these creatures, kids enjoyed the virtual experience offered via VR headset there. Though a bit expensive if paid for full, the experience is worth investing in. Don’t forget to enjoy the freshly baked pastries and coffee at the beach inside the exhibit.
Perlan is a must-visit attraction in Reykjavik. Built atop five water towers, it is a popular interactive natural history museum that informs you about the Icelandic nature and history in a fun way. The Wonders of Iceland exhibition displays glaciers, seabirds, ocean-life, volcanoes, northern lights, and much more. The best part of the museum for kids was a man-made ice cave that mimicked the features of glaciers. I enjoyed the cafe built on the domed top floor the most. A night-time spectacular 360-degree view of the beautiful city while sipping coffee and having muffin is an unforgettable experience.
Go Puffin spotting
If you want to spot beautiful puffins, book a tour at the Old Harbour. A boat takes you to an island for exploring Icelandic birdlife. Arctic terns, cormorants, eider ducks, and many more birds can be seen there. We were told about this information at the Old Harbour, but we couldn’t go for it as kids were very tired after the whale watching session.
Go whale watching
At the old harbour, we booked for a whale watching tour that was offering a free ticket if there is no sighting. It also offered us a discounted price to the Whales of Iceland exhibition. We got to see humpback whales, white-beaked dolphins, and harbour porpoises. You will also get to see Iceland’s seabirds along the way. The whole trip was arranged in a comfortable boat with added safety for the kids.
How to move around in Reykjavik?
Reykjavik City Buses
City buses are the only means of public transport in Reykjavik besides taxis. These yellow-coloured buses allow entry only from the front unless you have a bike or a stroller, as I noticed. You won’t get your change back, so pay the exact amount demanded by them. Though there were no rules of selecting the seats, I noticed that the front seats were left free for the old and disabled. The only bus etiquette in Reykjavik is avoiding to eat and drink while travelling. You might be denied access if seen with ice cream or other open eatables and drinks. Also, for getting off, you need to push the button to inform the driver about your intention to leave unless the bus won’t stop.
Rent a car in Reykjavik
One of the best ways to explore Reykjavik is to rent a car first. Iceland practically has weak public transport, and you might have to rely on hitch-hiking more often than not. But that limits you to soak in the beauty of this city. The real fun, as we experienced, is to stop when you feel amazed at a stunning view and spend some time there. Going off the routes and visiting uncharted roads will prove to be memorable for you too. But make sure to rent it beforehand, especially in the peak season of summer months.
Things to do around Reykjavik
Visit The Blue Lagoon
At about 45 minutes from Reykjavik, The Blue Lagoon awaits you with loads of warm water in Grindavik. The place is extremely beautiful and offers varied experiences. There is a wristband system for payment inside the complex so that you don’t have to worry about your wallet while in water. You can also enjoy a sauna inside the premises. Various spa treatments and massages are offered while floating in the lagoon. We loved the smoothies offered at the swim-up shop and enjoyed a steam bath in a steam room.
Dive into a hot spring
You won’t find any hot springs in the town. However, if you want to go to the hot springs, a 30-minute drive from the town will take you to the underwater hot springs in Kleifarvatn lake. The widespread silence around the lake and volcanic terrain around it provides a unique experience. Kids enjoyed the most here for obvious reasons.
See the bridge between Europe and America
A 40-minute drive from Reykjavik takes you to the Reykjanes peninsula that contains the rich history of Iceland in the form of mountains, volcanoes, hot springs, craters, geothermal system, boiling clays, and much more. The evolution of our planet over thousands of years can be seen here. Along with that, this is the place where you can see a small part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The mountain ridge stretching from the Arctic to Antarctica lies at the joining point of tectonic plates which seem to drift apart. A bridge is formed for us to walk just between the two tectonic plates here. It was such an amazing experience to stand on both continents at the same time.
Omnom Chocolate Factory
One thing that kids can’t live without is chocolate. And here we aren’t talking about visiting a chocolate factory to have one. This interesting tour to Reykjavik’s famous chocolate factory, Omnom, gives you a chance to witness the craft of chocolate making, right from the pod to your mouth. Yes, as there are a few tastings too. Along with the testing session from the factor’s shop, they let you taste some samples from the chocolate lab too. My kids felt like a scientist of sorts. And pack some flavours at the tour end for some more testing at home.
Save Money with Reykjavik City Card
And here’s the final section to help you save money while in Reykjavik with a City Card. It acts as a Trump card to save your money as it practically works almost at various entry points. Free entry to 4 of the many Reykjavik museum and discounted tickets of the rest; free entry to 7 the geothermal pools and discounted ticket at the other listed seven f them; entry to city galleries and parks; use of all the public transport; discounts at many listed restaurants and cafes; are just a few perks you get with a single city card. Though we got to know about this magic card towards the end of our trip, don’t forget to book it in the beginning to save a few more tons of money.
Restaurants owned by the IKEA houseware store are very popular among the Icelanders. Located in Háaleiti, the place offers hot meals, drinks, ice creams, hot dogs, cakes, and much more. Swedish meatballs are the most popular among the locals. Kids loved ice cream and pizza the most. I enjoyed Swedish meatballs and chicken wings with fries. The food was tasty, but a bit pricey. You must try the meatballs though. Also, children below 12 years of age eat for free at IKEA. That’s a plus.
Reykjavik with kids – Final Words
All in all, our trip was truly memorable and perfect for kids as well. On our last day, we found Hverfisgata street near Laugavegur. In search of food, the one first cafe that attracted us was Vinyl Bistro not only for its unique looks but also for its delicious smell. With varied items on its menu, the cafe also had a large collection of vinyl records. Kids jumped on to the veggie burgers while I enjoyed steaming coffee with a hint of coconut milk. You must visit all these kid-friendly places to make your trip memorable for life. Since we are always on a lookout for places that are equally fun for elders and children in the family alike, we loved visiting this city. It is one such place that has something for everyone.
What to do with Kids in Reykjavik – Pin it for later
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