Things to Do In Reykjavik with Family
If you’re visiting with the children, you’ll be pleased to find that Reykjavik is very child-friendly. Not only will you discover that the locals are welcoming to kids, but there are also plenty of fun activities for families to do in and around Reykjavik.
Kids on holiday like to keep active. Luckily Reykjavik offers a wide selection of things to keep even the hardest-to-please children satisfied. Whether they’re toddlers or teenagers, there’s something for everyone. There are plenty of indoor and outdoor activities in the city, so whatever the weather the kids can let off steam during their stay. Admission to most museums, swimming pools and museums is usually significantly reduced for children.
If you’re on holiday with young children a good rule is to organize your time so that you’re doing something active one day, and something less strenuous the next day. Luckily Reykjavik is home to plenty of kid-friendly café’s and play areas for those days when everybody just wants to chill.
Here we bring you our top ten picks of activities for families to do together whilst in the Reykjavik area. Whether it’s splashing about in some of the world’s finest outdoor pools, checking out whales, looking for elves (yes really!) or taking a ferry trip to discover the scenic natural environment of nearby Viðey Island- you’ll find there’s loads to do to keep the whole family happy.
Soak Up the Thermal Waters
- 1 Soak Up the Thermal Waters
- 2 Check Out the Whales
- 3 Take the ferry to Viðey Island
- 4 Hunt for Elves in Hafnarfjörður
- 5 Go Horse Riding
- 6 Take a Walking Tour
- 7 Pet the Animals at the Zoo
- 8 Explore Arbaer Open Air Museum
- 9 Take a Picnic and Explore the Elliðárdalur Valley
- 10 Check out the Waxworks In the Saga Museum
Iceland is world-renowned for its delightful geothermal waters. No trip to the island would be complete without spending some time splashing around in these naturally heated swimming pools.
When most tourists think about bathing in geothermal waters they think about doing so in the Blue Lagoon (which is conveniently close to the airport, so a good idea for the first or last day of your stay). If you’re planning a trip to the Blue Lagoon, you may need to book ahead. But don’t go thinking that the Blue Lagoon is the only place to experience Iceland’s thermal waters. Excellent swimming in naturally heated waters is available throughout the country.
You don’t have to travel out of Reykjavik to enjoy a good soak in the water- it’s a national pastime. There are a variety of pools to choose from in and around the capital. Some of them have age restrictions, so check the websites before turning up with the kids. Having said that, you’ll find that there are plenty of family-friendly spas and swimming pools. Check out our two top picks for families:
Laugardalslaug Swimming Pool
This is Reykjavik’s most popular water complex. You can get there in a taxi from Reykjavik or by taking the number 14 bus from Hlemmur station; it’s only about a 10 minute trip from the city centre. This is where the locals come to soak up the waters. It’s a lot cheaper than the more famous Blue Lagoon and more accessible.
You’ll find lots to keep the whole family occupied here. There’s an Olympic-sized swimming pool, thermal hot pots, two water slides, children’s pools, a steam bath, mini-golf and more. The water is naturally heated and here you can enjoy swimming outside whatever time of year you visit. There’s no indoor pool for kids, so on a very cold day you might want to check out somewhere else with an indoor pool.
A word of warning for the modest- they do insist that you strip off for a shower before entering the water. Don’t worry- it will be worth it.
For more information on prices and opening times etc see: swimminginiceland.com
Arbaejarlaug is another water complex very close to the center of Reykjavik; less than a 10 minute cab ride, or about a 35 minute walk. You’ll love splashing around in this pool. The indoor part is inside an impressive glass dome, making it great for very young children. For older kids there’s a water slide, hot tubs and plenty more outside, including its own Olympic-sized pool.
For more information about prices and opening times etc see: www.swimminginiceland.com
Check Out the Whales
Whale Watching Tours
There’s something very special about seeing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. If you go on a whale watching tour it will be an experience you’ll never forget. If you don’t have time to make the journey up to the whale-watching centers of Akureyri or Húsavík in the north of the island then don’t despair- Reykjavik also offers some great opportunities to see whales.
The whale-watching tours operate mainly during the summer months-from May to September, with the best chances of seeing most whales being from June to September. At this time of year there is a high probability of spotting humpback, minke, and sperm whales as well asorca. There’s also a possibility of spotting dolphins and porpoises on your boat trip. Few experiences beat the joy of speeding through the waters accompanied by leaping, happy dolphins. Occasionally, lucky tourists even get to see blue whales on these tours.
You’ll find a variety of tours departing from the Old Harbor in downtown Reykjavik. Most take just over 30 minutes to get out far enough out tosee whales. Most tours vary in length from 2 hours to 5 hours. It’s important to dress warmly, even on a seemingly warm summer’s day it can be surprisingly cold out at sea. Most tours offer light refreshments on board.
Whales of Iceland Museum
Before or after going on your whale-watching trip it’s a good idea to learn more about whales. Where better to do this than at the biggest whale museum in Europe? In this beautifully-lit exhibition you’ll find 23 life-sized models of different whale varieties suspended from the ceiling. Here you can learn all about these majestic creatures, listen to whale song, and enjoy the interactive displays.
For more information see: www.whalesoficeland.is
Take the ferry to Viðey Island
During the warm summer months, families will enjoy taking the ferry to this delightful small island which is steeped in history and full of desolate beauty. It’s a fantastic place to visit if you want to see nature without hiring a car and driving out of the city. The ferry has departure points from the Old Harbor, from the marina behind the Harpa Concert Hall, and from Skarfabakki pier.
Once you’re on the island there are plenty of great walks, and often plenty of birds to see. Why not bring a picnic, or hire a bike? The wild, beautiful island has been lived in since the 10th century, and there are some interesting historic ruins to check out while you’re there. There’s also a small café.
If you go on an organized night-time tour, Viðey Island is a great place to see the northern lights, or to look out onto the vista of Reykjavik at night. The island also houses some interesting modern sculptures. There’s a “Peace Tower” built by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon. On certain nights, such as John Lennon’s birthday (9th October) or the day he died (8th December) it sends a beam of light out into the darkness, which apparently can be seen from space.
For details see: www.elding.is
Hunt for Elves in Hafnarfjörður
If you’re interested in doing something COMPLETELY different, and are prepared to suspend disbelief for a day, then why not go hunting for elves in Hafnarfjörður?
A recent survey found that as many as 50% of Icelandic people actually believe in, or at least entertain the possibility of elves living on the island! Road expansion and other building plans around Reykjavik have been delayed or halted by campaign groups worried about the disruption to the elf community.
According to tradition, there are a variety of different types of elf. The Huldufolk (hidden people) are around the same size as human adults and are of course invisible to most people. Traditionally, you should not throw stones whilst in the area in case the stone hits one of the elves.
10km from the centre of Reykjavik is the suburb of Hafnarfjörður. Here you can enjoy a guided tour of places reputedly inhabited by elves, based on plans drawn up by a local elf-seer. Alternatively you can download an app to take you on your own tour of the elfin hotspots of the area.
Go Horse Riding
If your kids are old enough and wanting an adventure, why not take the family horse riding whilst you’re in Reykjavik? There are a variety of trips on offer from local stables, many taking you out to explore the lava fields and glaciers surrounding the city. This is a great way for older kids to get to see something more of the island. Many stables will organize pick-ups from locations in the city.
Take a Walking Tour
Walking tours are a great way to get out and about whilst learning so much more about the city than you would if you walked around on your own. Some operators offer free tours lasting around 2 hours. On the free tours the guides are paid entirely from the tips they get from satisfied customers, so you can be sure they do all that they can to make the trip entertaining and informative. Most operators have walks running throughout the year. Some also arrange private walking tours.
One of the great things about these tours is that you can join or leave whenever you want. There’s absolutely no need to force the kids to stay on the tour longer than they can cope with. You can just wait for a natural break in the guide’s spiel, tip them what you think is a fair amount, and leave.
Pet the Animals at the Zoo
Younger children will enjoy a visit to the park and zoo, just next to the city’s botanical gardens. In the summer months you might want to combine a trip to the zoo with a picnic in the botanical gardens.
At the zoo,you’ll find reindeer, seals, mink and a variety of small farm animals which are suitable for petting. In the park you’ll find plenty for the little ones to play on including a small train, a pond with boats and a carousel. The park also has facilities for hosting a summer barbecue and a café. The zoo is open all year round but the park rides only operate during warm weather.
For details see: www.reykjavik.is
Explore Arbaer Open Air Museum
Families will love exploring the collection of over 20quaint, historic houses in this open-air museum located around 4km from the centre of Reykjavik. The old houses, farms and a turf-roofed church have been moved from various locations around the city and are combined here so you can get a feel for what life was like in Iceland over a hundred years ago.
During the holiday season, actors dressed as workers from times gone by will keep you entertained. It really is worthwhile taking the guided tours, as the curators are really informative and friendly.
The place is very family-orientated. During the summer months they do all kinds of organized activities for kids. There are box cars for them to play on and there is even a special toy room which they are allowed to play in freely. They also have animals here which little ones will enjoy petting.
For more information see: www.nat.is
Take a Picnic and Explore the Elliðárdalur Valley
A 20-minute car journey from Reykjavik brings you to this beautiful green valley. It’s a great place for a day out. There are plenty of walking trails. You’ll have an opportunity to see a wide variety of birds- maybe even an owl if you’re lucky. The Elliðárdalur valley is a favorite for fishermen, because the river that runs through it is full of wild salmon. Pony trekking tours and cycle hire is also available. It’s worth bringing a picnic and making a day of it.
Check out the Waxworks In the Saga Museum
This is Iceland’s answer to Madame Tussauds. At the Saga Museum, exciting moments from a thousand years of Icelandic history are brought to life in a collection of waxwork tableaux. From the times of the original settlers, through the Viking era and beyond, you can learn more about the ancient sagas and legends of Iceland in this exhibition as if you were really there at the time. The attention to detail is impressive. For example, the clothes and weapons that the wax models wear and carry were made using the same traditional methods as were available at the time to add to the authenticity.
You’ll be given an audio guide at the start to make sure you get the most from your visit. The exhibition isn’t particularly large- you’ll probably get round the whole thing in about an hour. At the end, kids will enjoy dressing up in Viking costumes. There’s a café and a gift shop on site.
For more information see: www.sagamuseum.is
You’ll be glad you brought the family to Reykjavik
So now you can see why Reykjavik is a great place to bring the family. There’s such a good variety of activities to keep everybody entertained and active. You won’t necessarily get time to do all the activities in this guide, and you might find that everybody wants to spend most days soaking in the geo- thermal waters. Don’t worry- that just gives you an excuse to bring the family back another time.