Never thought to do Iceland with kids? It might be best known for its natural wonders, but don’t overlook its characterful little capital, Reykjavic: compact enough to be explored on foot with even the smallest adventurers.
It may have been etched on our minds as a wallet-bashing party town, but Iceland’s capital city also ticks the box for families who want peaceful landscapes and gentle (and unusual) outdoor pursuits on a weekend away. In fact, this could be the perfect father/son destination.
Compiled by Rhonda Carrier
WHERE TO STAY
‘Living like a local’ has become a bit of a buzzword in travel, but renting this charming self-catering apartment on the top floor of the home of an architect couple and their children means more space and greater flexibility for families, as well as a warm personal welcome and the chance to feel at home in the city. Located on a quiet residential street within walking distance of the centre and major attractions, it sleeps up to five.
Quirky and stylish if slightly impersonal in feel, this harbourfront hotel – in the throes of expansion at the time of writing – has family suites for up to six, with bunkbeds. There’s also a climbing wall in the gym, toys in the lobby and a chic and cosy bar and restaurant serving sophisticated modern Icelandic fare.
A fun alternative to staying in Reykjavik itself (20 minutes from the centre by bus, in Hafnarfjörður on the route from the airport), this smallish hotel has tasteful Viking theming in some rooms and West Nordic in others. 14 adjoining cottages sleeping up to six, and displays of arts and crafts from Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands give them character.
WHERE TO EAT
Blink and you’ll miss this cramped harbourside shack, but venture inside and amidst rough-and-ready nautical decor and a self-service counter you’ll enjoy the best lobster soup you’ve ever tasted – just ask Nigel Slater if you don’t believe us.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Legendary hot dogs mean there’s always a queue at this famous red-and-white stall opposite the Harpa concert hall, but they’re worth the wait. The secret to their success? Try one and find out for yourself…
A basement kids’ playroom and a real working launderette are the USPs of this popular restaurant, but what really draws the crowds is the global comfort food served from breakfast ’till late. Don’t miss the smoothies and pancakes to start the day.
WHERE TO PLAY
This geothermal beach (a half hour’s walk from the city centre), comes into its own in summer, when local families gather to soak in the hot pots and swim in the kids’ area as sea-planes take off from the neighbouring domestic airport. But it’s a year-round spot for those with wetsuits and a love of the outdoors – and when it’s chilly you can take refuge in Perlan, the landmark dome does great hot chocolate and cake and a terrace with some of the best views over Reykjavík.
Hot spring valley is Reykjavík’s outdoor activities hub, with year-round outdoor swimming pools, a botanic garden including Arctic flowers and plants, and a zoo with mainly native animals including foxes, reindeer and seals. The Family Park has summer-time rides and a playground, plus there’s an art museum and sculpture garden, a youth hostel and campsite.
WHAT TO DO
Whatever you do, be sure to arm yourselves with a Reykjavík Welcome Card, which gives free entry to most attractions, discounts to the majority of the others, and free public transport including Videy Island ferry rides.
Reykjavik isn’t Iceland’s whale-watching hotspot but Minke whales, dolphins and porpoises are seen on 96% of trips run by this family-friendly firm in the city’s vast bay. You’re almost certain to see puffins flapping about too. Back on land, make sure you check out the exhibition space, including a documentary about Free Willy star Keiko.
Don’t let its size deceive you – this little museum of geology is a winner with kids, and free to boot. After they’ve handled different pumice stones and sifted volcanic ash, pay to watch a documentary about about some of Iceland’s most dramatic eruptions – especially if you’re heading outside Reykjavík to see some of the country’s natural wonders. At the front of the museum, Icelandic Fish & Chips is a family-friendly, if rather pricey, organic bistro.
This fairly compact museum may slightly mislead with its name, but the displays on the local fishing industry are as compelling as any about Iceland’s swashbuckling Nordic settlers. Time your visit to enjoy one of the guided tours of the coastguard vessel Ódinn (daily 1/2/3pm).
OUT OF TOWN
A short ferry trip from Reykjavik’s harbourfront (weekends only in winter) brings you to this lovely island rich in ancient ruins, one of the country’s oldest churches and modern works of art by Richard Serra and Yoko Ono (the Imagine Peace Towers). Kids love the nature trails and native horses, and rides are available on request.
WHERE TO SHOP
Take older kids to this flea market held in the old harbour every Saturday and Sunday, for vintage clothing, second-hand books and DVDs, antiques and trinkets. You’ll also find woollen clothes and accessories, hand-made toys and Icelandic delicacies including fermented shark meat and fresh liquorice. Be sure to take cash.
Creative kidswear by a local designer trained in Copenhagen occupies this funky modern space in central Reykjavik, with collections for children up to 10. There’s a second branch in the Kringlan shopping mall.
It’s Christmas every day of the year in the Little Christmas Shop, so this is a great space to stock up on quirky decorations or gifts or just have a surreal moment. Iceland is big on Santa – it has 13 of them, dubbed the ‘Yule-Tide Lads’.
No website; Laugavegi 8, tel (354) 552 2412 899 5992
LIKE A LOCAL
If you choose to self-cater and eat in of an evening, make sure you head to a Vínbúðin to grab some wine and beer. These state off licences have limited hours, and regular supermarkets don’t sell alcohol.
WHEN TO GO
June to August are the warmest months, with 24 hours of sunlight during July (don’t forget black out blinds for younger kids to avoid painful early rising). In May, though, flights and hotels are far cheaper and although there may be some snow on the ground, it’s lighter than winter but far quieter than summer. There’s no best time to see the Northern Lights, you simply need clear skies, solar activity and luck.
DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE:
To make life even easier, you can click here for all of our Do, Play, Shop & Eat picks mapped on Jauntful where you can download it into a handy printable A4 guide to take with you.
Mr Fox city guides are a comprehensive must-do list of places to stay, play, eat, do and shop in family-friendly cities. Compiled by writers who have tapped up the locals and thrown their children in at the deep end to bring you a tried and tested edit of the best places to be. Which leaves you nothing to do but book flights. Simple. See the rest of our Family City Guide series here.
Do you know Reykjavik like the back of your guidebook? Let us know your favourite spots in the comments below.