Iceland has been making the news when it comes to being the most up-and-coming travel destination in the last few years. While many people had never heard of Iceland in the past, this extraordinary country has been growing in leaps and bounds when it comes to the tourism side. Maybe it is the spectacular landscape or the incredible attractions, but we happen to think it is the friendliness of the locals and the culture that attracts people the most.
The idea of a family getaway in Iceland with kids, the land of ice and fire, is always exciting and interesting. It always stands out as one of the most family-friendly places to take the kids to experience a different taste of European hospitality. With its low crime rate, there is no doubt that many parents would endure long-haul flights just to let the kids enjoy the otherworldly landscapes and wallpaper-worthy views of the country.
Regardless of when you plan to visit the land of black lava, moss, snow, and, of course, ice, it will always have something to offer for the entire family. So, let’s get to know Iceland a little better.
Where is Iceland?
Iceland can be found up in the North Atlantic Ocean, near Greenland and other European countries. When you look at a map of Iceland, you will see that the capital city is Reykjavik. Since Iceland is considered part of the European continent, it should not be shocking that it is owned by Denmark and Norway. However, you may not know that Iceland used to be part of the Norwegian Empire, as well as eventually the Kalmar Union until 1523.
Is Iceland a Country?
When people consider traveling to Iceland, they often wonder if Iceland is a country. The answer to this question is yes, Iceland is a country, basically a Nordic Island Country. In the very beginning, only Icelandic and Norse were the languages spoken in Iceland. However, nowadays, in addition to those official languages of Iceland, you will hear English, German, French, and Dutch. When you take an Iceland vacation, you will find yourself adjusting to GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time, for the time zone. There are no daylight savings time changes in this country, so you will never need to adjust your time during your visit.
Who Named Iceland?
Iceland was named by the Norwegian Viking, Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerծarson. He took one look at the pack ice from the top of a mountain and decided the island must be named Iceland. That name stuck over the two names the island had been given by those who had visited the island previously.
Of course, there has also always been the rumor that Iceland was named as it was, so people would not flock to the country in droves and would head over to the island of Greenland instead. Of course, that didn’t really work since Greenland is mostly covered with a layer of ice!
How Big is Iceland?
Iceland is 39,768 square miles in size, which is about the size of the state of Virginia. This means that Iceland is relatively small compare to a lot of other countries in land mass.
Population of Iceland
According to the last count in 2017, Iceland currently has a population of 348,580 people. Most of those people live within Reykjavik. Iceland has gotten so popular that it gets more tourists per year than people that live in it.
When you take an Iceland vacation, you will want to be prepared with the proper currency. The Icelandic Krona is the currency in Iceland, and you can choose to convert your American dollars before your trip or once you arrive at your destination. If you do not want to exchange your money, you can always use your credit card, just make sure you have a four-digit pin if you are purchasing anything over 5000 ISK. For those purchases that make it under that amount, you can usually bypass the pin if you have a card with a chip.
Is Iceland Safe to Visit?
Iceland is a very safe country to visit, but you still need to stay aware of your surroundings, because petty theft is still a thing there. Solo female travelers will feel at ease in this part of the world and the only time there might be a concern is at night near Austurvöllur Park, because there are many bars nearby and the drunks hang out there afterwards. Therefore, travelers will not want to be in that area alone after dark.
Travel Requirements for Going to Iceland
If you’re a US citizen, you can visit Iceland without a visa, as long as you are staying for less than ninety days. Other people may require a Schengen visa if they are traveling from, or through, other parts of the world before arriving in Iceland.
As for a passport, it is necessary and yours must be valid for at least three months past your departure date. While three months is the minimum, the government prefers that passports are valid for an additional six months.
There are not any current health concerns when it comes to an Iceland vacation, but you may want to check with your doctor prior to your visit in case something changes.
How to Get to Iceland
It is not too difficult to fly to Iceland and you can reach your destination in about three hours from Europe and five hours from the United States. Icelandair, Scandinavian Air, Easy Jet, and Delta are all airlines that fly into the Keflavik International Airport near Reykjavik. This airport is about a forty-minute drive from the capital city of Reykjavik.
How to Get Around Iceland
When you arrive at the airport, you can take the Flybus airport shuttle to the Reykjavik bus terminal, so you can rely on the bus for your Iceland vacation. However, if you want to skip the bus, you can choose to take the Skybus+ or a cab to your hotel in Reykjavik.
The best way to get around Iceland though is renting a vehicle. An all-wheel drive, or four-wheel drive, is best for the terrain of this country, but you must be prepared to pay an extraordinary amount of money for gas. Currently, gas is running between seven and eight US dollars per gallon. Plus, while you are going to still be driving on the right side of the road, you will need to get used to looking at the kilometers for speed instead of the miles.
Weather in Iceland
It never gets extremely warm in Iceland, but the summers are definitely warmer than the winter months. While the summer days can reach the middle fifties and low sixties, the season is much shorter than the winter where the temperatures can get down to around seventeen degrees. The summer season brings less rain to this country, but there is more precipitation present, in the form of snow, during the winter.
Best Time to Visit Iceland
You may think that the summer months of June, July, August, and early September are the best time to visit Iceland, but I am telling you that you shouldn’t discount the fall and winter months of late September, October, November, December, and January either. Yes, it is easier to swim in the still cold ocean and walk around when the weather is warmer, but I have been to this country in the middle of January when it was warmer than some of the colder areas of the United States! The only downside to the winter months is the fact it is very dark for most of the day. The extended sunshine, and daylight, during the summer months makes it much easier to see everything you want to during your Iceland vacation. And the Spring months of late February, March, April, and May are also great times to visit Iceland as you’ll find less crowds and better deals.
What to Pack for Iceland
It is important that you pack many different layers for outfits, because layering is the only way you will survive the cold when you are out and exploring. Excellent hiking boots that also offer warmth are a must, along with hats, gloves, and even a scarf for the windier days. You will need less during the summer months, but you should still be aware of how cold is Iceland at that time, because it could make you colder than you think during your visit.
Where to Stay in Iceland
When you take an Iceland vacation, you will need to know where to stay. There are many options within both Keflavik and Reykjavik, but you can also find some excellent options around the Golden Circle and along the South Coast. A few of the most popular destinations within those two areas include Geysir, Selfoss, Hveragerծi, Flúծir, Vik, and Skógar. The East Fjords also offer plenty of options, as does northern Iceland and the West Fjords.
The best part about all these options when it comes to where to stay in Iceland is that you can easily find accommodations within your budget range at any of the areas mentioned above.
Expert Tips on Traveling to Iceland
There are tips for traveling everywhere in the world, and while some of them apply to almost any destination, Iceland requires a few tips that some people might not consider as they are planning their vacation there.
The first thing you must know is that it is necessary to plan your trip early, especially if you plan on visiting during the short summer season. It is also necessary to create a budget, but make sure it covers the expensive nature of this country. If you normally do not spend more than a couple thousand dollars for your vacations, you might have sticker shock once you start to look into the prices of hotels, car rentals, gas, food, and even the cost of attractions.
It is best to plan your trip wisely too, because some of the best things to do in Iceland are further away from the capital city of Reykjavik. Therefore, you may want to reserve a room for a couple nights in different areas of the country, so you are not driving for hours each night to get back to your hotel.
You are never going to see everything that is available in Iceland during one trip, so please do not even try. I recommend creating a list of the attractions and sights you want to see the most and limit those according to the amount of time you have available. When you then create your itinerary, you can place a couple things on each day and then write down potential extras that are nearby if you happen to have the time.
One last tip for Iceland vacations is to please know your pin for your credit card. While you may be able to bypass it in many areas, your trip can be a lot more uncomfortable than it needs to be if you are unable to purchase a few things that you want the most.
Iceland is such a phenomenal country, and that is why so many people are choosing to visit this country after all these years. You will meet many of the people from Iceland during your stay and they will be more than willing to help you out if you have any questions during your Iceland vacation. So, plan your trip to this beautiful part of the world and relax as you enjoy everything on your itinerary.
What to do in Iceland
1. Reykjavik – Explore the city!
There are so many things to do when you are visiting Iceland on vacation. While some of them are within the capital city of Reykjavik, a few of them are further out in the country where nature has been mostly left alone over the years.
As soon as you land in Reykjavik, you’ll agree with us if we say that you’ll be in an entirely different world. The trip to Iceland with kids may be long depending where you are coming from, but every bit of time you spend on the plane and effort you will pour into planning will all be worth it! With the jaw-dropping natural backdrop and unspoiled natural wonders, Iceland is one of the most remarkable places that will give your kids an experience they will never forget.
Kickstart your adventure in the capital-Reykjavik! Getting around the city and the entire country is easy. Though there are several transportation options you can select from, the popular family choice of navigating the city is through car rentals. You can complete your family trip by following some self-guided tours. But if you have limited time and want to opt for some organized tours, then the bus tours are just perfect for you.
Whether you rent a car or take the bus, you can explore the city to experience the fun and exciting city life in this part of the world. There are restaurants, café, and shops that the kids will love. Some unique attractions that you can visit in the capital are Hallgrímskirkja Church Tower, Reykjavik HarpaHall, and the Viking Museums. The more traditional tourist attractions that you can take the kids to are the zoos and parks.
2. The Golden Circle–Drive around to see and visit the Golden Trio!
Your Icelandic excursion will not be complete without visiting the sites of the Golden Circle! We must say, it will be your ultimate Icelandic excursion. The attractions to see include Geyser, Thingvellir National Park, and the Gulfoss waterfall! There are bus tours that will take you and your kids to the sites. If you’re thinking that driving up to the sites will bore your kids, think again. Driving to the sites by car is actually ideal, since these attractions are relatively conveniently located close to the capital and the trip doesn’t take long.
Geyser or the famous erupting geysers of Haukadalur Geothermal Valley is a tourist attraction of a geothermal spring of water and vapor. These geysers, especially the Strokkur, put up an eruption show every eight minutes.
Gulfoss is a massive waterfall with a mighty cascade that leaves everyone who visits breathless. There are two main platforms to view the waterfall, but hiking up close will give you and your family a better look of this mighty giant. Just be careful, since the road to the falls can get slippery.
Completing the trio is the stunning continental drift of Thingvellir National Park that separates the continents of North America and Europe. This UNESCO World Heritage site will give you a remarkable view of the tectonic plates that connect the continents. Kids will love it!
One of the most unique things to do during an Iceland vacation is go scuba diving between these two tectonic plates. You can only dive down between the North American and Eurasian titanic plates with a tour guide, but the crystal-clear water will make the journey worthwhile. If you do not want to go into the water, you can see these plates within the Pingvellir Plain and trace the fault lines to see where the separation has occurred.
3. Visit More Massive Waterfalls
One of the first things you should do during your Iceland vacation is determine what is the largest waterfall by volume in Iceland. Once you know that the answer is Dettifoss, you can easily go to see that waterfall. You will find Dettifoss in Vatnajökull National Park. Other waterfalls you may want to check out when you are on an Iceland vacation include Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Hengifoss, Glymur, and Gullfoss.
4. Hang out on Black Sand Beach
There are many black sand beaches in Iceland, so make sure you take the time to see at least one of them during your Iceland vacation. The one that is a favorite of past visitors is Reynisfjara, which is near Vik and can easily be reached from the capital city of Reykjavik.
If you do not want to wander through black sand, you may prefer the red and pink sand that covers Rauծasandur Beach.
5. Hot Spring and more – Experience the uniquely Icelandic geothermal pools!
Volcanoes appear to breathe in sulfur and sweat through geothermal pools! Due to the active volcanic activities in the region, natural and established geothermal baths or pools have been made open to the public. Kids as young as two years old are allowed to reap the benefits of taking a dip at the geothermal heated nature pools.
The most popular option to many locals, which is also by far the top choice among tourists, is the world-renowned Blue Lagoon. This geothermal spa is conveniently located in between Reykjavík City and Keflavík Airport, so driving to-and-fro should not take long.
Other top choices are the Fontana Geothermal Baths in Laugarvatn and the Mývatn Nature Baths in North Iceland, which both have no age limit and offer free entrance to children below thirteen. Amazing, isn’t it?
6, Lava Caving – Explore the underworld!
Experiencing the geothermal activities in Iceland with kids is not limited only to bathing at geothermal nature baths. You can also take your family inside one of the lava caves for a different experience that certainly will appeal to your daredevil kids. Through the lava caves adventure, kids will witness the natural beauty of colorful tunnels that will add value to the amazing underworld experience. If the idea is not sold to you yet, then consider visiting the Snæfellsjökull National Park in West Iceland to experience the fun and exciting adventure that the Vatnshellir lava cave offers.
7. Glacier – Walk on glacier ice caps!
Geothermal parks and pools represent the fiery nature of Iceland. Now, it’s time for the icy part. A classic adventure in this country is to complete a glacier experience in Skálafellsjökull Glacier, where kids age five and above can hike up the icy caps or go inside the naturally formed ice tunnels. If you do not have time to visit the glaciers, the next available option is a man-made ice tunnel that is available all year round.
8. Animals of the land of ice and fire – Whale watching is a must-do!
Aboard a traditional whale watching vessel, tourists can witness the gentle marine giants roaming freely in their natural habitat. If you get lucky, these mammals, which are mostly minke whales, are also seen playing with the energetic humpbacks and the playful dolphins. So, get to the Old Harbor in Reykjavik early to start your whale watching experience on time.
9. Visit Puffin Island
Puffins are cute little creatures and many visitors like yourself want to know where to see puffins in Iceland. Since more than sixty percent of the entire Atlantic puffins live within Iceland, it is fairly easy to find them throughout the country. Látrabjarg is one of the best places to see the puffins in Iceland, but you can also see them at Dyrholaey, the Tjornes Peninsula, Ingolfshofdi, and the Westman Islands.
You can also consider taking a boat ride over to Puffin Island to see these cute creatures. You will only see puffins in Iceland during the months of June through September, because that is when they arrive on land to breed, lay their eggs, and eventually raise their chicks. Afterwards, they fly away until the next summer season.
10. Go to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
If you want to see more wildlife during your Iceland vacation, you must take the time to explore the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. You can easily reach this area on one of the ferries or by taking a tour. During your visit, you will see tens of thousands of birds, but you will also get a glimpse of the Arctic fox, which is the only land mammal that is native to this island.
Another nature reserve worthy of a visit is the Skaftafell Nature Reserve and you will love hiking the trails there. This reserve is within the Vatnajökull National Park and your walks will have you near lava fields, black deserts, and the massive glacier known as Vatnajökull.
11. Aurora Borealis – Dance with the Northern Lights
If you are traveling to Iceland with kids between September to mid-April, then you are just in time for a magical and colorful sky display of lights.
Surely you will be amazed by the natural and fascinating Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. Watching the Northern Lights dance and light up the midnight sky will definitely be one for the books. This will be a remarkable experience to cap off your Icelandic adventure!