I have wanted to take a holiday to Iceland for so long now. Yes it can be cold but oh my goodness the scenery is out of this world. I have developed a bucket list for our trip to Iceland which includes bucket list things to do with kids, which mostly involves touring the Golden Circle.
To maximise what we want to do and see we will be hiring a car. Self drive tours in Iceland are very popular. It is an option that has been recommended to me many times. We love the freedom of having a car to ourselves when on a family holiday.
How to get to Iceland – How to Travel around – A bit about Iceland
From the UK you can fly to Iceland with a good selection of airlines. There’s BA, Wow, Iceland air and Easyjet being the main airlines. With flights times at around just 3 hours for a non stop flight and I have to say not too expensive either. The main airport in Iceland is at Reykjavík.
It can take a long time to get around Iceland. As an island it is only a little bigger than Ireland. The main reason it can take a long time to get around is the speed limit as it is only 90kmph (around 55mph) and most of the roads are standard roads, not motorways (dual carriageways, freeways etc). Luckily most of the main sites to see are located in what is known as the Golden Circle.
There is no time difference between the UK and Iceland.
The main draw for me with Iceland is its abundant natural beauty. There really is nowhere else like it on earth. It’s dramatic landscape has volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields. Plus massive glaciers in the Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull national parks. Known as the land of fire and ice thanks to some of the worlds most active volcanoes and some of the largest glaciers in Europe.
It is one of the safest countries in the world making it an ideal holiday destination for families and people travelling alone. The only thing you have to take caution with is the extreme weather. Always drive with caution, plan your route and day out as much as you can and check the weather forecast before you leave.
Iceland is close in proximity to the arctic circle. This means that summer days are longer with almost 24 hours of sunlight. In the winter the days are much shorter due to very little sunlight. The winter is said to be the best time to visit if you want to see the Aurora Borealis (the Northern lights).
Touring The Golden Circle
The golden circle is an almost circular tour of around 300 kilometres. The golden circle loops from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. It is the area that contains most tours and travel-related activities in Iceland. So it’s a perfect place to visit with or without a lot of time as Reykjavík is also the location of the main airport on the island.
Before setting off on your self drive tour it is worth checking this website to find out up to date road and weather information. The web cams on the website are a useful indicator of weather conditions. Notably the roads will be worse during their winter months. Having a route planned and using a website that can help plan this is certainly going to be a good idea.
All stops are just a short distance from the main golden circle road. As well as the main places to visit that I will mention below there are many beautiful waterfalls, geysers, hot pools and more to stop off and admire along the way. Please allow extra time for stop offs. Also it is recommended that you fill up the car when you can. My Dad’s motto was always never pass a toilet. Well in Iceland you should never pass a petrol station without filling up first. There is never a guarantee when you will pass one again. Sometimes they may even be shut or have just run out of petrol.
If you come across a large glacier there is often the option to hire a ski mobile to get around, amongst other transportation options.
Iceland Bucket List with Kids
Strokkur Geysir – Golden Circle
This is an area with hot springs, boiling mud pits and exploding geysers including the very lively Strokkur which erupts every few minutes. It spouts water 30 metres (100 ft) into the air which is quite a sight. There is also a geyser visitor centre with various exhibits.
Close to the Strokkur Geysir and also worth visiting you will find Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and the Diamond beach.
Thingvellir National Park – Golden Circle
Thingvellir is spelt Þingvellir in Icelandic. You do have to pay to park but the national park itself is free to visit. It is a beautiful park where you can actually walk over two tectonic plates. The park is suitable for all ages you do however need to do a lot of walking which isn’t particularly buggy or wheelchair friendly. It is worth finding the Oxrafoss waterfall.
Gullfoss Waterfall – Golden Circle
The waterfall of Gullfoss is wide and completely stunning. It is quite a spectacle and recommended to me by many people. There are several advantage points and there is also a restaurant on site. The waterfall is incredibly powerful and certainly not quiet. It can be very windy and cold so wrap up well.
These are the 3 main things to see along the golden circle.
Kerid Crater – Golden Circle
Kerid is the only stop along the Golden Circle that I’ve mentioned where you have to pay to visit. It is a volcanic crater and is filled with water and surrounded by red volcanic rock making it extremely picturesque. Concerts have even been held on a floating raft on the surface of the water. It was once believed to be 3,000 years old. Geologists now believe it to be a collapsed magma chamber from 6,000 years ago.
The Blue Lagoon
The blue lagoon is approximately 45 minutes drive from Reykjavík. It is one of the most famous and popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It is somewhere that I have wanted to go to for years and years. Lovely warm waters with cooler outside temperatures really appeals to me. Plus it is also stunning to look at. The lagoon’s warm geothermal water, mineral salts, silica and blue green algae help you relax and unwind while the lagoon’s distinctive white silica mud gently cleanses and exfoliates the skin. Perfect to relax in after a full days exploring.
If you are on a budget then you can save money visiting the Secret Lagoon instead as it is cheaper than the Blue Lagoon. The Icelandic people love to swim and there are many amazing swimming pools to be found across Iceland. Although notably most will be found in or near Reykjavík as this is the most populated part of Iceland.
Don’t forget the capital city of Iceland where your tour will start, Reykjavík itself. It has many colourful buildings and a stunning mountain backdrop. There’s plenty to see and do there such as fabulous city tours, whale watching from the harbour, swimming pools, museums and much more.
Mark from Wyld Family Travel has experienced a city walk tour of Reykjavík.
Here is an excerpt from his post “Eric was our guide on this day and a funnier more informative guy you would not meet. Some of the stories he told had us all completely in stitches. I would love to tell you some but I am not sure how they would come across in writing. The tour takes you on foot around the heart of Reykjavík starting as we said in Austurvöllur and finishing at the Harpa Concert Hall.
The main focus is the history of Iceland from the landing of the Vikings and how the country was populated (now that’s a funny story told by Eric.) We learn of Reykjavík as a town and its quirks such as the “Tree of the Year” competition, when you visit you will totally understand.” For more from this post please see – City walk Reykjavík tour reviewed.
A highlight for Sarah at Explore as a family was a trip to Laugardalslaug within Reykjavík.
Quote from a post of hers ‘We spent a half day at Laugardalslaug, which is located in the city of Reykjavík about a 10 minute drive from downtown. It’s essentially a large recreation complex and we absolutely loved the experience. There was a shallow kiddie pool, large indoor and outdoor pools, multiple slides for all ages, hot tubes, a “Wipeout” style obstacle course for older children, a mini golf course and beach volleyball courts. The entry fee was approximately 10 dollars per adult with young children being free. It was a great place to spend a cool and overcast morning and you barely notice the chill in the air when you’re toasty warm in the water!” For more on their trip to Iceland please see – 5 toddler friendly family things to do in Reykjavik.
Whale Watching (Reykjavík)
One for the summer and it has been recommended to me many times is whale watching. Reykjavík is by the sea so it is a great spot for whale watching. Quote and with thanks to Ting at My Travel Monkey ‘We marvelled at the seascape and beautiful scenery as we sailed around the southern part of Faxaflói. Looking back towards Reykjavík and pinpointing all the landmarks we’d already been to was a brilliant way to pass the time. Meanwhile, the majestic Mount Esja was never far from sight.
About an hour in, not unlike my time in the Whitsundays, there was a flurry of excitement when the guide told us to look east – a pod of white beaked dolphins were headed our way. Due to my lack of photography skills I wasn’t able to capture them properly, but we spent some time following them as they travelled through the ocean. Monkey was excited at first, but it was hard for him to see them properly and he soon lost interest. It was brilliant to watch these majestic creatures and at one count we spied 12 of them.’ Excerpt from: Reviewed Elding Whale Watching in Reykjavík, Iceland.
Whale watching is only advised during the summer months when you are more likely to see them. Hopefully you will also see some puffins which are also relatively easy to see in the summer months.
The Lava Tunnel
This lava tunnel cave is only accessible via guided tours. There is an easier tour option which is more family friendly and a more full on explorer option for children aged 12 and over. It is one of the longest tunnels in Iceland. It is located approximately 30 minutes from Reykjavík and is open almost all year round. The cave is a stunning example of nature. Even the easier tour option isn’t a walk in the park as you are given helmets and crampons to get around with. This is only something for children confident with walking and steady on foot.
Iceland Bucket List with Kids – Touring the Golden Circle – Family Holiday
Another top tip to save money is to buy food and drinks at the supermarket and stay somewhere where you can cater for yourselves. It is very expensive to eat at restaurants in Iceland and alcohol is even more expensive than food. I have been advised to buy any alcohol we may consume via Duty Free at the airport. That saying if you do enjoy eating out you will find some high quality restaurants with top quality food.
Disclaimer: This is a collaborative post with Guide to Iceland.
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