Iceland has been on my bucket list for quite some time. Recently it has become more and more popular to visit, and after traveling to Iceland with my kids, I can absolutely see why. It might not be the first place you think of to take your children, especially a toddler, but I am here to tell you it should be on that list. Iceland is a majestic country with natural beauty everywhere you look, where kids can run around and play with nature while parents can soak up the views and unencumbered family time.
When: Thanksgiving week in November
Where: West & South Iceland (see itinerary below)
Weather: Highs in the 40’s and lows in the 20’s. We experienced it all – sunny, overcast, wind and rain!
Wear: See Packing for Iceland in November
Ages: Our son was a toddler (21 months) and our daughter was 5
Our 6 night/7 day November Itinerary for Iceland
Day 1: Arrival / Reykjavík
Day 2: Into the Glacier Tour / Fossatún
Day 3: Snæfellsnes Peninsula / Fossatún
Day 4: Selfoss*
Day 5: Golden Circle Tour / Vík*
Day 6: Jökulsárlón Lagoon / Selfoss
Day 7: Selfoss to KEF / Departure
*We had to alter our plans due to weather. Ideally, we would have done the Golden Circle on Day 4 and stayed the night in Selfoss, giving us an extra day to explore Vík and allow more time on the route from Selfoss to Vík for stops.
This itinerary is perfect for:
- Families, especially those with young kids or toddlers. We went when our daughter was 5 years old and our son was 21 months.
- Those sticking to the west and south side of Iceland
- Self-drive (we rented a car with Green Motion out of KEF airport)
- A mixture of relaxing downtime and sightseeing
Day One – Reykjavík
5:30am: We arrived in Reykjavik at 5:30am. We left Baltimore the previous day at 6:10pm on WOW Air (for tips with this airline and flight, click here). We went through customs, got our bags and waited for our shuttle for the rental car. After about 20 minutes, our shuttle showed up and took us to Green Motion rental car, about 4 minutes away. They were easy to deal with and accommodating, but I didn’t love that they were offsite, especially at 6am in the morning with two kids who hadn’t slept much. Next time, I am renting from Hertz, who is on property at the airport, to save some time.
8:00am: Finally got to our apartment in Reykjavík around 8am and after a quick settling in, we slept from 9am-2pm, which I highly recommend doing as we didn’t get any sleep on the plane, well not all of us. My kids and husband slept for about 3 hours out of the 6, but I was on duty making sure they were okay so no sleep for mom! Sleeping right when we arrived help put us back on track, as we stayed awake from 2pm to 9pm, and then went back to bed for the evening. My kids assumed that morning was a “nap”, so it put them back on schedule no problem.
We rented through Booking.com the Three Sisters Apartment, and I highly recommend it. Location was great, the place was perfect for what we needed, a corner store was across the street and the host was outstanding! When we arrived they had a pack n play set up with a blanket for Easton and Emmie was thrilled about the bunk beds. The nicest part was they allowed us to check-in at 8am for no extra charge!! HUGE! I am telling you – getting that morning rest was a game changer and I don’t know how we would have proceeded without it.
2:00pm: After we woke up and put our winter clothes on, we only have about 2 hours left to explore Reykjavík before it got dark. We walked a few blocks down to the harbor and looked at the boats and beautiful mountains, and after a few more blocks we stumbled upon a city playground. Emmie loved this find, and we let them play for 15 minutes before Easton started to get cold, so we headed to dinner.
6:00pm: We went to dinner at The Laundromat Café, which if you have young kids and only one night in Reykjavík, it is the only place I would recommend going! Why? Toys! Their downstairs is an entire play area – with toys, lounging, books and games. After the time spent between the plane and car, this was the perfect end to the day to get their energy out. They have a few tables downstairs around the play area, so we grabbed one of those and had hot chocolate, a few beers and our dinner. You order upstairs at the bar, and they bring it down to your table. We must have stayed there for 2 hours – the kids absolutely loved it and I loved getting to enjoy a beer and meal without having to entertain the kids! A treat: )
After dinner we walked back to our apartment, grabbed some necessities at the corner store across the street (milk, shampoo, skyr yogurt, etc.) and headed in for the night. Perfect first day!
Day Two – Into the Glacier Tour (The Classic Tour)
10:00am: We all slept like babies that night and woke up at 9:30am. I fed the kids some breakfast from items I brought with us and the yogurt we grabbed the night before, we put our snow gear on and left Reykjavík around 10:00am. It took us 2 hours to get to Húsafell, so we arrived at our destination right on time, at noon.
12:30pm: After checking in and getting everybody redressed from the car with jackets, hand warmers and gloves, we boarded the bus from Húsafell to head up to the glacier. A vehicle change is required near the beginning of the journey, and we left your typical bus and climbed on board an old missile truck. This thing was huge and blew my kids minds. We stopped on the way up at their base to use the facilities and play in the snow, and re boarded to make it to our final destination – the Ice Cave. We got lucky that day and had amazing clear weather and good visibility, so our journey from Húsafell to the Ice Cave was about 1-1.5 hours.
This tour is of a man made ice cave in Langjökull, and was truly one of the highlights of our trip. It was one of the few tours the allowed children under 2 which is a main reason we booked it, and I am SO glad we did. We had one guide for about 10-15 of us, and he did a fantastic job taking us around the ice cave, explaining how it was formed, maintained, and the different types of ice we saw. My daughter loved catching the dripping water in her mouth from the ceiling, my son loved stomping in the puddles and playing in the snow, and my husband and I just tried to keep our jaws from dropping to the floor at the sheer knowledge that we were standing in an ice cave, on top of a glacier, in Iceland. It was incredible to see the different layers of snow built up over the years, and learn about how fast the glacier was moving and shrinking. This tour is not cheap, but luckily kids are free, and it really is a once in a lifetime experience. It is worth it in my opinion and I would recommend it to anyone – those with our without kids.
Into the Glacier Tour with a 21 month old? Absolutely!
- Its easy to walk around in – Easton walked for half of it and I carried him for the other half. We stopped along the way at times and I would just set him down and he played. There was so much to see, he was distracted and happy most of the time.
- I was worried about what would happen if he got fussy with a group, as I don’t want to take away from anyone else’s tour. Luckily he only got upset once, and I just walked him away from the group to a separate part, let him regroup, and rejoined about 3 minutes later.
- The cave is not too cold for kids! It was absolutely cold outside where there was wind, but we were only out there for about 5 minutes. With our layers on, we were perfectly comfortable, and we didn’t even need gloves inside.
- They offer tours at 10am, 12:30pm and 3pm. I agonized over which tour time would be the most sensible for Easton and give us the happiest and least tired baby! I ruled the 3pm tour out since it got dark at 4pm and we wanted to see it during the day. He normally takes a two hour nap around noon, so I almost ruled out the 12:30pm tour and went with the 10am, but I am so glad I listed to my gut and didn’t! Even though he naps at noon, I thought even if he got up at his normal 7am wakeup time, we had a two hour drive from 10am-12pm from Reykjavik to Húsafell, surely he would fall asleep from being tired from the day before, get his nap in the car and he would be good for the 12:30pm. Turns out that didn’t happen, but in a good way! He was so tired from the day before and since it stays dark in the morning, he slept until 10am that morning (we had to wake him when we left!). So he slowly woke in the car, ate a few snacks, and by noon he was ready to play! The tour ended around 3:30pm and he slept in our laps for the hour ride down the glacier in the old missile truck back to our car. That bumpy ride was just too intoxicating for a tired baby! It ended up working out perfectly.
4:30pm: We arrived back to our car in Húsafell around 4:30pm. We debated about going into Borgarnes for dinner, but it would have required an extra 20 minute drive past our accommodations to get there, and we were all pretty spent from the exciting day, so we decided to grab ingredients from the local store in Húsafell and make our own dinner. I also grabbed a few staples (milk, muffins, etc.) to hold us over in the morning. The store there had minimals so it wasn’t the best spot – I would recommend stocking up at a grocery store in Reykjavík for more selection.
6:00pm: We checked into our cabin, which was the guesthouse at Fossatún. I made this reservation online through Booking.com and got a fantastic deal – it was $240 for both nights. I absolutely recommend this hotel – easy check-in, clean and beautiful cabin, TWO rooms (I stayed with Easton in the double bed and Mike and Emmie took the separate twins) and when we woke up the next morning we had the most incredible view to see! It truly is a beautiful place – definitely the best landscape we stayed in. I wish the cabin had a more comfortable living room where my husband and I could have hung out after the kids went down, but we sat at table and played cards so it worked out fine. We were also benefiting from beautiful snow, but the cabin is set back some so without our 4×4 SUV, I would have been nervous!
Once we checked in I cooked some spaghetti from the ingredients we purchased earlier. It wasn’t my favorite meal by any means, but it did the trick and everyone ate it. After dinner we decided to take a night time hot tub dip. The kids loved it as snow surrounded the hot tubs and made for fun play. It was the perfect way to end an unrealistic day of being on a glacier, by sitting in a hot tub looking up at the stars in Iceland.
Day Three – Snæfellsnes Peninsula
10:00am: My original goal was to get on the road by 9:30am as this day required a good amount of driving, but we took it easy and all slept in until 10:00am. I knew we were going to miss a few things, but it was nice not to be rushed.
The great thing about Fosstún for kids is it has a playground – and an awesome one at that. You might think that 30ºF weather and several inches of snow would deter some kids – but not mine! Before we could hit the road, the kids needed some well deserved playground time. After playing on the playground, we explored the property. This place was unreal. Right behind the main hotel is a beautiful landscape including a waterfall and river that took our breath away. There is truly something magical about an icy waterfall, with the snow blanketing the banks and icicles hanging from the rocks. I could have stayed all day here, but we did want to try and see more! Around 11:00am we finally hit the road.
11:00am: After about 10 minutes on the road, it started to rain. We decided to press on in hopes that it would change. We got to Borgarnes around 11:30am and hit up a gas station for refreshments and sandwiches. After about an hour on the road, we saw the Basalt columns which were impressive to see. Right after we passed them, the weather took a turn for the worse (heavy rain and wind) and wasn’t going to be letting up anytime soon. Our goal was to do the whole peninsula, but with limited visibility and pouring rain I wasn’t about to trek around outside with two kids. We almost decided to turn around, but I didn’t just want to throw the day away, and I remembered that a little farther north was a cute town with a swimming pool and supposedly great views, so we altered our plans and decided to go there. Good decision!
2:00pm: The rain had started to let up and we finally made it to the town of Stykkishólmur, which is a very charming town. We went to the Stykkishólmur swimming pool straight away as the kids were ready to get some energy out after being in the car. Being that is was a rainy weekday and most kids were in school, there were only two other people at the pool. We showered (as you must in Iceland before entering) and jump right into the warm indoor pool. Floaties and some water toys were available for the kids to use. It was only drizzling outside, so we went to the outdoor kids pools. It was perfect for Easton as it was about 1.5ft deep and he could walk around on his own. My husband and I just laid on our backs in the hot water, trying to soak this moment in –
the kids were having a blast and we were relaxing in the most beautiful country I have ever seen. I could have stayed forever. It was hard to get up and leave, but I want to try and and see the lighthouse and harbor of this town before it got dark. We headed down to the docks, and took what was a gorgeous, yet cloudy view of the ocean and islands around us. After snapping a few pictures, we got in the car and headed back to our hotel in the dark.
4:00pm: We left Stykkishólmur and made it back to Borgarnes around 5:30pm. We were about to go to OK Restaurant as the reviews looked good, but after swimming in the pool with wet hair and no makeup, I was worried we would be underdressed. Instead we stopped at Grillhusid. I was a little apprehensive as restaurants next to gas stations aren’t really a thing in the US, but it was the perfect spot for kids. Comfortable, relaxed and our food was good. After dinner we headed back to our guesthouse at Fosstún.
Day Four – Drive to Selfoss (Thanksgiving Day)
Day Four was supposed to be our big Golden Circle Day, but the weather had other plans. It was rainy again today, all day, and I just didn’t want to make the kids push around in this weather. Plus, the last three days were go, go go, so it was sort of nice to have a slow day. We just woke up leisurely, checked out of Fosstún, and headed down to Selfoss. We stopped in Reykjavík on our way through to Selfoss for lunch, and ended up eating at a Ruby Tuesday. My kids needed a comfort meal like they were used too!
Once we made it to Selfoss, we checked into our cabin at Gesthus Selfoss. This cabin was ideal, and our favorite place we stayed! It is perfect for families – two bedrooms, large and comfortable living area, spacious and clean kitchen, huge deck…and the best – private hot tub! Right after checking in around 2pm, we all put on our swimsuits and jumped into the hot tub. We must have “swam” for about an hour, before we decided to we needed an afternoon treat. We headed to the local bakery, Gudnabakari, where we warmed up with hot chocolate and devoured two chocolate cakes.
After indulging, we drove about 3 minutes to Bónus & Hagkaup, which is an Iceland grocery store and equivalent to Target. We got groceries and picked up a few souvenirs for ourselves and family members at Hagkaup. We ended the evening back at our cabin, enjoying our Thanksgiving meal of pasta, bread and salad while discussing the many blessings we had to be thankful for, like being in Iceland together! This might be the best Thanksgiving I have ever had! Instead of spending the day slaving over a meal that would be devoured in 15 minutes, we enjoyed each other as a family, not taking a moment for granted! While I was initially disappointed in the morning that our plans changed, it was a very relaxing and easygoing day and I had fun pretending to be a local.
Day Five – Golden Circle Tour, Drive to Vík & Northern Lights!
9:45am: We had a lot to accomplish today since we were making up for lost time from the day before so we started out early (or as early as I could get 2 kids and my husband out the door). We left our guesthouse and headed straight for the Geysir Hot Springs. This was one of our colder days so we bundled up in lots of layers, but it was worth it to walk around catch the Geysir Stokkur go off – the kids loved it! After a quick hot chocolate at the café and some souvenir shopping at the gift shop (best gift shop we found for touristy items) we headed to Gullfoss Waterfall. We walked down the stairs to catch a spectacular view of this powerfull waterfall. It is like nothing else I have ever seen before – just the magnitude of the power behind it is awe inspiring. We spent about 20 minutes here and then loaded the kids back up to hit the next stop.
12:30pm: It was already lunchtime and we had only hit two spots, so I was getting nervous about seeing everything today. The café at Gullfoss offered very little so we decided to stop back at the café across from Geysir, but even in the off season it was jammed packed and I didn’t want to wait 20 minutes. So I dug around in my monster of a bag and found enough to hold us over – fruit, peanut butter crackers and chips. I would advise to pack a lunch ahead of time if your trying to squeeze in a lot on this day like we did! On our way to our next stop we pulled over along the side of the road to pet some Icelandic Horses. They are very friendly and are used to people stopping as they came right up to us. Luckily I had read on a blog before I went they like apples, so I pulled out the few I had kept on hand for said occasion and we all got to feed them. The kids loved the interaction and it was a unique, quick and free experience I will remember!
1:00pm: I planned a stop at Secret Lagoon as I wanted to give the kids the opportunity to get some energy out as it was a heavy sightseeing day, and I am so glad we did! I loved it! I can’t compare it to other hot springs as this was our only stop, but I loved how small, natural and peaceful it was! You feel one with nature – with a stone floor and grass edge -not like you are at a major tourist trap. It feels very relaxing and remote. We stayed for about 30 minutes in the water as the kids couldn’t do much longer with the heat, but they loved playing with the noodles provided and rocks in the water. There were several shallow areas my son could just walk around in, so for a nice time my husband and I just sat and relaxed while the kids played. After about an hour here (allowing time before and after to shower/dress), we continued on our way to Vík.
3:30pm: While I would have loved to have visited both Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls on our way to Vík, unfortunately we were working against the sunset so we only had time for Seljalandsfoss. However, we were not disappointed as this proved to be a highlight of our trip! Here is why – Seljalandsfoss itself is a gorgeous and mighty waterfall that is impressive on its own. The area to the base of the waterfall was inaccessible due to ice during our time and was roped off. Seljalandsfoss is not the only waterfall at this stop – it is the largest and most viewed, but I URGE you to continue down the gravel path to the left of the waterfall that walks you in front of the other smaller waterfalls. Once you get to the end of the path, there is a hidden waterfall called Gljúfrabúi. The only way to get to it is to do a bit of climbing or by wading the tiny river – but it is SO worth it! If I can do it with a baby on my hit while holding a 5 year olds hand (my husband was so excited he went ahead), anyone can do it! In November, the “river” we waded through was only about 6 inches deep on the right hand side of the cave, and I only had to step in the water once or twice because we stayed on rocks. Once you get inside, you are basically INSIDE A CAVE with this waterfall coming down right in front of you. It was loud, wet (which is why our pictures turned out so bad!) and dark (the sun was setting by the time we reached here), but it was awesome! You could almost feel the weight of the waterfall coming down and the power behind it. It was quite breathtaking, and we got to experience this moment just with our family as no one else was there. This was my husbands favorite part of the trip .We left Seljalandsfoss and headed to check into our Airbnb in Vík.
5:30pm: After grabbing a few staples at the grocery store (muffins, milk, chips) and unloading our suitcases, we headed to dinner at Halldorskaffi. Very cozy restaurant, great for grabbing a beer and friendly with kids. We split a pizza which was yummy, and their chocolate cake was devoured by all! Definitely recommend.
This was the only night the ENTIRE trip where the sky was somewhat clear and the Aurora Borealis were active, so I had to try and see them! My husband was weary about me driving by myself since I didn’t have a working phone, but I promised not to go far (he stayed with the kids as they were asleep). At about 10pm, I drove to the outskirts of the town (maybe 1/2 mile) and I saw them! Pinch me!!! They weren’t striking, but it was enough to get a good glimpse. I enjoyed the moment for a few minutes, and then rushed back to our place, woke up my 5 year old as I had promised to do so if I saw them, and then traded places with my husband so we could get a look while I stayed back with Easton. I still cannot believe we were lucky enough to see them and I got to see something I never envisioned I would. To track the auroral activity, I definitely recommend this website – you can see the strength of the auroras as well as cloud cover in your area.
We stayed at an Airbnb here in Vík. While the accommodations were great and the host was wonderful, it was a second floor unit in a very old building, and unfortunately the guests on the first floor had a party until 2am and there was no sound protection! With kids, this was not fun – waking up and crying due to noise at 1am is not my idea of a good time. Just a good thing to consider when booking your accommodations as a family – get as private as possible!
Day Six – Vík & Jökulsárlón Lagoon
Now THIS, this was my favorite day…
10:00am: Repacked, and ready to go, we started off our day by exploring the black sand beaches of Vík. We drove down to Kirkjufjara beach, which was the perfect place since we only had time for one stop, and it offered breathtaking views of both Reynisfjara to the left and Dyrhólaey to the right. We climbed around on the rocks to take in the gorgeous scenery, and then headed down to Kirkjufjara beach to feel the black sand between our fingers. It was very windy out so we couldn’t stay too long with the kids, but it was simply stunning. The black sand was incredibly neat to touch, as it just fell through your hands.
12:00pm: After grabbing some lunch from a gas station, we started the 2.5 hour journey from Vik to Jökulsárlón Lagoon. I know it sound crazy to some people to drive 5 hours in one day to see just one landmark – but I PROMISE YOU – this is absolutely worth every second in the car.
We stopped a few times along the way, as it is hard not to stare at the many waterfalls you pass by on the road or take a second to play in the rolling lava fields. The drive in it of itself is mesmerizing as you pass varying landscapes on this drive – water, mountains, lava fields, waterfalls, glaciers, snow and marsh lands. But nothing compares to that moment when you eyes find Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon – stunned & speechless by sheer beauty is the best I can explain it.
3:15pm: We immediately got out of the car and walked down to Jökulsárlón Lagoon. We spent a good hour here, taking pictures, throwing rocks, watching a seal swim and trying to have it all sink it. We grabbed some hot chocolate from the little store onsite, and ended our day by staring at the lagoon during sunset. I mean, come on…it was a dream. It felt very surreal to be there at the moment… staring at 1000 year old ice, in a picturesque blue glacial lagoon, in Iceland. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend our last full day on this island. It was one of the most beautiful natural creations I have ever seen.
4:30pm: We grudgingly left Jökulsárlón to start our journey back to Selfoss. We thought about staying in Vík, but wanted to be a little closer to the airport so we pushed through. Our only stop was for dinner at Systrakaffi, which was a nice spot for a quick meal and drink. There isn’t much on the way from Jökulsárlón to Vík, so this was a nice find!
We got to our hotel, Mýri Guesthouse, just in time to put the kids down. This was the only night I hadn’t booked in advance as I wasn’t sure how far we would make it back, so I found this room a few hours before we arrived and it was perfect! Highly recommend!! It was new, modern and clean, and I would absolutely stay here again. It isn’t huge as it is a studio, but for one night it was perfect – and affordable!
Day 7 – A quick swim in Selfoss / Flight home
10:00am: Our flight was at 3pm, so we had a little time before we headed back. I wanted to leave Selfoss around 11:30am, so we decided to have some fun with the kids and take them swimming. We checked out of Mýri Guesthouse about 10am and drove the 5 minutes to the Selfoss pool. This pool was perfect for kids!!! Several slides, which were open during the winter!, and shallow areas for my toddler to walk around in. We swam in the indoor pool (a basic pool) for the beginning, but spent most of our time in the awesome outdoor pool. It is crazy to think you would swim outside in Iceland during the winter, but with warm water temperatures it is so easy!
After our swim we ate lunch in the car on the way to the airport. We returned our rental car easily, and then went to the airport to check in with WOW airlines. I had given us 2 hours from the start of the rental car place, but that took longer than expected, so by the time we arrived at the ticket counter is was about 1.5 hours before our flight. You think that would be enough time, but the line was the longest I have ever seen, and it wasn’t moving!! I was so stressed that we were not going to make our flight, but after waiting 45 minutes in line they called our flight to the front for final call. We checked in, ran through security and customs, and got to our flight as they were boarding. Turns out they were somewhat delayed and we had a few minutes, but I was not aware of this so my mind was in panic mode! So, note to anyone taking WOW airlines, do not stress yourself out and get there 3 hours before your flight! (For more on traveling to Iceland with toddlers, see my Travel post).
Luckily we made it on and were headed home! Normally after being a week away with the kids I am ready to get back to our beds and our routine…but not this time. I could have easily stayed for another week, or two or forever! Our family fell in love with Iceland and not only plan to return, but hopefully try and live there one day!