I am sure when you think “family vacation”, Iceland isn’t on your list of places to visit. However, I am here to tell you it absolutely should be. Iceland is a welcoming and wonderful place for kids, even our toddler loved it! Our family vacation to Iceland was one of the best trips we have ever taken together. It allowed us to spend some serious quality time together, away from the hustle of everyday life, and enjoy one of the most beautiful places on earth.
There are some definite concerns I had about traveling with a toddler when researching Iceland, mainly due to the winter weather. Turns out, I had no reason to be concerned. Below are a list of reasons why I almost cancelled our trip – largely due to overthinking it – and why I was wrong!
Taking a toddler to Iceland in November – What I antagonized over and shouldn’t have
1. Road conditions
My number one concern was the weather, and how that would impact the road conditions in Iceland. I have read about winter conditions in Iceland, and how some roads closed because it was so bad, or how you can hit a patch of black ice and skid off the road. I have also watched one or two Youtube videos about driving during the night and when it was snowing, and it terrified me.
The reality? We were in Iceland in the end of November and the weather never impacted our driving. We mainly stuck to Route 1 (Ring Road) and only stayed on the western side of the island (Snæfellsnes Peninsula to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon), but all the roads we went on were paved and cleared. The first two days everything was covered in snow (minus the roads), which was beautiful. The third day it rained, cleared all the snow away, and the roads remained cleared the whole time. We only drove at night once, but it wasn’t a problem as we had clear weather (no snow or rain).
I am not sure if we got a good week or if what we experienced was average for late November, but the road conditions were completely safe to drive on. I cannot speak to other winter months as I know it does get more extreme and serious, so if you are traveling at a different time I would make sure to research what to expect. We rented a 4WD SUV with studded tires which made me feel better. We are from Tennessee and have some experience with snow, but you still need to be a careful and alert driver.
2. Weather – will it be too cold for a toddler?
Much of what we wanted to see in Iceland was outside, and I was worried our little one would be miserable the whole time with freezing temperatures.
The reality? It is not too cold! (at least in late November). The average temperatures for our trip were in the 30’s and 40’s. We brought lots of layers and warm coats, hats and gloves and good snow boots- and both kids were comfortable. One or two days we didn’t even need our heavy jackets for the brief moments we were outside.
The time we spent outside never exceeded more than an hour at once. Most places we spent between 20 – 30 minutes at, so the kids were’t able to get too cold as we weren’t outside that very long. The coldest the kids got was at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon as we spent about an hour there, but I had packed hand warmers and hot chocolate in their thermos so they were okay.
I recommend keeping a blanket in the car to have over their lap, and an easy coat to get off and on as they should not be wearing their coat in their car seat.
3. Will we be in the car too much?
When you go to Iceland, there is so much to see and do all over the island, a large portion of your time will be spent in the car to get from point A to points B, C, D, E and F. My fear was I didn’t want to spend ALL of our time in the car, as that isn’t fair for our kids. I think we handled it perfectly. Only one day did we spent more than 2 hours in the car at once, and that was because we had to make it from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon back to Selfoss so we would be close to the airport on departure day.
How we handled the driving was by splitting it up. Most days we spent about 2 hours in the car, but we would try to split it up with activities in between so it wasn’t all at once. Which lets be honest, between school trips, dance rehearsals and Target, I spend about 2 hours a day in the car at home.
We also used our drive time wisely – we would feed the kids in the car their lunch or a good snack, or have a portion of that be their down time on their Kindles. I also brought several toys – coloring, dolls, dinosaurs, etc.. You might not think young kids would be to enthralled with their surroundings, but my kids loved looking out the window at all the sites. Our toddler was even amazed by the mountains as he kept pointing at them and going “whoa, whoa, whoa”. They stayed entertained the whole time and honestly, they never complained!
4. What activities can we do with our toddler?
There is SO much to do in Iceland, and I wanted to do it all! I read about horseback riding, glacier hiking, and snorkeling in the silfra fissure, and after reading all of these things that adults could do but kids couldn’t, I doubted taking mine. I wanted to make sure we would get to experience all that Iceland had to offer.
The reality? Unless you have a month to spend in Iceland, there is no way you can experience it all. Yes there were a few activities we could not do because of kids, but we experienced so much on the trip with them I honestly don’t feel like I missed out! I only have the yearning to go back to see and do more!
The kids were able to participate in all the major sight seeing in Iceland: Gulfoss, Geysir, Black Sand Beaches, Jökulsárlón and Seljalandsfoss. All of these stops were easily walkable for children, and you could even do Geysir with a stroller. Every stop has it dangers for young kids (Gulfoss has a cliff, the blank sand beaches have strong waves, and Geysir has extremely hot water), but there are ropes and fencing to keep you from going where you are not supposed to. As most parents know, this will not stop a toddler, so please keep an eye on your children. I just used my best judgement. When we were at Geysir, I held Easton so he couldn’t run or fall into hot water. When we were at the lava fields, I let him run free and enjoy the open space. I felt comfortable the entire time with my kids – just keeping an extra watchful eye on Easton at certain spots.
The only tour we did with the kids was the Into the Glacier Tour, offers various tours into the man-made Ice Caves in Langjökull. This was one of the few tours that allowed toddlers which is why we choose it, and I am very thankful they do! It was an incredible experience, being on top of a glacier in an ice cave, and our guide was very knowledgeable and we learned interesting facts about the glacier and Iceland.
The main activity that we participated in the kids with was swimming! We went to two city pools (Stykkishólmur and Selfoss) and one hot springs (Secret Lagoon) and had a blast swimming in the geothermal warm waters. The pools were a perfect warm temperature, and we swam for about an hour. Secret Lagoon was warmer, closer to a hot tub, so we only stayed for about 30 minutes as we didn’t want to overheat the kids. Not only did the kids love swimming, but it was one of my favorite activities we did. I will always remember the feeling of laying there in of the kiddie pools in Stykkishólmur, just feeling so relaxed and content watching my kids play and laugh, thinking it doesn’t get much better than this.
5. Will our kids eat the food?
Yes and no, but you won’t have problems finding things they will like.
My 5 year old is extremely picky, while my toddler will eat anything. At restaurants, we mostly stuck to ordering things I knew they would like – grilled cheese, pizza, fruit and hamburgers. I had them try a few of the local items, like skyr yogurt, but that was only a hit for one of them.
I packed and brought a decent amount of packaged snacks for two reasons: One, I knew they would like them and two, to save some money. As I am sure you have heard, meals are more expensive in Iceland. I brought with us granola bars, gummies, chips, pretzels, peanut butter, etc. We ended up eating all of the snacks I brought, either in the car or for late night bites in our Airbnb’s.
6. Handling the time difference and lack of daylight
In late November, the sun rises around 10am and sets around 4pm. This, along with a 5 hour time change, had be worried that I would mess up my sons sleeping schedule. As many moms know, the last thing you want to do is ruin a perfectly good nap schedule, as we might not ever get it back!
The reality? It couldn’t have imagined a more perfect sleep schedule or easy transition for our time in Iceland than what my son did! We adjusted to the time change with a good morning “nap” one Day 1 (he slept from 9am-2pm) and never had another problem.
Since the sun didn’t rise until about 10am each day, neither did my kids! We ALL got to sleep in until past 9am everyday….which hasn’t happened to my husband and I since pre-kids. Talk about a relaxing vacation! Since Easton would wake later in the day this normal 7am time, he skipped his nap each day, which worked out perfectly! We didn’t have to plan around for a naptime when we would be in the car, or worry about a grumpy toddler as he got extra morning rest. Once or twice he fell asleep in the car for 45 minutes or so, but it never threw him off. The kids went to bed around 8pm each night and had not trouble sleeping as they were exhausted from our days!
Honestly, I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect sleep pattern that what my kids did in Iceland. I am so thankful for the opportunity to sleep in for a week straight!