The bulk of people who come to me for European travel consults are interested in vacations in France or the UK. Iceland, though, is quickly becoming a contender for the most popular destination. While DFW International Airport does not currently have direct flights to Reykjavik, it’s worth the extra effort. The island nation is a small place with about 300,000 inhabitants—but with vast landscapes and stunning scenery, your family will fall in love with Iceland in a big way. Here’s how to plan the perfect family trip to Iceland.
Reykjavik can handle families really well. While some European cities can leave parents flustered, the cozy capital of Iceland takes younger visitors in stride. With wide sidewalks, unfussy restaurants, an abundance of English speakers and a generous supply of apartments to affordably rent during your stay, you’ll be able to easily navigate the best of the city.
The great part for parents is that you don’t have to visit Reykjavik’s historical sites and quiet museums to experience the culture—it’s also found walking the streets, visiting cafes or chatting with a shop owner.
Still, no trip to Reykjavik is complete without a visit to Hallgrímskirkja, the country’s largest church and one of its most famous landmarks. The Lutheran church sits in the heart of the city and has striking architectural features. After you visit, wander down the street for coffee from Reykjavik Roaster and warm cinnamon rolls from Braud & Co. (Don’t walk too fast, though; they only come out of the oven after 11am.)
You can also easily fill the day with shopping on the boutique-heavy Laugavegur street, or putzing around down by the wharf—just make sure that at some point you’ve stood in line for one of the famous hot dogs at Bæjarin’s Beztu Pylsur (in English: “the best hot dog in town”). The classic one will be served with raw white onion, fried crispy onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard and a remoulade sauce.
GET OUT OF TOWN
Many people would argue that the best parts of Iceland are outside the capital. Head to the Southern Coast, where you’ll find unbelievable views—white waves pounding the black sand beaches in Vík, a walk around the Dyrholaey Peninsula and rainbows floating above the waterfall at Skogafoss. Spend the night at Hestheimar, a horse farm where you can have home-cooked meals and a private riding session.
Alternatively, make your way around the Golden Circle. This loop is well trodden by tourists and includes three stops: Thingvellir National Park (where the European and North American tectonic plates meet), Geysir (to watch hot water shoot out of the ground every 10 minutes from Iceland’s most predictable geyser) and the massive waterfall, Gulfoss.
SOAK IT UP
One of the most “local” experiences you can have in Iceland is soaking in a pool of some sort. Most people default to a dip in the Blue Lagoon, geothermal waters named as one of National Geographic’s Wonders of the World. But the real treat is to grab your swimsuit and go to the local pool. The largest and most popular is Laugardalslaug—a place where you’ll find Icelanders swarming, as most natives go for a swim every day. Plus, it’s one of the cheapest ways to spend the day in Reykjavik; it’s only around $1.50 per child, and children under 5 swim free.
Traveler beware: Access to Icelandic pools is granted only after you take a rather exposed shower in the locker room. While locker rooms are not mixed gender, little kids can go in with either parent. Some pools have private cubicles, but not all. (No need to be shy though. The Icelanders won’t pay you any attention … unless, that is, you try to skip this step. They see it as necessary for proper hygiene.)
Lauren Bryan Knight is a Dallas native who had the chance to spend a year in England after a stint in corporate America. Nearly a decade later, she and her family are still loving life in London. Knight is the author and owner of travel guide website Aspiring Kennedy.
This article was originally published in February 2020.
Photos courtesy of Ashel Parsons and Lauren Bryan Knight