Last month, Ryan and I traveled around Iceland for ten days, with our two-and-a-half year old son and our six-month old daughter. I’ve been enjoying talking about our trip, so thanks for following along!
What to do in Iceland with Babies and Toddlers?
We already knew that Iceland was a beautiful country, and we were eager to experience its wild and raw landscape. Between, fjords, geothermal springs, volcanoes, stark glaciers, desolate lava fields, small towns with ice-cream colored houses, and even bigger ones with artistic charm, there is something for everyone. Let’s not forget all of Iceland’s cool wildlife and domesticated animals. Did you know that in Iceland, sheep outnumber humans by more than 2:1?
Icelandic horses are all over the countryside, too. They are so beautiful and graceful to look at, and you won’t see them anywhere else in the world.
Faced with all these choices, we chose to spend our time exploring the North, Northeast, and West. We really wanted to go slow, take our time, and explore places well without trying to cram everything in or rush. It is just part of how we do things, and building in some down time is always beneficial in the unpredictable world of traveling with babies and toddlers.
It was our first overseas travel as a new family of four, and we were pleasantly surprised at Iceland’s child-friendliness. Nature reigns supreme in Iceland, and Icelanders sure do make it easy for everyone – even very young children – to enjoy natural wonders on some level. But, more practically, it is easy to find high-chairs if you eat out, and whatever baby stuff you need in local markets. The latter is key, for those of us who travel light!
Driving in Iceland
Driving in Iceland is easy, and great fun. Our plan was to rent a car, arm ourselves with good maps, take it slow and soak it all in. We did just that, and we were still surprised at how much we saw. Having your own vehicle is really the best way to go at your own pace and experience the Icelandic countryside, and tucked away wonders off the beaten path. There is no traffic outside the capital, and no one is in a rush to get anywhere. The weather was a slight concern, as it was still early Spring, and many roads were still buried under snow or closed. There is one maintained road, the “Ring road,” that goes around the whole country. It had a couple of hairy stretches going through the mountains, sometimes without even a guardrail standing between you and oblivion, and those got our hearts racing!
But, we used common sense, didn’t attempt to drive across any rivers, and had a pretty great driving experience. Just driving and exploring was one of our favorite things about Iceland.
We spent several low key days just driving around various peninsulas, exploring tiny fishing villages, finding lagoons, waterfalls, hikes or other hidden gems along the way.
The best thing about the roads in Iceland are all the places to pull off safely to eat, play, nurse, change a diaper or simply admire the views. Our kids are great at car travel; they napped during the longer stretches, and we stopped when needed to stretch our legs, play, eat, and change diapers.
Some rest areas are just an expanded shoulder, but many have maps of the local area with points of interest well-marked, picnic tables, and incredible views to admire. There are never “boring stretches of highway,” since the scenery all around is simply fantastic.
We also tried to maintain our routine, and alternated very active days (or long driving days) and slower days with shorter activities, so the kids could still get in plenty of play time, sleep and function.
We landed in Reykjavík and followed the Ring road north and east towards Akureyri.
Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland, boasting a population of about eighteen thousand people.
It has a friendly small town vibe with sweet mom and pop stores, brightly colored homes, and a beautiful shoreline. It’s so pretty it makes me want to paint or sing or write poetry.
We spent five nights here in a spare but charming, well-established guesthouse, and found plenty to do nearby. Here are a couple of our highlights.
Lake Mývatn – formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago – is lovely on it’s own, but it’s also a microcosm of birds and waterfowl.
It was an easy day trip from Akureyri. Duck enthusiasts note: this is the place to spot several duck species, including Barrow’s Goldeneye, which nests nowhere else in Europe.We saw some of those, and many others!
You can see these shallow placid pools in some areas of Lake Mývatn.
Of course, our toddler had a blast exploring the lakeshore, watching ducks and other birds. None of this was terribly interesting for the baby. But, she had her own plans…
On our drive back to Akureyri, we climbed up to see Krafla, a volcano that most recently erupted in the 1980s. As we all stood on the side of this volcano, shivering against a windchill of negative five degrees Celsius, taking in the vast expanse below us bathed in sunshine, Arya decided that there was no better time or place to blow out her diaper. It was the blowout to conquer all other blowouts, and I should mention that the crater Krafla left behind is conveniently named Víti (Icelandic for Hell). The irony is not lost on us. Ah, memories. Good thing we had spare clothes in the daypack.
Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. You really do feel the ground rumbling beneath your feet as you take in the power of these falls. We trudged over two kilometers across four or more feet of hard packed snow to see Dettifoss.
Truly worth it!
This was also the perfect opportunity to use the second Ergo carrier that we had borrowed from friends, to save our toddler from attempting to navigate this (and to save ourselves from the inevitable frustration, meltdowns and fussiness). Both kids were quite happy to ride with us, and enjoyed the roar of the falls but also playing in the snow afterwards.
There were some other things we wanted to see in the National Park near Dettifoss, but we had to turn around due to road and gate closures and big scary signs proclaiming that not even high-clearance 4×4 vehicles would be allowed through, and that anyone seen would be ticketed. Okay then, back we went!
Next, I’ll talk about Reykjavík, and some other cool things we saw around there, along with how we handled food, and other special situations we faced with our baby and toddler. Thanks for reading, and following our adventure!
A special note to young families thinking about traveling to Iceland with little ones: it really is worth it, and you and your kids will have a blast!