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The evil stepmother’s guide to visiting Reykjavík with children

Trying to define the relationship I have with my step daughter has been one of the more interesting journeys of my life. We’ve been in each other’s life since she was 5 but it’s only now that she is a teenager that we are at a comfortable place with what exactly we mean to one another. What I have found even more interesting though is the way real moms look at our relationship. Apparently I don’t have a voice when it comes to motherhood because the princess didn’t come out of my vagina. Even though it’s been over 7 years and I was there to witness the first day of school, the first tooth to fall out and I’ll probably be there when she has her heart broken by a boy (or a girl, we never know) for the first time. Sorry, by the way, if the word vagina offends you. Except I’m not really sorry. #sorrynotsorry


Because of this I don’t often give advice when it comes to kids. Which is probably why I haven’t really written a post about traveling to Reykjavík with children. I mean, what I do I know, not being a member of the real-mommy club and all?

So this post is going to be pretty basic and I’m only going to point out a few practical matters. Also, to be fair, I don’t have a lot of experience with babies and toddlers, but thankfully I have a couple of followers that graciously wrote guest posts to shed light on their experience traveling with a toddler and a baby.


When you are traveling with children I assume privacy is always a good thing. Not just for you but also because it’s not fun to have to worry about your fussy toddler keeping other guests awake and so forth. I think a family room at a hostel or a self-catering apartment is a great option for families with kids. It saves money on eating out if you have a kitchen to cook in, not to mention the fact that it’s less hassle if your kids have any food allergies or things they won’t eat. It’s also just good if you can all stay together – something that might be a bit difficult at some hotels where the rooms are smaller.

If you are renting a car the Reykjavík City hostel has 4-6 person family rooms and parking plus they are located next to the Laugardalslaug swimming pool that every kid will love. Also in the neighborhood is a botanical garden (which, for obvious reasons, is only open in the summer), an ice skating rink and the Reykjavík Family Park and Petting Zoo. It’s not Disney World but at least place where your kids can get close to some horses and stuff.

I can’t with good conscience recommend AirBnB because most of the apartments in Reykjavík are run without a license and they don’t pay their taxes but of course it’s a good option if everything is in order. Alternatively, there’s also a lot of apartments listed on Booking.com but they won’t list a property that doesn’t have a license. Whether they then pay their taxes is a different matter but the same can be said about any company you do business with.

[Update: As of 2017 – new laws were introduced here in Iceland to make it easier for people to get the proper licence for their AirBnBs. AirBnBs that have the proper licence should have their licence number on the booking page for the property ]

Traveling around

If you are traveling with younger children I think a rental car is always the way to go. By renting a car you can make all the stops you want and suit you the best instead of trusting in the scheduled stops of a tour. When we were traveling with the princess when she was younger we hadn’t even left Reykjavík when she started asking whether we were there yet (when we were actually headed to the other side of the country and we definitely were not there) and being able to make stops was a life safer. She always had a lot of books with her in the car that kept her entertained until she usually fell asleep but nowadays we usually allow her to bring her tablet where she will play games or watch a movie. She’s usually pretty enthusiastic for the first part of the trip but as the day goes on she just doesn’t care what mountain she’s seeing anymore.

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I always recommend to people that ask me about these things to try to break the days up somehow. With older kids, maybe from 6 to teenagers, you can go do a glacier hike, snowmobile tour, horse riding or an ATV tour for example and you can include them in your road trips. Obviously, for the tours that revolve around motor vehicles, they can only sit in the back but we did an ATV tour with the princess in January and she really enjoyed it. Also, even though this is probably obvious to most, let them be a part of the planning process and try to include some of their interests. When we went to London a couple of years ago we allowed her to pick a few things that she wanted to do. So we would do something that we thought we could all enjoy as a family, some of which she didn’t like that much in the end, but she endured it because she knew we would get to her things too.

Personally, I think bus tours are OK for kids that are a little bit older but young kids that are cooped up on a bus for a long time don’t make the happiest travel companions in my experience. But of course, that completely depends on the child.

Activities for kids and teenagers in Reykjavík

If there’s one thing I’d recommend to parents visiting Reykjavík with their young children it’s to go visit the pools. You can visit a new pool every day and each one of them has something new and exciting for them to try. A different slide or a better kiddies’ pool. Kids are especially fond of Árbæjarlaug if you have a car but Laugardalslaug is also always a great choice.

I already mentioned the petting zoo that might be interesting for young children but the older kids will probably not be very impressed.

The princess has always enjoyed the museums, even though she doesn’t always have the patience to spend quite as much time in there as I want to. The National Museum is great and they have a scavenger hunt for kids in many languages that you can do together as a family while you learn more about the history of Iceland. Although I’ve never been to the Saga museum I’ve heard from people that their kids enjoyed it but I also hear that it’s not suitable for young children because they get scared of the wax figures. Plus the sagas are quite bloody and a lot of them revolve around people killing each other for strange reasons. You know, blood feud and all the jazz. Árbær Open Air Museum is also always a favorite and I remember my friend and I going there when we teenagers just because we thought it was cool.

For the younger kids, there are small playgrounds in most neighborhoods that you can visit and most kindergartens have playgrounds next to them that are open to the public after they close in the afternoon and on the weekends. There’s a nice public playground in Hljómskálagarður that is very popular with the local kids.

You can also do bicycle tours that are fun and even though our walking tour is mostly geared towards grownups teenagers, in particular, might enjoy it for the street art we cover. Or you can just rent a bike and make it up as you go.

Kid-friendly restaurants, ice cream and other treats

In general Icelandic people are pretty open to kids and you won’t get the stink eye in most restaurants for bringing your child with you. You might want to book a table early though and maybe the fanciest places are not well suited for young children.

If your kids like ice cream (don’t most kids?) you should visit one of our amazing ice cream shops. The favorite is Valdís in the old harbor that offers gelato style ice cream but if you visit one of the more traditional ice cream shops you can get soft ice cream with all kinds of toppings, sprinkles and whatnot that usually excites kids.

Oh and I’m pretty sure every parent that comes to Iceland will tell you that you should introduce your kids to Skyr. You’ll be sorted with food from that moment onwards.

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Like with grownups I suggest layers. And water resistant clothing because kids love to play in the rain even if we’d prefer to stay inside. Waterproof shoes is always a good idea too. For younger kids, a stroller that can handle a bit of rough terrain might be a good idea and one of those backpack seat things for those who intend to do some hiking.

If you can’t find the things you need before you leave home both Cintamani and 66°North have a good selection for kids.

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  1. I know for a fact that Booking.com charges extra (even though they say they do not) however I still use it to find B&B’s. I would recommend booking directly with the owners if they have their own e-mail or phone number posted on their own website and if you are staying an extended time. I still appreciate Booking.com for shorter visits and reviews.

    1. When we were in the US we usually booked via Boooking.com because the rates were higher onsite. We could negotiate a lower price once when we didn’t book online but the difference was over 50 USD per night. I also know that if you join booking.com as someone renting out your property booking.com you have to promise to give them the best price. But I also know of hotels in Iceland that have special offers that are only listed at the Icelandic part of their website for example.

  2. As a fellow “stepmom” I appreciate this article. My family (me, husband, step daughter, now a teenager, and our toddler son) is enjoying Iceland this week. So far, we’ve checked out Reykjavik and the Golden Cirlce. Tomorrow off to the West and Wednesday toward Vik. I’m trying to read your entire blog between now and then!

  3. We are coming to Iceland in 2017….all booked! You mentioned skyr, so I googled it. It sounds good, a much healthier bribe than ice cream! Our little girl has Downs and when she’s had enough of something, like walking or even getting out of the car sometimes, the only thing that will move her is good old bribery! She’s normally very good, but when she’s stubborn she’s VERY stubborn!??

    1. I hope she will love Skyr – most kids do 🙂