Exploring Reykjavík with kids – Lonely Planet

Reykjavík is a large metropolis reduced to the size of a small city, ideal for a family city break.

You’ll find all the things important for adults – national museums, iconic churches, historic architecture – and also the things important for kids, from geothermally heated pools to whale watching excursions.

So let’s answer the big questions. Where are viking swords found? Does the city zoo have snakes? Is ice cream the national diet? Here’s our guide to exploring Reykjavik with kids.

The perfect weekend in Reykjavík

Is Reykjavik good for kids?

Reykjavík is a city well suited to small travellers. On the one hand, it is reputedly safe for children. Locals are happy to let infants and toddlers sleep outside in their buggies, while older children are free to roam the suburbs and stay out late on warm summer evenings.

The main concern for parents is the weather. The Icelandic climate can be chilly for little hands and the ridiculously strong city winds can wreak havoc on canopy-covered buggies. Luckily, city buses are free for children under twelve, and indoor activities can easily withstand the longest rainstorms.

Another plus is the terrain – central Reykjavík is mostly flat, with almost no stairs to conquer. The sidewalks are wide so it’s easy to get around with a pushchair and the distances are short enough to cover with a baby carrier – measured from the old port to Helmmur, the town center is just 3km (1.86 miles) wide.

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Best things to do in Reykjavik with kids

Plan your family trip to Reykjavík around the following family activities.

Visit the quirky Reykjavik Zoo

Reykjavík has a zoo, or at least a kind of zoo. Operated by the city of Reykjavík, the Húsdýragarðurinn is more like a petting zoo with exotic extras: a room full of giant spiders and snakes, a pool of ringed seals feeding on herring, and an enclosure where arctic foxes – the Iceland’s only land mammal – gaze longingly at nearby geese. Right next to the zoo is the popular Family Park, with an impressive wooden playground that’s a great place to burn off some energy.

Whale watching tours make for a fun family day out from Reykjavík © Egill Bjarnason / Lonely Planet

Go whale watching from the old port

Spotting a whale’s lucky shot will capture a child’s imagination like nothing else, and a whale-watching boat trip is an exciting expedition even without the cetacean angle. When planning a trip from Reykjavík’s Old Port, always consider the weather conditions: children between the ages of 5 and 14 are much more vulnerable to seasickness than adults. Various operators maintain having kiosks at the port. As a backup, the land-based Whales of Iceland exhibit features 23 life-size models of North Atlantic whale species.

Climb into a man-made ice cave in Perlan

The iconic Perlan – a Reykjavík landmark perched atop the city’s geothermal water reservoirs – features a permanent exhibition exploring Iceland’s remarkable natural world. Wonders of Iceland begins with a vast ice cave 100m long and built with 350 tons of snow and layers of ash from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption.

The exhibit also includes an augmented reality depiction of the bird-nesting cliffs at Látrabjarg and interactive rooms giving information on volcanoes, earthquakes and glaciers, while a state-of-the-art planetarium recreates the spectacle of the Northern Lights.

Get ice cream (yes, really)

Icelanders don’t let the sun dictate the right time window for ice cream consumption. If the weather is good enough to leave the house, the inhabitants go there. Ísbúð Vesturæjar and Ísbúð Huppu lead the way in soft serve ice cream mixed with sweets and flavors; children especially like bragðarefur made with three candy bar picks.

For quality over quantity, old port establishments Valdís and Omnom offer a selection of very colorful flavors, as well as gray but tasty licorice options. As of this writing, top ice cream experts in the country are praising newcomer Skúbb for its creamy quality; their store is near the Laugardalslaug swimming pool, a 30 minute walk from the city center (for adults at least).

People in hot pots at Nautholsvik geothermal beach in winter
Locals make the most of Nautholsvik geothermal beach in winter © Try_my_best / Shutterstock

Try the best water slides in Reykavík

Ask an Icelander what he does with his children and most will give the same answer: dress them in bathing suits and throw them (figuratively speaking) in the public swimming pool. Each neighborhood in Reykavík has its own sundlauga geothermally heated pool with everything from lane swimming to hot tubs, and there are even public outdoor geothermal hot pots at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach.

Take the kids for a bounce

Most local libraries in Reykavík have good play corners for children under five, including the Nordic House and Borgarbókasafn. Large indoor play centers are rare, largely due to the popularity of swimming pools as playgrounds.

One exception is Rush Trampoline Park, located in a 2,200 square meter (23,680 square foot) warehouse, with brightly colored, multi-size trampolines. Get ready for a workout; an hour on a trampoline is surprisingly exhausting.

Relive Reykjavík’s maritime history

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when you could see children working at the port of Reykjavík (a big catch required everyone to be on deck preparing the fish for sale). Modern-day children can experience this era virtually at the Reykjavík Maritime Museum, learning essential skills such as distinguishing between haddock and cod (when in doubt, cod is the one with the samurai-style “beard”) . It’s a good place to learn how living off the ocean has shaped the Icelandic nation to the present day.

Families viewing exhibits in the Wonders of Iceland exhibition in Reykjavik
The Wonders of Iceland in Perlan is a great introduction to the natural wonders of the island © Egill Bjarnason / Lonely Planet

Sit down with a cat or a hot dog

Reykjavík’s most popular restaurant is technically a hot dog stand, but it’s not just any hot dog stand. The Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Tryggvagata has been in operation since 1937, much to the delight of local children and busy parents, and its pylsur (hot dogs) are a treat. Another downtown establishment for kids is the atmospheric cat café, Kattakaffihúsið, where feline friends greet customers who come in for a hot chocolate.

Treat yourself to some greenery!

Reykjavík has no shortage of green spaces. During the summer, Grasagarður Botanical Garden is extremely popular with parents of young children. Families gather for picnics and push strollers through this quiet, green pocket of town, and the Flóran Café, located in the middle of the park, makes a great lunch break.

How to Explore Reykjavík with Kids

For an easier family stay in Reykjavík, choose an apartment rental or hotel near Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur, the city’s main shopping streets. Even if you stay further from the center, city buses are free for children under 12. Electric scooters are widely available for hire, but helmets are harder to come by and young riders must wear one legally.

When you choose the right time for a trip, summer offers ideal weather for outdoor swimming and boat trips, and the calendar is full of activities for children. Compared to other parts of the country, Reykjavík has little snowfall in winter, but a day trip in winter to the Blue Lagoon – the famous outdoor volcanic swimming complex in Keflavík – is definitely memorable.

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