Driving with children in the back of a car for long distances can be both challenging for the kids and their parents. Being born and raised in the southeast Iceland I know all too well what is feels like being a kid and drive long distances to the capital of Reykjavík, Akureyri town in the north or other places around the country. Back in the days when I was a kid we had worse roads, mostly gravel roads making each journey time consuming. We did not have mobile phones, iPads, and other electronic games to keep us occupied. My parents made sure that we took regular breaks during our travels to enjoy fresh air, visit various tourist attractions, or ice cream stops at one of the petrol stations on the way.
For the kids especially, these long drives can be tiring so it is important to plan stops and schedule activities that work for the whole family so everybody can enjoy their holiday or travel.
There are so many places and so many things you can do with kids whilst travelling in Iceland. Stopping every hour or an hour and a half is a good rule so the kids can stretch their legs and get some energy release. Here below are some of my favorite places along the Southcoast of Iceland which you may think are interesting as things to do with kids.
Southcoast waterfalls are a few and here are some of my favorites. Driving from Reykjavik you will find Seljalandsfoss waterfall, a famous waterfall that you can walk behind, kids will feel refreshed after the visit as you are sprayed with water from the waterfall. If you decide to take the kids, I recommend wearing waterproof pants and jackets to keep you dry. Just five minutes’ walk from Seljalandsfoss you will find another gorgeous waterfall called Gljúfrabúi in a canyon, less famous but by no means less impressive. Skógafoss waterfall is next and is one of the most visited waterfalls on the Southcoast. Most tourists stop there but do not take the steps up the slope on the right-hand side. It is a good way for kids to release energy, climbing the steps to a viewpoint where you can look down over the waterfall, when the sun is out often the spray will create a rainbow. In Skaftafell National Park you will find Svartifoss waterfall, with dark hexagonal basalt column framing it, hence the name. The walk is 3 km round trip up a slope, so please give yourself time to explore the area. Skaftafell National Park is a natures paradise that is worth spending a couple of hours enjoying or even spending a night in a tent in the camping grounds. Walking through the forest and viewing the two waterfalls is something I have done many times as a kid.
Black Beach and Reynisdrangar
Reynisfjara or Black Beach is a black sand beach which offers breathtaking view towards Reynisdrangar, they are basalt stone stacks that tower from the Atlantic Ocean. It is said Reynisdrangar are the remains of two trolls that got caught in daylight whilst dragging a ship to shore. The myth is that trolls can only travel by night and if they stay out when daylight breaks, they are doomed and turn to stone. Black Beach can be dangerous if you do not follow guidance, so please be aware of strong waves. The waves have pulled people out to sea in the past.
Hjörleifshöfði Cape and Yoda Cave
Close to Vik town, 15 km to the east you will find a path you can drive alongside Hjörleifshöfði cape. After a few hundred meters you can park the car and walk to the Yoda Cave (Gígjagjá in Icelandic). The entrance of the cave looks like Yoda from the movie Star wars and therefore the nickname has stuck. This is a great place to visit with the kids.
Organized Activity Tours – things to do with the kids.
At Fjallsárlón you will find family-friendly iceberg boat tours. Despite the appearance of the small boats, the sailing experience is calm and smooth, making it an ideal family activity. Exploring the icebergs, fishing out the ancient ice, tasting it, and possibly spotting a seal is a delightful experience for children and adults alike. The age limit for the classic boat tour, private boat tour and luxury boat tour is 5 years old. Unfortunately, due to safety rules, younger children cannot participate in the tour. Many families that have sailed with us in the past have happily quoted the boat tours as a fantastic activity for kids.
Ice Cave family tour
When Fjallsarlon iceberg lagoon freezes the ice cave season starts. Check out this magical glacier ice cave adventure. Who doesn’t like a super jeep ride? The tour takes guests past Jokulsarlon and Diamond beach before the jeep is parked, sometimes reindeers have been spotted from the main road. Families then walk to the ice cave in an adventurous landscape, before entering and exploring the natural blue ice cave. Tours are operated in winter, from November to April, starting at Fjallsarlon basecamp. I do recommend taking a short walk to Fjallsarlon lagoon for an amazing winter view before or after joining a tour. The age limit for Vatnajokull Premium Ice cave tour is 8 years old. Going into a natural blue ice cave is an adventure for kids of all ages. Kids simply love ice and snow.
Frost restaurant is open all year around and is close to Fjallsarlon lagoon. In our restaurant we have accounted for families from day one, with chairs for toddlers, changing table and children’s prices on our buffet style menu.
Another activity that kids really like is the Puffin tour that is operated from Ingólfshöfði cape. Travelling on a hay cart and joining a nature walking tour exploring the birdlife and the famous puffin is a fun activity to do for the whole family. It is a 2,5-hour tour and is suitable for kids 6 years old and older. You can easily combine the puffin tour and the iceberg boat tour in a day.
When you don´t know what to do with the kids at any point you can always to one of many Icelandic swimming pools. In the area close to Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon you will have a swimming pool in Höfn í Hornafirði in Klaustur town, both towns are one hour drive from Fjallsárlón but in opposite directions.
Diamond Beach is very close to Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon, once more it is the ice that will entertain the children and the black sand can be the perfect playground. You should be aware of strong waves and never leave children unattended as the sea in Iceland can be very dangerous. Serious accidents have for example happened in Reynisfjara (Black beach) as previously mentioned. as the sea simply pulls people out to sea if they are got in the big waves. Across the road you will find Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon with its blue water and floating icebergs and glacier view.
Iceland overall is a fantastic playground for families. Planning a road trip with the kids can be a great adventure. Regular stops and activities like the iceberg boat tour, ice cave tour or puffin tour add to the fun. Planning an enjoyable family journey is easy when you know what to look for.
The writer is an Icelander that has travelled the Southcoast countless times!