Updated: Aug 10, 2019
Visiting Iceland with kids can be a hugely rewarding experience for all. After all it’s not often that you get to witness such extremes of nature on one relatively small island. The Land of Fire and Ice has so much to offer. Incredible landscapes, exciting activities and the chance to witness glaciers and volcanic activity in action. From young children to teenagers to parents, no one in the family can fail to be awed by Iceland’s wonders.
Iceland is also a very family friendly travel destination. Children and toddlers are welcomed in the restaurants and hotels. There are good discounts to be had on things like the Reykjavik City Card. Also all children under 18 are entitled to free entry to many of Iceland’s galleries and museums. Families will always feel welcomed and there is wealth of outdoor activities to enjoy. If you are looking for an active family trip with plenty of fresh air and adventures then Iceland is perfect.
In this article we will take you through the ins and outs of planning family travel in Iceland. We will look at the different times of year to travel, fun activities in each season and budget friendly tips.
When is the best time of year for a family trip to Iceland?
The most popular time of year to visit Iceland by far is during the summer months. This is considered the high season for tourism in Iceland and it runs from June through August. It is the busiest time of year to visit so you will find more cars on the roads and busier scenes at the big sights. You will also need to book things like camper van rental, hotels and trips to the Blue Lagoon hot springs in advance. The summer is popular for good reason though.
From June to August Iceland experiences the phenomena of the Midnight Sun. This means that at the height of summer there are nearly 24 hours of daylight in Iceland. In fact it never really gets dark at this time of year. The sun skirts around the horizon and there will be a brief dusk or twilight before it rises high again. All this means that there is plentiful daylight for sightseeing, road tripping and generally exploring.
Another big benefit is that the notorious Iceland weather is a little more settled at this time of year. The temperatures are far milder with an average of between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius. Temperatures often climb into the early 20s too. There is also far less rainfall during these months. Do keep in mind though that if the wind is blowing from the Arctic north things can feel pretty chilly. It is certainly not unheard of for a summer storm to hit either. There could be high winds and even snow at this time of year. Nothing is impossible in Iceland. In general though the weather is much more calm and settled during the summer months.
Summer family activities in Iceland
Summer travel in Iceland really lends itself to camping trips. Hiring a motorhome or tent camping with a car are all fun ways to explore. Kids and youngsters will be entertained by the freedom, novelty and sociability of campground life. It is fun to cook and eat outdoors and to sleep under the stars. When it comes to summer activities there is so much to do. Hiking and swimming, walking on glaciers, whale watching tours, horse riding, boating across a glacier lagoon. You name it!
If you are travelling with very young children there will be some minimum age and height restrictions in place for certain activities. All of these will be there for safety reasons. Check with the tour providers for things like Icelandic horse riding and whale watching boat tours to avoid disappointment. In these cases there will usually be good alternatives available though. Such as spotting whales from the shoreline or meeting the friendly Icelandic horses for a stroke.
The winter months are the quietest months for tourism in Iceland. That is not to say that you shouldn’t travel at this time of year. Just that it will be a very different type of trip and you should be prepared. Conversely to the summer deep winter sees almost 24 hours of darkness! In the darkest depths of winter the sun ventures just over the horizon for a few hours before disappearing again. The winter in Iceland is long. It lasts from October all the way through to April. This means that there are far fewer hours of daylight to enjoy sightseeing, driving and outdoor activities. Of course Icelanders are quite used to this and have all sorts of ways of enjoying the winter.
Another factor in winter is the weather in Iceland. Strong winds, snow storms, ice and rough seas can all make travelling around and sightseeing quite tricky. If you do visit in winter then a short road trip in south Iceland could work. Alternatively you could base yourself in the capital of Reykjavik and then take a day trip or two. Bus trips around the Golden Circle run year round or you could rent a car for a day or two. Longer road trips are best saved for the summer and shoulder seasons.
Winter family activities in Iceland
The winter wonderland of Iceland has much to offer families. Floodlit ski slopes, dog sledding, cosy celebrations and twinkling Christmas lights. The landscapes in winter are incredibly beautiful too with frozen lakes and snow dusted mountains. Of course the winter months are also the prime time of year for spotting the amazing Northern Lights. Seeing the glowing lights of the Aurora Borealis could spark all sorts of interests in young minds. You might head home with a budding physicist in your midst!
Shoulder season travel in Iceland
The months either side of summer and winter might just be the best time of year for a family vacation. We are looking at late April and May and September to mid-October. These months are known as the shoulder season. At these times of year you can get the best of both worlds. There will be plenty of daylight hours for sightseeing, road trips and camping. There will also be a good few hours of darkness for easier sleeping and for potentially spotting the Northern Lights.
This can also be a more budget friendly time of year to travel in Iceland. Prices on accommodation or on camper rental as well as campground costs could all be lower. Just be sure to double check that your chosen campsite is open when you are travelling. The majority of campgrounds close for winter but they do so on different dates and reopen at slightly different dates also. There are several, especially in the south that open year round. In terms of longer road trips the more wintery reaches of the shoulder season should be treated as winter. You shouldn’t plan and full Iceland Ring Road trips in a campervan.
Budget friendly tips for a family vacation
Iceland can be a rather expensive place to travel. So for a budget friendly trip to Iceland it is good to plan in advance. If you are travelling with hungry teens or have many mouths to feed things can add up quickly. So here are a few money saving tips for a family trip.
One of the best Iceland budget tips we have is to rent a campervan or motorhome for your family vacation. Accommodation and eating out are likely to be your biggest expenses. So by hiring a motorhome you have both covered and within your control. You will have a kitchen to cook in, a table to eat at and beds to rest and sleep in.
The other joy of camping is that you will be able to wake up in some incredible settings. Many of Iceland’s campgrounds are either in or near a national park. So you will be able to wake up and get out and about in nature sightseeing and hiking all for free. For potential rainy days take a few card games and books with you on your trip for some no-pay entertainment. Another great rainy day tip is to head to your local swimming pool. There are swimming pools in every town is Iceland and they are really inexpensive. If you are travelling by camper van you’ll have the added bonus of a free shower too. Most campgrounds charge for the use of a hot shower.
Eating and drinking is the other main area of expense. With a motorhome you will be able to cook up some inexpensive meals and put together snacks. You’ll save a fortune on cafes and restaurants. You can then save your budget for a few special meals out. It is best to stock up on provisions in the larger supermarkets in the bigger towns. These will have more choice and lower prices. You might also choose to bring some favourite snacks with you from home. Granola bars, chocolate and dried fruits and nuts are all great for keeping energy levels up and tempers at bay. And finally, do drink the tap water! Iceland has some of the purest drinking water in the world. Direct from the glaciers! So make sure to fill up your reusable water bottles at every opportunity.