A Dummies Guide to Iceland (With Kids)
This spring, I’ve been B U S Y with travel consults. It’s definitely the most chaotic time of the year for me as summer approaches and so many people are getting their trips ready for the months ahead. While the bulk of people come for help with vacations for the UK & France, I have to say- Iceland is quickly becoming a big contender for the most popular destination.
While it definitely appeals to the young traveler- it is equally as popular with young families. And, as someone who has brought her own small children with her for the past five years on repeat trips there, I can easily vouch for why it is a fantastic spot to travel with children.
For anyone that is planning to come to Iceland, I thought I’d give you a few basic facts that either are asked often by clients or that I have learned from being there year after year. I figured there would be endless resources online for families planning a trip to Iceland echoing these same thoughts, but when I actually checked- everything was several years old… and now wrong! With the increase in tourism over the past few years, things have changed and I figured I would give some updated and specific pointers that really can change how you plan your family trip to Iceland.
1. CHILDREN UNDER TWO ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED IN THE BLUE LAGOON
I hate to charge in straight away with this bummer, but I have yet to talk to a person going to Iceland who doesn’t plan to visit the legendary Blue Lagoon. This is a real bummer, as I’ve always brought my babies in the lagoon with me. However, with the growing popularity and increase in visitors, there is now a VERY strict rule that children under two aren’t allowed in. You can swap off on who has the baby, but the lifeguards will (basically) yell at you if you bring a little baby in the lagoon that is under the age limit.
If you’re still looking for a similar experience, you can always try another lagoon in Iceland. There is the “Secret Lagoon,” also known as Gamla Laugin, that (as of 2016) allows little ones. Or you can head to any of Iceland’s local pools where kids are not only welcome, but will have amenities to really entertain them…. for about $3 per person. Not only will you be with 100% real Icelanders, but you’ll get a great view at the (admittedly, quirky) fact of culture of life in Iceland: they are obsessed with swimming and go to their local pools frequently throughout the week!
2. YOU CAN RENT CAR SEATS FROM RENTAL CAR AGENCIES AT THE AIRPORT
Many people seem to feel restricted by the thought of checking car seats and having to schlep their own car seats all the way from the US. I feel that. It’s a hassle. The good news is, you can rent one with your rental car and skip having the hassle of bringing your own. Just check in advance, but there is typically a giant rack of them ready to distribute when you get your keys.
If you aren’t renting your own car, I’d recommend bringing your own car seats. Taxis WON’T drive your children unless they are in a car seat. While countries like the UK & France have loopholes to allow for children to ride in their parents’ laps in taxis, Iceland has strict laws that prohibit driving children without a carseat. (I’ve learned this the hard way!)
3. ICELAND IS VERY KID FRIENDLY
The good news is: Iceland has been kid friendly and, from all we have seen on our recent visits, continues to be so as the country booms in popularity. Sure, now there are some chic restaurants that wouldn’t be the best place to bring your toddler, but for the most part- the country is geared for little ones. Hotels are happy to put baby beds in room, when they have been requested in advance. Rental car companies can provide car seats, again when they have been requested in advance. While some countries feel a bit stuffier to the notion of bringing along a baby with you, Iceland is a great place to take the kids for their first trip abroad as the culture is still unique… but with enough personal space and freedom to give young families flexibility without a scornful eye.
4. PACK A SNACK
I know this sounds silly, but if you have room to bring some snacks for your kids- you’ll save yourself some serious cash by avoiding stuff in the gas stations and grocery stores. As you’ll most likely know or have heard, Iceland is EXPENSIVE. With the high value of the krona combined with the unceasing demand of tourists, the Iceland people are raking in the cash. They have no incentive to keep their food at normal prices when tourists will keep shovelling money their way. Save your money for good meals out, and don’t fond yourself tearing up over the absence cost of granola bars and bottled water. (PS. All tap water in Iceland is 100% perfect. Just bring refillable bottles and save yourself the unnecessary expense… and having the locals giggle at you for paying for bottled water when you can get the same out of the tap.)
5. ICELANDAIR IS GREAT WITH KIDS
While most people coming from the US will have to connect at some point in their journey to Iceland’s main airport in Keflavik, it’s worth considering flying with Iceland’s own airline, IcelandAir. Especially if you’re traveling with kids. While most airlines operate under the policy that all ticketed passengers pay the same fare (after all, a seat is a seat), IcelandAir has reduced fares for kids. Not only is the economic value a plus, but they are just, well, really nice to families. When kids board, they hand them a little box of food, headphones and colouring books. All seats come with personal entertainment systems, and there are plenty of options for kids.
The other perk that IcelandAir famously offers passengers is the ability to do up to 7 days of a “lay-over” in Iceland (where all of their US-Europe flights connect anyway) for no additional fee. It was originally a marketing aim to get people to explore the country, but even now that Iceland is one of the top travel destinations- it’s still an offer to their passengers. This makes it a great stopover for families on their way to Europe, as it can help pace out the craziness of jet lag between the drastic time changes. Basically, a couple of days in Iceland doubles the fun… and halves the jet lag.
6. KIDS ARE FREE MOST PLACES
The truth is, most of the sites won’t actually charge you anyway. With the main attractions being beautiful outdoor sites, you’ll be able to walk up to most of them and enjoy them without paying a dime. However, for some of the paid outings- small children are free, too. For example, Into the Glacier is an amazing experience that we have taken my children to several times. While the site doesn’t say it, I’ve written to verify that small children are free. The company does need to know that they will be coming, so they recommend buying tickets for the adults and then writing to say that lap children (think toddlers & babies, not your 8 year old. Sorry!) will be coming, too. While they don’t need a ticket, they do need to be accounted for in the giant trucks that transfer people onto the glacier. If you’re planning for any paid excursions, its best to check with the provider. My guess is you’ll either be relieved to hear that they can join for free…. Or are too young to come with the group outing. Either way, it’s best to check in advance to avoid a busted day of travel.
*Images by Ashel Parsons for Aspiring Kennedy