Iceland with kids is quite the adventure. The climate is as wild and unpredictable as a toddler but the beauty that you experience is more than worth the cold and rain.
I'll go through any weather to see waterfalls like this. Skagaf
When to go
Iceland is a country far north, so in the summer you’re fortunate to get almost 24 hours of sunlight a day, giving you the ability to explore as long as your eyes can stay open. Beyond that, a huge plus for a summertime visit is that the weather is the nicest those months. And for those reasons, people flock to Iceland from end of May to August, making rentals and hotel rooms more expensive, bookings fill up faster, and not to mention crowds on crowds.
To make this a nice little pro con pro sandwich for a summer visit to Iceland, you have a very high likelihood of seeing whales if you go whale watching (I highly recommend doing it in Husavic if you make it that far north), and also PUFFINS. We just missed them on our trip as we went mid September, but it’s certainly the one that got away.
We went to Iceland in September. Where are my shoulder season peeps at?!
I’m a big fan of the shoulder season in most places—but especially Iceland. In September, you get remnants of those nice summer days, but you don’t have to fight crowds as much. Another benefit—huge benefit—is that in September you have the opportunity to see the northern Lights. This was the absolute highlight of our trip—even for our 5 year old.
We had the fortune to see the Northern lights twice while in Iceland. It's a huge benefit of going in the fall/winter
How to get around
Iceland is a country where you should absolutely have your own set of wheels. You can.tell by the rental car lines when you arrive to the airport.
Instead of renting a car and finding hotels and airbnbs, we decided to rent a campervvan through Kuku Campers—two birds, one stone! Solid decision
The whole team in our home for 2.5 weeks. We rented from Kuku Campers. We unfortunately had some issues with them and I wasn't completely satisfied with their customer service and transparency.
Personally, I can’t imagine seeing Iceland any other way. We had the most epic camping views, woke up in nature every morning, and the best part was snuggling and eating ramen in our heated van at the end of the day.
Iceland also takes car of you when it comes to camping which made it very manageable to do, even with 3 kids.
Camping in Iceland (and why I love it)
I am not one that can compete with people booking a campsite in Yosemite 9 months in advance. We’re not planners, and it’s always a stress leaving for a camping trip not knowing if we’ll get a first-come first-serve spot.
In Iceland, the stress is all taken away. We left each morning with no destination in mind, and when we felt like we were done for the day, we found the closest campsite and parked. During the high season, there may be a lot of campers and tents, but there will be room for you. No need to book in advance, no need to stress. It's GREAT.
The campsites vary in offerings, but they provide a mix of the following:
Entrance fee to the nearby national park or attraction
Kitchen and eating space
Charging station (sometimes, it was random plugs that you had to use in the bathrooms to charge stuff, but some had actual charging stations).
(Camping costs between 1000 to 2000 ISK per adult (kids are free) which is about $8-$15.)
Not a shabby camp view. This is at the campground at Skógafoss
But do I recommend roughing it and just bringing your tent along to save some dollars? Nope. Absolutely not.
I like adventure, I like doing epic things, but seeing people in tents at campsites just made me sad. It’s really cold at night and the wind can get pretty gnarly. KI feel like the campervan was the perfect balance of epic and comfort.
Check out the variety of campers the Kuku Campers has available. We went with the C Campervan because it had 5 seats, we could stand in it, and there's a heater which was an absolute must in my opinion.
Our favorite campgrounds that we went to are:
Campground in Westfordlands on the ocean. It was the most beautiful sunset. If you have kids, I would also give Tálknafjörður Campsite a look because of the playground and swimming pool next door
Camping 66.12° North outside Husavic. This is right on the Arctic Ocean and it's where we saw the Northern Lights.
Campground at Skógafoss. It’s just a parking lot, but the views of the waterfall are gorgeous if you can get the prime spot.
Skaftafell campground in Vatnajökull National Park. Also a parking lot, but it had a free industrial washer and dryer, and it also granted us access to the national park.
Clockwise or counterclockwise around the Ring Road?
We decided this the moment we drove out of Reykjavic because who has time to plan? So maybe I can help you here.
First, there’s no right answer. We were reading things like “you’re a total fool if you go around the ring road clockwise” which seems a little aggressive. It’s more nuanced than that.
It depends on:
Time of year. We went in September which means the weather is turning. For this, we went clockwise to hit up the northern part of Iceland first. If we had gone the other way around, we probably would have missed the Westfords because the roads get dicey as it got colder and snowier.
How much time do you have? If you just have a quick trip (less than a week), then I would suggest going counterclockwise and hitting the Southern part of Iceland first. There is SO much in the south that is worth seeing, so you want to make sure you get it all in before you explore more. (This also makes it way more touristy, so if you want to miss the crowds, maybe go clockwise).
Fagradalsfjall (the volcano actively erupting in Iceland). Check the live stream. If it’s erupting, make that your FIRST stop. It seems like the eruptions are occurring less frequently, so see it when you can. We gave ourselves a 4 day window to see it at the end of our trip and still missed it. Heartbreaker. Prioritize this one!
This is Dynjandi in the Westfjords. It's such a cool and worth a visit.
What to bring to Iceland
The weather can get gnarly in Iceland. We went in September and it was very cold and very wet. You get nicer days in the summer, but you should still come prepared with good, warm, waterproof gear.
To help you prepare, here are some must have things for you and your kids:
Warm jacket (we all brought our down jackets)
Hat and gloves (Stonz also have great winter hats and gloves for kids. (don't forget the discount code)
Waterproof hiking shoes
Merino wool clothing for the whole family. Merino wool is a great fabric because it will keep you warm even if it's wet (which you're bound to be in Iceland). Check out Iksplor, an awesome small business that makes merino wool clothing for the whole family (including breastfeeding tops). Use the code bornabackpacker20 for 20% off!
For mysIelf, I brought my waterproof Merrell hiking boots, which I liked because they were less bulky than other waterproof boots. They are the Women's Bravada
For the little kids, I love these hiking boots from Keen. They are a drawstring rather than laces which makes things easier.
A few pairs of warm socks
Thermal shirts—we love shirts that are moisture wicking and also merino wool.
Also, pro tip: get brightly colored rain jackets. Your photos will be more striking.
Where you save money in Iceland
Iceland gets a bad rap for being really expensive. Is it true? Is Iceland really that pricey?
Yes. Yes it is.
Sorry to disappoint, but Iceland can get costly. BUT, here’s where you save some money:
Kids are free for everything. We didn’t have to pay for entrance fees, bus tickets, or camping fees for the kids. We typically saw that under 12 is free, but many times under 18 was free.
You also don’t have to pay for many attractions.Iceland is all about the natural beauty, and we rarely had to pay to see a waterfall or beautiful beach. We’ve been to places where everything you do requires an entrance fee, so this iwas refreshing.
Food. Especially while camping (which again, is a great way to see the country), we bought all our food at the supermarket . It’s not the fanciest of foods, but it’s cheap!
Food in Iceland
Many people fall back on meals that they ate in their college dayswhen travevling in Iceland--especially when you're camping. It's quick, easy, and significantly cheaper than going out to eat. Here are a few tips about eating cheaply in Iceland:
We brought some food with us from the States. Things that we knew would be hard to get there, like peanut butter, certain canned vegetables and beans, and dry soups. There is obviously a lot of food available here, but we decided to load up on things that we’re particular about.
The cheapest supermarket is Bonus, but they are only in the major towns and cities (which are few and far between, especially if you’re traveling in the north and off the ring road). Stock up enough to last at least a week.
There are N1 gas stations that have a lot of hot food. It seems like hot dogs are the cheapest thing to get there and quite popular—one was about $4.50. The other food we saw was over $10 (like a burger).
If you’re camping, a lot of the campgrounds have a warm place inside where you can cook and eat your food.
Books to read and shows to watch with your kids before an Iceland trip:
It's always fun to learn about a place when you're visiting. We wanted to learn about the history, the culture, and the geological formations with the kids. We found two books that got them psyched about being in Iceland and interested in learning about it. And of course, The Magic School Bus comes through with awesome episodes that are either based in or about geological accurances in Iceland.
Magic School Bus: The Battle for Rock Mountain (they take a field trip to Iceland and it’s all about rocks and volcanoes)
Magic School Bus: The Tales Glaciers Tell
This Iceland book and travel journal is a great activity for kids to complete as you travel
With this episode, we did an art project after where we made air bubbles in the glacier, but the tale it was telling was about our trip, so we drew different things we did and saw in the air bubbles (this will make a little more sense after you watch the episode).
My kids Iceland highlights
Waterfalls were only interesting for so long. Here are my kids' favorite things that we did in Iceland to give you an idea of what you can do.
Whale watching in Husavic
Watching seals catch fish in Jokulsárlon at sunset
Hiking to see the volcano
Seeing the Northern Lights
Petting horses in Stokksnes
If we got to see puffins, it would have totally made the list
I hope you enjoy your time in Iceland! It's truly one of the most strikingly beautiful countries I've ever been to and a great place to explore with kids. Just dress appropriately!
Please let me know below if you have any questions!