10 Places You Must See In The Golden Circle, Iceland with Kids

Iceland is an incredible feat of nature and nothing prepares you for the beauty.  Traveling to Iceland with kids will be a simply amazing experience for the entire family. This country, with a population of approximately 335,000 people, generates its own electricity, heat, and water, by geothermal energy.  About 85% of homes in Iceland are heated with geothermal energy. 10 reasons to travel to Iceland's Golden Circle with Kids

We recently visited Iceland and spent a few days in Reykjavik (Reykjavik warrants its own blog post here:), took a tour to visit the stunning Golden Circle, and drove along the southern coast.  Given the unpredictable terrain and natural elements in play, we opted for a small group tour, and it took 5 days to explore all of these locations in the famous Golden Circle.

Here are 10 things your kids will LOVE when visiting Iceland’s Golden Circle!

1. Exploring Ice Caves and Lava Tubes

We left Reykjavik early on the first day at 8am.  It was still total darkness since there are only 4 – 6 hours of sunlight during December in Iceland.  Our first stop on the first day was a lava cave hidden in the Blafjoll Mountains.

Exploring lava tube caves in Iceland with kids
Safety first when you’re in a lava cave!

We grabbed our helmets, put on crampons since it was extremely icy, and headed towards the cave opening.Exploring ice caves in iceland with kids

Bearing in mind it’s still completely dark at this point, so the whole experience was a little unsettling.

Caving / spelunking in lava tubesSome might call this Icelandic spelunking, with kidsWe followed our guide closely and ventured deeper into the cave.  This is not for the claustrophobic or the agoraphobic.  I’m not completely comfortable in small spaces, and definitely needed to put any thoughts of fleeing the cave out of my mind, since it wasn’t a possibility.

It was completely dark, damp, icy, and my children were 10 feet ahead of me.  I’m pretty sure child protective services would not want me to flee and leave them trapped underground.  After a while, I became more comfortable as we squeezed past rocks, crawled through the cave that was formed by flowing volcanic lava, and checked out the stalagmites and stalactites.  Family in an Icelandic lava tube with kids

The journey back to the opening was less uncomfortable.  We knew what to expect and as we approached the cave opening, we could see the morning sunrise.  Daylight was finally close, and it was only 10.45am!

Happy to breathe fresh air again!
Happy to breathe fresh air again!

2. Pingvellir National Park

Our next stop was Pingvellir National Park.  This is a UNESCO world heritage site and we were able to see the faults created by the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates shifting apart. One of the cool things about visiting Iceland in the winter is that the sun is setting all the time, making for some amazing sunset photos.

3. Incredible Icelandic Sunsets

It is stunning and you can even camp or scuba dive between the tectonic plates (we passed on this!)Amazing Iceland - breathtaking scenery

4. Geysir Hot Springs with Kids

Next we drove to the Geysir Hot Springs and saw lots of geothermal pools.

Geysir had just erupted and the heat distorted the sun through the steam in this picture
The geyser had just erupted and the heat distorted the sun through the steam in this picture

Strokkur is the most active pool and shoots a huge stream of boiling water straight up into the air approximately every 10 minutes.  This was a stunning sight and equally incredible each time it erupted.
bridge to the other side of the world - Strokkur

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5. Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall - near the continental divide
Gullfoss Waterfall – near the continental divide

Our next stop was Gullfoss Waterfall. A river running through a gorge and then over a cliff makes this waterfall one of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland.  It was a truly awesome sight, and despite the -7 degrees Celsius and biting winds, we were able to really enjoy the stunning views from the two platforms available.

Gulfloss Waterfall. Note the barrier... one gust of wind or wrong slip and you'd be over the edge immediately
Note the barrier… one gust of wind or wrong slip and you’d be over the edge immediately

iceland waterfallsMore Gulfloss waterfall with kids

Iceland has amazing waterfalls - and the water is COLD
I wish you could hear the crashing sound and sheer power of the water

6. Iceland with Kids: The Northern Lights

Later that day, we headed to our remote guest house in the middle of Iceland where we’d be spending the next two nights.  This was our ‘base camp’ to hopefully view the Northern Lights.

We learned the lights appear only in frigid cold Arctic regions from October to March, and are most likely to be visible in places with the least light pollution.   Driving in complete darkness for about 5 miles after we turned off the main road, I figured we pretty much had that covered.  We were in the middle of nowhere, there was nothing or nobody for miles around, and we were in the frigid cold.  Optimal conditions to view the Northern Lights  – Check, Check and Check!

We ate a delicious dinner of fish stew, rye bread and salad, and waited to see if we’d be lucky enough to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world!  There’s actually an app to download and track the activity, which sure beats sitting out in the cold all night.

We didn’t have to wait long. We were alerted the lights were becoming active and rushed outside with our cameras, whilst pulling on warm clothes.  You see you have no idea how long the lights will be out.  It could be 2 minutes or all night.

Aurora Borealis Dazzles

We stood outside and watched in awe as this dancing, dazzling display of beauty filled the sky.  The lights swirled, the colors changed, and we enjoyed the moment.  Witnessing the Aurora Borealis (the other name for the Northern Lights) is on every traveler’s bucket list, and we were thrilled to be sharing this moment as a family.  Amazing.iceland's northern lights

7. Reykjadalur Valley Hot Springs

The next day was a hot springs hike to a geothermal river.  It all looked so benign and fun listed in the tour details! I’m pretty sure that had I known what was about to occur, I might have aborted!

Me and Hot Hubby in the chill. iceland

We wrapped up in darkness again. We left our guesthouse and headed to the Reykjadalur Valley area.  After we parked, we put on our crampons, tightened our layers, and faced the mountain range.

hiking in iceland
We were at the bottom of the map next to the ‘P’ sign, and hiked all the way to the ‘P’ sign at the top of the map!

We were about to hike up the mountain— about 4 miles each way. to soak in geothermal hot springs.  Sounds lovely right?

iceland scenery sunset

hiking in iceland
The path was very narrow, and a sheer sheet of vertical ice in some parts.

Long views, continuous dawn. iceland with kidsIt was -9 degrees Celsius and was extremely windy.  We started up the mountain and we were quickly faced with trying to walk on sheets of ice.  We dug deep — literally with our crampons, and figuratively with our minds. The only thing we could do was put our heads down into the wind and continue uphill.  Explore the Golden Circle with KidsHot water! geothermal pools iceland

The Hot Springs

We were greeted with glimpses of geothermal pools along the way.  We knew we were approaching them by the strong sulphur odor.  It was a beautiful and incredible hike, and when we reached the geothermal river at the top, that’s where it got a little tricky.  Hot springs while hiking with kids

There were no changing rooms or hooks for clothes.  There was basically a frozen wooden bench and a 5-foot wooden fence/wall thingy behind to brace the wind.

iceland swimming in hot springsWe had to slowly shimmy out of our layers and layers of clothes, and strip down to our bathing suits (we were wearing them underneath our clothes).

iceland with kids At that point, we felt like we had been frozen solid.  Then we had to walk 30 feet on the narrow path that was a sheet of ice, trying not to slip in our bathing suits (cause who wants to see my bum in the air!!!) and walk down four blocks of ice, (that were steps) and step into the shallow geothermal river.  I’m not gonna lie… this was brutal. I was grumpy, freezing and “cangry” (it happens when I get cold…not to be confused with hangry when I need food!)

iceland hot springs

iceland with the family
We needed to wear beanies to prevent our ears from getting frostbite.

The water was lovely and warm, just like an outdoor hot tub, and once we had successfully navigated the ice stairs without losing front teeth, it felt amazing.   We lay back, relaxed, soaked in our surroundings, and enjoyed the moment.  We were in heaven, and for 45 minutes it was so incredibly peaceful.

iceland adventure with kids

The Hike Back from Reykjadalur

However all too quickly, the heat became unbearable, and we were all pretty much baked, so we faced the trickiest part; getting out, dressed, and back down the mountain.  We decided to get out one at a time so we could help each other.  I went first with Hot Hubby. Then we helped the boys get dressed.  It was freezing cold, the wind was howling, my hair was frozen and I couldn’t feel my ears.

visit iceland with kids - they'll warm your heart

It was tricky to get clothes over our damp bodies and you might have heard quite a few swear words if you were there. By us all. I’ve never been so freaking cold!

We helped the boys and began the long hike down the mountain.  We warmed our bodies slightly on the strenuous hike, however, our fingers and toes were frozen to the bone.iceland for families, it's cold

Julian said “Mom, this just isn’t fun right now.. I’m sorry.. but it’s not”, and I agreed with him.   We hiked as quickly as possible down sheets of ice, clinging to the edges of the cliff by our toes at times, and tried to reach the bus before dark (which happened around 3pm!)pink sunsets

We drove back to our guesthouse in frozen silence, dreaming of hot showers.  It’s funny, as soon as we were warm, showered, in cozy clothes, and (some of us) drinking vodka, the day didn’t seem quite as brutal.  In fact, it was one of our most amazing experiences ever as a family.  It was hard, challenging, and beautifully amazing all at the same time.  We were happy we faced our fears and actually had the strength to do this (some of us were more fearful than others).

I mean, when else would we hike to a geothermal river, hop in for a bath, then hike back down?  So cool.

The Stunning Aurora Borealis

That night we were again fortunate enough to see the surreal Northern Lights. Nature treated us to a beautiful encore of wispy green waves and tendrils over the freezing night sky. We felt lucky to see these again on our second night!

northern lights in iceland

This time they were swirling across the sky and we saw streaks of pink along with neon greens.  Amazing. Inspiring. Stunning.  We went to bed feeling extremely grateful and content, having experienced the Northern Lights together.

see northern lights in the golden circle

8. Best of Iceland: Skogafoss Waterfall

The next morning after a delicious breakfast, we headed out for another action-packed day.  We drove (in darkness obvi) towards the Solheimajokull Glacier.

We stopped on the way to see Skogafoss waterfall.

Skogafoss Waterfall in the Golden Circle

The sounds of the water crashing down 200 ft falls was simply stunning.  We were able to walk very close to the falls (on a sheet of ice of course), and up a steep staircase to view the falls from the top of the cliff.

Kid in a red jacket viewing Skogafoss Waterfall in Iceland

9. Reynisfjara, the Black Sand Beach

We also visited Reynisfjara, the black sand beach located on the Southern part of the island next to the town of Vik.  Vik was what we imagined so many Icelandic towns looked like, just a small community huddled on the edge of the sea.

Around the corner from the town, we parked and made the short walk to the black sand. Reynisfjara beach isn’t sand, it’s a collection of very small pebbles (it’s not really smooth sand).  The lava beach is a deep black color.

A huge natural pyramid made of perfectly shaped basalt rock columns faces the beach and the sea. This basalt cliff formation is called Gardar. The kids immediately wanted to climb up!

Reynisdrangar

In the sea facing the cliffs stand two dramatic looking sea stacks called Reynisdrangar.

Nestled on the edge of Iceland’s rugged coastline near the cosy village of Vík, the Reynisdrangar sea stacks rise from the wild Atlantic. Legend has it that these towering basalt columns were once mischievous trolls caught by the dawn’s early light as they tried to pull ships from the sea, consequently turning them into stone.

Reynisdrangar iceland, 3 ships black beach Taking photos on Iceland's black sand beach

Reynisdrangar isn’t just a myth, it’s part of Iceland’s enchanting blend of natural beauty and folk stories. Our visit to Reynisdrangar was like stepping into a storybook crafted by nature. The multitude of natural formations here makes this beach a must-see for your family adventure in Iceland.

Family on the black sand beach, Iceland with Reynisdrangar in the background

Reynisfjara - black sand beach, Iceland

 

10. Solheimajokull Glacier with Kids

It was now 1 pm, and we headed towards our glacier hike.  The sun was beginning to set, the windchill had picked up, and we were facing a 4-hour hike on a glacier.  We pulled into a parking lot next to an old school bus at the base of the glacier.  This innovative “building” was where we found we’d need pick up our gear and our glacier guide.  family on a glacier hike iceland, Solheimajokull Glacier

We collected our crampons, helmets and pick axe, and after our safety talk we began to hike through the valley.  We saw the black-covered glaciers and beaches from the 2010 volcanic eruption, and walked to the edge of the ice.

Solheimajokull glacier is in the Golden Circle. Hiking up the ice.Solheimajokull glacier - endless ice

iceland hike glacier - an ice wall

Ice Climbing on the Glacier

Once we arrived at the glacier base, we began our slow ascent up the glacier.  It was very controlled, safe, and freezing cold.  We could see for miles around the stunning views of surrounding mountains, glaciers, and the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Ice climbing, Solheimajokull glacierWe reached an ice wall, and our guide showed us how to climb the wall using pick axes, and shared his extensive knowledge about the glaciers and how they formed.Exploring the glacier - Solheimajokull

Since it was pretty dark at this point (4pm), we turned around, and headed back down the glacier, treading carefully down the ice steps we just climbed, trying not to fall.  After we reached the bottom, the parking lot was in complete darkness. We quickly shed and turned in our gear and cuddled up on the bus. Tired and chilly, we settled in for the 2-hour drive back to Reykjavik.

We were heading to a warm hotel, and planned to stay for two more days to explore Reykjavik and celebrate New Year’s Eve.  (Reykjavik’s New Year is so special it gets its own blog post!)

Frozen lake at Solheimajokull Glacier. Iceland has endless views and nature

We were tired, hungry, cold and exhausted from our 5-day adventure in the Golden Circle with kids.  It was incredible to experience this as a family, and we will all treasure these memories forever.

Iceland’s Golden Circle is so beautiful and the Icelandic people are so very polite and accommodating. If you’ve been contemplating visiting this incredibly scenic country with your kids, I wouldn’t hesitate. It’s one of the best places to explore in Europe, and I would visit sooner rather than later!

Where is your favorite place in Iceland’s Golden Circle?

Let me know in the comments below and join me on Instagram and X (Twitter)!

About The Author

Samantha

I’m a travel and health writer, digital brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising an active family, life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Lee Upshur | 12th Jan 18

    I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland and do the golden circle! This post just might the thing that pushes me to get planning!

    • Samantha Kuhr | 14th Jan 18

      You should! It was amazing, and one of the most unique places we’ve ever visited!

  2. nbosken | 16th Jan 18

    I really want to go to Iceland this summer. I made a picture of the Blue Lagoon my screen saver on my phone to remind myself to not spend too much money. That hot spring looks crazy. I cannot imagine having to put clothing back on in such a drastic change.

    • Samantha Kuhr | 16th Jan 18

      I hope you are able to go in the summer… it’s not a problem putting clothing on after being in the Lagoon as the changing rooms are indoor and there are lovely warm showers in there too. It’s an incredible place and I really hope you get to experience it!

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