Iceland: 8 Best Things to Do in Reykjavik with Kids

Iceland is definitely having a ‘moment’ right now, and we were thrilled to spend the holidays there this year.  We wanted to explore the natural terrain, of course try to see the Northern Lights and the southern part of the country, but we also wanted to enjoy and explore the country’s capital, Reykjavik.

Reykjavik Iceland

I think we planned our trip perfectly with a couple of days in Reykjavik on the front end to celebrate Christmas and get over jet-lag, and then after our fantastic 5 day adventure into the middle of Iceland, we spent two nights in a gorgeous apartment in the city center to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik before flying home.

What are the best things to do in Reykjavik with kids?

Here are our top tips for enjoying this gorgeous city.

Relax, Unwind, and Visit The Blue Lagoon

Our direct flight from Los Angeles arrived at Keflavik airport at 5am.  The airport is fairly close to the Blue Lagoon, so we grabbed breakfast at the airport, and headed to the Blue Lagoon as it opened at 8am.

Reykjavik Iceland - the iconic Blue Lagoon
We stored our luggage (which was very easy), changed into bathing suits (again clean and spacious changing rooms), and after the mandatory shower (probably a good thing based upon the number of tourists passing through daily) we entered the lagoon.  The Blue Lagoon is a very special natural phenomenon and consists of a geothermal lagoon containing minerals, algae and silica.  The blue color comes from the way the silica reflects sunlight.

Reykjavik Iceland blue lagoon - kids love photobombing
Check out the photobomb!

The boys loved it, I loved it, and we relaxed and napped for a few hours.  We swam to the Silica bar for our mud face mask, hit the swim up bar for a refreshing smoothie, and then headed to the waterfall for a firm shoulder and neck massage.  We also spent time in the warm ‘relaxation area’ where we napped on rocking chairs.

Important to note the Blue Lagoon has a maximum capacity each day, so it’s important you arrange your visit prior to landing in Iceland so you are not disappointed.  After a few hours, we were clean, rested, relaxed, and ready to head to our hotel in Reykjavik to celebrate Christmas Eve.

Visit Hallgrimskirkja Church

Reykjavik IcelandThis beautiful church proudly stands on a small hill overlooking the city center of Reykjavik, and is visible from almost any point in the city.  Our apartment was situated directly behind  Hallgrimskirkja, and it was a great landmark for finding our way back after sightseeing in the city. The church is an incredible feat of construction.  We were so fortunate to attend Christmas Eve mass, and listening to the beautiful choir sing Christmas carols in Icelandic was something we’ll never forget!

Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik - pipe organOne of the most striking parts of the church is the organ, which is the largest musical instrument in Iceland.  This is also the epicenter for fireworks on New Year’s Eve, and locals and tourist gather in the square around the church to celebrate.

Enjoy Icelandic Cuisine

Icelandic food is very fresh and the most popular dishes include: lamb, potatoes, fish, and other seafood. A lot of seafood.  Breakfast each day consisted of coffee, fresh juice, rye bread, fresh fruit, cheese, meats, cucumber and smoked salmon.  It was heaven!

There’s no shortage of restaurants to choose from in Reykjavik, and we enjoyed the most incredible evening at Food Cellar Matarkjallarinn.  This cosy restaurant is located in a 160-year-old building in the centre of Reykjavík and was one of the best dinners we ate on our trip, and a fantastic finale to a fabulous week in Iceland.

Matarkjallarinn Reykjavik was delicious

You know the food is going to be good when the waiter brings out homemade fresh chewy pretzels with an incredible spread.

Food Cellar is apparently very well-known for their cocktails, and we started with their Black Frog Cocktail (look at the cute frog on top of my drink!) so we could try Brennivín (Icelandic Schnapps known as “Black Death”!) We loved it!  They also have an extensive wine list, and we ordered a lovely Sauvignon Blanc to enjoy with dinner.

Matarkjallarinn
Families are very welcome at Matarkjallarinn!

We chose to order from their set menus.  We ordered the ‘Seafood menu’ and started with the most incredible fish soup appetizer, (the seafood is actually cooked separately and then bisque is poured over it at the table), followed by a main of flaky wolf fish and cod cheeks – delicious.

Julian chose the ‘Surf and Turf’ menu, and started with a delicious slow-cooked cod dish, followed by steak, lamb, pork and langoustine.  The presentation and service were top-notch and the food was simply incredible.

Live piano music played throughout the evening and the energy in the restaurant was vibrant and happy. We sat in a covered area with a view of the piano, away from the crowds, and soaked in the culture and the ambiance. The restaurant is elegant and sophisticated, yet casual and comfy.  The perfect combo for our family!  I would highly recommend you seek this place out when you are in Reykjavik.

The other traditional seafood restaurant we ate was Messinn, which is again in the heart of Reykjavik.  Messinn is an icelandic seafood restaurant which specializes in fresh fish everyday for lunch and dinner, in a cozy and warm atmosphere.

Messinn Reykjavik We arrived at this adorable restaurant, and spent the evening enjoying their traditional ‘Fish Pan’ dishes of salted cod, plaice and salmon (yes we all LOVE seafood)!  The service was fantastic and the drinks were fantastic. Since there are so many choices to eat in Reykjavik, we were thrilled to find these two amazing spots that were perfect for our hungry family, and the boys gave both places two thumbs up!

The Sun Voyager

This beautiful sculpture of a Viking ship is located by the ocean in the city center of Reykjavik.  Jon Gunnar Arnason created this piece to symbolize the Viking past of Icelanders, and also represents a Viking ship sailing off into the sunset.  From the sculpture you have a lovely view over the sea and the snowcapped mountains.

Reykjavik’s Old Harbor

Reykjavik Old HarborIt was lovely to wander around the old harbor, to see quaint ships and restaurants.  This is also where you’d take out boats for whale watching.  The area is filled with excellent seafood restaurants, cafes and galleries.  The atmosphere is fresh, the air is crisp and salty, and there are plenty of interesting activities to check out.Reykjavik Iceland harbor and boats - frosty

whaling boats in the old harbor

Wander Around Reykjavik City Centre

One of the best ways to experience the beautiful city of Reykjavik is simply to wander around and get lost. It would actually be quite hard to get lost since the old town is bounded by water on two sides.

We stumbled upon fun artwork on buildings, a punk rock museum, a penis museum, and beautiful sculptures.

It’s also the perfect time to try another famous Icelandic food,  the hot dog, or “pylsur.”

Reykjavik Iceland hot dogs
They are made with lamb and typically served with sweet brown mustard (“pylsusinnep”), ketchup, raw onions, crunchy deep-fried onions.  We tried them, and I’m sad to report, we were not blown away by them.  Sorry, I know this will be unpopular with my Icelandic readers! 🙂

Celebrate the New Year in Reykjavik

Reykjavik Iceland new years fireworksNew Year’s Eve in Iceland has gained quite a reputation over the past few years. Countless articles have declared Iceland, especially, Reykjavík, one of the top destinations to ring in the new year.

We were excited to see what all the fuss was about, and we were blown away (pardon the pun) by this extraordinary experience. Traditionally Icelanders start the evening with a family dinner, followed by a trip to a local bonfire.  Then from about 10pm onwards, locals and tourists alike, gather with their store-bought fireworks for the most incredible firework display. Here are all the details on this special New Year’s Eve.

The church square was a beautiful backdrop to watch the firework display and it was a very memorable way to welcome 2018! The next morning, we packed our bags and our memories, and prepared for the 8 hour flight back to Los Angeles.

Reykjavic with Kids: Hidden Gems and Insider Secrets

When my family and I started planning our trip to Reykjavik, we had tons of questions. We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on anything cool. Here are some questions we had and the answers we found, while discovering the best things to do in Reykjavik with kids.

What’s the best time to visit Reykjavik?

Ideally, summer (June to August) is the best time because of the midnight sun. It’s light almost all day. But, we visited in winter (November to February) because we really wanted to see the Northern Lights (we did!).  It was chilly.

How cold is it in Reykjavik in the winter?

During the winter, temperatures usually hover around 0°C (32°F), but they drop below freezing, especially at night. The weather can feel colder because of the wind chill, so dressing in warm layers is essential.

How do locals in Reykjavik feel about tourists?

Icelanders are super friendly and happy to have tourists. We found everyone was friendly and everyone we met spoke at least a little English. Just remember to respect nature and their customs, and you’ll get along great.

What’s a polite way to greet people in Reykjavik?

A simple “Halló” (hello) and “Takk” (thank you) will go a long way. Icelanders appreciate when you try to speak a bit of Icelandic.

Is Reykjavik walkable, or do we need to rent a car?

Reykjavik is super walkable, especially downtown. But renting a car or taking a guided tour is a good idea if you want to explore outside the city.

What should we pack for a trip to Reykjavik?

Layers! Winter wear, waterproof jackets, warm socks and good walking shoes. The weather can change quickly, and if you venture into the Golden Circle, you’ll be walking on snow and permafrost in the winter.

Can we see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik?

Yes, during the winter. We went outside of the city to see the Northern Lights so we had a better view without light pollution.

Are there any cultural etiquette tips we should know?

Taking off your shoes when entering someone’s home is important, and always be on time if you’re invited somewhere. You’ll want to take your shoes off because they’ll most likely be muddy or wet!

How do we learn about Viking history in Reykjavik?

The National Museum of Iceland was perfect for this. It’s filled with Viking artifacts and stories. And every shop has some sort of Viking collectibles or souvenirs.

On the outskirts of Reykjavik Iceland

The Best of Reykjavik

Our stay in Reykjavik was unforgettable, packed with adventure, culture, and lots of learning. We LOVED our trip to Iceland, and would highly recommend this trip for families and adventure travelers.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored, however all opinions and views are 100% my own.

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.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Empty Nest Adventures | 31st Jan 18

    We weren’t blown away by the pylsurs either. 🙂

  2. Julie Ditty | 12th Feb 18

    Wow…! I am impressed with this blog. Photographs are soooo amazing. Thanks for sharing. I want to spend the holidays there in Iceland this year. Thanks for telling amazing things to do in Iceland. This blog is really helpful for us to travel.

    • Samantha Kuhr | 17th Feb 18

      Thank you so much for reading! Iceland is fantastic any time of year, hope you have a great time!

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