This summer, we took a bucket list family vacation to Iceland. Here are all the details from our 8-day trip including where to stay, the best activities to do with kids, great places to eat, and more!
Day 1 – Arrival & Reykjavik
We arrived in Iceland around 8:30am, following a 6 hour flight from Toronto. Unfortunately, we ran into some major air travel snafus that turned our trip from Tampa, Florida into a literal 24 hour journey.
But we did arrive on the correct day and our luggage made it too, so onwards we go!
It’s important to note that when you fly into Reykjavik from overseas, you are really going to be arriving at Keflavik Airport (KEF), which is about 40 minutes from Downtown Reykjavik. The Reykjavik City airport (RKV) is for domestic flights within Iceland only.
Keflavik Airport is a pretty small airport and very easy to navigate. When we arrived, we took care of a few quick things in the arrivals hall before retrieving our luggage.
The first order of business was picking up a couple bottles of wine at the duty free shop. In Iceland, you can only buy alcohol at restaurants/bars or in the few state run liquor stores. So if you like to enjoy a glass in your hotel room in the evenings, be sure to grab some at duty free. It’s cheaper there too!
We also stopped at the ATM and picked up some cash in Icelandic Krona. You won’t need to use cash many places in Iceland, as just about everyone takes credit cards or Apple Pay. But its good to have a bit in case of emergency, and for tipping tour guides or servers if you choose.
Next, we headed down to the Avis counter to pick up our rental car. Avis was a convenient choice as their counter is right in the airport terminal, rather than across the street with the budget rental companies.
We did opt for the extra insurance, as Iceland is famous for ripping off motorists with exaggerated rental car damage. It’s also very easy to actually damage your rental car here thanks to the unpredictable weather and driving conditions. We were given an email address to document any existing car damage, so I took pictures of the full car exterior and sent them before leaving the parking lot. (Definitely do this!)
P.S. For more tips on car rentals and driving, check out these travel tips for Iceland first-timers.
After picking up the rental car, we made the short 40 minute drive to Downtown Reykjavik, which is where we would be spending our first night in Iceland. (Find our Reykjavik hotel recommendations here.)
Now we were supposed to arrive at 8:30am. So knowing our room wouldn’t be ready at that early hour, we opted to book the Wake Up Reykjavik Food Tour as a fun introduction to the city. I figured this would be a great way to kill some time upon arrival, while we waited for hotel check in, get some delicious Icelandic food, and see a little of the city too. And it has incredible reviews!
But instead, due to our very late flight (Thanks Air Canada!), we missed the food tour entirely. It was nearly 2pm by the time we got into Reykjavik, so we just proceeded right over to Center Hotels Plaza to check in.
We booked an Executive Room on the 8th floor, with a rollaway bed for our son. The room was very nice and comfortable, and had the rollaway bed made up and waiting for us when we arrived.
The hotel itself was very modern and sleek. There is a cozy sitting area in the lobby and a small bar area as well. And the location was really convenient for exploring the city. I would say this is definitely a good place to stay in Reykjavik!
After getting cleaned up, we headed out in search of food. We made our way over to the harbor area and had a very late lunch at the Grandi Matthol food hall.
Now when I saw “food hall” on the map, I was picturing something a lot bigger. But this place had a nice selection of food stalls – probably 5-6 choices. We all opted for something different. Pasta for my son. Fish and chips for me. And lamb soup and kebabs for my husband. It was like a little Icelandic buffet.
After lunch, we headed over to Flyover Iceland, which turned out to be an unexpected gem. I would definitely recommend this if you’re visiting Reykjavik with kids.
It’s a simulated flight (think like the simulator rides at theme parks) over the whole country of Iceland. And it was shockingly well done! The ride was really fun and my son loved it so much that we booked tickets to do it again on our second day in Reykjavik.
(Hint: Book Flyover Iceland tickets here. But then you can get a 50% discount if you book return tickets before you leave.)
They also had a pretty good gift shop and a small café area there, and clean restrooms for guests.
From there, we took a walk over to the Omnom chocolate and ice cream shop. This place has been featured on several travel shows, with Zac Efron being the most memorable. So we were expecting big things!
And.. it was a little disappointing. Despite being very famous for their gourmet chocolates, it’s really just an ice cream shop that happens to sell chocolate bars.
I wish they offered something more – like a chocolate tasting or chocolate and ice cream pairing or chocolate making demo. Anything really. This one wasn’t really worth the long walk to get there. (Although I still totally recommend buying some of their chocolates to try online.)
After that, we headed back towards our hotel in central Reykjavik and took a stroll around Lake Tjörnin. This is a big lake in the center of town, with Hljómskála Park stretching out from the south end. Think of the area as the Central Park of Reykjavik.
The walk around the lake was okay, but there were tons of flies. Like lord of the flies. One flew into my son’s eye and we had to stop and spend five minutes trying to fish it out. So maybe bring some bug spray.
But the large at the south end of the lake was a very nice stop. We first encountered the most hilarious outdoor workout stations I’ve ever seen.
And then we got to the kids playground which had a really fun little zip line, climbing structures, and trampolines! Definitely worth a stop if you’re travelling with kids.
Afterwards, we made our way back around the lake and grabbed hot dogs for the kiddo at the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand. I do not know why hot dogs are a thing in Iceland – but they most certainly are.
And by then, we were absolutely exhausted from travelling and passed out as soon as we made our way back to the hotel room.
Day 2 – Golden Circle to Hvolsvöllur
The next morning, we set out towards the famous Golden Circle, which is a popular route on most Iceland itineraries, that starts about 45 minutes from Reykjavik and circles some of Iceland’s most famous landmarks.
The first stop on our agenda was the beautiful Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park.
Thingvellir National Park is also where you can snorkel the very famous Silfra fissure, but since our son isn’t quite old enough for that yet (minimum age is 12 years), we’ll have to keep that on our bucket list for the future.
So we did the simple hike around the park and to the lovely Öxarárfoss Waterfall. Overall, the park is very beautiful. But this was not one of our favorite stops. It was very crowded- one of the most crowded places we visited on the whole trip. The hike to see the waterfall felt long with all the crowds and not the most interesting scenery. The ROI wasn’t there for me.
But it is an interesting place from a historical perspective. Thingvellir was the historical seat of government, and you can still see several landmarks, including the place where they held parliament.
We spent about an hour at the park, including grabbing some lunch at the gift shop which has grab-and-go sandwiches, yogurts, and drinks.
After leaving Thingvellir, we headed South on the Golden Circle to Ljósafoss Power Station, a hydroelectric plant with a small museum that is open to tourists. There’s a really interesting free exhibit here where you can learn all about the natural power sources that fuel Iceland.
This stop was a huge hit! It was jam packed with interactive exhibits, that were actually really fun. We spent about 30 minutes here exploring. And bonus points – they have clean bathrooms and water refills here.
From there, we took a short 15 minute drive further to see the famous Kerid Crater, which is a beautiful deep blue lake which sits in a volcanic crater.
There is a walking path that goes around the outside of the crater – at the top or bottom. We chose to take the steep steps down to the water and hike around the crater there. You could do the hike down and around the crater in about 30 minutes. But we took closer to an hour as we enjoyed finding rocks and trying to skip them on the lake!
Note that there are not any restrooms at this stop, and there is a small entrance fee of ~4 Euros per adult. (They take credit cards or cash.)
From there, we started our drive out to the South Coast. And first stop on the way was The Lava Centre. This was on my “optional” list – to do if we had the time. And it was another surprising winner! Definitely a good addition if you’re doing the Golden Circle with kids.
The Lava Centre has a super cool interactive exhibit. You walk through and learn all kinds of fun facts about volcanoes, geothermal activity, earthquakes and more. And the exhibits are beautiful and really fun to interact with.
After the exhibit, there is a chance to walk up on the rooftop where you can see several of the volcanoes that you learned about. And there is also a short 15 minute movie. We didn’t love the movie, but the exhibit was worth the stop. (You can book tickets to the Lava Centre here.)
And finally, we made it to the Instagram-famous Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. If you’ve spent any time researching Iceland, you’ve almost certainly seen pictures of this very beautiful and very famous waterfall.
The 197 foot tall waterfall originates from a volcanic glacier, and features a walking path and small cave that allows visitors to actually walk behind the falls. So yes, the views were absolutely spectacular!
No wonder it’s been featured in shows like Star Trek and Amazing Race, and even made an appearance in a Justin Bieber music video! Make sure to put on your waterproof jacket and rain pants for this stop – you are going to get very wet.
(See my Iceland packing list for gear recommendations.)
We absolutely loved this! Yes, it’s a very popular tourist attraction so you should expect crowds. But when else are you going to get a chance to walk behind a massive waterfall? It was truly amazing.
After Seljalandsfoss we headed over to Umi Hotel, our accommodation for the night, in the town of Hvolsvöllur. And what a treat that was! The hotel was absolutely gorgeous, with an amazing location just a short walk from a beautiful black sand beach.
We enjoyed dinner in their beautiful (and very tasty) restaurant and then took a nice walk down to the beach. I found it much more beautiful and peaceful than the famous Reynisfjara Beach, which we will get to later!
Day 3 – Skógafoss to Vik
We started our next morning by exploring the area around Skógafoss Waterfall, another famous Icelandic waterfall, which was just a 15 minute drive from Umi Hotel.
Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls, with a 200 foot drop. It’s geologically important as well, as it marks what used to be Iceland’s coastline. As the coast receded, the falls were formed and it now separates Iceland’s beautiful highlands from the coast.
It’s also super famous in pop culture, having appeared in Thor and Game of Thrones!
Now you can make Skógafoss a quick stop if you choose, as it’s easily viewable from just outside the parking area. But if you have the time, it’s definitely worth spending some extra time here.
We opted to hike up the huge staircase to the top of the waterfall, which provides a really cool view of Skógafoss from above. And then we continued on the trail there (nicknamed Waterfall Way), which is absolutely littered with breathtaking scenery.
The full trail consists of 26 more waterfalls over the next 5 miles (8 km), and of course you have to hike back if you do the full trail. Of course, that wasn’t the cards so we just hiked a bit to see the next waterfall and enjoy the scenery. When we had our fill of hiking, we turned back and made our way back down the 400 steps!
There are restrooms available at the parking area at Skógafoss, so this is a good place to get refreshed. Parking here is free, but you do have to pay to use the bathrooms. And there was a small faucet for refilling water bottles.
As for food, there are a couple options. There is a full restaurant at the Hótel Skógafoss, and also a food truck nearby called Mia’s Fish and Chips, that is well loved. We opted to head over to Skógar Museum, which advertised itself as having a café with soup and sandwiches.
So onward to Skogar Museum. This place was rather interesting. There were three parts of the museum, with the most interesting being the outdoor section which had all kinds of replica buildings from old Iceland. It was fun to go inside the little dwellings and see how people lived centuries ago.
Then we headed over to their café, and that part was a bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong – the place is very cute. But the menu consisted of three items – lamb stew, meat soup, and chickpea stew. Plus one item that they have every day – waffles with ice cream. Lol.
So keep that in mind if you’re planning on feeding a family full of kids at this place.
Now another fun thing about this museum, and the real reason it made it on our agenda, is that it is also the starting place for the Kvernufoss Waterfall hike.
So when we were finishing sightseeing at the museum, we headed out on the trail. The trail starts in the back of the museum parking lot, and the first order of business is to climb over a fence on this step ladder. Yep, really.
From there, the hike is very easy and only takes about 15 minutes. It’s mostly flat and can be done by just about anyone (or any age).
And the scenery is absolutely magical! Even better, not many people do this hike so you are likely to share the trail with just a few other groups and no tour buses full of people.
The waterfall itself is very beautiful, and is the only waterfall besides Seljalandsfoss that you can walk behind. Bring your waterproof pants and coat though, because you will get wet!
We really loved this little hike, and enjoyed it a lot more than the bigger waterfalls. It just felt more secluded and natural than the big tourist stops. And it was very easy and quick – so maximum ROI!
From here, we made our way into the town of Vik and to our next stop, Vik Horse Adventures. Now I grew up riding horses and can never pass up an opportunity for a ride. And those Icelandic horses are just so incredibly gorgeous, that I really couldn’t resist.
So we opted for a family-friendly 30 minutes horseback ride on the famous black sand beach. It was very fun and very much oriented to families with kids. The ride was just us and one other family. We had a main tour guide on horseback and someone walked alongside each of the kids to prevent any accidents. Very safe!
They even built in a stop for pictures, and they borrowed a phone from each family and got pics of us. Very appreciated!
My handsome horse was named Tindur — which means mountain top. How cute is that!?
Following our horseback ride, we headed over to the most famous black sand beach in Iceland, Reynisfjara Beach. This is another iconic Iceland landmark. You’ve likely seen images of the black sand beaches with wild waves, the unusual basalt columns built into the sea cliffs, and the famous Reynisdrangar rock formations.
And it was just as beautiful in person. But a word of caution here – this beach is dangerous! The sneaker waves are huge, come out of nowhere, and can easily drag an unsuspecting person out to sea. We are from Florida and very familiar with the many ways the ocean can kill you – and this was a new one for us. So seriously – look for the warning signs and don’t go too close to the water.
It was low tide while we visited, so we were able to safely visit the Hálsanefshellir Cave as well. Don’t attempt this while the tide is high! It was really cool and interesting, and I enjoyed seeing the basalt pillars up close.
We had dinner in Vik at the Black Crust Pizzeria (a must do!) and then checked into the Black Beach Suites for the evening.
I have to say that Black Beach Suites was one of my favorite hotels on this trip! And it’s definitely one of the best places to stay in Vik. It was truly spectacular – with big apartment like rooms and a direct view of the ocean. Just dreamy. I only wish we could have stayed more time there!
Day 4 – Skaftafell Glacier Hike & Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
The next morning we headed out super early to make the two hour drive to Skaftafell, where we had planned a glacier hike!
We met at Skaftafell Airport, which is really just a small building on a dirt road. There is probably an airplane somewhere, but I sure didn’t see one. The tour we booked was an “extra small group” tour with Melrakki Adventures. And it was totally amazing!
Our guide, Andrea got us all suited up with our equipment and then drove us in a 4×4 Jeep out to the base of the glacier. From there, we hiked up onto the beautiful ice and she guided us around for about two hours enjoying the scenery and learning all about the glacier.
She even tied off a safety line and gave everyone a chance to peek into a deep crevice. So fun!
This was honestly one of the highlights of our trip and one of the best Iceland activities to do with kids. It’s hard to even explain how amazing an ice glacier is until you have a chance to stand on one. If you’re planning a family friendly glacier hike, check out my tips for glacier hiking with kids.
From there, we headed east towards the famous Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach.
We stopped at the Diamond Beach first. I was honestly kind of expecting this to be a tourist trap. And well… I guess it is. But it is a pretty cool one.
There is beach area on both sides of the lagoon outlet – I recommend stopping at the one on the west side (before the bridge if you are heading towards the lagoon from Vik). It was much less crowded with the same beautiful views.
It was really interesting to see the big chunks of ice floating out of Jökulsárlón Lagoon and into the ocean. And of course, it was fun to play with the chunks of ice that wash up on the beach. We even had a visit from a friendly seal.
Next, we headed across the bridge to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. And this is where it really started to feel tourist trappy to me. In fact, I almost bailed. But I’m glad we hung in there.
We were early for the amphibian boat tour that we had booked, so we got snacks at the food trucks and spent some time watching the seals swim amongst the icebergs. I could do that for hours.
Then we embarked on an Amphibian Boat Tour, which was way more fun than I expected. I have to admit that when I got a look at these, I almost didn’t do it.
From the ground, it looked like a very crowded ride. But once onboard, it was actually fine. As soon as the boat entered the water, everyone was allowed to stand, which felt a lot roomier than sitting on the benches. There were plenty of great views from all sides of the boat, and we saw a few seals up close.
The tour guide was very funny, and kept everyone entertained. They brought a big chunk of ice into the boat and passed it around for pictures. Then they broke off a piece for each kid and had them make a wish and toss it into the lagoon. Very cute!
Finally we headed back west to our hotel for the evening, which was the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. Now here is where things didn’t go quite as swimmingly. This was sadly our least favorite hotel of the trip. It was absolutely jam packed with tour bus groups, the restaurant botched our dinner reservation, and the rooms were dated.
But alas, you can’t win them all. And one bad hotel out of eight is still pretty darn good.
Day 5 – Puffins and Lava!
The next morning, we kicked off our day with a puffin watching tour to Ingólfshöfði, which is a small nature reserve known for the many puffins that call it home.
The only way to reach this interesting area is on a tour – you can’t drive yourself there. And getting there was… interesting. We loaded up into a… wagon? Cart? I’m not sure what I would call this thing but it was basically like a big hay ride. Pulled by a tractor. My son was delighted.
The wagon ride out to the island was about 30 minutes and was really pretty fun! When we arrived, we hiked up a big sandy hill to reach the top and then our guide took us on a loop around the island looking for puffins.
But we didn’t have to look very hard. This place is covered in puffins! And they were super friendly too, letting us get really close. It seemed like they actually liked the attention. This was one of my favorite tours of the trip. I got so many amazing puffin pictures!
From there we started making our way back west on the south coast, towards Vik again. We stopped at a great little café, Cafe Vatnajökull, on our way out, where I had the most delicious Coconut Curry soup. Definitely eat here!
We ended up back in Vik for the evening, this time staying at Hotel Kría, which we absolutely loved! They had a surprise (at least a surprise to us) game room that my son couldn’t get enough of. And there was a fantastic lounge and bar area, with great service too.
And since we had another night in this small town, we grabbed some pizza again at Black Crust Pizzeria (yes for a second time!) and booked ourselves tickets to the popular Icelandic Lava Show too!
The lava show was a super fun way to end the evening. They do a fun demonstration with real lava, made by heating up the volcanic rock from the area, and everyone got to take home a small piece of lava glass as a souvenir.
Day 6 – Golden Circle Part 2!
As I mentioned, we opted to break the Golden Circle into two parts, one on our way out of Reykjavik and one on our way back. So now we headed back again!
Before we left Vik however, we had to make a stop at the popular Skool Beans coffee shop, which makes its home in an old school bus. It was a fun little stop – but definitely more of a tourist attraction than anything else. But hey – coffee. Who can complain about coffee?
Then we headed off on our two hour drive back to the Golden Circle, and had our first stop of the day at Friðheimar. Friðheimar is a super popular tomato farm and restaurant, made famous for their menu where every item features the tomatoes that they grow on site.
The food was definitely good. Although, I can’t say the tomatoes were any better than tomatoes at home. But it is pretty cool that they grow such a large volume inside a greenhouse in one of the coldest countries on earth.
We enjoyed learning a bit about the operation, and they even had a “bee box” where you could see a bumblebee hive. Be sure to make a reservation for this place though – they book up months in advance during the tourist season.
After lunch, we made a quick stop at Efstidalur II dairy farm for ice cream from their popular ice cream barn. This was a definite win! You can order ice cream and watch the cows in the adjacent barn while you eat.
I also notice that they had a great little playground with one of those bouncing pillows, but it was sadly raining while we visited.
And then we headed over to Laugarvatn Fontana. My husband has wanted to visit this place since he saw it featured on Zac Efron’s tv show years ago. It’s a beautiful geothermal spa which sits on the lakefront. But the reason we went was for food.
These guys do an incredibly cool geothermal bread baking demonstration, where they literally bake bread in the ground using the natural geothermal heat. Yes, the ground is literally hot enough to bake bread. Or boil eggs!
The demonstration was about 30 minutes, and we all got to taste the freshly baked rye bread at the end. Yum.
From there we headed over to the two remaining “big” Golden Circle attractions, Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir Hot Springs.
We stopped at Gullfoss Waterfall first. At this point, it was raining and very windy, so we didn’t linger all that long. But it’s worth taking a few minutes to walk down to the viewing platform and get a good luck at this magnificent waterfall.
Just be warned – if you walk up close you are going to get soaked. They also have a big visitor center with a pretty large cafeteria, where we grabbed some pizza as a snack.
Then we headed over to see the geysers at Geysir Hot Springs! Again, the weather wasn’t cooperating this day but we still took some time to check out the geothermal area and the famous Strokkur geyser, which erupts every few minutes. This was super cool, and we decided that we would have to come back later for another view.
We checked into Hotel Geysir, which is literally walking distance from the famous Strokkur geyser. I picked this hotel specifically for its access to these sites, wanting to visit them after the tourist crowds had left for the day.
But it turns out that the hotel itself is a gem too! It was totally gorgeous, fantastic rooms, and one of the best restaurants we dined at on our trip. Definitely recommend staying here.
Day 7 – More Geysers, Reykjavik, and Silica Lagoon
The next morning, we spent a couple more hours exploring the Geysir Hot Springs area. We had fun watching the geyser erupt and climbed up the short hike to the viewing platform at the top of the hills. If you have the time, this is worth the effort for some beautiful views of the area from above. It was extra special to go in the early morning before the crowds arrived for the day.
Next, we headed into Downtown Reykjavik. We originally had a whale watching trip booked but the seas were too rough to go out. We were disappointed, but we did have a great whale watching trip in Alaska previously, so we didn’t feel like it was a once in a lifetime chance to see whales.
So we took a little time to finish exploring Downtown Reykjavik, including the famous Rainbow Street which leads up to Hallgrimskirkja Church, which has become an iconic landmark in Reykjavik.
We grabbed lunch at Solon Bistro & Bar, and it was totally delicious. Seriously, these guys have maybe the best beet burger that I’ve ever had. And then my husband hopped into Reykjavik Roasters to try out their coffee while my son and I explored the church.
Then we headed over for our second ride at Flyover Iceland! :-D
Next we headed out to Silica Hotel for the night, which is located at the famous Blue Lagoon (our destination for the next day).
And oh my god, this place is amazing. The Silica Hotel was a bit of a splurge, but it was absolutely worth it for our last two nights in Iceland.
The main attraction here is the private lagoon that is essentially a mini version of the enormous Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions. But in this case, you only have to share it with the hotel guests. And with only 35 rooms, that makes for a very private experience. It was amazing!
We spent about two hours just relaxing in the blue waters on our first night, then ordered in pizza to our room from a local restaurant. And what kid wouldn’t love getting pizza delivered to their hotel room?
Day 8 – The Blue Lagoon
The next morning, we enjoyed the delicious breakfast at Silica, and then headed over to the “big” Blue Lagoon. Another benefit of staying at Silica, is that entrance to the main lagoon is included and you don’t need to reserve a time in advance (which often books weeks or months ahead of time). You just go to reception when you’re ready and they call over and make you a reservation. Pretty slick.
We made the short walk over from the hotel, which took us on a pretty pathway winding through the lava fields and blue water. When we arrived, there was no line at all to check in and they showed us to the locker rooms, where we could change into our swimwear.
Note: If you’ve been reading up on the shower situation in Iceland, let me just say don’t worry so much about it. Yes, you need to shower before you enter the pools here, as they are not chlorinated. But there were plenty of private shower stalls and changing rooms available.
Then we headed out to the lagoon! This place is absolutely massive. We expected it to be a tourist trap. And it definitely is. But it’s also very fun. While the hotel lagoon was serene and private, the main lagoon was bustling with people and had all kinds of things going on.
We tried out the various face masks that were being offered up, we got drinks at the swim up bar (including a slushie for the kiddo), and had fun taking all our tourist selfies in the shimmering blue water.
And even though there were plenty of people there, it didn’t feel all that crowded to us. It’s a very big pool with a lot of space. The weather was not great during our visit – with really high winds and a little rain. But it didn’t matter much as the water is warm.
(You can book entry tickets to the Blue Lagoon here. Be sure to book it in advance if you’re not staying at Silica Hotel!)
From there, we headed back over to Silica Hotel. We had planned to go out and explore a few areas in the Reykjanes Peninsula, but the weather continued to be uncooperative. So we opted to spend the rest of the day at the private Silica Lagoon, which was absolutely lovely.
And in the evening, we headed into the small town of Grindavik for a delicious dinner at Café Bryggjan, which had a great view of the commercial fishing vessels. It was the perfect meal to end our Iceland vacation. I highly recommend the fish and chips – it doesn’t get any fresher than this!
The next morning, we headed out to Keflavik airport to catch our flight (which was three hours late). And that’s a wrap for Iceland!
I have to say we had an amazing trip and really hope to visit this beautiful country again on our future travels!
More Iceland Trip Planning Resources
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