Chances are that if you’re on an Iceland family holiday then you’re going to be visiting Reykjavik with your kids.
Although most people visit Iceland for its incredible natural scenery, why not take a day to explore Iceland’s man-made attractions and its heritage? You can find plenty of both in Reykjavik, and as Reykjavik is small and easily walkable, it’s definitely a family-friendly city.
We would recommend taking at least a day to explore Iceland’s capital. We spent one day in Reykjavik and we left plenty of things undone!
Laugavegur Street and Reykjavik’s street art
Laugavegur Street is Reykjavik’s high street and is probably the best place to head to to get your bearings. The roads that branch off from Laugavegur Street lead to many of the city’s other attractions.
There’s plenty of shops to peek into (although beware the prices). You’ll also see plenty of tempting cafes and bars along this street!
Our kids were fascinated by the graffiti art that adorns many of the buildings along Laugavegur street. They had great fun trying to be the first to spot the next bit of street art. Many of Reykjavik’s buildings are somewhat utilitarian but the art adds more of a fun feel to the place.
Harpa Opera House
Down on the waterfront you won’t miss Harpa, Reykjavik’s glittering glass opera house.
Even if you don’t catch a performance here, it’s worth looking inside for the spectacular glass architecture. The hexagonal panes of glass used to make the outside of the building are set at angles so they sparkle in the light. The design is inspired by Iceland’s geology but it also put us in mind of a beehive. It’s supposed to be especially twinkly after dark – but only in the winter!
There are 4 large halls inside and a shop selling beautiful artefacts. You can take a guided tour if you like, which will allow you to see parts of the building that are off limits to the general public. In the summer months tours go pretty much every hour between 10am and 5pm and cost 1500 ISK per adult (kids under 16 go free).
Take a look at Harpa’s website to see what’s on when you visit.
The Sun Voyager
Once you’ve looked around Harpa, walk along the sea front towards Iceland’s most famous sculpture: Solfrar, or the Sun Voyager. It looks like a skeletal Viking longboat but it wasn’t designed with Vikings in mind – it’s a dream boat. It’s got a lovely setting, with the snow-capped mountains across the bay behind it.
You’ll have to wait patiently to get your turn posing with the sculpture, or without anyone in the photo. It’s a popular site for photos so you’ll have to get in the queue!
Hallsgrimkirkja is Reykjavik’s church. It sits on top of a hill in the centre of the city and you can see it from pretty much anywhere in Reykjavik. This means that the best views of Reykjavik can be had from its tower.
Hallsgrimkirkja is made of concrete and has a rather austere look about it, however it’s easy to see where the inspiration for its design came from: the black basalt columns found around Iceland’s coast run up its sides.
Standing proudly in front of Hallgrimkirkja is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson, now widely believed to be the first European to discover the Americas, 500 years before Columbus. There’s plenty more information about Leifur and his family to be found around Iceland which provides a great educational opportunity for kids.
Inside, the church is modern and welcoming. The organ is amazing – it’s huge! We took a rest here for a few minutes, before the husband took the kids outside to play and I went up the tower to take in the view. It can take a while to get up the tower as the lift is ancient, slow and only holds 6 people at a time. The views are lovely; you can take in the cheerful colours of Reykjavik’s houses and see right across the bay. In really good weather you can even see glaciers far away on the west coast.
Buy your tower ticket in the shop for 900 ISK per adult and 100 ISK for kids 7 – 14.
Where to eat in Reykjavik with kids
This is easy: you want to go to the Laundromat Cafe. It’s central and easy to find; just cross the road at the foot of Laugavegur Street, walk down the street opposite and you’ll see it on the right.
Upstairs looks just like a normal restaurant but downstairs is a brilliant kids’ room, making the Laundromat Cafe perfect for families with small children. A large play area is stuffed with a huge variety of toys and kids can climb into padded cubby-holes to read an assortment of books.
It also really is a laundromat! It’s apparently the only self-service laundromat in Iceland, so you might want to bring along a bundle of clothes to wash too.
The Laundromat Cafe was busy when we went but we were able to grab a table without too much trouble. The food was good; plenty of healthy options including vegetarian options for me and the kids. The menu is mainly burgers, sandwiches and cooked breakfast/brunch.
Of course it was expensive but all restaurants in Iceland are, so really, the Laundromat Cafe is cheap to mid-range when compared to the competition.
Our kids had a great time at the Laundromat Cafe and didn’t want to leave. As for the husband and I, we got to put our feet up and enjoy a relatively peaceful chat while the kids amused themselves. Win-win.
More family friendly things to do in Reykjavik
You could always take a street tour which takes in some of Reykjavik’s more interesting buildings such as the Parliament buildings and the harbour, which we didn’t manage to see.
There are plenty of museums in the centre of Reykjavik, which slightly older children than ours would enjoy. There’s the Settlement Exhibition (part of Reykjavik City Museum) which comes recommended, especially for kids who like Vikings. Also part of the same museum is the Open Air Museum which would be great on a sunny day.
The Whale Museum is another stop I’d like to have seen as they have life-sized models of all whales found in the local waters.
If the kids need free rein, take them to Reykjavik’s Botanical Garden where they can let loose among the garden and woodland trails. Parents can rejoice: entry is free!
Next to the botanical garden is Husdyragarðurinn, a small zoo and park. Here you’ll find Icelandic fauna and farm animals, a large play park and summer fairground rides.
One more free thing to do in Reykjavik is the Nautholsvik geothermal beach. This is a man-made beach beach and lagoon which is heated by pumping in geothermal hot water (it still sounds pretty chilly, mind). The beach is free in the summer months but at other times of the year charges apply.
Know before you go
Where to park in Reykjavik
Unless you’re lucky enough to be staying very close to the centre of town, you’ll probably be driving in and wondering about parking.
Most of the streets in central Reykjavik will have a charge to park – be careful or you risk getting a fine. The closer you are to Laugavegur Street, the more expensive the parking charges. There will either be a parking meter (coins only) or a ticket machine (coins or cards; best to have coins available in case your foreign card doesn’t work).
Parking zones are shown on the above map. If you see a P sign on the street, then you’ve got to pay to park.
The pink/red zones (1) are the most expensive: 275 ISK per hour.
Blue zone (2): 150 ISK per hour
Green zone (3): 125 ISK per hour (30 ISK p/h after 2 hours)
Parking charges are payable between 9am – 6pm Monday to Friday; 10am to 4pm Saturday; free on Sunday.
Orange zone (4): 150 ISK per hour
Parking charges are payable between 8am – 4pm Monday to Friday; weekends are free.
Reykjavik car parks/parking lots
If you don’t want to park on the street then you can use a car park instead.
This site (Icelandic only) gives real-time updates on the car park situation in Reykjavik. It’s not difficult to use, even if you don’t read Icelandic (I don’t!).
The car park we used is Stjornuport on Laugavegur Street and is the first car park highlighted on the page.
Under the map you can see the number of free spaces in green and the taken spaces in orange. Below this is the car park opening times. The prices are shown under the little illustration of the car park. In the case of Stjornuport the first hour costs 80 ISK and then 50 ISK for every hour after that. We paid by card.
Where to stay with kids in Reykjavik
Hotels in Iceland are expensive, especially so if you’re travelling with a family and need bigger rooms, or more than one.
We found AirBnB to be the best choice for us. You’ll still need to book early as places book up fast.
We stayed just outside of Reykjavik’s centre in a district called Kopavogur. From here it was an easy 15 minute drive to Reykjavik’s centre.
After dinner at home we took advantage of the light evenings and went for a walk along the nearby lake; a peaceful way to finish our day in Reykjavik.
Take a look at our 2 week Iceland itinerary to see what else Iceland has to offer!