Chances are that if you’re on an Iceland family holiday then you’re going to be visiting Reykjavik with 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! Read on to find out about the best things to do in Reykjavik with kids, where to stay in Reykjavik, and some of the best day trips to take from Reykjavik.
The top things to do in Reykjavik with kids
Below I’ve written a list of the top things to see in Reykjavik with kids. I’ve started with what we managed to see in our day in Reykjavik and I’ve then given you some ideas to extend your trip if you’ve got a little longer, or if your kids are older than ours. Many of the below are free things to do Reykjavik, which does off-set the cost of travelling in Iceland somewhat.
I’m sure you could manage to squeeze a museum in to your day – we were all tired as we’d had a late arrival into Reykjavik the previous night so we went slower than usual.
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). We were keen to get a traditional Icelandic wool jumper each but they were about £200 a pop, so, yeah, that didn’t happen!
You’ll also see plenty of tempting cafes and bars along this street, but if you’ve got small kids make sure you hold fire until you reach the end of Laugavegur Street. Keep reading to see where to get your lunch!
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. You can read more about Leifur and his family’s incredible journeys in this post.
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
****UPDATE: The Laundromat Cafe has now closed 🙁 ****
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. There are some tables down here too so parents can eat while supervising the kids.
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
If you’re quicker than us or if you have longer in Reykjavik with kids, then there are plenty more things that I wish we’d had time to see.
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. Take a look at this free walking tour of Reykjavik – you tip your guide as much as you like afterwards. It’s family friendly and lasts about 2 hours.
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.
Day trips from Reykjavik
If you don’t have time to drive around Iceland’s ring road then taking day trips from Reykjavik is a good idea. Here are some of the best escorted day trips from Reykjavik.
The obvious day trip to take is the Golden Circle, where you can see some of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls and geysers, as well as seeing the edge of a tectonic plate. You can click here to book a full-day tour of the Golden Circle. This is a guided tour suitable for everyone. Alternatively see how to drive the Golden Circle yourself here.
Another popular trip is along the south coast of Iceland. This guided tour takes you to the seaside town of Vik and back again, stopping at famous waterfalls, black beaches and glaciers along the way. Suitable for all. Click here to see more details and to book. Or, if you’d like to drive it yourself, take a look at this post.
If you really want to haul some ass, then the Jokulsarlon Iceberg Lagoon is a real highlight of a stunning country. If you’ve only got one day to see it, then you can do a day tour – click here for information and to book. However it’s a long day and if you’re travelling with children then I’d really recommend a self-drive or a two day tour. Click here to book a two day tour.
The Snaefellsness peninsula is another popular day trip, and gets you a bit more off the beaten path. Snaefellsness is often referred to as Iceland in miniature so you can see a little bit of everything in this part of West Iceland. Take a look at this guided tour, where you can see the famous Kirkjufell mountain, explore glaciers, black sand beaches and meet some adorable seals. Suitable for all. Click here for more information and to book.
Know before you go
Where to stay in Reykjavik with kids
Family friendly hotels in Reykjavik
Hotels in Iceland are expensive, especially so if you’re travelling with a family and need bigger rooms, or more than one room. However, there are some beautiful options in Reykjavik. Here’s our pick of the best family friendly hotels in Reykjavik.
Tower Suites is centrally located and makes for a very special stay. It’s a luxury hotel with floor to ceiling glass windows and views to die for. They have corner suites suitable for families. Click here to check prices and book.
Kvosin Downtown Hotel is right in the centre of Reykjavik and has modern rooms with seating areas suitable for families. Many rooms have a kitchenette where you can prepare your own food. Click here to get more information and to book.
Sandhotel Click here to check prices and to book.is a boutique hotel located on Laugavegur Street, so perfect for sightseeing. Family rooms are available and a good breakfast is included.
Serviced Apartments in Reykjavik
You might find serviced apartments or regular apartments a better option than a hotel. Yes, you might have to self cater, do the washing up and take out the rubbish but often these apartments are better value and give you a larger living space than a hotel. They’re our preferred accommodation for family travel. Here are the best holiday apartments in Reykjavik, serviced or otherwise.
Black Pearl Apartments are a cross between a hotel and apartment. There’s a 24 hour desk, you can order breakfast to your room, and the modern apartments are spacious and fully equipped. Click here to book your stay.
Rey Apartments are also serviced. These are a good choice for larger families as you can choose apartments with up to 3 bedrooms which sleep 8 guests. These apartments have a good central location. Click here to check prices and book.
Ódinsvé Apartments are right in the centre of Reykjavik. They provide spacious modern accommodation with fully equipped kitchens, although you can also order breakfast. There’s an on site restaurant for lunch and dinner, as well as a bar. Click here to book your stay.
Other places to stay in Reykjavik
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. We used AirBnB for this stay. If you’ve never used AirBnB before you can get £25 credit by signing up using this link.
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.
Getting to Reykjavik and around the city
You’re most likely to fly in to Keflavik airport. Keflavik airport is a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik so you’ll want to have transportation arranged before you arrive.
The transportation option you pick depends on what you want to do after you’ve visited Reykjavik. If you want to drive around Iceland yourself then hire a car, which is what we did. Click here to check prices and book.
If you’re not going to drive yourself around then you can book a shuttle bus service to pick you up from Keflavik and drop you back again after your visit. Click here to check prices and book your transfer.
If you’re planning on spending a few days in Reykjavik then you might want to use some of its buses. If you’re planning on doing this then the Reykjavik City Card may come in handy. The Reykjavik City Card allows travel on all buses and includes free museum entrance. You can also relax in geothermal pools and take a ferry trip out to pretty Viðey Island. Click here for more information and to buy your ticket.
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.