Iceland is a fantastic natural playground for all ages. Exploding geysers, geothermal pools, lunar landscapes, and epic waterfalls make it a perfect worldschooling destination. It’s no wonder that so many families visit Iceland more than once.
A first trip to Iceland is likely to include Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. Indeed that’s exactly what we did on our first Iceland with kids road trip. But if are you looking to delve deeper and explore more of this fascinating country away from the crowds, we recommend heading North.
We followed a brilliant 7 day North Iceland self-drive itinerary put together by Hey Iceland (see our selection of Family-Friendly Tours and Farm Holiday) at the end of October. We stayed on remote farms where our host sang to us over breakfast, rubbed the bellies of huskies, spotted a humpback whale up close, and practised our handstands in geothermal pools overlooking snow capped mountains. It was the perfect Iceland road trip and I wanted to share with you our top things to do in North Iceland for families
Stay on a farm
One of our favourite stays in Northern Iceland was at Stóra-Ásgeirsá; a working farm and family-friendly home, ran by a farmer / dad / singer-songwriter / host called Magnus. Our boys got to work in the stables in the morning, feeding the horses and goats, as well as sweeping up the hay. There are some great short hikes in the area, or you can even try horse riding. But the highlight for us was having a dip in the hot tub next to the waterfall under a starlit night sky.
Husky sledding is a bucket list item for many travellers. However, if you haven’t got the budget for sledding, we recommend doing a kennel visit with Snow Dogs. Young kids especially will love the hands on experience of husky kisses and belly rubs. The owner will ease nervous children into it gently, first with getting them to help feed the dogs. You could not wipe the smiles off our boys’ faces as they played with the huskies. They had the best time!
Ride an Icelandic horse
The native Icelandic horse is iconic. Even in the harshest climes, you will see these stoic creatures dotted around the lower hills. At Gauksmýri Lodge, you can experience these beautiful creatures up close with a family horse riding lesson. Depending on experience, you can enjoy a short riding lesson in the stables or head out onto a hack in the open. We also got to learn some interesting facts about the Icelandic horse. Did you know that it has two more gaits than other horses? Amazing!
Go whale watching
The whale population off the coast of Iceland is one of the most accessible and extensive in Europe, and the northern town of Húsavík provides the perfect base to set sail and get a close up glimpse of these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. We went on a 3-hour whale watching tour with North Sailing and we managed to see a humpback whale and a minke whale! Whale watching tours run from March through to November from Húsavík, but if you’re visiting from May through to August you can also combine your whale watching with puffin watching!
Swim in geothermal pools
Iceland has lots of geothermal pools to enjoy, but not many can compete with Geosea for its incredible natural setting, which overlooks the open expanse of Skjálfandi Bay across to snow capped mountains and the Arctic Circle on the horizon. Kids are more than welcome here. There are three main pools (one of which doubles-up as a bar area) and we found the temperature in each one to be perfect for our boys (aged 4 and 6).
Run through smoking fumaroles
The Námafjall Geothermal Area located to the east of Lake Mývatn is an extraordinary lunar-like landscape. Here you will find belching mud pots, smoking fumaroles, and sulphur crystals of all different colours. It also smells a lot like eggs here. The area is free to visit and our boys spent hours running in and out of the steam escaping from the rocks. A magical playground for little ones!
Hunt for trolls
Legend has that trolls live amongst the lava stacks and caves of Dimmuborgir by Lake Mývatn. These trolls are known as the 13 Yule Lads, who on the thirteen nights before Christmas terrorise Icelanders, each with their own strategy after which they were named (such as Spine Licker, Sausage Swiper, and Door Slammer). The best way to find them is to walk the path to Hallorflot and shout loudly “Jólasveinar!” We didn’t find any trolls. But it’s a fascinating place to explore with kids.
Learn about the local seal population
The Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi is a great place for a quick stopover as you explore the Vatnsnes peninsula in Northern Iceland. It’s compact and well-laid out interior allows you to understand more about the local seals which inhabit this part of the world, and young kids will find some fun activities during their visit. If you want to try and spot some seals after your visit, follow the 711 route which circles the Vatnsnes Peninsula to aptly named Seal Beach, and across the estuary at Hvítserkur. They are all well signposted off the main road with a picture of a seal.
If you feel like doing like Jenny, Jason, Arthur and Ezra, tell us your dream holiday and let our team craft the trip that best suits the needs and expectations of your family, with My Own Self-Drive Tour.
And to go further and be well prepared for your North Iceland adventure, browse our selection of articles: