Iceland is really all about its landscapes, but no trip there would be complete without spending at least a couple of days in its small but compelling capital, as we did before beginning our exploration of the country’s stunning southern coast.
There are plenty of things to do with kids in Reykjavík, but with the weather mainly gloomy and often rainy during our late-August visit, we had to play it partly by ear. On our first day, we took a wild and windy whale-watching trip in the Bay of Reykjavík with Elding – frustratingly, the Minke whales, dolphins and porpoises seen on 96% of trips eluded us, but we did see puffins flapping off en route to Greenland (and got complimentary tickets for a return trip, valid for two years). Elding also has an interesting exhibition back on land including a film about the rehabilitation of Free Willy star Keiko, which the kids loved. Afterwards, we visited nearby Volcano House with its small, free museum of geology and its film about volcanoes in Iceland – a useful introduction for both children and adults about to venture out of Reykjavík.
"The best food of all was the really cheap stuff – hot dogs from the legendary stall Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur by the Harpa concert hall, and lobster soup in the rough-and-ready harbourside shack Saegreifinn."
On our second day, we visited Nauthólsvík, a geothermal beach with hot pots for soaking in, a demarcated kids’ swimming area in the sea, and a playpark, popular with local children. It’s outside the city centre right by the domestic airport, so you get sea-planes and other light airport taking off around you as you swim, play or hunt for chunks of lava and other treasures.
A walk through the woods behind Nauthólsvík (contrary to what you might read, Iceland does have trees!) brought us to the landmark dome of Perlan for hot chocolate and cakes and the best views over Reykjavík from its blustery terrace. Then it was back into the centre for a look around the relatively small but compelling Viking Maritime Museum, which despite its name is actually about the local fishing industry. Watching a film about fishermen poo-ing over their side of boats was just one of the highlights for my boys.
There were other Reykjavík sights we didn’t have time for – Laugardalur Park with its thermal pools and small zoo, Videy Island and most of the museums – but we did feel we’d done the city some justice in the short time we had there. The Reykjavík Welcome Card came in very handy, allowing us free entry to most attractions and discounts to the majority of the others, plus free public transport – handy given that we were a bus ride from the centre in our lovely Airbnb apartment with its rooftop terrace.
Renting an apartment in a family home was a wonderful experience that we’d certainly repeat if (when!) we return to Reykjavík, not least because our host Ingunn was so friendly and helpful. Listening to her son playing Pixies songs on his piano downstairs as we had dinner in the apartment one evening gave us the illusory pleasure of being part of the city rather than mere tourists.
We also spent one night in the child-friendly but quirkily stylish Icelandair Marina Hotel with its family suites with bunk-beds, sleeping up to six. There are toys in the lobby and a mini climbing wall in the gym.
In terms of eats, Reykjavík came up trumps there too. We had a dinner and a breakfast in the popular Laundromat, with global fare, a basement play space for children and even a real working launderette. We also enjoyed the upmarket if pricey seafood in Icelandic Fish & Chips, an organic bistro inside Volcano House (see above). Best of all, however, was the really cheap stuff – hot dogs from the legendary stall Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur by the Harpa concert hall, and lobster soup in the rough and ready harbourside shack Saegreifinn.
Reykjavik (and Iceland as whole) has a reputation for being expensive, but places like this, as well as staying in an apartment, helped keep our costs down, and we found prices as a whole comparable with those of London, or perhaps a little lower – the cost of alcohol will inflate bills if you eat out (if you’re self-catering, note that you can only get alcohol from specialist stores called Vínbúðin, which have limited opening hours).
Read more about family holidays in Iceland.