Set in the dramatic Icelandic landscape of lava fields, snow-capped mountains, glaciers and wild, windswept oceans, Reykjavik feels like the perfect place for an arctic adventure.
From jet skiing on glaciers and horse riding along ancient Viking trails, to boat trips promising sights of whales swimming and puffins diving for fish – there are plenty of activities to try here. Families can enjoy a range of activities together in a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Iceland’s welcoming capital city, whether swimming in natural thermal baths, hiking Mount Esja or, of course, watching the spectacular northern lights.
The city of Reykjavik is the perfect place to base yourself for your Icelandic adventure as there’s plenty to see and do, as well as a range of family-friendly restaurants and a safe, welcoming atmosphere, all set against stunning scenery. Here’s my rundown of the top family activities to try in and around the city.
Discover the World’s Largest Mammals
Reykjavik is rightly proud of the giant visitors which swim in the waters just off its shore. Taking a boat out to watch the local whale population is an unmissable activity while you’re here. But before you take the kids out to catch a glimpse of the 23 different species of whale which inhabit these waters, it is well worth visiting the Whales of Iceland Museum to find out more about these fascinating creatures.
Whales of Iceland
Visit the museum, set on the city’s coastline, and come face to face with life-sized models of the various whales you may encounter (everything from blue whales and sperm whales to killer whales, dolphins and narwhals).
The virtual reality guide will make your kids feel like they have become part of the teaming underwater world of Iceland’s whales while they discover all kinds of interesting facts about these beautiful creatures.
Spot the Real Thing
Once you and the kids know all about the local whale population, its time to wrap up warm and go and see them for yourselves. A boat trip from the Old Harbour will take you out into the bay where you can take in the sights from the various viewing platforms.
In the summer months you are likely to encounter the numerous minke whales which come to the bay at this time of year. In the winter – by the light of the atmospheric, low-lying winter sun – you will encounter a range of wildlife which could include humpback, killer or even the mammoth blue whales. It is an experience you and your children will never forget.
Viking Horse Riding Tours
There are not many children whose imagination will not be caught by the stories of fearless Vikings returning home from foreign victories through barren winter landscapes. History can really come alive as you and your family trek through the stunning plains beyond the city on horses descended from the very ones imported by Vikings in the ninth century.
Spend a couple of hours riding through the rugged landscape of plains, mountains and waterfalls before visiting the Blue Lagoon for a swim in its thermal waters (and spa treatments for parents looking to relax muscles tired from their time in the saddle). Groups are split into horse-riding ability so good riders can enjoy some fast-paced ‘tölting’ while beginners can sit back and enjoy the scenery at a slower pace. This is such a breathtaking outdoor experience that you’re guaranteed to enjoy it as much as the kids do.
Blood-Pumping Quad Bike Tour
If you and your clan are looking for something a little more petrol-fuelled after your horse and whale experiences, why not book the family on a high-octane quad bike tour of the Hafrafell and Úlfarsfell mountain peaks.
Follow an experienced guide on a solo or double quad bike through the winter landscape around Reykjavik before heading up to the summits of two nearby mountains. This is a great place to stop and enjoy the stunning views out over the city and ocean beyond.
Snowmobiling on a Glacier
For yet another once-in-a-lifetime experience, take the family on a day trip to one of Europe’s largest ice caps. Here you can experience snowmobiling on the Langjökull glacier in Iceland’s northern highlands.
Your trained guide will not only take you to ride along the top of the glacier (again you can choose between individual vehicles or doubles if the kids are too young to ride alone); they will also take you into the depths of the ice with a tour of an ice cave. The manmade 200 metre-long cave takes you 40 metres under the ice cap and gives you a unique perspective of this awesome natural phenomenon.
Kids will not only love the snowmobiling, they’ll love the super truck needed to transport you from the meeting point to the glacier itself.
How to Get to Reykjavik
The Icelandic capital is only three hours from London by air with a range of airlines (including easyJet, Icelandair and WOW) all offering regular flights to Keflavík International Airport. Getting to the capital by road from the airport takes around 40 minutes.
Arrange a private airport transfer with Shuttle Direct online before you set off and you and your family will be met at the airport when you land by a driver who can take you straight to your accommodation.
Where to Stay
Hotel Island – Set beside the recreational area of Laugardalur Park, Hotel Island also offers beautiful views out over the mountains. With stylish modern rooms, a café and restaurant and an onsite spa to relax muscles tired from all those activities, this is a great family choice.
Eric the Red Guesthouse – You don’t get more Viking-sounding than the Eric the Red Guesthouse! Luckily inside this is a modern, comfortable place to stay. Located in the centre of town close to shops and restaurants, the guesthouse also has free Wi-Fi throughout.
About Shuttle Direct
Take the stress out of family holidays by organising a Shuttle Direct airport transfer before you leave home. Use the simple online booking service to arrange a car to pick you up from the airport and one of our local, English-speaking drivers will be there to meet you and your group in the arrivals lounge when you land.