Family Friendly Iceland

Some things we enjoyed as a family with a 9 year old boy

The Old Harbour

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on August 18, 2013

The old harbour in Reykjavik is a great place to visit with so much to see - lots of different types of boats coming and going, plenty of places to explore and lots to keep children amused.

Amazingly, the harbour here was only built between 1913 and 1917 - before this ships had to drop anchor out at sea and transport goods into the city by rowing boat. Just by the entrance to the harbour is an old locomotive. Our son enjoyed climbing inside the locomotive and getting a really good look at it. This locomotive was what they used to haul away the dredged rocks when they made the harbour.

Most of the main boat traffic has now moved to the port at Sundahofn, which actually makes the old harbour here more pleasant - we especially enjoyed strolling around in the evenings.

Look out for the 4 remaining whale hunting ships. You can't miss them - they are on the eastern pier, absolutely huge,great hulking vessels with black hulls and white above. The word "Hvalur" is written across the bow and stern. I had read somewhere you could actually climb aboard these ships and have a look around, but saw no evidence of this during our visit. Something really ironic - the whale hunting ships are lined up right across from the whale watching tours - amazing but true!

There are lots of whale watching tours which leave at all times from the harbour. We didn't venture on one of these - it was extremely stormy during our stay and we didn't fancy tossing around on the high seas. If the weather had been calmer though, this is definitely something we would have wanted to do.

We enjoyed looking at the little fishing boats, but our 9 year old was most impressed by the huge coast guard vessels. The coast guard ships defend the country's fishing waters and are the closest thing Iceland has to a navy. Diplomatic relations between Iceland and Britain were broken off in the 1970's when these coast guard vessels sliced British fishing nets during the "Cod Wars."

We spent ages with our son strolling around the harbour and having a look at all the different ships - large and small. Look out also for the green houses which were once used by the fishermen. These now house little shops, restaurants and one was a museum. Also look out for the huge ship in dry dock - it towers above everything else and is quite a sight.

Before you leave the harbour, peer hard enough into the water - you will see lots and lots of little fish.

There is a walkway which leads from the harbour, past the Harpa Exhibition Centre and along by the seashore, towards the Viking longboat. This is a glorious place to walk - particularly late in the evening when the sun is setting. The sea crashes against the path, there are snow capped mountains on the horizon and the city on your right hand side. The Viking longboat is also a beautiful place to stop for photos. Our son, normally a bit of a grumbler on a walk like this, was impressed and awed by the scenery.

Videy Island

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on August 19, 2013

Videy Island is only a few minutes ferry ride from Reykjavik. It is a nice, little place to spend half a day exploring and getting up close and personal with nature. Try and pick reasonable weather - particularly try and visit when it is not raining, you will be outdoors all the time!

The ferry goes to Videy Island from the old harbour at midday. It leaves from Sundahofn harbour much more frequently and at different points throughout the day. If you want to get back to the old harbour, the ferry leaves again at 3:30pm. This is more than enough time to explore, have a bike ride and get refreshments in the cafe.

The ferry ride is short (it takes about 5 minutes) but also very picturesque - you get some nice views of Reykjavik.

Videy Island is all about nature - there are some great rock formations and some nice beaches. You will also see lots and lots of birds - apparently at least 30 species of breeding birds have been counted here.

The island was inhabited from the 10th century and was the location of an Augustine monastery from 1225 to 1539. It was a centre for pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. There are little boards around the island with information about its history.

When you get to the island you can pick up free bikes (I think these are only available during the summer months). Using a bike is a great way to get around the whole island, however some of the paths are not paved and are very gravelly, also there are some hills, so for us we did find the cycling was quite hard going. You pick up the bikes from the Videy House.

A better and easier way to explore, in our opinion was just to walk. There are lots of good walking paths, no traffic so children can run, play and explore the grasses and hollows.

The cafe is very nice - definitely worth visiting for a drink or a snack.

We were also intrigued to see Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower. This, however is only lit from 20-26 March to celebrate John and Yoko's wedding in 1969 and the arrival of spring. Needless to say, if you visit during the long hours of daylight, you will not see the tower lit up.

Videy Island is a pleasant place to spend some time. The ferry ride is fun, short and you can get some great photos. There is not a lot to see and do on the island, however you can take some lovely walks and let children run free and wild and know they will be safe.

Videy Island


Laugardalur Pool

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on August 20, 2013

If there is one thing that you absolutely must do with children in Iceland, it is to take them swimming outside. You can do this whatever the weather - even in a snowstorm, the outdoor pools are open and will be used by Icelandic families. Every town and village has its own outdoor pool, there are several in Reykjavik.

We had visited the Blue Lagoon - this is luxurious and a wonderful experience, but Laugardalur will probably be a bigger hit with the younger members of the family.

Laugardalur actually means "hot spring valley." As well as an outdoor pool there are other things to do and this place is known as a major centre for recreation in Reykjavik. There is a youth hostel, a campsite, a botanical garden with woods, ponds and wildlife (entry is free) and a football stadium.

It is a little way out of the city centre, you can take a variety of buses to get here - the Number 14 bus lets you off right at the pool - however we decided to walk there. It was easy to find and not much more than a 20 minute brisk walk from the main shopping street in Reykjavik.

This is the largest outdoor thermal pool in Reykjavik and is open all year round. It opens between 8 am and 10 pm. The entrance fee to the pool is extremely cheap - ISK 130 for children and ISK 550 for adults. We visited on a Saturday morning, there were a few other Icelandic families using the pool, but no other tourists. It was by no means crowded and there was plenty of space to play and let off steam.

The water is lovely and warm - the place is nowhere near as luxurious as the Blue Lagoon but there are slides, lots of inflatable toys for children to play with and an assault course resembling Total Wipeout. It is perfect for children of all ages.

The changing rooms are outdoors, it is a bit bracing when you first emerge and run into the water, but when you get into the pool all is ok! The pool and changing areas are, as always in Iceland, immaculately clean and extremely family friendly. The other children in the pool were also really friendly and included our son in some of their games - the language barrier was no issue and he played really well with them.

As well as the pool, there is a family park and zoo in this area. The zoo has lots of Icelandic animals - wild and domesticated such as foxes, reindeer and horses. There are rides and play equipment in the park.

We spent a couple of hours in the pool, our son could have spent a couple more there, he loved it here and this was one of his holiday highlights - swimming in an outdoor pool on a freezing cold day, making some new Icelandic friends.
Laugardalur Swimming Pool
Laugardalur, IS-104
Reykjavik, Iceland

Horse Riding

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on August 21, 2013

In all of my travel planning for this trip, one of the things regularly listed as a must-do experience was a horse riding trek on a pure bred Viking horse, exclusive to Iceland. I thought this sounded like a fun family thing to do, so set about finding out more.

Ishetar was a tour operator I read good reviews about, so we decided to book with them. They are based in Hafnarfjordur, it was only about 10 minutes drive from the centre of Reykjavik, so is convenient to get there. We drove in our rental car, but I think they can arrange to collect you as well if that is your preference.

We booked a half hour horse trekking family adventure, I thought for us, this would be enough as a taster session. They recommend you book in advance, but we were the only people on our trek, so I think turning up without booking would not have been a problem. Our half hour family adventure cost 38 Euros per person. We booked online through their website. On the website are full details of all their offerings, prices and times etc..

The horses are direct descendants of the Viking horses and they claim in the literature to be the perfect size for children - they still looked very big to me!! They have a gentle temperament, a smooth gait and a 5th gait called "tolt". This is supposed to make them easier to ride than usual for beginners, I am not sure I noticed this.

Ishetar offer a variety of different horse riding experiences - you can tour the countryside, ride along the beaches or go into the hills. They offer rides for all ability levels, absolute beginners to very experienced riders.

We found the riding centre very easily. It is in lovely surroundings, just outside the town of Hafnarfjordur. Our ride was supposed to start at 1:00 pm and last for half an hour. We got there in good time, filled in all the disclaimer forms and then waited. They had a little cafe area where you could help yourself to as much coffee as you wanted.

They showed us a video about how to be safe on the horse. I must admit, it made me feel really nervous, they highlighted all the things that could go wrong! For example, pressing your legs too hard into the horse could make it go much too fast; do not shout or yell as this could make the horse gallop off etc. etc.. It all seemed a lot to take in and beginning not to seem such a good idea. I had visions of being dragged on a galloping, out of control racehorse!

Outside the wind was howling, the trees were almost bent double and the rain was pounding. They told us we would be delayed a little because the weather conditions were not safe. Then, about 5 minutes later, they said it was fine to go. Our nerves increased!

We were told to leave all bags and cameras etc. in the safety boxes at the centre, then taken to get kitted out. They provided overalls, riding hats and gloves, then the staff chose a suitable horse for each person. Be sure to get gloves and waterproofs - you definitely need both of these, the weather changes so frequently in Iceland it is better to be safe than sorry. We were introduced to our horse and then told to lead it out to the paddock. This was a bit unnerving for us, but the horses were very docile and came willingly. Getting on was another effort, but we managed it.

It was at this point we started to actually enjoy the experience. Our 9 year old was also very nervous, but started to get used to it.

We were accompanied by 2 lovely members of staff who chatted to us as we rode out. The horses were amazing, very gentle and knew exactly what was expected of them. We rode on comfortable riding tracks in the vicinity of the centre.

It was quite relaxing, a lot of fun and a lovely experience. All too soon, the half hour was up and we headed back to the centre.

Our 9 year old enjoyed it, but said he would not mind if he did not have to go on a horse again! We did all suffer a bit from nerves, but the staff are excellent, the horses are extremely gentle and all the problems they showed on the safety video are in hindsight probably quite unlikely. This is a fun family thing to do, but just have a chat with your child in advance of the video and stress it is meant to be fun and not to be too nervous!

Festival of the Sea

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on August 22, 2013

There are many festivals year round going on in Reykjavik. We discovered during our visit that the Festival of the Sea was happening on our last full day in the city. We were excited about experiencing a festival and decided to go along and see what was happening.

The first Sunday in June is Seaman's Day in Iceland. They celebrate the sea faring culture of Iceland and also all of its sailors. Every ship remains in harbour over the entire weekend and all the sailors are given the day off. There are celebrations, music, fun activities, food, competitions and demonstrations - it is a great time to be in Reykjavik especially.

Everything was happening, unsurprisingly, in the harbour area. We headed down there in the early afternoon. There was a great atmosphere, lots of locals and everyone was in great spirits. We discovered the celebrations this year were extra special because this was the 100th anniversary of the harbour.

All the ships in the harbour were decorated with bunting and flags. There was a great children's play area set up especially for the festival. It was absolutely wonderful - very rough and ready, made out of all kinds of discarded things (old rope, old reels etc.) but such a lot of fun. We wandered around trying out stilts made from old pieces of wood, a fishing game, skittles and so much more. Some things were a little on the dangerous side, no health and safety here, but it was actually very refreshing (coming from the UK where health and safety takes over everything). Our son had such a great time, playing, making new friends and trying everything out.

We saw a procession of cyclists - all dressed in old fashioned costumes and riding every sort of weird and wonderful old fashioned bike you could imagine.

Right by the harbour and the maritime museum, children were able to abseil across a little area of water. There was a big line for this, but it was free (as was everything else).

There were bands playing on the harbourside, food available to buy and a display of weird fish. You could send a message in a bottle, have a puffin or whale watching trip on a boat (you paid but there was a big discount) and there were a few ships you could go onboard and explore.

We went onto the coastguard vessel - it was really impressive and there was so much to see inside. You could literally go anywhere, our 9 year old loved it and thought it was a great adventure.

We stayed most of the day at this wonderful festival. On the way back we stopped and had a look inside the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre. This is definitely also worth doing. The building is made from 10,000 shimmering glass windows - you cannot miss it. It is impressive inside and out. There is a really nice cafe on the ground floor - great coffee and delicious snacks. We also liked the little gift shop selling really high quality (and very expensive) souvenirs, it is definitely worth a browse. Go up to the top levels - you get an amazing view down to the ground floor.

The Festival of the Sea was a wonderful end to a fabulous holiday in Iceland. If you can go to a festival while you are there, I would definitely recommend it. Every member of our family loved this day out.

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