Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo always incorporates fun, adventurous activities into his family’s travels. We asked him what adventures he and his kids would recommend to other people traveling to the Land of Fire and Ice. Here’s where you must explore in Iceland.
Iceland is an amazingly cool destination. It has glaciers and geysers, waterfalls and hot springs, lava and moss. There are whales and icebergs, and Northern Lights, too! And it’s easy to reach from the U.S., with direct flights from a dozen cities now and service from several new cities starting in 2018.
Iceland is also easy to navigate by rental car. The Golden Circle connects the best sites around the western portion of the country and is less than 200 miles long. It technically takes three and a half hours to drive, but once you add in stops you’re at six to eight hours – still an easy day trip from Reykjavik. The more time you have in Iceland, the more you can explore beyond the Golden Circle.
My family and I have been three times now, and I quizzed my kids on their favorite things. Here are the seven experiences they would recommend for your journey.
Cool Places to Explore in Iceland (According to My Kids)
There are hundreds of waterfalls around Iceland. Of the ones we visited, Godafoss got my kids’ vote. The falls are gorgeous, there’s plenty of exploring and rock-hopping for kids, and it’s typically less crowded than Gullfoss (on the Golden Circle). Godafoss is five hours from Reykjavik and 45 minutes from Akureyri.
Glacier Hiking at Skaftafell National Park
Strap on your crampons, grab an ax, and go for a hike on a glacier! There are glaciers closer to Reykjavik, including Sólheimajökull, but Vatnajökull is Europe’s longest glacier and the scenery around it is stunning. For some tours, the minimum age is eight while for others it’s 10, so check in advance. Note that many of the glaciers are still black from recent volcanic eruptions, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
Riding Icelandic Horses
This was a fun experience. We headed 20 minutes or so outside Reykjavik to the Laxnes Horse Farm and went on a two-hour ride past rolling hills, crossing streams several times. It’s different from normal horseback riding — the Icelandic horse has a four-beat unique gait called the tölt that is extraordinarily smooth, and the horses are very easy to ride. This is a perfect experience for beginners.
Standing in North America and Europe at Once
The dividing line between Europe and North America runs through the middle of Iceland and is visible along the rift, including in Thingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle route. Our kids loved being able to stand in two continents at once. There aren’t many places on earth where you can do that! This photo was taken in northern Iceland, outside Akureyri.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa outside Reykjavik, is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions, and it’s worth booking in advance to visit. My kids loved the experience and it didn’t feel crowded. And it’s only 20 minutes from the airport, so if you have a layover of five hours or more it’s easy to take a taxi or bus over, enjoy the water and silica mud for an hour, shower, and return to the airport.
See the Fire Side of “Fire and Ice”
Iceland is alive! The last major volcanic eruption on the island was in 2015, but there’s constant activity below the surface. The easiest places to witness the heat of the earth are the geysers, mud pots and fumaroles (steam vents) throughout the island.
Don’t forget to spend time in Reykjavik! Head to the top of Hallgrimskirkja for a great overview of the city, get gelato at the Harpa concert hall, and explore the Laugavegur pedestrian street. It’s a fun city for two days or so before or after your trip around the island, or base out of Reykjavik for a week and take day trips.
These are simply our top seven. Have you been to Iceland? What would you add to this list?
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