The Mumsnet guide to Iceland holidays
A relatively small country with a population of only 300,000, Iceland is welcoming and hospitable – and it's never too difficult to get off the beaten track. Descend into extinct volcanoes, relax in a geothermal pool, hike up a glacier and see the site where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates divide. For families, a trip to Iceland is educational as well as adventurous.
What to expect
Is Iceland baby-friendly?
Iceland is a wonderful adventure for older kids and Icelandic people are typically very fond and welcoming of children. However, if you're planning on visiting with a baby or toddler, it's worth bearing in mind that you will contending with changeable weather and lots of outdoor activities – aka things which can make parenting a little tricky even in the UK.
- Flying time: 2.5 hours from London Gatwick
- Time difference: none
- Average temperature: July is the hottest month (relatively speaking) with an average temperature of 11°C, while the temperature can plummet to way below zero in the winter months – getting as low as -30°C in northern Iceland.
- Currency: Icelandic króna. To give you a rough idea of exchange rates, 1000 ISK equates to about £6.30.
How to get there
Flights to Iceland depart from London, Manchester and Edinburgh with Wow Air, Icelandair and easyJet – compare flights here.
When to go
- To see the Northern Lights, visit between September and April. The best chance to see them is on a clear, cold night around a new moon.
- There is hardly any daylight at all from late November until January – and June and July are the months of the midnight sun – so younger children (and their parents) may prefer visiting in the spring or autumn months.
- If you're keen to go whale-watching, visit between May and September or visit in either February or March for the chance to spot orcas.
Where to stay
Self-catering in Reykjavik
Reykjavik (the northernmost capital city in the world) is located on the waterfront and is a very small, walkable destination. Filled with brightly-coloured buildings and friendly faces, it makes for a brilliant city break destination or starting point for a road trip, but you could easily spend a week just exploring the city and surrounding area – it's not far from the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon.
Hallgrimskirkja (try saying that with a mouthful of peas) is a must-see: it's the largest church and one of the tallest structures in Iceland. It's free to enter but there is a small charge to ascend the tower – definitely worth it. Eating out is pricey, so you might want to cook some nights to save a few pennies. If you do head out into Reykjavik for a meal, Mumsnetters recommend eating at fish restaurant Resto (and sipping your wine very slowly).Browse Airbnbs in Reykjavik
A self-drive tour of the Icelandic ring road, which is 828 miles long and runs all the way around the island, is a real adventure and a brilliant way to see as much of Iceland as possible. The ring road is dotted with plenty of campsites – you can see them on a map here – so, if you've got your own camping gear, a road trip is an affordable way to explore one of the most expensive countries in the world. You can either rent a 4×4 and follow your own personalised itinerary, or you can book a package tour which will organise your rental car and accommodation for you.
Summer is the best time for driving – and for sleeping under canvas – in Iceland, but as the weather in Iceland is unpredictable, even in high summer, so you'll need plenty of layers and good quality sleeping bags.
Top tip: make sure you pack a camping stove – or choose campsites where they're provided – as campfires are illegal in Iceland (and there isn't much firewood about anyway).
“I'm planning on going back in the summer for 10 days, renting a car to drive around the island and taking my tent. Campsites are pretty cheap and I'm happy to self-cater – the most expensive part is renting the car.”Browse Icelandic campsites
Camper van tour
If you're not sold on sleeping under canvas in Iceland – or just don't fancy lugging your tent on the plane – a camper van gives you just as much freedom and a few more creature comforts. You can collect your camper from Reykjavik and drop if off there once you've finished your tour, so adding a few days in the city to your itinerary is easily done. The vans are heated and your van provider should also provide you with sleeping bags, chairs, and kitchenware so all you need to bring are yourselves, plenty of layers, and food. You will have to park your camper van in proper campsites – it's illegal to park up in lay-bys in Iceland – so make sure you book these in advance of your trip.
“Book easyJet flights and a camper van. We've been twice this way, and it works out significantly cheaper. Oh, and go in September. It's out of season, so cheaper, quieter, but before a lot of facilities close for the winter.”Browse camper vans
Things to do
- Iceland's famous geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon, is located near Reykjavik and you can easily join an excursion or join a bus at Reykjavik's bus station. With an average temperature of 37°C, the pool, rich in natural mineral salts and algae, is a welcome tonic. Special boxes of silica mud are located around the pool that bathers can apply as mudpack to enjoy its exfoliating and cleansing benefits. Entrance is free for under-13s.
- The Golden Circle is Iceland's most famous sightseeing tour and takes in sights like Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir hot spring area and Thingvellir National Park.
- Killer, humpback, pilot, minke, sperm, fin and blue whales are all waiting to be spotted in Icelandic waters. Whales can be seen all year but the main season lasts from April to mid-October. It's possible to join tours in Reykjavik, the North and West of Iceland.
- Reykjavik Zoo and family park is also a great option for a less full-on day.
Pack lots of layers. A famous saying in Iceland is 'If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes'. Be prepared to experience glorious sunshine, wind and snow all in the space of an hour.
Hire a car. Not only will it give you the freedom to explore, but you will also come across fantastic waterfalls, geothermal hot pools and black sand beaches that you may not reach on an organised tour.
Pack some food to bring with you. Unless you're happy to splash some serious cash – think £25 for a burger and chips – Mumsnetters suggest stashing some pasta in your luggage for a simple meal. Much of the holiday accommodation around Reykjavik is equipped for some light self-catering for this very reason.
What Mumsnetters say about holidays in Iceland
It is expensive but WORTH IT.
Not sure what the official line is on hot springs and little ones, but I would advise caution as we went in one that would've boiled lobsters… Others were cooler though, more like a warm bath. If you go to the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik I believe that it is popular with families.
Go to Akureyri, nearly all the really fab sightseeing is around there. I camped, definitely the only affordable accommodation. And follow the Lonely Planet guide for currency exchange.
If you're after lovely scenery, clean air and some sightseeing of natural outdoorsy attractions, you'll love it. Oh, we also went on a boat trip and saw whales, beautiful.
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