With 60 per cent of Iceland’s population based in Reykjavík, it’s no wonder there’s so much to see and do in the world’s most northerly capital. Reykjavík’s backdrop has snowy-topped mountains and blue seas, and combines quirky colourful buildings, first-class cafes and restaurants, and a vast array of cultural attractions.
It’s also known for its legendary nightlife or jammith as its known to Icelanders – there are bars and nightclubs galore and it is party heaven for late-night revellers.
But that doesn’t mean Reykjavík isn’t child-friendly. Far from it. Not only did we see plenty of Icelanders over the weekend with their children in tow, and several playgrounds in the Reykjavík suburbs were we were staying, but all the locals we met either chatted to Monkey or gave him a wave or a smile.
Every restaurant/cafe we went to catered for his needs; and although there was nothing specifically targeted at keeping him occupied – Monkey was never bored. And let’s not forget the snow. I defy any child not to be giddy with excitement at the powdery, deep snow that enveloped the whole city.
Meanwhile in nearly all cases, kids under 12 get into most attractions for free – and this includes transport, too – our bus transfers from the airport and to the Blue Lagoon saw Monkey ride for nothing. It certainly makes a nice change.
Reykjavík is relatively small in comparison to other cities – but that doesn’t mean a thing. It has heart. It has soul. And this is the reason why people want to keep returning again and again. There simply isn’t enough time in a weekend to do it all – but you can sure give it a good go. And, whether you’re with children or not, all these suggestions are great for anyone looking to get a taste of Iceland.
Go to the top of Hallgrimskirja
The magnificent Hallgrimskirja Church dominates Reykjavík’s skyline. It’s an impressive building but even more so is the stunning view of the city from its 75.5m tower. It can be accessed by an elevator for a small fee (adult/child Ikr 700/100) but be warned –Monkey got the fright of his life when the clock struck the hour and the bells chimed.
Enjoy the peace at the Botanical Gardens
After trudging 3km in the snow to the Laugardalur neighbourhood, we found ourselves to be the only visitors in the Botanical Gardens. It was pretty magical with the snow glistening. However, we weren’t able to appreciate the 5,000+ subarctic plant species or the colourful seasonal flowers – or even the popular Cafe Flóra. We did, though, manage to spot lots of bird life including geese and ducks.
Scoff a hotdog or three…
Quite possibly one of the tastiest hot dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure to scoff, you can’t go to Reykjavík and not fill up on these tasty treats. A nondescript truck situated near the harbour, Bæjarins Beztu sees queues of hungry tourists and Icelanders desperate for a hotdog with the works – a delicious trio of sweet mustard, ketchup and crunchy onions. It’s cheap, filling and impossible just to have one. Monkey even wanted another!
Tryggvagata; Open daily 10am-2am; and on weekends to 4.30am
Go bird spotting at Lake Tjörnin
Right in the heart of Reykjavík, Lake Tjörnin or the pond as it’s known locally, has more than 40 species of visiting birds including geese, swans and Arctic Terns. During the summer, it’s popular with families feeding the ducks, while there are pretty sculptures that line the shore. We were amazed to see people actually skating on the frozen lake!
Visit the Zoo and Family Park
Based in Laugardalur and next to the Botanical Gardens, the family park and zoo has enclosures filled with reindeer, farm animals, seals and arctic foxes, and there are several cold water tanks filled with fish. There is also a mini racetrack, child-sized bulldozers, a giant trampoline, boats and fairground rides. Open all year round, we escaped the bitter cold for a hot drink in the Coffee House.
Reykjavík Park and Zoo Fjölskyldu- húsdýragarðurinn – Múlavegur 2 – 104 Reykjavík
Grab a milkshake at the Laundromat Café
We knew we’d love the Laundromat when we saw several buggies parked up outside, and a large poster proclaiming that breast-feeding mothers are most welcome. This Danish export serves up breakfasts, brunch and hearty fare such as burgers and club sandwiches alongside an assortment of different coffees and alocholic beverages. Monkey was smitten with the chocolate milkshake – creamy, sweet and unctuous, I couldn’t resist stealing some. Meanwhile, not only is there a real coin laundry in the basement – but a whole play area for young kids. We had lunch knowing that Monkey was safe downstairs playing. The toilets even had cubicles for small folk.
Laundromat Café Austurstæti 9, Reykyavik
Learn about Vikings at the National Museum
If you want to discover more about Iceland’s history, then a trip to the National Museum is a must. With artefacts such as viking swords, drinking horns and a sacred bronze figure of Thor, the museum displays a huge collection from the Settlement era spanning right through to modern times. Free English tours run at 11am on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from May-September.
National Musuem Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík
Immerse yourself at the Harpa
Our first sighting of Reykjavík’s shimmering concert hall was at night. Monkey was spellbound by the multi-coloured lattice glass panels that bathe the building in a wonderful light. The Harpa is just as splendid to look at during the day. And if you’re not catching a show, you can take a short tour of the hall. We enjoyed exploring the lobby and looking out at all the boats in the harbour.
Harpa Austurbakki 2
Wander Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur
One of Reykjavík’s oldest shopping streets Laugavegur has countless shops, cafés and bars. And, alongside the street art and people watching, this downtown area is bustling with life. Aside from browsing the various boutiques and stopping for several cakes along the way – it’s just a great area to wander aimlessly. Meanwhile, our favourite street was Skólavörðustígur – filled with attractive colourful buildings and art galleries, and flanked by the magnificent Hallgrímskirkja church.
Splash around at Laugardalslaug
Once the main source of the city’s hot-water supply, Laugardalur – which means Hot Springs Valley – is a large stretch of parkland with a huge swimming complex fuelled by the geothermal spring. The area also has a skating rink, spa, cafe, zoo and gardens (see above) but it’s Laugardalslaug – one of the largest pools in Iceland – that is a big draw for those wanting to take a dip. Not only is there an olympic-sized indoor pool, but outdoor pools, seven hot-pots, steam bath and a water slide.
Laugardalslaug Laugardalur og Háaleiti, Reykjavík
Marvel at life-sized whales
Before we headed out on our whale watching trip, we thought it would be fun to take Monkey to see 23 life-sized models of whales found off the Iceland coast, including a sperm and blue whale. Whale of Iceland is a new exhibition in what can only be described as a giant warehouse. We enjoyed learning more about these fascinating sea creatures and Monkey was in awe not only with the models but the huge skeletons on display. While we enjoyed our complimentary coffee from the café, Monkey sat down at the activity desk and coloured in some whale pictures.
Whales of Iceland Fiskislóo 23-25
Enjoy the atmosphere at Snaps
We had such a fun-filled evening at Snaps bistro – a popular restaurant with an open kitchen in downtown Reykjavík. It’s a lively place that has a great menu of seafood and French classics like moules and frites and steak. Even though there wasn’t a kids menu, Monkey was made to feel very special by the friendly staff – who chatted to him throughout our meal. They even brought him complimentary ice cream and chocolates. Meanwhile, we enjoyed trying the gin & tonic menu. Book ahead, as we saw tons of people being turned away.
Snaps Þórsgata 1 101 Reykjavík
Check out the view from Perlan
If you’re in the city, you can just make out a large mirrored dome in the distance on Öskjuhlío Hill – which also has a shining beacon at night. Perlan covers gigantic geothermal-water tanks and has a viewing deck with a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of Reykjavík and the mountains. Not only is there a café but there’s a fancy restaurant at the top of the dome. Monkey also enjoyed admiring the artificial geysers – a great starting point for us to explain we were actually going to see real ones, too.
Hop on a sightseeing bus
When you have little tired legs, the best thing sometimes is to catch a bus. And you know how much kids love buses! With a starting point at Harpa Concert Hall, you can catch an open top vehicle which takes you around the whole city with stops at convenient locations along the way.
City Sightseeing Stop 1 – Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre
Go whale watching
Or see a pod of dolphins and porpoises, too. If you head to the Reykjavík’s Old Harbour there are several companies offering daily whale watching trips. With price boards and staff on hand to answer any queries, you can simply pop along to find out more information. We chose to go with Elding – the Capital’s original tour operator and had a wonderful experience spotting white beaked dolphins and a minke whale.
Get a Reykjavík city card
With prices quite high in Iceland, it’s always worth bagging a bargain and the Reykjavík City Card is just the ticket. Not only does it offer free admission to the city’s municipal thermal pools and pretty much most of the main museums and galleries – it also gives you free travel on the capital’s buses. And, while children enter free at most places – the Children’s City Card can take care of everything else.
Available at the Tourist Office; Adults: Prices start at Ikr2900 for 24 hours; Children at Ikr1000
Swim at The Blue Lagoon
You can’t go to Iceland and not swim at its most famous attraction The Blue Lagoon. Excess water from a nearby geothermal plant is pumped into a large lagoon at a delightfully warm temperature of around 38°c – and renews itself every 40 hours. We spent a whole wet, and windy afternoon there, and it was an experience like no other. We all adored it.
The Blue Lagoon Álfheimar 74 – 104, 414 4004 Reykjavík