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Five ways to entertain your kids in Niceland

No, dear readers, the title is not a smug example of postmodern irony, it is a very real reference to the subject of this post. Which just goes to prove that, despite our obsession with new elections and revolutions and helvítis fokking fokk, we at the Weather Report have not forgotten our roots.

A reader contacted me [hi Jerry!] and said he planned to visit our fair country in June. [At which time we hope it will be well on its way to becoming a real democracy again, but I digress.] He wanted to know if I had any advice on kid-friendly activities here in Niceland and since I’ve had this question before from other readers, I thought it would be good to write it in a post to add to our [sadly neglected] tips for tourists category.

First of all, I should mention that Iceland is very kid-friendly in general. Children are welcome just about everywhere, and are somehow an integral part of the society, which I find quite different to many other places I have lived or visited, particularly North America. Partly this plays out in that there aren’t that many places constructed solely for kids, like kids have to be kept all separate from adults, if you know what I’m saying.

So for that reason, and also because I’m not involved with young kids on a daily basis any more, I had to give this some thought. What exactly do parents with kids DO with them, here in Iceland? And if they wanted to do something extra-special with them what would they do? I came up with five things, listed more or less in order of popularity.

  1. Swimming. I would say this is by far the most common recreational activity up here for parents and their kids. Partly because swimming is probably the most common recreational activity in Iceland in general, and party because of the abundance of fantastic, kid-friendly outdoor pools. The Reykjavík area alone has at least 12 thermal pools and all of them have shallow kiddie pools, some even with different pools for different age groups. All have slides and toys for kids, and many of them have those big spiralling water slides. The most kid-friendly pool is probably Árbæjarlaug, which is about a 15 minute drive from the city centre, but Laugardalslaug is also very good. My personal favourite is the pool on Seltjarnarnes, particularly in the summer – that one has a baby pool, a shallow pool and a big waterslide – plus an excellent sauna and hot pots with different temperatures. And the view from there is breathtaking. Just remember, whatever pool you visit: you must get naked. Or else.
  2. The Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo [Húsdýragarðurinn] in Laugardalur is also a must for kids. The ‘zoo’ part has animals indigenous to Iceland, such as seals, reindeer, mink and foxes, and there’s also a farm with domesticated animals. In the ‘park’ section there are rides [nothing lavish, though] and playground toys [jungle gym, that kind of thing] and a wading pool. They’ve recently added a science tent, also.
  3. Nauthólsvík. This is a man-made beach that is vastly popular in the summer on warm and sunny days. It has white [well, more reddish, actually] sand and the sea is geothermally heated in a little lagoon, so people can swim if they feel so inclined. Mostly people sunbathe, though, and soak in the long geothermal hot tub there. There is a volleyball net and lots of sand for making sandcastles. Admission is free but you have to pay to use their changing rooms and showers.
  4. Horse riding. There are horse rental places throughout Iceland that do longer or shorter tours. I know of two places in the Reykjavík area – one in Mosfellsdalur valley, about a half hour’s drive from the centre, and the other in Hafnarfjörður, about a 20 minute drive from the centre. There is also a well-known place near Hveragerði, for those who are doing some touring. Best to ask at your hotel for advice on the best places to go.
  5. Whale watching and sea angling. There are two or three firms in the Reykjavík area that offer one or both of those activities and I believe they’ll give you another, free, tour if you don’t spot any whales.

The above are all activities that are easy to do in the Reykjavík area. However, Jerry mentioned that they might be touring the West Fjords, in which case a visit to Látrabjarg is an absolute must. Látrabjarg is a sea cliff that rises about a kilometre up from sea level at its highest point and it is teeming with bird life. One of the most fun things to do is to lie flat on your stomach and inch your way to the edge [under no circumstances should you approach it standing!] and say hello to the puffins. They are incredibly friendly and you can get really close [see here]. Many of them have their nests in holes right below the edge and they come and go from there completely unperturbed by the presence of humans crawling around on their bellies next to them. And they’re so funny when they fly, with their legs all comically splayed. Highly recommended for kids of all ages.

If there are any activities I’ve missed that you’d like to share, please speak up in the comments!

CLOUDS HAVE JUST DISSIPATED
It’s been decidedly gray for the duration of the morning, but it’s cleared up and is looking all bright and lovely. It’s calm, too. At the moment we have 2°C [36F]. Sunrise was at 10.52 and sunset due for 4.24.

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  • Sólveig January 16, 2009, 12:25 pm

    These are all excellent suggestions. I will add one, although it depends on the age of the kids – feed the ducks at the pond bread!

    Tjörnin (The Pond) is well, a pond, right downtown and has lots of ducks and geese and swans that really like bread, especially leftovers from the bakeries nearby. Or at least this was the case when I was a kid, which was a few years ago.

  • Ásdís January 16, 2009, 1:03 pm

    I have one suggestion for slightly older kids.
    This is more Vesturland than Vestfirðir but there is a wonderful boat-trip for older kids from Stykkishólmur where they go really close to sea bird colonies (you can almost reach out and touch them) and even sail close to an eagles nest. In addition they scoop up sea creatures like crabs and scallops that you get to handle (and taste raw if you are so inclined). I was there with a group of 15 year olds who thought they were way to cool for this at the beginning but were giggling and enthusiastic by the end.

    For younger kids there is an excellent “petting zoo” in Slakki in Laugarás in Biskupstungur with all kinds of animals open during the summer months.

  • James January 16, 2009, 1:22 pm

    I’ve done the first 3 of your 5 suggestions in Iceland. I’d also recommend renting a summer cottage with BBQ and hot tub (and near the Golden Circle sights) for a few lazy days…

  • Sigga January 16, 2009, 1:27 pm

    Another is to take a fishing rod or just a line and sinker down to the jetty – in any town anywhere… bound to catch something and if not (and the weather is nice) then it´s just a great way to spend a day in the great outdoors.

  • Eliza January 16, 2009, 1:43 pm

    Hey Alda –

    Nice idea for a post. BTW, the City of Reykjavík just produced a brochure called “Think of a Family Break” – it covers the ideas mentioned above, and has some good contact details for e.g. kid-friendly museums and parks in town. You can download it from here.

    (obviously this covers the Rvk area rather than the whole country though)

  • Dorothy Gale January 16, 2009, 3:08 pm

    Icelanders are crazy about kids. I cannot speak about Reykjavik, since I have always avoided the town as much as possible, but in the rest of the country, everything is just about free for them. And Icelanders are _all_ unbelievably patient with them too, compared to the US. IN spite of all my kids’ antics, no one ever gave us any dirty look or said anything. Plus Iceland is so incredibly safe, I always felt confident about their safety when they were not in sight (except near volcanoes, cliffs, lakes, glaciers and geysirs, of course… I meant, in town and in campings and in stores, I felt they were safe)

  • hildigunnur January 16, 2009, 5:41 pm

    Mustn’t miss Ásmundarsafn where kids are encouraged to climb in the statues outside.

  • Peter January 16, 2009, 6:22 pm

    Funny how once your own kids get past a certain age, you sort of stop thinking about possible activities — when mine were younger, that was all we would think about, weekends especially. Now that they are (almost ?) grown, I really haven’t a clue what younger parents do with their little ones. Just have to wait for the grand-kids…..

  • Elín January 16, 2009, 6:47 pm

    I haven’t been, but the Ghost Museum in Stokkseyri could be fun for slightly older children … and the whole family could go for buckets of Icelandic lobster at the Fjöruborðið after.

  • Ella January 16, 2009, 7:28 pm

    The little zoo-park at Slakki is an excellent spot as well for kids. It’s not far from Selfoss. http://www.slakki.is/default.aspx.

    If in Akureyri you must visit the playgrounds in Kjarnaskógur, they are brilliant for kids.

    And then my boys just love walking around the woods in Heiðmörk, just outside Reykjavík, or exploring the beach out on Seltjarnarnes or close to Eyrarbakki in the south.

  • Karl January 16, 2009, 8:03 pm

    Látrabjarg tops out at 441m or so on my map, and 440m according to your own link to wikipedia 🙂 And that’s a fair bit further along the cliff than the carpark! It’s a lovely place, but 1km is quite quite high. The highest peak in the westfjörds, kaldbakur is only 998, and snæfellsjökull tops out at only 1446.

    As for kids? Like you say, just take them anywhere.

  • alda January 16, 2009, 8:07 pm

    Karl – I stand corrected! Thanks.

  • Sigvaldi Eggertsson January 16, 2009, 9:12 pm

    Karl, since we are picking nits here, is Tröllakirkja (1001 m), partly in Mýrasýsla, partly in Dalasýsla and partly in Strandasýsla (and thus in the West fjords geographical area) not the highest peak of the westfjörds?

  • The Thor January 16, 2009, 9:20 pm

    Some wonderful suggestions.

    I think using the paths around Reykjavik (Seltjarnarnes/Fossvogur etc) as well as going for short hikes up f.ex Úlfarsfell could be something very appropriate in the current climate (both weather wise and financially)

    😀

  • Grif January 17, 2009, 12:48 am

    The post under “get naked” of the first topic got me chuckling so hard that my colleges at work looked at me funny.

    I was just waiting for my pc to finish it’s task (compiling)! I swear! :p

  • Ljósmynd DE January 17, 2009, 10:02 am

    If swimming and soaking in hotpots is the choice of entertainment, you are very fortunate throughout Iceland because even small towns often have their own swimming pool. So, this is always an option when doing some touring. Furthermore there are many hotpots fed by natural hot water sources, offering more or less comfort but many of them surrounded by breathtaking nature. Particularly appealing to me are Krossnes (Strandir), Jarðböðin (Mývatn), Grettislaug (by Skagafjörður opposite Drangey island), Landmannalaugar, Hveravellir, Laugafell (Sprengisandur) just to name a few. Not all of them are suitable for very young children but some are a bit hidden and it is fun just trying to find them. And sometimes you just stumble upon one you didn’t know before.

  • Fred January 18, 2009, 1:40 am

    The National Museum of Iceland had plenty to entrance our ten-year-old granddaughter, though the seven-year-old got less from the experience. The adults were all mesmerized.

  • Coffee Drinking Woman January 18, 2009, 7:04 am

    Oh sure, as if reading your blog doesn’t just make me itch to buy a plane ticket and visit Iceland NOW!, you’ve provided a list of things which might actually entertain my kids…. oy, wanderlust…

  • Ann January 18, 2009, 2:52 pm

    We visited the “black sand beach” in the south with my 12 year old son (I cannot remember what this is properly called in Iceland). My son refused to leave, saying it was the most beautiful, amazing place he had ever been. My husband had to chase him down the beach for half an hour and threatened to physically carry him back to the car, to get him to leave! (We could have stayed longer than the afternoon, but there were two older ladies in the car, and they had got enough of the wind.)

    I think he loved being in Iceland so much because he did feel so free there.

  • Karl January 18, 2009, 8:09 pm

    Sigvaldi: Nice 🙂 But Tröllakirkja is only 4km from the ring road, so I have a hard time considering it to be in the west fjords.

  • hildigunnur January 18, 2009, 8:53 pm

    Ann, well almost all the beaches in Iceland are black, maybe you’re talking about Reynisfjara?

    Selatangar is another beach, amazing for both kids and adults alike, it’s not very far from the airport, brilliant waves-to-cliffs when the weather’s right. Nothing between you and the south pole but an occasional seagull…

  • Ljósmynd DE January 18, 2009, 10:17 pm

    Concerning the Reynisfara beach – I remember reading about some accidents with rogue waves there. So, it’s a good idea to watch out.

  • alda January 19, 2009, 12:07 am

    Excellent suggestions, everyone.

    However, I have to second LDE’s caution about Reynisfjara – it’s beautiful, but there have been some very serious accidents with rogue waves. A tourist from the US drowned there a couple of years ago for that very reason. It can happen in an instant – and NB signage on the site is totally inadequate.

  • Ann January 19, 2009, 4:58 am

    Hidigunnar, Ljósmynd DE, Alda – I looked on the map and I believe this was the beach. Uhhh… Well, it was certainly a calm and nice day and we weren’t very near the water, but we had no idea about That! Umm. Well, Now we know.

  • Seajay January 19, 2009, 7:10 pm

    We’re coming over to Iceland at Easter from 9th to the 12th April for a long weekend and bringing our 4 year old daughter, but we’re a bit concerned that with it being a public holiday weekend that nothing’s going to be open at all, and we’ll find nothing to do (we only really realised this after booking!). Is this going to be the case or will we still be able to find some things to amuse ourselves while we’re there?

  • JD January 19, 2009, 7:27 pm

    Excellent post and information. MUCH appreciated!

  • MariaR January 20, 2009, 4:33 pm

    Seajay, the Reykjavik tourist information centre always posts opening hours for significant holidays such as Easter. It’s usually posted a few days before, so follow the news on http://www.visitreykjavik.is. And don’t worry there will be plenty open for visitors, it used to be the case that more or less everything was closed during such holidays but things have changed with the rise in tourism.

  • Seajay January 21, 2009, 12:05 pm

    Hi MariaR – thanks for that reply, hopefully we should be able to find things to do… we were also concerned for example that even if we decide to have a day out sightseeing from Reykjavik (hire car) to go to Geysir/Gulfoss for example, that we wouldn’t be able to find anything to eat all day if everything is closed (or even any toilet stops with a 4 yr old).