Meet Lori, a mother of two and special educator from Boston, who shares her reasons why Iceland makes a great destination for lots of exploring the natural environment with children. With six children in tow (ages 3, 8, 8, 9, 13, and 13), she would know! Read along as Lori persuades you to make Iceland your next family trip, and enjoy the stunning imagery of the island!
We’ve long wanted to show our kids the world—especially the natural world up close and in person. We traveled extensively before kids. When our first son was born with multiple food allergies we kept our experiences more local. We wanted to make sure any travel experiences were safe for him. After completing successful “trial” adventures complete with wiking in Quebec, Canada, followed by Puerto Rico—we decided to set our sights a bit further from home.
Happily Exploring Pingviellir National Park
Iceland seemed like a perfect starting point for our family. From stellar scenery to interesting history, there’s more than enough to keep the grown ups happy and tons of fun things for the kids to experience. We also felt Iceland was a place where we could manage our son's food allergies effectively and get emergency treatment if necessary. Two other families wanted to join us-- and we all had an amazing time traveling and wiking together.
Icelandic Horses, photo by K. Engel Photography
Iceland has so much to see—you can’t see it all on one trip (unless you are lucky enough to be there
for 6 weeks or so), especially a trip with young ones and their needs in tow. We changed our mindset from our “before kids” dream of “seeing the whole island-driving and hiking the Ring Road” to traveling slow. The good news is that in Iceland, amazing views, spectacular natural scenery, and hiking/wiking trails abound every single way you look! And, if your children aren’t quite as easily impressed with stunning vistas, there are countless sheep and Icelandic ponies to see while driving. Farm animals always seem to be a win for the toddler/preschooler set!
Sheep in Iceland, photo by K. Engel Photography
Logistics with Children
We also thought about our children’s temperaments when planning this trip, which I think is critical to planning big family trips that feel successful for all. Big trips take thought and planning by parents, so creating a schedule and thinking carefully about your needs as well as your children’s will make the trip easier for everyone.
We knew our kids did best when they stayed in a place for a few nights instead of moving around every night. We rented two different houses in different parts of the country and used them as our “base camps”. It was great to stay in a neighborhood, and our kids enjoyed trips to the neighborhood playground and pool.
Our youngest son had just turned 3 at the time and was still napping, so we tried to plan our schedule for each day in two parts with a car nap in the middle. It was so easy to plan day trips within driving range. You could do a longer hike if you so desired, but most often we stuck with shorter hikes—one in the morning, then a picnic lunch, followed by a “car nap”, and another hike in a different location. This wasn’t always perfect—he had a lot of FOMO on the trip and didn't always sleep. If he didn’t nap in the car, he often caught a catnap in the Ergo on my back during an afternoon hike.
Skogafoss Falls, photo by K. Engel Photography
Wiking and Sites
One of our favorite hikes was in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula—in West Iceland. It’s an easy drive from the Reykjavik area. We went to this area because our 8 year old wanted to see Mount Snaefelles--the iconic volcano from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The day we visited, the summit was shrouded in clouds, so we went with plan B, which turned out to be a delightful hike of about 3 km between the two seaside villages of Hellnar and Arnarstapi. The trail meanders through lava fields and hugs the craggy coastline. We chose to start the hike in Hellnar, but you can start in either village. There’s a small restaurant at the start of the trail, which looked great but a little busy with limited seating.
Wiking along the Coastline
The hike started at a rocky beach covered with rock cairns. The kids enjoyed looking at these. The rock formations of the cliffs were quite interesting, and we spent some time watching the waves crash into the rocks.
About 20 feet onto the trail there was a small “cavish” sort of formation in the rocks—so we had to stop to see if there were any trolls hiding inside. Icelandic literature is full of fantasy, trolls and other magical creatures!
No trolls in here!
Parts of the trail had a wooden walkway built on it, and other parts were dirt. It was easy walking. There were several side paths that led to interesting rock formations and/or a more challenging route that the older kids enjoyed. There were plenty of spots along the way to find a great picnic spot and soak in the scenery a bit.
It is important to note that if you don’t have 2 cars, you will have to take the same route back. It’s not a loop trail. No one complained at all—the views looked different and equally spectacular coming from the opposite direction!
Wiking in Hellnar
We also had the chance to “wike” behind a waterfall, and on the rift where the North American and European tectonic plates meet, and down underground into a lava tunnel —experiences our children won’t soon forget. In fact, our 3 year old still describes these experiences in great detail... 5 months later!
Gotta take time to smell the mud when wiking with littles!
Although this isn’t wiking, I would be remiss not to mention the local pools in Iceland. We skipped the touristy Blue Lagoon and opted for the a visit to the “Secret Lagoon” instead. Lagoons aside, Iceland has fantastic public pools all over the country. They are geothermically heated and toasty warm. After a day of “wiking” our kids loved relaxing at the local pool—many of them equipped with toddler-friendly splash pads and waterslides for older children. We loved having the opportunity to hang out with the locals!
Check out the rest of our Exploring Abroad Series HERE, and share your own adventures on our Facebook page or by tagging @wikebaby on Instagram!
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