12 Things to do With Kids in Reykjavík City

Children playing in Ægissíða, Reykjavík

Travelling with kids is certainly a little different than travelling with only adults. It requires consideration for little feet but that’s no reason to worry. Iceland is a remarkably kid-friendly country, where locals embrace the idea of children being a part of their daily life rather than needing constant entertainment with specific activities. That being said, Reykjavík city has enough fun, child-friendly activities to offer.

 

Family friendly museums

Exploring Reykjavík´s family-friendly museums offers a mix of learning and fun for young and old alike, making them an essential stop for any family visiting Iceland.Here are four must-visit museums in Reykjavík that are fun for everyone:

1. Þjóðminjasafnið museum

The National Museum of Iceland has an informative exhibition of the making of Iceland’s nation and its culture. While the adults delve into the rich heritage, the kids can embark on their own little adventure with a museum bingo card. This definitely adds an element of excitement to their exploration through the museum. From ancient artefacts to skeletons and opportunities to dress up in traditional Icelandic attire, there is something to engage every young mind. 

Open Air Museum in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Árbæjarsafn Open Air Museum

 

2. Árbæjarsafnið Open-Air museum

Located in the outskirts of Reykjavík, Árbæjarsafnið Open-Air museum offers a unique glimpse into Reykjavík´s past. Wander through a collection of historic houses, many of which were wholly relocated from the city centre, and imagine daily life in Reykjavík in the 19th and 20th century. During the summer months, museum staff walks around, dressed in period attire, adding an interactive dimension to the experience. 

 

3. Perlan museum

Situated on a wooded hill in the heart of Reykjavík is Perlan, also known as the Pearl. Renowned for its distinctive architecture, Perlan features a glass dome placed on four repurposed water tanks, making it one of Reykjavík´s most iconic landmarks. Inside you can explore a world of wonders, including a glacial ice cave, a planetarium show and an interactive display of Icelandic nature and culture. Don´t forget to take a stroll along the glass dome´s balcony and treat yourself to an ice cream while you enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view of Reykjavík.

 

4. Whales of Iceland

For an amazing experience dedicated to the majestic creatures of the sea, head to Whales of Iceland. This interactive museum is the largest one in Europe that is fully dedicated to whales. In the museum you can find 23 life-sized whale sculptures that are based on actual whales found in Icelandic waters. Complete your experience with a drink at their café and let the kids play at the designated play area. The museum is in walking distance from the city centre and you can enjoy the colourful boats in the harbour along the way.

 

Get free access to a number of museums, pools and more with the Reykjavík City Card. 

 

Activities for the whole family

As you plan your family adventure in Reykjavík city, discover a selection of activities favoured by locals. From cherished pastimes to lesser-known gems, these experiences will make it even more fun to explore the Icelandic capital.

Swimming pool in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Swimming pool in Iceland

 

5. The swimming pools of Reykjavík

Icelanders love their swimming pools and the culture around them is quite the phenomenon. With almost 20 pools in the greater capital region, there is a good chance you can find one conveniently located near you. Each pool has a designated children’s pool and hot tubs, where you can easily relax while the kids splash around. Most pools will provide floaties for the children’s safety as well as some water toys to play with. Complete the Icelandic experience with a late afternoon dip, followed by a traditional hot dog for dinner. It’s safe to say your little ones will sleep soundly afterwards.

 

6. Húsdýra- og fjölskyldugarðurinn petting zoo

While Iceland may not have a traditional zoo, visitors can enjoy the charm of a petting zoo located near Reykjavík city centre. Here you will meet some friendly Icelandic farm animals, seals, reindeer and more. The park is divided into two sections: the petting zoo and a family park where you will find a large playground and some carnival rides. Feel free to bring packed lunches as picnic tables and outdoor grill areas are available for a full day of family fun. 

 

7. Noztra creative workshop

For families with a knack for creativity, Noztra Workshop is just the place to unleash your talents. Their ´paint your own pottery´ café provides a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, perfect for a creative session. Located near the old harbour at the Grandi area, this cosy studio invites you to enjoy a creative cup of coffee while crafting memories together. Note that children under 8 years old are welcome until 4 PM daily.

 

8. Indoor playgrounds

In Reykjavík you can find two indoor playgrounds, providing entertainment for children up to 9 years old:

  • Fjölskylduland (Familyland) is a holistic indoor playground and family centre in the outskirts of Reykjavík. It offers a safe and stimulating environment for children up to six years old. Fjölskylduland creates a supportive environment for families by hosting events and offering parents workshops and classes.
  • Ævintýraland (Adventureland) is an indoor playground situated in Kringlan shopping-mall. Children from age 4 to 9 are welcome for some supervised fun while the parents indulge in a little bit of shopping. 

 

Free family friendly activities in Reykjavík

Children playing in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Children playing at Ægissíða in Reykjavík city.

Exploring Reykjavík doesn’t have to break the bank. From playgrounds and parks to a seaside treasure hunt, Reykjavík offers enough activities that won’t cost you a thing!

9. Grasagarðurinn

This park is a beautiful destination, especially during the summer months. Located in Laugardalur, it is next to Húsdýragarðurinn petting zoo and the famous Laugardalshöll swimming pool. Grasagarðurinn park showcases Iceland´s flora and nestled in its midst is an adorable greenhouse-like café. If you venture further into the park, towards the swimming pool, you will find a playground next to a historic site where Reykjavík´s housewives used to do their laundry. 

They would travel along Laugavegur, the main street of the city centre, and end up at the washing pool in the park. In Icelandic ´laug´ means ´pool,´ which explains why places and streets in the area are all called Laugar– something. 

 

10. Harpa Concert Hall

Whether or not you plan to attend a concert, a visit to Harpa is a must. This beautiful building, home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, has a very unique glass architecture and offers stunning views of Faxaflói bay and mount Esja from within the building. Families are warmly welcomed at Harpa, where children can enjoy the fun, musical-themed play area and even learn a thing or two about music.  For those seeking a cultural experience for their Reykjavík itinerary, check Harpa’s calendar for interactive concerts tailored for children.

11. Playgrounds

Every child loves a trip to the local playground, better known as ‘róló’ by the locals. These fun play areas are scattered throughout Reykjavík, offering countless opportunities for young adventurers to let their imaginations soar. In downtown Reykjavík, Hljómskálagarðurinn park boasts a charming playground where children can climb, run, and play to their heart’s content. Surrounded by lush greenery and overlooking Tjörnin pond, it’s the perfect spot for families to unwind and enjoy some outdoor fun.

After closing hours, typically around 5 PM, children are also welcome to use the outdoor areas of Reykjavík’s kindergartens. This provides additional opportunities for some playtime and maybe even some social interactions with locals.

12. Fjöruferð – a treasure hunt at Reykjavík´s black beaches

children on the beach in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Children playing in the Icelandic “fjara”.

A favourite activity among Icelandic children is going on a treasure hunt at the black beaches during low tide. As the tide recedes, you will find plenty of interesting little things like shells, crabs, polished stones and more. In Icelandic, there’s a distinct difference between ‘strönd,’ which refers to a typical beach, and ‘fjara,’ which refers to the black beach during low tide. Gather your family for a nice stroll along the shore of Ægissíða and enjoy the refreshing sea breeze while you hunt for your own Icelandic souvenirs. Just remember to always be careful as stones can be slippery and winds can be hard.

 

To make the most of your family trip, consider staying in Reykjavík and renting a car. This allows for flexibility in your plans, ensuring you can balance day trips into nature with more relaxed days exploring the city. Happy travelling!

Exploring Reykjavík in 24, 48 and 72 hours

View of Reykjavík from Hallgrímskirkja church.

Reykjavík, with its quaint houses, tasty restaurants, and countless museums, exhibitions, and galleries, is a marvellous option for a short city break. With a city this small, you can cover a lot of ground and manage a whole host of things in one to three days! 

But even in a small space like Reykjavík, it’s impossible to do absolutely everything, and picking from the numerous options can be an unwanted hassle. That’s why we created our 24, 48, and 72 hour Reykjavík itinerary. Whether you don’t enjoy planning or simply need some inspiration, we hope this guide will help you make the most of your trip! 

Day one: Geothermal baths, Icelandic food and sightseeing

Morning

If your accommodations don’t offer a complimentary breakfast, head to Sandholt, one of the oldest operating bakeries in Iceland. They offer hand-crafted pastries and sourdough bread, as well as a great breakfast menu comprising yoghurts, sandwiches, shakshuka, and other delicious dishes. 

After breakfast, spend the morning in a typical Icelandic way by going to Sundhöllin geothermal swimming pool, where the locals swim, have a ‘pottaspjall‘(an Icelandic word for chatting in the hot tub), and do some cold plunging. 

Sundhöllin swimming pool in Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Sundhöllin swimming pool in Reykjavík.

Noon

Go to Kaffi Loki for lunch, where you can taste some of the most traditional Icelandic food: Icelandic lamb soup, gratinated mashed fish, homemade flatbread with smoked lamb, and fermented shark, amongst others.

An excellent way to get to know Reykjavík in your limited time is by taking a free or private walking tour. This way, you won’t have to be stressed out and glued to your phone, trying to figure out the fastest way between attractions. You can simply enjoy the walk while absorbing Icelandic history and culture. 

Afternoon

If you’re hungry after the walk, we suggest making your way to Hressingarskálinn café for a traditional ‘rjómaterta’ or ‘Hressóterta’ (whipped cream cake). This is an old-fashioned staple when it comes to celebrations in Iceland.

For those looking to take a piece of Iceland home with them, use the afternoon to do some shopping. Check out Eymundsson bookstore, Vínberið candy store, or Lucky Records music shop, all of which offer a variety of Icelandic products.

Evening

For a fancy dinner, book a table at Sumac (preferably a few days in advance). They offer mouth-watering food inspired by the Middle East. Pick your own combination of small dishes or opt for a fixed menu. For a less fancy but just as delicious dinner, try Dragon Dim Sum, a Chinese- and Taiwan-inspired dim sum bar by the old harbour.

Not ready to call it a day? Check out Hús máls og menningar, a cultural house and bar located in a former bookshop on Laugavegur street. With live music every night, this is a great place to prolong the evening.

Day two: Unusual museums and the food hall culture

Morning

Start the day with breakfast at Reykjavík Roasters in Ásmundarsalur, a non-profit art space with constantly rotating exhibitions. 

Next up is the Sculpture garden at the Einar Jónsson Museum, a lovely free attraction featuring 26 replicas of Einar’s statues. Einar was one of the artists who laid the foundation for modern art in Iceland. 

After the garden stroll, head down to The Icelandic Phallological Museum. This unusual museum, “dedicated to collecting, studying, and presenting actual phalluses and all things phallic”, was founded in 1997 and has become a top-rated attraction in downtown Reykjavík.

Noon

For lunch, it’s time for an Icelandic classic: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur at Tryggvagata street. This hot dog stand has been serving Icelanders Icelandic hot dogs since 1937. Ask for ‘one with everything’ for the most authentic experience.

Bæjarins Bestu hot dog stand in Reykjavík.
Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand in Reykjavík.

While you’re digesting your hot dog, pop down to the Reykjavík Punk Museum, a tiny museum located in an old public bathroom where you can learn about the Icelandic punk scene. 

Afternoon

Spend the afternoon in Perlan, one of Reykjavík’s famous landmarks. Inside, you’ll find a fascinating nature exploratorium, as well as an observation deck, planetarium, café, restaurant, bar, and ice cream parlour. 

Evening

In the past few years, a myriad of food halls has popped up all over Reykjavík. Hlemmur Mathöll, one of the first, is a particularly fun one to visit, as it used to be a bus station. If you don’t see a restaurant you like, try Pósthús, located in a former post office, or Hafnartorg Gallery down by the Reykjavík harbour.

A busy day at Gallerí Hafnartorg food hall.
Photo: Golli. A busy day at Gallerí Hafnartorg food hall.

How about a movie after dinner? Bíó Paradís is a unique and small movie theatre in downtown Reykjavík where you can get popcorn and wine while watching critically acclaimed and foreign movies. It has a vibe you won’t find in other Icelandic cinemas and is definitely worth a visit. If you’re not in the mood for movies, check out Bullsey or Skor, where you can grab a drink and play a fun game of darts.

Day three: The National Museum, a typical Icelandic ice cream and Flyover Iceland

Morning

Have a refreshing acai bowl from Maikai for breakfast before walking or taking the bus to The National Museum of Iceland

Noon

When you’re done soaking up the Icelandic history, it’s time for lunch at SÓNÓ matseljur. SÓNÓ is a seasonal vegetarian restaurant situated in the fabulous Nordic House, which was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. It’s well worth taking a walk around the house after lunch. 

Head back downtown through the beautiful surrounding area, past Tjörnin pond and through the charming neighbourhood of Þingholtin.

Afternoon

If there’s one thing the Icelandic people love, it’s ice cream. All year round, no matter the temperature or weather, a typical Icelandic activity is going for an ice cream drive. Swap out your afternoon coffee for a classic soft serve in a dip, a delicious ‘bragðarefur’ blizzard or a creamy Italian scoop.

Two people eating ice cream in the snow.
Photo: Golli. Two people eating ice cream in the snow.

Make your way to Flyover Iceland for a fantastic trip that covers the whole of Iceland. This is an amazing experience, even for those who have already travelled around the island. If you get easily motion sick, the Whales of Iceland exhibition is an excellent alternative.

Evening

For your final evening in Reykjavík, grab some street food at LeKock, a restaurant inspired by childhood memories and travels. Enjoy sensational but simple food in a laid-back atmosphere and play one of the many board games available. If you’d rather have a fine dining experience, Oto is the place to go, but remember to book in advance! With its Japanese Italian fusion cooking and excellent choice of music, you’re bound to have a fantastic final night.

If you don’t fancy going to bed just yet, Tipsy is a fabulous place for a last cheer, and Kaffibrennslan café is a cosy one for a quiet evening coffee and a slice of cake. 

Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Cocktails in the making at Tipsy, Reykjavík.

Harpa Þórsdóttir Appointed Curator of National Museum Amidst Some Critique

national museum of iceland þjóðminjasafn

In a recent press release from the Ministry of Culture and Trade, Harpa Þórsdóttir was appointed the head curator of Þjóðminjasafn, the National Museum of Iceland.

Harpa will be taking over the position from Margrét Hallgrímsdóttir, who has held the position since 2000.

However, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Trade, has come under some criticism for the appointment. As the position was not advertised publicly, some say that the appointment is a return to corruption and nepotism.

In an editorial for Vísir, administrative specialist Haukur Arnþórsson criticized the lack of transparency, and called for public positions to be advertised in such a way that ensure a fair hiring process:

“The main ideas behind the obligation to advertise vacancies are, on the one hand, that public funds are managed well […] and on the other hand, that everyone is equal in relation to the public sector and that their merits are assessed professionally and honestly. These points of view are not met when an employee is recruited by transferring between jobs. It is not clear what criteria are at play, which is, however, the case when a job is advertised – and the minister cannot give the public proper explanations of the hiring criteria in this respect.”

Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Trade, has pushed back against the criticism, stating that Harpa is both highly qualified, and that legal precedent exists for such hiring practices. Many other ministries, for example, hire through internal selection instead of placing open applications for every vacant position. Regarding the hiring, Lilja stated: “We have a very capable individual coming from one museum and moving on to the next.”

Harpa completed her Maîtrise in Art History at the Sorbonne in 1998, and has had a 20 year long career in museums and museum management. Prior to her appointment to the National Museum, Harpa directed the National Gallery Iceland, another of Iceland’s three major public museum collections.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has since stated that she intends to investigate such “manual hiring” practices, and wants to begin an initiative to collect data on such practices.

“I think it is important to compile these numbers over a period of time so that we can assess whether this is a trend, and to make decisions on that basis,” she stated to Vísir.

“Iceland’s Settlers Were Not Vikings”

“Vikings were never anything more than gangs, just like the criminal gangs of today,” stated Ethnologist Árni Björnsson in a recent TV interview for Stöð 2. Árni criticised the National Museum of Iceland, his former workplace, for hosting “Viking battles” as part of Reykjavík Culture Night earlier this month, saying Iceland’s historical ties to Vikings are limited at best – and that Vikings are nothing worth glorifying.

“For over 100 years, it has been trendy in the European and North American entertainment industries to refer to everyone who lived in the Nordic countries in the High Middle Ages as Vikings. That is of course far from the truth. Residents of the Nordic countries were of course first and foremost farmers and fishermen,” Árni explained. Vikings are, however, mentioned more often in sources, “just like international news today is more likely to mention terrorist acts.”

“Vikings didn’t come to Iceland”

Both the National Museum and the Settlement Exhibition hosted Viking-themed events for Reykjavík Culture Night. Árni explains that the idea that Icelanders are the descendants of Vikings is largely the product of 19th-century foreign authors, who romanticised this idea in their work: the idea has no historical basis.

“Violence has always held a certain charm. People enjoy reading crime novels, and they enjoy making up Viking stories. But I think that a public institution that wants to be taken seriously shouldn’t take part in that. I find that unacceptable, because what is Iceland’s connection to Vikings? Iceland’s settlers were not Vikings. Vikings didn’t come to Iceland, except a few elderly, exhausted ones.”

One of Iceland’s most respected ethnologists, Árni was the Director of the National Museum’s Ethnology Department between 1969 and 2002. He has written and published some 20 books, as well as countless articles and radio segments on Icelandic traditions and cultural history and holds a PhD in Ethnology from the University of Iceland.