5 Reasons to Take Your Kids to Iceland in 2021

Icelandic Horse
Photo: Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock

This sponsored post is brought to you by Hidden Iceland, an Iceland-focused family friendly adventure company.

As of September 2020, travel to Iceland from the U.S. isn’t possible. And I wouldn’t recommend it just yet even if it was. Those are hard words to write as the owner of Hidden Iceland, a family-friendly adventure company. However, the Icelandic authorities are doing an incredible job right now of maintaining low COVID-19 cases domestically. They have a working tracing app, test everyone upon arrival, enforce a five-day quarantine, and even require a second test on day five in case the first one didn’t detect the virus.

These stringent measures have effectively decimated any hope of travel to Iceland in the short term (summer and fall 2020). But these temporary disruptions mean the middle and long term is likely secured for Iceland’s recovery. It means that Iceland is perhaps a safe bet and good idea for future travel plans. With such a stable recovery plan, you can be more assured that when the time comes, Iceland will be ready.

So let’s start dreaming of 2021 and what that can mean for your family’s next adventure. Volcanic activity and solar winds to glaciation and wildlife are just a few of the reasons to make Iceland your next family vacation destination.

1. Hunting the Northern Lights

Photo: Tom Archer/Hidden Iceland

For most, the Northern Lights is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Iceland. After all, Iceland is synonymous with these natural wonders. Visible from September to March each year, the Northern Lights are the solar winds interacting with the atmosphere and making it glow. The colors that are created are breathtaking. Most of the time, the Northern Lights appear as green, white and grayish streams flowing across the sky. But other times you can be treated to a dancing curtain of oranges, pinks, reds and purples. (These are the best nights, though they’re quite rare).

My personal thoughts on searching for the Northern Lights, especially when kids are involved, is twofold. First, rather than joining a tour that drives around in the dark for hours looking for something, pick a secluded location outside of the city so that all you have to do is walk outside your front door to see the show. Lilja Guest House or Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon are two such places unspoiled by street lights, with wide open spaces to explore.

Second, I recommend partnering your nightly hunt for the Northern Lights with adventurous day time activities. Sadly, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll see the Northern Lights, so you might as well enjoy other activities during your family trip. Hiking on glaciers, sneaking behind waterfalls and strolling along black-sand beaches will easily fill your time during the shorter daylight hours, and you can do all of the above with Hidden Iceland’s Essential South Iceland – 3 Day Private Tour, which covers Northern Lights hunting, glacier hikes, delicious local food and comfy accommodations. 

2. Bathing in Natural Hot Springs

Photo: Kat Craats/Hidden Iceland

After an energetic night hunting the Northern Lights or after an adventurous day hiking on a glacier, it’s time for a little downtime. Thankfully, Iceland’s geothermal pools are numerous and widespread, from the ever-popular Blue Lagoon (next to the airport in Reykjavik) to the lesser-known Secret Lagoon in the Golden Circle area, and on to various hot pools you might find along the way on a nature walk.

There’s something quite therapeutic in knowing that the hot springs you’re bathing in come from deep underground, sterilized in the furnace of a volcano and cooled in the open air to allow you to warm up on a chilly day. To the kids and grownups less bothered by the water’s turbulent beginning, it’s just a lovely place to while away the hours playing and relaxing in beautiful surroundings (and for the adults, you can often enjoy a beer in the pool).

 3. Hiking on a Glacier

Photo: Amy Robinson/Hidden Iceland

Walking between giant walls of ice inside a crevasse, peering into bottomless holes forged by constant water flow, or gazing up at the angular ice sculptures falling from the cliffside in the distance is something you and your teens will never forget. However, this isn’t an activity for everyone. It requires a good general fitness level with full mobility of knees and ankles. So if you struggle to go up and down staircases and walk on sloped ground for a few hours, this probably isn’t for you. Young kids under 10 are sadly often too small to fit into the safety gear (crampons, harness, helmet, etc).

All of that said, the hikes that Hidden Iceland runs year-round are designed for first timers, and take all fitness levels into account. Some hikes can be just a few hours at a slow pace. Others can last up to five hours with adventurous hiking and climbing. Coupled with the educational component in regard to science and climate change, and this is an excellent tour for high school-aged kids.

4. Wildlife Spotting

Photo: Norris Niman/Hidden Iceland

Admittedly, the vast majority of Iceland’s wildlife disappears at the end of summer, in search of warmer climates. So seeing atlantic puffins, killer whales, dolphins, free roaming sheep, arctic Skua, and the swooping arctic terns (with the longest migratory pattern in the world) tends to be best in June, July and August. This means that hunting the Northern Lights or discovering blue ice caves isn’t really possible at the same time. That’s okay, though, as the summer brings the midnight sun phenomenon. It also just means you need to come back to Iceland again in winter (any excuse for a second family trip!). The same rule applies for the rich flora that blooms in the summer; this includes wild blueberries, the tall purple alaskan lupine, the practically black crowberries, and the fragrant pink arctic thyme. To say Iceland’s summers are colorful would be an understatement. 

In summer, visiting Iceland with kids ensures an exciting wildlife spotting adventure: Among other animals, over 10 million puffins and 20 different whale species migrate to Iceland in the warmer months. You can join an organized whale-watching tour from Reykjavik or find good vantage points while you travel, like along the edge of a sea cliff in the Westfjords. You might even see a few arctic foxes while exploring the emptier parts of Iceland. The unique and petite Icelandic horses (don’t call them ponies), coat-changing arctic foxes, and adaptive reindeer can be spotted all year round. 

5. Discovering Blue Ice Caves

Photo: Tom Archer/Hidden Iceland

I’m a little biased for this final one. I actually moved to Iceland many years ago in search of my first blue ice cave after getting a glimpse of the beauty of a glacier in Antarctica. Ice caves are formed from the moving and melting of glaciers in the summer, a phenomenon that creates weird and wonderful shapes. In winter, these shapes freeze in time, temporarily creating a winter ice cave. By spring they will have collapsed or melted away. Some ice caves can be snake-like tunnels, others are more like empty cathedrals, and some require getting down on your hands and knees to sneak into a hole revealing an enclosed cavern (my favorite). 

Every winter season’s ice caves are different, but they are always blue. Depending on the tour you book, you can either be driven straight to the mouth of the ice cave or couple it with a fun glacier hike. The minimum age for an ice cave tour is still 10, but you can book a private tour for young kids since the activity is mostly in an enclosed space. Ice caves are safe to enter in the colder months, between November and March (a great time to see the Northern Lights, too). Hidden Iceland’s Ice Cave and Northern Lights 2 Day Tour is one of our best sellers and is often made private when kids want to come along. 

The Best Time to Visit Iceland

Whether you’re bringing the family to Iceland in the spring to hike on the glaciers and be part of the lambing season, enjoy the summer warmth under the midnight sun, chase the Northern Lights in the autumn breeze, or squeeze into an ice cave in the snowy winter, it’s always a good time to explore Iceland with kids.

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Ryan Connolly is a co-owner and guide for Hidden Iceland, a family-friendly tour company in Iceland. Ryan, now a permanent resident of Iceland, is originally from Scotland and spent the majority of his adult life guiding and travelling around the world. Through his passion for the outdoors and ability to work as a guide he managed to achieve his life goal of stepping foot on all seven continents. It was his final continent, Antarctica, that inspired him to become a glacier guide in Iceland and ultimately set up his own company. Ryan is also a qualified glacier guide and Wilderness First Responder.

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