Do I need to leave a tip in Iceland?
SEVEN YEARS AGO, I was working at a tourist information center. The main reason I got the job was that I was a born-and-bred 101 gal (101 being the postal code for downtown Reykjavík), with a great sense of the food, music, and nightlife of the town. All the other employees were outdoorsy, country types. But together we had a vast knowledge about what to do in Iceland.
However, one day we ran into trouble, not being able to give good enough information. A couple came in with two kids, aged three and seven. “What is there to do here that’s fun… with kids?”
But now, seven years later, I have some answers, courtesy of all my great friends who actually have kids.
1 Make a splash
The key word is water. Actually the key word in Icelandic is “laug,” which means pool. It’s better to take a kid to a local swimming pool than to the Blue Lagoon. Kids aren’t interested in skincare, and the milky colored salt water is no fun to dive in or get in your eyes. Swimming pools are a water wonderland, even during wintertime in a blistering snowstorm (actually never better!).
If you just want to toss your kids in the air so they can land with a splash, or relax in a hot tub while they play within sight, Vesturbæjarlaug in Reykjavík is the place to go.
If you want more splish splash, and Iceland’s first real waterslide, it’s Laugardalslaug in Reykjavík, which is also Iceland’s biggest swimming pool.
If you don’t mind taking a short car ride or bus to the outskirts of the capital area, there is Álftaneslaug, where there is a wave pool, a brilliant waterslide, and a good shallow pool for smaller kids.
Not far from the Golden Circle route there is Selfosslaug, a small but well-equipped waterpark.
Up north, there is the one in Akureyri town, which in my honest opinion is the best reason to visit Akureyri.
2 More water sports
During the summertime, hanging out and wading near Elliðaár river in Reykjavík is a fun picnic. And you might see some rabbits! Reykjavík safari, indeed!
Fishing in Þingvallavatn lake is also fun; just make sure you have the permit to do so, and a life jacket if you are in a boat.
Feeding the ducks on Reykjavík Pond is sometimes prohibited due to all the bad birds (the seagulls) that hang around because of the bread—and other food. As soon as a cute duckling pokes its beak out of an egg, it’s eaten. A great tactic, however: if you are feeding the ducks and you see the birds of prey, wave your arms like you’re a bigger bird than they are. They will be scared and fly away, but the ducks, geese, and swans seem to be smart enough to see that you are just a human being.
3 Even more H2O but this time saltwater
And from the water theme we go on to the wonders of the sea. When I was a kid, my grandparents had a summer cottage in the south of Iceland. We used to run on the black sand beach of Mýrdalssandur—a thrilling experience. The sand seemed endless, the sea looked vast, and there was always something fun and interesting to be found. There was no one around except my cousins, my grandparents, and me.
When you go, just make sure you’re not near the nests of the great skua. These big birds can be vicious, pecking at your head or beating you with their strong wings if they think you are a threat to their nests.
If you just want to experience an Icelandic beach, Grótta on the westernmost tip of Reykjavík’s Seltjarnarnes peninsula, is a good place to go. There is a great geothermal footbath there. Just make sure you’re not stuck near the beautiful lighthouse as the tide comes in and the sea rises, changing the place into an island!
The Víkin Maritime Museum at Grandi in west Reykjavík (on the way back from Grótta) is a big hit with kids, too. It might have to do with the fact that part of it is built as a pier. I know a little girl who thinks it’s like being on stage or on a movie set.
Another reason to go is that the museum is right across the street from the excellent Valdís ice cream parlor and a restaurant called The Coocoo’s Nest that has a great kid’s menu (you can have anything on the menu for half price for a child-sized serving).
4 On shore
The Petting Zoo and Family Theme Park in Laugardalur valley in Reykjavík is set up like a farm and features farm animals, and it’s way more interesting than it sounds. Right now they have adorable piglets, and as spring approaches, more younglings of all kinds will be born. The seals are fed daily at 11 AM and 4 PM. No Seaworld show though—just simple, honest feeding.
5 For body & soul
The art museums and the National Museum have shows and exhibitions aimed at kids from time to time, and you don’t need to speak Icelandic to experience what they have to offer.
If your kids like to climb on art then head to the garden around the museum of Ásmundur Sveinsson with its big robust beautiful sculptures. At least two of them are perfect for climping. Touching art gets a new meaning there. Located in Laugardalur valley in Reykjavík.
You’ll see a lot of Icelanders with kids around town. Don’t hesitate to ask them what is going on at the moment for children.
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