Reykjavík is a major metropolis shrunk to small-town size – perfect for a family-sized city break.

You'll find all the important stuff for grown-ups – national museums, landmark churches, historic architecture – and also the important stuff for kids, from geothermally-heated swimming pools to whale-watching tours.

So let us answer the big questions. Where do you find the Viking swords? Does the city zoo have snakes? Is ice cream the national diet? Here's our guide to exploring Reykjavik with kids.

Is Reykjavik good for kids?

Reykjavík is a city that is well attuned to tiny travelers. For one thing, it's famously safe for children. Locals are happy to let infants and toddlers sleep outside in their strollers, while older kids are free to roam the suburbs and stay out late during the bright summer evenings.

The main concern for parents is the weather. The Icelandic climate can be cold for small hands and the city's ridiculously strong winds can play havoc with canopy-covered strollers. Fortunately, city buses are free for children under the age of twelve and indoor activities can easily sustain the longest of rainstorms.

Another plus is the terrain – central Reykjavík is mostly flat, with almost no stairs to conquer. Sidewalks are wide, so getting around with a stroller is easy, and distances are short enough to cover with a baby carrier – measured from the Old Harbor to Helmmur, the downtown area is just 3km (1.86 miles) wide.

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The best things to do in Reykjavik with kids 

Plan your family trip to Reykjavík around the following family-friendly activities.

Visit Reykjavik’s unusual zoo

Reykjavík has a zoo, or at least a kind of zoo. Operated by the City of Reykjavík, the Húsdýragarðurinn is more like a petting zoo with exotic extras: a room full of giant spiders and snakes, a pool of ringed seals feeding on herring and an enclosure where Arctic foxes – the only terrestrial mammal native to Iceland – stare longingly at the nearby geese. Right by the zoo is the popular Family Park, with an impressive wooden playground that's a great place to burn off a little energy.

A humpback whale in Skjálfandi Bay, North Iceland
Whale-watching trips make for a fun-filled family day out from Reykjavík © Egill Bjarnason / Lonely Planet

Go whale watching from the Old Harbor

Spotting the fluke of a whale will capture a child’s imagination like nothing else, and a whale-watching boat trip is an exciting expedition even without the cetacean angle. When planning a tour from Reykjavík’s Old Harbour, always take weather conditions into consideration – children aged five to 14 are much more vulnerable to seasickness than adults. Various operators maintain have kiosks at the harbor. For backup, the land-based exhibition Whales of Iceland features 23 life-size models of North Atlantic whale species.

Climb into an artificial ice cave at Perlan

The iconic Perlan – a Reykjavík landmark perched atop the city's geothermal water tanks – has a permanent exhibition exploring the remarkable natural world in Iceland. Wonders of Iceland begins with a vast ice cave, 100m (328ft) long and built with 350 tons of snow and layers of ash from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption.

The exhibit also includes an augmented reality depiction of the bird nesting cliffs at Látrabjarg and interactive rooms giving the low down on volcanoes, earthquakes and glaciers, while a state-of-the-art planetarium recreates the spectacle of the Northern Lights.

Get ice cream (yes, really)

Icelanders do not let the sunshine dictate the correct time window for ice-cream consumption. If the weather is good enough to leave the house, locals go for it. Ísbúð Vesturbæjar and Ísbúð Huppu lead the way in soft-serve ice cream mixed with sweets and flavors; kids especially love the bragðarefur made with three picks from the candy bar.

For quality over quantity, the Old Harbor establishments Valdís and Omnom have a highly colorful selection of flavors, plus grey-looking but tasty licorice options. At the time of writing, the nation's top ice cream experts were praising newcomer Skúbb for its creamy goodness; their shop is near the Laugardalslaug pool, a 30-minute walk from downtown (for full-grown humans at least).

People in hot pots at Nautholsvik geothermal beach in winter
Locals making the most of Nautholsvik geothermal beach in winter © Try_my_best / Shutterstock

Try the best waterslides in Reykavík

Ask an Icelander what they do with their children and most will give the same answer: dress them in swimsuits and throw them (figuratively speaking) in the public pool. Every neighborhood in Reykavík has its own sundlaug, a geothermally heated swimming pool with everything from lane-swimming to hot tubs, and there are even outdoor public geothermal hot pots at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach.

The downtown Sundhöll Reykjavíkur has a shallow leisure pool for children, but for maximum fun, try out the impressive waterslides at the Laugardalslaug, Árbæjarlaug or Sundlaug Seltjarnarness. The largest indoor pool area is at Ásvallalaug at Hafnarfjörður, where you can also go hunting for (possibly mythical) elves. Admission to Reykavík's pools is around 1000/300 Kr (US$7.90/2.40) for adults/children.

Take the kids for a bounce

Most local libraries in Reykavík have good play corners for children under the age of five, including the Nordic House and Borgarbókasafn. Larger indoor play centers are uncommon, largely due to the popularity of swimming pools as playgrounds.

One exception is the Rush Trampoline Park, set inside a 2200 sq meter (23,680 sq ft) warehouse, with multi-size trampolines in vivid colors. Prepare yourself for a workout; an hour on a trampoline is surprisingly exhausting. 

Relive Reykjavík's maritime history

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when children could be seen working at the harbor in Reykjavík (a big catch needed all hands on deck to ready the fish for sale). Modern children can experience this era virtually at the Reykjavík Maritime Museum, picking up such essential skills as distinguishing haddock from cod (in case you're unsure, cod are the ones with the samurai-style "beard"). It's a good place to learn how living from the ocean has formed the Icelandic nation to the present day. 

Families looking at exhibits in the Wonders of Iceland exhibition in Reykjavik
The Wonders of Iceland at Perlan is a great introduction to the island's natural wonders © Egill Bjarnason / Lonely Planet

Sit down with a cat, or a hot-dog 

The most popular restaurant in Reykjavík is technically a hot-dog stand, but it's not just any hot-dog stand. The Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur at Tryggvagata has been in business since 1937, to the delight of local children and busy parents, and its pylsur (hot dogs) are a treat. Another top downtown establishment for kids is the atmospheric cat café, Kattakaffihúsið, where feline friends greet customers popping in for a hot chocolate.

Get some greenery!

Reykjavík has no shortage of green spaces. Over summer, the Grasagarður Botanical Garden is hugely popular with parents of young children. Families gather to picnic and push strollers through this green and quiet pocket of the city, and the Flóran Café, located in the middle of the park, makes for an excellent lunch stop. 

How to explore Reykjavík with kids

For the easiest family stay in Reykjavík, pick a rental apartment or hotel close to Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur, the city's main shopping streets. Even if you stay further from the center, city buses are free for children under the age of 12. Electric scooters are widely available for rent – but helmets are harder to find and legally young riders need to wear one.

When choosing the right time for a trip, summer has perfect weather for outdoor swimming and boat trips, and the calendar is packed full of activities for kids. Relative to other parts of the country, Reykjavík is light on snow over winter, but a wintertime day trip to the Blue Lagoon – the famous outdoor volcanic swimming complex at Keflavík – is definitely memorable.

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