Iceland's Golden Circle with kids
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Why visiting Iceland’s Golden Circle with your kids is a must
Iceland is a popular family travel destination for families from all over the world. It’s easy to navigate through, child friendly and offers lots of things to see and do for the whole family to enjoy. Most parents opt to take their children on a 2 or 3 week self drive along the Ring Route. They start and end their family road trip through Iceland in Reykjavik. For those of us that don’t have the time to explore the entire country, there are some great alternative road trips. One of the most popular tourist routes is the Golden Circle. A classic route that starts and ends in capital Reykjavik. Let me tell you why you should visit Iceland’s Golden Circle with kids!
What is the Golden Circle?
Iceland’s Golden Circle is a 300 kilometer trail that starts and ends in Reykjavik. This route takes you to three of the most popular natural attractions in the land of fire and ice: Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park. Why is it called the Golden Circle? It’s name comes from Gullfoss, which translates into Golden Falls and is the furthest point on the scenic circle route. Many of Iceland’s top attractions can be found along the route, some of the most beautiful waterfalls, for instance. All of them easily accessible, that’s why visiting the Golden Circle with your kids is definitely worth it.
Northern Iceland has a great alternative to the Golden Circle, you should definitely check out with your family: the Diamond Circle. Be sure to add this route to your family road trip through Iceland.
How much does a road trip to the Golden Circle cost?
The sites themselves don’t cost much. Parking in Thingvellir National park for a full day will cost about 5 euros. A visit to Geysir and Gullfoss won’t cost a thing. Parking is free and there’s no entrance fee. Other sights along the route are also mostly free.
There are lots of restaurants you can eat at. Dining in Iceland isn’t cheap. Expect to pay about 20 euros per person for one course and a drink. If you’re traveling on a budget I advise buying food at gas stations. For about 4-5 euros you can get yourself one of those famous Icelandic hot dogs, a sandwich or fries. A (non alcoholic) drink will cost you about 3-4 euros.
How to get around
You can book a (half) day tour, but I highly advise you to go on a self drive for two days. This way you have more time to explore the sights and fuel yourself with some Icelandic cuisine. It also means you can avoid coach tour crowds by timing your visit outside rush hours. All the sights mentioned can be easily reached with a 2wd vehicle.
The whole route takes you from and back to Reykjavik in about 4 hours without any stops. There are half day tours on offer that take you to the three attractions the Golden Circle is known for. When you go on a day tour you’ll be driven to some other highlights too, but your time at all the natural attractions is limited. And believe me when I say that during your drive you’ll spot things you wish you could spend some time at.
If you have some time to spare and/or if the Golden Circle tour is the start of your ultimate road trip through Iceland, spend two days in the area. There are so many amazing things to do and see along the way that it would be a pity if you have to miss anything, because your schedule is too full. A risk even higher with smaller children in tow. Adding 2 days in your itinerary for the sights along the Golden Circle, gives you a little more time for some hiking and you can take a bit more rest in between sightseeing.
Where to eat on the Golden Circle
There are two places that deserve a mention. Both very child friendly. And the great thing is, they don’t only sell amazing food, but they also offer activities that your kids will absolutely enjoy!
Efstidalur Farm and Shop
This family run restaurant sells products that come straight from the farm. They are famous for their ice cream, but the also sell homemade Skyr and feta cheese. Their burgers are phenomenal, made from beef from the farm and buns from a local bakery.
Walking around you’ll spot all sorts of wildlife on the farm. You can get up close and personal to all the farm animals. Supervised by the staff of course. In summer they offer horse riding tours.
Friðheimar Tomato Farm
This very popular farm has a menu that is completely tomato inspired. Of course they offer (amazing!) tomato soup, but also somewhat strange products like tomato ice cream. Weird, but trust me, very nice.
Before or after your meal in the greenhouse, you can learn about growing tomatoes in a cold climate. They offer tours all year long. And you can also buy souvenirs in their shop, like tomato jam or salsa.
Keep in mind that Friðheimar farm is almost always fully booked during the high season. Make sure you prebook your meal and/or tour of the greenhouse well in advance.
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Where to stay on the Golden Circle
Hotels on the Golden Circle
There are a few great hotels you can stay at with your children along and right next to the Golden Circle
Yes, you’ve read that right. You can not only have an amazing meal at Efstidalur and hang with the animals, but you can also book a room in their hotel.
Litli Geysir Hotel
Across the road from Geysir hot spring you’ll find this very cute hotel with a homey feel to it. You can arrange a crib for your toddler or book an extra bed for an older child. The food is lovely, but not necessarily aimed at children. That’s why it’s a good thing that they have a kids menu to choose from.
Campsites on the Golden Circle
When we searched for campsites to stay at with our camper, there were lots of options. Camping in the Golden Circle is easy because there are lots of (basic) well kept campsites here for affordable prices.
Across from Geysir hot spring (and right next to the Litli Geysir Hotel), you’ll find camping Geysir. There are showers, toilets and a playground. Electricity is available for half of the spots.
Úlfljótsvatn Scout and Adventure Center
A scouting center? Yes, at the scouting center you can book a spot to camp on. Needless to say it’s very child friendly. You don’t have to partake in any scouting activities. It’s a very popular campsite for families that are road tripping the Golden Circle.
Things to see on Iceland’s Golden Circle with kids
As I mentioned before the 3 sights that make up the Golden Circle are Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area and waterfall Gullfoss. Let’s dive into these beauties first!
Þingvellir National Park
Oddly enough, Iceland only has one site on the UNESCO World Heritage List and that is Thingvellir NP (locally known as Þingvellir). What makes this beautiful park a much visited sight is that it sits between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, meaning you can walk between two continents at once.
You can easily spend a full day here. If that doesn’t fit in your road trip itinerary, than please take a half day to explore this national park. Hiking in Thingvellir NP is the top thing to do here. And I would like to mention two highlights that will be fun for the whole family to check out.
Öxarárfoss waterfall is one of the main attractions in this NP. An easy loop route of about 4km, doable for toddlers, takes you to the waterfall in the ravine Almannagjá.
Fans of Game Of Thrones will recognize the Almannagjá gorge as The Bloody Gate. A natural gateway that leads to the entrance of the Eyrie. Sansa was brought there first by Lord Bealish and later on Arya is brought there by The Hound. So, if you’re there with an older teen that loves this show, be sure to mention this as it must surely be extra fun to take the hike. We all know that teens need some encouragement every now and then ;).
Diving in Silfra
If you’re feeling adventurous you can even snorkel or scuba dive between the tectonic plates themselves. Fun activity for everyone 12 yo and up. We opted out, because after a 4km hike our toddler’s patience had been thoroughly tested on the back of his father. So we went there, took a few pics and talked to a family who loved the experience. They said it was the clearest water they ever snorkeled in. And what we saw from the waterfront confirmed what they said.
Geysir Geothermal Area
The second thing you definitely have to check out when visiting Iceland’s Golden Circle with kids is arguably the most famous natural phenomenon of the country: Geysir. When I was young I saw Geysir spouting water into the air with enormous force and I knew I had to see it for real sometime. I did, and even better: I came with my family.
Geysir doesn’t spout anymore. It stopped working in the year 2000. Except for one spout in 2016. So, you can say that it’s still active. But the chance of seeing it in action is very slim! Gladly, its sibling Strokkur is still working its magic every 10 to 15 minutes. And let me tell you, it’s a sight you don’t want to miss. When you travel to Iceland with kids this is an absolute must see!
The third and last official Golden Circle attraction is one of Iceland’s most photographed waterfalls: Gullfoss. This impressive fall is 32 meters high. It’s two tiered. With the upper tier being 11 meters high and the lower being 21 meters high.
It’s a very short hike from the parking lot. You pass the Gullfoss visitor center first and then, almost immediately after, you can hear loud rumbling sounds. Walk down the steps and you can spot Gullfoss in the distance. You can get real close to the falls. It gets a bit boring, but again when visiting Iceland’s Golden Circle with kids you should definitely visit Gullfoss!
6 things to do on the Golden Circle with kids
We’ve talked about the three, more or less, official Golden Circle attractions. But there’s so much more to explore along and around the Golden Circle route. So continue your road trip tour with kids and check out the following sites!
Want to visit any or all of the following attractions and you’re planning to book a Golden Circle Tour? Make sure to book a tour that offers the sites you’d love to check out with your family. Some are not offered as part of any tour, though. In that case you’ll need to hire a rental car or camper.
Kerið crater lake can be found in the area of Grímsnes. Most of the day tours to the Golden Circle have added Kerið to its itinerary. It definitely is a must-see. The color of the lake is amazing, an intense azure green. Walking up to the top op the crater is easy, a pathway will lead you all around the volcano. And the views of the area from the top are also a highlight.
Since it’s privately owned (Can you believe it? Owning a crater lake?) you pay a small fee of about 3 euros. With our payments the landowner can protect and preserve this amazing sight!
This is an attraction we didn’t visit, since it wasn’t suitable for our toddler. But I have heard that exploring this 1360m long lava tunnel is a magnificent sight to see and so it deserves a mention in this Iceland’s Golden Circle with kids post.
Admission to kids ages 3 and up only. You can book an hour long tour or if you’re traveling with teenagers than you can book the adventure packages. In about 3-4 hours and with some climbing and balancing you’ve truly checked out all the nooks and crannies of this lava tube.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Area
Time to relax for a bit in the thermal water of Steam Valley. Steam Valley is the loose translation of Reykjadalur. The whole Reykjadalur Valley is filled with mud pits and and hot springs.
The hike up there was a bit of a struggle with our youngest. During high season the road up to the valley is filled with a long row of parked cars. We were there at 9am and we already had to park near the end of the road. The hike up to the valley is quite steep. But his tears were worth it. His face lit up as soon as he saw the steam coming from all the hot springs.
At about 40km from Gullfoss a little winter wonderland enfolds, even in the summer. At Langjökull you can choose to do a few activities. You can go glacier hiking, enter a snow cave on a snowmobile and/or explore a glacier tunnel with an experienced guide.
If you have time for only one visit to a glacier during your road trip through Iceland, then let it be Langjökull, which means Long Glacier.
By now you must think I’m getting sponsored, but that’s not the case, I promise! This is indeed the third time I’ve mentioned this farm in this post. But for good reason. Even if you’re not eating or sleeping here, this farm is a great way for your kids to enjoy encounters with beautiful Icelandic horses. And walking around the farm will give them a great idea of farmlife.
And because it’s very near to Geysir you don’t have to stray to much to go there.
It’s time to go back to the ring route. You’ve seen all there is to see on the Golden Circle and more. Iceland’s Golden Circle with kids is best when you’ve spent 2 or 3 says there. You won’t regret it.
Let’s close off this list of 6 things to do along the Golden Circle with kids with the city where you’ve started and/or ended your Golden Circle Trip. Capital city: Reykjavik.
This is the place where you can book family friendly tours for the Golden Circle. If you haven’t already done that online, of course.
But don’t be in a hurry when visiting Reykjavik. There’s lots to see and do here. The food is great, so is the (souvenir) shopping.
Some great things to see and do in Reykjavik:
- a visit to Hallgrimskirkja
- check out architectural gem, Harpa
- eat an Icelandic hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
- check out souvenir shop Thor, your kids will love the huge wooden Thor in the shop
- visit Whales of Iceland
- go on a whale watching or puffin tour
- get lost in the city and check out all the cute colored houses
Take 2 or 3 days to explore Reykjavik at the start of the end of your travels through Iceland.
That’s it for the Iceland’s Golden Circle with kids itinerary. If you have any questions or tips, let me know in the comments.