This 11 day Iceland roadtrip with kids is one of my favorite trips we’ve ever done. I didn’t really know what to expect going in.
Actually – that’s not true.
From all the photos and videos I’ve seen of Iceland, I expected to be cold and miserable and (physically) blown away by the crazy winds. And we did almost get blown away on some days! But honestly the rough weather did not deter us from hiking and sighseeing and otherwise doing all the things on our Iceland road trip itinerary!
Day 1: Reykjavik
Depending on when your flight arrives, this day is either a write-off or a full day of exploring the beautiful capital city. We arrived at 9am and had a ton of time to pick up our van, get groceries and do a little bit of exploring.
We picked up our campervan with rent.is right from the airport and drove it straight to Costco in Reykjavik to stock up on food for the week. Then we explored a bit of the city! I didn’t have anything planned for today so we did the basic tourist hotspots like the famous church, rainbow road and the Blue Lagoon.
Day 2: Volcano hike (if erupting) or Heli Tour!
We lucked out really hard with the timing of our trip, as the Litli-Hrútur eruption had just started a few days prior. It had been closed on and off for visitors and the conditions were changing daily. It happened to be open, along with a new route, just in time for our arrival. The hike was 20ish km long round trip and we were set on getting to see this one-in-a-lifetime event.
Litli-Hrútur eruption Litli-Hrútur eruption
We were monitoring the wind forecast and air quality alerts to make sure the hike was relatively safe to do. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue team was also on site with monitors to make sure the gas levels were safe for hiking.
I was incredibly impressed with the kiddos for doing this 20km hike (which took a whopping 11 hours to complete including all stops). They did not complain a single time and were such incredible troopers. On the way we saw lava fields from the previous two eruptions, and even those were really cool to see.
We also ended up doing the heli tour over the volcano since I was worried we might not be able to do the hike. I would say this is only worth it if there’s an active volcano erupting. Otherwise I would save the heli tour for something else (like a glacier or anywhere else in Iceland), as it was super expensive.
Day 3: Skogafoss
We planned to drive to Landmannaulaugar on day 3 – and we tried – but quickly realized that our 4WD campervan was not quite 4WD enough for the rugged road to Landmannaulaugar. I watched a bunch of youtube videos to see what conditions we’d be dealing with and purposely chose a 4WD campervan so we can make the journey, but after spending 30 minutes maneuvering the terrain we decided we were more likely to get stranded on the way than actually make it to our destination. If you’re planning to get out there, make sure you have a suitable car like a Jeep and a decently high clearance.
Since our trip was van-based, we had no commitment and our itinerary was not written in stone. This meant we could just turn around and find a different campground that’s a little less off-the-beaten-path.
On the way from Reykjavik to Skogafoss, make sure to stop at Seljalandsfoss. This one is super popular and gets crowded pretty fast so either come here super late or super early to avoid the crowds. Here you can walk behind the waterfall and see it from within the cave. Make sure to have waterproof jackets and pants to avoid getting soaked.
There’s another hidden waterfall that shares the same path and parking lot as Seljalandsfoss, called Gljufrabui! This one was even cooler since it was inside a little tunnel-cave. It’s pretty hard to take pictures there because of the water splashing everywhere but it was super cool to see. You’ll need to walk through a small stream of water to get to it but I promise it’s worth it.
I had a waterproof camera cover for this part. I’m not sure I’d recommend it because it was a pain to use but it did protect my camera so I guess it did the job..
Skogafoss was my favorite of all the waterfalls, and it conveniently has a really epic-ly positioned campground right next to it. If we hadn’t had to rearrange a whole bunch of plans, I would’ve hands-down stayed here for one night!
Day 4-5: Vik
This was by far my favorite town in Iceland. With so much to explore, and so much variety in terrain, you could probably spend a full week here and not get bored!
The town itself is really tiny and there’s not a whole lot in terms of accommodation right in town. We stayed at the Vik Campground (Vík tjaldsvæði) which is right below the cliffs in town and just a short drive (or walk) to the black beach. The campsite had a decent size communal area and kitchen, and clean showers and bathrooms included in the stay. We were able to pull up and find a spot without any issue.
From Vik, you can take a few short trips depending on how much time you have here. We stayed two nights, though I could’ve easily stayed a couple more to wait for better weather conditions and see some more spots.
This lookout is absolutely worth a stop! The visibility wasn’t great when we went and the wind had us basically parasailing our way around the lookout, but no one seemed to care about the terrible weather conditions. It was our first time spotting puffins and the stoke was super high!
This is the famous basalt column beach which comes with the infamous deadly sneaker waves! We were only planning on checking this out for a little bit but ended up spending the better part of our morning here. The basalt columns were super fun for the kids to climb, the views were very unique and the puffins above just added to the excitement. When you enter the beach there’s a “danger zone” map and daily forecast for how far back you need to stay. Make sure you’re staying well within the correct zone for the day, as this beach has claimed several lives in the past few years!
Katla Ice Cave
I’ve been absolutely dying to do a cave tour in Iceland after seeing all the blue cave photos on social media. Turns out a lot of them are closed in the summer, and they change so much every few months that they can’t guarantee the caves will look anything like the photos online. The other thing to note is that most tours will only allow kids 6+ to go on these hikes (even though I’m sure my 4yo would’ve been totally fine on here). We ended up splitting up for this part of the day, I took our 6yo on the Katla Ice Cave tour and Danny took our 4 year old to look for puffins.
The Ice Cave tour was 3 hours long, including the 20-30 minute transportation from Vik to Katla and back, a little 20 min hike there, and then actually exploring the ice cave. We went with Arctic Adventures (not affiliated with them in any way), though there are many companies offering the same thing for about the same price so just pick whichever one has space for that day. The tour will provide crampons and the guides will help you out if you have little kids with you. It really wasn’t as scary as some made it out to be, and my 6yo did the entire thing on her own without any issues.
Day 6-7: Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park is incredibly huge and the largest glacier cap in Europe. There’s so much to explore here so if you have time, I would spend an extra day exploring this area! We had some tours booked at this point that we couldn’t reschedule so we only stayed one night.
There were a few interesting stops on the drive to Vatnajökull National Park so make sure to budget for time to see those
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
This was a pretty short and easy hike and a great way to break up the 2-ish hour drive to the next campground. The stop took about 2 hours including the hike and a few stops for pictures.
We were also able to fit in Svartifoss, which is about a 3km roundtrip hike (with some elevation gain) and is inside the national park.
There’s also a small hike from the same parking lot to see the Skaftafell Glacier. At this point we were running out of daylight (yes, even with sunset being at 10:30pm!!) so I mostly just ran ahead with the drone as the kids and Danny slowly caught up.
You can likely. hike right up to the ice, but since we were low on time we just walked up to the view point.
We parked at Tjaldsvæðið í Svínafelli campsite for the night and it was the most beautiful campsite of our trip, in my opinion. We actually initially tried the national park campsite since we were already using their parking lot for the hikes above, but they didn’t have an indoor communal space which we’ve grown to love over the past few days. Having a large indoor kitchen to eat and warm up in was absolutely key for making this camping adventure as great as it was.
Múlagljúfur Canyon Múlagljúfur Canyon
We almost didn’t do this hike because the fog was so thick we could barely see a few feet ahead. We decided to give it a shot anyway since we were already in the area and were not likely to come back on this trip. I’m so glad we went, even though we didn’t have that much visibility! Supposedly this hike is only 3.6 miles in and out but I’m not sure how far along it we went before we lost visibility completely and turned around. This was the view we got once we reached the start of the canyon! This hike continues to go along the edge of a cliff so watch out for little kiddos who love to live dangerously 😉
The next day we had a reservation for a Glacier boat ride. All tours use the same boat operator so don’t worry too much about picking the best company – they’re all the same. The only difference is which boat you book; some of the smaller boats don’t allow little children, but the one we picked allowed all ages. It was really surreal to be floating around massive icebergs that were breaking off from the glacier to the north.
Icebergs at Jökulsárlón Lagoon Jökulsárlón Lagoon Jökulsárlón Lagoon boat tour
Make sure to also check out Diamond Beach across the road. Unfortunately we did not allot enough time for it and I later heard that you could spot seals there! Diamond Beach is very much dependent on the tides that bring in chunks of ice – sometimes the beach is empty and sometimes it’s full of “diamonds” – small and large chunks of ice.
At the end of the night we drove to our one and only non-campsite stop of the trip – the Viking Cafe!
Day 8: Stokksnes
We decided to stay just outside of Hofn at the Viking Cafe. The Viking Village next to it was used as a movie prop and remains open as a tourist attraction. The Viking Cafe was the perfect place to break up our vanlife and get a much needed sleep on proper beds 🙂
The views here were once again, out of this world, though I’ve been saying that about every place we visited in Iceland so I’m not sure how much weight my words have anymore.
We explored the black beach at Stokksnes for the morning, walked up to the lighthouse and then had lunch at the Viking Cafe. Then we headed out to explore the east coast of Iceland!
The drive was pretty long but the views of the Eastern fjords more than made up for it
Waterfall in the Eastern Fjords in Iceland Iceland Eastern Fjords
We drove a little out of the way to get to this little town. The entire drive was very very thick fog so I’m not sure what the views were like but I’m sure they were great because I saw at least 203940298 waterfalls along the way.
Rainbow road at Seyðisfjarðarkirkja Girls running through Rainbow road at Seyðisfjarðarkirkja
We had dinner at Egilsstaðir (Gistihúsið – Lake Hótel Egilsstaðir) before heading up to Borgarfjörður for the night.
Day 9: Borgarfjörður eystri
Borgarfjörður is a tiny remote Icelandic town, and home to one of the largest Puffin colonies on the island. The town is only a few hundred residents, so we were expecting to be mostly alone in the area. Lucky for us, we got there during the only busy day of the year, when this town hosts the largest music festival. And so we enjoyed the company of 340598203948 locals partying at the campsite 🙂 It was kinda fun to see so many folks cramped into a tiny little campsite.
The first order of business in the morning was going to see this Puffin colony! I already had my fill of Puffins in Vik so I wasn’t sure if we really needed to even come here. But I am so very glad we did. The number of puffins we saw here was absolutely insane. Hundreds and hundreds of puffins, everywhere you look. Some were bringing in fish, some were feeding them to their babies.. I could’ve stayed there forever. Danny had to physically pull me out of there because I just wanted to set up camp right there with them.
Hengifoss & Litlanesfoss
After the Puffins we grabbed lunch at the cafe by the pier and headed out to our next stop.
We almost skipped this stop because the kids were already somewhat tired from hiking and waterfall-ed out but I’m glad we decided to do it after all.
This 3.5mile loop includes two large waterfalls and has a bit of elevation gain. The red rock really pops on an overcast day and if you have a drone, you’ll see that there’s even more waterfalls beyond the last one you can hike to!
After the hike we drove to our next stop for the night, which was a campsite just outside Stuðlagil Canyon. We actually had time to do Stuðlagil Canyon in the evening but the fog was so thick you could barely see 1 foot in front of you. Looking back we should’ve just gone and hoped for the best because going the next day resulted in double the amount of people..
Day 10: Stuðlagil Canyon & Myvatn
We drove down to Stuðlagil Canyon in the morning, along with 23094098234 of our besties who also wanted to check out this hidden gem. This was probably the spot I was most excited about after seeing photos online, and it was the biggest let down, primarily because of the large crowds. I think this was the most crowded site we’ve gotten to, out of all the stops so far. I thought since it’s quite out of the way it would be a bit quieter but I was way way wrong! If you go, make sure to go either super late or super early.
Myvatn has a lot of really cool things that we decided to skip since we were short on time (this is becoming a theme here! Allow for a lot more time than you think – there’s so much to see). But also – Myvatn is mostly a spot for geothermal activity, geysers, and steam, all of which resembled the sights we’d already seen in Yellowstone so we decided to skip those. We did however go to the Myvatn Hot Springs since the kids have been talking about the Blue Lagoon non-stop after our visit there at the beginning of the trip.
You can also do a quick pit stop at Viti Crater on the way, the shots from there look really cool!
Our final stop for the night was Husavik. We had a whale watching cruise booked for sunset. I didn’t realize this when I was booking, but Iceland doesn’t have sunsets, it’s all just fog all day every day so don’t even worry about trying to time things for sunset or sunrise.
The cruise was 3 hours long and while it might be fun for some, our kids were over it after the first hour. Honestly, even I got a bit bored after the first hour, since the whale activity was kinda low and they were all pretty far. If you’ve done whale watching tours in Hawaii during whale season, this might be a pretty big let down.
Day 11: Drive to Grundarfjörður
This is a long driving day and there’s not a whole lot of stops to break up the drive. I’ve scoured the internet and really couldn’t find anything super fun for the kids to do on the way.
We realized there’s a map of these jumping pillows all across Iceland, and we ended up making a game out of how many we can hit on the way to Arnarstapi.
These bounce pillows ended up being the highlight of the drive for the kids and I’m so glad someone mentioned it in a facebook comment somewhere. Some campsites had these right next door, and other times they were adjacent to schools or in the middle of the city.
If you’re not fully waterfall-ed out, you can stop at Godafoss. It’s like a baby Niagara Falls 🙂
We also stopped at Erpsstaðir Creamery on the way as it was recommended a bunch of times and had high ratings. I’m not sure why, it was probably the least exciting part of the trip.
We made it just in time for sunset at Kirkjufellsfossar. There’s a tiny hike to get to the waterfalls and see this classic view.
We also got our second dose of super friendly Icelandic horses
We camped right in Grundarfjörður for the night
Day 12: Ytri Tunga (seal beach)
The final part of our road trip was a quick drive through the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. If you have more time, this is an absolutely stunning side of Iceland. I think in hindsight I would’ve skipped some of the north spots and just spent more time here. But there’s no really great way to get from East Iceland to here so we just did the full loop to see the entire island.
Ytri Tunga, sometimes referred to as Seal Beach was a great stop on the way from Grundarfjörður back to Reykjavik.
We spotted quite a few seals but they were really far away and hard to get to. You’re also supposed to maintain a good distance from them to avoid disturbing their natural habitat.
After Ytri Yunga we drove straight to the airport to drop off our van and get on a flight back to Colorado!
Camping in Iceland
Camping in Iceland felt like a breeze, compared to camping in the US or Canada. You don’t need to reserve campsites 230498029385409 years in advance, and can just pull up to a campsite at any point in the night. If no one is around at that hour you can just park your van and pay in the morning.
Pretty much 99% of people were camping in their vans or cars – I don’t think I saw a single tent the entire trip. That being said, even with a van it got pretty cold every night and we were super grateful for all the indoor amenities these campsites had!
Almost every campsite we stayed at had a communal indoor area which had some amount of kitchen space (sink, stove, cooking area) and some number of tables. We used these areas for preparing food, charging our electronics and winding down for the night. We met people traveling from all over and it was neat to get to know some of the other travelers.