There are so many amazing things to do in the Golden Circle in Iceland with kids. Everything you could possibly want in an Iceland family vacation is found in the Golden Circle – geothermal activity, massive waterfalls, diverging tectonic plates, volcanos, hot springs and so much more.
The Golden Circle is an extremely popular day trip from Reykjavik, but if you are visiting Iceland with kids, we recommend staying a night or two. This will allow you to enjoy all the amazing things to do in the Golden Circle with kids at a more relaxed pace.
Whether you visit the Golden Circle as a day trip or spend a few days, the Golden Circle is a must-visit destination for your Iceland family vacation!
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6 Things to do in the Golden Circle with Kids
There are so many amazing things to do in the Golden Circle with kids, you can easily fill a couple of days on your Iceland family vacation. Here are the best things to do in the Golden Circle with kids:
1. Porufoss Waterfall
Our first stop on our 2 day Golden Circle road trip was the Porufoss waterfall. The Porufoss waterfall is located on a poorly maintained dirt road section of Highway 48 – driving southeast we were dodging potholes for a long way leading up to the waterfall. Be careful with your rental car!
We pulled into the Porufoss waterfall parking lot and the wind was blowing so hard the rain was literally falling sideways. Rather than go through the effort of getting the kids dressed up in their winter and rain gear, we left them in the rental car and took turns walking down to the Porufoss waterfall viewpoint for a look.
Porufoss is a beautiful Golden Circle waterfall, but the mid-May weather in Iceland on this day was so awful, we only took a quick look and then back in the rental car. There were some walking paths around the Porufoss waterfall, so on a nicer day you could probably spend a little time exploring this beautiful Golden Circle waterfall.
If you have a shorter visit and are staying around Reykjavik with kids, there’s still plenty to do around there and you can still do a day trip to the Golden Circle.
2. Thingvellir National Park
The Porufoss waterfall was just a pit stop along the way to Thingvellir National Park, our main attraction for our first morning in the Golden Circle with kids. Thingvellir National Park is a place of great cultural importance to Iceland, but as nature lovers, we came to this national park primarily because this is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates diverge, creating a large rift valley.
Based on our extensive research (i.e. the Thingvellir National Park map on the side of the highway – haha!), we decided the southeast national park entrance off of Highway 36 looked most interesting for us.
The Golden Circle weather was still cold and wet, so we all dressed in layers, with an additional rainproof layer on top. For additional warmth and to allow ourselves to see more of the Thingvellir National Park in less time, we put both kids in their carriers and set out for our visit.
Past the Thingvellir National Park visitor center there is a lookout platform where you can get your first glimpse of the rift valley, a beautiful grassland with gentle rivers running through it. From here, we followed the main path which descends into the Thingvellir National Park rift valley, with a dramatic cliff face running along the left hand side of the path.
It’s fascinating to think that this cliff is actually the very edge of North America and is slowly drifting away from the other edge of the park at a pace of 1 inch per year. I love when traveling with kids provides an opportunity to teach our kids about the world.
The main Thingvellir National Park hiking trail passes a nice waterfall along the way and has several offshoots which lead to the valley’s interior hiking trails, to Law Rock or simply to some national park viewpoints.
We enjoyed a few of the viewpoints of Thingvellir National Park, but we were continually drawn back to the majesty of the towering North American tectonic plate cliff. It’s humbling to walk in the shadow of such an enormous geological force of this planet.
We had planned to explore the Thingvellir National Park hiking trails for a few hours, allowing us to see parts of the national park most don’t see. Sadly, the weather was so bad we needed to get the kids back in the car for some warmth and a chance to dry off.
Campervan more your style? Read these 7 tips for an Iceland family vacation in a campervan.
3. Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River Hike
After our kids afternoon naps, we drove to Hveragerdi, a Golden Circle town with an abundance of geothermal activity. They say many residents of Hveragerdi have hot springs in their own backyards – only in Iceland!
As you drive through Hveragerdi, you can see many steam vents coming from the neighborhoods and up in the surrounding hills. Following the main road through Hveragerdi all the way to the end, you come to the parking lot where you find the trailhead for the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River hike.
Thankfully, the rain had stopped, but the wind was still ferocious, so we put the kids in their carriers and hit the trail to see the Golden Circle hot springs.
The Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River hike is 3.5km (2.2miles) one-way. The wide and well maintained Golden Circle hiking trail begins by leading you up and over the side of a mountain.
This very popular hike to the Golden Circle hot springs leads you through some amazing mountain landscapes with many steam vents and boiling water ponds along the way. The geothermal activity on the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River hike is exactly the type of experience most visitors to Iceland dream of.
The Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River hike is a steady climb up, but it wasn’t too bad. We were grateful for the strong Icelandic wind at our backs for the hike to these Golden Circle hot springs.
After 2km of uphill hiking on the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River trail, you are rewarded with a view of a beautiful, cascading waterfall in the valley below. The Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River hike doesn’t end at the top of the hill; in fact it’s about halfway to the hot springs.
From here, the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River trail descends a little bit and you walk through an open meadow. Shortly, you will see a large amount of geothermal steam rising on the horizon, which means you are getting close to the Golden Circle hot springs.
The steam is rising up from ponds of water which are literally boiling from the geothermal heat below. The Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River trail passes very close to the bubbling ponds and as you walk through the steam, you can feel the warmth and smell the sulphur. Keep a very close eye on your kids near the boiling water!
Shortly thereafter you reach the Reykjadalur Hot Springs, which are actually a little natural creek with warm spring water. Due to the popularity of these Golden Circle hot springs, they built wooden boardwalks, open-air change rooms and little stairs leading bathers down to the hot springs.
It was still pretty cold and the Reykjadalur ‘hot’ springs were actually more like ‘warm springs‘, so rather than go for a full soak in the Reykjadalur Hot Springs, we opted to dip our feet into the hot springs.
The kids loved taking a dip in the Reykjadalur Hot Springs – they thought it was super fun! It was a nice treat after making them endure the harsh Icelandic winds the whole way up.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River hiking map
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We were also grateful for a kind stranger who gave our shivering kids cookies to distract them while we got their socks/shoes back on. I’m always amazed at the kindness of strangers when traveling with kids!
It wasn’t quite like visiting the Blue Lagoon with kids, but it hiking the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River was one of the best kid-friendly things to do in Iceland. It was a really fun family experience and a great hike in Iceland with kids!
Another awesome kid-friendly hike in Iceland is the Arnarstapi to Hellnar hike in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
4. Gullfoss Waterfall
Getting a vacation home rental enabled us to wake early and get to the best things to do in the Golden Circle ahead of the Reykjavik day trippers. We successfully did this on the first leg of our Iceland family vacation in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula with kids as well, and we really enjoyed beating the tour bus crowds.
Knowing what a popular Golden Circle attraction the Gullfoss waterfall is, we decided to make it our first stop of the day. We arrived at Gullfoss waterfall around 8:30am and we were only the second car in the massive parking lot.
As has been typical on our mid-May Iceland family vacation, the wind was howling and the rain was pouring, so we spent the first 10 minutes dressing the kids properly for the Iceland weather. Thankfully the parking lot gets you really close to the Gullfoss waterfall, so it was a pretty short walk to the pathway where the views of the waterfall begin.
Pre-kids, we had visited some of the world’s most iconic waterfalls (Angel Falls, Iguazu Falls and Victoria Falls), so we can say with authority that the Gullfoss waterfall in the Golden Circle is one of the best waterfalls in the world.
The Gullfoss waterfall occurs on the mighty Olfusa River and is the largest waterfall by volume in Europe. The Gullfoss waterfall volume is impressive, but what makes this Icelandic natural wonder special is the beautiful two-tier cascade waterfall. It will be hard to find a more beautiful waterfall than the Gullfoss waterfall in the Golden Circle.
The pathway slowly descends towards the Gullfoss falls. There is a two rope safety fence along the Gullfoss hiking trail, but it’s not enough to keep a determined toddler from going over, so watch your kids very closely.
The unique angles of the cascading waterfalls mean that the views of the Gullfoss waterfall get different as you descend down the path. At one point when you get close to the lower falls, the spray floats high in the air and if the wind is blowing in the right direction, you will get soaked by the spray. (We were already soaked by the rain and then we got double-soaked by the spray!!). The trail ends on a rocky ledge right next to the Gullfoss falls where you can get a true appreciation for the power of the water.
Back near the parking lot you can climb a set of stairs to a viewing platform high above the falls which enables you to see the full set of Gullfoss waterfalls all at once – something you can’t easily do when you are close to the waterfalls below.
There is a Gullfoss waterfall visitor center up top along with some hiking trails. We had hoped to hike some of these trails, but the weather was too bad for the kids to be out too long.
As we were leaving, we saw our first tour bus heading towards Gullfoss at 9:30am. From then on, we saw at least one Gullfoss tour bus per minute – no joke! And this was in Mid-May, in the heart of the shoulder season in Iceland. Staying overnight in the Golden Circle and using a rental car to get to the Gullfoss waterfall ahead of the Reykjavik day trips was a real treat!
Read more about our European family vacation with stops in the Czech Republic with kids, Budapest with kids and Croatia with kids.
By the time we got to Geysir around 9:45am, there were tour groups wandering around already. There is a big Geysir parking lot on the highway, but there is an alternate Geysir parking lot on Haukadalsvegur which gets you closer to the actual Geysir geyser (which, by the way, doesn’t erupt regularly anymore).
The nearby Strokkur geyser is the star attraction at Geysir now, erupting every 6-10 minutes on average. As we walked around Geysir, admiring the many pools of bubbling hot water, we were waiting for Strokkur to erupt.
We explored Geysir for well over 10 minutes without a Strokkur eruption. It’s really hard to wait longer than ten minutes when the rain is blowing so hard that it hurts your face.
Eventually, with no certainty of when the next Strokkur eruption would be, we gave in to the protests of our kids and went back to the car, without seeing the Strokkur geyser erupt.
You win this time Strokkur, this time…
Although we were disappointed, that’s one of the great things about nature travel with kids – you never know if you will see a Strokkur geyser eruption or an elephant on safari. The times when things don’t go your way make you appreciate the times that do that much more…
6. Kerid Crater Hike
After four full days of unlucky mid-May weather in Iceland, we decided that we’d have a quiet afternoon in the cabin. After our little guy’s nap, the wind and rain were still going strong, so we let the kids start watching The Lorax on Prime Video. By mid-afternoon, there was a break in the weather so we paused the movie, quickly got dressed and ran out the door.
Our destination was the Kerid Crater Lake, which was really close to our cabin. Sadly, the rain had resumed by the time we got to the crater, but we got out to see it anyways.
From the highway, you’d never guess there was a volcanic crater here as there’s no classic cone volcano mountain here. The Kerid Crater is so low to the ground, from a distance it looks like any old hill.
But when you get up close you’ll be amazed at the size of the Kerid Crater! It’s 885 feet (270m) long, 560 feet (170m) wide and 180 feet (55m) deep. The Kerid Crater was just as large as any volcanic craters that I’ve seen in my travels.
There are two options for Kerid Crater hikes. You can hike around the rim of the Kerid crater looking down on the lake or you can walk down a set of stairs and hike around the shores of the Kerid crater lake at the bottom.
With the heavy wind and rain, we decided to do our Kerid Crater hike around the bottom of the lake in hopes we could get shelter from the wind. This option is a short Kerid Crater hike and our 4 year old did it no problem, including the stairs. Our little guy could have hiked it too, but he wanted to be carried the whole way.
Where to Stay in the Golden Circle with Kids
There isn’t a major city in the Golden Circle in Iceland, nor will you find any international hotel chains anywhere. If you are visiting the Golden Circle with kids, we recommend figuring out which Golden Circle attractions you most want to see, then find good kid-friendly accommodations in a central location.
If you are on an Iceland family vacation to the Golden Circle, you’ll almost certainly have a rental car. This will give you the freedom to stay nearly anywhere within the Golden Circle.
There’s only a handful of kid-friendly hotels in the Golden Circle. They are pretty spread out, so you should be able to find one in a location you like.
When traveling with kids, we have a strong preference for staying in a vacation home rental. We find that the kids sleep better when they have their own bedrooms, and it’s nice to have laundry facilities to wash our clothes.
Another big benefit of getting a vacation rental is having a kitchen to cook some of your own meals. Eating out is very expensive in Iceland, so having your own kitchen helps have an Iceland family vacation on a budget. We typically like to have a healthy breakfast at home, pack a good lunch, then reward ourselves to a great meal at a restaurant in the evening. Due to the expense of eating out in Iceland, we made nearly all our meals at our vacation home rental.
For our 2-night visit to Iceland’s Golden Circle with kids, we stayed at a cute vacation rental cabin near the Kerid Crater. It was a little far from some of the major Golden Circle attractions, but most were within an enjoyable 45 minute drive.
We took our Iceland family vacation in mid-May, which is shoulder season. You likely noticed in the description of the things we did in the Golden Circle with kids that we had some challenges with the Iceland weather.
As you plan your Iceland family vacation, I wanted to share with you that although the weather wasn’t perfect, it didn’t change how we felt about visiting Iceland with our kids. As we look back on our Iceland family vacation, we don’t remember the weather – we remember all the amazing things we did in Iceland with kids! In fact, persevering through the weather made the memories of Iceland even more special!
We are confident you’ll love visiting Iceland with kids, no matter the weather!
Getting Kids to Sleep in Iceland without Darkness
If you are traveling to the Iceland with a toddler (or a baby) during the endless days of summer, your kids may have trouble sleeping without darkness.
If you are worried about your kids sleeping in Iceland, consider traveling with a Slumberpod. This ingenious product will create a dark sleeping area for your toddler, and it even works with the popular toddler travel beds like the Shrunks Junior.
You can buy a Slumberpod on Amazon or use code BABYCANTRAVEL10 to get $10USD off the SlumberPod when you buy direct from Slumberpod!
If your kids are too big for a Slumberpod, travel blackout blinds are also an option to consider helping your kids sleep in Iceland.
Kid-Friendly Iceland Tours
If you are looking for an 8-day family-friendly Iceland tour which visits many of the locations from our Iceland family vacation, check out the Geysers, Glaciers and Fjords tour by National Geographic.
In addition to many of our Iceland family vacation ideas, this epic National Geographic family tour of Iceland includes whale watching, a visit to an Icelandic horse farm, explore a lava tunnel, and an excursion to the volcanic Westman Islands to search for puffins and whales.
Don’t miss the National Geographic Family Journeys: Geysers, Glaciers and Fjords tour!
Day Trips to the Golden Circle from Reykjavik
Golden Circle Classic Day Trip from Reykjavik
Small-Group Golden Circle Tour and Secret Lagoon Visit
Reykjavik: Golden Circle Full-Day Tour with Kerid Crater
Kid-friendly Iceland Vacation Packages to the Golden Circle
National Geographic Family Journey: Geysers, Glaciers and Fjords
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