10 great family activities in Reykjavik

You may have heard rumours about the vibrant nightlife in Reykjavik, and perhaps you thought to yourself that this is only a place for party people. Well, you would be wrong. Iceland’s capital is a great place for a trip with your loved ones and little ones. We gathered a list of ten great family activities in Reykjavik. We’re certain that after trying out one or more of these, you won’t hear those dreaded words from your child: “I’m bored”.


#1 Puffin watching – Parrot divers? Sea clowns? Little friars?

Now that I have your interest, let me introduce Atlantic puffins to you. If you go on a puffin tour with us (between May and August) you will find the answer to why these animals have all these weird names in different languages. They might be smaller than what you expected – also they are not penguins! But what they lack in size, they make up with their amazing flying and diving abilities. That combined with their delightful character will not leave you or your child unmoved. We are fortunate enough to have the ability to see these amazing birds just outside of the Old Harbour!

Family activities in Reykjavik - Puffin watching

Two puffins debate the weather close to Reykjavik


#2 Horseback riding – “They are horses, not ponies!”

Very few things are as magical for a child as travelling on a fuzzy fur animal that is big as a giant in their eyes. Well, maybe not the Icelandic horses since they are rather small for horses (they are still not ponies). Speaking of the oddities of these horses, did you know that other breeds have 3 gaits while the Icelandic horses have 5? Horseback riding will certainly be a family activity that everyone can enjoy together. As you ride through breathtaking nature you get to experience a fraction of how the people in the olden times lived on this island. We recommend Íshestar, which is the industry leader in animal welfare and animal treatment. And don’t forget it’s possible to combine horseback riding with whale watching or northern lights hunting!

Family activities in Reykjavik - Horseback riding

Riding through Icelandic lava fields on a beautiful day


#3 Whale watching – Nurture the love for nature with an authentic wildlife encounter

One of my favourite moments as a whale watching guide was when a little girl dropped her jaw upon seeing a humpback whale just next to the boat and shouted: “This is the best day of my life!” Seeing the giants of the deep with your own eyes can indeed be a life-changing experience for the young and the old. So why not venture on a marine adventure with your family and have a good old fashioned “who spots the whale first” competition on one of our large family friendly boats? It’ll be one of the most memorable family activities in Reykjavik.

Family activities in Reykjavik - Whale watching

Whale watching is a memorable experience for a traveler of any age


#4 Whales of Iceland museum – A different perspective on these magnificent creatures

To consolidate the family’s knowledge about our marine mammal friends, go to the Whales of Iceland Museum. You’ll see life-sized whales and dolphin models and learn more about them with excellent audio guides and a guided tour as well. There is also a children’s playground on site where they can draw colouring books, take a whale quiz and crawl inside a wooden orca. The museum is also one of our favourite family activities in Reykjavik that are perfect for rainy days!


#5 “Ísbíltúr” – Going on the icecream drive

Ok, so if your native language is not of Germanic origin you might have trouble deciphering what “ísbíltúr” might be. We are talking about icecream here, icecream in a car, icecream in a car while driving around! Indeed, the icecream drive is one of the favourite pastime activities in the country, no matter what season it is. Grab a scoop of your favourite flavour or try “bragðarefur” – soft ice-cream with several toppings of your choice, all blended together. Get back in your car and drive around until your family finishes their tasty treats. Everyone has their own version of this custom, with a different selection of icecream shops and driving routes. You can try the shop called “Ísbúð Vesturbæjar”, or “Valdís” in the Grandi area. Your truly prefers to go to “Huppa” and then drive to the lighthouse of Grótta to watch sunset. Whatever your choice is, you can’t go wrong if the family is having a good time.


#6 Reykjavik Park and Zoo

Considering that the original name of the Reykjavik Park and Zoo is “the family park” it naturally made the list. Maybe you come from a big city and the kids don’t have a lot of opportunities to meet real domestic animals? Now here is your chance to do just that. Rekindle your own wonder through your child’s eyes as they get excited by seeing a cow, sheep, chicken, or even other more exotic animals, such as the mink, seal, Arctic fox and reindeer. Fun fact: the only native land mammal in Iceland is the fox).  The other section of the park is an amusement park for the little ones. They can ride in kiddie cars, trains, boats and carrousels. And do lots of jumping around!

Family activities in Reykjavik - Reykjavik Park and Zoo

A sleeping Arctic fox with its fluffy tail wrapped around itself


#7 Skating or skiing

Just next to the Reykjavik Park and Zoo is Reykjavik’s main skating rink, Skautahöllin Laugardal. It’s a fun place that’s always icy, even when the outside is not. Believe us, it happens! Our favourite moment is when they dim the lights, put on some disco lighting and turn up the music a bit. That’s a chance for the older ones and the parents to forget time and place and just have fun! No preparation is needed, except maybe putting on some warm clothes. You can rent the skates and helmets on the spot, and there’s supportive equipment for anyone without a sure footing on the ice. If you’re in Reykjavik in winter, there’s a great skiing resort within minutes from downtown Reykjavik. Ski resort Bláfjöll offers several slopes of different difficulties, as well as cross-country skiing tracks. You can also rent anything you might need there. Why not start the day with a walk and breakfast downtown, followed by skiing or snowboarding, and then ending the day melting away in hot jacuzzi?!


#8 Swimming pools – Swim like a dolphin, chill like a seal

With 121 swimming pools in a country of 370,000 inhabitants, we take our swimming pools seriously. Right, maybe not THAT seriously. But seriously enough that we want to access them anywhere in the country, any time of year! And with lots of hot water too! There will usually be several pools with different temperatures and different functions. So you can relax at 37°C while your kids play in the shallow pool for children. One swimming pool that could be of special interest is Laugardalslaug where you can find a massive waterslide! (It’s also just next to the Reykjavik Park and Zoo and the skating rink.) Don’t worry, it is perfectly normal for you as an adult to join them! After all, it is moments like these that remind us that we are all still kids inside. As far as family activities in Reykjavik go, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Family activities in Reykjavik - Swimming pools

Laugardalslaug swimming pool has a big waterslide and many different pools


#9 Perlan – Education meets fun

This domed palace-like structure overlooking the city houses a world of knowledge and immersion. Perlan is a great stop to learn about Icelandic geology, history, glaciology, flora and fauna, all through fun and interactive features. I would like to emphasize the artificial ice cave tour that might be a fun little thing to do with the little ones, especially if you start a snow-ball fight in there. Another thing that is worth checking out is the northern lights show in the planetarium that will leave you wanting more. If you weren’t into it before, you’ll probably want to see the lights with your own eyes afterwards!


#10 Feed the ducks at Tjörnin

With 388 bird species in Iceland, it is truly a birdwatchers paradise. Being a birder myself I can think of no better incentive for your child to start loving birds than to take them to the city pond known as Tjörnin (Bus stop #2 is right next to it). Depending on the season, you’ll see different species of birds. Also, in the wintertime this pond is often frozen, and sometimes frozen hard enough to walk or skate on! Some of the regular inhabitants that your little ones will be happy to see and feed are eider ducks, whooper swans, greyleg geese, Eurasian wigeons and common teals. Keep in mind that bread and crackers are not suitable for them. Cracked corn, oats, rice, birdseed, frozen peas, chopped lettuce, or sliced grapes are a much better alternative. If you happen to come in the summer, you can spot the Arctic terns that nest on a tiny inlet in the pond called Þorfinnstjörn.


Written by Lucas Heinrich.

When you’re out at sea on a whale watching tour, the best thing to do is to always be on the lookout for whales and birds – the more eyes we have around the boat, the better our chances of spotting something!  

Of course, it helps to know what you’re looking for. Whales and dolphins are marine mammals, so although they live their whole lives in the sea, they do have to come up for air. When they are at the surface is when we have a chance of seeing them: keep an eye out for the back and dorsal fin cutting through the water. If you’re lucky, you may see a breach – this is when cetaceans throw their whole bodies out of the water, which makes them difficult to miss!  

whales and birds

A humpback whale breaching. Photo from Special Tours. 

But remember, it’s not just the cetaceans themselves you should keep an eye out for. There are other important cues that can help when searching for whales at sea. The first of these is the blow – the puff of air as a whale exhales after coming back to the surface to breathe. This is especially important for larger whales, as their blow may be seen from several kilometers away! 

Seabirds are a particularly important cue for us – especially if they are feeding. Seabirds are often easier to spot as they are mostly airborne, while cetaceans are almost always in the water. This makes cetaceans much harder to spot, as they may either be completely submerged, or obscured by poor weather conditions such as waves and swell. 

Certain interactions between seabirds and cetaceans are well known, both anecdotally and in research carried out by biologists. Cetaceans and seabirds can have a very similar diet, and they are often seen feeding in the same area on the same prey. It is thought that cetaceans make prey easier to catch for seabirds by forcing it closer to the surface, within diving depth, or by herding it into large, dense aggregations. However, it is also possible that feeding seabirds could alert nearby cetaceans to a prey patch, or that they can take advantage of the hunting behaviour of seabirds. 

In this blog post, we will introduce to you some of the species of seabirds you might spot on your whale watching tour, and which cetaceans they might be hanging out with. 


This family of birds contains puffins, guillemots, and razorbills. Auks are amazing at swimming, but not so great at flying! They can dive to considerable depths while hunting – common guillemots, for example, have been recorded going as deep as 180m. 

whales and birds

The top three auks in Iceland: common guillemot, Atlantic puffin, and razorbill. Common guillemot and razorbill from Natural England. 

About 60% of all the Atlantic puffins in the world breed in Iceland, so they are very common here in summertime. They make a great subject for photographers, with their brightly coloured beak and legs. 

If you see auks, keep an eye out for: 


Few seabirds are as easy to identify as the gannet. They have a white body, yellowish head, and black wingtips, and are larger than most gulls. However, the most distinctive thing about them by far is how they hunt: by folding their wings and plunging into the water from a height, snatching fish at high speeds.

whales and birds 

A gannet searching for its prey. 

Research into the hunting behaviour of gannets off the coast of South Africa found that they seem to spend more searching for dolphins or other gannets than they spend looking for their prey itself. Once one gannet finds a patch of food, others quickly join the feeding frenzy – with so many gannets diving into the water, these feeding aggregations are visible from quite some distance. 

If you see gannets, keep an eye out for: 

Gannets are known to feed alongside almost every species of cetacean in the North Atlantic, but interactions are most commonly reported with these two species. 


Manx Shearwaters are a very small species of seabird. Their main breeding colony is in Vestmannaeyjar and they can be seen all along the southwest coast of Iceland. There are two other species of shearwater which could be spotted in Iceland: the great shearwater and the sooty shearwater, both of which breed in the southern hemisphere and migrate to the northern hemisphere for the boreal summer. 

whales and birds

A Manx shearwater taking off from the sea surface. Photo from Electronic collection of Georgia birds. 

Manx shearwaters often sit in large groups on the water’s surface – a behaviour called rafting. Some rafts can be as large as several thousand birds! 

If you see shearwaters, keep an eye out for: 


Kittiwakes are small gulls – they look similar to other types of gull, such as the herring and common gulls, but can be distinguished by their black legs and feet. They breed in colonies on cliffs which can be heard before they are seen! Kittiwakes are very noisy birds. In fact, they are named after the noise they make: a screech that sounds as if they are saying ‘kittiwake’. 

whales and birds

A kittiwake on the cliff of its breeding colony. Photo from Natural England. 

If you see kittiwakes, keep an eye out for: 

Other species 

whales and birds

Some other birds to keep an eye out for: northern fulmar, European storm petrel, great skua, and Arctic tern. Storm petrels from The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds, Arctic tern from Eric Sonstroem. 


By Eilidh 

Photos by the author unless otherwise credited. 

Are you going to visit us in Iceland? Do not be surprised, your airplane will not bring you straight to the capital, but to Keflavik, the city that is on the far end of our whale watching home, Faxa Bay. Faxaflói, how the bay is called in Icelandic, is the largest bay in Iceland, with an area of about 4500 – 5000 km2. In good weather conditions you can see both peninsulas that are surrounding the bay. – Snæfellsjökull is always worth a picture.


Faxaflói was named after a man named Faxi, who was part of the expedition of Hrafna-Flóki, the first man to deliberately sail to Iceland with the intention to settle here. They came from Norway and stopped over in the Faroe Islands along the way. Hrafna-Flóki captured three ravens there to help him find his way to Iceland, giving him his nickname (which means Raven-Flóki). When they arrived in Iceland, Faxi suggested that this bay looked like a good place to settle near, and they named the bay after him, but they sailed onward and settled in the Westfjords. At the time, the area was full of drift ice, so Hrafna-Flóki decided to name this land Iceland.

Whale sanctuary – Faxa bay


Part of the bay has been declared a whale sanctuary and this is where we head out for our whale watching tours. Faxaflói is open to the west, and off the south and west coast of Iceland, the nutrient-rich deep waters of the North Atlantic Current upwell near the continental shelf, bringing those nutrients to the surface. Because weather around Iceland tends to be unstable, this further mixed deep waters and surface waters, ensuring the nutrients in the surface layers are constantly replenished. This means that the waters around Iceland are perfect for the growth of phytoplankton, which support the entire oceanic ecosystem and provide the perfect conditions for a wide variety of life.

The first we see, when we sail out of the old harbour of Reykjavík are the five islands of the bay: Akurey, Engey, Videy, Lundey and Therney. The word Lundi that named one of them is the Icelandic name of the Atlantic puffin. Therefore, we are able to sail for our puffin tours within minutes to the second largest puffin population in Iceland.

Atlantic puffins - July 2018

Atlantic puffins – July 2018


Humans have relied on fishing in the bay for thousands of years. The vast majority of the fish we catch on our Sea Angling tours are Atlantic cod, which are bottom-dwelling fish.

Sea Angling May 2020