Planning your Iceland trip – Iceland With Kids
We’ve written many posts about planning for your trip to Iceland. Here is a summary of our best advice, at least so far.
When to go to Iceland?
There will be several obvious differences in your vacation experience based on what time of year you go:
- Temperature. This isn’t as big as you think: Highs in the summer are in the mid 50s, while winter highs are in the mid 30s. See details in this post. Yes, there is snow in the winter, and so you’ll need to make your travel plans less aggressive.
- Daylight. This is a bigger deal than you may think. Summer has 24 hours of usable daylight. The middle of winter may only give you 7. More details in the same post. This picture was taken at about 11:30 PM in June:
- Crowds. Tourism in Iceland is booming; the least crowded month in 2016 will have more visitors than the most crowded month in 2006. (See our charts here.) Still, winter brings many fewer visitors relative to the summer, so you’ll be fighting fewer crowds in the non-summer months.
- Road conditions. In winter, many roads will be slippery, icy, or worse. For example, here are the conditions as of March 1:
The interior F roads are all closed, and will be until June in most cases. But there are many other roads that are potentially hazardous as well. This is as good as it gets from about October through March. See the current conditions here.
Flying to Iceland: Airfare options
- Checked bags cost $48. Per bag, each way.
- Even storing your carry-on in an overhead bin will cost you $38.
- Reserving a specific seat costs at least $7 per person each way. If you don’t reserve seats, you run the (unlikely) chance of being separated from your family.
Other information about these three airlines:
- Icelandair gives you 2 free checked bags per person, while Delta gives you one. Carry-ons for both of these airlines are free as well.
- Delta will also provide you with meals– the other airlines charge for food.
- Icelandair gives you a roughly 15% discount on fares for children.
- WOWair only flies from Baltimore (BWI) or Boston right now, though service from San Francisco and Los Angeles starts in June.
In spite of all of that, a trip for your family on WOWair can still end up being cheaper. And, if you’re willing to splurge a little, their XL seats with 35″ of legroom or more can be yours for a very reasonable fee- around $60 extra.
See more details in our post about airlines.
Hotels and Lodging in Iceland
I prefer renting apartments or houses over traditional hotels. You do miss out on breakfast, which is included with some hotel stays, and a higher level of service. But in return you can have a lot more space– the kids can even get their own room. And, hotels are quickly selling out for the summer season anyway. See this article: Iceland “sold out” this summer?
Two options I’ve used are Booking.com and Airbnb. Booking.com is more like a traditional hotel web site, except many of the properties are apartments or guesthouses. Most of them offer totally free cancellation, so I recommend booking something for your stay even before you purchase plane tickets. Note that the cancellation policy is different for each property. Some may only require 24 hours notice to receive a full refund, while other properties may require 5 or more days. See our post with other tips for booking.com.
Airbnb is less a traditional hotel web site, and more like a matching platform for you to find individuals with properties to rent. The level of service is much lower- I’ve had people cancel my reservations, ask me if I could change my dates, or just not respond. And, the service fees charged by airbnb are not refundable; they are between 6% and 12% of the total rental cost. See our detailed list of tips about airbnb. But, when it works, you or your family can end up staying in an entire house for the same price as a hotel room.
Renting a car in Iceland
There are dozens of rental car companies in Iceland. Here are some things to consider when choosing a company to rent from:
- Some companies have offices that are walkable from the airport. The rest offer free or inexpensive shuttles, but there’s something nice about the flexibility to just walk 3 minutes when you are ready.
- Many rental cars in Iceland are older models. You may not be used to getting a 10-year-old car when you are renting, but it can and does happen in Iceland. You’ll generally have to pay more for a newer car.
- Nearly all companies include some level of insurance in their quotes. Again, this is not typical in the United States. Many companies will offer more coverage for a fee; this will lower your maximum out-of-pocket expense. See more details in our post about rental car insurance.
We did a search of many rental car companies in Iceland. Note that this isn’t a comprehensive search, as there are many companies we missed. (Note, though, that many of the ones we missed are just agents who rent cars from another company on that list.) Blue car rental came out of the process as our choice. They rent newer model cars, have an office that is walkable from the airport, and offer more insurance in the base price than any other company.
(Note that Blue has discounted our extended summer rental vehicle. However, I approached them after writing this post.)
Other tips about renting a car in Iceland:
You are more likely to need to use your rental car insurance in Iceland. Companies seem stricter about looking for damage on the car. And you are more likely to actually have damage, whether its from the wind blowing your door open too far, or hitting a sheep. Seriously, these are both real things. Here’s a sheep crossing sign:
As for the wind damaging doors, that happens too. I guess you need to park facing the wind? Just make sure the wind doesn’t close the door right back on your kid’s fingers …
You should consider supplemental car rental insurance. Your credit card insurance probably won’t help. See more details in our car insurance post.
Avoid F roads, unless you absolutely know what you are doing. Your GPS may try to steer you onto an F road. These “roads” are unpaved and may have river crossings. You need a special vehicle. See a lot more details in our post about F roads.
Don’t let 4 wheel drive give you a false sense of security. 4 wheel drive will help you if you are stuck in snow or mud, but it won’t help you brake on ice. See our post about 4 wheel drive for more.
You probably don’t need to bring a car seat. Most rental companies offer rental seats and boosters for reasonable fees. And your seat most likely isn’t approved for use in Iceland, anyway. See our post about car seats.
Your current US driver’s license is sufficient. :”A foreign driver’s license is valid in Iceland for those who stay here on temporary basis.” Source: Icelandic Multicultural and Information Centre.
Go the speed limit. Speed limits in Iceland are exactly that: maximum speeds. Don’t assume you have a “grace period” of 5 or 10 km. You don’t, and there are speed cameras.
Don’t drink and drive. Many sites claim that the maximum blood alcohol level is 0.05, which is lower than the limit in many places in the United States.
Packing for Iceland
Our quick packing tips are:
Layers are good, for both warmth and flexibility.
The air trapped between your layers gets warm from your body heat, and acts as an extra insulator. Down jackets actually do this too, but they are bulky to pack. Also, if most of your insulation is coming from one jacket, you can’t make yourself “just a little bit” cooler; it’s all or none.
You’re usually going for 3 or 4 layers in total on the top, and typically 1 or 2 on the bottom.
Cotton is bad, and wool is good, especially for the base layer
Wool is amazing, and you should invest in some. Yes, I said invest, as wool is usually expensive. But a wool base layer- that is, the layer closest to your body- will keep you comfortable and warm. Wool is warm, it’s breathable, it stays warm when wet, and it doesn’t absorb odors. Yes, you’ll want to wash your wool base layers eventually, but you really can hang it up unwashed and wear it again the next day. You can pack less and worry less about laundry during your vacation.
A windproof outer layer is also good
If it wasn’t raining, or even if it was just raining a little, most of us wore a fleece as an outer layer. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy; we’re not going for wool here. We also brought cheap rain gear with us. In fact, we bought the cheapest rain gear we could find.
You could also wear a “regular” jacket as your outer layer, and this might be a better (warmer) idea if you’re not going in the summer. Make sure it’s large enough to fit over all of your layers that you’ll be wearing underneath; you may even want a fleece below this in winter.
See more details about our clothing recommendations here.
Getting to Reykjavik from the airport
You will land in Keflavik airport, about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik. If you are not renting a car at the airport, you will probably be looking for a way to get to Reykjavik.
You have three primary categories for your transportation: A big bus, a small bus, or a private taxi. I think the small bus is the right combination of convenience and price. The big buses make you transfer at the bus terminal in Reykjavik before you get to your hotel / lodging. See all of the details here.
Cell phone service in Iceland
We think that families visiting Iceland with kids will want to have some cell phone service. Unless you have a morbid curiosity, you can probably skip our first post about cell phones. It tells you not to just use your current phone, as you might get a phone bill of several thousand dollars. The exception is TMobile Simple Choice plans, which include international data.
Our second post about cell phones talks about adding an international calling plan to your existing contract. This can be a viable option; for $50 to $100 or so, you can get some data and some voice minutes and some texting. But you will need to keep a careful eye on your data usage, and make sure you switch to Wifi whenever it is available.
The third and most popular post discusses getting an Icelandic Sim card. For less money than those international calling plans, you can get enough data and minutes that you don’t have to worry much about usage. The two main downsides are: 1) You won’t be able to use your existing phone number, and 2) You need to have an unlocked phone to put the Sim card in. Note, though, that you can buy a perfectly adequate unlocked Android phone for around $100.
Power adapters and converters in Iceland
For most electronic devices, you will just need a simple power adapter, like this one. Make sure your device can handle 230 Volts of power; most modern electronics with a battery and a “wall wart” adapter, including cell phones, tablets, and laptops, will be just fine. (But check the fine print on the adapter just to be sure!)
If your device does not have an adapter, such as a plug-in shaver, you may need a power converter to change the voltage to the 120V your device is expecting. Note that while hair dryers may require a converter, they may also draw too much power to use one; you may have to leave the hair dryer at home. See all of the details in our post about voltage adapters and converters.
Let us know what you think, or what we missed, in the comments!