Reykjavik – A winter city break

I’d always imagined that when we went to Iceland it would be for an epic 2 week, road trip in a camper van. Turns out that Reykjavik is also perfect for a family, winter, short city break.

We spent 4 nights in Reykjavik over New Year and didn’t manage to see everything Iceland has to offer but did manage to get do enough to know that we love it as a city break. Everyone we met was so friendly and it’s a very easy destination with children and there are so many activities and food options.

We especially enjoyed being there over New Year as we got to experience the Christmas decorations as well as the New Year celebrations. It’s traditional in Iceland to buy fireworks on New Year’s Eve and set them off, the fireworks started early evening and continued all night until well after midnight.

We visited in December 2021 when Pip was 9 and would definitely recommend Iceland as a family friendly destination whether you are doing a road trip or just a city break.

What we got up to.

Fly Over Iceland

Fly Over Iceland is a flight simulator ride which takes you over the mountains, volanoes and glaciers of Iceland without leaving Reykjavik. The experience gives you a glimpse in to Icelandic history and story telling before taking you on a virtual ride where you will actually feel like you are soaring over Iceland. The cinematography is breath taking and well worth a visit. They also have a second show which allows you to fly over the Wild West of the USA. This was also spectacular although our favourite was definitely the Iceland flight.

Fly over Iceland also has a small gift shop and an excellent cafe. Tickets are available for each show individually or you can get a combined ticket for both.

The Lava Tunnel

If you have ever wanted to walk through a 5000 year old lava tunnel then this is the activity for you. We arrived in the dark to a small building on the side of the road and were given hard hats and crampons. It’s then a short walk from the back of the building, down a small slope and through a door in the hillside and you are inside the lava tunnel. The tour is guided so you are in safe hands and are told all about how the tunnel was formed and the geology. Nowadays there are walk ways and lighting but it’s really amazing to think that you are standing somewhere that has looked the same for 5000 years. There are group guided tours available throughout the day or you can book a private tour that will take you further in to the tunnel, you can even hire the party platform for a special occasion!

Reykjavik Folklore Walking Tour

This was a really fun way to see a bit of the city and find out about Iceland’s sagas and folklore stories. We visited graveyards and elf rocks. We also learned how to raise a zombie from the grave to curse your enemies and their descents and how to get rid of an elf curse (all useful skills).

We booked the tour through AirBnB experiences. Pip was the only child on the tour and there was a little bad language which we were fine with but some families or younger children may not be.

The Blue Lagoon

There are many geothermal springs around Iceland and the Blue Lagoon is possibly the most well known. It was the perfect way to spend New Year’s day after our late night. Despite the -18 degree wind-chill and 50 mph winds, Pip has still declared it the best thing we did on our trip.

Your ticket gets you a face mask and one drink and you can use your wristband to pay for additional drinks in the swim up bar. The water was beautifully warm and we thoroughly enjoyed our time. There is a full blog post on The Blue Lagoon here.

Golden Circle Tour

We did the Classic Golden Circle tour with Reykjavik sightseeing. I am glad we chose a tour as the wind was so strong the day we went and I wouldn’t have wanted to drive in it.

There were 3 stops on the tour; Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and Strokkur geyser. Unfortunately we didn’t get to visit Þingvellir National Park and walk down the lava canyon where the American and Eurasian continents have pulled apart because it was still dark when we arrived even though it was 10am. Instead our driver made an impromptu stop at his friend’s Icelandic Horse Farm where we got to meet some of the older horses who were in stables because they didn’t like the fireworks. This completely made Pip’s day!

It was fully light when got to Gullfoss which was just spectacular. The winter ice made it even more impressive. You can walk down to the viewing area or there is top path which let’s you view the falls from higher up.

There is a lovely cafe, gift shop and toilets in the parking area where we had one of the best hot chocolates I have ever had. Tours also go from here up on to the glacier although they weren’t running the day we visited due to the bad weather.

The final stop was Stokkur geyser which goes off every 5-8 mins. We had a lot of fun getting covered in the spray which then froze and trying to guess when it would go off again. Again there is very nice restaurant, gift shop and toilets.


This is the famous church that stands above downtown Reykjavik. You can go up the tower for ISK 1000 (ISK 100 for 7-16 year olds). There are steps or a lift and there is an amazing view from the top.


Perlan is the domed building you can see on the hill above Reykjavik, it would be a short taxi ride from downtown but we chose to get some fresh air and walk and it was a really easy 40 minute walk.

Perlan is Iceland’s largest natural history museum. Here you can learn and about the geology and volcanic history, the country’s wildlife, water and ice. There are various hand’s on exhibitions which makes it great for children and there is a Northern Lights planetarium show and a 100 metre ice tunnel to explore. This is all included in your ticket.

In the dome there is a revolving restaurant with views across Reykjavik and there is a 360° viewing platform on the floor below. For the adventure seekers there is a zip line from the viewing platform.

Reykjavik Old Harbour

This is where Fly Over Iceland is located as well as the Whales of Iceland Exhibition, that we didn’t get chance to visit but it looked fascinating.

Grandi Mathöll is also here which is one of Reykjavik’s food halls. We tried fish and chips, shrimp tacos and Paneer tikka masala and it was all delicious.

There are several other restaurants in this area and this is also where the whale and puffin watching tours go from.

The Sun Voyager

We wandered down to the Sun Voyager several times whilst we were in Reykjavik. It’s an impressive sight both day and night.

Christmas in Reykjavik

As well as the twinkling lights all over Reykjavik you can also see a giant Christmas cat. (the cat eats those who don;t get new clothes for Christmas!) Icelanders are visited by 13 Yule Lads in the run up to Christmas and you can see them projected on the buildings across town. We enjoyed spotting them and trying to guess which one it was. On the last day we discovered a QR code on a sign that took us to a city wide Christmas game which would have been fun to play.


There are so may great places to eat in Reykjavik, everything from Icelandic to Nepalese via Pakistan, Italy and Vietnam. We didn’t have any bad meals when we were there but our favourite was the Laundromat Cafe.

If you want to eat out on New Year’s Eve you will need to book in advance as restaurants get very booked up. Quite a few places are also shut on New Year’s day so plan in advance.

There are also many small supermarkets around town that do snacks, sandwiches and some have hot counters where you can get pizza slices.


We stayed at Hotel Reykjavik Centrum which was in a perfect location right in the heart of downtown Reykjavik. Over the Christmas period there was a small ice rink just down the street.

We had a Junior suite so Pippa had a separate area which she loved. The hotel was spotless and the breakfast was delicious. There was a shop in reception selling drinks and snacks and they have a bar that does great hot chocolates. There is a small supermarket almost next door.


Downtown Reykjavik is very walkable and we were able to get most places on foot. The tours we did, we were picked up from our hotel. Because of transportation restrictions in central Reykjavik, you will usually be picked up from your hotel by minibus and then transfer to the main tour bus at a central hub. This worked really well.

Reykjavik also has a good public bus system although we didn’t need to use it.

We booked an airport transfer through Grayline which was great, there did seem to be several other companies offering a similar service.

All our transfers were easy and well organised. Most of the transfer buses and tour buses had wifi which was great for when Pip when she got bored. Pip no longer uses a car seat so I am not sure how easy that would be. All buses have seat belts and it is mandatory to wear them.

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