Many individuals have found Iceland to be unreachable for a long time due to poor transportation connections and exorbitant prices. Despite the fact that Iceland remains one of the world’s most costly countries, travel across Iceland has grown more affordable because to lower airfare and a well-developed backpacking infrastructure. The camps are well-kept (you’ll find one in the heart of the capital), gasoline is reasonably priced, nature is free, and there are geothermal pools on every corner for a few dollars.
Iceland exudes the air of a secretive wild island with stunning scenery. The tough Vikings stroll among the invading volcanoes in the middle of the North Atlantic, with snow-capped mountains behind them and a massive glacier connecting them. And thus, despite the fact that the twenty-first century and tourism have already arrived, I have a genuine impression of Iceland. I propose constructing your own ideal itinerary by reading through my list of favorite spots (a little touristy, a little less touristy, but all gorgeous and distinctive)!
Because of the adjacent international airport and port, most travelers begin their journey in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. Although a large percentage of people come to Iceland mainly due to nature, the island’s capital would certainly be a shame to miss. Nestled between the ocean, fjords and lava fields, the capital also gives the impression of wildness and close connection with nature.
Like most Nordic cities, Reykjavík has a special, nice and somewhat hipster atmosphere. Maybe it’s a number of cozy cafes and restaurants, where people often flee from a sudden change in weather, maybe it’s because of the stylish bars and a very cheerful nightlife, maybe it’s because of the beautiful Nordic architecture. In addition, Reykjavík is very small, and although almost half of Iceland’s population lives in it, few could complain about the vastness, overcrowding and congestion.
Most people in Reykjavík go on a tour of Hallgrímskirkja Church, Harpa Concert Hall, The Sun Voyager sculptures or one of the many museums. In my opinion, however, the atmosphere is best absorbed by walking from the Tjörnin pond around the town hall and the main square, further up to Bankastræti / Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur, which represent the center of Reykjavík as a pedestrian zone full of shops and pubs.
The Golden Circle circuit, which begins just outside Reykjavik’s city limits, is very touristy but also highly interesting. Many guided trips depart from here for the circuit, but renting a car gives you more freedom. In the summer, you can travel on an evening tour and stay at the campsites along the way to avoid the throng. Three stops are available along the three-kilometer circuit:
- Ingingvellir (Thingvellir) – the oldest parliament in the world, known as the Althing, founded in 930, is located at the confluence of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates
- Gullfoss – a waterfall on the river Hvítá falls into the canyon in two phases – the first part of the waterfall measures 11 meters and the second part of the waterfall a respectable 21 meters
- Haukadalur – a geothermal area known mainly for its two geysers – Strokkur (water gushes every 5-10 minutes) and Geysir
Rainbow mountains Landmannalaugar
Rainbow Mountains are definitely a magical place. Dozens of jeeps and buses (Reykjavík Excursions also run here) travel the rivers and conquer the unpaved F225 road in the Icelandic Highlands. In a relatively short season, Landmannalaugar is visited by more and more people, while in the mountains the crowds scatter in all directions.
There are several circuits leading through the sulfur and other influences colored by the hills (often still covered with remnants of snow). As a bonus, it is possible to take a dip in the natural geothermal pool at the end of the day. Next door is a camp with basic equipment. But don’t expect a large tourist infrastructure here, everything is very basic.
Probably the best thing one can indulge in Iceland is to walk the Laugavegur trek. One of the most beautiful treks in the world leads around the rainbow mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, lava fields and green valleys. It is 55 km from Landmannalaugar to Thórsmörk and another 25 km from Skógar. The direction from Landmannalaugar is more descending, on the other hand, if you start in Skógar, the best and hot bath awaits you.
The trek can be conquered in 3-5 days, on the way he sleeps in tents and except for a few challenges (wading of icy rivers, elevation gains, weather changes) the beginner is said to be able to handle the basic equipment.
Vík and dramatic lava beaches
Vík í Mýrdal is a small village, which is the southernmost village in Iceland. Every time I passed the Lid, an epic storm was taking place there, as if this village on the southern tip of the island was capturing all the moods of the ocean.
It’s a busy area because it’s the only point of reference on South Rd 1. Vnbin (a specialist booze store), Icewear (a large Icelandic outdoor apparel store), a swimming pool, a camp, and an iconic church on a hill are all located there.
The local shore, which is bordered with black sand beaches, sea caves, basalt formations, and stunning cliffs, attracts the majority of tourists. Reynisfjara Beach is directly at Vk, while Dyrhólaey Cliff is a few kilometers west.
Overlooked Reykjanes Peninsula
Reykjanes Peninsula is located in the southwest just below Reykjavik. It includes Keflavík with an international airport and, for example, the fishing town of Grindavík.
The Blue Lagoon, or Blue Lagoon, is the reason most tourists come. A natural geothermal pool with hot azure water and allegedly therapeutic mud at the bottom isn’t cheap entertainment, but it’s a fantastic way to end a trip to Iceland in my opinion. The bones that had been frozen by the Icelandic wind will thaw under the open sky, with a drink in hand.
Despite the fact that Reykjanes is only a short distance from Reykjavik, few people take the time to see the other intriguing spots on the island. The Gunnuhver and Krsuvk geothermal zones, as well as the North American and Eurasian tactonic plates, are examples. lava cliffs, majestic lighthouses, and little fishing communities all meet on this bridge between continents.
The mysterious peninsula of Snæfellsnes
Snæfellsnes is a long, narrow peninsula on Iceland’s west coast. It takes roughly an hour to drive from Reykjavik to Borgarnes, where Rd 54 runs the length of the peninsula. The peninsula functions as an autonomous state inside Iceland, not because of its political status, but because of the unique aura it exudes.
Gerðuberg – basalt rocks in the shape of specially formed columns
Ölkelduvatn Mineral Spring – a healthy mineral spring with a taste reminiscent of Vincent, can be drawn from a small pump in the middle of the field
Ytri Tunga beach – one of the few white sand beaches in Iceland is known for the frequent occurrence of seals in the summer months
Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge – it is possible to get to the cave in the rock through a narrow fissure
From Arnarstapi to Hellnar – this short return hike (6 km) between two villages at the very end of the peninsula is known for its views of cliffs with many rock arches and caves
Snæfellsjökull National Park – the national park is centered around a conical volcano, which became famous as a scene in the book Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
Londrangar viewpoint and Djúpalónssandur – another view of the rock formations lining the peninsula coast and the black beach
Kirkjufell mountain – this supposedly the most photographed mountain in Iceland was also the site of the GOT
Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón glacial lagoons
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon on the south coast and is one of the natural wonders of Iceland. The lake created by the melting of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier is growing every year (it has reportedly quadrupled since 1970!) And is slowly reaching the edge of the ocean, from which it is still separated by a moraine wall. Fresh water flows into the Atlantic through a short but wild run-off. The road rolls under the bridge, which is part of the main F1 Þjóðvegur, making the lagoon one of Iceland’s most easily accessible attractions.
Definitely worth a visit is the adjacent Diamond Beach. There are often several washed-up bushes on the black sand, which did not manage to melt on their miserable journey, and the waves returned them to the shore for tourists to play with.
The neighboring glacial lagoon Fjallsárlón is a bit smaller. It is very similar to Jökulsárlon in the speed of melting glaciers and increasing water area, as well as in the growing annual influx of tourists, but also in its indescribable beauty.
TIP: Both lagoons are crossed by dozens of cruise ships, boats, and kayaks. Paddleboarding is the one of these not-so-cheap activities that I would recommend. It’s a different experience than at the Brno dam, where there are a lot of curious seals and large chunks of ice shrubs that flip unpredictably. On the Breiamerkurjökull glacier, a glacier trek with cats and ice axes is an equally enjoyable experience.
Vestrahorn and the eastern fjords
Although the Eastern Fjords are not as famous as the Icelandic Westfjords or the neighboring Norwegian fjords, they are still a beautiful area that hides many treasures. Not only roadtrip lovers will enjoy the ride on the often unpaved Hwy 1, which meanders between the majestic rock peaks and the wild icy ocean. At every step, a new bay opens up, settlements and traffic thin, the desire to stop at every rest stop and take pictures of the dramatic coast.
Whether your trip to the eastern fjords runs from the north or from the south, I recommend replenishing supplies and petrol at larger points – in Egilsstaðir or Höfn. Not far from the town of Höfn is a turn to the black sandy beach at Cape Stokksnes, from where there is a good view of Vestrahorn, today one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. In addition, there is a historic Viking village built by filmmakers.
The advantage of East Fjords is that whether you stop on any section from which you go further into the mountains or waterfalls, the crowds of tourists will thin much here than on the rest of Iceland.
City Akureyri and surroundings
With a population of only 20,000 people, Akureyri is Iceland’s fourth largest city. It has the feel of a tranquil town, with charming cafes, shops, and guesthouses, as well as a tiny central area with attractive architecture. Because Akureyri sits at the far end of Eyjafjörur Bay, it is largely protected from the open sea while still enjoying the advantages of a coastal city.
North Icelandic cities like Akureyri are an ideal starting point for outdoor activities. The most popular organized tours include whale watching and horse riding.
North of Akureyri are the historic Laufas Turf Houses, which are now part of the open-air museum. East of the city is the beautiful waterfall Goðafoss. Just south of Akureyri is such a small rarity – Jólahúsið, or Christmas house, for which even Santa Claus himself would not be ashamed.
The quiet canyon of Ásbyrgi
Ásbyrgi is a glacier canyon in Iceland’s northwestern region, part of the Diamond Circle that stretches from Mvaln to Hsavk. This horseshoe-shaped canyon, which is 3.5 km in length and 1 km in width and is surrounded by deep forest, is still legally part of Vatnajökull National Park.
There is also a relaxing camp by the canyon, where I saw the most beautiful aurora borealis in Iceland in mid-September.
In the park itself, I recommend choosing a trail along the upper perimeter of the canyon, which copies the shape of a 100-meter-high cliff. Most trails are 7-12 km and by combining them it is possible to create a circuit.
The road to the canyon south of Mývaln runs along the Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls, but soon turns into an unpaved road full of pitfalls, including the occasional wading of streams. A longer detour from the north of Húsavík leads to the slightly more cultured Hwy 85. The road in the middle is passable for most car rental companies and is not covered by insurance. This is also the reason why most tourists miss a visit to Ásbyrgi. This makes it one of the few crowd-free natural monuments in Iceland.
Photogenic waterfall Seljalandsfoss
Like the vast majority of natural attractions in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is located just off the main road in the southern part of the island. Thanks to its easy accessibility, it is one of the most visited places in Iceland.
There are thousands of waterfalls in Iceland, but Seljalandsfoss is one of the most beautiful. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that the 60 meter high waterfall can be bypassed from behind. The trail leads behind the waterfall to a cave dug into the former cliffs. The view from the cave of the falling masses of water surrounded by green moss is unforgettable. It is necessary to count on a small shower of reflected water drops.
TIP: It’s probably no secret today, but a lot of people in a hurry miss it. We are talking about the neighboring waterfall Gljufrabui. It is ingeniously hidden in the rock just a few hundred meters further along the path to the north. Waterfalls are mostly magical places, but cave waterfalls are even more magical.
The town of Húsavík in the far north
Húsavík is a small fishing town in the island’s northwestern corner. If locals aren’t fishing on a boat, they work at a fish processing business, organize whale watching tours for visitors, or serve as a guide at The Whale Museum.
Another popular activity is an evening siesta in the surrounding hot pots, as this part of Iceland, like the rest of the island, is rich in geothermal resources. GeoSea Spa offers a luxurious version of swimming in hot geothermal springs on the sea shore.
Húsavík is all about the atmosphere. Beautiful Scandinavian architecture, a romantic harbor and a little less romantic scent of dovetails, a deep bay and in the distance mountains covered with snow even in the middle of the so-called summer. In the summer, the weather here is surprisingly even, although a regular dose of salty icy wind blows from the ocean. In the winter months, you will probably experience a stereotypical Iceland – a snowstorm and a spectacle of the most intense aurora borealis.
With its 198 meters, Glymur was long considered the highest waterfall in Iceland, until it was deprived of this primacy by the Morsárfoss waterfall. Nevertheless, it is one of the most beautiful waterfalls, where long strings of water fall into a deep canyon.
The journey to Glymur is an experience in itself. The trail leads through a cave, across the river along a not very stable log, through the river valley, to the very top of the rock above the waterfall. The whole route is less than 3 km long and is one-way. As Glymur is only an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, it is a popular day trip for many.
Skaftafell National Park
Skaftafell is located in the south of Iceland and is the second largest national park in the country. It was founded in 1967. Today, thanks to a number of trails, a tourist camp and good transport links, it is one of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland. But most tourists follow the first few hundred meters of the trail, so the more remote parts of the park are much less frequented.
I personally recommend going through the park a large circuit that starts like most of the smaller hikes at the Visitor Center. The whole circuit is about 18 km and on its route are all the highlights of the park. From the beginning, the path zigzags to the view of the Skaftafellsjökull glacier slide. It then climbs several kilometers along the glacier. At the fork, the path becomes an unimproved path that leads over the rocks to the top of Kristínartindar mountain (1126 m). From here, in good weather, there is a view of the Vatnajökull, Skaftafellsjökull and Morsárjökull slides. By the way, the cache is upstairs 🙂
From the top, it returns the same way to the fork, from where the trail descends across the grassy plain. Over time, the view of the second valley opens up. In the last part, the drain is reinforced and well maintained. From the Svartifoss waterfall, which falls to a depth of 12 meters, crowds of tourists join.
The magical mountains of Kerlingarfjöll
The Kerlingarfjöll, or Magic Mountains, are a volcanic mountain range in Iceland’s highlands. The geothermal springs in the area are notable for coloring the surrounding soil in colours of yellow, orange, and green. Kerlingarfjöll looks a lot like the now-famous Landmannalaugar location, which is a more popular choice for most people.
Kerlingarfjöll is one of the less visited areas in Iceland because it is located in the central part of the country. The previously unpaved road, on which several rivers had to be waded, now has bridges and is passable even for smaller jeeps. However, the road is only open from June to September, so the window for visiting these mountains is very limited. The reward is a deserted fairytale landscape and a real Icelandic adventure.
Thermal springs in Hveragerði
The small town of Hveragerdi, just a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, is an important geothermal area. There are dozens of greenhouses here, which provide the islanders with a supply of fresh vegetables and flowers. Thanks to numerous hot springs, it has recently become a popular tourist destination.
A short (7 km, return) path leads to the hot river through the Reykjadalur valley. The trail is lined with green hills, on which sheep graze happily, and passes dozens of lakes with boiling water and bubbling mud.
After a few kilometers, a cold stream meets a hot spring and together they create an ideal temperature for swimming even on cold rainy days. There is a wooden walkway and improvised wooden changing rooms around the river. Then all that remains is to find a pool, if possible without people, and dive into the natural thermal baths.
CAUTION: The ponds you meet on the way to the river are not only boiling, but can also be toxic. It is always better for the jury to take the warning signs seriously and keep their distance.
Lake Mývatn and geothermal surroundings
In Icelandic, Mvaln means “mosquito lake,” thus the meaning of the name is self-evident. The main negative of this volcanic environment is the swarms of flies, which in the summer chase even more people here. The lake and the nearby village of Reykjahl provide an excellent base for exploring the surrounding natural wonders:
Hverfjall – a huge volcanic crater located on the eastern side of the lake. With a short hike it is possible to get to the top, with a longer walk it is possible to bypass the entire crater around the perimeter.
Dimmuborgir Lava Formations – the short trail is full of interesting lava formations
Hofdi Lakeside Walk – a short trail on the shores of the lake lined with interesting stone formations
Skútustaðagígar – the shore of the southern part of the lake is dotted with dozens of small pseudo-craters, around which there is a short trail
Sigurgeir’s Bird Museum – The fauna around the lake is rich in different species of birds. Enthusiastic ornithologists and curious tourists can visit this bird museum on the west bank.
Hverir – east of Reykjahlíð it is possible to visit a geothermal area full of hissing steam and bubbling mud
Geothermal Caves – Stóragjá and Grjótagjá are the most famous flooded caves in the area, in which it was previously possible to swim. Today, you need to search the area to find the secret place of the locals who enjoy the secrets of the cave with hot water suitable for swimming.
Mývaln Nature Baths – if you do not want to climb the caves around Mývaln, just go to the local spa. The Nature Baths are very similar to the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík – they have the same beautifully warm azure water, they are purely natural, expensive and also burst at the seams.
Krafla – about 15 km northeast of Reykjahlid there is a complex of Krafla craters with a central crater filled with azure blue water
Laki Craters and Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
The Laki volcano erupted in 1783, causing climate change on numerous continents. Agricultural issues have resulted as a result of these changes, fueling civil unrest. Minor clashes became more serious over time, and the Laki explosion is often regarded as an indirect start to the French Revolution.
So that’s the history and theory of causes and consequences out of the way, here’s how to get to Laki or Lakaggar crater: A bend on the road F206 is 6 kilometers west of Kirkjubjarklaustur. The road is mostly unpaved, and numerous places require wading through the river. The craters are roughly 45 kilometers from the main road, which can take up to two hours to travel owing to bad conditions.
The good news is that if you don’t have a jeep or enough off-road experience, you can board a Reykjavik Excursions bus. These white buses on gigantic off-road bikes give passengers plenty of time and freedom at every interesting stop along the way.
Another good news is that there is a lot to see at the one-day detour:
Laki Summit – at an altitude of 818 m.n.m. is the top of the volcano, which can be easily conquered from the parking lot at the very end of the road
Craters Trail – from the top, the circuit continues through a zone of craters
Tjarnargígur – Eldborgafarvegur Crater Trail – a roughly two-hour easy trail leads around craters again, some of which have a pond inside
Fagrifoss Waterfall – an impressive, 80-meter-high waterfall on the Geirlands River is definitely worth a stop and a short walk to the lookout
Fjadrargljufur Canyon – Iceland’s most photographed canyon is located just behind the turn-off from the main road and a path with viewpoints runs along its slope
Askja Volcanic Crater
The Askja volcano is situated in the Icelandic Highlands. It generated a lunar landscape in the area after a severe explosion in 1875 and a minor eruption in 1961, which NASA opted to utilize to train astronauts.
It is now a famous tourist spot for more daring travelers. A view of Lake Skjuvatn and the flooded Vti Crater opens up after a 3-kilometer climb to the crater. The cyan-colored lake in the crater is also good for swimming due to its temperature and minerals.
The good news is that you can take a Reykjavik Excursions bus if you don’t have a jeep or enough off-road experience. Passengers have lots of time on these white buses with their massive off-road bikes.
The trip to Askja can be completed only by jeep or off-road bus as part of an organized tour. Most people go on a day trip from Reykjahlid, which is 124 km from the volcano. From the main road, however, it soon turns onto the F88 road, which is unpaved and its surface gets worse with each kilometer. The stones fly from the wheels and at any moment a river or at least a stream must wade through. Therefore, even such a short section can take up to 4 hours.
Vestfirir is a region on the same-named peninsula in Iceland’s northern area. This is unquestionably the country’s wildest and least-visited region. The previously vacant peninsula is becoming depopulated due to harsh weather conditions, weak transportation infrastructure, and a lack of work possibilities. On the contrary, an increasing number of visitors yearn for a little peace, isolation, and adventure.
Vestfirðir is mountainous, there are many fjords and the Drangajökull glacier lies inland. The biggest attractions include the Hornstrandir nature reserve, where arctic foxes literally give a good night, the photogenic Dynjandi waterfall, the Látrabjarg cliff where you can see puffins and the red Rauðisandur beach.