Passionate hikers and adventurers behold! We’ve found your ideal destination. Loved by many because of its intrinsic wildness, Iceland is Europe’s second-largest island (after the UK). Visited by many nowadays, this tiny northern island can’t be visited just once, because its scenery and landscape will change on the basis of seasons. However, when to visit this beautiful green land? Hikers may want to pay a visit to it during the months of July and August, as they’ll be able to witness the famous Midnight sun and the temperatures will definitely be warmer and easier to bear.
On the other hand, there is something curiously attractive about this unusual volcanic landscape covered with freshly-fallen snow, as long as you are dressed to cope with snow, ice and the biting winds that sweep across the island.
From hiking to whale watching to horse riding in the middle of green pastures to bathing in relaxing hot springs, the Icelandic experience will have you immerse yourself in nature, getting in touch with your true self, starting out from the Golden Circle.
Start your journey in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Reykjavik is a colorful little town, full of tiny little clapboard houses of the old town in contrast with more modern buildings such as the NNational Theatre (made famous by Bjork’s first 1977 album cover) and the University. The town is dominated by the Hallgrímskirkja cathedral, which sits atop the city’s highest hill. Designed in the late thirties, the church is a Lutheran parish church and is considered to be the tallest building in the country. The principal road of this tiny town, called Skólavörðustígur, is also full of cute shops where you’ll be able to find the typical knitted sweater “Lopapeysa”, which has since 1944, following their independence from Denmark, become a symbol and icon of Icelandic cultural identity. Don’t want to leave without a little traditional souvenir? Inside a variety of little stores on the high street you’ll be able to find an interesting range of gifts, ranging from Viking souvenirs, to old fiction and beautiful sagas. Where to stop for bite? Popular amongst tourists and locals alike is Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, a little stand which sells hot dogs and has been opened since the 1930s. In 2006, it was even selected by the Guardian as the best hot dog stand in Europe! However, if you want to have a proper meal, we suggest heading to one of these restaurants: Bryggjan Brugghus Bistro & Brewery or Islenski barinn The Icelandic Bar. The first restaurant is considered to be Iceland’s first micro-brewery and bistro located in the trendiest area of Reykjavik harbor side. The restaurant offers delicious local food in a cool atmosphere and world class beverages brewed on site. The second instead offers Icelandic food with a twist, the perfect place where tourists mix in with locals.
You can head to truly anywhere from Reykjavík, but we suggest heading to the Blue Lagoon, the light blue pools famously raved on by celebrities and locals alike.
The Blue Lagoon has now become a bit of a touristic attraction, however it is one of those experiences not to miss, as immersing yourself in the misty embrace of these geothermal springs, you will leave feeling freshly scrubbed, and with silky soft, smooth skin.
Next stop along the Golden Circle tour is the Great Geysir. A favorite amongst the stops on the Golden Circle, this hot Spring Area with boiling mud pits, exploding geysers and the lively Strokkur spouts water 30 metres (100 ft) into the air every few minutes.
If, however you’re looking to unwind in a rather more private space, we also recommend to visit the Hrunalaug Hot Spring, a secret hot spring that hails back to the Viking era. In the past these hot springs were relatively unknown, but now thanks to Instagram, they are quite popular, so we recommend going either early in the morning or late at night.
Where to go close by? Visiting waterfalls is a must in Iceland, as you will be wowed by their majestic power and feel even closer to the spiritual power of nature. There are two waterfalls you should definitely pay a visit to: the one first up is the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which falls from 60 metres of height. The beauty of it lies in the fact that you can walk around them through a hidden path, so you can view the fall from a complete 360° angle. Other waterfalls worth visiting are the Skogafoss waterfalls, located on the Skoga river. Like the Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, they drop from a height of 60m and are surrounded by great green majestic planes, however what many people don’t know, is that they will be wowed by a marvelous view if they’ll try to venture up the steep trail that brings you to the top of Skogafoss waterfalls. The climb is quite hard and long, yet it offers a unique view across the valley, and is certainly an unforgettable experience.
Another site nearby which has been raved about endlessly is the famous site of the Solheimasandur Plane wreck, where in 1973, a US plane crashed. The scenery draws many visitors every year, and has been featured in countless TV commercials, videos and films (including a Justin Bieber music video!). It is quite a macabre and unique sight for the eyes, as the crushed plane strikes an impressive contrast against the black beach surrounding it. Our tip is not to go during the winter as getting lost on Sólheimasandur is no joke: the glacial outwash plains of South Iceland have claimed numerous lives.
Ten minutes’ drive from Vík, and two hours away from Reykjavík, you will find Dyrhólaey, the stone arch that was eroded by the ocean from the mainland over time. The place offers views of many locations, from the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the Reynisdrangar sea-stacks from the black lava, and the mountains and glacier of Eyjafjallajökull.
A protected natural reserve, Dyrhólaey is a site for nesting birds, such as the beautiful Atlantic Puffins, between the spring and summer times.
If you were impressed by the black sand which sets the scene for the Plane Wreck, then you must pay a visit to Reynisfjara, most famously known as black sand beach. This particular beach is considered to be the most famous beach on the southern coast of Iceland, as its beautiful black sand is the result of years of volcanic rock eroding. Where have I seen it already, you may ask yourself? The black sand, powerful waves, and the nearby Reynisdrangar sea stacks, are a popular filming spot, especially for the fantasy and adventure genre (Game of Thrones and Star Wars are a few names worth mentioning).
Literally meaning ‘glacial river lagoon’, Jökulsárlón is a large glacial lake on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park, located on the southeastern side of the country and developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. From here you can decide to take a tour beneath the glacier or simply take a walk amongst the famous Diamond beach, which is located on the other side of the road. This beautiful black sand beach is named this way as it is full of ice-cubes and crystals that are washed up from the sea. It is a beautiful sight for the eyes especially at dawn, sunrise or sunset as light hits the icebergs, creating an extraordinary refracting play of light.
From there we suggest sleeping in the neighboring small fishing village of Hofn, and having dinner at Pakkhus, a restaurant overlooking the harbor in Höfn í Hornafjörður. Being located in a fishing village, it comes as no surprise that the restaurant serves amazing fish plates, mixing old school Icelandic flavors with a contemporary twist.
Made up of multicolored wooden houses and surrounded by snowcapped mountains and cascading waterfalls, super-picturesque Seydisfjordur, is the most interesting town in the Eastern area of Iceland. The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy followed the Yellow Brick Road, so why don’t you follow the Seydisfjordur’s Rainbow brick road? This multicolored street will lead you to a cute, Blue Church serving as a sweet backdrop. The rainbow street features in many advertising campaigns and it is a popular tourist photo opportunity. After a long day of travelling around, stop for a coffee or a home-brewed beer at Kaffi Làra El Grillo bar, a family-run restaurant and bar located by the lagoon in the heart of Seyðisfjörður. The restaurant prides itself on its local brewed beers and Icelandic grilled meats, as well as quality coffee and homebred cakes, the perfect little hotspot to take a little break at.
We suggest staying at the Wilderness Center, a very typical wooden hideaway, located right on the edge of Northern Europe´s most extensive wilderness. A wooden hut, looking like a doll’s house, the hotel offers the possibility of participating in a variety of activities. One can go hiking along waterfalls, cross the river on a cable-bridge, go horseback riding, rent mountain bikes, go fishing, gaze at the stars in the stargazing hut or visit the creative museum about the history of the Icelandic wilderness, where one can walk into the adventures of the Icelandic wilderness and be touched by the dramatic struggle between the forces of nature and the Icelander’s fight to survive.
Before heading to Myvatn, the volcanic lake in the northern area of Iceland, head over to Möðrudalur Farm, for a coffee break or a nice little lunch. The farm is located right in the middle of nowhere, in the wilderness of Iceland, 469 meters above sea level. It is like entering an oasis after having driven through the rugged wilderness of Iceland. From there and if you haven’t had enough of dipping your toes inside some bubbly hot springs, head over to Myvatn’s Nature Baths. These hot springs are a definitely less touristic version of the Blue Lagoon, and the great thing is that you won’t have to book any tickets in advance to enter.
Hikers will love paying a visit to exploded crater of Hverfjall, which is one of Iceland's most beautiful and symmetrical explosion craters, besides being one of the largest of its kind in the world. It is said that the crater was created during a volcanic explosion, and its age is estimated to be around 2800 - 2900 years.
Alongside the crater, you’ll find Hverarond, one of the greatest geothermic sulfur expanses in Iceland, is one of the most peculiar and curious places you’ll ever get to visit, an expanse full of hot springs, fumaroles, mud pools and mud pots, which all are at a boiling point in the stunning arctic desert. There is no vegetation in sight and the constant emission of fumes has made the ground completely sterile and acidic, thus unfit to sustain flora and fauna. But the colorful minerals defy imagination.
Close by you’ll find one of the most magical and spiritual locations present in Iceland, the Godafoss waterfalls. The waterfalls are not only one of the most beautiful locations around the island, but also have a particular history related to them. Legend says that in the 9th and 10th century, as Christianity started settling in as the principal religion, to symbolize the schism from paganism to Christianity, one of the major priests returned to his home in north Iceland and threw idols of the Old Gods into a beautiful waterfall, thus the waterfalls have been known as ‘waterfalls of the gods’ ever since. As you may have gotten by now, HBO’s Game of Thrones filmed many scenes on the island, one of these was filmed at Grjótagjá, a small lava cave located near lake Mývatn in north Iceland. The cave is famous for featuring a beautiful geothermal hot spring in its depths, which until the 1970s was a popular bathing site.
Where to sleep in the area? Akureyri, is probably the best choice, as the city happens to be the second largest city in Iceland after Reykjavik, and you will find cute and rather more modern hotels. Akureyri is often branded as the 'Capital of the North’ and is full of plenty of things to do, from shopping to restaurants to activities outside the town itself.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to stay in the city, we suggest staying at this AIRBNB, called Villa Lola, an architectural wooden house located in the valley Vaðlaheiði near Akureyri. The house itself is super modern and boasts a marvelous view over the bay and Akureyri. This is the perfect little spot to enjoy the aurora borealis in winter and the midnight sun during summer time.
Of course, you mustn’t leave Iceland without going on a whale watching tour. After breakfast, join a group going on a tour. The area surrounding Akureyri is teeming with sea creatures, most notably whales and other cetacean species such as dolphins and porpoises, however, most common sightings are that of humpback whales, harbor porpoises, mink whales and dolphins. Encounters with rare species such as blue whales and orcas are much more commonplace in the North of Iceland, making it the perfect destination to take to the sea and search for its gentle giants.
Some tours offer lunch on the boat, or otherwise, you can have lunch in the neighboring village of Siglufjörður at Hannes Boy Sera, a unique but homey restaurant that offers a cozy and romantic environment on Siglo´s marina village. Otherwise, if you want to take a break you can also have dinner at Brimnes hotel, a hotel we suggest staying in which is fifteen minutes away from Akureyri, and is famously located in the wilderness, where you’ll be able to see the Northern Lights.
Going back south will take a while, so we advise taking a day to travel without stopping to visiting much. As the trip back south is long, take a little break at Arnastapi, where you should probably rest for the night. Something worth visiting in the area is the Glaumbær Farm & Museum, home of a very cute cafè called Askaffi, which offers traditional cakes and tea in a late 19th century rural background.
If you’re traveling in solitude or with a lover, dip your toes in the Landbrotalaug, considered to be one of the most romantic hot springs in the whole of Iceland. They are quite difficult to find and fit only two or three people, thus why they are considered to be quite special and intimate. Nearby, you will also find one of the only beaches in Iceland that has golden sand, Ytri Tunga a beach by a farm of the same name on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The beach is a well-known seal colony, so expect to find a lot of seals bathing or soaking some warmth from the sun rays. Film buffs may be aware that Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed in an area near the sea colony (and not in GreenLand – like the film states).
You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that you can actually visit the mountain where they filmed a series of scenes from the movie, especially the one where Walter skates down the mountain freely. This film location is Kirkjufell Mountain, a beautifully shaped, symmetric, free standing mountain. Its name signifies 'Church Mountain’ and it is claimed to be one of the most photographed mountains in the country. Last but not least, before heading back to Reykjavík pay a visit to the famous Black Church. Located on the south coast of Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula, the church stands in stark contrast with the background and the tiny neighboring village existing in the middle of the Icelandic landscape.
If you want to have a truly magical tour of Iceland, either following the Southern Coast of Iceland or the Golden Circle then make sure you book in advance via Buubble, a service which provides a short tour or weekly tour of the best hotspots in Iceland, concluding with a stay at the world-famous Bubble Hotel. It is truly a unique experience as you’ll be able to sleep in bubbles with a view of the night sky. Each bubble is secluded in its own area and there's no worries of neighbors. Other hotels we advise staying at are the Eleven Experience Deplar Farm ION Adventure Hotel and the Frost and Fire Hotel. The first is located in the off-grid Troll Peninsula and is housed inside a converted sheep farm, blending into the natural landscape with its black timber cladding and living roof and it is said to have one of the most beautiful spas in the country. The second hotel instead, is a boutique hotel on the Varmá river in Hveragerdi, just 30 minutes away from Reykjavík, and offers spa facilities like a geothermal pool, outdoor hot tubs and sauna.