Untouched black sand, humongous mountains, stunning waterfalls, sizzling volcanoes, the magical Aurora Borealis, slow moving glaciers giving birth to gigantic icebergs and every other wonder that Nature can offer, you name it and you will find it in Iceland!
This island country, with places named as tongue-twisters, will never disappoint you whether you spend a month, a week or just a layover!
Before I begin to list the noteworthy stops, a few handy tips:
- Most of everything you want to explore is on the Ring Road (Highway 1) or on F-tracks (Route 88/Route 910) that are subject to weather conditions. Keep checking http://www.road.is/ for latest on road closures.
- I would highly recommend a 4×4 vehicle, if you want to enjoy the off-beat path of crossing rivers, driving across volcanic land and over the glaciers too!
- Car rentals are a few kms away from the Keflavik airport, they provide pick and drop service for customers.
- Be prepared to witness all seasons when in Iceland, so pack accordingly!
- You may mostly be the only vehicle on the road for miles, especially on F-tracks, keep refueling ‘each’ time you see a gas station.
- There is no tipping culture in Iceland. Cards are accepted almost everywhere, carrying local currency is optional
- Water, soup and bread is self-service and complimentary at most restaurants; as for water, Iceland has the purest water ever, so you can fearlessly drink even out of a running stream along the road!
- Desserts and Icelandic Yoghurt!! Thumbs up for all my fellow sweet tooths!
- Iceland is a little on the pricey side expect spending about USD 70 on an average for a meal for two at most family-run restaurants.
- You may tend to speed up, but there are speed limits and monitored highways, watch out for those! p.s. use the Waze app.
- Honestly, I suggest planning your itinerary spending most of your time in South Iceland as there is so much to see and do.
Here is the ultimate bucketlist of all the experiences that you cannot miss when in Iceland:
1. Walk behind the breathtaking Seljalandsfoss:
One of the famous tourist stops in South Iceland on Route 1. Get drenched in icy cold water, an easy hike behind the falls. We tried the clockwise route behind the falls, though a little muddy has fewer people photo-bombing your photos! 😛
Tip:Try going to this one early in the morning or closer to sunset to dodge crowds.
Tip:Avoid carrying your DSLR, unless you have humidity protection.
2. Tread on black sand at the Reynisfjara beach
Whether you are a GOT fan or not, you will enjoy exploring this spot in South Iceland. The beach is black because of the well-known volcanic rock found in Iceland – Basalt. The Basalt cave and columns make for stunning pictures!
Tip: Be warned of deceptive waves, avoid going in the water. It is not really a surf/swim friendly beach.
Tip: You cannot miss a few other spots around there- the scenic views from Dyrholaey , Dyrholaey Lighthouse and the lookout at Kirkjufjara beach. The approach road is steep and rough, but as there is ample parking at every spot, avoid hiking from one spot to the other.
3. Admire the mystic waterfall – Skogafoss
Another waterfall in South Iceland, that you can climb up to or just enjoy from afar. You can catch a single or double rainbow quite often on sunny days.
Tip: Try planning this one closer to sunset, for pretty pictures and lesser crowds.
4. Meet the largest glacier in Europe-Vatnajokull
Have you ever heard a glacier roar when huge pieces, we call icebergs, crash into the water? If not, go witness the majestic glacier that looks awe inspiring from far, near, above and upon. There are a number of activities you can enjoy based on your comfort level; be it a guided 4×4 drive over the glacier, or the challenging glacier walk or just a boat ride to tour the glacier lagoons up close.
Tip: Vatnajokull National Park that stretches across the 30 outlets of the glacier includes waterfalls like Svartifoss – Black Falls (Skaftafell National Park) and Dettifoss (Europe’s most powerful waterfall)
Tip: Hvannadalshnukur (highest peak in Iceland) can be seen on a fairly clear day from Skaftafell. It is a challenging hike, a mountain guide is recommended due to the hidden crevasses.
Tip: It gets confusing as to which outlet is best for a glacier tour; highly recommend a guided tour. Try ice.explorers for jeep tours, and ice cave tours (in winters).
Tip: You can alternatively take the helicopter tour from Reykjavik (Avg. USD 700 ) to witness the glacier tongues. Check for the Fire & Ice tour with NordurFlag
5. Tour the glacial lagoon – Jokulsarlon
You literally witness heaven on Earth when you see the floating icebergs on still blue water! You may seldom hear the roar of new icebergs crashing into the lagoon, it is surreal.
Tip: There are 2 types of boat tours the Zodiac boat tour that takes you closer to the icebergs and the Amphibian boat tour that takes you around but distant, due to the boat size.
Tip: The Zodiac tour is worth the time you spend, there are several tours through the day depending on the month you visit. Check TripAdvisor for latest deals, it should cost you ~USD 80 for the tour.
Tip: Just a minute away is the Diamond Beach, where you will find huge sparkling crystals of ice lying on the beach. It is a beautiful sight where the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon laden with floating icebergs converges into the sea, totally a worth visit.
6. Visit the volcanic lake – Askja Crater
Are you up for some adventure? Then, drive up your sturdy midsize 4×4 on the rugged route to the most beautiful place in Iceland – the Askja crater. It is basically a cauldron formed by a lava chamber whose roof collapsed during an eruption. It is a 40 min hike from the car park, that you will come to witness the milky blue waters of Viti.
Tip: It is accessible during the summer months May-Sept when the F roads re-open. Recommend not using the F88 route which has several deep river crossings that require a special vehicle stronger than a 4×4.
Tip: Be aware that the route requires a 4×4 with the torque to stride over rocky terrain and provide decent clearance to cross rivers. It is easier to approach the spot from Akureyri and Myvatn using Highway 1 (also with easier river crossings). You can then catch the Road 901 turning right into F905 for 21 kms to get you onto F910 for the rest of the journey.
Tip: Google Maps will show you a dash lined path when you seek navigation for destinations on F roads.
7. Witness Iceland’s most visited active geysir – Strokkur
Sourced from the second largest glacier in Iceland – Langjokull, this natural geysir erupts up to a height of 20 metres every 6-8 minutes. Situated in the active Geysir Geothermal Area, there are fuming mudholes and geysirs all around.
Tip: It is a famous tourist spot year round, being the key highlights in the Golden Circle tour. You can still dodge crowds with an early morning visit.
8. Get close to the pie shaped waterfall – Gullfoss
It is an uplifting experience to stand in the mist of this 2-stepped massive waterfall. We also enjoyed the views around as multiple rainbows called for camera clicks.
Tip: Another famous spot on the Golden Circle, carry a raincoat as the mist gets stronger closer to the falls.
9. Relax in the wonder of the world – the Blue Lagoon
After long drives and challenging hikes, your soar muscles yearn for a relaxing, hot water spa. The Blue Lagoon is totally worth the time and price. With a pool bar, silica face pack and hot water therapy, I was totally not ready to leave the lagoon! 😛
Tip: I recommend spending the entire day, you can opt for the premium package which includes dine and drinks to keep you refilled. Should cost you ~USD 80.
Tip: Retreat Spa is an exclusive package if you are interested in treatments and some more pampering, which could roughly cost you around USD 250.
10. When the Arctic Circle is calling – take the ferry to Grimsey
Did you imagine what it would be to visit the Arctic Circle? Well, the Arctic Circle currently runs through this almost uninhabited island, one of the main attraction for visitors. Expect to keep an entire day for this visit, there are ferries 5 times a week (in summer) and thrice a week (in winter) from mainland Iceland (i.e. Dalvik). It takes about three hours, each-way, to get to the island. You can also plan to load the car, but need to arrive an hour in advance to the ferry terminal.
Tip: While the Arctic Circle line is moving further north each year due to the tilt of the Earth and tidal forces from the Moon, it is expected that by the mid of the 21st Century this line will no more remain in Grimsey. More reasons to visit, I say!
11. Lady Luck in my favor you be – the Northern Lights dancing I want to see!
What you chase, is not meant to be chased – this is exactly true for the Northern Lights. The season begins in Sept and continues all winter. But sometimes even on clear skies you may not end up seeing the Aurora Borealis activity. It is a natural phenomenon and cannot be guaranteed, but all you can do is be positive, patient and expect nothing. You wouldn’t realize but on the most unexpected night when your camera is in the trunk, the dancing lights will grace your path!
Tip: There are many Northern Lights’ tours that you could go on, and come back with some star gazing because they just take you to spots away from the city light pollution but this phenomenon happens only when it has to! You can keep an eye on http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/ for aurora forecasts.
Tip: Try driving away from the city on a clear sky night, and you have more chances of witnessing the most beautiful show ever. But don’t plan your trip focusing on this phenomenon as you may end up disappointed.
By far, the above bucketlist is just the key highlights of a trip to Iceland. Nevertheless, there is so much more that you can explore.
If you are planning for a trip, message me and I would be happy to help you with a detailed itinerary including viable stay options, dining and some other useful tips! 🙂