These days every self-respecting globe trotter has Iceland firmly pegged on their bucket list. Understandably, as the northerly island nation is a gorgeous, fascinating and unique location. From the volcanoes and geothermal hot springs to the black beaches and sharp cliffs, from the isolated steepled churches to the colourful buildings of seaside villages, from the glacier caves to the Northern Lights, and from the fields of lupines to the barren mountains of the interior, Iceland seemingly has it all when it comes to the perfect tourism offering. Powerless against the pull of these attractions, we at Follow Alice have put together a 9-day trip and a 13-day trip that take in many of the Wonders of Iceland.
Our Iceland trip starts and ends in Reykjaviík, the capital city. We spend our days travelling the ring road of the country, stopping off at some of the most noteworthy and beautiful locations. Our local guide is there to ensure we’re safe and that we always get the most out of the places we visit. We regularly make time for evening dips in hot springs. And finally, on our longer itinerary, we also strap on our hiking boots and head into the formidable interior for a trek like no other. We hope you’ll join us on our next Icelandic adventure!
Here is our suggested itinerary for the perfect Iceland getaway …
Today we all meet up in Reykjaviík, Iceland’s largest and capital city. Reykjavík is a gorgeous seaside city. It’s flat and one of the safest cities in the world, so strolling around to visit just the best coffee spots, museums, galleries, viewpoints and restaurants is a must.
The striking Evangelical-Lutheran Hallgrimskirkja Church that you’ve doubtless seen in photographs can be found in the centre of the city. It took 41 years to complete. The church’s architect Guðjón Samúelsson said he designed it to reflect the rocks, glaciers and mountains of Iceland. Specifically, the thin basalt columns of Svartifoss (which we visit on Day 4) were an inspiration.
If you’re a history junkie, Reykjavík has several fantastic museums. Standouts include the Maritime Museum, nearby Saga Museum, Árbær Open Air Museum, National Museum of Iceland and innovative Icelandic Punk Museum. These establishments chronicle the country’s famous Viking past, Christian tradition and much more.
Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa just south of Reykjavík. It’s one of the country’s most famous tourist spots and is a fantastic way to induct yourself in the unique outdoor life of Iceland. The waters of the Blue Lagoon remain between 37 and 39 °C (99 and 102 °F), so you can take a dip at any time of the year. The water has a pale, milky blue colour because of the silica in it. Silica is very good for your skin, as it helps with collagen creation.
Tonight we stay over in Reykjavík, as you’ve done enough travelling for one day! We head out for dinner together in the evening, a great way to break the ice and get to know all of your travelling companions.
During our trip we travel the ring road of Iceland in an anticlockwise direction.
Today we explore the so-called Golden Circle, three natural attractions that are in close proximity to one another and can be visited within a day. These attractions are Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss waterfall, and the two geysers Geysir and Strokkur.
Gullfoss is a wide and powerful two-drop waterfall located in the canyon of the Hvítá river. The largest drop is 21 m. It’s a spectacular and popular tourist attraction, with an easy footpath leading you to the canyon’s edge.
Thingvellir National Park is one of Iceland’s only three national parks. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Althing, the parliament of Iceland and the oldest surviving parliament in the world, was founded in Thingvellir in 930 and remained there until 1800. Other sites of interest to visit in the park include Thingvellir Church and the ruins of old stone shelters.
Geysir – also known as the Great Geyser – is a centuries-old geyser within Thingvellir National Park. The English word geyser is (unsurprisingly) derived from the Icelandic word geysir, which means ‘gusher’. The nearby Strokkur geyser erupts every five to 10 minutes, guaranteeing visitors the chance to see a geyser in action. It shoots hot water into the air in a plume that can reach 30 m high. It’s a fantastic sight to behold!
Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss waterfall and Geysir form Iceland’s ‘Golden Circle’, a daylong sightseeing route.
There’s the option to go snowmobiling on Langjökull, Iceland’s second largest glacier. This is a fantastic and exhilarating way to see a heady amount of Thingvellir’s stunning scenery. Do note, however, that you need a current driver’s licence to be allowed to drive a snowmobile.
Tonight we stay in Selfoss, a town in southwest Iceland on the banks of the Ölfusá river. The town is 50 km south of Reykjavík.
Seljalandsfoss is a high, single-drop waterfall that has its origin in Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano glacier. The water plunges 60 m over the cliff’s edge and collects in a dark pool before meandering away over the flat countryside to find the ocean. What’s particularly special about Seljalandsfoss is that you can walk behind it. Standing in the small cave behind the falls and looking out over the countryside is truly special.
Vík í Mýrdal (or just Vík) is a small, isolated village that sits tucked between the wall of Mýrdalsjökull glacier and the sea. Like so much of Iceland, Vík is dense with golden photography moments. The shoreline is striking for its beach of black basalt pebbles. The cliffs to the west of the beach are a major seabird haunt, and puffins burrow in the sand in nesting season. Just off the coast are jagged basalt stacks that legend says are trolls who waded out and were caught by the rising sun. And then there’s also Reyniskirkja, the white-walled, red-roofed and steepled wooden church dating to 1929 that stands tall among the modest bungalows of the village.
Next we head to Vatnajökull National Park, a wilderness area centred on Vatnajökull glacier. It’s one of only three national parks in Iceland and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is an immense 14,141 km² and includes the former Skaftafell National Park. Being so large, the landscape of the park varies greatly. It includes snow-encrusted mountains, enormous glaciers, glacial lagoons, ice caves and numerous hot springs, rivers and waterfalls.
Today is our first of two days in the park and we head straight for the famous Fjadrárgljúfur canyon. This short but remarkable canyon rises steeply out of the ground to reach a height of 100 m. The canyon is quite narrow, with jagged spurs that plunge vertically to the canyon floor and the Fjadrá River. The river wends its way through the valley floor between low-lying banks (and around little islands) covered in grey rocks and pebbles as well as grass and moss. Oh, and did we mention the gorgeous waterfall??
A glacier cave tour is a magical experience. We head to Katla Ice Cave, an immense and ethereal natural cave in Kötlujökull glacier. After an exhilarating super jeep ride through the countryside to reach the cave, it’s time to put on crampons and helmets and enter the cave! Often the entrance has a menacing sheet of icicles draped over its lip. Inside, the ice tunnel has strata that alternate between aqua, milk, orange and charcoal in colour. The tour is a guided one, so you’ll learn all about the cave and how it formed. This is a classic Icelandic outing that will gift you powerful memories.
We spend the night in the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (or Klauster for short) in the south of Iceland and not far from the coast. The village name means ‘church farm cloister’.
Svartifoss is a justifiably well-known Icelandic waterfall. The dark lava columns that flank the thin falls create a striking tableau. As mentioned earlier, the basalt columns were the inspiration for Reykjavík’s Hallgrimskirkja Church. These columns regularly break off and fall into the pool of water below. The jagged rocks in the pool are just another aspect contributing to the drama of this unique site.
We also stop by Hofskirkja, the last turf church left in Iceland! Built in 1884, the wooden church’s A-frame roof reaches all the way to the ground and is covered in grass. Churches were built this way to keep the interiors warm in the harsh Icelandic climate. It’s an incredibly charming sight.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is an incredibly exciting destination, and there’s no way you can visit Iceland without stopping here. The lagoon formed when the Breidamerkurjökull glacier started to recede away from the ocean’s edge. The still, clear waters of the lagoon are home to countless small icebergs. The icebergs are stained with streaks of black, giving them a distinct look. The best way to enjoy the lagoon is on a boat ride or a kayak.
The lagoon empties through a small channel into the ocean. It deposits icebergs onto the black sand, leading to the beach being known as Diamond Beach. The wonders of Iceland never cease to amaze!
Vatnajökull is a massive glacier, and one of the best ways to appreciate it – and up the adventure! – is to go on a glacier hike in Skaftafell. To get to the starting point of the hike, which takes place on Vatnajökull’s outlet glacier of Breidamerkurjökull, you take a 30-minute 4×4 ride. Your guide then kits you out with a helmet, crampons and harness and explains how to walk on the glacier. Then it’s time to walk up on the ice cap! During the walk you’ll see fantastic ice formations and deep crevasses. Your guide will tell you all about the glacier’s formation, the changes it’s been undergoing, and the surrounding landscape.
We overnight in the fishing town of Höfn in the southeast of the country, not far from Hornafjörður fjord. You can see Vatnajökull from the town. This is Europe’s largest ice cap by volume, and it covers 8% of Iceland.
Today we travel through the Eastfjords, a distinct region of Iceland known for its sharp peaks, many waterfalls, reindeer herds, small villages, European influences, and rich folklore. The Eastfjords is also home to the Hallormsstadur National Forest, the country’s largest forest. We pay a brief visit today to Vestrahorn, a gorgeously desolate coastal mountain with jagged peaks.
Djúpivogur is a small town on a peninsula in the Austurland region of Iceland. It has a long history of trade that goes back to the sixteenth century. The local bird sanctuary Búlandsnes is loved by birders around the world for its rich stock of Icelandic birds. Another great spot is the 2009 sculpture Eggin í Gleðivík (‘Eggs at Marry Bay’) by artist Sigurdur Gudmundsson. This outdoor sculpture consists of 34 massive eggs each resting on a pedestal and spaced evenly apart along the bay. The eggs represent the 34 bird species that nest in the area.
Stödvarfjördur is a small village of 200 inhabitants that sits on the shore of a fjord with the same name. Archaeologists have found a Viking longhouse here that they believe was built around 800 AD! We stop by here to appreciate the gorgeous scenery. On the northside of the fjord are the immense Stedji and Hellufjall mountains, while on the southside is the impressive Súlur mountain.
The Eastfjords is an enormously pretty area and we can’t wait to show it to you.
Tonight we stay in the picturesque east Icelandic village of Egilsstaðir. Located in Fljótsdalshérað, Egilsstaðir is home to a lively and forward-thinking community of locals who are passionate about the environment, the arts and the numerous cultural events that take place every year.
Mývatn is a shallow volcanic lake with many small islands. It’s surrounded by wetlands that are home to many waterbirds, including ducks. The lake is a very popular spot with travellers for its hot springs, diverse wildlife and beauty. In summer, however, the midges are in force, hence the name Mývatn, which means ‘lake of midges’!
Dettifoss waterfall is one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe – perhaps even the second most powerful after the Rhine Falls. It’s 100 m wide and drops 40 m into the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. The water carries a lot of sediment, which gives it a slight greyish tint. This is a fantastic spot on the globe; visitors are invariably awed and silenced by the power of the falls.
Mývatn Nature Baths is a fantastic and upmarket establishment that was opened in 2004. The lagoon is man-made and has a sand-and-gravel floor. The water temperature is around 36 to 40 ℃. We take time at the end of the day to relax in the water and soak up the view.
We overnight in the small northeastern village of Reykjahlíd on the shore of Lake Mývatn. Famously, most of the village was destroyed in 1729 by a lava stream from the eruption of the nearby volcano Krafla. The villagers were saved as they fled to the church, and the lava stopped just before reaching it.
Akureyri is a town at the base of the Eyjafjördur fjord. It was founded in the ninth century by the Norse Vikings. Today it’s the largest settlement outside of the country’s heavily populated southwest, and has been dubbed the Capital of North Iceland. It’s a major port and fishing town. The Laufas Turf Houses, just a kilometre outside of town, are a must-see. These white-walled, grass-roofed homes, which stand in a pretty line, were restored in the last century and show how many Icelanders used to live (even into the twentieth century).
Then there’s the Akureyrarkirkja (The Church of Akureyri), an imposing, modern church that presses down onto its hilltop location in the centre of town. Built in 1940, it has two lofty towers on either side and a Celtic cross topping the narthex. The entrance is reached by walking up a very long, very wide set of stairs. At the top you can turn around and enjoy fantastic views over the fjord. The interior of the church is a little more familiar than the exterior. Of particular note are the stained-glass windows, which depict scenes from Icelandic Christian history. It’s very much worth a visit.
Other popular activities among visitors to the town are horse riding, whale watching, and visiting the Botanical Akureyri Gardens (open only in summer).
Godafoss is a wide and powerful waterfall of 12 m along the river Skjálfandafljót. It’s a beautiful spot to stop and take a picture. The Hraunfossar is a special waterfall; look closely at the photo of it below and you’ll realise that the water flows out of the lava rock rather than cascades down from a river, as is usually the case with waterfalls. The waters of the Hraunfossar are the result of meltwater from the Langjökull glacier.
Deildartunguhver is Europe’s most powerful hot spring. This means that at no other hot spring does the water rise up with such force. The water is a constant 97 ℃ (207 ℉), so this isn’t the spot where you’ll be donning your swimmers for a dip. Wooden boardwalks provide a safe way of viewing the hot springs.
Tonight we’re back in the west of Iceland, staying in the town of Borgarnes, which is just 70 km from Reykjavík. Borgarnes is a strategic stopover point, as it’s the gateway to Snæfellsnes peninsula, an arm of land extending west off of mainland Iceland.
Snæfellsjökull National Park is an important protected area that encompasses the far tip of the Westfjords. One of the most popular destinations within the park is Dritvík cove, an isolated and striking black-pebble beach. It’s surrounded by spiked rock formations that are partly overgrown with grass and moss. The walk to reach the cove is about 1 km; you follow the Nautastígur path (the Path of the Bull) over a rugged lava field. On the beach are iron remnants of a 1948 British shipwreck. Five of the sailors were saved by Icelandic fishermen when the Epine GY7 was wrecked near the cove in March of that year. The ship fragments remaining on the beach are protected as a part of the region’s history.
The basalt cliffs of Lóndranger are home to numerous puffin and fulmar nests. Elves are said to live on the nearby hills, which is why they were never cultivated. Foreigners are often surprised to learn how many Icelanders still today claim to believe in elves.
Then there are the strikingly beautiful cliffs between the two coastal villages of Hellnar and Arnarstapi. You can walk a trail of two and a half kilometres connecting the two villages. The path leads you over a lava field, across the shore, and along the clifftop for incredible views. Be sure to bring your camera with you, as the photo ops are incredible.
If you’d like to inject some further adventure into your day, we recommend opting to explore one of the Westfjord’s lava caves. Vatnshellir Lava Cave, for instance, is a colourful cave that you enter by stepping into a man-sized metal cylinder and climbing down a long and tightly winding staircase into the subterranean cave. There’s also the Vidgelmir Cave, a large tunnel with two wide openings that’s considered by many to be Iceland’s most beautiful lava cave. The lava formations on the caves’ walls are fascinating, looking in places like solidified red slime and in others like rocks painted to resemble rich sunsets. There are places where icicles have grown on top of the lava, and when the light strikes you see the red of the lava shining through the ice.
We spend our last night together in the capital city. This way you don’t have to worry if you have an early flight the next day out of Keflavík International Airport.
Today we either say goodbye, or we continue our adventure by embarking on a four-day trek along Laugavegur trail! Here are the details of your two options …
For those with a later flight, there’s time to enjoy some sightseeing in the city. Earlier we mentioned some museums worth visiting, as well as Hallgrimskirkja Church. Reykjavík also boasts some fantastic exhibitions and galleries like the Reykjavik Art Museum, the sculpture garden of the Einar Jónsson Art Museum, and the Living Art Museum (which has free admission). Also keep your eyes peeled for the city’s epic street art and graffiti.
Reykjavík may be a small city by international standards, but it knows how to hold its own when it comes to art and culture. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during one of its festivals or events, be sure to try to make time for it – maybe even extend your stay in the city by a night? Events include, but certainly aren’t limited to:
The Laugavegur trail is a trekking route in southwest Iceland. It starts in the hot springs area of Landmannalaugar and ends near the mountain ridge Thórsmörk (named for Thor, the Norse god of thunder).
The terrain covered during the Laugavegur is incredibly varied, making it very rewarding. The landscape of Iceland’s interior is very different from that of the coastal regions and fjords. The relatively rounded mountains of the Landmannalaugar, for instance, are strikingly barren. And there are natural geothermal hot springs scattered about, emitting steam. Thórsmörk, on the other hand, has jagged peaks and outcrops with a wide and flat glacial valley running through. It’s one of Iceland’s most popular hiking routes as the scenery is incredibly dramatic.
Trekkers on the Laugavegur trail can overnight in mountain huts or camp. We go the camping route, and provide all the equipment for you. Your luggage is transported for you, meaning you just carry a backpack containing your items for the day. We also organise your meals for you, so really it’s just about deciding if you feel like walking among the otherworldly landscape of interior Iceland for a few days!
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