Iceland remains one of my most memorable travel destinations. Unique volcanic landscapes, geysers and hot springs contrast scenic fjords, glaciers and beautiful waterfalls. I loved experiencing White Nights around midsummer in the Westfjords and was very lucky to see my first Northern Lights in late autumn.
It’s also the land of rainbows – I’m sure you could spot one every day! – and it is so rich in sagas and magic stories of elves and trolls.
Here are 6 of my favourite spots you should not miss out on your next visit:
1. Beautiful Westfjords in summer
Breidavik is one of my favourite spots to spend midsummer. Breath-taking landscapes and midnight sun can be enjoyed at remote beaches and fjords to find peace and quiet. The drive out there is equally beautiful. It’s well worth staying a bit longer and checking out Dynjandi waterfall at Arnarfjordur.
2. Thingvellir (Þingvellir)
is at it’s best in autumn colours and offers beautiful hikes near the lake. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and key location in Icelandic history with the oldest existing parliament having been founded here in 930 AD. This is also where the North American and Eurasian plates are drifting apart, leaving clearly visible cracks and canyons.
It’s such a beautiful spot and fairly easy to reach from Reykjavik. Even Björk had her summer cottage at Lake Þingvallavatn in Þingvellir National Park until earlier this year. I’ve always liked her music and I can totally understand how she writes her songs when walking and admiring Iceland’s landscapes!
When I first came here in 2004, I intended to hike along the other side of the lake. It was a beautiful sunny day in September with the most amazing autumn colours. Walking along a gravel road I ended up getting a lift from a local artist staying at the lake. He talked about how he’d worked all night on a paining of a woman and it drove him crazy not being able to get her eyes right. So he decided to take it for a coffee into town to get a better perspective… and indeed (no joke!) the painting leaned against the back seat: a Picasso style painted picture of a woman looking at me with a rather … let’s say twisted look. It did freak me out a bit back then in my early twenties and I got out of his car rather quickly. 😉 But I do like the Icelandic people’s creative and slightly different approach to things. This country is so beautiful I guess people just have no other choice but to express it creatively. People say there is a very specific creative energy in Iceland and it’s true they have an unusually large number of artists compared to a relatively small population of about 330,000.
3. Reykjavik and the Golden circle
are the beaten tourist track but worthwhile to visit at your own pace. The recommended route takes you from Reykjavik to Thingvellir – Laugarvatn – Strokkur Geysir– Gullfoss waterfall – Hvergeradi – and back to Reyjkavik and can be done in one or preferably more days.
As an enthusiastic horse rider I surely had to go on a trail ride on an Icelandic horse: Icelandic horses are very special and renowned for their five natural gaits (instead of three). If you’re an advanced horse rider, ask for a horse that can do Tölt properly. They won’t let you try Pace on a tourist horse though. 😉
Even if you haven’t got much time, don’t miss out on the Blue Lagoon Spa in Grindavík near Reykjavik airport.
is one of the most interesting and fairly accessible areas with volcanic activity in the highlands.
It’s a natural gem known for its picturesque, colourful, surprising and memorable landscape and also the starting point for one of Iceland’s most popular hiking trails: the Laugavegurinn, or Laugavegur 55km hiking trail, which connects Landmannalaugar with Thorsmork (Þórsmörk) Glacier Valley.
makes a great trip from Reykjavik to explore the south. You can walk along black sand beaches, go on glacier tours and admire Skogafoss waterfall near Vík or Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park.
The hot pool Seljavallalaug, a geothermal pool in a little valley near Seljavellir is a hidden gem. It’s one of the oldest naturally heated pools built in 1923 and there shouldn’t be too many people.
6. Námafjall Hverir steam fields and lake Myvatn (Northeast)
The geothermal area has quite a few impressive bubbling mud holes and fumaroles in plenty of colours and allows for scenic pictures.
Mývatn Nature Baths, the Blue Lagoon of the North-East, is fairly similar to the one near Rejkjavk but smaller and with way less people. Loved it!
Check out www.visiticeland.com to plan your trip or to just admire the most beautiful landscape images. 😉
If you only have around 1 week / 10 days available, I’d recommend to base yourself in or nearby Reykjavik and explore the surroundings with a rental car – you won’t need a 4×4. Possible destinations are The Golden Circle, Vík and even Landmannalaugar on a good day.
If you are lucky to spend more time, which I strongly recommend, get a 4×4 and venture up north into the Westfjords or even all around the island. Remember, Iceland is relatively expensive compared to most European countries. We took our own car by ferry, which worked out cheaper than hiring a 4×4 for a month and we mostly camped outside – a great adventure when you like nature and are prepared for hale and snow up north even in June. If you are a light sleeper and venture beyond the Arctic Circle in summer, be prepared for birds singing in midnight sun ambience 24/7. I personally loved it but some people may have difficulties to fall asleep.
The most popular one is Blue Lagoon Grindavík near Reykjavik airport. However most public swimming pools are heated naturally and have 2-3 different tempered hot pots of 38+ degrees. After a few minutes in one of these it feels like a relief walking in 10 degrees outside temperature. So, it’s just the challenge of getting into the first one. 😉
Especially in cold weather, it may be very tempting to stay in one of those for a bit longer… but watch your body, I nearly fainted after spending a bit too much time in the hot pots after a cold night out camping.
No need to worry about the sulphate smell; even when taking a shower. The water is naturally heated.
There are plenty of natural hot springs, although there are rumours of contamination issues due to the high numbers of tourists for example in Landmannalaugar. I personally skipped that one for hygiene reasons; however if you feel rather adventurous, check out this site for more info.
Please share your impressions about Iceland below!
© Image copyrights: Michael F. Mason
Inspired by Roy G. Biv weekly photo challenge.