Iceland is one of those amazing countries that capture the imagination of visitors from all across the globe. Its rich heritage, dramatic volcanic landscape of hot springs, geysers, black sandy beaches and, of course, its friendly people make Iceland the perfect country to explore.
How To Get Around
One thing that stood out to me when I initially planned our (rather loose) itinerary was how ‘big’ Iceland felt. I created a list of point A, B, C…Z – that all required an element of travel that my feet could not achieve 🙁 The next best options were chartered excursions, which are a really convenient way to see lots of Iceland, but I feared my bank managers’ wrath that booking around 10-15 different excursions would push me way outside my budgetary constraints.
Thankfully, as four of us decided to explore Iceland together, we choose to rent a small hire car for five days. Not only did this work out to be the most economical option, it also gave us the flexibility to head wherever we wanted. Whoop! Whoop!!!
If you’re planning a trip to explore many of the dramatic landscapes and the Northern Lights, I would definitely recommend that you hire a car (driver and weather permitting, of course).
What To See
1.) Whale Watching
As soon as we landed, we took a 35-minute drive to the capital, Reykjavik and headed onboard a Whale Watching tour lasting around three hours. It was a really sunny yet icy cold day so we wrapped up warm and headed in search of some whales. We found it really easy to grab our tickets and head off on one of the many excursions that Special Tours offers every day. We didn’t get to see ‘Moby Dick’ but we did catch a glimpse of some minke whales and dolphins. You can reserve your tickets in advance, just be prepared that there may be cancellations due to blustery or very windy weather.
2.) Go To Vik & Dyrhólaey
Roughly a four-hour drive from Reykjavik, Reynisfjara & Dyrhólaey provide one of the most spectacular areas of coastline to explore in Southern Iceland. Take a short walk, or hike across the coastal paths that line this beautiful region. It is especially dramatic around sunset, when the glow of the sun seems to stand in contrast to the volcanic rock and sand. Beautiful.
3.) Go Horse-riding in The Icelandic Tundra
One of the best experiences to have in Iceland has to be horse-riding through the magnificent Tundra. One of the best places to go to has to be Hestheimar, about 1.5 hours south of Reykjavik. Hestheimar is a family-owned horse farm lovingly run by Lea Helga Ólafsdóttir, her husband Marteinn Hjaltested and their three children, Ísak Freyr, Sunneva Eik and Hákon Snær. It’s a great place to stop and learn so much about Icelandic horses and actually venture out into the wilderness with a guided tour.
4.) Keep An Eye Open For The Northern Lights
One of the most magical experiences to have in Iceland is to see the Northern Lights. Much more visible in autumn and Spring, the Northern Lights are one of nature’s great wonders and a sight that will stay with you forever. We stayed in Hotel Laki, just south of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The hotel is beautiful, with amazing food; they even offer a nightly wake-up service to call your room if the northern lights appear. We spotted these around 3am and ‘hot-footed’ it straight out into the wilderness that surrounds the hotel.
5.) Travel The Gold Circle
Roughly a 300km round-trip – the golden circle is one of the best routes to follow if you want to see some of the dramatic landscapes of Southern Iceland. Places like Storkkur, Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir Hot-spring area and Thingvellir National Park that literally shows the point where two tectonic plates are pulling the island apart.
6.) Get Wet Under a Geyser
Strokkura and the Geysir can’t be missed, erupting every eight minutes or so; you are guaranteed a great opportunity to see geo-thermal activity in action. Just don’t get drenched! 🙂
7.) Walk Along The Gulfoss Waterfall
A short 15-minute drive west from Strokkur is the Gulfoss Waterfall. Here you will find a dramatic, and beautiful landscape, has been carved out by the powerful forces of the River Hvítá.
8.) Warm Up in a Geothermal Bath at Laugarvatn Fontana
Head to the geyser hot spring area (on the golden circle) for a truly ‘warming’ experience in the naturally sourced hot baths of Laugarvatn Fontana. If you arrive around lunchtime, you can even watch and learn how to bake geo-thermal bread in the warm soils surrounding the baths.
9.) The Blue Lagoon
Around 20 minutes from Keflavik airport, The Blue Lagoon is a beautiful place to relax, unwind and enjoy a day of pampering. Head here first thing in the morning if you want a quieter experience as at peak times and around lunch the pool(s) can become busy.
10.) Walk behind a waterfall
Skógafoss & Seljalandsfoss both provide the most dramatic opportunities to get ’up-close-and-personal’ with natures power showers. Seljalandsfoss provides a great opportunity to actually walk behind the waterfall and if you’re lucky, Skógafoss might even showcase one of its famous rainbows that it creates.
11.) Enjoy Reykjavik
Reykjavik is such a great city for so many reasons including; hallgrímskirkja, the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall, Laugavegur and many live music venues. On a Saturday night there is an opportunity to explore some of Iceland’s best gigs! Take a wander down the main streets and enjoy the vibrancy that their music scene has to offer.