Iceland is a country full of natural wonders. From volcanoes to fjords, hot springs to lava fields, Iceland is full of dramatic scenery and constant surprises. Add to that the chance to see the Northern Lights and its clear to see why Iceland is increasing in popularity as a holiday destination.
Where to Go in Iceland
Most visitors stay in the south west around the city of Reykjavik. This is the most populated area of the country and is close to many of the most famous sights, however there is a lot to see elsewhere, so if you have time it is worth exploring more of the island.
South Iceland is home to the capital city and over two thirds of the country’s population, as well as its main tourist sights in The Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon. It also has the country’s international airport, so unless you come by boat, this will be your first destination.
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the most northerly capital in the world. It is a city full of colourful buildings, great restaurants and lively bars. There are a number of museums in Reykjavik that are worth visiting if you are interested in the history of the country.
A popular trip from Reykjavik is to go swimming in the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is geothermally heated to around 37 degrees Celsius – roughly the same as a hot tub.
To the east of Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, which is made up of three of Iceland’s most famous sites: Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and Haukadalur geothermal area.
Thingvellir spans the border between the North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates. The park is popular for hiking and you can even go diving in the crack between the two plates. Thingvellir was also home to the oldest Parliament in the world – it first sat in 930AD and lasted until 1798.
Gullfoss is a large two-tiered glacial waterfall to the east of Thingvellir. It is regularly claimed as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.
The final part of the Golden Circle is the Haukadalur geothermal area. The area has two geysers – Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir was the first geyser to be described in print and led to the English word. Today Geysir’s eruptions are infrequent at best and can be years apart. Fortunately neighbouring Strokkur erupts at least every 10 minutes.
The main city in north Iceland is Akureyri, which is the largest city outside of the Reykjavik area but is still home to only 14,000 people. The town has some bars and restaurants and can act as a hub to explore the surrounding area.
Northern Iceland has lots of natural features to explore. There are numerous lava fields including the Eldhraun Lava Field, which was formed from the biggest lava flow in the world. There are also lots of waterfalls – Dettiffoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
On the north coast is the village of Húsavik, which is one of the best places in Europe to go whale watching. Minke and Humpback Whales are frequently seen in the sea around here.
Elsewhere in northern Iceland there are lots of hot pools and lakes, and it is a great area for hiking.
West Iceland and West Fjords
West Iceland is the location for most Icelandic Sagas and it has the dramatic scenery to go with them. The area has volcanoes, fjords, forest and lakes as well as Iceland’s highest waterfall – Glymur.
Stykkisholmur is the largest town in the region (although it only has a population of 2000 people).
Snaefellsjokull is a large volcano, the crater of which was the setting for Jules Verne’s novel ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth.’
Northwest Iceland is an area called the West Fjords. This area is very sparsely populated and is the least visited part of Iceland. It is very cold and its northern most point almost touches the Arctic Circle.
The east of Iceland tends to be warmer and have better weather than the rest of the island. This makes it a great area for hiking and boat trips through the fjords. The main hub for the region is the town of Egilsstadir.
The region is home to puffins, and is the only place in the country where there are wild reindeer.
Reykjavik and the Golden Circle
This is by far the most popular itinerary. Spend a few days in Reykjavik enjoying the bars and restaurants, as well as a swim in the Blue Lagoon. From Reykjavik you can do the Golden Circle as a day trip.
Reykjavik and North Iceland
If you want to see more of Iceland than the south, in addition to a few days in Reykjavik and the Golden Circle, you can fly or drive up to Akureyri and spend a few days exploring the north of the island – including a whale watching trip.
The Ring Road
If you have a couple of weeks then a great way to explore the country is to drive the Ring Road that goes around the edge of the whole island – apart from the West Fjords (although this is a worthwhile detour). You will be able to see everything from the Golden Circle to the volcanoes of western Iceland and the fjords of eastern Iceland.
Where to Stay
There are lots of hotels all around Iceland – even in the more remote parts such as the West Fjords. However, in more isolated areas luxury hotels are not always available.
When to Go
Summer is the best time to visit Iceland – the weather is warmest from June to September and days are longest – sometimes the sun is still up at midnight. You can also go in winter – it adds to the dramatic scenery but not everywhere is accessible.
The best way to get around is to hire a car
There are lots of daily flights to Keflavik airport (just south of Reykjavik).