After recently returning from Iceland from my second visit I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends wanting to go: What to see in winter? How to get around? How expensive is it? So here is my quick guide for a four day visit.
Day one. The Golden Circle.
At the top of every must-do list, this day tour from Reykjavik incorporates a taste of everything Iceland has to offer; natural wonders, hearty food and a lot of open space. Having done the tour bus and self drive options I found driving is a cheaper and more flexible option allowing for more time at stops. As long as you keep an eye on the weather, driving is great in Iceland; big open roads, well maintained and often no other cars in sight. The three main stops for your satnav are Thingvellir national park (Þingvellir), Geysir and Gulfoss, all free to get into and explore.
In Thingvellir lies Rift Valley, the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates collide. Expect waterfalls, wide open vistas and crystal clear waters pure enough to drink. Near the top of every divers wish list is Silfra where you can dive between the plates, with visibility up to 100 meters it’s about the clearest water that exists on earth. It’s about 2 degrees year round and the tours are not budget friendly making this a once in a lifetime experience for most travellers.
Geysir is a further 40 minutes or so up the road, driving past small towns brimming with hot thermal spa’s and geothermic activity. The geothermal park is full of hot springs with the most active Strokkur erupting every 6-10 minutes. Geysir, the first of it’s name, is less active now preferring to quietly bubble and steam at the edge of the park. Gulfoss is Geysir’s polar opposite. Another short drive up through the mountains a great mist spurts up from the landscape. Gulfoss is Iceland’s most popular waterfall with stats that make the mind boggle, the dramatic stepped waterfall runs at 140 cubic meters per second, and that’s on a quiet day. If you’re lucky a rainbow can appear in the waterfalls mist creating a pretty magical spectacle.
An extra stop on the way home, well worth the detour if you have time, is Kerið Volcanic crater and lake. The 400ISK entry fee (about £2.80) gets you a printed guide and brief history of the crater. You can walk around the rim or take a steep walk right down to the lake.
No trip is complete without a bit of northern lights hunting, while you’re more likely to get a glimpse in the winter it’s still in no way guaranteed! I’m yet to see them but always love an excuse to go back. A good option is one of the smaller group tour operators who know the good spots away from the crowds and know when to call off if the weather isn’t good for spotting the lights. Most offer a full refund if the tour is cancelled, one such company I (almost) went with are Time Tours (http://timetours.is/). Book it for day one and you have more opportunities as they will re-book you in daily if cancelled.
Day two. Adventure.
Iceland really is the home of extreme’s whether you want to snowmobile on a glacier, take a helicopter ride over the mountains, drop into a volcanic chamber (https://insidethevolcano.com) or brave the rough seas to go whale watching the choice is yours. Everyone with a truck/ boat/ plane seems to run a tour in Iceland and it’s easy to book last minute from Reykjavik in the winter months, Summer is a bit busier with popular tours filling up a week or so in advance. If none of that sounds like your thing or the budget is a bit tight a day can easily be lost exploring the Reykjanes peninsula on the south western tip of Iceland. The otherworldly lunar landscape begs to be hiked, stay on the trails though as old magma chambers have been known to collapse underfoot.
Day three. Relax.
Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik is full of art, history and culture. An amble around town reveals some amazing street art, great coffee and irresistible pastry shops. A little further out of town near Grindavik is the Blue Lagoon, effectively a waste water outlet of a geothermal factory, people come from around the globe to bathe in the bright blue steamy hot waters. Another option more off the beaten track is Hveragerði, a little harder to find, it involves an hour minute hike through the mountains but rewards you with a natural hot spring stream (full of mainly locals) and mountain top views. Relaxing for Iceland anyway…
Day Four. Road Trip.
Iceland’s South Coast has a lot to offer; great mountainous and coastal views, remote towns and wildlife spotting such as puffin spotting on the Westman islands (summer only). The one day option is Reykjavik to Vik which includes stops at Seljalandsfoss and “the secret waterfall”, Skogafoss and Reynisfjara black sand beach. The later of which being a volcanic beach with epic basalt columns formed by lava, well worth a selfie or two. It’s a good 6 hours driving without stops so make sure you have a good playlist and snacks ready for the road.
If you have a bit more time you can go a bit further with an overnight stop near Skaftafell national park. An hour and a half drive from Vik along the south coast rewards you with glacial attractions such as Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Vatnajökull Glacier where you can explore a natural ice cave. A great resource I used when planning a trip is http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2015/01/drive-it-yourself-a-south-coast-adventure/.
There is so much to do in Iceland to suit any budget or timescale, this is just a drop in the ocean of some of the ways to spend you’re time here.