An Insider’s Top Ten Things to Do in Iceland

Lake Myvatn, Iceland

Beautiful Lake Myvatn in Fall

Having lived in Iceland and traveled back many times, I learned quite a bit about Iceland.  Here are my top 10 things to do in Iceland, please note that my list might not include attractions you’ve already heard of.  Read on.

This once little-known country has recently emerged as a hot travel destination. And for good reason, this island nation has so much to offer, not the least of which is that it’s just somewhere new to go for the traveling public.  Besides that, it is a beautiful, clean, exotic and totally accessible country .  A lot of people want to experience wild and unspoiled nature in locations with limited human populations, but not everyone is warm to the idea of the hard work some of these types of destinations require.  Iceland can sate your desire for the wild and exotic minus the oft-associated preparation, like needing to take a cycle of malaria drugs prior to departure, or a 2-day river boat journey.  Nope, none of that; the only demanding part about Iceland will be on your wallet – Iceland is not a cheap vacation.  So, with that out of the way – and I hope I’ve sparked your interest – here’s my insider’s list of the top 10 things to do in Iceland, broken down roughly by summer and winter seasons:

Skaftafell National Park (summer):  One of my absolute favorite spots in Iceland for camping.  The park is right next to the Vatnajokull glacier and is full of natural wonders – too many to list in this blog post. I encourage you to do some research on your own. Suffice to say that some of my best memories are from the time I spent here.

Golfing (summer):  Surprise!  Iceland is a great place to golf, in fact it’s a very popular pastime for Icelanders and there are golf courses all over the country, from simple 9 holes course to massive 18-hole course.  Imagine playing a round of golf in the midnight sun!  One of my favorites is connected to the Hotel Hamar in West Iceland in the town of Borgarnes; the rooms at this hotel literally open out unto the 18-hole golf course.

Glaciers (summer & winter): Iceland is home to the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajokull.  But there are numerous glaciers all over the country.  There are several tour companies that offer tours that range from a simple walk on the ice to jeep tours to full-day glacier adventures.  The way I see it, these magnificent and “living” natural phenomena are pretty rare in the world and may not be around much longer, so experience one while you can.  I would recommend either for the jeep tours or for the hikes.

Skiing in Akureyri (winter obviously):  Iceland’s premiere ski destination is called Mt. Hlidarfjall, and is located near the north Iceland city of Akureyri. North Iceland receives lots of snow making it a true winter paradise.  Akureyri is a very charming city with lots of nice attractions and restaurants. There’s also a nice new hotel in Akureyri that I’d recommend, they really cater to skiers and have a heated ski storage room which has its own entrance.

Lake Myvatn (summer):  Located in north Iceland, is about one hour’s drive from Akureyri. Lake Myvatn is beautiful and totally exotic.  The lake itself is large (and shallow) and supports exceptionally rich flora and fauna.  A drive around the lake will delight the eyes with its volcanic landscapes.

Swimming pools (all year round): Icelanders love to swim and there are beautiful and affordable pool facilities all over the country.  Most feature wading pools, lap pools, hot tubs, steam baths; some even have slides for the kids.  All of these pools are super clean and heated by the abundant geothermal hot water that is used to heat all the homes and buildings in Iceland.

Snaefellsness Peninsula (summer): Like Skaftafell National Park, this is one of the most beautiful regions in Iceland.  Located in west, past the town of Borgarnes, the Snaefellsness peninsula has a rich fishing history and also boasts one of the most amazing glaciers in Iceland, Snaefellsjokull.  This glacier, which has an almost mystical quality, was featured in Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

Westmann Islands (summer):  Called Vestmannaeyjar, this is an archipelago off the southern coast of Iceland. The largest island is called Heimaey, which boasts a population of about 4,000 residents, most of which are connected to the fishing industry.  You’ll need to take the ferry over, but it is totally worth the time and expense.

Fishing (summer):  Salmon fishing in Iceland is world-class.  There are streams and rivers all over the country with very healthy salmon populations.  Most of these locations are privately owned so you have to pay for the rights to fish.  It’s not cheap by any means but well worth it.

Laugarvatn Fontana (all year):  a little known geothermal spa and wellness facility located in the tiny village of Laugarvatn, which is located pretty much smack dab in the middle of the well-known Golden Circle Tour.  This spa is built right on a natural hot spring and offers steam baths, saunas, geothermal-heated pools and a hot tub. – David Brooks


Travel to Iceland in May

Iceland summer

Summertime in Iceland

The month of May is the perfect time to travel to Iceland. Summer is finally in full swing and it is the ideal time to explore the outdoors through Iceland tours, adventures and excursions. In Iceland, the month of April is the transition period between a dreary winter and a blossoming spring with traces of both depending on the day and time. May is the final breakthrough month where the last touches of winter fade away and there is a feeling of consistent sunshine. If you are a tourist who is interested in Iceland, this is truly the month you should plan your trip around.

While you’re in Iceland amidst such great weather you should take advantage of the beautiful, natural scenery that surrounds the capital city of Reykjavik. There are tour operators who offer expert guided tours into the back country of Iceland allowing you to see the sights that Iceland is famous for in the safest way possible. Such tours offered include bus tours, jeep tours, hiking tours, airplane tours, ice climbing tours, horse riding tours and skiing tours.

All of these Iceland day tours are action packed and fun for the whole family. By coming in May you will not only benefit from the promising weather forecast but also by beating the crowds. June, July and August are the rush months when tourists flood Iceland and make things a little hectic and less convenient. So if you have ever considered going to Iceland then definitely try to make it there in the month of May. The weather is warm, there are tons of fun, outdoor activities to do and it is right before the summer tourist rush. I hope this post is helpful to all you potential Iceland visitors.

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon SpaOne of Iceland’s most famous geothermal seawater spas is the Blue Lagoon. It is rich in minerals like silica and sulphur that restore health and vitality, and are oh so luxurious!

The Blue Lagoon is frequented year-round, whether in the midst of a snowy winter or at the peak of a long Icelandic day in summer. Although, the blue changes in color according to the seasons or the time of the day, it is always startling and vivid, almost surreal in its intensity. It is best described as fluorescent blue. The waters may look cool, but they are in fact 104 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius).

On a trip to Iceland, a visit to the Blue Lagoon should not be missed. Not visiting the Blue Lagoon when visiting Iceland is comparable to deciding not to visit the Eiffel Tower when in Paris or Buckingham Palace when in London. Numerous Blue Lagoon tours are available and the cost for admission is low – for adults, it is only 1400 Icelandic kroner and for children between 12 to 15 years, it is only 700 kroner. Bathing equipment like bathrobes, towels, and bathing suits can be rented at the facilities near the lagoon.

Since it is an expansive body of water, it is easy to find a private space to float effortlessly on the water. Rich black lava rocks surround the lagoon and a bright steam envelopes the bather. Although the mineral waters are curative, they are also deeply relaxing and a prolonged bath can be exhausting.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa with many modern facilities, including changing rooms, a swimming pool, and a restaurant with a breathtaking view. There is even a conference center. Besides enjoying the curative effects of the lagoon, visitors can also indulge in a natural steam bath in the lava cave.

Travel to Iceland

Iceland, an island nation in the North Atlantic, is about 6 hours from New and only 3 hours from London. Two Icelandic airlines provide transport to this European country. It is also accessible by ferry from the continent of Europe. Cruise liners often feature Iceland as one of their stops.

Travel within Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is only 40 minute drive from downtown Reykjavik and only a 20 minute drive from Keflavík International Airport. It can be reached by bus, taxi, or rental car. Many Icelandic Tour Companies also offer a visit to the Blue Lagoon.

Winter Visit to Iceland – What to Expect

Winter in Iceland can be beautiful. It can also be harsh. Either way, winter time in Iceland is unique. First, it is not as cold as its latitude would normally dictate. This is because Iceland’s climate is moderated by the Gulf Stream; a flow of warm water that travels all the way up from the tip of Florida. The Gulf Stream has the effect of moderating Iceland’s climate. In fact, the average winter temperature is approximately around the freezing mark. Many visitors are coming from places that get much colder.

That fact belies another reality of Iceland’s weather; it changes a lot. You can experience 3 seasons in one day in the winter. It might snow, melt, rain and then snow again in one day. So, don’t necessarily expect a winter wonderland. Sure there’ll be snow at elevation but, the low lying areas are not always snow-covered.

Wind. Iceland, especially in Reykjavik, can be quite windy. I am not talking breezy. I mean wind that whistles. This can make for a condition that is referred to in Iceland as “window weather;” it might look nice outside but once you step outside, it’s not so pleasant.

Length of day. When you are at high or low latitudes, you get big extremes in the length of day. In the winter time you’ll get about 4-7 hours of daylight, depending on which month you go. January and February have the least amount of daylight, with an average of about 4 hours. I can remember going to work in the morning and it would be dark. The sun would rise at around 11 am and start setting around 3 pm. So I would also go home in the dark. For Icelanders, this is normal. They might not like it. But they are used to it.

Maybe none of this makes Iceland sound like a particularly desirable vacation destination. It’s not for everybody. But let me say that Iceland in winter can be a magical place. It is truly unlike anywhere else. I have experienced winter days that were breathtaking. And, I personally like the challenge of Iceland’s weather. Preparing for an Iceland tour into the country or just running errands, you need to be prepared. That means layers, good boots, warm socks, hat, gloves, rain proof jacket – the works. I don’t know but somehow, there’s a positive feeling created by this; a satisfaction in facing Iceland’s meteorological tempest.

I now live in sunny San Diego and the weather here is the complete opposite. The only preparation needed is maybe sunscreen. Oh, and you might want to wear flip-flops and sunglasses if you are going outdoors. I think this lack of pressure from Mother Nature, this atmospheric certainty, fosters complacency. You forget the fun of being challenged by weather. I miss needing an umbrella. My winter clothes are in deep storage. People here complain when it gets down to 60 F. That’s a good summer day in Iceland.

So don’t hesitate to visit Iceland in winter. Bring warm, waterproof clothes. Go out and tromp through the snow or puddles until your feet get cold. Chase after the northern lights. That’s what I like about Iceland in the winter, it’s a little wild and wooly. I think we need a little of that sense of uncertainty to find ourselves again. And, you might as well do this in one of the most exotic, beautiful and unspoiled landscapes on the planet.

Iceland Tours

Why?  How?

Let’s start with Why.  First, Iceland looks like this:

See those big white areas?  Those are glaciers.  About 11% of Iceland is covered in glaciers, and they are fairly accessible.

Have you ever seen a glacier?  It’s pretty amazing to see one in person, to touch it, feel it, smell the ice.  You can walk on them with special equipment attached to your feet, called crampons.  They look like giant spikes, because… they are.  With these babies on, you can walk on ice like Spiderman walks on the sides of buildings.

Iceland travel necessities, Crampons

Crampons - funny name, good traction on ice!

If that’s not your thing, but you want to get outdoors in Iceland just the same, consider an Iceland Day Tour in a Super Jeep.  No, they’re not really Jeeps, they’re Land Rovers, Nissan Patrols, and Toyota Landcruisers, all specially outfitted with huge tires, radios, snorkels (for river crossing – no kidding).

Iceland 4×4 tours

Iceland Super Jeep (4x4)Most American travelers wouldn’t think of the words in this title of this post together, much less as a destination.  Iceland 4×4 tours would be considered a combination of remote and obscure!  However, both of these points are changing, albeit indirectly.

The entire country of Iceland has been far off the radar of most Americans until about a year or two ago, when the country started making the mainstream news for all unpleasant reasons.  As America and the rest of the world started feeling the financial pinch, Iceland gained notoriety as having it the worst – an entire country approaching bankruptcy.  Not the best way to gain the attention of millions who had lived their lives without even a rare mention of Iceland.

However, now that some time has passed, that attention on Iceland has inevitably revealed some of the more attractive elements.  Ironically, these elements are more financially accessible to travelers than ever before specifically because of the financial issues and the weak currency, Krona.  While travel-savvy folks might be attracted to Reykjavik city life, or finance-savvy folks might envy the green energy leadership, there’s also the pile of YouTube videos showing some of the wildest off-roading and 4×4 driving anywhere, being viewed by 4×4 fans, who are a remarkably tech-savvy group.

Yes, the cleanest country in the world that is on its way to becoming 100% renewable also has some of the gnarliest off-road trucks in the world.  In Iceland, SUVs with tires three feet high are seen driving downtown by petite ladies buying groceries.  Granted, they are not daily drivers for the average Icelander, but in a country of barely 300,000 and a thriving tourism market, these super-extreme trucks are expensive enough that the people who have them (for tours, usually) tend to use them for everything.  So, these same “Super Jeeps” that crawl Icelandic glaciers and make what Americans might call a monster truck seem mousy are actually a common sight around town.

Iceland Super Jeep on a 4x4 tour

Add to this the fact that a huge part of Iceland’s appeal is the astounding landscape and you have an obvious draw to 4×4 tours.  Whether or not you’re into off-roading in your normal life at home, if you’re not the type of hike it on foot, these “super jeeps” are a downright practical way to see the backcountry, glaciers, countryside and other local attractions that aren’t available on pavement (like a glacier).

So, back to the original line – something about a combination of remote and obscure.  Iceland isn’t as remote as you think.  The author traveled to Reykjavik last September from San Diego, about the furthest possible place in the US, and it was about about 11 hours and $700 without any particular special deal.  From the east coast, it’s about half the time and much lower cost.  If you’re going to travel, consider Iceland and if you’r going to Iceland, consider an Icelandic 4×4 tour from a company that can handle all your Iceland Travel needs.

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