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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 IcelandRovers.is for the jeep tours or Mountainguides.is 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