Iceland is one of the destinations that more and more people put on their bucket list each year. Tourism is booming thanks to long stopovers on flights from Europe to the United States and Canada. It’s become affordable in recent years too and finding a budget flight to the capital, Reykjavik, from major European cities is easier than ever. If you want to experience the rugged and unforgiving landscapes and soak in thermal baths, Iceland is a good destination for you. This Iceland travel guide describes everything you need to know about visiting the country.
There are so many reasons to visit Iceland. You can spend the morning exploring the lava fields and then relax at the world famous Blue Lagoon. Some people will rent a car and take a road trip around the Ring Road, others visit the glaciers or go whale watching. The landscape is incredible and you’ll find opportunities for photographs around almost every corner.
In the summer time, you can see the midnight sun and have the freedom to go sightseeing at any time of the day. And, in the winter you can hope to see the Northern Lights. Lots of people travel to Iceland to specifically see the Northern Lights, but the country gets less than four hours of sunlight in the dead of winter. And the weather is more unpredictable. The best time to see the lights is sometime between February and March when there are about eight or nine hours of sunlight.
This all depends on your personal preferences. Most tourists fly into Keflavik Airport and spend a few days in Reykjavik. The capital is small and feels more like a provincial town than the capital of one of the former wealthiest countries in Europe.
You can spend a day walking around the city and seeing its most famous landmark, Hallgrímskirkja Church. This is a giant Lutheran Church that dominates most of the skyline in Reykjavik. Another great thing to do in the capital is to walk around the lake. You can see swans and ducks, which makes a perfect photograph against the backdrop of the city.
If you have your own car, feel free to explore the surrounding areas and even drive up to the nearby town of Keflavik. This is a small town, well a village by non-Icelandic standards, with a beautiful lighthouse at the end of peninsular. Most people only come here when they arrive and depart. But, it’s also a charming little Icelandic town with lots of places to take a good photograph. When the weather is very clear, you can sometimes see the Snaefellsnes Glacier in the distance.
Any visitor to Iceland, whether they’re self-driving or part of a tour, will do the Golden Circle. This is the most popular tourist route in the country and covers around 300 kilometers in a circular route from Reykjavik. The main stops include Thingvellir National Park, the Haukadalur Geothermal Area, and the Gullfoss Waterfall.
Thingvellir is a major historical and cultural region in Iceland and was the site of the first Icelandic parliament. The largest natural lake in the country is inside this national park. You can also see the Mid-Atlantic Ridge here, which is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are slowly drifting apart. This area is about 40 kilometers from Reykjavik.
Haukadalur is the home to the very active geysers and is one of the most popular things to see in the whole country. A geyser erupts hot water and steam into the air like a volcano would. The most active and reliable is Strokkur and you can expect to see this eject its contents into the air every five to six minutes. As you get to the area, you’ll walk through the hot springs along a path between the bubbling mud. If you’re lucky, you may see some of the smaller ones erupt too, but these are rarer than Strokkur. This is a perfect place for a photograph and it’s quite common for tourists to take videos of this incredible natural phenomenon. A word of warning, the water is hot and the signs are there for a reason. Tourists who stray into the places where they shouldn’t can and do suffer burns.
The final stop on the Golden Circle is Gullfoss Waterfall. This is the largest and most beautiful waterfall in Iceland. You can hear it crashing down from miles away and when you get there, the site will take your breath away. It’s a perfect place to have a photograph. But, the rocks are slippery and it can be quite dangerous. Make sure you listen to the guides and follow the safety rules.
You can visit a number of other towns and attractions on this route too. This is especially the case if you have your own car, which gives you the freedom to explore. As you’re driving down the road, follow the brown signs to serendipitous attractions or simply pull over in the parking spaces for opportunistic photographs. It goes without saying that the summer months are a better time for this when you have 20 or more hours of daylight.
Iceland is a great destination to experience a world that’s far from what we’re familiar with back at home. If you have the chance, rent a car and explore the country. Or, spend a day or two in the capital and take the Golden Circle tour. One thing’s for certain, a trip to Iceland won’t disappoint.