travel

Iceland Quick Guide

Seeking inspiration for your next journey? Preparing your trip to Iceland? Check the post about our Ring Road Roadtrip here and also this quick reference guide for a bird-eye view of your destination:

This quick guide will allow you to discover the best Icelandic sites, but also less known places, so you can organize your next trip with confidence. You can also plan the number of days it takes on each site and prepare your circuit.

You’ll find a list of all licensed tourism operators in Iceland here

iceland quick guide

Your journey begins in Reyjavik. You’ll arrive via the Keflavik airport, so I advise you to rent a car there (or a camper van outside the airport if you wish). We’ve been in Iceland in March 2016 and it was late winter so we rented a WV Golf equipped with GPS, snow tires and the full security pack.

Now you’re all set to roam around! Once in Reykjavik you’ll discover the Icelandic culture, its inhabitants, its atmosphere. A pit stop at the supermarket Bonus is a good idea to prepare your provisions. You’ll recognize it by the Big Fat Pink Pig logo! The Ring Road (Route 1) is, in one word, empty: you won’t find convenience stores on your way to the next destination, so be sure to buy snacks, water and have a roadtrip survival kit.

Mental post-it: Reykjavik: The capital of Iceland is home to more than two-thirds of the country’s population, (including the agglomeration) of about 200,000 people. Located in Faxa Bay, the city is crossed by the Ellidaar River. It is on this little piece of land, in the peninsula of Seltjarnarnes, that the first settlers established their camp in 874 AD.

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An Atlantic puffin

Now let’s explore Iceland’s multifaceted regions!

West 

Gateway to Iceland for most visitors, the west of the country is also an area of contrasts: it contains the most populated areas, but also some almost completely empty of people as the Fjords of West. This region facing the ocean is dotted with fjords, volcanoes, lakes, valleys and also glaciers. There are landscapes of rare beauty and diversity. When traveling to Iceland, you will explore the west coast of Iceland from Reykjavik to Ísafjörður, via the Snæfellsnes peninsula or Reykjanes.

Activities:

→Hiking and trekking, especially in Snæfellsnes or Westfjords

→Discover the most beautiful fjords of the country which are in the northwest

→Icelandic bird watching, including the famous puffins (according to the migration calendar. You can see them from June to September ;D)

→Climbing or walking on glaciers including the famous Snæfellsnes

→Discover the geothermal activity of the Reykjanes Peninsula

Wild and populated, green and icy, in West Iceland you’ll find some major attractions such as the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Reykjanes Peninsula and the North West Fjords. Among the most known sites there are the Blue Lagoon, Snæfellsjökull, a glacier-capped volcano found on the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and the largest city in the country, Reykjavik.

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Kirkjufell (Icelandic: Church mountain) is a 463 m high mountain on the north coast of Iceland’s Snæfellsnes peninsula, near the town of Grundarfjörður

Post-it mental: According to Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of Earth (1864),Snæfellsjökull is the entrance to the center of Earth! In the novel we follow the steps of professor Otto Lidenbrock’s expedition into the volcano, which he believes to lead to the center of the Earth, after deciphering an ancient runic manuscript (chapter XV):

‘We were now beginning to scale the steep sides of Snæfell. Its snowy summit, by an optical illusion not unfrequent in mountains, seemed close to us, and yet how many weary hours it took to reach it! The stones, adhering by no soil or fibrous roots of vegetation, rolled away from under our feet, and rushed down the precipice below with the swiftness of an avalanche.’

South

Ideally located, accessible in a few hours from the capital, the southern region promises exceptional trips and sumptuous landscapes. There are in particular the Golden Circle, the Landmannalaugar, the South Coast and Skaftafell.

This region is large enough to occupy you for several days, even several weeks if you are adept of excursions and trekking.

Activities:

→Hiking and trekking (Porsmork, Skaftafell or Landmannalaugar)

→ Discover volcanoes and volcanic phenomena: Geysers, Hekla, Laki, etc.

→Discover Icelandic birds, including puffins (according to their migration calendar. You can observe them from June to September.)

→Climbing or walking on glaciers

→A snowmobile raid on glaciers

→A boat trip in the Vestmann Islands

→Trip in the heart of South Iceland

→Discover the black sand beach of Reynisfjara, just beside the small fishing village of Vík

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The black sand beach of Reynisfjara, Vik

The South of Iceland is one of the most populated areas of the country, but it is also one of the wildest regions, with Thorsmork and Landmannalaugar. There is also one of the largest tourist areas of the country with the Golden Circle, but also the Skaftafell region and its splendid Natural Park. In winter you can visit the ice caves. Inside is so smooth and transparent that you can see the oxygen bubbles trapped inside the ice!

The Golden Circle

One of the most famous places in Iceland, it allows you to discover the sites of Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.

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Geysir is the Icelandic geyser that gave its name to all others, and whose term comes from the Icelandic verb gjósa meaning “to gush”

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Brúarfoss Located along the road 355, this waterfall is unique by its opaque, milky shade of blue. The access is quite tricky and Brúarfoss is smaller than most waterfalls in Iceland, but it was my favorite by far! Don’t miss!

Landmannalaugar

Known worldwide as one of the most beautiful regions for trekking and hiking, Landmannalaugar offers fabulous landscapes.

Þjórsárdalur and Hekla region

Located to the east of the Golden Circle, west of Landmannalaugar and north of the Ring Road, this region is already quite wild and there are beautiful waterfalls, especially the magnificent Hekla

Thórsmörk

The region of Thórsmörk is one of the most popular places for travelers and Icelanders to discover nature in hikes.

South coast of Iceland and the two glaciers

The area runs all along the Ring Road and you can discover exceptional sites like Skogafoss or Dyrhólaey.

Vestmann Islands

This small archipelago of several islands is only a few kilometers from the south coast. Going there is the opportunity to discover underwater volcanoes. Remember that Iceland is one of the geologically youngest regions on the planet, and it’s still in formation through its relentless volcanic activity. 

South-East

Discover the beauties of south-east Iceland from Laki to Jökulsárlón via Skaftafell and many other breathtaking sites.

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Hiking in Skaftafell

East

Here you’ll discover Eastern Iceland with its wild fjords and its unique reindeer roaming its landscapes in warmer months. Often forgotten by travelers, this area is definitely worthy it!

Inhabited since almost the beginning of the colonization of Iceland, the east of the country is nonetheless one of the most deserted regions of the island. There are wild landscapes, beautiful fjords of the east, and the weather is milder: in the summer temperatures can exceed 20°C. While many travelers do not go so far in their visit to Iceland or just across the region for Ring Road, the East offers many advantages, so if you have enough time give it a shot and discover another face of Iceland!

Activities:

→Hiking and trekking (especially in the East Fjords or in the Lögurinn Valley)

→Discover the fjords and the sea by taking the coastal roads

→Visit small villages along the fjords

→ Blow your mind hiking the massive Vatnajökull

→Spot reindeer when you are off the Ring Road.

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Ice cave in Vatnajökull. The cave walls are smooth and so transparent that you can see the oxygen bubbles trapped inside the ice!

Trip in Eastern Iceland

This small region, which is found on the eastern coast of Iceland, offers two mainly important areas worth a visit: the East Fjords and the Eastern Highlands. The visits will, therefore, focus mainly on the wilderness.

Icelandic horses
Mental post-it: “A horse by any other name would smell as sweet” Icelanders are crazy about their beautiful horses that, unlike other races, have luscious hair and 5 gaits. However, despite their robustness, their size is smaller than that of a regular horse – which makes the Icelandic horse, technically, a super cute furry pony!

East Fjords

Over a hundred kilometers north of Höfn lies an east-to-west alignment of more than a dozen fjords, sometimes tens of kilometers deep and surrounded by high mountains at about 1,100 meters!

The Eastern Highlands (Lögurinn valley)

Southeast of Egilsstaðir is the beginning of the Highlands of Eastern Iceland. There you’ll find a large lake and one of the largest forests in the country. Finally, the magnificent Vatnajökull, the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland.

Highlands, the center of Iceland

Desolate and inhospitable land, difficult to access, the center takes you to another planet surrounded by glaciers and volcanoes.

North

The northern parts of Iceland take us away from the tourist heart of the country between Reykjavik and Jökulsárlón. This huge area is much less visited and contains real treasures of nature and some beautiful small towns and villages. Traveling to northern Iceland, one travels vast landscapes marked by volcanic activity, shredded by large fjords and dotted with small islands.

This region, closer to the Arctic Circle, has a climate often cooler and it is not rare to see snow on the mountains even during the summer.

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Fire in the Sky: the magical encounter with this unbelievable phenomenon, the Northern Lights

Activities:

→ Discover magnificent waterfalls such as Sellfoss, Dettifoss or Godafoss

→Come full circle! If you make up to here you’ll have completed the Ring Road!

→Admire the large fjords that populate this area

→Visit different islands, including Grimsey, the northernmost part of the country straddling the Arctic Circle

→Take a boat trip to discover the whales from the port of Husavik or Akureyri

→Discover the geothermal area near Lake Myvatn with the Krafla volcano

→Visit the two “big” cities in the north of the country: Husavik and Akureyri

→Enjoy the mountains for skiing in the winter

→See the turf houses at Glaumbaer

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Godafoss

Jökulsárgljúfur National Park and North-East Iceland

Between the National Park and the north-east of the country, you will discover beautiful sights such as the Dettifoss waterfall or the beautiful mountains that are found there.

Lake Myvatn and Krafla Region

This area is one of the most beautiful tourist spots in northern Iceland. It includes an impressive volcanic Krafla system with geothermal areas, Lake Myvatn and its pseudo-craters. Last point to see absolutely: the superb waterfall Goðafoss.

Between Eyjafjörður and Húnaflói

In the last area of northern Iceland are located some major tourist sites: Akureyri, Siglufjörður and Osar.

Share this guide if you find it useful and enjoy your trip!

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