Iceland Traveller’s holidays are very flexible and the essential places to see are highlighted below. Tell us which aspects of the country interest you most and we will devise an itinerary that incorporates your preferences. If you’ve not visited Iceland before, the three tours we recommend that you include in your programme are Reykjavík, the Golden Circle and the South Shore. For returning travellers, or those staying for longer, we’ve included four tours that take you further afield.
Whether you choose to stay in Reykjavik or not, we recommend devoting an hour or two at the very least for one of our favourite Icelandic experiences. Cinema 2, the cosy, harbour side loft cinema shows short films about the natural wonders of Iceland, which provide an excellent introduction to your stay. Made by Lifsmynd, a small and talented family film production company, daily screenings include films from a varied programme including the Northern Lights, the eruption of the volcanoes Eyjafjallajökull or Bardabunga and the Birth of Iceland.
Each film is beautifully made and clearly narrated, superbly bringing the dynamic nature of Iceland’s geography, geology and culture together. In the cinema, (a former fisherman’s hut), there are also books about volcanoes, geology and more to browse through, a small but interesting rock collection, refreshments and knowledgeable staff that can provide all kinds of information.
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[wptabtitle]Reykjavík[/wptabtitle][wptabcontent]The world’s most northerly capital is a lively, culturally-rich city set in a magnificent, unspoiled landscape shaped by the energy of the earth.
The tour includes the Höfði House where, in October 1986, Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev met to discuss global disarmament. It also takes in the Parliament Building, which dates from 1880, the post-modern City Hall, and Government House, an unassuming whitewashed structure built in the 1760s, which now houses the office of the Prime Minister but which began life as a prison workhouse.
Visit the imposing Hallgrímskirkja, a modern concrete church whose spire resembles columns of basaltic lava, and the Ásmundarsafn, a sculpture gallery dedicated to Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) whose work was inspired by the Sagas, everyday life and nature. Perlan (“pearl”) is a glass-domed revolving restaurant perched atop glistening tanks which contain up to 24 million litres of water and cater for half of the city’s needs. Perlan is also home to the Saga Museum, a lifelike collection of model characters from Iceland’s medieval literature. Reykjavík’s newest landmark is the Harpa centre, home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera, which stages a range of concerts and events throughout the year.[/wptabcontent]
[wptabtitle]Golden Circle[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]Within easy reach of Reykjavík, this full-day tour features some of Iceland’s most spectacular sights including:
Thingvellir (“Parliament Plains”) National Park, is where the Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland was established in 930 and which has thus been recognised by UNESCO as the site of the world’s first parliament. It is also significant geologically as the point where the two halves of Iceland, formed by the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and are slowly drifting apart. In the rift is a small river that feeds into Iceland’s largest lake, Thingvallavatn.
Geysir is the great hot spring from which all others take their name. The frequency and scale of its eruptions are affected by volcanic activity and now occur only occasionally, but a nearby geyser, Strokkur, erupts every few minutes, shooting a column of boiling water 20 or 30m into the air.
Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”) is one of the most beautiful of Iceland’s numerous waterfalls – and perhaps its most famous natural wonder – is located in the canyon of the Hvita. About a kilometre above the falls, the river turns sharply left and flows down into a wide, curved, three-step “staircase” before plunging in two stages of 11 and 21 metres into a crevice 32m deep. Visitors can see a memorial to Sigridur Tomasdottir, who was determined to save the falls from plans to build a hydroelectric power plant which would have destroyed them forever.
Crater Keri∂ is one of several crater lakes in the area. It is coloured a vivid aquamarine due to minerals in the soil. While most of the crater is steep with little vegetation, one wall slopes more gently and is covered in moss. Please note: an entry fee may be payable to walk round the crater rim. This location is not included on all Golden Circle tours. [/wptabcontent]
[wptabtitle]South Shore[/wptabtitle][wptabcontent]This tour offers a thorough introduction to the geology of Iceland through its magnificent coastal scenery of volcanoes, glaciers, and waterfalls. These include Seljalandsfoss, and Skógafoss whose sheer drop offers a spectacular photo opportunity.
From the road can be glimpsed Eyjafjallajökull, the glacier brought to world attention in 2010 when its underlying volcano erupted, sending a black ash plume 11km into the atmosphere and closing European airspace for six days. The neighbouring icecap, Myrdalsjókull, is considerably larger with its majestic dome rising high above the cliffs and farmland beneath. To experience the ice cap there are snowmobile and jeep tours available, together with guided hikes on the associated glacier at Solheimajókull. Beneath the icecap lies the mighty Katla volcano, one of the most active in Iceland. Further along the coast is the town of Vik, where the North Atlantic swell sends waves crashing on to its black sand beach. Here, the coastal scenery is stunning and, at certain times of the year, the bird life is prolific. Most notable is the promontory at Dyrholaey, with its distinctive lighthouse and basalt columns while, visible from the road at Reynisfjara, are the Reynisdrangar “needles” or troll ship. Vik itself is a good place to stop for food and fuel, especially for those travelling further east across the outwash plains of Myrdalssandur.[/wptabcontent]
[wptabtitle]The South East[/wptabtitle][wptabcontent]Base yourself in Höfn (a delightful small town with a reputation for excellent lobster) to discover this region of spectacular volcanic formations, glaciers, waterfalls and lakes, dominated by Europe’s largest icecap, Vatnajökull. We can arrange an internal flight to Höfn and a hire car so that you can explore the region at your leisure and then drive back to Reykjavík along the beautiful south coast.
Between Vik and Höfn, the road crosses the great outwash plain, a dramatic and deserted landscape created by past glacial floods. Near the village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur lies the Eldrhaun lava field, created during the Laki fires of 1783 and considered to be the largest lava flow from a single eruption in historical times. Travelling north-east, the horizon is dominated by snow-topped mountains as the road heads towards Skaftafell, a paradise for hikers.
Skaftafell is the most popular area of the Vatnajökull National Park and its most photographed attraction is Svartifoss (“Black Falls”) which is backed by the black basalt columns which give it its name. The visitor centre is home to an exhibition, a highlight of which is film of the 1996 eruption under the icecap and the ensuing flood.
Jokülsarlon, where parts of the James Bond films A View To A Kill and Die Another Day were shot, is the largest of the lakes and a boat ride among its glistening glaciers is not to be missed. A short hiking trip along one of the glaciers can also be arranged.[/wptabcontent]
[wptabtitle]The North[/wptabtitle][wptabcontent]Akureyri, with its spectacular setting at the tip of Eyjafjördur fjord, makes an ideal base for exploring the North of the country. Despite being only 100km from the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s second city enjoys some of the warmest weather in the country in summer and its botanical garden is home to around 7000 species of native and non-native plants.
To see the finest array of craters, fresh lava fields, fumeroles and bubbling mud pools in Iceland head for the beautiful Lake Mývatn district. Situated just west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that is slowly tearing the country apart, it is one the most volcanically-active regions on Earth. The lake and its surrounding wetlands are an important breeding ground for waterfowl, particularly ducks. The Mývatn Nature Baths, an open-air geothermal pool, are the North’s answer to the Blue Lagoon but far less crowded.[/wptabcontent]
[wptabtitle]The West[/wptabtitle][wptabcontent]The area to the North West of Reykjavik is dominated by the Snaefellsjökull icecap which, on a clear day, can be seen from the capital 100km away. It is from here that French author Jules Verne’s intrepid explorers descend into a subterranean world in his 1864 adventure Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.
The pretty town of Stykkishólmur is a good base from which to explore the Snæfellsnes peninsula. This is the area where some of the most dramatic events of the Icelandic Sagas occurred and to the south, at Borgarnes, a multimedia exhibition uses these legends to explore the country’s early history.[/wptabcontent]
[wptabtitle]Highlands[/wptabtitle][wptabcontent]The wild, empty interior of Iceland can be accessed via a number of routes suitable only for four-wheel drive vehicles. The Sprengisandur route leads to the remote and beautiful area around Landmannalaugur which is popular with hikers. It lies within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve where streams of geothermal and spring water combine to form pools of an ideal temperature for bathing.[/wptabcontent]