This itinerary is based on one I created for Bill and Shirley, clients from the USA, who had previously holidayed with Iceland Traveller in 2013. As this was their second time in the country, they wanted to venture off the beaten track and explore some less-visited places. During their tour, they emailed to tell me about their experiences and I have included one of these descriptions in the itinerary.
DAY 1: Depending on your arrival time, you could spend your first night near Keflavík International Airport, in Reykjavík, or do what Bill and Shirley did and pick up a hire car and head straight to your first night’s accommodation in Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsness peninsula.
DAY 2: Take the 09:00, 2.5-hour ferry crossing to the coast of the Westfjörds. Here you will be met by your driver guide, who will introduce you to some of some of Iceland’s most dramatic coastal scenery. In summer, the towering sea cliffs are home to millions of breeding birds. The return ferry departs at 19:00.
DAY 3: Before leaving Stykkishólmur, take time to visit the local Folk Museum (housed in a beautifully restored timber house originally imported in kit form from Norway), the Volcano Museum to learn about Iceland’s explosive geology, or the Library of Water, which reflects the founder’s intimate connection with his country’s geography, landscape, climate and culture. Then continue on to Hvalfjördur where you will spend the night. In the mountains above the fjörd, about an hour’s walk from the road, is Glymur, Iceland’s highest waterfall at 198m.
DAY 4: A free day, perhaps to follow Bill and Shirley’s route: “We drove west on the north coast of Vesturland (a peninsula on the west coast that reaches out into the Atlantic) to reach the volcanic caves on the south coast. We were planning to cross the peninsula from north to south using a rural “F” road, which turned out to be closed because of late-melting snow. The road we ended up taking took us through cloud-covered mountain passes and was quite thrilling. I really enjoyed the caves (at which Journey to the Centre of the Earth was filmed) that we had read about, despite the taxing climb down and then up two spiral staircases used to access the underground chambers.”
DAY 5: If you have not followed the Golden Circle route on a previous visit to Iceland, you could do so today to see some of Iceland’s most famous sights en route to your next accommodation in the Fludir area. Here you can relax at a natural hot spring pool near to which a small geyser erupts every few minutes. Also nearby are geothermally heated greenhouses, where tomatoes are cultivated year-round using green energy, and where lunch is served among the plants. The unique Icelandic horse is bred here too.
DAY 6: Today you might like to visit a local community with an artistic, sustainable and ecological ethos, where around 100 people live and work together. Its workshops — in wood, art, ceramics, weaving and candle-making — produce high-quality, handmade artefacts which are available for sale in the on-site shop. From here drive on around the south-east tip of Iceland and spend the next two nights at a country hotel near to Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
Alternatively, you could travel across the Highlands on the rugged but beautiful cross-country road to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Bill and Shirley had planned to do this, but the harsh winter delayed the opening of the mountain ‘F’ routes. However, we had made a Plan B so they still visited places they hadn’t been to before and were able to stop and take more photographs as they followed their route around the coast.
DAY 7: The spectacular Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon is bound to be a highlight of your holiday. Here you can take one of the two types of boat trip on offer to get right in among the icebergs. On the way back, stop at the Skaftafell Visitor Centre in the Vatnajökull National Park (Europe’s largest). From here you can drive and then walk to the beautiful Svartifoss waterfall, surrounded on both sides by basalt columns.
DAY 8: Today you may like to explore one of Iceland’s hidden geological gems. Fjaðrárgljúfur is a magnificent and massive canyon, around 2km long and 100m deep. The water level of the river flowing through it is often quite low, making the canyon safe for hikers but there is also a path running along the edge, which affords spectacular views from above. From here you can plan a gentle drive to your 2-night stay in a country hotel on Iceland’s south coast.
DAY 9: A visit to the beautiful Westman Islands should be on this morning’s agenda. The ferry takes just 30 minutes and there is a range of different tours available. You could explore the coastline in a powerful Rib boat, take a tour with a knowledgeable driver guide or go horse-riding or hiking. Bird life here is abundant in summer and the islands are also home to one of the most beautiful and extraordinary golf courses in the world. These islands are perhaps best known for Surtsey (formed in 1963/4) and more recently the eruption of Eldfell (1973) which almost engulfed the nearby town and harbour in lava. The story of the dramatic events of those few weeks is vividly brought to life by a day trip, or if you wish to stay a night on the Islands that, too, can be arranged.
Day 10: Travelling across the dramatic landscape of the Reykjanes peninsula to Keflavík for your flight home, your final night could be spent at a cliff-top hotel close to both the airport and the Blue Lagoon and only a short drive from Reykjavík. After seeing so much of Iceland, I thoroughly recommend a relaxing last evening either at the Blue Lagoon or over dinner, or both! If you have not visited on a previous trip, or at the start of your holiday, you might choose instead to spend a night or two in the capital.