By Gina Duncan
Iceland—a popular bucket-list destination—is a magical place in the North Atlantic Ocean. If you crave adventure and seek to explore stunning landscapes, Iceland is the destination for you. Known as the “Land of Fire and Ice” because of its active volcanoes, thermal springs, and spouting geysers, it is home to Europe’s largest glaciers, thunderous waterfalls, and black sand beaches.
Depending upon the time of year you visit, you can enjoy natural phenomena like the midnight sun or the Northern Lights. Summer is the tourism high season in Iceland. If you visit from June to September, temperatures will average 10-15 °C and the days are long as the sun goes down for only a few hours.
October to April brings much colder temperatures; usually, around 0 °C and the days are shorter too, so you will see very little daylight. This is excellent news because it means there is ample time to view the Northern Lights. Christmas in Iceland is a spectacular time to visit. Lasting 26 days beginning 11 December; you are almost guaranteed a white Christmas, and there is not one—but 13 Santa Clauses.
The spring and autumn are great times to visit too as the days are still long, but hotels and almost everything is significantly cheaper as this is considered the off-season for tourists.
Here’s a beginner’s guide to the best the country has to offer:
First Stop Reykjavik
Most trips begin in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. Make it your base for the first day or two and discover a bunch of places to visit while in this southwestern region of the country. Some places to see in the city itself include Hallgrimskirkja Church (the largest church in Iceland), the old harbour, Kópavogskirkja Church for the view, Harpa Concert Hall, Úlfarsfell, thermal pools, Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach. Reykjavik also boasts a grand display of street art with world-class murals around the city.
Get a taste of Iceland and take a culinary tour sampling the local cuisine. Try grass-fed Icelandic lamb, an assortment of cheese, Icelandic Skyr yoghurt, an Icelandic hot dog, and homemade ice cream. Pop into RVK Brewing Company; it’s the only craft brewery and taproom in the heart of Reykjavik.
Also near the city are Gunnuhver an active geothermal area, and Reykjanes—the spot where Europe and North America plates meet. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can scuba dive here at Silfra and view the plates underwater.
The Blue Lagoon
The most popular place to visit near Reykjavik is the Blue Lagoon. Relax in the geothermal waters of one of Iceland’s main attractions, only a short drive from Reykjavik.
You will need to book your visit in advance, or you won’t be able to enter. There is also a skincare bar, a sauna and a gourmet restaurant on site.
Incredible South Iceland
South Iceland is where you will find the country’s most popular sights: Skógafoss, Svartifoss, Seljalandsfoss and Gullfoss Waterfalls.
The South has the most popular waterfalls to visit in Iceland, and you can visit most of them on the same day as they are off the main Ring Road. Skógafoss is visible from the road and is an easy walk, while 29km away is Seljalandsfoss, the only waterfall that you can walk behind. Gullfoss is on the Golden Circle route, and Svartifoss is near another great location to hike—Skaftafell National Park.
Strokkur is a must-see as it is Iceland’s most active geyser, it erupts up to 30m in height, every 5 minutes.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
You can visit Glacier Lagoon, the country’s deepest lake with icebergs over 1,000 years old by boat or on foot. Glacier Lagoon connects with the sea at Diamond Beach.
Diamond Beach is the most famous black beach in Iceland. Standing on this beach, with sparkling pieces of glaciers on its shores is a sight you won’t forget.
Travel north of Reykjavik to West Iceland. As you’re making your way along the peninsula’s beautiful black beaches, take a pit stop at Arnarstapi, a charming old fishing village surrounded by columnar basalt and breathtaking cliff formations.
Hike Snaefellsjokull National Park
Hike the 90km long Snaefellsnes Peninsula along the west coast to Snaefellsjokull National Park.
Book a glacier tour as it is home to the Snaefellsjokull glacier. In the summer, climb its many hills and mountains. In the colder months, enjoy a beautiful winter wonderland.
Next to Kirkjufellfoss waterfalls, Kirkjufell Mountain is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. It’s a great place to view the sunrise and the Northern Lights.
Go Whale Watching
The best time to go whale watching is during the summer months, but you can take tours from Reykjavik, Snaefellsnes Peninsula or Dalvik any time of the year. It’s a great location to see Orcas and Sperm whales and other species travelling the waters of Iceland.
Chase Waterfalls in the North
North Iceland is home to the most beautiful waterfalls and landscapes in the country. However, getting there in the winter can prove to be tricky, so it’s best to check road conditions before you venture north.
This area is home to the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss at 44m tall and100m wide. Just down the road is Selfoss, and it’s one not to be missed. Not far off the main road is Goofoass, which means “the waterfall of the gods,” and then Aldeyjarfoss.
Iceland is a different experience in winter compared to summer. You can do the major outdoor attractions any time of the year, but be wary of driving conditions in the winter. There really isn’t a bad time to enjoy Iceland!