A thought out guide to Iceland
Helps you find extraordinary accommodation, the tourists spots but more importantly places off the beaten track
Do you fancy an adventure or do are you looking for a risk free vacation?
Continue reading to see what makes our guide unique..
The best place in the world to see the Northern Lights and in the summer a great place to experience the Midnight Sun and for Birdwatching.
Stay at the Northern Lights Casa on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula where the Artic meets the Atlantic
What type of a person should visit Iceland
If you love raw and different nature. Different from anything you are likely to have experienced before.
If you are not a snob. There are so many places in this world that cater specifically for snobs. In Iceland we are ordinary people and we do not like being talked down to.
If you are informed. Don't be too judgmental. Hospitality is about giving so show your appreciation. The main travel season is short and a lot of expense goes into providing the services you receive.
You can be rich or you can be relatively poor. You can hitchhike, travel by schedule bus, rent a car or use some exoctic form of transportation. Although groceries are more expensive than in other countries, you can still find something that will not be too expensive and in any case a lot cheaper than eating out. If you do eat out, gourmet meals may actually be cheaper than in other countries. It is possible to find cheaper accommodation in some places such as shared room accommodation at Northern Lights Casa
The type of person that should stay clear of Iceland
If you do not respect your partner. Iceland has more equality than anywhere else on earth, but it can still be improved. If you do not consider your partner an equal you will be out of place in Iceland.
If you are into drugs and you depend on alcohol. The young people of Iceland, smoke less and use less drugs and alcohol than people elsewhere. It is not cool to take drugs in Iceland. Kick your habit and then visit.
If you suffer from homophobia. The rainbows are everywhere both manmade and natural :)
You think Iceland is there just for you, a natural wonder. It is a natural wonder but it is also a place that people call their home. The Blue Lagoon is not a natural Lagoon but a byproduct of a geothermal power station. There is much less crime, but if some people feel they need video monitors, it is not up to you because you think Iceland should be above all that. If a place offers some things originating from abroad such as foreign cuisine or foreign décor it is not up to you to criticize that.
If you think it is all right to go behind the back of people. If you have an opinion share it directly with the people concerned and not with a cowardly lousy review. We don't want cowards.
Volunteer in Iceland or in the mountains of Switzerland
Possibly in combination with doing your own home office (Continue reading...)
There is cheap accommodation available for the right volunteers. Read all about it at the Volunteer.Foundation to see if you or someone you know might qualify.
The different types of holidays you can have in Iceland
Touring bus holiday. Where you just want to see some specific spots and have a nice view from the bus and you don't mind being part of a flock where you are told "come along now". You better do this in summer as tours tend to be much more limited in winter although this is slowly changing.
Camper Van holiday. Where you sleep in the car and you do not mind that it is a bit chilly. You realize that you mostly have to park in camper designated areas. You will be in your own world without much interaction with other people.
You rent your own car and stay in hotels, hostels, guesthouses or accommodation provided by private individuals. You will have more comfort and you will be meeting more people. If it is in the months of July and August you will be paying considerably more. But why not visit in some other months, it will be cheaper and you will have more flexibility. If you choose to have your own car how you plan your trip can totally change your experience. E.g.
Pack and drive. Pack and drive. Pack and drive. Is that really what you want? Many people choose to do the ring road. If you try to do that in a short time, in a week or less you may be missing out on the tranquility that Iceland is all about.
Stay at least few nights in the same place. Get to know your hosts and the local people. A great place to meet locals is in the hot tubs by the swimming pools that are all over the country. Every village tends to have a swimming pool.
Exhaust yourself and your travel partners by trying to see every site you have heard off. For your convenience we have listed at lot of nice spots. But that does not mean you have to visit them all on the same trip. Why not leave something for future trips.
Seen that. Done that. Shared it on social media. Iceland is a great place to take photos. The air is clear and the angle of the sun is photogenic. Relax and enjoy your life. Your friends may enjoy that you share with them your experiences. But most of all if you think it is something they would enjoy recommend that they experience it for themselves. Enjoy, the fresh air and water, all the different landscapes, a country shaped by fire and ice, the local people and likeminded travelers, but especially the tranquility of random places.
What do people miss out on in Iceland
Avoid making the same mistakes!
Most people visit the Blue Lagoon but most do not try the local swimming pools. Once you try one you will most likely like to visit more. Most of the pools are heated by geothermal water and have hot tubs that the locals call hot pots where people sit together and often talk to each other. These are great places to get to know other people including the Icelanders themselves.
Many visitors eat fast food thinking they are saving money by avoiding the gourmet restaurants. But it is the gourmet restaurants that provide the most value for money especially if you compare to other places around the world.
A lot of visitors follow an itinerary that includes some must see spots. Iceland has some great spots but what is really special about the country is how sparsely populated the country is, the purity of the nature and that you can easily find beautiful places and enjoy them all to yourself. Unless you are exploring in the Midnight Sun or under the Northern Lights only the tourist traps you are going to miss out on this tranquility.
Many visitors are focused on staying in the city center. If you want to enjoy the night life, museums and such than this is a sensible choice. If you are going to rely on organized bus tours then this may also be appropriate or at least at a hotel which is subject to pick up service by these touring bus companies. Otherwise apart from one stroll through the town center there is absolutely no need to stay in a town center. Iceland is mostly about the nature and not the towns.
Ring road or not?
It depends on how much time you have (Continue reading...)
It may be a bit tiring having to pack and unpack every day so we recommend staying more than one night in each place and to explore the vicinity of that place or take a day trip.
Ring road alternatives and extensions
South West Iceland
North East Iceland
Hotel, guesthouse, camper van or something else
There are different types of hotels, guesthouses and accommodation provided by private individuals.
One great place is the Northern-Lights Casa on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
What is the best time of year to visit Iceland?
There is something special about each season
In the south east May is good. In winter you have the wonder of the Northern Lights. In summer the Midnight Sun. Many people mistakenly think May is too early with the logic that it will be warmer later in the summer. But it will only be a bit warmer, so you are hardly going to be sunbathing anyway, plus there is a tendency to have more sunshine in the South West of Iceland in May than later. However if you are driving up north it may not be green yet in May. June is the month of the longest days. But July and August are the most expensive. All other months are great for the Northern Lights.
Myth 1: The best time to visit Iceland is July and August
Those are the most expensive months, for accommodation and car rental. The average temperature is slightly higher but still so cool that you would not be there to sunbath. What is more important is how much the sun is shining. In South west Iceland (around Reykjavik) this tends to be earlier in the summer esp. in May. In May is also the time that the migrant birds arrive and the trees blossom. But on higher ground or more northerly the green comes later. If you come later than August you will also benefit from lower prices. The first snow in Reykjavik often comes around mid November but does not stay.
Myth 2: In winter the night is 24 hours long
In Reykjavik in January you will have 9 hours of daylight including twilight (the time the sun is below the horizon but it is not completely dark because of the diffraction of the sun rays). Compare that to a country that is much further south like Switzerland which has 11 hours of daylight including twilight during the same period. If you compare being in a steep valley e.g. in Switzerland and being somewhere in Iceland with the mountains further away the difference would be less. However if you are in a place in Iceland which has a high enough mountain range towards the south you might not see the sun at all but you will still get some daylight. Iceland is just south of the Artic Circle (only a part of one small Island Grimsey is north of the Artic circle) which is a magic spot to be, because by definition the Artic Circle is the
This guide is written by an Icelander and another person who originally just came to visit the country but through time has come to appreciate its secrets
We have come to notice that people visit certain places without really knowing why they are visiting that particular place. They visit because everybody else does with a seen this, done that attitude. We will tell you about those places but also if you are interested, what it is that is so special about each one, so that you can choose if that is the experience you are looking for. We will also tell you about other places that people are visiting much less and tell you what makes them attractive.
This guide is under development as we write this in December 2022
One of the best places in the world to catch Salmon
The Salmon is a fascinating species that traverse the big oceans to return to their rivers of birth to lay their eggs.
If fishing is your thing and you can afford it fishing in the Icelandic rivers gives you a chance to bond with nature.
But you do not have to fish or play golf to venture out in the nature. There are plenty of opportunities in Iceland.
Experience the crystal clear waters, the fresh air and the nature with less signs of people than elsewhere in the world.
Organized hiking tours
There are many companies that specialize in hiking tours. E.g. on top of Iceland's tallest mountain or the magical mythical Snaefellsjökull. E.g. Go West Iceland. If you would like to stay in the near, book the Northern Lights Casa
The Icelandic Horse is the ideal horse for people to ride
Ideal to ride especially for beginners, because of its height it is shorter to fall, shorter to mount and because it is used to carry Vikings it is a very strong horse.
It is among the shortest of all horses. If it were any shorter it would be called a pony.
There are a lot of places in Iceland where you can book horse-riding tours.
Riding in the storm
Very few places outside the city have dedicated bike routes except for the Snaefellsbaer region on the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Northern Lights Casa might be a good place to stay if you want to do some biking. There are tarmaced routes to the next villiage and the next town otherwise you could ride on the main road for example the road that goes through the National Park. Or you could take your mountain bike and ride on some other trails or some nearby F (mountain) roads.
You can take whale watching excursions or you may be able to spot the whales from ashore, e.g. on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
Northern Lights Casa might be a good place to stay if you are seeking tranquility and like to walk by the sea clifs or drive out to the lighthouses to see if you can spot some whales.
The best place to watch birds in Iceland is the Northern-Lights.Casa. The best time to view the Birds is actually the time of the Midnight Sun which is the worst time to view the Northern Lights. But this is the time the migration birds are there for example the Artic Turn that is there from approximately mid May till mid August.
The Northern-Lights Casa has the practicality of a bird hide / birdwatching house but with the comfort of a extraordinary living room with bird nature views in two directions. It is in fact in the middle of a bird nesting colony. The number and variety of birds is amazing.
Made up of ground volcanic rock.
Just as nice to walk on as white beaches. In Iceland these beaches can be very long. One of the most tranquil experience you can get. You can often have a whole beach for yourself.
The sea / ocean is always fascinating
There are endless beaches to choose from.
On Snaefellsnes there are sand beaches at Skardsvik and Rif, rocky beaches such as Beruvik, the place of an abandoned settlement or the beach next to Irskabrunnur. (The Irish Well - An ancient well possibly built by early Irish settlers.) Some Irish monks are recorded as having settled in Iceland before the Vikings. But due to their problems with reproduction they did not survive more than a generation at a time. However Irish blood has survived because the Vikings brought with them women from Scotland and Ireland. So Icelanders are in fact 50% Scottish and Irish.
All roads except F roads
F stands for Fjallvegur which is a designation for a tough mountain road. Many car rentals do not allow you to take their rental cars irrespective of the type of vehicle on those roads. But do not worry there are lots of other roads you can take.
Look for combination menus they can be great value for money.
Are you there with a partner?
order different dishes and share with one another
Compared to many other places in the world:
Fast food is very expensive and only slightly cheaper than
Gourmet restaurants which tend to be better value than elsewhere in the world
and proud of it
There is no place for homophobia in Iceland. One of the main street, pictured here was painted in rainbow colors to welcome the homophobic US vice president Pence.
Hitchhiking in Iceland
Go anywhere. You will most likely catch the rides you need
Hitchhiking used to be much more popular.
It is a great way to get around and a nice way to get to know people.
We would recommend to have enough layers of clothing and if it is approaching the night ask to be dropped off at a junction that is near a town or village, so that you have somewhere to go in case you are getting to cold.
Hiking in the middle of nowhere
Snaefellsnes, Reykjanes, The interior or many other places
Snæfellsnes is a great place to hike. The mountains are comfortably high and pretty much accessible. However do your research. Have appropriate clothing and weather protection available, phones and spare electricity, and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
It is also fun and quite convenient to hike on the Reykjanes peninsula and even explore the site of the last volcanic eruption. The same goes for the area around Thingvellir.
A nice hike is to the tall waterfall at the bottom of Hvalfjordur. The waterfall is called Glymur. Some distance above the waterfall you could cross the river and back down on the other side.
Iceland's interior and the East and West Fjords as well as Tröllaskagi may be a bit more challenging.
Generally a tourist attraction and NOT a threat
Generally eruptions in Iceland although very powerful are gentle in the way they tend to be non explosive.
Fortunately we are often free to explore these spectacles at our own risk. Scientist try to give guidance to people and the authorities.
The last eruption was on Reykjanes in 2021 at a spot that had not erupted for 6000 years. There were other eruptions on Reykjanes some 800 years ago. Scientist believe that the area may witness more regular eruptions for the time being.
In 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption took place that was world famous because it disrupted flights between North America and Europe.
In the 17th century the eruption of Lakagígar brought so much ash into the Atmosphere that it affected the crops in Europe and Alaska the following years and lead to the French revolution.
A lot of volcanos have showed signs of life recently and might erupt in the coming years including, Grimsvotn, Askja, Herdubreid and Hekla.
You need to know where to look
The types of land species are much fewer than elsewhere. But that is countered by an abundance of birds, some sea mammals and how wild the domestic animals live.
Better than bio
We think people are mislead when buying something labeled as bio. We think it is more important that the animals from which products are made live a happy life. The Icelandic sheep is free to roam the country during summer and are thus not held within fences like in most other pats of the world.
Rif, Iceland - ACCOMMODATION
The village that is home to the Northern Lights Casa also called Midnight Sun Casa in the summer or Washitsu Casa
A uniquly shaped mountain and waterwalls in the same photograph
The magical, mythical mountain, glacier and volcano that was featured in the epic novel "Journey through the center of the earth"
A picturesque town to take a look at during your travels around the peninsula and/or ferry journey
Dagvarðará abandoned farm
A perfect place to spend some time during the day to get away from it all
Pecular rock formation
The Golden Circle
Þingvellir / Thingvellir
Beautiful place with a world significant history.
Þingvellir is a nice place to visit for many reasons.
It is a beautiful place.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is the first National Park created in Iceland.
It is the place where the European and American Tectonic plates meet. There is a canyon you can walk through. On the west side of the Canyon you are in America and on the east side you are in Europe.
It is the site of the oldest parliament in the world, established in the year 930. Do not expect to see some clear monuments but rather just imagine how it would have been to ride to this place from all over Iceland, tent and discuss politics. The site of the parliament is now marked by a flagpole.
Four hundred meters to the south used to be Hotel Valhöll (Valhalla), a hotel frequented by everyone and not least foreign dignitaries, Kings, Queens and presidents. The hotel burned down on the 10 of July 2009 from a fire that originated in the kitchen vent.
Two hundred meters further south was the summer house of the Prime Minister of Iceland, he, his wife and grandchild were killed when the house burned down 10 July 1970. The source of the fire is unknown.
There is a beautiful waterfall called Oxarárfoss. The waterfall was created by the Vikings by diverting the flow of the river towards the canyon. Inside the canyon just above the bridge is a bulge in the river that was later used for executions of women, executions of men was by decapitation. Iceland was among the first countries to cease death sentences in the year 1830.
On the other side of the river than the Parliament used to be are water filled canyons that are loved by divers. The water is incredibly clear and blue.
Most people park by the viewpoint and walk down the Canyon. For a more romantic experience we recommend you drive to the next parking lot if you are driving from Reykjavik and walk down a tranquil canyon to the waterfall and if you like beyond.
The lava of the valley is 9000 years old. The height of the valley has gone up and down, depending on the pressure of the magma below. At the end of the last Ice Age about 14000 years ago more magma flowed under the country and especially underneath the volcanic plate boundaries, which caused the canyons to form. During an earthquake in the year 1789 the whole valley fell by 60 cm.
The Geyser that all other geysers in the world are named after
Geysir is the first geyser that was given a name.
This is how a geyser works. There is a hollow cavity underneath the geyser that fills up with hot water from below and the run off from the last eruption above. The water is above 100 degrees but because of pressure it does not turn to steam but remains in a liquid (water) state until some water manages to escape from the cavity. At that point the pressure drops triggering an action where the part of the liquid that is kept liquid only by the pressure takes on the gaseous form which requires 1600 times more space and hence the explosion.
In Reykjavik next to Perlan a man made natural replica of a geyser has been made using geothermal water.
Something has changed so Geysir does not readily erupt. Instead we witness its neighbor Strokkur erupting, a scene worth seeing. Taking pictures of the water swelling and then bursting can be fun.
The Golden Waterfall
A very nice waterfall conveniently located a bit further than the Geysir area. The Golden circle route gets its name from this waterfall.
The Capital of Iceland
A city that is bigger than its population. Being the capital of a country in the middle of nowhere by necessity it has to offer more services than a typical city with the same population and catchment.
It is a lovely city but the main attraction of Iceland is the nature and not the city.
If you are staying in Reykjavik and you ask at a concierge desk what to do, they most likely will recommend getting out of the city.
So think about whether you want to stay there in the first place.
However if you intend to use tour buses for tours to discover the nature than Reykjavik is good as a lot of tours originate from Reykjavik.
Harpa Concert Hall Reykjavík
Cute without skyscrapers
Downtown Reykjavik is the location of nightlife, a lot of restaurants and souvenir shops.
The locals on the other hand tend to shop in malls such as Kringlan and Smáralind or in supermarkets like Hagkaup, Krónan and Bónus.
Restaurants and Bars
Icelandic chefs are very talented. You should expect a rather high standard. The trouble is that the locals go mostly for cheaper dishes so fine food restaurants are not as frequent as they used to be. But in general fine food is relatively cheap compared to elsewhere in the world but the fast food relatively more expensive. (Continue reading...)
For Icelandic cuisine we recommend:
3frakkar: Baldursgata 14, 101 Reykjavík
Saegreifinn: Geirsgata 4a, 101 Reykjavík (Very informal)
and an hour drive from Reykjavik a Lobster restaurant, Fjöruborðið (Fjorubordid): Eyrarbraut 3a, 825 Stokkseyri
and the Ethopian Restaurant not far from the Golden Circle, Restaurant Minilik: 845 Flúðir (Fludir)
For Bars just walk down the main street in Reykjavik, Laugavegur from Frakkastígur towards Austurstræti
Detente - The pause in the cold war
Blue Lagoon, Iceland
The Blue Lagoon was created by accident
A geothermal power station was raised on the Reykjanes peninsula between Keflavik Airport and Reykjavik. It is a geothermal power station that both generates electricity and supplies hot water directly to homes in the area, including Keflavík and Grindavík. The water coming out of the boreholes is too rich in minerals to be pumped directly to homes therefore the hot water while it is really hot is used to heat cold water that can be pumped into the radiator systems of houses. Once the water is no longer hot but just warm it was simply allowed to run into the lava next to the geothermal plant. The water was expected to disappear directly into the porous lava rock, but because the water is so mineral rich a layer soon developed that held the water and a lagoon developed. The lagoon was fenced of but soon people started to clime over the fence especially at night and enjoy sitting in the warm water and having a good time. People with Psoriasis soon discovered that the water had some healing properties so they were the first to get a permission to build some rudimentary changing facilities. Since then the site has constantly developed to become one of Iceland's main tourists attraction. Over the years the experience has totally changed and has become much more commercial, but still very special. In the early days the area where the water comes out of the geothermal plant was fanced of from the bathing area. But one could still clime over and enjoy sitting and playing where crystal formation formed.
What makes it so appealing. The lake is a very special radiant blue, so even if you do not see the lagoon directly you see the blue radiate from the water.
The lagoon has a dirty little secret which you can not see because you can't see through the water. Enjoy
John Lennon Peace Column
Island of Viðey by Reykjavík
Most houses in Iceland are heated directly by geothermal energy. Basically hot water from the ground that is pumped into the radiators of houses or if the hot water is too full of chemicals it is used to heat cold water that is used instead. Even when cold water is used a little bit of sulfur is mixed with it to prevent oxidation of the pluming, so expect a little bit of a rotten egg smell from the hot water.
Cliffs and lighthouses
Enjoy with care
Choose an edge you can reach
There are different glaciers to choose from including:
Check if you are allowed to drive there with your rental car
Not far from Skogarfoss is Seljalandsfoss. In the mountains above is Eyjafjallajökull the volcano that erupted in March 2010 spewing ash so high in the air that it disrupted atlantic flights at the time. Flights to Iceland were though always possible.
One of many black beaches in Iceland
It is nice to have the rock formations as a backdrop. But is just one of a lot of black beaches in Iceland.
The other beaches may be nicer for two reasons.
They may be less dangerous. The incline of the see is quite steep on this beach so if a wave catches you that might be the end of the world.
It is the most popular beach so you will loose out on the tranquility that you may experience elsewhere.
Close to this beach is Dyrholaey a semi-island with a door like hole going through it, a lighthouse and a view.
Unless you visit a glacier or experience a snow storm Iceland does not feel at all icy
Visiting one of the glacial lagoons in the South East of the country opens up a different world
Expensive to walk there, but most people say it is worth it.
Under the right light conditions and technique this mountain is very picturesque. Pity the farmer that owns the land charges 900 ISK per person who wants to walk there. Almost all other places in Iceland you can observe for free. Many people are unsatisfied with paying this fee, but on the other hand the vast majority finds it worth it.
This is the south east corner of Iceland. There is a Viking Village movie set there. A light house and a radar station. The old radar station had a much bigger disc and should have been preserved as a cultural site. It was quite spectacular to see this big parabolic dish near this magnificent mountain.
An incredibly powerful waterfall
High Plateau North East Iceland
A geothermal area in North East Iceland
There used to be a geothermal run off lake from the geothermal powerplant where it was nice to go skinny dipping. This has been replaced by Jarðböðin a commercial lagoon similar to the Blue Lagoon
Beautiful waterfalls in North Iceland
Dynjandi waterfall West Fjords Iceland
Krosslaug Hot Springs
Not Krooslaug Hot Pot
Heimaey / Westmann islands
Laugavegur hiking trail