Why visit Iceland
Iceland is where glaciers reach for the sky, where the mountain lakes sparkle against a backdrop of sharp green peaks…
…and where you can sink into hot springs hidden in spectacular secluded valleys.
Since the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010, Iceland has become a tourist hot spot…. with Instagram happy snappers on day trips and short breaks heading to Reykjavik to soak up Europe’s flavour of the month.
But Iceland has much more to offer than the tourist guides tell you.
50% of tourists who visit Iceland never leave Reykjavík, leaving the best bits for travellers to enjoy some of the most phenomenal experiences.
Iceland travel options are wide and varied… tour in comfort, put your hiking boots on and go trekking, try your hand at ice climbing or jump on an Icelandic horse. Head out of the city and to the remote locations to see Iceland come alive.
Escaping the tourist trail in Iceland
With a population of 350,000 and a land mass of 103,000 km2, Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. We aren’t just sharing that fact for the fun of it… what that means when you are travelling is that when you embark on Iceland travel off the beaten path, you can visit remote destinations and there won’t be another soul in sight.
If you want the freedom to explore on your own, hiring a car and driving is a great option. But we recommend using a tour guide – at least for part of your journey – so that you can really understand the country and the people and uncover the hidden gems that you would never find on your own.
Rose travelled by expedition cruise for five days, visiting the most phenomenal remote areas in the Eastfjords and southern Iceland, followed by a small group tour to other parts of Iceland. This is what we recommend for anyone wanting the ultimate Iceland travel experience.
For travellers serious about Iceland travel off the beaten path, there are three destinations that will leave you in awe.
The 120km long Eastfjords are the reason many travellers seek out Iceland. They have the very best of what Iceland has to offer; fantastic scenery, remote villages and, with about 3% of Iceland’s already tiny population living here, you won’t be battling crowds either!
The Westfjords are one of the best kept secrets. Because they are so isolated, the wilderness is relatively unspoiled. The area is largely uninhabited and will speak to the heart of serious explorers.
And we have saved the best for last… the Westman Islands. These little islands off the coast of Iceland are as fascinating in their history as they are beautiful in their scenery. You can hike, meet the local puffin colony and learn about the volcano that has formed the landscape of this must-see spot.
When to visit Iceland
Iceland is warmer than its name suggests. The Gulf Stream provides a year-round temperate climate… but it is very changeable so the best advice we can give is to be prepared for anything!
If the fact that the Icelandic language has 156 words to describe wind is anything to go by, it’s safe to assume that wind is always on the cards.
While there is no wet season, from October to February the south and west do see higher rainfall. The north, east and highlands have a colder winter but warmer summers with less snow and rain.
The average temperature in Reykjavík goes from 1-2°C in winter to 12°C in summer, but can reach -10°C in winter and up to 25°C in Summer.
Spring (March – May)
In spring, the weather starts to warm up and the flowers begin to appear, as do the puffins and other migrating birds.
If you want to avoid the tourist crowds and snap up a great deal, April and May are ideal times to visit.
Go in early spring and you might still catch the Northern Lights.
Summer (June – August)
Summer temperatures average 10°C but can rise to a balmy 25, with the sun shining day and night.
Summer in Iceland is a truly beautiful time to visit as the countryside glows with lush greenery, and Icelandic horses and sheep roam freely. If you are keen to hike, some remote roads and hiking trails are only open in summer. It is peak season for tourists so it is busy, but you can still avoid the crowds by taking our advice and booking early!
Autumn (September – October)
As the weather starts to cool, the Northern Lights start to shine in the place of the sun.
Autumn in Iceland is a photographer’s dream, with breathtaking sunsets and sunrises and stunning autumn colours contrasting against the lava fields.
Winter (November – March)
Winter is a wild experience in Iceland with the Northern Lights, ice caves, frozen waterfalls and hot tubs! In winter you are able to hike along the frozen rivers that lead to the amazing blue caves formed from the ice melting underneath the glaciers in summer.
We recommend booking organised tours instead of self-drive trips due to safety, as the highlands are closed and day trips are often cancelled. Temperatures range from -5 to +5 in the south to -10 in the north (plus wind-chill).
Forget everything you think you know about Iceland. This is one of the most unique destinations in the world, with so much to offer!
If you are going to visit anywhere in Iceland, make it the Westman Islands.
In 1973, 5,000 people were evacuated off this little island off the coast of Iceland in the middle of the night… for the next six months the volcano erupted covering the island in ash and completely changing the landscape of the island. This is a living museum… and more than that, it is a phenomenal fishing spot, great for hiking and has an amazing puffin colony.
The Blue Lagoon
You won’t usually find us recommending the tourist hot spots… but The Blue Lagoon is one place where you need to embrace your inner tourist. Put on your silica face mask, sip on your free drink and enjoy the healing powers of the turquoise waters of the pools. You will be enjoying the experience with the masses… but trust us when we say that it’s worth it!
The Golden Circle is another one of the major tourist attractions in Iceland… and it is worthy of its reputation. The 300km circuit takes you to Geysir geyser (where the word geyser originates), Gullfoss waterfall and the majestic ancient parliament of Þingvellir.
If you want a more relaxed experience, our tip is to do the Golden Circle as a guided day trip from Reykjavik to get the whole history and have your driver navigate (and avoid) the tourist buses.
The 120km stretch that makes up the Eastfjords is quintessential Iceland. If it is good weather you are after, this is where you will find the sunniest weather in Iceland, along with breathtaking coastlines and opportunities for tranquil solitude.
You can take a ferry from Europe or the Faroe Islands to Seyðisfjörður, a tiny village known for its artistic community and superb scenery. Our Director, Rose, visited here in Jun 2020 and was overwhelmed by the waterfall valley walk and the beautiful little village centre hugging the fjord.
This is a hiker’s paradise with Borgarfjörður Eystri, the home of Iceland’s ‘hidden folk’, and the longest and widest valley in Iceland, Breiðdalur. Another amazing Eastfjords experience is to relax in the swimming pool at Selárlaug surrounded by mountains and beautiful views over the fjord.
Reykjavík is a bit offbeat, quirky, enticing and home to 75% of the population. It is a major cultural destination in Europe with museums, galleries and craft shops hidden in all corners of the city. And while smoked puffin and dried cod might not tempt your tastebuds, Reykjavík has developed quite the reputation as a foodie capital.
The unassuming Höfð house is a forgotten piece of world history and worthy of a passing visit.
In 1986, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan met here to discuss ending the Cold War.
Snaefellsness is like a mini snapshot of Iceland condensed into a 90km long peninsula. You can explore lava fields and tunnels, glaciers, fishing villages, basalt cliffs and iconic churches.
The black sand beaches at Djúpalónssandur and Dritvík are lined with shipwreck debris and the eerie, isolated Kirkjufell is Iceland’s most photographed mountain… not to mention a challenging hike. If you have a few days you can dig into the Viking sagas.
Shining brightly from September to March, the Northern Lights are a huge incentive to travel to Iceland. For the best chance to see the lights, visit between December and February.
In the Westfjords and North Iceland, you will have a better chance of seeing the lights as they have longer dark time and less light pollution than in the city/town areas. North Iceland, especially the east, has clearer skies than the south-east.
Only 10% of all travellers to Iceland visit the remote Westfjords… the rest of them don’t know what they are missing out on!
This is where land meets the sea in the most dramatic fashion with picturesque fjords, natural hot springs and tiny villages where you can join the fishermen on their boats and taste seafood directly from the ocean.
Látrabjarg has the most accessible and thriving community of nesting seabirds in Iceland. There are no foxes, so travellers have a rare opportunity to get up close with the relaxed colonies of puffins and other birds. For the best bird watching experience, visit in summer for the largest numbers and to see the breeding displays of puffins with all their glorious colours.
Cruising in Iceland
The real magic of Iceland is when you escape the tourist trail to the treasures that await in the most remote parts of the country. And the best – in some cases, only – way to visit these destinations is via ship.
Cruising in Iceland on an expedition cruise gives you the best of both worlds. You have the comfort of a small ship cruise, being able to travel around to some of the most amazing destinations in Iceland and you only have to unpack once.
On Rose’s Iceland expedition cruise, she travelled from Scotland, through the North Atlantic Islands on The Resolute which carries just 140 passengers. This was a nature and history expedition cruise which allowed travellers to personalise their cruise experience through the daily activities with local guides. Rose avoided the tourist ships and went straight for the nature and history experiences.
Self-drive around Iceland
In many destinations around the world, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend self-drive as an option to our travellers… but Iceland is a little different.
While you may picture cruising the open roads, pulling over when you want and walking off to explore glaciers and rolling green hills, this is not the reality.
Firstly, the roads are narrow and you cannot pull off if you spot the perfect bird photo opportunity. You need to wait until there is a ‘pull out’ before you can stop. Secondly, when you travel by yourself, you miss the local knowledge, history and nuances of the local Icelandic culture.
We can help make sure your self-drive around Iceland is planned properly and safely. We can pre-book your activities so you don’t miss out and ensure you plan a route that will help you see everything you need… and keep you safe while you are doing it.
Here are tips 1 and 2: Never drive off-road and always have your headlights on.
We’ll make sure you’re not one of the travellers who books a hotel near Reykjavík airport to be close to the car pick up location, only to discover they need to pick up their car at the other Reykjavík airport… 45 minutes away.
We love the freedom and excitement of self-guided adventures… but in Iceland a private guided tour is well worth it, especially at the start of your journey as you acquaint yourself with the Icelandic people and places.
Your driver/guide can give you all the advice, history and local knowledge that you simply cannot find on your own. They can tailor the trip for you, which will save you money and time, and give you a better experience by acting as your own personal local encyclopedia!
We have local connections with the best private tour guides and can help you plan an itinerary that includes both private tours and self-guided travelling.
Iceland for Seniors
Iceland is a very welcoming and easy place to travel around with a well planned and managed tourism network. Hotels are all excellently equipped, accessible and well located. Many of the iconic photos and attractions are easily reached, so people of all ages and most abilities can see them for themselves. Vans and buses have steps for easy access and everyone speaks English, making it a very easy and welcoming place to travel.
Active and unique things to do in Iceland
Hiking in Iceland
Stunning landscapes, empty spaces and fresh air make Iceland a hiking paradise. You can hike on lava fields, across and inside glaciers, behinds waterfalls, up volcanoes and along black sand beaches. You are spoilt for choice… even more so in summer.
Laugavegur is Iceland’s most popular hiking trail. The 79 km Laugavegur trail stretches across the interior and is only open in summer. Pass by glaciers, lava fields and raging rivers… and don’t forget your swimmers so you can bathe in the thermal springs along the way.
The pure-bred Icelandic Viking horse is perfect for riding… just don’t call them ‘ponies’! They have five gaits, while most other breeds only have three or four.
The ‘tolt’ gait is a very smooth ride that feels like gliding over ice and makes them perfect for beginners and experienced riders. You can choose multi-day rides, or opt for a quick half day.
Yes, the water is cold… but you only live once! In Iceland you can snorkel between continents at Silfra where the European and North American tectonic plates have separated and filled with crystal-clear, pale blue water from a melting glacier. The clarity of the water and underwater lava formations help distract you from the freezing water– just ask Rose, who plunged in here in June 2019.
Luxury travel in Iceland
In the most expensive country in the world, luxury travel in Iceland is more about the experience than the accommodation. There are some cool hotels in Reykjavík, some spa/thermal lodges around the countryside, as well as fantastic small homestays and farm houses… but we recommend you save on accommodation and spend more on getting to the remote areas that will give you a ‘luxuriously indulgent journey’.
Iceland may be floating in the ocean, isolated from its nearest neighbours but there are certainly nearby destinations that will add to the unique experiences on offer in Iceland.
A group of 18 volcanic islands tucked away between Iceland and Norway, the Faroe Islands are some of the most remote inhabited islands in the world.
Visitors are drawn to the islands for their natural beauty, rolling green hills and hobbit-like turf roofed houses.
The capital, Tórshavn, has a bustling harbour lined with boutiques and restaurants.
From Miovagur you can hike to Sørvágsvatn, “the lake over the ocean” where an optical illusion seems to make it hover in mid-air before crashing into the ocean at Bøsdalafossur waterfall.
The tiny photogenic village of Gasadalur is surrounded by high mountains, and a small stream becomes a dramatic waterfall pouring over the cliff to the ocean. The cliffs at Mykines island provide some of the best bird watching, and the grassy slopes are home to thousands of colourful puffins.
If you enjoy the fjords of Iceland, you will love Greenland. 75% of Greenland is covered by an ice sheet – the only permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica, in fact.
You can take off on single day and multi day tours from Reykjavik with a short flight to eastern Greenland from the downtown airport in Reykjavík. While you are there, be sure to try dog sledding, capture the Northern Lights from a different location and marvel at the natural beauty around you.
Europe, Canada and USA
Iceland is just a six-hour flight from eastern Canada or USA and just three hours from the UK.
We offer airfares which allow you to visit Iceland and stopover in Europe, USA or Canada on the way, or way back from Iceland for no extra cost.
This is a cost-effective way to draw out your Iceland adventure with more unique travel experiences.
We can help you take Iceland off your bucket list and make it a reality. Through our tailor-made journeys we help you get off the beaten track to discover the magic that will bring Iceland to life.