Enjoying Iceland as a Couple

Something that can be said unequivocally about Iceland is that it is an exceptionally cozy place for couples. The small, intimate streets of Reykjavík, the numerous swimming pools and hot baths and the hotels and lodges in remote and breathtaking nature, all work together to make Iceland feel like a couple’s own private playground. Whether going on a honeymoon or simply a romantic getaway, Iceland is an ideal destination, making up for sandy beaches with raw, natural charm and unforgettable scenery. 

Romantic Reykjavík

It’s not necessary to plan a big trip around Iceland in order to have a romantic vacation there, Reykjavík is big enough to offer numerous activities and restaurants while it’s small enough for the natural elements to never seem far away. A perfect start to the day on a weekend would be to head to one of the many bottomless brunches around the city, for example at Brút Restaurant. Brút offers a delicious buffet of unconventional brunch courses that are a great way to try out some of the best of Icelandic cuisine. There’s also a separate dessert buffet and a self service bar of brunch drinks classics like mimosas and bloody mary’s. Afterwards, it’s nice to walk around down to the harbour or wander into Harpa music hall to enjoy the views of Esjan mountain that’s right off the coast. 

Photo: Golli. Beautiful scenery in the harbour area of Reykjavík

There are numerous museums in Reykjavík that are worth a visit, but The Einar Jónsson Museum, up by Hallgrímskirkja church, is one that stands out and would be a perfect addition to a couple’s visit to the city. The museum was designed and built by sculptor Einar himself, and he lived and worked there most of his career. As a result, it has a homey feel to it while also displaying Einar’s beautiful art in a distinct way. After a stroll to the museum, it’s a must to go up to Hallgrímskirkja tower for a stunning view of Reykjavík.

Soaking in Luxury 

While Reykjavík has no shortage of public swimming pools and hot tubs to soak in, for a special treat on a couple’s visit we recommend heading out to the Sky Lagoon in Kópavogur, a short 20 minute drive from Reykjavík. It’s a newly built, adult’s only, geothermal retreat with a special seven step spa type ritual that is designed to relax and rejuvenate visitors. 

Photo: Golli. Soaking in a natural pool is a great way to spend time together in Iceland for a couple

Going on a treasure hunt for a good natural bath is a great way for a couple to explore the country. In the vicinity of Reykjavík there are some good options, like Hvammsvík Hot Springs, which was opened in 2022. The Hvammsvík experience is similar to Sky Lagoon, with its man made, luxurious feel, but for a more authentic adventure, there is the Reykjadalur Hot Spring, an all natural river flowing down Reykjadalur Valley, close to the town of Hveragerði. There’s about an hour long hike to get to the hot spring but the reward of a soak in the unique landscape is priceless. Also in Reykjadalur is a newly installed zip line for thrill seekers looking for unconventional views of the land.

Seeking Adventure

In the fall and winter months, it’s possible to spot the Northern Lights from within Reykjavík but to make an event out of it, there’s no better way than on a cruise around Reykjavík Bay. A boat trip will take visitors far from the city lights and a nice, heated, café area inside the boat makes for a cozy, romantic outing. To get a glimpse at the power of Icelandic nature, the Golden Circle is a classic, taking visitors on an exciting trip to the iconic Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur geysir. It’s the cherry on top for couples that are looking for an Icelandic experience they’ll never forget.

Photo: Golli. Catching the Northern Lights is an unforgettable experience

The possibilities for a couple’s getaway in Iceland are endless, and certainly not limited to Reykjavík. Some might enjoy renting a camper van and going rogue out in the rugged countryside while others might enjoy a more contained experience like the dreamy Highland Base on the Kerlingafjöll mountain range or a cozy cabin in the magnificent Þakgil canyon. Whichever route is chosen, Iceland is sure to deliver a romantic wonderland full of special moments that will last long after the trip is over.

Hidden Hot Pools Around Iceland

Soaking in a hot pool out in the wild nature is one of the biggest luxuries Iceland has to offer. The geothermal heat that allows for warm and toasty houses to live in has also spouted a countless number of hot springs and pools that can be found in even the most remote places in the country. For hot pool enthusiasts that want to explore Iceland beyond the traditional dip into the Blue Lagoon, here are seven hidden hot pool treasures that are worth every effort.

Krosslaug

Krosslaug is a small pool in the middle of Lundarreykjadalur valley that lies between Þingvellir National Park and Borgarfjörður. It is said to have been a christening pool back when Iceland was shifting from Paganism over to Christianity in the year 1.000 A.C. Krosslaug is pretty hot so it’s good to be careful when first going in as it usually sits at above 40°C. The pool is quite hidden within a fenced, wooded area that gives it a nice, secluded feeling. 

Landbrotalaug

In the beautiful landscape of Snæfellsnes, right on the southern edge, is Landbrotalaug, a tiny, two person natural pot, surrounded by calm springs and impressive mountains. Landbrotalaug is rather shallow at 20 cm deep, but is perfect for a nice soak, especially in late summer while watching the stars, or even better, in the fall while catching the Northern Lights.

Grafarlaug

One of the best kept secrets of the West side of Iceland is an obscure, constructed pool in Dalabyggð, not far from Búðardalur. It was built in 1956 and then seemingly abandoned but it does have consistent waterflow that reaches around 30°C. Grafarlaug is located in a valley a good distance from Þjóðvegur 1 highway so there’s almost no traffic through the area, giving visitors a serene and almost eerie “alone in the world” sensation.

Hellulaug

After driving through the first part of the Westfjords down into Vatnsfjörður, travellers are rewarded with a gorgeous natural bath right underneath the highway, a few minutes from Hotel Flókalundur. Hellulaug is situated down at the shore, shielded by a tall rock formation that gives perfect shelter. The pool is quite large so there’s room for a number of people and it’s a blissful place to sit and listen to the crashing waves of the ocean in the fjord.

Hörgshlíð

Also in the Westfjords, in the small fjord Mjóifjörður, south of Ísafjörður, is one of the smallest man made hot baths in Iceland, Hörgshlíð pool. It is situated on private land but visitors are free to use the pool as long as they leave a donation in the small changing hut on site. Hörgshlíð pool is about four meters long and located right by the waterfront so it’s an ideal warm up after a cold dip in the ocean. 

Grettislaug

Maybe the least “hidden” of the natural baths on this list is Grettislaug in Skagafjörður, in the North of Iceland, but it is well worth a visit for the dramatic history behind it and the equally dramatic nature all around. Grettislaug is named after Grettir the Strong, a temperamental figure from the Icelandic Sagas who isolated himself on Drangey Island off the coast of Skagafjörður. At one point Grettir was forced to swim from Drangey to land in order to get more fire for his house on the island and used the hot pools now known as Grettislaug to warm up after the icy waters. Grettislaug has nice changing facilities and a tiny café to hydrate in after a good soak. 

Laugavalladalur

East Iceland has some great hot pool options, most notably Vök Baths, a beautifully designed system of baths set on top of Urriðavatn lake in Egilsstaðir. But off the beaten path is Laugavalladalur pool, a truly hidden wonder of geothermal luxury located north of Kárahnjúkar. A small waterfall flows down into the hot bath, creating an idyllic experience of unadulterated nature.

The Icelandic Horse – Man’s Most Hardworking Friend

The Icelandic horse has been an important part of Icelandic culture since it was first brought to the country from Norway in the 9th century. For hundreds of years it was a loyal servant of the Icelandic people as it provided the only means to travel across the harsh landscape of the country. As a result, the Icelandic horse evolved into a hardy animal that is capable of withstanding long, cold winters and due to having no natural predators, the Icelandic has a confident disposition and isn’t easily spooked. The Icelandic horse is one of the few horse breeds in the world that has five gaits, but aside from the usual walk, trot, and canter/gallop, it can perform an amble gait called tölt and a flying pace called skeið. The tölt is a comfortable, fast pace that is inherent in most Icelandic horses but  but the skeið is not present in all horses and individuals who can perform both gaits are therefor most prized. 

Photo: Signe. The Icelandic horse is a tough animal that can withstand harsh winters

Horse or Pony?

Icelandic horses come in numerous colour variations and one of the many pleasures of driving across Iceland is seeing all the different coloured horses scattered around the fields and hills. Their size is almost classified as pony size but just manages to be put in the horse category. Adding to that, the Icelandic horse’s characteristics, strength and personality are more closely related to horses than ponies. The Icelandic is a huge part of Icelandic culture and economy and is still used to herd sheep by farmers. But through the years its purpose has developed into more of a pleasure aspect as it’s used in competition, horse rentals and simply as a companion animal. For visitors, horseback riding has been a hugely popular activity ever since Iceland became a tourist destination.

Photo: Golli. Icelandic horses in various colours

Protecting the Breed

Horse breeders in Iceland have always been very protective of the breed and since the early days of horse breeding here there has been a rule that no horses can be imported into the country. That means that the Icelandic horse is extremely well protected from diseases but also extremely vulnerable should an infection breach the country. Also because of this rule, horses that are exported from Iceland to compete abroad are not allowed to return which can be an emotional endeavour for their owners.  

Photo: Golli. Icelandic horses in bushy winter coats

For animal lovers and adventure seekers there are countless options for horseback riding in Iceland all year round and it is an excellent way to get to know the country’s history and personality. Every area has its own history with the Icelandic horse and since breeders and farmers are extremely passionate about their horses they’ll be more than ready to educate visitors on their specific knowledge.

Interesting Museums Around Iceland

Boats in a museum

Iceland is full of interesting museums and galleries that illustrate a fascinating history of how the nation coped with living in such a remote and harsh location. Every small town or village has something to showcase, and taking the time to stroll through a museum gives a vital context to Icelandic culture and society. The largest collection of museums will be found in Reykjavík, but for the really quirky and interesting ones, it’s best to venture out to the countryside. Here are seven museums that will make a road trip around Iceland that much more memorable: 

War and Peace Museum – Hvalfjörður

The occupation of Iceland by British and American militia during World War II shaped Icelandic infrastructure and society in tangible ways that are still apparent to this day. The sudden influx of foreign powers thrust a small, quasi developed fishing nation into the modern era faster than anyone was prepared for. The War and Peace Museum gives a detailed look at the tumultuous years between 1940 and 1945 and also boasts a great little café where visitors can enjoy a light meal. As a bonus it’s located right outside Reykjavík, in Hvalfjörður valley, which is the perfect road trip to take on a time crunch.

Photo: Golli. Hvalfjörður valley where The War and Peace Museum is found

Þuríðarbúð – Stokkseyri

Stokkseyri, a small town on the south coast of Iceland, has a lot to offer, including some of the best kayaking waters and a famous lobster restaurant. But hidden within the town is a true little gem of a museum, a refashioned sailor’s cottage in 18th century style, with stone walls and a grass roof. The cottage is named after Þuríður Einarsdóttir, a rare female sailor who rose up to the position of foreman on her brother’s fishing ship. The cottage gives a great glimpse into the past when similar living quarters lined the shores of Iceland and served as resting places for sailor’s in between their tours at sea.

Eiríksstaðir Living History Museum – Haukadalur Valley

Another replica of fascinating history is the Viking Longhouse of Erik the Red, a fully rebuilt longhouse in the beautiful Haukadalur Valley where Erik the Red lived with his family before heading out to sea toward Greenland to discover new worlds. The longhouse museum is an authentic Icelandic experience seeing as Erik the Red is a figure in at least two of the Icelandic Sagas. The museum takes visitors back to the 10th century where they will get a comprehensive overview of Erik and his family’s remarkable history, but his son, Leifur heppni, or Leif the Lucky, is reported to have been one of the first Western men to discover North America.

Shark Museum – Bjarnarhöfn

For people visiting Iceland, tasting a bite of ammonium fermented shark with a sip of Brennivín is a fun gimmick, but for decades, shark fishing was an important profession for Icelanders. The Shark Museum in Bjarnarhöfn in Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, showcases just that, with the option of a taste to go with the show. The museum not only has an intricate display of the history of the Greenland shark as it relates to Iceland, but it also educates visitors on the biology of this fascinating animal that very little is known about still to this day.

Stykkishólmur - Stykkishólmshöfn - Breiðafjörður - Snæfellsnes
Photo Golli. Stykkishólmur is well worth a visit for a bite of Icelandic shark history

Wilderness Center – Fljótsdalur Valley

In East-Iceland, nestled in the wilderness of Fljótsdalur, close to the town of Egilsstaðir, is a fairly recent addition to Icelandic museums. The Wilderness Center is an interactive experience, meant to showcase life as it was for Icelanders who lived in the wilderness in forgotten times. Visitors are immersed in a past world where everything is made to resemble life on the edge of the world and for those who want to go all in it’s even possible to stay overnight in the Center’s refurbished hotel.

Caves of Hella

In the 18th century, twelve man made caves were discovered close to a farm called Ægissíða, close to Hella, a town on the South Coast of Iceland. The caves remain the oldest archaeological site in Iceland and it is believed that they were made long before Vikings ever set foot on the land. At the Caves of Hella museum, visitors take a tour through four of the caves that have been opened to the public, and get a detailed history of them from one of the descendants of the family who originally lived in Ægissíða farm nearly 200 years ago.

Maritime Exhibit – Neskaupstaður

Neskaupstaður is a small town on the very Eastern tip of Iceland that houses a three in one museum that should not be missed on a visit to the east. The museum is set in a three story house with an art gallery and a natural history museum and on the second floor is a maritime exhibit created by engineer Jósafat Hinriksson. The exhibit showcases artefacts and machinery that were used through the years both in fishing and carpentry in Iceland. It’s an interesting look into the development of tools in these professions and the resourcefulness of Icelandic workers that had limited equipment.

Neskaupstaður
Photo: Golli. Neskaupstaður in East-Iceland

The Best Restaurants in Iceland by Region

In recent years, the restaurant scene in Iceland has been booming, and Reykjavík is no longer the only place to find high quality restaurants. With increased interest in Iceland as a travel destination, small towns around the country have seen great opportunities in offering visitors local, delicious food in beautiful settings surrounded by nature.

There’s a great variety in themes and menus in different regions, and exploring Iceland through its food culture is a great way to get to the heart of the island. Something to keep in mind before exploring restaurant options are opening hours since it’s common for places in the countryside to limit their hours to the summer season. 

Reykjavík – Restaurant City

Despite the small size of downtown Reykjavík, the area is absolutely packed with world-renowned restaurants. While eating out in Iceland is definitely not cheap, splurging on a good dining experience is a highlight on a visit in the city. One of the most consistently rated restaurants in Reykjavík is Austur-Indíafjelagið, an atmospheric, Indian restaurant that combines local, quality ingredients with a rich cultural connection to some of the best dishes Indian cuisine has to offer.

Fish Company is another top rated restaurant in Reykjavík with a diverse menu of Icelandic seafood. A third contender that has been rising up the polls in the city is Himalayan Spice, a Nepalese restaurant located in the beautiful harbour area.

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Photo: Golli. Reykjavík is a hub of high quality restaurants

West-Iceland

Iceland’s western region is a wondrous area with some of Iceland’s most iconic landscapes, like Kirkjufell mountain that rose to world fame in the Game of Thrones series. Many people make a point to go out west to enjoy the spectacular nature but another draw of the area is the blossoming hotel and restaurant scene. Aside from excellent food experiences, there are many reasons why you should visit the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

For a world-class dining experience there’s Pacific Tavern, the restaurant at Hotel Búðir, a remote lodging set in awe inspiring natural surroundings. Not only is the menu put together with gourmet ingredients, but dinner is served with some of the best views Iceland has to offer. 

Another great food destination on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is Stykkishólmur. This idyllic fishing village has a selection of restaurants that is in no proportion with the population of this small town. Sjávarpakkhúsið is a great destination for high quality neo-nordic seafood dishes. Narfeyjarstofa and Skipper Restaurant are alternative options for a pleasant eating experience.

For popular destinations that are more inland, you have the restaurant at the Krauma hot springs and in Húsafell the restaurant at Hotel Húsafell comes highly recommended.

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The Westfjords

The Westfjords has a collection of some of the most charming towns Iceland has to offer whose economy largely depends on tourism. As a result, the area has seen an increase in high-quality restaurants that cater to the diverse groups of people traveling through every year. Two prime examples are Stúkuhúsið in Patreksfjörður, a cozy little restaurant with a traditional Icelandic menu and Tjöruhúsið in Ísafjörður, a seafood restaurant that only serves the catch of the day so it guarantees the freshest produce available. In Hólmavík, Café Riis is a great place to stop for classic Icelandic dishes and experience the historic setting. 

 

ísafjörður harbour
Photo: Golli. The charming towns of the Westfjords come with plenty of good restaurant options

North-Iceland

In North-Iceland is the country’s second biggest town, Akureyri, where there’s no shortage of good restaurants. However, for a really special dining experience it’s best to head out to the smaller towns around the area. For example, there’s the Baccalá Bar in Hauganes, only about 25 minutes outside Akureyri. Baccalá Bar serves delicious salted cod in a relaxed environment, which is ideal after a soak in the nearby hot tubs.

For dining experiences in Akureyri, a number come recommended. Rub 23 is the destination for seafood and sushi. For dining with a rooftop view over the seaside, Strikið is the place to go to. Múlaberg bistro & bar offers a fusion of the very best that Scandinavian and French culinary arts have to offer. For the cozy ambient of a family-owned establishment, Eyja restaurant is the locals’ favorite.

For travellers heading to the whalewatching capital of Iceland, Húsavík offers some great food & drink experiences. For the ultimate Old Iceland setting, Gamli Baukur comes highly recommended.

In Hvammstangi, a town known for its closeness to the largest seal colony in Iceland, is a fine dining restaurant called Sjávarborg. It’s located on the second floor of the Seal Center house, right on the oceanfront, and it’s not uncommon to see whales pop up in the water below. Not only are the ingredients on Sjávarborg’s menu locally sourced, but most of the interior of the restaurant was made from materials found right there in town. 

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East-Iceland

East-Iceland, more than any other area in Iceland, has built up a vibrant food culture due to its abundance of game meats and unique flora. Many restaurants regularly change up their menus depending on the proteins and produce available which makes a trip to the Eastern part that much more fun.

In Eskifjörður, travelers will find Randulf’s Sea House, a refurbished herring fishery house on the harbour that’s been transformed into a beautiful restaurant. The menu changes with the seasons, but the restaurant’s goal is to highlight locally sourced ingredients like reindeer, trout and wild mushrooms. Another great option in the Eastern region is Klausturkaffi in Fljótsdalur valley. Klausturkaffi is part of the Skriðuklaustur monestary museum and offers a lunch and dessert buffet filled with Icelandic delicacies.  

Photo: Golli. Reindeer are an important part of Eastern-Icelandic food culture

South-Iceland

South-Iceland has some of the most scenic places in the country, including Reynisfjara beach, Skógafoss waterfall and the Westman Islands, so it’s no surprise that the area is stacked with high quality restaurants. One of the most popular eateries in recent years is Slippurinn, a restaurant set in an old factory in the Westman Islands, overlooking the magnificent cliffs of the islands. Like many restaurants around the countryside, Slippurinn’s menu changes depending on available produce and they aim to be as sustainable as possible.

Another honorable mention in South-Iceland is Black Crust Pizzeria, a newly opened pizza parlour in Vík í Mýrdal, a small town right on the southern edge. Although pizza isn’t traditional Icelandic food, Black Crust Pizzeria puts an Icelandic twist on their dough with volcanic powder, making the pies resemble the black beaches that line the southern coast. The black crust isn’t just a gimmick but results in a unique and delicious piece of pie.

Vík í Mýrdal
Photo: Golli. Vík í Mýrdal has stunning views that compliment the great dining options in town

          

The Arctic Fox, Iceland’s Only Native Mammal

The tiny Arctic fox is the only land mammal in Iceland that is truly native to the country and predates the first humans that ever arrived here. Every other mammal in the Icelandic fauna, from sheep to reindeer to mink, was imported from Norway by the first settlers. The Icelandic Arctic fox is a subspecies of the common Arctic fox and is believed to have arrived in Iceland around 10,000 years ago during the Ice Age. The Arctic fox is a hardy little creature whose defining feature is its light, bushy winter fur that makes it almost look like snowballs with feet. In the summer that winter coat is shedded and replaced by darker, shorter fur that blends in with the environment. Currently, there are around 10,000 foxes in Iceland, and due to conservation efforts, the population is holding steady.

Photo: Golli. An Arctic fox in summer in Iceland

The Arctic Fox Centre in Iceland

The Arctic fox is quite an elusive animal and quick on its feet so it can be hard to spot in its natural habitat. In Reykjavík, the best place to see foxes is in Húsdýragarðurinn Zoo, a small petting zoo close to the city center that houses up to four foxes that can be seen up close both in their outdoor enclosure and in an indoors den. The largest population of Arctic foxes in Iceland can be found in the Westfjords and in the small town of Súðavík is a special facility called Melrakkasetrið, or the Arctic Fox Centre. The Centre is open during the summer season from May 1st to October and during the season hosts a number of events dedicated to the Arctic fox. The main focus of the Centre is to be an information and education centre about all things related to the Arctic fox. On site is a museum that displays, among other things, the different types of colour variations the foxes can have. However, one of the biggest draws of the Centre is a fenced area near the house where little fox cubs are kept during the summer and visitors can get close enough to pet.

Photo: Signe. The Arctic fox comes in a few colour variations

For a more adventurous journey to see the Arctic fox we recommend a hike in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, one of the few places in the world where the fox is protected from hunters by law. As a result, the foxes in Hornstrandir are less wary of humans and a couple of them have even made a den close to Kvíar, a lodge and adventure base in the heart of the Reserve. Hornstrandir gives visitors a unique experience in a mostly untouched nature with the added bonus of seeing Icelandic wildlife at its best.        

Bird Watching in Iceland – Where to go?

Birds are everywhere in Iceland and when you know where to look, there’s a chance to spot some really interesting species. In downtown Reykjavík, on Tjörnin pond, there are numerous waterfowl year round like geese, swans and ducks that stake it out through cold winters with the help of locals and visitors who bring them bread and other nibbles. Ravens also make their presence known in Reykjavík with their deep, gurgling croaks and mythical disposition. In total there are about 75 species of birds that nest in Iceland and most of them only stop over during nesting and live their lives elsewhere the rest of the year. Spring is a lively time to see birds in Iceland, when most of the migrating species come over to nest and Icelanders are especially excited to see when lóan, or the Golden plover arrives since it has long been a sign that spring has finally come after the long winter.

Photo Golli. Swans, ducks and geese during winter on the Tjörnin pond

The Top Bird Watching Spots in Iceland

The best places to go bird watching within Reykjavík are down by the shoreline where, along with gulls and various duck species, there’s a chance to spot the Great cormorant. In gardens and trees all over the city there are little Redwings and Starlings and tiny little White wagtails in the summer. Also during summer, it’s possible to go on special Puffin tours that sail around Reykjavík to find Puffins in cliffs just outside the city. Simply going on a hike right outside Reykjavík or stopping on the side of the road anywhere in the country will reveal countless birds just waiting to be discovered. But for a real bird watching mission, some places are better than others so here are the top five locations to go to for bird watching in Iceland: 

Reykjanes peninsula

The Reykjanes peninsula is a rugged stretch of land with wide fields of mossy lava covering most of the surface. But Vatnsleysuströnd beach in Reykjanesbær is a rich vegetative area where many species of waterfowl come to nest and rear their young. Interestingly, Iceland is one of the few places where Harlequin ducks come to breed and they can sometimes be spotted in the town of Vogar on Vatnsleysuströnd or at Ósar bay in the village of Hafnir. Also along the Reykjanes peninsula, it’s possible to spot Gyrfalcons, Razorbills, Merlins and American purple gallinule to name a few. Despite the harsh landscape, Reykjanes is brimming with bird life and is sure to deliver a great experience for bird lovers. 

Lake Mývatn

In Mývatnssveit in the north of Iceland is Lake Mývatn, the fourth largest lake in Iceland and a must visit for bird watching. The lake is packed with waterfowl and waders and it’s home to more duck species than any other place in the world. While there it’s also good to keep an eye out for Gyrfalcons flying about. A special bird to look out for in Mývatn is the Horned grebe or Slavonian grebe, the only species of grebes that nests in Iceland. Its numbers are declining worldwide so it’s worth a trip to see it in the peaceful environment of Lake Mývatn.

Photo: Erik. A Red-necked phalarope is a common wading bird in Iceland

The Westfjords

The Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords are the largest sea cliffs in Iceland and the largest bird cliffs in Europe, where millions of birds come to nest every year. It’s a dizzying area of birdlife, with puffins, gulls, razorbills and northern gannet flying in and out of the cliffs. For birdwatchers, it’s a magnificent place to visit since it’s possible to get really close to the cliffs to see the birds going about their busy lives. Also in the Westfjords is Breiðafjörður, a large fjord that is home to 60% of eagles in Iceland, and while visitors are advised not to go searching for eagle nests in order to disturb them as little as possible, there’s still a chance to see these graceful birds soaring above in the sky.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

A perfect day trip to take from Reykjavík is visiting the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It’s only about a two hour trip from the city and offers some great bird watching spots along with stunning views of the surrounding nature and beyond. On Svörtuloft cliffs, above the golden beach of Skarðsvík, is a lighthouse that has been fitted with a viewing panel that gives visitors the chance to watch birds in the cliffs from a safe distance. Aside from sea birds like Brünnich’s guillemot, the Common guillemont, Razoerbills and the European shag, the area is also the home of Rock ptarmigans, Kittiwakes, gulls, Arctic terns and Snow buntings.

Photo: Golli. A Glaucous gull with its hatchling in Snæfellsnes, Iceland

The Westman Islands

In the Westman Islands, birdlife is intertwined with the local culture, as the largest population of puffins in Iceland nest in the cliffs surrounding Heimaey, the biggest of the islands. Puffins are the main attraction of visitors but there are multiple other species that make the Westman Islands their home, including the Northerm fulmar, the European storm petrel, Leach’s storm petrel, the Northern gannet and the Common murre. The environment of the Westman Islands is awe inspiring, with its dramatic cliffs that seem to come alive with the movement of millions of birds, and it perfectly displays the perseverance of life in the rough terrain of Iceland.

Photo: Golli. Puffins are the most common bird in Iceland during summer

Driving The Ring Road in Three Days

Iceland’s famous Þjóðvegur 1 highway, or the Ring Road, is a 1322 km long road that circles the country. Technically it can be covered from start to finish in less than 24 hours but rushing the road trip would defeat the purpose of experiencing the beautiful nature and eccentric small towns that Iceland has to offer. The optimal way to travel the Ring Road is in approximately seven days with plenty of pit stops, but it’s also entirely possible to have an enjoyable trip in much less than that. For those who have limited time to travel, here’s a guide to a three day trip around Iceland.

Where to Begin?

At the start of the trip, travellers have two options, driving north or south but for the purpose of this article, the northern route is chosen. Heading north takes travellers through the Hvalfjarðargöng tunnel towards Borgarnes which is a popular first quick stop for gathering snacks or having lunch, but for a little less crowded option we recommend Baulan, a small gas station twenty minutes past Borgarnes. Baulan is perfect for a coffee break and a hot dog before getting back on the road. About 40 minutes from Baulan marks the beginning of the drive through Holtavörðuheiði, a long stretch of road that ascends through barren hillsides. During the summer, Holtavörðuheiði poses no difficulty for drivers but during winter the road can get quite icy and it’s worth staying up to date on road conditions when travelling in the winter months. Coming back down from the hills, travellers are greeted by Staðarskáli, a good sized gas station and restaurant that was originally opened in 1960 and then reconstructed in 2008 under the N1 chain of gas stations. Due to its location right between Reykjavík and the North part of Iceland, it has been one of the most popular rest stops on the Ring Road. Although some of the old time charm was replaced by a more modern look by N1, it’s still a classic stop to restock on drinks and road snacks. Before getting to Akureyri, the road crosses Blönduós, a decent sized town named after the Blanda river that rushes through the area. Blönduós has a number of restaurants and gas stations to drop in, but for people who crave an old fashioned burger joint there is the North West restaurant in Víðigerði, some 39 km from Blönduós.

Photo: Golli. A collection of waterfalls in Borgarfjörður

After that the Ring Road heads into Skagafjörður, a large region known for its dramatic history during the Sturlunga Era and for its rich horsebreeding culture. The last proper stop before Akureyri is Varmahlíð in Skagafjörður, a tiny community that still manages a hotel and a swimming pool along with a restaurant and gas station. From Varmahlíð it’s about an hour drive to Akureyri with no other options for pit stops through the sometimes treacherous Öxnadalsheiði. 

Akureyri, Capital of North Iceland

Akureyri, the second biggest town in Iceland, is nestled at the roots of Hlíðarfjall mountain, a popular skiing area during winter time. It has a more “city feel” than the other smaller towns that are scattered around the country, and is an ideal place to stop for the first night of the trip. Akureyri offers numerous hotels, guesthouses and camping areas along with a diverse restaurant scene and a huge swimming pool with a funky waterslide. The climate in Akureyri is often a lot calmer than in Reykjavík and during summer it’s more likely than not to catch beautiful, sunny days there while Reykjavík has more unpredictable weather. There is no shortage of activities available in Akureyri and it is sure to leave an impression on any traveller passing through. In 2022, a new geothermal bath spot opened right outside Akureyri called Skógarböðin, or Forest Lagoon, a beautifully designed, modern take on the natural bath. It’s a great spot to unwind after the long drive and enjoy the surrounding nature. For breakfast in Akureyri there are a few options, but a great little café called Kaffi Ilmur is a great choice. Kaffi Ilmur serves breakfast all day long and has amazing Dutch specialty pancakes that should not be missed.

Photo: Golli. Akureyri is the second largest town in Iceland

Experiencing East-Iceland

Heading out east from Akureyri, the next stop should be Egilsstaðir, a small town with a big personality and a great natural bath called Vök, which is located on top of Urriðavatn lake. Visitors can soak in the hot pools and then take a dip in the lake to cool off. East-Iceland has a lot to offer and it’s the only part of the country where wild reindeer roam free. Because of the short trip and long drives between destinations, it might not be possible to go on many excursions, but travellers should try to squeeze in a reindeer safari to see these adorable animals in their natural habitat. On the South-Eastern edge of Iceland, close to Vatnajökull glacer is Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake that is a must see on the Ring Road trip. The lake runs directly from Vatnajökull and out to the ocean and carries with it beautiful icebergs from the glacier in all different colors of blue. Close by is the Diamond Beach where pieces of the icebergs have broken off and collected on the shore. It’s a stunning display of the ever changing elements of Icelandic nature.

Photo: Berglind. The Glacier Lagoon in East-Iceland

 For the second night on the trip, Höfn í Hornafirði is a great spot, a small coastal town on the  South-East tip, or travellers can duck into Hotel Jökulsárlón, a cozy hotel close to the glacier lake. About 20 minutes before entering Höfn there are the Vestrahorn mountains, a picturesque range of ragged mountains that seem to rise up from the black, sandy beach. 

The Scenic South Coast

On the third day, driving from Höfn, begins the home stretch, a beautiful, scenic drive along the southern part of Iceland. This part of the country doesn’t have the many hills and valleys of the western and northern parts and so the drive is smooth and peaceful. The southern route also has some of the most popular nature highlights of Iceland, and as travellers get closer to Reykjavík, there are numerous spots to stop and enjoy the views. Three hours from Höfn is Vík í Mýrdal, another small seaside town that is surrounded by dramatic mountain formations. There are a number of food options in Vík, including a craft brewery pub called Smiðjan Brewery that offers a good selection of local specialty beers. Thirty minutes from Vík is the famed Skógafoss, an iconic waterfall that can be seen right from the highway. Continuing west is another, smaller waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, where visitors have a chance to walk up close and get behind the gushing water. Close by Seljalandsfoss is Seljavallalaug, a beautiful natural bath, hidden from the views of the Ring Road. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the pool but the soak is worth every minute.

Photo: Golli. Seljalandsfoss on the South Coast

Getting back on the road from Seljavallalaug, travellers have the option of taking a small detour to see Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur geysir. As part of the Golden Cirlce, these spots are a popular attraction for tour groups, but it’s easy and fun to get around there on your own. From the Golden Circle it’s a short one hour drive back to Reykjavík where it all started. A short trip like this around Iceland is only able to give a small preview of all the possible things to see and do around the country, but it is a great way to get familiar with driving on the roads and to hopefully get hyped for a longer return trip in the future.

The Best Time to Visit Iceland

When planning a visit to Iceland there are a few things that are good to be aware of. Contrary to what the name suggests, Iceland enjoys a rather mild climate throughout the year, thanks to the Gulf Stream that carries warm winds across the Atlantic. The reason for unpredictable weather and often stormy winters is that those warm Gulf Stream winds clash with cold gusts from the Arctic, creating volatile conditions. It also results in Southern Iceland sustaining a lot more rain than other parts of the country. These clashes are especially prominent during high winter, from late December to March, which is something to be aware of when planning a trip. Considering the elements, the prime time for visiting Iceland would be the official tourist season between May and September. These months guarantee pretty consistent warmth across the land, although it’s good to be aware that Reykjavík and the surrounding southern area will face more rainy days than the rest. Starting in May, this is also a time of the enchanting summer sun that never sets, creating long, leisurely days of bright skies that seem to stretch on forever. Travel is also easy in the summer, most roads are readily accessible, even in the treacherous highlands, and accommodation is widely available. The whole country feels alive and vibrant as locals use every opportunity to soak up the precious rays of sunshine.

Photo: Golli. Reykjavík in summer, a prime time for a visit to Iceland

Fall in Iceland, a Magical Time

As summer comes to an end, the fall season emerges with its cool, crisp evenings and the opportunity for seeing the Northern Lights, something millions of people come to see every year. Fall is a magical time in Iceland and rivals the summer season for the best time to visit since the weather stays rather mild and consistent from September through late November. Activities such as whale watching and Golden Circle tours are still in abundance and conditions to travel by car are usually very good. In fall, Icelanders start to settle in for the winter and the country takes on a cozy atmosphere that makes going out for a hearty meal and a nightcap in a dim lit bar feel like an adventure. The Northern Lights are often visible from Reykjavík when the skies are clear, and it’s easy to find good spots with minimal light pollution right in the city centre. Starting in December, Christmas decorations are put up all around Iceland that light up the long dark days of winter.

Photo: Golli. Christmas lights in Reykjavík

When it comes down to it, every season in Iceland offers a unique charm. With no shortages of activities and things to see all year round, the most important for visitors is to follow weather forecasts for their chosen times and to be prepared for swiftly changing conditions.   

 

 

 

Skógafoss, Iceland – Popular for a Reason

Skógafoss waterfall is one of those instantly recognisable landmarks in Iceland that has been used in countless movies and advertisements to showcase the natural beauty of the countryside. Nevertheless, it is striking in person and should not be missed if given the opportunity. Skógafoss is a popular attraction on most tours around the southside of Iceland and it’s easy to find an accessible group tour that includes a stopover there. For those who want to travel on their own, Skógafoss is about two hours away from Reykjavík on a straight drive down Þjóðvegur 1 highway. It is located in Rangárþing eystra, south of Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

The Legendary Skógafoss

Skógafoss is around 60 m high and 25 m wide, making it one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland and while it’s usually viewed from below, there is a trail close by that leads up to the cliffs above that offers impressive views down the cascading water. Legend has it that one of the first Vikings in Iceland buried a treasure behind the waterfall that was later partially recovered and given to a nearby church for savekeeping. Today, a ring from the treasure trove is found in a museum at Skógar, a small village close to Skógafoss. Along the river Skógá, from where Skógafoss falls, are a number of smaller waterfalls that are worth the hike up to enjoy, along with impressive views over the South Coast. Skógar village is a short twenty minute walk from Skógafoss and is a great little place to stop for coffee or a meal and unwind from the thunderous vistas. Although small, the village has a number of accommodation options for those who want to extend their stay, and at least one of them, Hótel Skógafoss offers a nice view directly at the waterfall. 

Photo: Golli. The Skógar Museum close to Skógafoss

Skógafoss and Beyond

Skógafoss is only one of many attractions in this area of the south that includes the Seljavallalaug hot pool and Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It also marks the beginning of the hike up Fimmvörðuháls, a 22 km trail between glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. The hike takes about 11-14 hours but because of its great accessibility it’s one of the most popular hikes in the country. Close by is also the iconic Þórsmörk, a breathtaking highland valley with beautiful hiking trails. There’s a reason why some places are used to advertise Iceland and it’s safe to say no one will be disappointed with a visit to Skógafoss and the surrounding area.