Whale-Watching From Reykjavík

Whales of Iceland

Everybody talks about Húsavík, in the north of Iceland, to be the whale-watching capital of Iceland – but what about Reykjavík? In Reykjavík’s home bay, Faxaflói, spanning between the Reykjanes and Snæfellsness peninsula, you can observe a surprising amount of whales that come every year to feed in the nutrient-dense waters! Which whales can you observe on a whale-watching tour from Reykjavík, and is it worth it compared to other places in Iceland?

Whale-Watching from Reykjavík

How can I get there?

On a beautiful but crisp Thursday morning in March, we headed to the Elding ticket booth right in the Reykjavík harbour to pick up our tickets for our three-hour classic whale-watching tour. Stepping through the whale-watching centre “Fífill”, a permanently docked old fishing vessel, we already got a small taste of what we were about to see. The former vessel holds a small souvenir shop and information centre, including a very intriguing minke whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. Our tour’s boat is called “Eldey”, a former Norwegian ferry that carries two indoor decks with a kiosk and large seating area and a grand top deck for great observation spots!

If you’re interested in finding out which whales you can observe in the waters around Iceland and from its shores, you can check out our “Whales of Iceland” article here.

What should I wear on a whale watching tour?

The temperatures on the day of our Elding tour were around 0°C (32°F), so dressing warm was essential! I’ve been on around five whale-watching tours in Iceland, and every tour provider usually offers warm oversuits for layering above your regular street clothing. Being on the open water with strong winds can cool you down quite quickly – even during the summer months – so it’s crucial to be dressed accordingly.

I’d recommend bringing these essentials when you go on a whale-watching tour:

  • Hat, gloves & scarf
  • Warm jacket – or multiple layers underneath a fleece/soft shell jacket
  • Camera
  • Sunglasses
  • Binoculars (if you have some)
whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city, boat
Packed-up in a big oversuit, photo: Alina Maurer
What can I expect on a whale-watching tour?

Usually, you sail out into Faxaflói bay for about an hour to reach the playground of the whales, where they hang about and feed. The boat takes the route past Engey Island, the home of the local Reykjavík puffins! From mid-April to mid-August, you can observe many of the dorky seabirds from the boat and watch them dive for fish!

During the tour, two guides in the crow’s nest, the captain and other fellow crew members, are usually looking out for whales. But everybody is encouraged to keep an eye out for something. When we went on the whale-watching tour with Elding, another guest spotted the first minke whale of the tour – even before the guides! 

When trying to spot these large mammals out in the wide ocean, it is important to keep the “3 B’s rule” in mind:

  • Bodies
  • Blows
  • Birds
Make sure to look out for a flock of birds gathering around a certain spot on the water. This usually indicates that there is food available, meaning that whales will often appear soon after for a breath after indulging in some crustaceans and fish. Blows can be difficult to spot in between waves and ocean foam, but they often reach up to 6 metres in height, depending on the whale, and therefore are another important indicator that a whale is around! The last and most obvious indication is observing the bodies of the whales themselves – if you see something appear and dive down again, it most likely is a whale, a dolphin or a hidden sea monster!
whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city
Reykjavík from Faxaflói bay, photo: Alina Maurer
Dealing with seasickness – Can I still go whale-watching?

While we sailed out, our guide Anna told us some interesting facts about the area, the bay and the surrounding mountains like Esja. During our adventure, the March 16 eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula was still ongoing, and we could see a big pollution plume rise from the eruption site. The sea was quite calm that day, but we still had some bigger waves. 

After a while, a few people on deck got seasick. Elding offers free seasickness pills and peppermint tea for passengers feeling unwell and also recommends staying on deck for fresh air – which helps tremendously. 

If you know you easily get seasick but nevertheless want to head on a whale-watching tour, it is recommended to take medication battling seasickness before the boat ride and also to pick a relatively calm day. I was once on a whale-watching tour in Húsavík, and the sea was so rough that about 90% of the passengers started throwing up – I usually don’t feel any seasickness, but the fact that everybody else was barfing from the railing made me very nauseous and dampened the experience a bit!

lighthouse reykjavik, whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city, boat
minke whale, whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city, boat
whale watching reykjavik, edling
Minke whale, photo: Anna Richter, Elding
Which whales can I see from Reykjavík?

After arriving at the furthest point Elding would sail out to that day in Faxaflói bay, we caught sight of a minke whale continuously coming up to the surface to breathe. It was a truly magnificent sight to see and hear such a huge animal breathe—just metres away from where we stood! Another whale-watching boat from another provider was close by, as all companies work together and tell each other if they spot a whale! You generally don’t need to be worried about what spot on the boat is best for some great whale observations, as the captain usually makes sure to turn the boat around so everybody catches a glimpse. Oftentimes, many people also switch places on the deck according to which side the last whale appeared or even disappear down to the kiosk for a snack. So you don’t need to stress out if all the great spots on deck are already taken when you start the tour!

During our tour, we “only” saw two minke whales and a small pod of harbour porpoises on our way back. What a happy ending to a successful tour! Only a couple of days later, Elding announced on its website that hundreds of individuals had just arrived in Faxaflói bay and that they sighted about 50 humpback whales, 7-8 fin whales, and 8 white-beaked dolphins.

Generally, you can observe humpback whales, minke whales, harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, orcas and very rarely fin and blue whales on whale-watching tours from Reykjavík. You can read more about these species here. Remember that going on a whale-watching tour means being out in nature – which tends to be unpredictable, and you might not see any whales! In that case, Elding offers a complimentary ticket for another whale-watching tour. You can book your own whale-watching experience with Elding via Iceland Review here

whale watching reykjavik, elding, reykjavik from the city, boat
Responsible whale-watching

Elding adheres to the Code of Conduct for responsible whale-watching by IceWhale (The Icelandic Whale Watching Association), a non-profit organisation formed by many Icelandic whale-watching operators. That means that the boats should not spend more than 20-30 minutes with a single individual and stop the propeller within 50 metres of the animal – among other measures.

whale watching reykjavik, elding
photo: Elding, Aleksandra Lechwar

The tour guides always take pictures of the whales sighted to add them to a data bank in Elding’s own established research programme. The images are then used to track and identify whales to research more about the cetacean’s migration routes, behavioural patterns and population numbers. If you are interested, you can also read the daily whale-watching diaries and get the pictures the guides took with their professional camera!

Elding also emphasises the importance of boycotting local restaurants that offer whale meat to their guests and tells them about the fact that whales are still actively hunted in Iceland to this day. If you want to read more about the topic, you can check out our 2023 magazine article about whale hunting in Iceland here. 

Other whale-watching hotspots in Iceland

Generally, going whale-watching from Reykjavík does not hold any disadvantages over other places in Iceland. Personally, I always thought that you could observe more whale species from other places in Iceland, like Húsavík –  the “capital” of whale-watching.

But I’ve also had cases where I observed more whales here in Reykjavík than on tours from Húsavík – so it really depends on the time of year and just luck! If you’re staying in Reykjavík, I can definitely recommend going on a whale-watching tour from the local harbour – and with some luck, you can witness the magnificent ocean wildlife, just like from any other place in Iceland! 

There are numerous whale-watching providers all around Iceland. You can check out other whale-watching tours here and other special tours by Elding, like midnight sun whale-watching or sea-angling tours here.

You can find a complete map of all whale-watching spots around Iceland here:

Journey to the Centre of the Glacier: Into The Glacier Langjökull

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer

Visiting a glacier in Iceland is always a great idea, but have you ever been inside one? With ‘Into the Glacier,’ you can visit the longest man-made ice cave in the world all year round, drilled into Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull.

Here is everything you need to know about how to get there, what to wear, and what to expect from a man-made ice cave compared to a natural one!

All you need to know!

How to get there: Driving to Húsafell

The ice tunnel is located in Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier, in the western part of Iceland. Langjökull covers about 950 km² (10,225 sq ft) and is between 1,200 and 1,300 metres (about 4,000 ft) above sea level. You can easily get there by driving to Húsafell, a large holiday and campground area just a 2-hour drive away from Reykjavík.

If you are not renting a car, you can also just book the experience with transportation from Reykjavík. When we went “Into the Glacier”, we booked the experience from Húsafell and also decided to stay in a holiday hut for a few nights.

There are numerous options for accommodation in the area. You can stay at the Húsafell Hotel or the campground, or you can book one of the summer houses in the area—most come with a hot tub, which is very relaxing after a day in the glacier!

I have visited a few ice caves in Vatnajökull National Park before, and with most of them, you need to prepare for a small hike before reaching the glacier outlet. 

When visiting the man-made ice caves in Langjökull glacier, you are driven to the entrance of the tunnel system. This is a perfect option for people who have difficulty walking longer distances or families who want to take smaller kids on the experience. 

What should I wear?

When we visited in late March, it was pretty frosty, with temperatures reaching down to -15°C (5°F) on top of the glacier, with strong wind gusts making everything feel even colder. So it’s important that you dress warm and wear good waterproof boots (you can also get overshoes at the Húsafell Activity Camp), as it is around 0°C (32°F) in the tunnels.

You should definitely bring along:

  • Waterproof shoes and warm socks
  • Warm winter jacket
  • Hat & gloves
  • Sunglasses for the trip to the glacier
  • Base-/Mid-layer clothing
An adventurous superjeep ride to Langjökull

If you choose to visit the ice tunnel from Húsafell, you will meet up with your guide at the Húsafell Activity Center, where you can also buy snacks and get gas! 

Our little group was greeted by guide and operation manager for “Into the Glacier”, Óskar and his Superjeep Wrangler Rubicon. During the winter season, from October 16 to May 31, all groups meet up at Húsafell. During the summer months, visitors with a 4×4 vehicle can also drive up the F-road 550 to the Klaki Basecamp themselves, from where they will be picked up with a specifically modified glacier vehicle. 

Please note that the driving conditions heavily depend on the weather and that you should not drive an F-road unless you are prepared for it!

 

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Guide Óskar & his superjeep, photos: Alina Maurer
Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer

The bumpy ride from Húsafell onto Langjökull glacier takes about an hour, depending on the weather and the road. When we visited, a minor snowstorm surprised us once we ascended higher on the road to Langjökull. During some parts of the ride, Óskar needed to rely on his GPS due to poor visibility. At some point, everything behind the windshield turned completely white, and I lost feeling for whether the vehicle was moving or not – but Óskar had everything under control. What an adventure!

You are driven past an ancient road that, back in the days, chieftains from all over Iceland used to get to the parliament assemblies in Þingvellir. You also pass Ok, a former glacier that lost its status in 2014 after its ice mass became too thin to move by its own weight and was, therefore, declared dead. Sadly, the reality of melting glaciers and climate change caught up with us a few times more while travelling up to Langjökull in the form of memory cairns, which mark the former edges of Langjökull for each decade.

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
The edge of the glacier in the year 2000, photo: Alina Maurer
Being inside a glacier: What to expect?

After arriving at Langjökull, we make our way through extreme wind gusts, slapping us in the face with ice-cold air and snow. The entrance of the tunnel system is unexpectedly narrow and inconspicuous, but finally, it’s windstill and nearly warm inside at around 0°C (32°F) after the harsh conditions outside. 

Óskar leads us to the “dressing room” past some (emergency) portable toilets so we can put on our crampons. The tunnel is unexpectedly grand, with the ceiling reaching as far up as more than 3 metres and 3.5 metres wide. The ground is quite slippery, but the crampons help find grip immensely.

Generally, the man-made ice cave is accessible to all. Children can get sledges to be pulled through the tunnels for an exciting adventure, and people relying on wheelchairs can also book special assistance so they are also able to visit Langjökull!

While Óskar leads us further inside the glacier, he explains the different stages of how a glacier forms, which can be easily seen at the beginning of the tunnel. The snow accumulates over time, and if it “survives” one melt season, it compresses through the weight of the snow on top of it and forms a denser layer called “firn”. After more compression, the layers slowly transform into a thick mass of ice.

 

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer

"The ice in here is about 150 years old. So when people are in the chapel, the ice slowly melts from their heat, and we breathe in that old air in small quantities that emerges from the air bubbles within the ice."

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Óskar explaining the age of the ice in the chapel, photo: Alina Maurer

We pass the picturesque blue wall, where the famous “Into the Glacier” logo is stationed and arrive at the chapel. In the past, people have gotten married here, and some celebrities have even rented the entire ice tunnel for an overnight stay! So if you are looking for a special place for a special celebration, you can contact the team and have a truly unique experience arranged.

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Shift manager Kiddi is enlarging the tunnel and cutting ice with a chainsaw, photo: Alina Maurer

The tunnels need to be maintained constantly, as otherwise, the whole cave system would disappear after approximately seven years due to the glacier’s movement. 

Inside the tunnel, you can truly see how the glacier moves and how it finds its own paths for water drainage through moulins and cracks that open up into big crevasses. Everything is constantly monitored and maintained, so the experience is very safe. Óskar showed us remnants of old crevasses that closed themselves again and also a current crevasse that has been in the tunnel for some time. You can also see the ash layer of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption from 2010 preserved in the ice layer, which is pretty cool!

The tunnel is 500 metres (1640 ft) long and runs in a circle, so you don’t walk the same path twice. During the visit, you have plenty of time to ask all sorts of questions and take pictures. The guides also explain different characteristics of glaciers during the tour, like the drainage system of moulins, the formation of crevasses and the construction process of the ice tunnel.

Natural Ice Caves VS Man-Made Ice Tunnel
Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson standing in the Sapphire Ice Cave.
Golli. Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson standing in the Sapphire Ice Cave

If you are unsure whether you want to visit the man-made ice cave in Langjökull or a natural ice cave, here are all the facts to make your decision easier!

I’ve been to three natural ice caves at Breiðamerkurjökull, a glacier outlet that is part of the Vatnajökull National Park and in my opinion, both kinds of ice caves have their own charm. I was truly astonished that one could witness the glaciers’ movement in the man-made tunnel firsthand and I did not expect that at all – I’ve also not had that experience during my visits in a natural ice cave, as you don’t go in that far. 

In the man-made ice tunnel in Langjökull, you are truly INSIDE a glacier with about 25 metres of thick ice above you and over 200 metres of ancient ice beneath you, way further in than you would be in a natural ice cave, which is pretty cool!

While the lighting responsible for the infamous blue hues in ice caves is undoubtedly better in a natural ice cave, as it is natural light and does not come from LEDs, natural ice caves are mostly only accessible during the winter months from mid-October to late March. 

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Hidden waterfall on the way back to Húsafell, photo: Alina Maurer

Therefore, the man-made ice tunnel in Langjökull is a great option for people visiting Iceland in the summer, families with smaller children and people who have difficulties walking longer distances. In my opinion, both experiences have their own perks and are quite different from each other!

Not to forget, the journey up and down the glacier is an adventure by itself. Riding in a modified supertruck and witnessing the harsh elements while standing on ancient ice is truly mesmerising! Óskar even made an extra pit stop on the way back to show us a hidden waterfall. “Into the Glacier” does a great job of sharing important knowledge about glaciers, a natural phenomenon that will be lost in the near future due to climate change. Visiting the ice cave with Óskar was truly an experience that we will cherish for a long time to come!

You can book your “Into the Glacier” experience here via Iceland Review.

Fimmvörðuháls: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide

A group of people by Skógafoss.

If you’re planning on a hike in the Highland while you’re in Iceland, Fimmvörðuháls is a great option. It’s one of the most popular day hikes in Iceland and for a good reason. Taking you past more than 20 waterfalls, through barren landscape, between two glaciers, and down into the lush natural paradise of Þórsmörk, it’s one of the most diverse routes you can take in the Icelandic wilderness within a day. This guide to hiking Fimmvörðuháls will tell you everything you need to know about how to get there, what to expect on the way, whether it’s suitable for children, and much more.

When can you make the Fimmvörðuháls hike?

Technically, Fimmvörðuháls is open all year round, but mid-June to the end of August is the ideal time, especially if you’re going without a guide. It’s the time you’ll be most likely to get decent weather and good trail conditions, which will make your journey both more enjoyable and safe. During the off-season, conditions can be difficult due to storms and heavy snow on the ground, and planning transportation to and from the trail will be hard. You should only hike Fimmvörðuháls during the off-season if you’re an experienced hiker or with a guide. The video below will give you an idea of what the conditions are like during the hiking season.

Guided or unguided

During the hiking season, the Fimmvörðuháls hike can be done on your own. This might be the better option for photographers wanting to capture the unique Icelandic landscape or those who just want to take some extra time to enjoy the Highland, as it allows you complete freedom of speed. If you choose to go unguided, make sure to familiarize yourself with the trail beforehand and bring a GPS device and/or a map and a compass.

For less experienced hikers, those who don’t feel confident making the trip on their own, or social butterflies who want to hike with a larger group, there are plenty of guided tours available from May to September.

What to wear on your hike

Don’t underestimate the weather. Even if the forecast is great for Skógar and Þórsmörk, your starting and ending points, the conditions can be completely different and rapidly changing once you’re higher up.

To maximize your safety and comfort, it’s recommended to wear three layers on your journey:

  • A base layer of wool or synthetic thermal underwear.
  • A middle layer for insulation, wool or synthetics.
  • A wind and water-resistant, but breathable, outer layer.

Leave your cotton clothes at home. They won’t keep you warm when they get moist from sweat or wet from snow and rain. If you tend to get easily cold, or if the forecast is particularly grim, an extra sweater in the backpack is a good idea.

Additionally, you should have thermal gloves and headwear, socks made from wool or synthetics, and waterproof hiking boots, such as those on the image below. These are crucial, as there will be snow on the way. If you don’t have the proper equipment or space in your luggage to bring it, you can make use of a hiking and camping equipment rental.

Sturdy hiking boots.
Photo: Matti Blume, Wikimedia. Sturdy hiking boots.

What to bring – and what to leave on the bus

Although Iceland is known for its many rivers, there are none for a good deal of the Fimmvörðuháls trail. This means that you’ll have to bring water for the whole day in your backpack. It’s also a good idea to have hot water, hot chocolate, coffee or tea.

Assuming you’ve already had breakfast, you should bring lunch, dinner and plenty of snacks. An example of food for the day would be as follows:

  • Snacks – a pack of biscuits, a bag of nuts, raisins and chocolate, a granola bar, an apple, and a package of Icelandic fish jerky.
  • Lunch – a sandwich or two with hummus and vegetables or ham and cheese, a package of instant soup, and a snack.
  • Dinner – pasta with cream sauce or a package of freeze-dried food, a hot drink, and a snack.

Other than food, you should bring:

  • A first-aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • An extra pair of socks
  • Blister plasters or tape
  • A GPS and/or map and compass.

Those planning to stay the night in Þórsmörk do not have to carry additional things with them on the hike. You can leave your tents, sleeping bags and anything else you won’t need during the day on the bus, and the driver will drop them off at your accommodations. To do this, you’ll just have to make sure that the bus you choose is actually going there, have your things clearly labelled, and let the driver know.

Which direction to hike in

Since the hike is a point-to-point, there are, of course, two ways to do it. The most popular way is to start from Skógar and make your way into Þórsmörk. That means you’ll be facing the 20-plus waterfalls of the hike on the way up, have a slow but long inclination and the beautiful sight of Þórsmörk coming down. However, it’s entirely possible to do it the other way around. Many mountain runners prefer that, for example, as starting from Þórsmörk gives you a steeper but shorter inclination.

A group of people by Skógafoss waterfall in Skógar.
A group of people by Skógafoss waterfall in Skógar.

What to expect on the hike

While the hike is not the most difficult you can take, it is challenging and not suitable for those with poor physical health. Be sure to get some training in if you’re not used to hiking.

The trail itself is 24 km [15 miles] from Skógar to Básar (or the other way around) and has about 1000 metres [0.6 miles] ascent. On average, it takes eight to ten hours to complete. However, this is highly dependent on your physical form, how often and long you stop to admire the surrounding nature, and whether you struggle with heights. Some people take less than seven hours, while others take 14. Where you’re going to sleep once you get down to Þórsmörk is also a factor, but we’ll get to that further down in the guide.

There are several places where you’ll need to swallow your fear of heights if you have it. There are a couple of steep hills to climb up and down and some places where the path gets very narrow. For a few meters, you’ll have to hold on to a rope to get across a ledge.

There will be snow – maybe even a lot – and the importance of wearing proper hiking boots cannot be stressed enough. Don’t head off wearing sandals or trainers. You’ll end up with wet shoes, cold feet, and a far less enjoyable journey.

Fimmvörðuháls during summer, covered in snow.
Photo: Erik Pomrenke. Fimmvörðuháls during summer, covered in snow.

If you’re starting from Skógar, you’ll head into the barren landscape after you pass the last stretch of the waterfalls and river. This part can feel rather tedious compared to the first, but we promise it will all be well and truly worth it. The views coming down into Þórsmörk in the last leg of the journey are beyond this world.

Should you spend the night in Þórsmörk?

Many people drive out, do the hike, and head back on the same day, but if you have time, Þórsmörk is an amazing place to spend it in. You should also keep in mind that you’re most likely dependent on the highland bus to get out of Þórsmörk. This means that if you don’t spend the night, the bus schedule will restrict your time for things going wrong on the way or exploring the area once you’re down. The last bus usually leaves at 8 PM, and assuming you took the bus to Skógar, you will have started the hike around 11 AM, giving you just about nine hours to complete it. Having sleeping arrangements allows you to take your time on the hike without having to worry about missing the bus.

You can book a sleeping space in a cabin in Básar, Langidalur or Húsadalur, or you could bring a tent. For those wanting a bit of luxury or romance after a long and tiring day, there’s also glamping available, but beware that this is located in Húsadalur. Of the three places you can sleep in, Húsadalur is the furthest away from the end of the hiking trail and getting there will add about 2-3 hours to your journey. Básar is the nearest and, thus, the most popular amongst hikers. Langidalur lies in between the two, adding two kilometres [1.2 miles] to your trip. These all have their unique characteristics, and should you want to experience all of them, you can always plan to stay a few days. Keep in mind that there are limited sleeping spaces, so book yours in advance!

The view from Valahnúkur mountain in Þórsmörk, a popular hike amongst those staying there.
Photo: Erik Pomrenke. The view from Valahnúkur mountain in Þórsmörk, a popular hike amongst those staying there.

If 24 km [15 miles] in a day is not your jam, you can make the hike into a two-day trip and stay a night in either Fimmvörðuskáli or Baldvinsskáli. They are conveniently situated about midway through. You can also choose to hike the trail for a few kilometres and turn back the same way, making it a round-trip of any length you desire. From either end of it, you’ll have epic scenery along the way: the long trail of waterfalls alongside the path from Skógar or the breathtaking view of Þórsmörk below as you hike up the trail and back down again. You could even bring a blanket and some food and set up a picnic along the way. Lastly, there’s the option of seeing Fimmvörðuháls from above on a helecopter tour, in case you’re not able to or don’t want to hike.

Is Fimmvörðuháls suitable for children?

It depends on their hiking experience, physical capability, and enthusiasm. Most companies offering guided tours require a minimum age of 12 or 13 years. This is also a good guideline for families going on their own, but of course, you know your child/children best and will be able to assess their ability based on previous experiences. If you’ve never hiked with them before, doing a test hike is a good idea, and keep in mind that Fimmvörðuháls will probably be a bit more challenging. If you’re worried about it being too hard for them, the suggestions above, making it a two-day hike or only doing part of it, are excellent options.

On the last stretch of the waterfall part of Fimmvörðuháls.
Photo: Erik Pomrenke. On the last stretch of the waterfall part of Fimmvörðuháls.

Getting to and from Fimmvörðuháls

Since the Fimmvörðuháls trail is a point-to-point hike, not a circle, and because of how the highland buses are scheduled, this will probably be the trickiest part of your planning. The fact that you need a 4×4 and experience with river crossing to get in and out of Þórsmörk also restricts your options somewhat. There are several ways you can do this.

  • The most hassle-free option is to book a guided tour that includes transportation. You will need to make no other arrangements than getting to the meeting point. This might be particularly enticing for families with children, but it is also one of the more expensive ways.
  • If you don’t want a guided tour, the next best option would be to have a designated driver who drops you off at the starting point and picks you up at the end. This is a great solution if only part of the group you’re travelling with is doing the hike, and it’s by far the cheapest one. You’ll only need to buy a ticket to or from Þórsmörk to Brú Base Camp, Seljalandsfoss, or Hvolsvöllur, depending on the bus company.
  • A similar situation can be worked out if you have two cars. This will allow you to leave one car at Skógar and one at whichever bus stop you choose to get on/off the bus to or from Þórsmörk. This means that you can drive all the way to Skógar in the morning, hike to Þórsmörk, take the bus to a chosen bus stop and drive back to Skógar to pick up the second car (or the other way around).
  • A fourth option is to get a ticket with one of the highland buses from Reykjavík: A one-way ticket to your starting point, Skógar or Básar (if you’re starting in Þórsmörk, don’t choose Langidalur or Húsadalur!), and a one-way ticket back to Reykjavík from your ending point. Make sure that if your ending point is Þórsmörk, you pick the correct hut for pick-up: Básar, Langidalur or Húsadalur. Each bus company only goes to one or two of the three. If your ticket just says ‘Þórsmörk’, check with the company you bought it from. Those staying the night in Þórsmörk don’t have to worry too much about the timetable, but if you’re planning a one-day trip, make sure that a) you book your ticket back from Básar and b) you know the time you have to be down by.
  • Similarly, if you’re already on the South Coast and got there by car, you can hop on the bus somewhere along the way between Reykjavík and your starting point. This could be in Selfoss, Hella, or Hvolsvöllur, but the stops will be slightly different between bus companies. Just make sure that the bus you take on your way back stops at the same place you left your car. Note that there is no bus that runs from Þórsmörk to Skógar, so leaving your car there at the start of your hike is not a great option. If you do this, you’ll have to take a taxi once you’re out of Þórsmörk to get back to it, which will be very expensive.

Below is the trail on Google Maps with some of its waterfalls and landmarks marked in. The estimated travel time is quite optimistic, so don’t use it as a benchmark!

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.

Food Festivals in Iceland – From Traditional Feasts to Street Food

Enjoying Icelandic hot dogs

Travelling to a new country isn’t just about seeing the sights, it’s also about experiencing its vibrant culture and flavours. If you plan to visit Iceland, particularly during the spring and summer months, you’re in for a treat beyond the breathtaking nature. For the travelling foodies amongst us, here’s a list of the top food festivals in Iceland to spice up your stay. 

 

Food and fun festival

Each year, foodies flock to Reykjavík for the Food and fun festival. Over the festival weekend, a selection of the city’s finest restaurants flaunt their culinary talent, offering not only amazing food but also the opportunity to immerse oneself in Reykjavík´s vibrant nightlife – the ultimate fun night out. 

What sets the Food and Fun Festival apart is the collaborative effort between participating restaurants and internationally acclaimed chefs from around the globe. These culinary maestros engage in friendly competition, tasked with crafting a three-course meal using exclusively Icelandic ingredients.

Typically held in March, from Wednesday through Sunday, the festival sees approximately 20 restaurants participate each year, ensuring a diverse and tantalising culinary experience for attendees.

 

Götubitinn – Reykjavík street food festival

Street food has experienced a significant resurgence in Iceland recently. With food halls appearing on almost every corner, the passion for exceptional and diverse street food has soared to new heights. Annually in July, the Reykjavík Street Food Festival brings together the city’s food trucks, offering a weekend of exploration through various culinary delights.

The festival made its debut in 2019 and has since become a staple event, taking place every year in Hljómskálagarður park, nestled in the heart of Reykjavík city.

With nearly 30 trucks participating each year, there’s undoubtedly something to tantalise every palate. Live music, play areas and bouncy castles all form part of the festivities, alongside the opportunity to vote for your favourite bite and crown Reykjavík’s best street food.

 

The Annual Icelandic beer festival

Perhaps not your conventional food festival but The Annual Icelandic beer festival is an event that Icelanders hold in high regard. Spanning four days, this festival commemorates the legalisation of beer in March 1989, marking the end of the prohibition in Iceland, which had been in force since 1915.

Throughout the festival, all guests have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Iceland’s beer culture, trying out various beers and meeting the faces behind the breweries. The final event features live music, exclusive beers as well as a menu centred around beer.


Artisan food fayre

Twice a year in spring and winter, the bustling heart of Reykjavík comes alive with the aroma of freshly harvested goods and the buzz of excited chatter. Nestled within the grandeur of Harpa, Reykjavík’s Music and Concert Hall, local farmers, fishermen, and artisanal producers gather under one roof for a culinary extravaganza unlike any other.

Over the course of two days, this specialty food market unveils an array of locally sourced delicacies and artisanal treasures. From farm-fresh produce to innovative gastronomic delights, there’s something for every taste bud. Rub shoulders with the trailblazers of Iceland’s food scene and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of local culinary traditions. 

 

Þorrablót – The Icelandic midwinter feast

Every year, from late January to late February, Icelanders honour the old Norse month of Þorri with a traditional midwinter feast known as þorrablót [θɔrraplouːt]. This celebration brings people together to raise a toast with Brennivín Icelandic liquor and indulge in traditional, yet unconventional, fare.

Throughout the month of Þorri, many companies and restaurants host these traditional feasts, serving the preserved foods of our ancestors. Smoked, salted, dried, pickled, and fermented meats and fish take centre stage, including delicacies such as fermented shark, ram’s testicles, and singed sheep heads.

If you find yourself travelling to Iceland during the winter months, be sure to keep an eye out for one of these authentic midwinter feasts to experience a taste of Icelandic tradition.


With these food festivals you will be sure to have a great taste of Iceland during your stay. If you are travelling outside of the big festival season,
here you can find a selection of both private and group tours that every foodie will be sure to enjoy.  

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.

Book a table:

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.

Reserve a table:

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. 

Reserve a table:

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

          

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.

Take Flight with Helicopter Tours in Iceland

A helicopter on top of a glacier in Iceland

Helicopter tours offer visitors a view of Iceland’s untameable terrain from above, culminating in one of the most memorable activities available in the country. So what can prospective flyers expect from their helicopter ride in Iceland? Embark on an aerial journey with us as we explore the exhilarating world of helicopter tours in Iceland!

Stepping up to the landing pad for the first time, your heart will pump with adrenaline, drowned out by the whirring rotors of your ride. Clambering nervously aboard, you will don a thick pair of headphones, muting the thunderous sound of the wind as it whips by the cool aluminium of your rotorcraft taking flight. 

Now high in the air, you cannot help but peer down out of the bay windows, taking in the full perspective of the ethereal Icelandic landscape moving by below. 

An aerial view of a glacier in Iceland
Photo: Volcanoes, Waterfalls and Glacier Landing – Helicopter Tour from Reykjavik

Demonstrating the helicopter’s incredible manoeuvrability, your experienced, certified pilot may skim breathtakingly close to snow-blanketed mountain slopes, or rise at high-speeds towards a magnificent covering of clouds. Simply sit back and enjoy the ride!

So, without further ado, let’s learn more about taking a helicopter adventure above the land of ice and fire. 

What do I need to know before taking a helicopter tour in Iceland?

A landed helicopter in a geothermal area
Photo: Geothermal Adventure

Before setting out, there are a few points to keep in mind before taking part in one of these aeronautical feats. First of all, Iceland’s helicopter tours always have a weight limit. Anyone weighing over 120 kg / 265 lbs / 19 stone will be required to pay for 1.5 seats on the helicopter. 

On top of that, tours typically require a minimum number of guests. Usually, this is 3-4 people. If you are in a group that does not meet this number, you can still sign up to be taken for a flight in the company of another small party.

Many operators also choose to vary their departure times depending on how tours they are providing that day. Morning tours can begin anywhere between 8.00 and 13.00, with the last evening tours often happening at 18.00. 

 

Are helicopter tours dependent on weather?


Be aware that during the winter, tour providers must take into account the limited number of daylight hours, so tend to start later than they otherwise would in summer. This leads us to another point – helicopter tours are very weather dependent, and will be forced to reschedule or even cancel should conditions not be optimum for flying. Because of this, it is very important to stay aware of the forecast during your trip, and book in advance.

And a final note about the weather – everyone knows that Iceland can be chilly, so take the time to dress yourself appropriately. Gloves, hats, scarves, and thick layers will all keep you warm during your flight and any landings you might make. 

Be aware that details as to departure times, weight limits, and minimum passenger counts will vary depending on the operator you choose. Be sure to check the website before booking your tour so as not to be caught out when it’s too late!   

Why experience a helicopter tour in Iceland? 

A helicopter landing on a mountain in Iceland
Photo: Flyover Reykjavík

One reason why you experience helicopter tours in Iceland might be that they are far less popular than land-based excursions. This is not because the experience itself is any way lacking, but more likely to do with the higher cost. 

Still, if money is no concern, there are very real reasons why you should experience an Icelandic helicopter tour. 

Taking part in this aerial activity would provide the chance to take part in a daring escapade that most people have not tried, thus adding a certain edge to the stories you tell of your time in the land of ice and fire. 

For those looking for a more personal tour, you can opt for a private helicopter ride, which offers 90-minutes flight time with two landings included. If you’re seeking VIP treatment, then this would be the tour for you! 

Where can you take helicopter rides in Iceland?

A helicopter in Skaftafell
Photo: Ice Cave & Helicopter Tour from Skaftafell

Helicopter tours are available from a few locations across the country. The most accessible location is Reykjavík domestic airport. 

From here, you can take part in a helicopter tour over the Hengill geothermal area, or alternatively, take in a broader array of features with this volcanoes, waterfalls and glaciers tour in the Hvalfjördur region

As these tours demonstrate, helicopters offer supreme mobility, making it easy to take-off from one destination and travel to another entirely. 

Fly over Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík  

Reykjavík from above
Photo: Golli. Aerial view over Reykjavík

Soaring above Reykjavík is an experience without comparison. Looking down on the multi-coloured tin rooftops of Iceland’s capital, the wide panoramas of the ocean and mountains, is about as different of a perspective as one can hope for. 

As an added extra, it is possible to book a summit tour, meaning the helicopter will land atop the table-top of Mt. Esja. A forty-five minute tour in total, you will spend 20 minutes flying, and a further fifteen minutes enjoying the mountain scenery upon landing.   

In the wintertime, it is possible to conjoin a helicopter tour with a boat tour, allowing you to see Reykjavík from above during the day, and the Northern Lights atop the bobbing ocean surface during the evening. 

Soar across Iceland’s national parks 

 

Iceland boasts three national parks. These are as follows:

  • Þingvellir National Park, in the west of the country, and one-third of the famous Golden Circle sightseeing route.
  • Snæfellsjökull National Park, in the west of Iceland, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
  • Vatnajökull National Park, in the south east of the country. 

All of these allow for helicopter tours, which is great for those looking for a different method of travel. Frankly, there is no other way to describe these high flying tours other than a spectacular and adrenaline-fuelled means of discovering Iceland’s most protected sites. 

Look upon Icelandic volcanoes from above

An aerial view of a volcano.
Photo: Volcanoes, Waterfalls and Glacier Landing – Helicopter Tour from Reykjavik

It’s not just drones that have access to aerial views of orange magma throwing itself from the ground. Thrilling volcano helicopter tours can also provide guests with this brilliant top-down view. 

The option to fly over an erupting volcano in Iceland is not always available. No surprises, it is very dependent on whether or not a volcano is actually erupting. 

Over the last few years, there have been more eruptions than usual, which might be considered lucky or unlucky depending on who you are. We speak, of course, of the January 2024 Sundhnúkahraun eruption that took place just outside of Grindavík fishing town. 

 

As you might expect, some helicopter tours were not permitted over this site so as for operators to avoid any accusation of disaster tourism

However, the Fagradalsfjall, Meradalir, and Litli-Hrútur eruptions that took place over the last few years allowed for helicopter tours, offering international guests to gain a whole new perspective of its flowing lava without the need to hike to the site themselves. 

When a volcano is not erupting, volcano tours with a helicopter will often take guests to recently dried lava fields, showcasing the fascinating aftermath of these enormous geological events. There is even the option to take a helicopter ride to the Into The Volcano tour, allowing you to skip the ride to the now-dormant Þríhnúkagígur crater. 

How long do Helicopter Tours in Iceland last? 

An aerial view of Icelandic landscapes
Photo: Volcanoes, Waterfalls and Glacier Landing – Helicopter Tour from Reykjavik

How long your helicopter flight lasts is dependent upon which operator you choose to fly with. Naturally, the length of time you will be skybound varies on the particular tour you choose, taking into account any landings that are made during the tour. 

For those flying above Reykjavík, you can expect anywhere between twenty minutes to one hour. For those travelling further afield, be it over Iceland’s glaciers or national parks, you might be soaring anywhere between 2-3 hours. 

To clarify a final time, how long you’ll be in the air differs greatly between companies. Be sure to check in with the operator before take-off so as to best manage a flight as part of your itinerary. 

Is it possible to go Heli-skiing in Iceland? 


Iceland is not considered to be a prime skiing destination like the French Alps or Switzerland, but it does boast a number of smaller ski slopes that are of more interest to locals than international visitors. 

With that said, Iceland’s mountains provide more than ample opportunity to ski, even though getting to them poses quite a challenge. 

Introducing heli-skiing – arguably the most extreme type of skiing available! 

Guests on these highly exciting tours will be flown above one such mountain, make their landing, and have a pristine mountainscape upon which to explore off-piste trails or summit-to-shoreline runs. 

It’s not just skiers presented with this opportunity. Snowboarders can take part too! So, whatever means of traversal you best enjoy on the slopes, seriously consider taking your passion for extreme-sports to thrilling new heights with an added helicopter commute. 

In Summary 

A helicopter in Iceland
Photo: Geothermal Hot Springs – Helicopter tour from Reykjavik

Are you ready to elevate your Iceland experience to incredible new heights? Spend some time choosing the right helicopter tour for you; one that suits your adventurous appetite and creates lasting memories that soar above any other! 

Whatever you’re looking for in a helicopter tour in Iceland, feel confident that there are plenty of options open to you. 

While most decide that a quick flight over Iceland’s capital will suffice, there is always room for more adventurous undertakings. If, for example, you hope to land on the cool ice of a mighty glacier, you can. If you would rather hover like a bird over lava pouring aggressively from the earth, knock yourself out!

Discover Iceland’s Scenic South Coast 

Skógafoss waterfall on the South Coast in Iceland

The magnificent South Coast in Iceland makes for a diverse and exciting adventure for sightseers. But what are the best sites en route, and how long does it take to experience? Are there tours that will escort you along the South Coast, or is it better to drive yourself? Read on to learn more about this beautiful region.

There are several routes in Iceland that have become famed for their beauty, most notably the Golden Circle in West Iceland, and the Diamond Circle to the north. 

The South Coast is part of this pantheon, offering an esoteric mix of attractions that are sure to delight even the most seasoned of travellers. 

Why experience the South Coast in Iceland? 

South Coast travellers
Photo: Golli. The South is one of Iceland’s most stunning regions.

The South Coast is among Iceland’s most beloved sightseeing routes. Waterfalls, canyons, glacier lagoons, black sand beaches and desert – all lie in wait for those venturing along this pristine stretch of shoreline.

Thankfully, the South Coast happens to be incredibly accessible, strengthening its popularity amongst foreign guests. Travellers need only follow the Ring Road – or Route 1; the major tarmac road circling the island – east from the capital, Reykjavík. This route will pass by each of one of its major stops.

Frankly, the South Coast has something to offer everyone. Be you a landscape photographer seeking out picturesque vantage points. Or a road warrior looking to cover as much ground in Iceland in the limited time available to you. The South Coast provides. 

What major sites are on Iceland’s South Coast?

Travellers in Iceland's south
Photo: Golli. Behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

As is the case with so much of Iceland, the South Coast in its entirety is a sight to behold. Driving between sites, you are just as likely to have your breath taken away by the passing visuals as you are at each of its famous attractions. 

With that said, there are places that are more worthy of discussion than others, be it because of their interesting geological makeup, importance to Icelandic culture, or stunning aesthetic.

Let’s learn more about each of the attractions you’ll pass when leaving from Reykjavík.

Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls 

Skógafoss in the mist
Photo: Golli. Skógafoss waterfall.

The famous waterfall alley of South Iceland. The first waterfall visitors will stumble upon is Seljalandsfoss, with Skógafoss being around half an hour’s drive east. Both of their waters originate from the mighty Eyjafjallajökull glacier, famous for its violent eruption in 2010. 

Seljalandsfoss allows guests to walk behind its narrow waterfall, offering truly fabulous photography opportunities for capturing the surrounding landscape through a natural filter of cascading water. This gorgeous natural landmark falls 60 m [200 feet] over an ancient sea cliff, making for unbelievable visuals when seen besides the enclosing meadows and nearby shoreline.

A twisting staircase leads up the side of Skógafoss. This presents visitors with the chance to see this feature from the top and bottom. This waterfall is just as high as Seljalandsfoss, but has a much greater width at 25 m [82 ft.] According to legends, treasures hide behind the waterfall, but we would not recommend venturing too close for fear you may be crushed. 

The hidden falls, Gljúfrabúi 

Gljúfrabúi hidden falls
Photo: Golli. Gljúfrabúi is the among Iceland’s hiddden falls

While Seljalandsfoss is one of the most well-known waterfalls on the South Coast, Gljúfrabúi (Canyon Dweller) is within easy walking distance, nestled away inside a diminutive gorge of its own. 

Gljúfrabúi remains something of an open secret in the area. Quite the feat given the many thousands who visit Seljalandsfoss each day.

The waterfall is 40 m [131 ft] tall, and trickles into the oceanbound stream, Gljúfurá. Those who want a closer look at this feature will have to hopscotch their way over the trickling water to the best vantage point. 

Kvernufoss 

 

Standing at 30 m [98 ft], observing Kvernufoss waterfall feels akin to discovering treasure given that it’s hidden inside a mossy gorge. 

Just like Seljalandsfoss, it is possible to traipse behind Kvernufoss by following its conveniently placed walking path. Given the great plumes of mist that erupt at the base of the falls, anyone hoping to look upon the waterfall from this inside angle should expect to get wet!

Vík í Mýrdal

Vík i Myrdal Church
Photo: Golli. Vík i Myrdal Church in Iceland

Better known simply as Vík, this pleasant coastal village is found 180 km [112 mi] from Reykjavík, making it the perfect place to stop, breathe, and grab a bite to eat during your trip along the South Coast. 

Home to little under 400 people, Vík has become something of an attraction in its own right on account that its isolated position and seafront architecture present a side of Icelandic life rarely seen in the capital. 

To many, Vík is defined by its amazing surrounding scenery. It lies at the base of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which itself covers the once ominous Katla volcano. 

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach 

Reynisfjara black sand beach on the South Coast in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Reynisfjara black sand beach.

By now, much has been discussed about the inherent dangers of Reynisfjara, given the fact that its unpredictable wave patterns have cost lives, and created many incidences of panic among visitors. 

Despite this, Reynisfjara does remind one of the country’s most beautiful shorelines, and is well worthy of appreciation at a distance. 

This is not so much for its glassy black pebbles – a bonafide staple of many beaches in Iceland – but more so because it’s home to Reynisdrangar; impressive basalt sea stacks that loom over the adjacent coastal village of Vík í Mýrdal. 

Dyrhólaey peninsula

Dyrhólaey peninsula
Photo: Golli. The epic landscape of Dyrhólaey peninsula

Closeby to Reynisfjara, Dyrhólaey Peninsula (Door Hill Island) is a true geographical marvel thanks to its breathtaking, arch-shaped rock formation. 

The dramatic hole in the basalt rock is the result of wind and water erosion, reminding its observers of the natural forces that continue to shape Iceland to this day. The site is home to various bird species, including skuas, guillemots, and in summer, the iconic Atlantic Puffin.

This promontory offers panoramic views of the black sand coastline and adjoining ocean, making it a fabulous spot for landscape photographs. 

Katla Ice Caves  

Katla Ice Caves
Photo: Golli. Katla ice caves in South Iceland.

The Katla ice caves are a worthwhile stop for travellers interested to learn more about the underworld beneath Iceland’s glaciers. If ever there was a place to take your camera, this would be it! 

Katla’s ice caves lack the crystal blue ice that has made those beneath Vatnajökull world-famous. Instead, these caverns are better characterised as being white with snowfall, with black volcanic ash mixed in, creating an aesthetic all its own. 

During your caving tour at Katla, your certified guide will provide you with a pair of spiked crampons to help your feet grip the icy surface, as well as a pair of hiking poles for anyone seeking extra support. You will also wear a protective helmet so as to protect you should slips or stumbles occur. 

Solheimajökull Glacier

 

 

Solheimajökull is an outlet glacier originating from the larger Mýrdalsjökull ice cap – the very same that looms over Vík í Mýrdal. It is a popular spot for glacier hiking, an exciting activity which sees visitors walk across great ice plains in spiky crampons, taking in its dramatic moulins and crevasses. 

Solheimajökull is approximately 10 km long and 2 km wide, though it blends in with the Mýrdalsjökull ice in such a way as to appear much larger. Its exterior surface is a mixture of white ice and black volcanic ash, creating scenes reminiscent of a science fiction film. 

The DC Plane Wreck at Solheimasandur

The DC Plane Wreck at Solheimasandur
Photo: Golli. The abandoned wreckage

An artificial monument, of sorts. The metallic husk of a US Navy Douglas R4D-8 aircraft lays on the flattened dunes of Solheimasandur black sand desert. It has ever since it crashed there on November 21st 1973. Its degraded grey metal, twisted and hollow with time, stands separate to the emptiness of the surrounding landscape.

What could have been a catastrophe actually turned out to be an astounding stroke of luck for its crew. Not a single person died in the crash. The accident was caused by the pilot accidentally switching to the wrong fuel tank. What otherwise had been a routine flight as part of the US defence agreement with Iceland quickly devolved into an emergency landing. 

Interestingly enough, the DC plane wreck is not held in such high regard by the Icelanders as it with tourists. It is, actually, tourists who have taken it upon themselves to grant it a special spot among the South Coast’s attractions. Hence its inclusion in this article. 

Be aware that the wreckage cannot be seen from the Ring Road. And there are no clear signs. It is only advised to trek here in the company of those who are certain of its location, and never in the wintertime, given the copious amounts of snow that fall over Solheimasandur. 

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

 

 

With 100 m walls of rock rising on either side of the Fjaðrá river, the dark, dramatic Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is a bewitching sight. It is found close to the Ring Road, nearby to the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, and trails 2 km through across the landscape. 

It is believed the canyon is around 9000 years old, only enforcing the idea that better belongs in a fantastical, storybook setting. Its origins lie at Geirlandshraun mountain, which would have seeped vast amounts of glacier water across the landscape at the end of the last Ice Age.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach 

Jökulsárlón lake
Photo: Golli. Jökulsárlón lagoon

Jökulsárlón lagoon sits at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier, a single tongue that slithers off Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajökull. 

This glistening, ice-berg filled water body is just one part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Vatnajökull National Park, and is often considered the last stop people will make on the South Coast. 

Jökulsárlón is one the most photographed spots in the entire country. It is very popular among guests, many who add to the experience with an amphibious or zodiac boat tour. Others are content to stand at the water’s banks, appreciating the incredible ice formations as they float peacefully on their way out to the ocean. 

You can read more in our full article: Visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in South East Iceland 

How long does driving the South Coast take? 

South Coast driving
Photo: Golli. Driving on the South Coast

In reality, this depends on how long you wish to spend enjoying this pristine route. Reaching what is considered to be the last stop on the South Coast, Jökulsárlón, will take you five hours when travelling directly along Route 1.  

So, if you are hoping to see everything the South Coast has to offer in a single day, you should expect to be driving for a minimum of twelve hours, taking into consideration that you will stop and appreciate many of its sites along the way. 

Is the South Coast free? 

A Reykjavik Excursions coach
Photo: Golli. There are many coach tours along the South Coast.

As with most things in Iceland, travelling the South Coast is not completely without cost. There is the price of fuel to consider, and any stops you make along the way for food and respite. Some sites may also incur parking fees, so it is most certainly wise to keep cash on hand. 

Naturally, tour operators can also transport you along this route, stopping from one site to the next. Prices vary greatly depending on the type of experience they offer. For example, private tours will require more payment. But they do allow for you and your family to enjoy Iceland’s southern region in a quieter, more personal way. 

For a lighter cost, but less freedom, you can opt for a coach tour. This means travelling with a larger group. In these circumstances, you are tied to the whims of the group-at-large, not to mention the coach driver. And you will have less wiggle room when it comes to scheduling.  

What towns and villages offer a place to eat on the South Coast? 

Friðheimar farm
Photo: Golden Circle — Platinum Tour | Small group. Visitors to Friðheimar farm.

The South Coast is an expensive area, covering 401 km in total. So where exactly you should stop to eat depends on your preference, and whether amenities can be found closeby. Taking that into consideration, let’s start by shining a light on a handful of the eateries on the western side of this southerly coastal route. 

Places to eat on the western side of the South Coast

Prized by travellers as a restaurant and boutique hotel, Varma is located in the geothermal town of Hveragerði. It offers delicious meals like slow-smoked salmon, langoustine soup, and sourdough steak sandwiches. The dining space is situated in an airy, greenhouse-style area. As such, it allows for beautiful views of the rural surroundings. 

Also in Hveragerði is Ölverk Pizza & Brugghús. Unsurprisingly, it specialises in wood-fired pizza and craft beer brewed on-site. Hveragerði is only 45 km east of Reykjavík, making it a great town to eat at the beginning or end of your journey. The same can be said of Selfoss, only fifteen minutes drive away. This lovely town also boasts such places as Kaffi Krús and Tryggvaskáli. The latter placing emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients. 

A delicious meal served on the Golden Circle route
Photo: The Elite Golden Circle with lunch at farm & luxury hot sea baths

Places to eat on eastern side of the South Coast

Further east, closeby to the famed waterfall that shares its name, visitors can stop to eat at Hótel Skógafoss Bistro and Bar. The restaurant offers a variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates, both Icelandic and international dishes. 

In Vík í Mýrdal, there are a good number of places to chow down. How about the iconic Black Beach Restaurant (​Svarta Fjaran), or the great lunch spot, Suður? You could also stray towards American or European dishes at the old-fashioned Halldors Kaffi in a beautiful historic home. 

There are many other restaurants, snack bars, and cafes found further along the South Coast. The Glacier Lagoon Café is located beside Jökulsárlón and offers an array of delicious sandwiches and soups. At the far east of the South Coast in the town of Höfn, travellers can pay a visit to such places as Hali Country Hotel Restaurant, the lobster-mad Pakkhús Restaurant, or the harbour-side Íshúsið Pizzeria

In Summary 

Eyjafjöll - Undir Eyjafjöllum Kýr á beit
Photo: Páll Stefánsson. Cows at Eyjafjöll, South Iceland

What else is there to say? If you’re planning on taking a trip to Iceland for a week or more, the South Coast is highly recommended. 

Regardless of how you experience it, expect to be left in awe of Iceland’s beautiful natural scenery. Its quaint coastal towns. Its memorable activities.  

Make sure to browse our selection of South Coast tours before you go!