Birdwatching Hut Opens in North Iceland

birdwatching hut skagaströnd

A new birdwatching hut in North Iceland’s Skagaströnd region is not for those afraid of heights. It is securely fastened to the edge of a cliff in the Spákonufellshöfði nature reserve, providing a unique and sheltered vantage point to observe the area’s plentiful birdlife.

The crystal of a prophetess

The hut was designed by the firm ESJA Architecture and built with the help of grant funding from the Icelandic Tourist Board. According to ESJA, the hut’s crystal-like shape was inspired by a legend from the Viking Age. Spákonufellshöfði, the name of the site, means “Prophetess Cape,” presumably referencing the area’s first resident who is known by name, Þórdís the Prophetess. Þórdís lived in Skagaströnd in the late 10th century and is referenced throughout the Icelandic Sagas.

Nesting bird species plentiful

Naturalist Einar Ólafur Þorleifsson told RÚV he expects the hut to attract both locals and foreign tourists. The location of the hut is not only ideal for birdwatching but also for observing the area’s volcanic rock formations and interesting plant life.

The bird species that nest within the hut’s sightlines include fulmars, ravens, ptarmigans, arctic terns, eider ducks, and black guillemots. Harlequin ducks are visible in the sea year-round and long-tailed ducks are also a common sight. Cormorants, falcons, merlins, and even eagles can also be spotted there, according to Einar. At this time of year, as migratory birds return to Iceland to nest, flocks of geese pass by the site as well as swans.

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Nesjavellir to Hveragerði: A Hiking Adventure an Hour from Reykjavík

nesjavellir hike

It was recently the First Day of Summer, a holiday in Iceland where kids get presents and Icelanders flock outside in the hopes of catching some rays. It’s a tricky time of year in a lot of ways, equally likely to still have snow storms as bright, sunny days. It’s certainly a time of year when I’m itching to go for a hike, to go on the inaugural trip of what is hopefully many summer adventures.

Because the time of year can be a little tricky, I wanted to go on an overnight hike that felt like a real hike, but would still be manageable if the weather turned for the worse. I’d known for a long time that you can actually walk from Nesjavellir, a popular hiking area between the south coast of Þingvallavatn Lake and Hengill mountain, to Hveragerði, with a stop at the popular Reykjadalur hot springs along the way. But I’d never actually gotten around to it until this year. 

Who is this hike for?

Clocking in at around 20 km [12.5 mi] each way (some 5 to 6 hours of straight walking), this is a great hike for people who want an experience that really looks and feels like the highland, while still being able to sleep in a hotel at night, have a shower, and eat a dinner that hasn’t been freeze-dried. While trails like Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls are without doubt beautiful and worth doing, they can only be safely hiked in the proper high season. They are also harder to access, requiring transport by highland bus to either Þórsmörk or Landmannalaugar. I found this walk to be a great compromise of beautiful views, rewarding walking, and convenience. And while you still need proper gear like hiking boots, a day pack, a wind- and water-proof shell, water, hiking socks, and so on, you can ditch the tent and sleeping bag if you’re staying in Hveragerði, meaning that you save on weight. This makes for a much more comfortable hike, though if you want to save money and bring a tent and sleeping bag, Hveragerði does also have an easily accessible campground.

A caveat, however: Because we hiked early in the season, the snow was still melting up in the mountains, making the trail extremely muddy. It was probably a more difficult hike for us than it otherwise would have been, and for the preservation of the trail, I wouldn’t recommend hiking here until at least late May.

Getting to Nesjavellir

Nesjavellir is a popular hiking area for many capital area residents. It’s a part of the mountains (including Hengill) that separate the South Coast from the Þingvellir area. There’s a dense network of trails in this area, so it’s also entirely possible to just do a quick day hike here as well.

Best deals on renting a car in Iceland

 

We drove east from Reykjavík along Route 36, as if we were driving the Golden Circle towards Þingvellir. Near the lake, we turned onto road number 360, which took us to the south coast of the lake. Below you’ll find embedded a map of the route we took to get to the trailhead.

If you are driving from Reykjavík, you will see a small parking lot to the left of the road. There’s a sign that says camping is forbidden, but leaving your car here isn’t a problem.

The name of this particular hike is Kattatjarnarleið, and the navigation I used was the Alltrails app, which allows you to download topographical maps – very useful when hiking in areas with poor reception and few available maps.

nesjavellir hike
The drive to Nesjavellir is also a beautiful one, takng you along the south coast of Lake Þingvellir.

Day 1: Nesjavellir to Hveragerði

The trail begins in some fields that are overlooked by some vacation houses (the area is a popular weekend escape for Reykjavík residents). You’ll follow a stream for some time, and within 30 minutes of walking or so, you’ll have to wade across a shallow river. Nothing too daunting – though it did take us a minute to find a suitable path across.

hiking near þingvallavatn fording a stream
Soon into the hike, you'll have your first adventure - wading a small river.

Soon after wading across the river, you’ll go up a hill and find a gate consisting of two wooden poles. This closes the area off during the winter and is the start of the “real” part of the hike!

hiking near hengill
Beautiful mountain views just an hour from Reykjavík.

I’ll admit that I was really shocked by the first part of the hike. Following along a river gorge, with Hengill mountain to your front, it’s just amazingly beautiful on a nice day. You would really never guess that you were just an hour from Reykjavík. We also got lucky with the weather – it was late April and temperatures were around 10°C [50°F], with lots of sun and a healthy breeze the whole time. As far as I’m concerned, this is the perfect weather for hiking.

hiking signposts near hengill

About a third of the way into the hike, you’ll encounter this signpost. The major trails through this area run in a figure-eight around Hengill, and you can choose which way you want to take here. We opted to do one pass through the figure-eight on our way to Hveragerði, and take another leg of it back. Heading from North to South, we continued to Hveragerði and Reykjadalur by heading right, following the sign for Ölkelduháls and Hveragerði.

hiking boots
Muddy boots after a long day of walking.

A good two or three hours of walking later, and you’ll have a fine vantage point over the Reykjadalur hot spring area. We got a little bit of a late start and wanted to have dinner in Hveragerði, so we actually skipped the popular geothermal area for our way back.

I was also reserved in taking photos here, and I recommend other travellers and hikers act likewise. This popular bathing areas has some nice wooden walkways these days, but it is still fundamentally a wilderness experience. There are some wooden shelters for modesty, but no closed changing rooms for hikers to get into their bathing suits. That means that you’ll find people in various states of dress and undress here, so I suggest stowing the camera.

Once you’ve reached Reykjadalur, it’s a relatively short walk to Hveragerði itself. At the bottom of the hill where the Reykjadalur trail begins you’ll find a hospitality centre that offers some light refreshments, so if you’re starving and can’t wait to get back to town, it’s a fine place to have a beer.

From the Reykjadalur café, it’s about a 3km [1.8mi] walk into Hveragerði proper. It isn’t the most beautiful walk, mostly by the side of the road through a semi-residential area. So it’s not exactly cheating if you hitchhike or call a taxi into town from this point. If you’re lucky, you might also find an e-scooter lying around. On our trip, we weren’t so lucky. So, tired after a full day of walking, we hoofed it back into town and gratefully showered at our hotel and headed out to dinner.

Day 2: In Hveragerði

What to do in Hveragerði

Hveragerði is a quaint little town some 50 minutes away from Reykjavík. It’s well-known for the hot springs which bubble up from the nearby hills, and it’s historically been a centre for Icelandic agriculture, as the local geothermal springs have allowed the locals to raise all sorts of plants in the greenhouses the town is now famous for.

Eldhestar tours: One of the major horse-riding tour guides in Iceland has a facility right by Hveragerði. Taking a guided horse-riding tour is a very unique way to experience the local landscape, and it is certainly more relaxing than the hike you just took yesterday! With everything from tours for absolute beginners to more adventurous outings for the experienced equestrian, taking a horse tour is undoubtedly one of the most Icelandic ways imaginable to see your surroundings! See all of their tours here.

LÁ Art Museum: Listasafn Árnesinga is a charming little art museum that preserves a small collection of modern and contemporary visual art – this is a great little place to check out if you’re looking for something off the beaten path. In addition to the main exhibits, the museum also puts on a series of workshops and guided tours. Hveragerði is known locally as a very creative community, so we highly recommend checking out this small, but unique, art museum. Admission is free. During the summer, it’s open daily from 12pm to 5pm daily.

Mega Zipline in Hveragerði: The Mega Zipline near Hveragerði in Iceland is an exhilarating adventure, featuring the country’s longest and fastest zipline at exactly 1 km in length. Located close to the capital city, it offers an exciting experience for thrill-seekers. The zipline consists of two parallel lines, allowing for simultaneous rides, and offers breathtaking views of the Svartagljúfur gorge with its waterfalls, rocky formations, and lush hillsides.

Relax in the local swimming pool: If you’re like us, you’ll want to just relax and soak after the long walk you just took yesterday. Luckily, nearly every town in Iceland has a beautiful swimming pool, often equipped with a lap pool, cold pot, hot pot, and a steam room or sauna. There’s nothing better than soaking up the sun in a hot tub after a long day of walking. It’s a simple, but well-deserved, luxury. In the summer, the Hveragerði swimming pool is open Mon-Fri from 6:45am to 9:30pm, and Sat-Sun from 9:00am to 7:00pm. Admission for adults is 1,180 ISK [$8.40, €7.85]. Read more about swimming pools here.

Hveragerði Geothermal Park: This area of Iceland is known for its especially active hot springs, so if you’re a geology nerd (or you really want to boil an egg in a hot spring), this is a great stop on a day in Hveragerði. 

Visitors to the Geothermal Park can even get a clay footbath (said to have therapeutic effects) and visit the nearby greenhouses, where everything from bananas, to tomatoes and flowers are grown. Admission is 500 ISK [$3.60, €3.30] for adults and 300 ISK [$2.14, €2.00] for kids. During the summer, it’s open Mon-Sat 9am-6pm and Sun 9am-4pm.

Where to eat in Hveragerði

Hveragerði Foodhall: Look, I’ll admit it. I love food halls. A lot of them have sprung up in Reykjavík and across Iceland recently, so some of the cool kids are turning their nose up at them. But for anyone dining with a partner or family, it’s a great way for everyone to get what they want. The Hveragerði foodhall is known as the Greenhouse. It has a variety of options from burgers, tacos, fried chicken, casual fine dining, an elegant cocktail bar, and more. Prices are no different from Reykjavík. Expect to spend about 3,500 ISK [$25, €23] for an entree and about 1,100 ISK [$7.80, €7.30] for a beer.

Ölverk Pizza & Brewery: Pizza and beer is not exactly a hard sell. This popular eatery in Hveragerði serves up innovative pies, such as a Korean tunafish pizza, alongside tried-and-true classics, washed down with a selection of their own brewed beers. Appetizers are around 1500 ISK [$10.70, €10]. Pizzas begin around 2,300 ISK [$16.45, €15.30] for a basic margherita and go up to around 3,200 ISK [$22.90, €21.30] for more speciality offerings. Beers on offer include a full selection of German pilsners, red ales, and IPA, in addition to seasonal offerings as well.

Matkráin: Looking for something a little more local? Matkráin [The Gastropub] has you covered! Their menu – which is in Icelandic (something not to be taken for granted these days) – features a wide selection of Icelandic and Nordic favourites, with smoked salmon, open-faced sandwiches, smoked lamb, salads, and more. The open-faced sandwiches, which can be ordered either whole, or taken as half for a “take two” deal, are the feature of the menu and will run you about 2,800 ISK [$20, €18.60] or so.

Rósakaffi: Hveragerði is known for its greenhouses, so it’s only fitting to have a light lunch or coffee in one of the greenhouses! On offer are a selection of cakes, coffee, and lunch options such as wings and fries, meatballs, lamb shanks, potato gratin, and more. They have a generous lunch offer which includes a fish entree, with coffee and cake for dessert. The lunch offer will run you 2,490 ISK [$17.80, €16.60].

Where to stay in Hveragerði

Hveragerði isn’t the biggest tourism centre in the region, so it’s possible to find accommodations for a reasonable price. That said, all of the information provided here is to give you a general sense, but of course prices will fluctuate depending on the season, demand, the size of your party, and so on.

Hotels in Hveragerði

Hotel Örk is likely a good option for many. A traditional hotel that’s neither budget nor luxury, you’ll find it has reasonable options for couples and families. A stay here comes with a complimentary breakfast buffet, which we certainly took advantage of before our hike. The facilities also feature a heated outdoor swimming pool (complete with water slide) and hot pots. A 2-night weekend stay here for two adults in the high season (July) is currently around 71,000 ISK [$508, €472], but our stay was significantly cheaper, as April is something of an off-season.

The Frost and Fire Hotel may be a more intriguing offering for travellers looking for a more unique experience. Nestled beside bubbling geothermal springs in Hveragerði, this hotel boasts an outdoor pool, two hot tubs, and a sauna. Each room comes complete with bathrobes, slippers, and a flat-screen TV. Wi-Fi access is complimentary. Wooden floors, spacious beds, and private bathrooms are standard features, with some rooms providing scenic vistas of the River Varmá.

Guests can indulge in Icelandic haute cuisine at Restaurant Varmá, situated within the hotel and open for dinner reservations. The restaurant specializes in slow-cooked dishes prepared in the natural hot springs, offering patrons a delightful panorama of the river Varmá. The Frost and Fire Hotel is also a great option for hikers planning on doing this trail, as the hotel is located significantly closer to the trailhead. A 2-night weekend stay here for two adults in the high season (July) currently begins around 140,000 ISK [$1,000, €930].

The SKYR Guesthouse may be attractive for both budget-minded travellers and travellers looking for something more cosy. Located above the popular SKYR restaurant, this guesthouse has a lovely rural Bed and Breakfast atmosphere that would go well with a hike or weekend getaway to the countryside. Rooms come with free Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, flat-screen televisions, free parking, beautiful views, and of course, convenient access to the restaurant. A 2-night weekend stay here for two adults in the high season (July) currently begins around 51,000 ISK [$365, €340].

Camping in Hveragerði

As stated above, Hveragerði also has a campground. Surrounded by nature’s splendour and close to hiking trails, a swimming pool, a golf course, and horse rentals, it’s an ideal base for outdoor adventures. The campground provides most modern amenities, including toilets, showers, laundry facilities, and dishwashing areas. Pet-friendly and family-oriented, it features a playground and barbecue facilities. Services for mobile homes are available, along with an electric car charging station. Prices are reasonable, with adults at 2,000 ISK [$14, €13] and children under 15 free. It’s only open during the summer, however, and for this trip, we chose to sleep in a hotel to lighten our packs. The walk was much nicer without a tent and sleeping bag weighing us down!

Day 3: Hveragerði back to Nesjavellir (with a stop at Reykjadalur)

On the third day of our trip, we got up early, had our hotel buffet breakfast, and were out the door at a respectable 9am. We were, however, not particularly keen to walk the bit through town. It’s not very scenic, and it adds about 3km [1.8 mi] to the total walk. We opted to save some money and located two e-scooters in town – much cheaper than a taxi. Rural taxi services can be somewhat slow to respond and expensive. The road to the trailhead is well-paved and within the service range of the scooters as well. In total, out e-scooter journey turned out to be around 900 ISK [$6.40, €6] – a fair savings from taxi fare.

reykjadalur hike
A waterfall you will see en route to Reykjadalur.

The next bit of our hike will be familiar to anyone who has visited the popular Reykjadalur geothermal area. It’s about a 3 km [1.8 mi] walk from the Reykadalur café to the hot spring area, or about an hour of solid walking. The trail does ramp up very quickly in steepness – both my wife and I are in decent shape and were pretty winded within the first 15 minutes of the walk. The trail does, however, even out once you get into the hills.

view over reykjadalur
The Reykjadalur geothermal valley.

For this day of hiking, we had a bit more time to spare, so we did opt to hop into the hot river. As I noted before, this is a beautiful and special area, but many people are also changing out in the open, so I would recommend that you be respectful and play influencer elsewhere. It was a relatively warm and sunny day, but it’s always a little chilly to run through the cold mountain air in your swimsuit. It’s also worth noting that except for the wooden walkway and modesty screens, this area is unimproved. That means it is a real river, and as such, the river rocks are mostly sharp and hard to walk on. I hope this doesn’t need explaining, but it’s not a luxury spa – it’s a mountain stream. Still, our feet were still sore from our walk, so we gratefully soaked for a good half hour and had a quick lunch. Obviously, if you plan on going to Reykjadalur for a dip, I recommend bringing along a swimsuit and towel so you can dry off. Not very fun to complete the rest of the hike soaking wet!

hiking signposts

From the Reykjadalur area, we headed right, up the hill towards a fumarole on the side of the hill. Following that trail for another 15 minutes or so, you will come across this sign post. Since we took the route on the left on our way here, we decided to head right towards Kattatjörn, the mountain pond that serves as the namesake for this trail.

From here, the way is clear, and you’ll walk over a mountain meadow for about an hour until you arrive at a dramatic overlook point, where you can see Þingvallavatn Lake, and the glacier Langjökull in the distance.

After this vantage point, it’s all downhill! Quite literally, in fact, though there are still some difficult bits to the hike. As you descend from the mountains, you’ll pass through a rather Tolkien-esque river gorge. It’s a cool area, but we found the way to be a little tricky. The trail was very sandy in parts, making it hard to get a firm footing. But still, heading downhill back to civilization puts a certain spring in your step, and after a couple of hours, we found our way back to the car!

 

More than just Reykjadalur

The Reykjadalur hot spring area has become an extremely popular attraction in recent years, and I certainly can’t blame visitors for wanting to see this unique geothermal area. But the hiking around Hengill and Nesjavellir offers so much more, and I highly recommend this trail to anyone looking for a bit more of a serious outing than just a day hike, without the need to really plan out a true highland excursion. Nevertheless, some of the views we were rewarded with felt like true highland vistas, so I can’t recommend it enough. Though a word to the wise – do wait until at least the end of May to hike this. To say we were muddy by the end would be an understatement.

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:

BSÍ: Reykjavík’s Main Bus Terminal

BSÍ Bus station in Reykjavík Iceland

BSÍ is the main transportation hub for tours and travel within the country. BSÍ stands for Bifreiðastöð Íslands, or “Iceland’s vehicle station.” It serves as the headquarters for Reykjavík Excursions. The terminal is a departure and arrival point for various tours, the Hop On- Hop Off Reykjavík sightseeing bus, airport transfers, and public buses connecting the city, suburbs and rural areas. The station also offers free Wi-Fi, camping equipment rental, taxi services, car rentals, refreshments and luggage storage. A range of information is available at the travel desk, including maps and guides. BSÍ is located just 1.5 km [0.9 mi] from Reykjavík Domestic Airport in the city centre. 

The history of BSÍ

BSÍ opened in 1965. Apart from being the country’s primary hub for coaches, it was a place people would gather after a night of partying, as the famous BSÍ drive-through kiosk was the only place selling food 24 hours a day. After the bars closed, people would reconvene at the kiosk and eat Icelandic delights such as hot dogs, sandwiches with smoked meat and pea salad, or sviðakjammar (smoked, boiled sheep’s heads). The classic combo of a boiled sheep’s head, mashed beets and Coca-Cola remained the shop’s signature meal until it closed in 2017, leaving behind enough stories to last a lifetime.

Sviðakjammi
Photo: The smoked, boiled sheep’s head was BSÍ’s kiosk’s signature meal.

In Iceland, it was customary for children and teenagers to be sent to the farms in the summertime to help with chores, as the schools were closed from mid-May to the beginning of September. Parents would drop their children off at the corresponding coach at BSÍ at the beginning of the summer and then pick them up from there shortly before schools started up again. 

What buses depart from the BSÍ bus terminal?

Local buses for Reykjavík and its suburbs depart from the bus stop on Gamla Hringbraut road, one block north. The routes that stop there are 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, and 15, in addition to the public bus that takes you to Keflavík Airport, Route 55. The Flybus airport transfer departs and arrives at the BSÍ bus terminal by the other coaches.

BSÍ is the place to start if you want to go on an excursion, rent a car or seek general information to get the most out of your trip to Iceland. It conveniently has lockers and luggage storage, making it easier to explore Iceland while you await your airport transfer or accommodation check-in time.

Lockers

You can rent luggage lockers at BSÍ for up to three days between June 1st and September 14th and up to 30 days from September 15th to May 31st. The price is per 24 hours and is determined by size and total rental period. As of 2024, the price ranges from a key-locker at ISK 490 [$3.60, €3.30] to an extra large locker fitting two suitcases and a backpack for ISK 3,990 [$29, €27].

BSÍ Luggage Lockers
Photo: The luggage lockers at BSÍ Bus Terminal.

Does Iceland have Costco? Can I use my membership card?

costco iceland kauptún

Many travellers to Iceland may be surprised to learn that Iceland does, indeed, have a warehouse from the bulk retailer Costco.

Opened in 2017 and located in a shopping centre in Garðabær, a 10- to 15-minute drive from Reykjavík, the membership-based retailer carries – for the most part – the same selection as its American warehouses, with a little local flavour. In addition to tubs of hummus, sacks of coffee, and jars of speciality pickles, Costco in Iceland also offers a selection of skyr, Icelandic hotdogs, local sodas, harðfiskur, and more.

And yes, travellers can use their membership cards from abroad at Costco in Iceland, and vice-versa: Icelanders with Costco memberships can also use their cards when travelling.

So, while travellers may have no need for the quantity of goods purchased at Costco, it may be a good option for a last-minute pair of rain pants, a sweater, or stocking up on snacks for a trip around the Ring Road.

It’s also worth noting that membership cards from abroad also work at the gas pump.

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.

Where can I watch webcams from Iceland?

Tjörnin Reykjavík Pond

The recent eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula have certainly increased the interest in webcams from Iceland, and now viewers throughout the world can watch the eruptions live as they unfold.

Beyond the volcanic eruptions, however, there are many reasons why travellers and residents alike may want to check out a webcam. They can provide real-time information on weather conditions, give you a new perspective on a potential vacation destination, or just make for some interesting people-watching. Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most interesting webcams in Iceland.

Webcams from Iceland

National broadcaster RÚV operates several webcams. At the moment, most of them cover the ongoing eruption near Grindavík. Below is an embedded mosaic, which allows you to view all of the perspectives of the eruption.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration also operates many webcams. You can find a list of webcams broken down by region, in addition to a live map that has links to all of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s webcams. This is an especially useful resource if you plan on travelling and want to check road and weather conditions.

Live from Iceland also has a large collection of webcams, with everything from the recent volcanic eruptions, Perlan in Reykjavík, Þingvellir National Park, Akureyri, and more.

Travellers to the Westfjords will also find Snerpa especially helpful. The Westfjords-based company currently has live webcams in 15 locations throughout the Westfjords, including Ísafjörður, Dynjandi, Súðavík, and Þingeyri. The Westfjords can have especially unpredictable weather conditions for Iceland, so this is an excellent resource.

The Icelandic Met Office operates several webcams, including from the roof of its Reykjavík offices and more remote areas, such as the highland, Mývatn, and even the volcanic island Surtsey.

Many port authorities throughout Iceland operate webcams. Fans of boats, shipping, and everything maritime may find these of interest! Most harbours have a webcam, including the Faxaflói harbour in Reykjavík, the Kópavogur harbour, and Hafnarfjörður harbour.

Many municipalities also operate webcams, from large towns to small villages. The municipality of Fjarðabyggð in the East Fjords has webcams in many of its settlements, for example, as do many towns on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The town of Akureyri also operates a webcam, in addition to webcams near the ski slopes.

Many park areas and popular nature destinations also have webcams, such as Vatnajökull National Park. The iconic Kirkjufell mountain also has a webcam, so you can time the weather for your next photo shoot, or watch the northern lights glitter over this famous landmark.

The hardware store Byko also has a webcam in their Selfoss location so viewers can stay up-to-date with a pair of ravens that nest there, Hrefna and Hrafn.

Additionally, bird watchers may also enjoy this live webcam from the harbour in Borgarfjörður Eystri, East Iceland. It’s a popular spot for puffins to nest, so it’s one of your best chances to see the iconic bird if you can’t make the trip to see them!

Ísafjörður to Limit Cruise Ship Passengers: No More Than 5,000 Daily

ísafjörður cruise ship

In accordance with a new action plan for handling the volume of cruise ships and cruise ship tourists in Ísafjörður,  there will be a maximum number daily number of cruise ship passengers allowed in the popular Westfjords destination. RÚV reports.

City council approved action plan

Following an April 4 meeting, the Ísafjörður municipal council approved an action plan for the reception of cruise ships and cruise ship passengers for the years 2024 – 2027.

The new regulations come in the wake of ever-increasing numbers of tourists to Ísafjörður. RÚV reports that nearly 200 cruise ships with 200,000 guests are expected this summer in the town of some 2,700.

Read more: Ísafjörður to introduce environmental rating system for cruise ships

Gylfi Ólafsson, chairperson of the municipal council of Ísafjörður, stated to RÚV that the community has indeed benefitted greatly from the volume of tourist traffic. However, in recent years, summer crowds have swamped the small town. “The biggest innovation in this policy,” Gylfi stated, “is that we are setting a numerical limit on the number of guests we can accomodate.”

The limit will increase as infrastructure grows and the town is able to accommodate more. The 5,000-person limit is scheduled to be raised in two years.

“If the tourism industry continues to improve the level of infrastructure, buying more buses and improving service […] ensuring that there are enough toilets and so on, then we can easily accommodate more guests,” Gylfi stated.

Docking fees for cruise ships also represent a significant source of income for the local port authority, accounting for some two-thirds of the total income.

Other key points from action plan

Some other key points from the recent action plan include financial incentives to reduce pollution. Additionally, the municipality will prioritise sustainable solutions for waste management issues relating to the tourism industry.

Other developments outlined in the plan include further developing pedestrian walkways in the town and building more accessibility infrastructure near the harbour area.

There are also plans to limit noise pollution from the cruise ships, whose captains will only be allowed to sound their horns in emergency situations.

Read more about the impact of cruise ship tourism on Iceland’s small towns.

 

Rainy Across Most of Iceland Today

rain iceland traffic

Today, April 11, will be rainy across much of the nation.

By evening, a low-pressure system will move over the southern parts of the country and then towards the east. The Met Office expects this will decrease winds and precipitation for most of the nation.

Rain and sleet for much of Iceland

Much of South Iceland, including the capital region and the South Coast, will be rainy today. The precipitation will change to sleet and snow in more northerly parts of the country, and higher elevation areas. Much of East and Northeast Iceland can expect snow today.

West Iceland, including the Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Westfjords, will be comparatively dry.

Temperatures mild around capital, colder in the North

Temperatures will range from around freezing to 8° C [46° F] throughout Iceland today. The mildest temperatures will be felt along the South Coast. The capital region is expected to be slightly cooler, around 5° C [41° F].

Temperatures will drop up north and in higher elevation areas, such as the highland. East and Northeast Iceland, in addition to the Westfjords, can all expect temperatures hovering around freezing today.

Wind sharper in the South

East and northeast Iceland will see moderate wind gusts, with sharper winds in the south. The Met Office predicts that winds will sharpen in the late morning, and it advises drivers in South Iceland to exercise caution.

As the day wears on, winds in Northwest Iceland are expected to pick up.

Useful resources for travellers

As always, travellers are advised to stay up to date with the latest weather conditions in Iceland.

Get the latest updates on weather at the Icelandic Met Office.

Live updates on road conditions in Iceland.

General safety tips at Safetravel.

Travellers in Iceland may also find our guides on driving in Iceland during the summer and winter helpful.

 

How do I pay my speeding ticket in Iceland?

South Coast driving, speeding ticket

It’s a beautiful summer day, and you’re travelling around Iceland on the ring road—life is good! Until your mind slowly starts wandering away, inspired by the wild landscapes. Suddenly, your foot gets a bit heavy on the gas pedal, and it’s too late—you’ve already been caught by a speeding camera. Many visitors and residents have been through this exact scenario.

But what should you do now that you’ve been caught speeding in Iceland? 

Hefty fines for speeding

When driving in Iceland, it is important to keep track of the varying speed limits. Generally, the speed limit on the ring road and other “highways” is 90 km/h (55 mph); on gravel roads 80 km/h (50 mph); and in populated areas, it is 50 km/h (31 mph). The limits can always vary depending on the road, season and sharp turns. Therefore, it is crucial to keep track of signage while you are driving to avoid unnecessary fines.

There are stationary speeding cameras all around the country, which are usually indicated by signage beforehand. Nevertheless, sometimes there are even hidden cameras or even police cars pulled over on the side of the road to catch naughty speeders! Read more about driving in Iceland here.

The latest trend in Iceland is automated monitoring of drivers’ average speed. In the tunnel Hvalfjarðargang, on the way from Reykjavík to Borgarnes, you can find such a system, which basically takes a photo of you when you enter the tunnel and calculates when you should come out again. If you speed and arrive earlier than calculated, you will be fined.

The fines associated with speeding can be quite hefty in Iceland. Check out this calculator by the Icelandic police, to know the exact fees. Also, note that additional fines can be imposed if you are driving a bus, other heavy vehicles over 3.5t or when towing a trailer.

Here are a few examples of fines:

  • Driving 41km/h or faster over the allowed top speed (80-90 km/hour)
    • ISK 130,000 – 150,000 (€ 864-1,000 / $ 930-1,070)
  • Driving 36km/h or faster over the allowed top speed (50-60 km/hour)
    • ISK 65,000 – 80,000 (€ 432-530 / $ 465-572)
  • Driving 26km/h or faster over the allowed top speed (30-35 km/hour)
    • ISK 40,000  (€ 266 / $ 286)

How to pay the fine

If you were speeding in a rental car, the rental company will forward your personal information upon request to the police (as required by law). Rental companies often charge an extra service fee for this procedure. If you are living in Iceland, you will be contacted directly by the police. 

The Icelandic police will then email you a speeding ticket with different payment options. You can either pay via direct bank transfer to the specified account number, online via the official traffic management website or if you are still in Iceland, at local post offices.

If you pay within a certain time period, you can expect to decrease the total amount by 25%. The same goes if you are caught by police officers on the road – if you pay the ticket on the spot, you can knock down the fine by 25%. Usually, police officers have a card reader with them on patrol, so you can just pay the fine with your credit card.