Just like Hansel in Zoolander, Iceland is SO hot right now. Peruse a few pictures of the landscape and it is obvious why, the country is gorgeous. Between its charming cities, stunning waterfalls, and breathtaking mountains and volcanoes, Iceland has something for everyone. And its never been cheaper to get there, flights from major airports in the United States have been made extremely affordable through Icelandair and WOW. If you are flying to Europe, both airlines have deals where you can take an extended stopover in Iceland on your way to the mainland! Definitely check this out if you are planning a trip to Europe because trust us, you don’t want to miss Iceland! So once you have your trip planned, how should you make the most of your time? Here are our tips for all the don’t miss spots in Iceland!
Where we stayed: We stayed at an Airbnb in Reykjavik, this a much more affordable option compared to staying in a hotel. Additionally we were staying with locals which gave us a taste of the culture and we got some great recommendations for sight seeing. Iceland also has many hostels which is another great budget option. If we return (correction, WHEN we return) to Iceland however, we’ll opt for the camper van. This gives you much more freedom as many spots in Iceland are more than a day trip drive. We saw many different companies offering camper vans during our stay, we were quite jealous of their inhabitants!
How long we stayed: We spent 9 days in Iceland, honestly, it wasn’t even close to enough time! We still have so many spots to see on our list!
How we got around: We rented a little Suzuki Swift. If you plan on doing any off roading, you must be in a 4×4. If you are adventurous, make sure to opt for this option as you can explore a lot of places that a Suzuki Swift cannot take you :-).
Sights and activities we recommend:
1. Visit Hveragerdi- The geothermal forces are strong with this town! Hveragerdi sits 30 minutes outside of Reykjavik and has some pretty amazing geothermal activity. Due to the abundance of free heat from the earth, this town has based much of its economy on horticulture. Nicknamed “The Blossoming Town,” it is a charming location with flowers on every corner of its downtown. Our favorite part of the town though was the hot river. One of Iceland’s most popular hiking trails takes you to the hot river along the river Varma. Along the hike you will pass many hot springs and mud pots, and even a waterfall! At your destination you will find the hot river with ample room to relax and chat with locals and travelers alike. We spent hours soaking in the water relaxing and conversing. We met 3 other groups from Michigan! It was one of those moments that made this huge world feel a little bit smaller.
Left: Waterfall along the hiking path Right: Hot river bathing area
2. See one of the many majestic waterfalls- This is an obvious one. Iceland is famous for their abundance of waterfalls. 11% of Iceland is covered in glacier, as the water melts, it flows towards the ocean and creates some of the most beautiful waterfalls on earth. There are far too many to list, so we’ll refer you to our post on Iceland’s waterfalls.
3. Soak in the Blue Lagoon- Okay so this is admittedly a very touristy location, but it was SO worth it. The lagoon is a sight to see in itself. The water is a milky blue from the silica content, silica is said to have healing properties which makes The Blue Lagoon a natural spa. We did a ton of hiking in Iceland and being able to spend a morning soaking in this beautiful spot was nothing short of divine. We had so much fun with our silica mud masks (and our faces felt like a baby’s bottom afterwards). We learned from our Airbnb hosts that Myavatn in the north of Iceland is like the Blue Lagoon without the crowds (always a good sign when the locals tell you where they go)! Unfortunately we learned this too late but Myavatn is definitely something to check out if you are planning a trip!
4. Roam the Keflavik Peninsula- If you do make a trip to the Blue Lagoon, make sure to explore the Keflavik Peninsula while you are there! The southern shore of Iceland is a beautiful area, you can hike up to a cliff near the lighthouse and spot some crazy lava formations! Here you can also stand between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. An area of intense geothermal activity, there are spots where white plumes of steam thrust themselves from the earth. It is wild to see up close the force that the earth can have!
Top Left: Waves along the south Iceland shore Top Right: Wild lava formations
Bottom Left: North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet Bottom Right: Plumes of white steam from the earth
5. Visit a cozy coffee shop- Like any other European country, Iceland has delicious coffee. Our favorite coffee shop was Le Petit Cafe on the Keflavik Peninsula. This cafe was a travel lovers dream, the walls were COVERED in maps. They served coffee by day and turned into a bar by night. The seating was an array of different couches and the place had such a cozy vibe, we seriously cannot say enough good things about this place.
6. Snorkel or Scuba dive between two tectonic plates- come on in, the water is great! At 37 degrees, Silfra is likely the coldest place you would ever want to snorkel but it is also likely the most beautiful. Silfra is the only place in the world where you can snorkel directly in the crack between two tectonic plates. The water is glacial melt that has been filtered through lava rock, giving it 100 meters of visibility! We used Dive.IS for our snorkeling experience and had a fantastic experience. When you arrive you are given a dry suit to keep your body warm, your hands and head are exposed to the water but are covered in neoprene to trap in heat. The snorkel experience is about 45 minutes, which is right around the time when your hands go numb! This was one of our favorite experiences from Iceland, 10/10 would recommend!
7. Road trip the Golden Circle- while you’re near Silfra, make sure to see the rest of the sights along the Golden Circle. Located just outside Reykjavik, the Golden Circle is a great little roadtrip to catch some of the highlights of the natural beauties of Iceland. Along the circle is Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This park is home to Silfra, Lake Thingvallavatn, and the site of the worlds longest running parliament. Icelandic leaders established a parliament here in 930 AD! Also along the circle are Geysir and Strokkur, two impressive geysers. Strokkur erupts every 10 minutes while Geysir is less frequent. Before our trip we had heard Geysir erupted every hour so we waited our hour, sadly we never saw Geysir erupt (though we saw Strokkur repeatedly erupt… showoff). In recent reading, we learned Geysir now only erupts about 3 times a day, so you may have to camp out if you want to catch Geysir! Just next door is Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls in our opinion. The waterfall has a bit of a cascade followed by a steep drop off of water. To round out the circle is Kerid crater. This dormant volcano has a lake in it’s crater. The colors are stunning and you are able to hike down right to the waters edge, definitely a unique sight to see!
8. Explore Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city- Reykjavik is home to over 1/3 of Iceland’s entire population. The city was our home base for our stay in Iceland and we quickly fell in love with it’s colorful streets. There is plenty of shopping, eating, nightlife, and sight seeing to do. Make sure to check out the Harpa, Iceland’s Opera House for it’s unique architecture. The Sun Voyager is a beautiful sculpture to commemorate Iceland’s 200 year anniversary. And definitely don’t miss Hallgrimskirkja is Reykjavik’s iconic church- be sure to take a lift to the top of the tower for a beautiful view of downtown!
9. Watch icebergs float by at the Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon- This spot is worth the trek from Reykjavik. Pack your lunch because this will be the best picnic location you could ever find! We spent hours here staring at the neon blue icebergs that collect in the lagoon. Be sure to follow the river down to the ocean, here the icebergs crash back into the shore on what is aptly nicknamed “Diamond Beach”. The black sand beach offers a beautiful contrast to the crystal icebergs that dot the shore.
As you can see, Iceland has so much to offer. Make sure you get to the land of fire and ice while it’s still hot! Have you been to Iceland? Is there anything we left off the list?As always be sure to subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss an update and check out our social media channels, we post tons of pictures and updates on all of our accounts!
Until our next travels,
The Wandering Michiganders