While the capital region has around 200’000 inhabitants, the city offers a lot of variety for you to explore the culture and heritage of Iceland. At the same time it’s a bustling city for your shopping and nightlife, I would recommend Laugavegur the main shopping street, for an initial stroll. Check Visit Reykjavik for the latest and greatest things to do around the city.
Golden Circle (Thingvellir, Gulfoss, Geysir)
If you are in Iceland only for a few days and have already enjoyed the bustling days and nightlife of Reykjavik and want to get a quick run-down on Iceland’s main tourist spots I would recommend you do the Golden Circle Tour. This can easily be done in one day and you’ll get to see the old parliament and where the European and American tectonic plates come together at Thingvellir. You’ll get to experience the wonderful Strokkur Geyser at the place called Geysir. Just a short ride from there you’ll get to see the Golden Waterfall, Gullfoss. Ideally you stop there for a quick lunch-break to get the delicious lamb soup in the main shop to get your energy level back up.
Blue Lagoon and Reykjanes Peninsula
Visiting Reykjanes is the first thing you do when you land at the international airport in Keflavik. So if you are super-rushed for time and can only come in and out of Iceland for a few hours, or are stopping-over for a connecting flight, or had an emergency landing (those happen once a month), then I can recommend you go and visit the Blue Lagoon. You can do that also if you stay a bit longer in Iceland. If you have a bit more time to browse around I can also recommend you visit Krysuvik or the city of Keflavik.
Taking the road from Reykjavik to Selfoss is the first step in exploring the South of Iceland. If you are in for a really long day, you can get a hyper-lapsed view all the way up to Jökulsarlon, the Glacier Lagoon. Considering the beauty of the different hotspots on the way this can also take you up to a weeks worth of a road trip. Some of my personal highlights include (in order from West to East): Hellisheidi with its geothermal outbursts and with its nice view over Hveragerdi which has your first geothermal spa spot. Selfoss, which is roughly an hour away from Reykjavik and is the largest town in the South.
Hella and Hvolsvöllur on the way to potentially visit the Vestmannaeyjar, the Westman Islands which provides one of the most impressive Golf Courses in the country I am told. I can recommend you take a stop at Seljalandsfoss and go behind the waterfall. The next stop on the way to the majestic Skogafoss should be at the world famous view onto Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that closed down the European airspace in 2010. If you are on the road with a 4×4 I would recommend to visit the abandoned plane in the Black Sands that was forced to land there in 1973 (GPS Coordinates are 63.459523,-19.364618).
Vik which is a town that is famous for it’s black sand beaches and with the right lightning can provide for grand photo material of the rock formations in the sea. Kirkjubaejarklaustur is the village that you will want to memorize if you want to show off your command of the Icelandic language and visit the basalt “Church Floor”. This is also your spot on the return trip where you want to do a last stop before taking the road and cross the rivers to Landmannalaugar with its hot springs and beautiful colorful surrounding Rhyolite mountains.
Going back to road number one you may want to stop for a hike up to the glacier at Skaftafell National Park before heading out to taste some 1000 year old ice at Jökulsarlon. Check out the official travel guide to South Iceland here for more stunning places to see.
West and West Fjords
When driving towards the Northwest part of Iceland you will want to take a little detour on the 90km long Snaefellsnes peninsula. Arnarstapi, the black Church of Budir, Kirkjufell are all majestic places you might want to take pictures of. I would also suggest that you give a go at lifting the stones at Djupalonssandur to figure out if you are useless, a weakling, half strong or strong. Taking the boat from Stykkisholmur northbound will bring you to the West Fjords. This area of Iceland is wonderful to explore nature. One of the first spots I would suggest to go to is the western most spot in Europe, Latrabjarg. You willl see the cliff of all cliffs which is home to many birds including the Puffin. On the way back to the main road I would suggest a detour towards Raudasandur, a 10km long beach with a stunning view. One of the more spectacular waterfalls in Iceland is also located in the area called Dynjandi. A visit to the biggest city in the West Fjords Isafjördur is also highly recommended. For those looking for an exciting landing with a plane I can recommend taking a plane from Reykjavik to Isafjördur.
Akureyri is the Capital of the North and offers a beautiful Botanical Garden. It is also home to Brynja Ice-cream which is a must have if you are in the area. Taking the western road up north from Akureyri will bring you past Dalvik.. Taking the road further North all the way to Siglufjördur will give you many wonderful views of the Fjord. On the other side of the Fjord will bring you to Husavik, which is well known for being the home of Whale Watching. Lake Myvatn is definitely worth a visit. Exploring Asbyrgi and finding out if it really was a shoe horse that created it is worth a visit. Taking the bumpy road to Dettifoss is definitely worth a trip. Visit North Iceland Website for more details.
The East is probably the least visited area for Tourists. However I have found a lot of nice places to be in the area. Borgarfjördur Eystri is quite a drive, but really the capital of hiking trails and puffins. Seydisfjördur is the place you land in Iceland if you take the sea route from Europe and well worth a visit. Egilsstadir the capital of the East provides a lot of functional shops and maybe a nice break in the local pool. Drive around the lake near Egilsstadir to find the sea monster. Visit East Iceland Website for more details.
Road No. 1 – The Full Roadtrip
One of the things that brings it all together (with a little detour for the West Fjords) is driving around Road No. 1. Just staying on the road is a 1332km trip but you should plan for a few wiggles off the road. Therefore doing the whole trip will take you about a week if you don’t want to rush too hard.
Official Travel Guides
- Official Tourism Information Site: Discover Iceland
- WikiTravel: Iceland
- Lonely Planet: Iceland
- Rough Guides: Places in Iceland
- Condé Nast: Iceland Guide