Iceland, a land of unparalleled beauty and natural wonder, is a destination that promises to captivate your heart. Its small population of around 380,000 people, lends itself to exploring untouched wilderness and wide-open spaces, and there’s no shortage of ice-climbing opportunities for adventure enthusiasts.
If you’re drawn to natural beauty, welcoming locals, and a rich historical tapestry, then Iceland deserves a high rank on your travel bucket list. From soaking in rejuvenating hot springs, exploring geological marvels, and delving into the history of the Vikings over 1,100 years ago.
If the idea of experiencing the Land of Fire and Ice firsthand excites you, read on for expert tips on planning your trip to Iceland.
4 Best Destinations to Visit in Iceland
Iceland, a land of natural wonders, offers a multitude of breathtaking destinations. Let’s delve into the beauty and uniqueness of each of these 4 captivating places.
1. Birdwatcher’s Paradise: Reykjavik’s Puffin Colony
Reykjavik isn’t just about spas and city life; it’s also home to the world’s largest puffin breeding colony. A visit to Akurey Island, with over 20,000 breeding pairs, is a must for bird enthusiasts. Witness these charming seabirds in their natural habitat and capture memorable moments.
2. Snæfellsnes Peninsula: Iceland in Miniature
For an off-the-beaten-path adventure, explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in west Iceland, often referred to as “Iceland in miniature.” This region boasts diverse natural wonders, from striking mountains and lava fields to impressive glaciers. The crown jewel is the 700,000-year-old Snæfellsjökull, an active stratovolcano glacier towering 1,446 meters above sea level. On clear days, you can admire this majestic glacier from Reykjavik, located approximately 120 km away. Some even believe it to be one of Earth’s seven cosmic energy centers, brimming with dynamic power. Science fiction enthusiasts may recognize it as the entrance to the Earth’s core, as depicted in Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”
3. Mosfellsbær: A Serene Rural Retreat
Escape to Mosfellsbær, a tranquil town just a short drive from Reykjavik. Here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by majestic mountains, including Mosfell, Ulfarsfell, Helgafell, and Reykjafell. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Lake Hafravatn provides an ideal setting for swimming and kayaking amid breathtaking scenery. Don’t miss Gljúfrasteinn, a captivating museum dedicated to Nobel Prize laureate Halldor Laxness. Enhance your visit with unforgettable horseback riding tours at Laxness farm, making Mosfellsbær a serene and secluded escape in rural Iceland.
4. Reykjavik the Capital
Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, is a vibrant city with trendy bars, boutique shops, and fine-dining restaurants. Keep an eye out for the Northern Lights, a celestial spectacle that might grace the midnight sky even in this bustling city.
But Reykjavik offers more than just a vibrant nightlife; it’s your gateway to rejuvenation. Here, you can immerse yourself in some of the best spas and retreats in Iceland. Sundhollin Spa, established in 1937, is a historic gem with indoor and outdoor hot tubs to soothe your stress away. So its worth considering coming to the capital for a spa holiday in Iceland.
Ice-climbing opportunities in Iceland
Iceland, with its stunning natural landscapes and rugged terrain, offers ice climbers a unique and exhilarating experience that’s unlike any other destination in the world. The land of fire and ice boasts a plethora of ice-climbing opportunities that cater to climbers of all skill levels, from beginners to seasoned pros.
One of the most iconic ice-climbing destinations in Iceland is Vatnajökull National Park, which is home to Europe’s largest glacier. The park features numerous ice formations and icefalls that provide challenging routes for experienced climbers. Vatnajökull’s towering ice walls and crevasses offer a breathtaking backdrop as you ascend the frozen surfaces, making it a truly awe-inspiring experience.
For those looking for a more accessible ice-climbing adventure, the Sólheimajökull Glacier is an ideal choice. Located just a few hours from Reykjavik, Sólheimajökull offers a range of ice-climbing options suitable for beginners. Guided tours are readily available, ensuring safety and instruction for those new to the sport.
Iceland’s diverse climate and ever-changing conditions mean that the ice-climbing experience is continually evolving. The winter months, from November to March, are the prime ice-climbing season, with more stable ice formations and colder temperatures. However, during the summer, adventurous climbers can still find opportunities on the country’s glaciers, where the ice might be softer and more forgiving.
In addition to its natural wonders, Iceland’s welcoming and experienced climbing community makes it an excellent destination for enthusiasts from around the world. Local guides and outfitters are readily available to assist climbers in planning their trips and ensuring their safety.
Transportation Options to Explore Iceland
Iceland’s rugged landscapes, awe-inspiring volcanoes, and stunning glaciers beckon explorers to venture off the beaten path.
Renting a car during your stay is a wise choice to ensure you don’t miss out on hidden gems and climbing opportunities.
Following the weather patterns like the locals do will lead you to the best conditions for exploration. Moreover, you can traverse the entire country in just a few days, thanks to the relatively short 828-mile (1,332-kilometer) ring road. Consider adding a few extra days to your trip to fully savor Iceland’s top attractions and natural wonders. However, it’s important to be aware that the cost of renting a car in Iceland can vary significantly depending on several factors.
Firstly, the type of car you choose plays a major role in determining the cost. Smaller economy cars are generally more affordable, while larger vehicles like SUVs or 4x4s designed for tackling Iceland’s rugged terrain can be considerably more expensive. Rental prices also fluctuate based on the time of year you visit, with peak summer months being the most expensive.
Secondly, rental insurance is an essential consideration. Iceland’s unpredictable weather and challenging road conditions make comprehensive insurance a wise investment, but it can significantly add to your rental costs.
On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150 per day for a rental car in Iceland, with additional costs for insurance and optional extras like GPS, Wi-Fi, or child seats. It’s essential to research and compare rental companies, as prices can vary, and reading the fine print is crucial to understanding any potential hidden fees.
While renting a car in Iceland may seem pricey, the freedom it provides to explore the country’s natural wonders at your own pace is often well worth the investment.
Public Transport Options
Public transport options in Iceland are limited compared to many other countries, but they offer a unique and efficient way to explore this stunning Nordic island nation. Iceland’s rugged terrain and low population density make it challenging to develop an extensive public transportation network, but there are several options for travelers to get around.
Buses: The most common form of public transport in Iceland is the bus system. Reykjavik, the capital city, has an extensive city bus network operated by Strætó, which covers most urban areas and nearby towns. Additionally, long-distance buses run by various companies connect major cities and towns throughout the country. These buses are a practical and affordable way to explore Iceland, with routes covering popular tourist destinations like the Golden Circle and the Ring Road.
Taxis: Taxis are readily available in Reykjavik and other major towns. They can be quite expensive, but they are a convenient option for those who prefer personalized transportation. Ride-sharing services like Uber are not available in Iceland, so taxis remain the primary choice for on-demand transportation.
Ferries: Given Iceland’s island geography, ferries are an essential part of the public transport system. They connect the mainland to many of the smaller islands and remote coastal communities. Popular ferry routes include those to the Westman Islands and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Cycling and Walking: In Reykjavik and some smaller towns, walking and cycling are viable options for getting around, especially during the summer months when the weather is more favorable. Reykjavik, in particular, is known for its pedestrian-friendly streets and bike lanes.
While public transport options in Iceland may not be as extensive as in some other countries, they offer a unique opportunity to experience the country’s breathtaking landscapes and vibrant culture. Whether you choose to hop on a bus, take a ferry to a remote island, or explore on foot or by bike, Iceland’s public transport system allows travelers to connect with the natural beauty and rich history of this North Atlantic gem.
When is the Best Time to Visit Iceland?
Iceland offers a unique experience in every season, making it a year-round destination. However, certain times of the year offer distinct advantages.
Summer (June to August): This is peak tourist season when the weather is relatively warmer, with temperatures ranging between 9 to 14°C (48 to 57°F). While it might not be hot, the long daylight hours (21 hours in June and 18 hours in August) make it ideal for hiking, whale-watching, or puffin-spotting, as these birds migrate to Iceland for abundant food.
Spring and Autumn: If you’re looking to explore Iceland on a budget, these seasons are your best bet. Hotels are more affordable, and there are fewer crowds. The weather is cooler than in summer but still pleasant. Spring and autumn are also prime times for catching the Northern Lights, with April and October offering the best chances.
Winter: While winter temperatures hover around 0°C (32°F), Iceland’s landscapes take on a magical quality with snow and ice. This is the cheapest and quietest time to visit, with only four hours of daylight. If you’re prepared for chilly temperatures and want to witness the ethereal beauty of a snowy Iceland, this might be the season for you.
What to Pack for the Extreme Weather?
To make the most of your Icelandic adventure, it’s essential to be well-prepared. Just like packing for a winter road trip, here’s a comprehensive guide to what you should pack when you travel during the extreme cold seasons.
1. High-Quality Hiking Gear for Glacier Exploration
If your itinerary includes venturing onto Iceland’s stunning glaciers, investing in high-quality hiking gear is a must.
Make sure to pack sturdy waterproof hiking boots with excellent grip, as glacier surfaces can be slippery. Proper hiking attire will keep you comfortable during your icy escapades.
2. Weather-Resistant Outerwear
Iceland’s weather can be unpredictable, so a waterproof jacket is essential to shield you from sudden rain showers. Be prepared for temperature fluctuations by packing layers, including thermal vests, a sweatshirt, and extra clothing like hats, gloves, and scarves. Layering allows you to adapt to the ever-changing climate throughout your trip.
3. Electrical Adapters
For travelers coming from outside Europe, Iceland uses Type C and Type F electrical outlets. Ensure you have the appropriate adapters to charge your devices and keep them powered throughout your journey.
4. Reusable Water Bottle
One of Iceland’s unique perks is its pristine tap water. Instead of buying bottled water, bring a reusable water bottle to fill up with the refreshing and pure Icelandic tap water. Not only will this reduce your environmental footprint, but it will also save you money.
5. Sleep Mask for the Midnight Sun
During Iceland’s summer months, the midnight sun ensures that there’s daylight around the clock. To ensure restful nights, pack a sleep mask to block out the perpetual daylight and help you get a good night’s sleep.
6. Waterproof Pants and Boots
For glacier hiking or any outdoor activities in wet conditions, waterproof climbing pants and boots are essential. These items will keep you dry and comfortable as you explore Iceland’s rugged terrain.
7. Pack Wisely for a Memorable Trip
Iceland offers a plethora of unique experiences, from geothermal baths to ice caves and waterfalls. To ensure your trip is unforgettable, pack wisely, and be prepared for the ever-changing Icelandic weather. Basic accessories like neck warmers, wool socks, beanies and waterproof gloves are crucial, not to mention healthcare essentials like lip balms, moisturizers and a first aid kit. By following these guidelines, you’ll be ready to embrace the beauty and wonder of this captivating country.
In Iceland, there’s always a perfect time to visit, depending on your preferences and interests. Regardless of when you go, you’re bound to be enchanted by the land of fire and ice.
As you plan your trip to Iceland, remember that this unique destination offers not only breathtaking natural beauty but also a sense of wonder and adventure that will stay with you long after you’ve left its shores. Prepare wisely, embrace the ever-changing weather, and relish every moment of your Icelandic adventure. Whether you’re relaxing in a geothermal spring, gazing at the Northern Lights, or hiking on a glacier, Iceland will leave an indelible mark on your soul. Embrace the Land of Fire and Ice and let it captivate your heart like no other place on Earth.