Top 5 Places To Visit in Iceland For New Expats
Essential Itinerary For Short Trips
It seems like everyone and their abuela is getting in on the Iceland hype train. Over the last five years, my social media feed has exploded with stunning landscape pics of people sitting in turquoise blue waters contrasted by lily-white snow backdrops.
Contrast is the key term here. Iceland is an environment of distinct differences. The country is known for…well, being a land of ice (and snow). Yet, it is one of the most volcanic areas of the world. Underneath the country's glaciers are volcanos waiting to blow their tops. This battle of elements is why you get hot springs and geothermal water pools in the middle of ice caves and glaciers.
INSIDER TIP: Iceland isn't all rainbows and unicorns. There are a few things I wish I knew before I arrived.
Iceland has a reputation for having heaps of waterfalls with names I can't pronounce. Seriously, pause while reading this article and see if you can say the names out loud. I sound like I have a mouth full of marbles. Besides spectacular waterfalls, Iceland is full of other natural wonders, geysers, lava fields, mountains, and coastlines to discover. To help you figure out where to visit first, we pulled together a photo tour of the Top Places to Visit in Iceland.
"Witness Earth’s natural drama on full display during a journey to Iceland, where geysers burst, glaciers gleam, and volcanoes simmer above surreal lava fields."
1) Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is almost always the first stop on everyone's Top Places to Visit in Iceland list because it is a stone's throw away from the Reykjavik airport. You won't believe the turquoise waters of the pools are real until you see them with your own eyes. Plus, it is a quintessential part of every Iceland trip. Did you really go to Iceland if you don't have a picture of you sipping a drink while soaking in a mineral spring?
I go against the grain on this one. My suggestion is to leave the Blue Lagoon for a relaxing end to your trip. Just make sure you have half a day reserved before you fly out, so you can relish the experience without rushing. Blue Lagoon is close to the main Icelandic airport (30 miles/50 km away). The location makes it an ideal end of your Icelandic adventure. Also, make sure you have your swimsuit with you. You can rent the rest: flip flops, towels, bathrobe, etc.
The whole facility is very modern and well-organized. You get off the car or bus, store your luggage in a kiosk, and go to the reception. Every visitor has to shower before entering the pool. The mineral water is milky-white and super salty. A nearby geothermal plant heats the water to bathtub temps.
Your admission fee includes a little gratis pampering while you are in the pool. Kick back with a drink and a complimentary silica mud mask. Want to level things up a notch? Blue Lagoon offers spa and beauty treatments, steam sauna; there is even a restaurant on site. The entry fee is rather expensive (~$50), but worth it. You won't find a pool like this anywhere else in the world.
Travel Contribution: On2Continents.com
INSIDER TIP: Don't worry if the salt frizzes your hair. They provide you conditioner to use afterward to alleviate the hair stiffness.
A road trip around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a highlight on every best places to visit in Iceland trip. You will cruise by picturesque villages, colorful flower fields, stunning coastal views, spectacular cliffs, and lava fields.
The peninsula, located in the northwest of the island, is only a few hours drive from the airport in Keflavik or capital Reykjavik. Don't try to finish the main road at Snæfellsnes in one day. Instead, spend at least two days at the peninsula, so you don't have to rush.
Snæfellsnes is a stunning area of Iceland but is less visited than the better-known sites in the south. You can enjoy Instagram worthy vistas, without fighting as many crowds. Stykkisholmur, the biggest town on the peninsula, is the perfect base to explore the area. Does the town look familiar to you? The movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty captured the town's lighthouse, colorful homes, and harbor.
All your views around the peninsula will be dominated by the Snæfellsjökull glacier in the national park with the same name. The views are stunning, but not as renown as the views of Kirkjufel mountain. Kirkjufel is probably the most photographed site in Snæfellsnes.
PHOTO TOUR: Click on any picture to get a full-size view of Iceland's awesomeness.
Other postcard-worthy shots you will see during your road trip include
Travel Contribution: The Orange Backpack
INSIDER TIP: Animal lovers keep your eyes open for puffins or seals. If whales are on your bucket list, make sure to add a boat trip for whale watching to your Snæfellsnes list as well.
Iceland is known for its dramatic landscapes, and there's hardly anything more spectacular than its enormous Icelandic waterfalls. The south of Iceland is home to the most impressive waterfalls of the country. One of the easiest to reach is the Seljalandsfoss. The waterfall is located close to the main Ring Road leading all around the island.
The waterfall is 65 meters highs, falling from cliffs that used to be Iceland's coastal line. A key feature of Seljalandsfoss is walking behind it into a small cave. Watch your step on the wet rocks. The walk may be a little precarious, but the view looking out from behind the cascade of water is worth it.
Seljalandsfoss is the big brother of the smaller Gljúfrabúi, only 100 meters walking from the big waterfall. It's not that easy to spot it, as it's hidden in a gorge. The only way to properly visit it is by wading into the water to get to the gorge. We'd recommend you only consider this in summer, as Iceland is one of the coldest places on earth during winter times.
But there are many more waterfalls close to Seljalandsfoss. Ten kilometers down the road is the picturesque Írárfoss, and the famous Skógafoss with the lesser-known Kvernufoss is about 30 minutes from the Seljalandsfoss. You might not have heard of the 50 meters high Kvernufoss, as it's harder to visit and a short hike away from the Skógafoss. Just like Seljalandsfoss, you can walk behind it.
Travel Contribution: The Orange Backpack
INSIDER TIP: The Seljalandsfoss only a 130-kilometer drive from capital Reykjavik, so it's an excellent option for a day trip around the southern coast. That also means a lot of tour buses from Reykjavik stop here. The best time to visit is in the early morning, late afternoon, or – during summer with long daylight hours – in the evening to avoid the crowds.
4) Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
The Reynisfjara black sand beach, near the city of Vik, is one of the most popular places to visit in Iceland as it showcases the country's rugged natural landscapes. The black sand is created by the sea grinding up the volcanic basalt rocks that make up most of the island due to the number of active volcanoes in the area.
While there is not much to do there, other than a small cafe where travelers can pick up a hot meal or cup of coffee, it is one of Iceland's top places to visit for its sheer wild beauty. It is an especially attractive area for photographers due to the unique geological features like caves, basalt columns, and rock formations, dotted along the beach, which can make for fascinating snapshots.
It also makes an excellent destination for any television and film fans. You may recognize areas of the black sand beach from Noah, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and, of course, Games of Thrones. Although it is incredibly beautiful there, it can also be a dangerous place. It is essential to stay a safe distance away from the sea and never swim in it. There are strong currents, and sneaker waves can go much further up the beach than you would think and pull people out to sea.
It can also be very windy there since it is so flat, but even in bad weather the views more than make up for it. The black sand beach can be reached from Reykjavik by either taking a South Coast tour with any of Iceland's major tour providers or by hiring a car and driving there. If you decide on this choice, there are also plenty of other scenic spots you can stop at on the way.
Travel Contribution: The Travel Fairies Blog
5) Golden Circle or Ring Road
We are admittedly are cheating a little on this one. The Golden Circle isn't one single place to visit. You can make a list of top places to visit in Iceland, just listings sites on the Golden Circle. Iceland's Golden Circle, also known as the Ring Road, could easily be considered one of the seven wonders of the world. With waterfalls larger than life, black sand beaches, and lagoons once lounged in by Vikings. The entire trip is a must-see.
You'll need to rent a car to make the most of your Iceland itinerary, but rates are affordable. It is a smooth ride if you stick to the main paved Golden Circle. No need to rent an expensive off-road sub, the cheapest of automatic or manual will do.
If you want to avoid the hassle of driving, opt for the more expensive tour bus option. You lose the freedom of choosing where you stop and for how long, but you can relax and let enjoy the views out the window. A group tour also makes sense if you're on a tight schedule and want to see as much as possible. You can decide if the loss of flexibility is worth it to you.
The Golden Circle has many stops but the must-see include:
Note that the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall and Reynisfjara Beach, covered earlier in the article, are also on the Golden Ring.
The waterfalls are jaw-dropping and a must-see on any visit to Iceland. The falls are popular and attract crowds. To avoid hordes of people in your background, start your adventure as early as you can handle.
INSIDER TIP: Bring a raincoat and boots, but if you choose to go down close to the waterfalls, prepare to get a bit drenched anyway.
Travel Contribution: Voyaging Herbivore
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