Best season: July and August with average lows of 8C (46F) and highs of 13C (55F).
Worst: December – March, cold temperatures with average lows of -4C (24F) and highs of 2C (35F).
OK: June, and up to 15 September – everything shuts after that, though December is lively in Reykjavik.
Length of stay:
Minimum worthwhile stay, not incl. flights: Reykjavik only or including a quick whizz around the ‘Golden Triangle’ – 4 days (include a weekend for a taste of the nightlife)
Recommended: 1-2 weeks.
Third Thursday in April: First Day of Summer ‘Sumardagurinn Fyrsti’, mild partying and a carnival in Reykjavik.
First week in June: Sailor’s Day ‘Sjomannadagurinn’, watery competitions and partying in coastal villages.
June 17: Independence Day, mainly in Reykjavik, costumes, parades, street performers etc.
Beginning of August: Verslunarmannahelgi, camp based partying in Iceland’s car accessible scenic spots; extreme drinking and mayhem.
– Self-drive 4×4 hire is the most convenient way to get around, but is, of course, expensive and cars should be reserved way in advance online. Hiring on-the-spot is not recommended as it will be even more pricey and with less choice, if any! Full damage insurance is advisable as ‘roads’ are often tricky gravel tracks. Fuel is also costly.
– Buses are efficient but not frequent. FlyBus runs regular (though not frequent) bus excursions to most parts of the country, especially around the Ring Road.
Near Skogafoss is spectacular Vik, its black basalt beach, massive rolling waves, sea stacks, puffin-packed cliffs, and endless rain. Photo by Progresschrome.
Heimay Island – the ‘Galapagos of the North’ are a group of fifteen young islands including Surtsey which popped up in 1963.
Visit the Eldfell volcano on the island of Heimey, which last erupted in 1973, the pretty Heimaklettur mountain, the Klettshellir cave (by boat), and the puffins at Storhofdi.
The harbour on Heimay was almost cut off by the lava flow, but dramatically tamed by Iceland’s fireman.
It later held Keiko the Killer Whale star of ‘Free Willy’.
Visit the Natural History museum and Folk Museum if you have time. It’s worth staying overnight here.
Puffin meat and eggs are on the menu at local restaurants. Access from the mainland can be by sea or air.
Jokulsarlon Lake, southeast Iceland. Photo by Jim.
Iceland’s southeast contains the southern flanks of the country’s largest ice cap Vatnajokull whose presence has greatly affected the surrounding landscape and is also home to the country’s most unstable volcano, Laki.
Vatnajokul – this massive ice cap, almost comparable to Polar and Greenland ice caps.
Journeys onto the ice cap generally start with the valley glaciers and the easiest non-expeditionary way to achieve this is to travel with a guide in a four wheel drive vehicle.
Lonsoraefi ‘Lagoon Wilderness’ – the delta of the river Jokulsa i Loni runs into the long Lon ‘Lagoon’ Bay with its two large sand spits, while two peaks look out across the expanse.
Swans abound in the delta and there are excellent walking opportunities amongst the rhyolitic peaks, including the highly regarded walk to Snaefel in the east.
Jokulsarlon ‘Glacier Lagoon’ – this lagoon is the direct run off from a glacier, and as a result lumps of ice fall into it creating icebergs, another triumph for Icelandic tourism.
Skaftafell National Park – probably the most scenic park in the country and as a result it is best avoided at the weekends if you plan on staying there.
It is comparatively well vegetated with a mountainous backdrop. There are many walking trails in the park with Skaftafellshedi the most immediate and thus most popular.
The volcano Laki has caused more damage than any other, erupting violently in the 18thC.
It fired lava high into the skies, which then rolled all over Iceland and devastated farmlands and animals.
The mountain offers good views and there is the Fagrifoss ‘Beautiful’ waterfall and Fjardrarglijufur canyon also to see.
Northeast and East Iceland
East Iceland. Photo by Jim.
North East Iceland Attractions
This is one of the better regions for things to see, so expect some other travellers, but the distance from Reykjavik keeps the rampaging hordes away.
The main town of the area, pretty enough, but the main attraction is whale watching and the associated Husavik Whale Museum. Minkes and dolphins are the norm here.
Flatey and Lundey are worth a visit for bird watching.
Jokulsargljufur National Park
The impressive Jokulsa Canyon, also known as Iceland’s Grand Canyon, is the focus of this park.
Several waterfalls can be seen in close proximity along the canyon, with the biggest, Dettifoss, an impressive 50m high and 100m wide, the most powerful in Europe.
Asbyrgi is a strange plateau region with expansive rich green vegetation enclosed by sheer cliff walls of up to 100m and split in two by a large rock known as the ‘Island’.
Footpaths run to about 50 miles and the length of the park can be crossed on foot in around two days.
Lake Myvatn ‘Midge Lake’
A beautiful shallow lake which is a bird lovers paradise – with 15 species of duck – and also offers comparatively good weather due to a micro climate.
In the area you can find lava pillars, boiling mud pits, the Hverfell volcanic cone, the Eldhraun ‘Fire Lava’ lava field, the Reykjahlid Natural History Museum, the Lofthellir Cave, Kverkfjoll Ice Caves, Hverarond geothermal area and the disturbingly active but colourful Krafla Caldera.
East Iceland Attractions
Nice and quiet with few tourists but still very accessible and with relatively good weather. Boat arrivals from Europe will usually see their first bit of the country here.
The main town with an airport for national flights and roads to pretty much everywhere in the region.
For historical fact on this part of the country try the Minjasafan Austurlands Museum.
The Icelandic Jazz Festival is held here at the end of June.
Lagarflojt ‘Smooth River’ and Hengifoss ‘Hanging Falls’
The longest lake in the country runs north east from the massive Vatnajokull ice cap. The impressive Henginfoss waterfall roars into a gorge which then drops down to to the lake on the south west shores.
Iceland’s largest forest, Hallormsstadur, runs along part of the eastern side and is a good place to rectify flora deficiencies.
Snaefel ‘Snow Mountain’
The second highest peak in Iceland at 6012 ft lies at the beginning of the central highlands and adjacent is a worthwhile trek through the Fljotsdalsheidi ‘River Valley Moors’.
Not as grand as the West Fjords, but still very worthwhile, with some interesting towns and villages and excellent walks along their winding course, beginning at the eastern edge of the Heradsfloi Bay at Borgarfjordur and running south for around sixty miles to Berufjordur.
Bakkagerdi is a small picturesque fishing village in Borgarfjordur with a photogenic sod house.
Hafnarholmi, an artificial islet along the shoreline is an excellent bird breeding area, particularly for Puffins.
Mt Dyrfjoll ‘Door Mountain’
A mountain to the west, with two peaks and to the east Mt Stadafell, and Mt Hvitserkur, the latter a bizarrely coloured rhyolite mountain with basalt dykes, so walking here is convenient and rewarding.
Boat arrivals from the European continent arrive at Seydisfjordur – a town with a mountainous backdrop – an altogether more rewarding experience than the barren Keflavik airport.
Mjoifjordur ‘Narrow Fjord’
Next along is the Mjoifjordur ‘Narrow Fjord’ and then Eskifjordur, an attractive fishing village with lots of local walking opportunities in the nearby mountains.
Skrudur Island is good for bird life, has a large cave once used by fishermen and the Breiddalur Volcano, a large extinct volcano with interesting peaks.
If you really like your geology, near Breiddalsvik Cove are the Fagriholl Ridges, a plain of ridges caused by ground frosts.
Finally Djupivogur on Berufjordur is an interesting fishing village with old buildings, Papey ‘Friar’s’ Island with its teeming bird life and walks to nearby Mt Bulandstindur and Godaborg ‘Castle of the Gods’.
Iceland’s Central Highlands
Kalafellsjokull and skimobiles. Photo Christian Bickel.
This is a true wilderness and as such travel can be difficult so most is done with local guides and in groups. There are bogs here which will swallow you and your backpack whole so do not go here alone.
If traveling in a small group let people know your route, and make sure your navigation skills are adequate.
Weather in the region is particularly changeable.
Routes and paths alone are not to be relied upon or are non existent, so highly detailed maps, and a quality compass with polar deviation tables are essential items. Also consider a GPS system.
Vatnajokull Icecap in Vatnajokull National Park – the largest in Europe with the country’s highest mountain – Mt Oraefajokull – near the centre. This icecap dominates the south east highlands.
Of interest to tourists are skidoo tours for much of the year including June, hiking various ‘tongues’ of the massive glacier, walking along the shore or taking amphibious tours of the iceberg strewn Jokulsarlon Lake, the ice caves in the Kverkjoll section, formed by warm underground rivers, but you cannot do serious caving here.
Hofsjokull and Langjokull Icecaps – the second and third largest icecaps in Iceland respectively, the former is near the western edge of the highlands, the latter thirty five miles further east.
Hveravellir ‘Hot Spring Fields’ – a geothermal area with coloured pools and hot springs. You can soak in the natural warm waters here.
Beinaholl ‘Bony Mound’ – a hill where some unfortunate 18th C sheep left some mementos as they and their shepherds perished in the snow.
Kerlingarfjoll ‘Witch Mountains’ – an attractive and rather pointy mountain range, less volcanic looking than others in Iceland.
Hvitarvatn ‘White River Lake’ – lumps of the Langjokull ice cap fall into this, the source of the Hvita river.
Aldeyjarfoss – an attractive waterfall over columnar basalt formations, part of the Skjalfandafljot ‘Shivering River’.
Veidivotn – lots of small lakes in the bare volcanic basin.
Herdubreid – a volcano with a glacier on top blew, resulting in a cylindrical flat topped mountain. Nearby is its namesake green oasis, considered the most beautiful in Iceland. The impressive Kolltandyngja volcano is nearby.
Dyngjufjoll Range – an old volcanic range, the Drekagil ‘Dragon Ravine’ is so called due to its likeness to great winged creatures, and the Askja caldera is a monstrous, must see basin with accompanying Viti crater lake (picture above left) – good for a swim. Also the deep blue Oskjuvatn lake in Porvaidsfell crater.
Fjallabak ‘Behind Mountains’ Nature Reserve – contains the Torfajokull volcano and glacier, one of the most scenic glacial regions in Iceland with good views of the beautiful Markaflot gorge and surrounding mountains, including the Landmannalaugar.
Iceland’s western fjords
Latrabjarg Cliffs, west Iceland. Photo by Jim.
One of the most rugged regions of Iceland with many fjords and bays rising to steep mountains
Excellent for bird life due to the extensive cliff faces.
Paths following the contours make slow progress as they meander along the convoluted fjords, but the scenery is dramatic.
Isafjordur – is a centrally located and visually interesting fishing town for beginning to explore the sparsely populated area.
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve – north of Isafjordur is the isolated but beautiful Hornstrandir area.
Wildlife is in abundance here (relatively speaking) with the Arctic Fox and Seals making an appearance, and also whales as the peninsula juts into the sea towards Greenland and the Arctic Circle.
Casual observation of the area can be made by boat, otherwise walk from Unadsdalur and Nordurfjordur, well prepared for bad weather.
This area is remote and requires expeditionary tactics with snow travel equipment year round. Take care on the tidal flood plains. There are several emergency huts but you must have portable accommodation even for a modest walk in case you can’t make it back.
Mt Vadalfjoll – a pair of volcanic plugs on the south of the peninsula stand proud above their surrounds affording classic panoramic Iceland views.
Latrabjarg Cliffs – the most north westerly point in Europe and one of the largest cliff nesting sites in the world, this is Puffin territory of the highest standing.
Consider also: travelling to Flatey Island, and the other islands of the Breidafiord Bay to the south of the peninsula, particularly for birdwatching; Flokalundur Nature Reserve, worth visiting if you like birds which duck and dive; Dynjandisfoss, the biggest waterfall in the region at over 100m; Sod Farm Barmar – a barmy old sod farm restored and abandoned but makes for a great vista with the waters and highlands behind.