My Travel Guide to Iceland (Top Tips and Recommendations)
Looking for a Reason to Visit Iceland?
Iceland has risen in recent years as a popular destination amongst travellers both young and old. It’s not hard to figure out why so many people are attracted to Iceland as a destination: the ever-changing scenery and all the beauty this country has to offer seem almost fictional.
Whether the growing popularity can also partly be attributed to television shows and films being filmed in Iceland is up for debate, but it is difficult to ignore Iceland’s beauty in scenes of HBO’s Games of Thrones or Netflix’s Sense8. Personally, Iceland has been on my bucket list ever since I first saw a picture of Vik’s black-sand beaches.
Spikes in tourism aren't always welcome. Iceland recently closed a canyon to the public after it became too popular—all thanks to Justin Bieber.
After my own 10-day road trip, I was compelled to agree with the overall consensus: Iceland is breathtaking. It is hard to describe how vast and overwhelming the mountains and changing scenery are without having witnessed it firsthand. Below are a few recommendations and insights I gained from my time in Iceland.
Riveting Reykjavik Is a Must
The airport is conveniently located near Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. Whether you are visiting for just a few days as an extended layover or you are embarking on a long road trip, Reykjavik is the first and pretty much only major city you will encounter, and thus many people start or end their trip in the capital.
Reykjavik is has a host of cultural experiences on offer, including a museum delving into its origins. If you are up for a different experience, visit Iceland’s phallus museum. It’s good for a few giggles! If you are not much of a museum buff, then just strolling through the centre of Reykjavik is exciting enough.
There is a plethora of unusual, quirky shops with interesting trinkets and souvenirs. Not far from the centre, there is a little bakery called Braud & Co offering cinnamon buns and other buns. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try an iced bun with liquorice? I have to warn you, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but we were feeling curious. However, whatever you pick, you will not regret indulging in their baked goods.
Another little gem, about a two-hour drive north of Reykjavik, is ice cream farm Erpsstaðir Creamery. If you are passing that way, make sure you plan a little stop. Not only is the ice cream amazing, but they also have two very sweet dogs and a brazen raven that has made the farm its home. It will sit on top of your car or pick the dead bugs off your license plate.
Iceland’s Famous Spas and Geothermal Baths
One of the most recommended things to do in Iceland that I have encountered is to visit one of Iceland’s geothermal baths. South from Reykjavik you will find the ever-popular Blue Lagoon Spa. This is the most famous and well-known geothermal bath. The mineral-rich water is supposed to do wonders for your skin, and due to Blue Lagoon’s popularity, they are even expanding their spa with a hotel. However wonderful that might sound, we actually skipped the Blue Lagoon as we felt it was too “touristy”.
We opted to visit a geothermal bath near Vik instead. Supposedly a “hidden gem” but gaining quickly in popularity, hot spring pool Seljavallalaug is hidden away in the mountains and cleaned once a year by volunteers. You’ll need a GPS to find it, and we actually looked it up online beforehand to understand where we were going. Once you’ve parked the car, you will have to walk for about 10 minutes to reach the pool. We found it easy to find as there were people on their way back from the pool. We found it so magical: swimming in a warm pool whilst it was raining slightly. Be warned: there can be a lot of algae. We emerged slightly slimey, but refreshed nevertheless.
A few days later, we opted to pay to visit Myvatn Nature Baths, a geothermal pool in the north of Iceland. The mesmerizing blue waters and sunny skies made it a great experience. It was not too busy and it was the perfect way to relax. Also, quite important for us, no algae or slime!
Don't Miss a Chance to See the Aurora Borealis
Usually, the Northern Lights are visible from August to April, although you have a better chance of seeing them during the winter months. We were lucky enough to visit at the end of August and got even luckier when the lights were beautifully visible one night.
Should you be really keen to see the Northern Lights, take a short winter holiday to Iceland! If you are able to go to Iceland for seven days in a row, you will increase your chances of seeing the lights, as they are only active for a few nights a week.
These are just a few things we’ve done in Iceland. I could write on for days about the Northern Lights, the many waterfalls, the hot dogs, seal watching or snowmobile tours. If you get the chance to visit Iceland, take it. You will not regret it!
Pro Tip: Do Not Skip Car Rental Research
It’s a bit boring, but researching what car to rent is very important when planning your trip. Some roads in Iceland are off limits to those without four-wheel drive or are simply not doable if you’re not in a decent car. We went for the safe option and rented a four-wheel drive. On our way up a mountain, we were stuck behind a small city car that was struggling with even the simplest inclines—don’t be those people!
Make sure you do your research and know exactly where you’re going so you can be sure to get the proper insurance add-ons and avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere.
If you’re more adventurous and don’t mind camping, some companies offer little campervans up for rent. Although it could be a little pricier to rent initially, it is ideal for those travellers wishing to keep costs down. In the end, you’re saving massively on accommodation, something that doesn’t always come cheap in this country.
Obviously, car rental isn’t required. There are many tour operators offering day trips or longer trips from Reykjavik if you are only over for a few days.
© 2019 Ellie Campbell