Places to visit in Iceland
Depending on how long your family holiday to Iceland is, you may choose to concentrate your travels on the south-eastern corner of the country, around the Golden Circle and Reykjavik. Or if you have longer, then follow the full circuit around the entire island taking in all the fantastic volcanoes, glaciers, lava fields, black sand beaches, canyons, and quirky little villages en route. On a self-drive trip to Iceland, you can choose to stop at as many places as possible for a jam-packed family adventure or take a more leisurely approach and concentrate on a few major highlights. All the sights are jaw-dropping in Iceland so make sure you have your camera at the ready!
The capital of Iceland is where most family adventures begin with plenty of budget and schedule airlines flying into the nearby airport. Must-see sights are the city hall at the lake Tjörnin, the old harbour area, Harpa concert hall and the city centre with its colourful buildings. The Perlan Museum is a real gem with a planetarium show on the stars and really good hands-on exhibits for kids (plus a great café in the glass dome roof with views right across the city).
Why not try the Sky Lagoon, a new geothermal lagoon, where you can soak in warm waters right beside the North Atlantic Ocean. You may also choose to take a whale-watching cruise from here if you are not heading to the north of the country. Or how about a foodie tour where you can experience Iceland through your taste buds – go on, you know you have always wanted to try the infamous fermented shark.
Blue Lagoon and Reykjanes Peninsula
Forty-five minutes outside of Reykjavik is the famous Blue Lagoon where you can relax in the thermal waters and take in the sunrise, dazzling sunsets, or (if you are lucky) the Northern Lights. Top tip – if your flight arrives early why not head straight to the Reykjanes Peninsula and the Blue Lagoon before heading into the city. Sites of interest include Strandakirkja, a famous church where many Icelanders will have prayed for the safety of loved ones who worked out at sea, the other-worldly surroundings of Lake Kleifarvatn, and the Krysuvik geothermal area. Kids will be fascinated by the multi-coloured bubbling mud pools!
The Golden Circle
Probably Iceland’s most famous attraction, the Golden Circle is a popular 300km route that takes in some of Iceland’s best highlights, all within close proximity to Reykjavik. These include Pingvellir National Park, where Iceland’s first Parliament met in 930AD, and the tectonic Silfra Fissure where you can snorkel and dive between two continents (min. ages apply). Haukadalur, where you will find the original Geysir (from which all others are named) and the Strokkur geyser, which shoots boiling water high into the air every 5-7 minutes. And Gullfloss Waterfall where the Hvítá River tumbles dramatically into a deep crevice, surrounded by mist and rainbows. Waterproofs required!
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
At the foot of the mighty Vatnajökull ice cap lies the famous Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Join a group boat trip cruising amidst the drifting icebergs, where you have a good chance of spotting seals. Take a walk along the shore of the lagoon and to the beach, where often smaller icebergs are washed ashore, glinting on the black sand and creating the effect of a Diamond Beach.
Vatnajokull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park is one of the world’s most epic national parks showcasing dramatic wilderness ranging from towering ice caps, dazzling glaciers, and imposing mountains to pretty waterfalls and crystal caves. We recommend the easy hike to the Svartifoss waterfall in the Skaftafell area of the park, which is surrounded by monumental black basalt columns and boasts phenomenal views of the surrounding area. It is also home to Europe’s largest glacier, Svínafellsjökull which you can explore by trekking across its sharp ridges, eerie turquoise crevasses, and glacial tongues (crampons provided, min ages apply).
If you are up for a challenge then scale the heights of snow-capped Hvannadalshnjúkur, the highest in Iceland (2110m). Or head to the depths of the Vatnajokull Crystal Ice Cave where you can spend the afternoon in a mesmerising subterranean world – just count the many shades of blue. The interior is a dream-like study of textures, coloured in fifty shades of blue – it must be seen to be believed. For many visitors, a trip to Iceland is not complete without paying a visit to an ice cave.
The Eyjafjallajökull Volcano
We just had to include this – for its sheer notoriety of grounding half the world’s planes back in 2010 when it exploded. You can hike to its 1651m summit (often called the Thorsmork Volcano trek), view the two new craters, Magni and Modi, snowmobile over the ice cap or explore by jeep.
This peninsula is often referred to as “Iceland in a nutshell”. Highlights include colourful mountains, rugged black sand beaches, lava fields, an active volcano, and a glacier. The National Park is located in the western part of the peninsula around the glacier-crowned Snæfellsjökull Volcano, famed by writer Jules Verne to be the entrance to the Journey to the centre of the earth novel. Take a walk from Malaríf lighthouse to the bird cliffs of Lóndrangar, or visit the lava cave, Vatnshellir. The stunning rock formations of Hellnar cove and the cliffs at Arnarstapi fishing hamlet offer superb views in any weather.
The fjord landscapes of East Iceland are characterised by dramatic precipices and narrow coastlines, bursting with birdlife. See the famous giant egg sculptures The Eggs of Merry Bay created in honor of 34 species of bird that nest here. Hike to Hengifoss Waterfall, an exceptionally lovely waterfall and famous for the very clear layering of the rock surrounding it, and the superb views of the gorge. Head over the Vatnsskarð mountain pass to the remote fjord of Borgarfjörður eystri. For the most incredible views follow the impressively steep mountainside of Njarðvíkurskriður to the village of Bakkagerði where you can visit an easily accessible puffin colony. Seyðisfjörður is a small, but a very creative village with an artists’ residency. Mjóifjörður, the “narrow fjord”, is the perfect place to head for some calm and tranquility.
Myvatn and Dettifoss
In the Myvatn area, there are many worthwhile stops. Children will be absolutely fascinated by the sulphur mud hot springs at Námaskarð near the Krafla volcano – prepare to hold your nose! Lake Mývatn is one of the largest breeding areas for ducks, waders, and other birds. Take a walk in the lava labyrinth of Dimmuborgir and around the pseudocraters in Skútustaðir, hike to the Hverfjall crater for an impressive view over the surroundings of Lake Mývatn, or enjoy an open-air soak in the geothermal Myvatn Nature Baths.
Just over an hour from Lake Myvatn is Europe’s largest waterfall, Dettifoss, which provides yet another jaw-dropping photo opportunity. You can actually feel its power if you place your hand on a rock close to the falls. Dettifoss creeps half a metre south each year. Easy access make this a highlight of Iceland’s Diamond Circle (the North’s equivalent of the South’s Golden Circle).
Husavik and Akureyri
Húsavík is a traditional fishing village on the north coast and now Iceland’s whale watching capital. Join a cruise to observe these majestic creatures breaching and tail slapping. Humpbacks and minke are both common in this area as well as porpoises and dolphins.
Akureyri is known as the capital of the North. This harming city was once a Danish trading centre and is home to one of the most northernly located botanical gardens in the world. The town makes for a nice change to the wilderness and you can also opt to take a whale cruise here if preferred.
Call us and we will be happy to provide you with a free-of-charge no obligation itinerary and quotation designed for you.
Iceland in pictures
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