The Ring Road with Whale Watching in Akureyri
Come along on an epic journey of the island of ice and fire, where you circumnavigate the most popular attractions of Iceland, along with hidden gems off the beaten track. This is a package tour for anyone looking to experience the country as the locals do, whilst sitting back and allowing someone else to take care of the details.
Driving the ring road through the scope of a week has long since been a favoured summer activity to the people of Iceland. This tour operates for small groups, and each trip is unique in many ways, crafted to your personal interests, as well as the temperamental weather conditions of this volcanic island.
The tour offers such marvellous highlights as whale watching, the Golden Circle, the wonders of the South Coast, the remote East-Fjords, three national parks, Lake Mývatn, and a visit to Akureyri; the capital of the North.
Be prepared to behold misty waterfalls, spouting geysers and bubbling hot springs, along with countless other sights and scenic adventures. Your guides will inform you of the history of the locations visited, on this tour ideal for anyone interested in the culture of Iceland as well as its nature.
Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity of seeing all the best of which Iceland has to offer, all in one unforgettable expedition. Check availability by choosing a date.
- Duration: 7 days
- Activities: Caving, Whale Watching, Sightseeing, Hot Spring Bathing, Cultural Activity
- Difficulty: Easy
- Minimum age: 10 years old
- Languages: English
Akureyri, ‘The Capital of the North’ is a town in the fjord Eyjafjordur in North Iceland. It lies just 100 km away from the Arctic Circle. It is Iceland’s second-largest urban area with a population of about 17,800.
Akureyri is an important fishing centre and port, but in the last few years tourism, industry, higher education and services have become the fastest growing sectors of the economy.
An international airport is located about 3 km from the center. A large number of cruisers also stop at Akureyri. One of Iceland's best skiing sites is found by Akureyri, at Hlidarfjall.
Traditionally Akureyri has survived on fisheries and some of Iceland’s largest fishing companies, like for example Samherji, have their headquarters there. Other large companies include Brim, Nordurmjolk, and Vifilfell hf, the largest brewery in Iceland.
FSA/Akureyri Hospital is a major employer in the area and is one of two major hospitals in Iceland.
Akureyri has excellent facilities for travelers and is located a short drive from many of Iceland’s top natural, cultural and historical attractions.
Nature & Landscape
Akureyri is surrounded by mountains, the highest one being Kerling (1538 m). The area around it has rich agriculture and a beautiful mountain ring.
The innermost part of the fjord, Pollurinn ('The Pool') further lends the town a special character. The climate in Akureyri is generally very pleasant.
The islands Hrisey in the middle of Eyfjordur and Grimsey, straddling the Artic Circle, both belong to the municipality of Akureyri. Hrisey is often called 'The Pearl of Eyjafjordur' and Grimsey 'The Pearl of the Artic' and these beautiful and peaceful islands are highly popular with travelers.
History & Culture
During World War II the town was an important site for the Allies and the town grew considerably after the war, as people increasingly moved to urban areas.
Akureyri has a strong cultural scene, with several bars and renowned restaurants. Folk culture in general is more prevalent there than in Reykjavik. During the summer there are several notable festivals in Akureyri and its surroundings.
Sites of interest in Akureyri include the brand-new Hof concert hall and Akureyri’s many museums, The Nature Museum, Nonnahus, a.k.a. Jon Sveinsson Memorial Museum, for the writer, David's house or David Stefansson Memorial Museum, for the poet, Akureyri Art Museum.
Akureyri also has several churches, Akureyrarkirkja being the most notable, as well as beautiful botanical gardens. The old town is particularly charming, ideal for a nice walk.
Jökulsárlón is Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon. Conveniently located in the southeast by Route 1, about halfway between the Skaftafell Nature Reserve and Höfn, it is a popular stop for those travelling along the South Coast or around the circular ring road of the country.
It stands out, however, due to the fact that it also fills with icebergs breaking from the glacier, some of which tower several stories high.
These icebergs, other than their scale, are notable for their colouration. Although they are, as expected, largely white, most are also dyed electric blue in part, with black streaks of ash from eruptions centuries past.
When the icebergs finally make it across the lagoon, they either drift out to sea or wash up on the nearby shore. Because of the way they glisten against the black sands of Breiðamerkursandur, this area has been nicknamed ‘the Diamond Beach’.
In spite of being a rather recent formation, Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake in the country, with depths reaching 248 metres. With a surface area of 18 square kilometres, it is also growing to be one of the largest.
Jökulsárlón has not been around since Iceland’s settlement; it only formed around 1935. This was due to rapidly rising temperatures in the country from the turn of the twentieth century; since 1920, Breiðamerkurjökull has been shrinking at a dramatic rate, and the lagoon has begun to fill its space.
Today, the expansion of Jökulsárlón is accelerating. As recently as 1975, it was just 8 square kilometres, and now that size has more than doubled.
In the relatively near future, it is expected that the lagoon will continue to grow until it becomes a large, deep fjord.
Though a dark omen for Iceland’s glaciers and ice caps in general, the retreat of Breiðamerkurjökull has resulted in an incredibly beautiful, if temporary, site. This has not been overlooked by Hollywood.
Jökulsárlón has been featured in the James Bond films A View to Kill in 1985 and Die Another Day in 2002, 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and 2005’s Batman Begins.
In 2017, Jökulsárlón was enveloped into the Vatnajökull National Park, thus it is now fully protected by Icelandic law.
Because of the wealth of herring and capelin that the tides bring into the lagoon, Jökulsárlón is somewhat of a hot-spot for Iceland’s wildlife.
In summer, it is a nesting site for Arctic Terns; stay well away from this area, as these birds are notorious for the fierceness with which they protect their eggs, dive-bombing the heads of any they see as a threat. Skuas also nest on the lake’s shores in this season.
Seals can be reliably spotted here throughout the year, swimming amongst or else hauling out on the icebergs. Jökulsárlón provides them with a safe haven to rest and socialise, especially considering the waters of southeast Iceland are renowned for their population of orcas.
Lakagigar, in the south of the Icelandic highlands, is a row of craters, formed during one of the largest eruptions in recorded history, known as the fires of the River Skafta, or ‘Skaftareldar’ in Icelandic. The area has some of the most stunningly attractive landscapes in Iceland.
The majority of the craters are today covered in racomitrium moss.The total area of the lava field is 565 km² and the estimated volume of volcanic material is over 12 km². The Skaftareldar eruption that formed the craters in the 18th century led to crop failure, disease and disasters in Iceland. Some believe that the arirbourne haze from the eruption, blocking the sunlight in the northern hemisphere, may have contributed to the French revolution in 1789.
Eldgja is the largest volcanic canyon in the world, 270m deep, 600m at its widest and around 40 km long.
The canyon lies paralel with the Lakagigar craters. The first documented eruption of Eldgja, in 934, was the largest flood basalt in historic time.
A beautiful watefall, Ofaerufoss in the river Ofaerua falls into in the Eldgja canyon. This is a two-spilt waterfall and the lower part used to have a natural bridge, but the bridge collapsed in the early nineties.
Myvatn is a beautiful lake with many small islands in the north of Iceland, the fourth largest lake in the country. Along with its surrounding area, the lake is one of Iceland's most amazing natural attractions.
Some of the islands in Myvatn are pseudocraters, formed by steam explosions. The lake has rich birdlife and more species of ducks than anywhere else in the world. As for vegetation, it is one of the few places in the world that grows Marimo, also known as Cladophora ball, Lake ball, or Moss Balls in English, a species of filamentous green algae (Chlorophyta).
The Myvatn nature baths are also renowned throughout the world, a perfect place to relax, surrounded by breathtaking landscape.
Close to the lake is Dimmuborgir, a fascinating area of dramatic and chaotic lava. Norwegian symphonic metal band Dimmu Borgir takes its name from the the lava field, and it continues to inspire travellers from all over the world.
The Myvatn area is definitely one of the most beautiful places in Iceland. Don´t miss it!
Dimmuborgir (e. ‘Black Forts') is a large area of chaotic lava, situated right east of Lake Myvatn, in North Iceland. With its dramatic view, Dimmuborgir is one of Iceland's most popular attractions.
The area is composed of various volcanic caves and rock formations, reminiscent of an ancient collapsed citadel. In folklore the Dimmuborgir lava field has been connected with hell, Satan was to have landed there after being cast from heaven and the Norwegian symphonic black metal band derives its name from the region.
Vatnsnes is a mountainous peninsula in the north. It features one of the largest and most accessible seal sanctuaries in Iceland.
The highlands of Vatnsnes are collectively known as Vatnsnesfjall. It’s highest peak is Thraelsfell, at 985 meters and offering a good view in all directions. There is limited lowland in the area.
Of particular note at Vatnsnes is the sea rock Hvitserkur, which the waves have given a peculiar shape. It resembles a natural fort, and, according to the sagas, was used as such in earlier times. Vatnsnes also has an abundance of seals, Hindisvik and Osar being good places to go watch them and there is a seal center nearby, at Hvammstangi.
Goðafoss waterfall is located the river Skjálfandafljót in north Iceland, the fourth largest river in Iceland. It is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, falling from a height of 12 metres over a width of 30 metres.
The fall's name means either waterfall of the gods or of the 'goði' (i.e. priest/ chieftain). It is said that when the lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði declared Christianity the official religion in Iceland, after his own conversion, he threw the statues of the old Norse gods into the waterfall.
Dettifoss, in the glacier river Jokulsa á Fjollum, flowing from the glacier Vatnajokull, is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
This thunderous fall has an average waterflow of 193 m3 per second. It is 100 meters (330 ft.) wide and plummets 45 meters (150 ft.) down to Jokulsargljufur canyon.
Skogafoss is one of the biggest and most beautiful waterfalls of the island with an astounding width of 25 meters and a drop of 60 meters.
This is one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland for travellers to visit. It is located in South Iceland, not far from Skogar, which itself features a highly interesting regional museum. Due to the amount of spray the waterfall often produces a single or double rainbow on sunny days.
Seljalandsfoss in the river Seljalandsa in South Iceland is one of the most sought waterfalls in the country.
Seljalandsfoss has a narrow cascade but is one of Iceland's highest waterfalls, at 63 meters. The waterfall is highly picturesque and has the rare distinction that one can actually walk behind it.
Geysir is a famous hot spring in Haukadalur valley in South Iceland. Part of the ‘Golden Circle', Geysir gives its name to hot springs all over the world.
Though Geysir itself is hardly active anymore, the area features spectacular hot springs such as the powerful Strokkur, which spouts a vast amount of water every 10 minutes, around 15-20 meters into the air, Smidur and Litli-Strokkur.
North of Geysir are fumaroles, i.e. unlike the hot springs that emit hot water, only steam and gas emanate from these. You may be able to observe bright yellow stains at the fumaroles, this is native sulphur, which crystallizes from the steam. At the southern part of the geothermal area, called Thykkuhverir, you‘ll find various mud pots. Such mud pots are actually fumaroles that boil up through surface water/groundwater and may become steaming fumaroles during dry spells, rather than the usual boiling mud pots.
About 2 km from Geysir is an old preserved natural pool called Kúalaug. One can bathe in it and it has room for 3-5 people at a time, but care should be taken, as the area around the pool is very delicate. The temperature is 39-43°C, depending on how you are positioned in the pool. The water is slightly muddy, as the pool is built on soil, and the bottom is slippery due to algae, so caution is advised.
In Haukadalur there has also been tree planting in recent times and today the forest Haukadalsskógur is one of the largest in South Iceland. Aspen, various types of pine, and other plants have been tried out there and experiments and research continue. We also recommend visiting the tree museum, built in the memory of forester Gunnar Freysteinsson. There are good paths and roads in the forest and the wood is specially designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
Haukadalur has been a church site since ancient time. The current wooden church was last rebuilt in 1938 but the variety and appearance of the church dates back to 1842, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Iceland.
Haukadalur is indeed a historical place. It was settled during the age of settlement and scholar Ari “The Wise“ Thorgilsson grew up there. The first pastoral school in Iceland was also built there.
For accommodation, Hotel Gullfoss is about 7 km from the Geysir area, and closer still is the Hotel Geysir.
Gullfoss (translated to ‘Golden Falls’) is one of Iceland’s most iconic and beloved waterfalls, found on the Hvítá river canyon in south Iceland. The water in Hvítá river travels from the glacier Langjökull, finally cascading 32m down Gullfoss’ two stages in a dramatic display of nature’s raw power.
Because of the waterfall’s two stages, Gullfoss should actually be thought of as two separate waterfalls. The first, shorter stage of the waterfall is 11m, whilst the second stage is 21m. The canyon walls on both sides of the waterfall reach heights of up to 70m, descending into the 2.5km long Gullfossgjúfur canyon (geologists indicate that this canyon was formed by glacial outbursts at the beginning of the last age.)
In the summer, approximately 140 cubic metres of water surges down the waterfall every second, whilst in winter that number drops to around 109 cubic metres. With such energy, visitor’s should not be surprised to find themselves drenched by the waterfall’s mighty spray-off.
In the early days of the last century, Gullfoss was at the centre of much controversy regarding foreign investors and their desire to profit off Iceland’s nature. In the year 1907, an English businessman known only as Howells sought to utilise the waterfall’s energy and harboured ambitions to use its energy to fuel a hydroelectric plant.
At the time, Gullfoss was owned by a farmer named Tómas Tómasson. Tómas declined Howell’s offer to purchase the land, stating famously “I will not sell my friend!” He would, however, go on to lease Howells the land, inadvertently beginning the first chapter of Icelandic environmentalism.
It was Tómas’ daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who would lead the charge. Having grown up on her father’s sheep farm, she sought to get the lease contract nullified, hurriedly saving her own money to hire a lawyer. The ensuing legal battle was an uphill struggle; the case continued for years, forcing Sigríður to travel many times by foot to Reykjavík if only to keep the trial moving. Circumstances became so difficult that Sigríður threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if any construction began.
Thankfully, in 1929, the waterfall fell back into the hands of the Icelandic people. Today, Sigríður is recognised for her perseverance in protecting Gullfoss and is often hailed as Iceland’s first environmentalist. Her contribution is forever marked in stone; a plaque detailing her plight sits at the top of Gullfoss.
Restaurant / Cafe
Besides Gullfoss, visitors can enjoy the views from Gullfoss Cafe, a locally run delicatessen that serves a wide variety of refreshments and meals. The menu has options to tantalise everyone’s taste buds; hot soups, sandwiches, salads and cakes. There is also a shop on site where visitors’ can browse and purchase traditional Icelandic souvenirs.
The glacier volcano of Eyjafjallajokull (1651 m) is located at the borders of the South Icelandic highlands. It featured prominently in world news in 2010 when ash from its eruption halted air traffic in Europe.
An ice cap of about 100 km with several outlet glaciers covers the caldera of Eyjafjallajökull that stands at the height of 1651 meters. The diamaeter of its highest crater is around 3-4 km2 wide and the rim has several peaks.
Eyjafjallajokull glacier volcano lies north of Skogar, and to the west of Myrdalsjokull glacier and the massive volcano there; Katla.
Eyjafjallajokull is thought to be related geologically to Katla in Myrdalsjokull and eruptions in the former have often been followed by eruptions in the latter.
The 2010 eruptions
The end of 2010 saw some small seismic activity that gradually increased and resulted in a small eruption in March of 2010, characterized by a flow of alkani-olivine basalt lava.
This first stage lasted until April 12th and created the volcanic craters Magni and Modi at the Fimmvorduhals trail. They are so far Iceland's newest vocanic craters, and still eminate steam with lava glowing under the surface.
However it was the second phase of the eruption that started on April 14th that created the huge ash cloud that rose about 9 km into the skies.
This eruption halted air traffic in Europe for days, and its estimated that as many as 107.000 flights may have been cancelled during the week it lasted.
The ejected tephra measured around 250 million cubic meters. This ash cloud lasted for six days and some more localized disruption continued into May. The eruption was officially declared to be over in October 2010, as the snow on the glacier had ceased to melt.
Future volcanic developments?
Eyjafjallajokull erupted in years 920, 1612 and again 1821-1823.
Its latest eruptions were the two that occurred in 2010.
Future volcanic developments remain unclear. The area is still highly active and can be quite unpredictable. It continues, however, to be closely monitored by The Icelandic Meterological Office.
Thingvellir is one of the most important sites to visit in Iceland for its landscape, history and cultural value.
The Icelandic parliament was founded in Thingvellir in 930 and remained there for centuries.Thingvellir is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range and is the site of a rift valley, marking the crest of the Mid-Atlantic range. Today it is a natural park, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and considered a vital part of the ‘Golden triangle’ (with Geysir and Gullfoss). Of particular note is the magnificent gorge Almannagja, which marks the eastern boundary of the north American plate and into which the beautiful waterfall Oxararfoss falls.
Other notable attractions within the park include the beautiful lake Thingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, the Silfra fissure, one of the world's top dives, and Gjabakkahellir, one of Iceland's most interesting lava tubes.
Hraunfossar in Borgarfjordur district is a series of beautiful waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming from a short distance out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field.
The lava field flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjokull. The waterfalls pour into the Hvita river from ledges of less porous rock in the lava. These are some of the most magnificent falls found in Iceland and not to be missed.
Deildartunguhver, by Reykholt, in Borgarfjordur district, has the highest flow rate for a hot spring in Europe.
The flow rate of Deildartunguhver is 180 liters/second and water emerges at 97 °C. The place is also unique for being the only place in the country where the hard fern grows.
Strokkur (Icelandic for "churn") is one of the most famous hot springs in Iceland and belongs to the famous Golden Circle.
Strokkur is a fountain geyser in the Geysir geothermal area in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavik. Strokkur is a powerful hot spring and an impressive sight. It erupts about every 4–8 minutes and spouts water to a height of 15 – 20 m, sometimes up to 40 m.
Skagafjordur is a fjord in North Iceland. Saudarkrokur is its largest village. Skagafjordur district has strong agriculture and a rich history. Five of the largest battles in Icelandic history were fought there in the 13th century civil war.
Islands & Cape
There are three islands in the fjord, Drangey, Malmey and Lundey. Foremost of these is the steep Drangey island, shaped like a fort and rich with birdlife. For 19 years it was the refuge for the outlaw Grettir Asmundarsson of Grettis Saga fame.
Thordarhofdi may resemble an island when seen from afar but is actually a cape, the remnants of an old volcano. The cape has beautiful rows of columnar basalt, best seen from the sea.
History, Culture & activities
An old renovated turf farm house is to be seen at Glaumbaer museum, giving a good sense of the rural life of 18th and 19th century Iceland. Gudridur Thornbjarnardottir is said to have lived there, the first European mother on American ground.
North Iceland was a bishop’s district of its own and the bishop’s seat was at Holar in Hjaltadalur valley in the east of Skagafjordur. Holar today features an agricultural university, and is the seat for an ordaining bishop, who is a woman.
Skagafjordur district has some of the best rafting rivers in the country, so rafting there is highly popular, as well as horseriding. So is horseriding. Indeed, the culture of Skagafjordur is characterized by horse-riding, tenor singing and enjoying life.
Hvalfjordur is a fjord in Southwest Iceland. The fjord is approximately 30 km long and 5 km wide.
Nature & Landscape
The landscape of Hvalfjordur is varied and beautiful, wide areas of flat land along with majestic mountains, green vegetation in summer and beaches cut with by creeks and rich in birdlife. The area has further been well planted with forests. Among natural attractions is Iceland's highest waterfall, Glymur in Botnsdalur, in the river Botnsa. There are plenty of interesting hiking trails in the area, such as Sildarmannagotur, leading north, and Leggjabrjotur, leading east towards the area of Thingvellir National Park.
Culturewise Hvalfjordur had one of the main whaling stations in Iceland and one of the most important naval stations in the North Atlantic during World War Two. The old whaling station and a war museum are found in the fjord. Iceland's main psalm poet, Hallgrimur Petursson, writer of the Passiusalmar ('Passia Hymns') lived in Saurbaer in Hvalfjordur. Hvalfjordur was also the home of the late Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson, rhymes poet and performer and head of the Icelandic pagan association.
Most inhabitants of the fjord live in rural areas, and there is some farming in the area. Until the 1990s those travelling between Borgarnes and Reykjavik had to take a long detour through the fjord, but this was solved with a tunnel under the fjord in, 1998, the Hvalfjardargong. Grundartangi spit in Hvalfjordur has one of the largest harbours in the country and two industrial plants. One is a ferrosilicon plant, operated since 1979, the other an aluminium smelter, operated since 1998.
Skaftafell is a nature preserve in Oraefasveit. It used to be a national park of its own but joined the larger Vatnajokull National Park in 2008.
Skaftafell is notable for its rich flora, growing between sands and glaciers, and overall for its amazing and contrasting scenery. You can take short and easy trails to the waterfalls Svartifoss and Hundafoss, as well as Skaftafell glacier, with the mountain Kristinartindar and Morsardalur valley further off.
Skaftafell is also the perfect base camp for those seeking to climb Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnukur.
Eyjafjordur is a fjord in North Iceland, over 70 km in length from the mouth to the bottom of the fjord. There are high mountains on both sides, the highest being Kerling (1538 m). The capital of the North, Akureyri (ca. 18,000 inhabitants) lies at the bottom of the fjord.
Five smaller fishing villages are scattered on the shore and the agriculture in the countryside is lively. Big fishing companies are located in Akureyri and there is a university there. Higher education, tourism and services have become among the fastest growing sectors of the Akureyri's economy in recent years. Akureyri has a strong cultural scene and we particularly recommend strolling through the old part of the town and visiting its many interesting museums, such as Nonni Museum and Davidshus. If you like skiing or snowboarding one of the country's best skiing sites is located at Hlidarfjall by Akureyri.
The islands Hrisey and Grimsey, known as the 'Pearl of Eyjafjordur' and 'The Pearl on the Artic Circle' both belong to the municipality of Akureyri. These beautiful and peaceful islands should not be missed by those traveling to the North.
One of Iceland's most beloved poets, Jonas Hallgrimsson, was born in Eyjafjordur, at Hraun in Oxnadalur. The knife-edged peaks over Hraun, formed by glaciers and frosty weather, are highly impressive sight. The best known of these is Hraundrangi ('Steeple Rock'), as one of Jonas's most famous poems, the love poem Ferdalok ('Journey's End') refers to the clouded love star over the peak.
The star of love
over Steeple Rock
is cloaked in clouds of night.
It laughed, once, from heaven
on the lad grieving
deep in the dark valley.
The poem ends on a more hopeful note, however:
The heavens part
the high planets,
blade parts back and edge;
not even eternity can part
souls that are sealed in love
Translation by Dick Ringler. Shared with kind permission.
Borgarfjordur is a fjord and a district in south western Iceland, by Faxafloi bay. It takes its name from the farm of viking and poet Egill Skallagrimsson, of Egil’s Saga fame.
Economy, History & Culture
Several farms and townships are in the fjord, the largest rural area being the town Borgarnes (population around 1763 people), a commerce and service center for a large part of the southwest. Of particular note for travelers are the Settlement Center and the Centre for Puppet Art.
At Hvanneyri there is an Agricultural University and a Technical museum shows the developing of Icelandic farming. The same latter building has an interesting handicraft center.
Reykholt is one of the most historically important places in the country and hosts a center for medeval studies, Snorrastofa. Snorrastofa is named after writer and chieftain Snorri Sturluson, author of Snorra-Edda and Heimskringla. Snorri's Edda is the main source we have about the olden northern gods and the history of Scandinavia. Among the many who have found inspiration in it are author J.R.R. Tolkien (most famous for The Lord of the Rings) and composer Richard Wagner with his four operas collectively named Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Hvita river runs through the fjord, but should not be confused with the popular rarfting river of the same name in Arnessysla. The mountains of the district are highly scenic and varied, lending further beauty to the area. Many rare minreals have been found here. The district also has some of the best salmon rivers in Iceland. The horseriding culture is particularly strong and many riding tours available for travelers.
Natural attractions further include the Hraunfossar waterfalls, streaming out of Hallmundarhraun lava over a distance of about 900 m into Hvita river. In the same lava field is Surtshellir, the most famous and longest lava cave in Iceland. Its innermost part is called ‘The Ice Cave’. There the ceiling is lower and remarkabe ice formations, ice candles and columns may be sighted. In Reykholtsdalur is Europe's highest-flowing hot spring, Deildartunguhver.
Hofn a Hornafirdi, is a fishing town in southeast Iceland, with a population of 1641 (as of 2011). It has a strong harbour and its main industries are fishing and tourism.
Of note are several interesting museums and the annual Humarhatid (lobster festival). The area is also rich and varied birdlife and migratory birds from Scotland land here around April and leave around August/September.
Reynisfjara is a world-famous black-sand beach found on the South Coast of Iceland, just beside the small fishing village of Vík í Mýrdal.
With its enormous basalt stacks, roaring Atlantic waves and stunning panoramas, Reynisfjara is widely considered to be the most beautiful example of Iceland’s black sand beaches. In 1991, National Geographic voted Reynisfjara as one of the Top 10 non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet.
Reynisfjara is found around 180 km from Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, and is a popular stop-off for those taking a sightseeing tour along South Coast. Driving to the beach is particularly easy, taking an approximate two and a half hours from the capital.
Upon visiting the beach, travellers will immediately observe rocky sea stacks sitting off the shoreline, known as Reynisdrangar. According to local Icelandic folklore, these large basalt columns were once trolls engaged in trying to pull ships from the ocean. However, as bad luck would have it, the dawn quickly arose, turning the trolls into solid stone.
Another legend tells of a husband whose wife was kidnapped and killed by two trolls. The man followed the trolls down to Reynisfjara where he froze them, ensuring that they would never kill again.
The sea stacks themselves are home to thousands of nesting seabirds. Species that can be found here include Puffins, Fulmars and Guillemots, making it a must-see location for all birdwatchers out there.
Visitors to Reynisfjara must be made well aware of the potential dangers present at the beach. First of all, the rolling, roaring waves of Reynisfjara are particularly violent, often pushing far further up the beach than many would expect.
Visitors are advised to never turn their back on the waves, don't go chasing after them and keep a safe distance of 20-30 metres.
Aside from these sudden and dramatic shifts in tide (known as “sneaker waves”), the currents off the shore are infamous for their strength and ability to drag helpless people out into the freezing cold open ocean. A number of fatal accidents have occurred at Reynisfjara, the last of which occurred in January 2017.
Reykholt in Borgarfjordur district is among the most important historical places in the country.
In Reykholt is Snorrastofa, a center for medeval studies, named after historian, poet and politician Snorri Sturluson.
As well as being a powerful chieftain in his time, Snorri is most famous as the author of Heimskringla, an account of the Norwegian kings from the 10th century to the 12th and Snorra-Edda, the most important work we have about both the ancient Nordic poetry forms and imagery as well as on Nordic mythology. Snorri is also believed to have written one of the greatest and most beloved Icelandic sagas, Egils saga.
There is a lot of geothermal activity in the area of Reykholt, one of the country's oldest structures, Snorralaug geothermal pool, named after Snorri is found here. Notable hot springs nearby are Skrifla, Dynkur and Deildartunguhver, Europe's most powerful hot spring.
If you're looking to stay more than a day in Reykholt or nearby, there are several hotels in the vicinity, among them the the beautifully built boarding school that functions as an Edda-hotel in the summer.
Barnafoss ('Children's Waterfall') is a waterfall in Hvita river in Borgarfjordur.
The waterfall runs through a narrow rocky gorge and legend has it that there once was a natural stone arc over the river, that was demolished after two children fell from it to their death. Not far away is the stunning series of waterfalls Hraunfossar, flowing out of a lava field into Hvita.
Skeidararsandur is a vast sand plain, formed from alluvial deposits. It covers 1300 km², making it the largest sand in the world.
There is little vegitation in general to be found at Skeidararsandur. It is very rocky near the glacier, becoming more muddy and gravelly further on and made up of of sand and clay where it reaches the sea. Carex does however grow to a degree at Skeidararsandur and it is one of the largest nesting places for the Great Skua. There is also an abundance of seals by the shore.
Eruptions under the Vatnajokull glacier have caused many glacial bursts, the latest one being in 1996. They start at the Grimsvotn volcanic area and are known as Skeidararhlaup.
The Skutustadagigar are pseudocraters at the southern shore of Lake Myvatn.
The craters were formed by steam explosions, when boiling lava flowed over the wetlands. The wetlands are preserved and are popular for birdwatching.
Grjótagjá is a small lava cave located near lake Mývatn. It features a geothermal hot spring inside.
Grjótagjá was popular for bathing until the 1970s but fell out of use during eruptions from 1975 to 1984. However, the temperature is slowly falling down.
Outlaw Jon Markusson lived in this cave in the early 18th century.
The fictional characters Jon Snow and the wildling Ygritte were also filmed inside this cave in the TV series Game of Thrones in season 3, episode 5. For that episode an additional CGI waterfall was added to the scenery.
Vik in Myrdalur valley is the southernmost village on the Icelandic mainland, located 186 km from the capital Reykjavik.
Vik is important as a service centre for the inhabitants and visitors of the marvellous Reynisfjara beach.
Reynisfjara is widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches on earth (see for example Islands Magazine). This black pebble beach boasts an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns called Gardar, which resembles a rocky step pyramid and out in the sea are the spectaculary shaped basalt sea stacks Reynisdrangar. The area has rich birdlife, including puffins, fulmars and guillemots.
Seydisfjordur is a town of around 668 people in East Iceland, innermost of the fjord of the same name. Along with natural attractions, its annual LungA festival has gained it increased interest in later years.
The main economy of Seydisfjordur has largely been the fishing industry, but the town has seen increased tourism in later years. The town has a good harbour and the ferry Norraena is operated from there and sails over to Scandinavia. The town offers good services and has become increasingly popular for its annual LungA art festival.
Culture & history
Old and charming wooden houses are notable in the town and the country's oldest powerplant, Fjardasel, built in 1913, is located in the vicinity, near to many beautiful waterfalls. The town was used for British and American army bases during WWII and the remains from this activity can still be seen.
The town has a vibrant cultural scene. Artist Dieter Roth has a residence and art studio in Seydisfjordur and the town further hosts a telecommunications museum, an arts centre, one of the two cinemas in East Iceland, and, last but not least, the annual LungA festival.
The LungA art festival is July 14-18 and features workshops, exhibitions, a fashion show etc. as well as concerts. Many of Iceland's top musicians have participated in the festival, among them Retro Stefson, Samaris, Mugison, Ojba Rasta and Hermigervill.
Nature & nearby surroundings
There are several beautiful waterfalls in the area that are worth visiting, such as near Fjardarsel and in Fjardara river. The rock stratum Nedri Stafur, at an altitude of over 300 m is considered an absolute must-see for travelers of the area.
No less important, around 17 km from the town, is the nature reserve Skalanes, covering around 1250 hectars and featuring 47 different bird species and 150 plant species, along with many interesting geoloccal formations. Reindeers wander the area and seals and porpoises frequent the sand shores. Over 90 archeological sites can further be found in the area and impressive mountains are nearby. The nature reserve also features a nice guesthouse.
Vesturdalur (not to be confused with the one in North Iceland) is further popular for a hike. It has several nice waterfalls as well as archelocial sites and remains of former settlement. Mt. Bjolfur is also popular for hiking, and gives a good view of the area.
Viti (meaning 'Hell') in Krafla is an explosion crater. It is one of the two most famous Viti craters in Iceland, the other being Viti in Askja.
This particular Viti was formed in 1724 by a massive eruption in the Krafla volcano, known as Myvatnseldar, that lasted for five years. The diameter of the crater is around 300 meters and it has an aqua blue lake inside it.
One of Iceland's most beloved poets, Jonas Hallgrimsson, wrote the poem 'Viti' inspired by the crater, which was later set to choral music by Icelandic composer Jon Leifs. This impressive piece is now set to have its first cd recording, performed by the Icelandic University Choir.
Sauðárkrókur (a.k.a. 'Krókurinn'), is the largest urban area in Skagafjörður in north Iceland and the second-largest town of the north. Its population is roughly 2600. It is the centre for commerce, services, and food production for the area. It has a secondary school that serves the northwestern part of Iceland, as well as a primary school and a health centre.
Sauðárkrókur's economy is fairly diverse. Along with services and tourism, the economy is focused on fishing, dairy products, light industry and broad-based services.
Sports & Activities
Sauðárkrókur is known as a sports town and has a horse riding hall, a sports house, a swimming pool and a great skiing area at Tindastóll. The town offers all general services, such as banks, restaurants, hotel and guesthouse lodgings and restaurants.
An attraction where history and recreation can be said to meet is the Grettislaug pool, which may be reached from Sauðárkrókur, though it may take some time to reach it due to road accessibility. Outlaw Grettir of Grettis Saga fame is said to have warmed himself in a geothermal pool after his swim of about 7.5 kilometres from Drangey island. The pool was reconstructed in 1992 and another one was added in 2006. Both pools are built with natural stones and have bathing water temperature. Please note that there are no changing facilities around springtime.
Culture & History
Sauðárkrókur features a good drama society and a music school. The regional archives of Skagafjörður district, one of the best archives in the country, are kept in the town. This is also a popular sanctuary for scholars seeking peace and quiet for their work.
The Minjahús in Sauðárkrókur focuses on workshops from 1925-1985 and is worth a visit. You may also see an iron workshop in the town, operated from 1925 to 1926.
The Minjahús is part of Byggðasafn Skagfirðinga i.e. The Regional Museum of Skagafjörður, which also includes Glaumbær. Glaumbær is a turf farmhouse, with buildings ranging in age from the 18th century to the 19th, renovated in 1947. It forms the backdrop of exhibitions that focus on the farm life of 18th and 19th century Iceland and also has two more 19th century-buildings, Gilsstofa and Áshús. The latter has exhibitions and a nice coffee shop. Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir is said to have lived at Glaumbær in the saga age, the first European mother on American ground.
At around 30 km drive from Sauðárkrókur you can see the ancient bishop seat at Hólar in Hjaltadalur valley. Hólar also features an agricultural university.
The origin of Sæluvika Skagfirðinga (the Skagafjörður Pleasantry Week') dates back to the 19th century and this festival is celebrated yearly at Sauðárkrókur, at the beginning of May. It features drama, singing, banquets dancing, art shows and more.
Glaumbaer, in the Skagafjordur district in North Iceland, is a museum featuring a renovated turf farm and timber buildings, showcasing 18th and 19th-century life in Iceland.
The buildings of the turf farm range in age from the 18th century to the 19th and were renovated in 1947. The farm forms the backdrop of exhibitions that focus on the farm life of 18th and 19th century Iceland and also has two more 19th century-buildings, Gilsstofa and Ashus. Ashus has exhibitions and a nice coffee shop. Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir is said to have lived at Glaumbaer in the saga age, the first European mother on American ground.
Skriduklaustur is a culture and learning institute in the valley of Fljotsdalur in East Iceland. It is a historical site and home to the Gunnar institute, dedicated to the life and works of author Gunnar Gunnarsson.
History and premises
Skriduklaustur was a major monastery in the middle ages and much research work along with excavations are being done at the site.
The current building, Gunnarshus, was commissioned by Icelandic author Gunnar Gunnarsson, who had it built in 1939. A stately mansion, the house was designed in a South-Bavarian style by German architecht Fritz Höger. The house features a museum on Gunnar and hosts various exhibitions on Gunnar and his work, as well as cultural events. The house offers a guest apartment for writers and scholars and a restaurant. There is also a visitors centre for Vatnajokull national park, home to Europe’s largest glacier.
Skriduklaustur operates a research center as well, dedicated to agricultural developments.
Gone are the years when I was young and still innocent except for original sin … the years when adventures brought me experience without bitterness … the years when my sympathy with all things living was uncritical and intense … when God seemed to me a generous, friendly grandfather, the Devil a rather dangerous and moody but, on the whole, essentially stupid and harmless godfather … the years when light was triumphant indeed, and all evil, all fear, could be turned aside by an Our Father or the sign of the cross, the years when in the morning I could but dimly forsee the evening, and sat safely in the shelter of a wall of sods playing with straw … these indeed are the years that will never return.
And it is not only the years that have passed. Many of those then living are now dead, others scattered to the winds; even their memory only peeps out intermittently, like stars between the breaks in a cloud-covered sky.
Gunnar Gunnarsson, Fjallkirkjan-Leikur ad Straum (1923).
One of the greatest Icelandic prose writers, Gunnar grew up in the late 19th Century at the farms Valthjofsstadur, in Fljotdalur valley and later at Ljotsstadir in Vopnafjordur, both in the Fljotsdalsherad district. As a young man, he moved to Denmark, lived there from 1907 to 1939. Through struggles grew to be one of the most widely read authors in Denmark and Germany in his time.
Gunnar wrote about two dozen novels, dozens of short stories, a few plays and several poems, along with many lectures and articles. His greatest works are marvelous works of art. These include the autobiographical novel cycle Fjallkirkjan, (published in English as Ships in the Sky and The Night and the Dream), Svartfugl (The Black Cliffs), Adventa (The Good Shepherd) and Vikivaki. His first book, Saga Borgaraettarinnar (translated to English as Guest the One-Eyed) was made into a film, Borgslaegtens historie in 1920. Gunnar donated Skriduklaustur to the Icelandic state in 1948 and lived the rest of his life in Reykjavik. He is buried off the shore of the capital, at Videy island.
Laugarvatn is a hamlet of around 200 people, by the lake of the same name and originally formed around the boarding school there. It is located in South Iceland, around 93 km from Reykjavik. Laugarvatn is popular as a summer resort and as a stop for travelers, as it is located near many of Iceland’s top attractions, such as Gullfoss and Geysir (part of the Golden Circle) and the ancient Skalholt bishop seat.
Environment & Spa
The environment of Laugavatn is very pleasant, as a forest has been planted there and brooks and streams further contribute to the scenery. A beautiful and shallow lake, Lake Laugarvatn is rich in aquatic life and good char and lake trout fishing can be made there as well. Boats and gear for watersport can indeed be rented at Laugarvatn. As the shores of the lake feature geothermal springs, it was decided to build a spa there.
At the Fontana spa at Laugarvatn you can relax in the excellent geothermal swimming pool and the three steam rooms known collectively as Gufan. The spa also features a Finnish-style sauna and three interconnected mineral baths. At the spa you can also enjoy the stone artwork of artist Erla Thorarinsdottir. At the Viska hot tub you’ll further have a nice view of the Laugarvatn surroundings. Vatnid (‘The Lake’) and Strondin (‘The Beach’) complete the experience, the black sand of the former having been shown to be beneficial to those suffering from joint illnesses and Vatnid offering a healthy cooling down between visiting Gufan and the Ylur sauna.
Gallery & Accommodation
While at Laugarvatn, we also recommend checking out the Gallery Laugarvatn, which features a wide display of Icelandic handicraft and offers bed and breakfast as well.
Laugarvatn has a boarding school that functions as a popular hotel, i.e. Hotel Edda, in the summer. A number of guesthouses, hostels, rental apartments and cottages are also to be found in the area. Laugarvatn offers all basic services and is highly popular throughout the year.
Located in the north-west, Hofsós is one of the oldest trading posts in Iceland, dating back to the 1500s. Today, it is a sleepy fishing village, though tourism is now on the rise thanks to the recent addition of a designer swimming pool.
In the 16th century, Hofsós seemed destined to develop into a large and prosperous town. It was built centre-north of the country, there was easy access for boats to land, the fishing was rife and, most importantly, it was a trading port for the Danish Trade Monopoly. Given that Iceland was under Danish crown rule, this trade monopoly ensured the then King of Denmark, Christian IV, that he could both pursue his mercantilist priorities and maintain overseas territories. An old wooden warehouse, Pakkhúsið, still exists in the town dating back to this period, which ended in 1786 following the cessation of the Danish Trade Monopoly. However, Hofsós failed to develop substantially in the 20th Century, and to this day is still a fairly quiet village West of Akureyri.
A number of harbour-side buildings have been converted to the Iceland Emigration Centre, a museum dedicated to the story of Icelandic emigration to North America. Icelander Leif Erikson was, arguably, the first man of European descent to make landfall in North America, estimated at around 1000AD, five centuries before Christopher Columbus. His worthy voyage cowers in comparison to the countries’ later mass exodus. Iceland lost 16,000 residents between 1870 to 1914, all pursuing the dream of a “New Iceland”. Further thousands left after the Second World War, many settling in the Upper Midwest of the United States. The Iceland Emigration Centre’s main exhibition is a collection of letters, photographs and displays called “New Land, New Life”, which brings this story to greater attention.
Since 2010, Hofsós has boasted an outdoor swimming pool and adjacent hot pot - Sundlaugin á Hofsósi - built fjord side and beautifully integrated into the landscape. Swimmers are privy to truly majestic views of the area. Boat tours are available for bird watching and sightseeing trips to the uninhabited island of Málmey.
Flúðir is a small-scale village located in the municipality of Hrunamannahreppur in the Southern Region of Iceland.
The village has the river Litla-Laxá running through it into the larger river of Hvítá, and is overlooked by the mountain Miðfell. With a population of just under 400 people, its residency has grown around greenhouse activity and general horticulture, which continues to be the area's main produce.
Being located near the ever-popular destinations Gullfoss and Geysir, the village and its surrounding area are known for being exceptionally green, plentiful and warm because of geothermal activity. The aforementioned rivers are awash with trout and salmon, and the village's surrounding farmlands are acclaimed for their cultivation of plants, beef and dairy.
Sights, services and accommodation
Flúðir has long been a favoured camping destination amongst Icelanders. Visitors can camp at Tjaldmiðstöðin Flúðum or the nearby Álfaskeið, next to the farm Syðra-Langholt.
Since 1999 the particularly luxurious Hotel Flúðir has also been available for accommodation and fine dining. Because of the region's plentiful organic produce, the acclaimed hotel restaurant prides itself in serving solely locally-grown fruits and vegetables.
Another advantage of the geothermal activity includes natural and age-old thermal pools. Although the minuscule Hrunalaug has undergone a great deal of damage lately due to an excessive traffic of visitors, the larger-scale Secret Lagoon at Hverahólmi has been modified to accommodate a much larger number of people, whilst still preserving its natural terrain.
The water in these hot springs stays at a temperature of 38-40° Celcius (100° Fahrenheit) throughout the entire year. Built in the year 1891, The Secret Lagoon is officially the oldest swimming pool in Iceland.
Other sights include the folk museum at Gröf, the golf course Selsvöllur, the horse rental at Syðra-Langholt and Flúðasveppir, the country's largest mushroom manufacture.
Kirkjubæjarklaustur (referred to locally as ‘Klaustur’) is a village of approximately 120 inhabitants in the Skaftárhreppur municipality of south of Iceland. Situated by the Ring Road, approx. 250 km east of Reykjavík, Klaustur is one of the few villages providing amenities—eg. fuel, post office, bank, supermarket— between Vík í Mýrdal and Höfn.
The history of Kirkjubæjarklaustur differs, in many respects, to the traditional Icelandic settlement. “Papar”, the Icelandic title for travelling Irish monks, were thought to have settled the area long before the Norsemen. In that tradition, it was claimed that pagans of no kind would set foot in Klaustur; this was a strictly Christian area.
Stories have permeated, with one telling of a pagan, Hildir Eysteinsson, who attempted to move there in the 10th Century. Upon setting foot across the border, he fell instantly dead and was buried on the neighbouring hill, Hildishaugur (“Hildir’s Mound.”)
Despite twisting the tongue, the full village name 'Kirkju-bæjar-klaustur' actually tells the story of the area well; 'Kirkju' means church, 'bæjar' means farm and 'klaustur' means convent. The word 'Klaustur' was added to the original name 'Kirkjubær' in 1186 AD when a convent of Benedictine nuns settled there.
In the 364 years leading to the Reformation in 1550 AD, Klaustur did much for the oral history of south Iceland. Systrastapi (Sister’s Rock), the Systrafoss waterfall and lake Systravatn all take their names from the nun’s settlement.
The folklore relating to these sites are rich in tales of religious heresy, superstition and death. Sister’s Rock, for instance, has been said to be the burial site of two nuns executed for sinful behaviour. Selling their soul to the devil, removing communion bread from church, carnal knowledge with men, blasphemy toward the pope; these were just some of the accusations brought against them. Guilty or not, the nuns were swiftly burnt at the stake.
Following the Reformation, one of the nuns was vindicated for her actions, and it is said that flowers soon bloomed on top of her grave. The other’s grave has remained barren, a continuing reminder of the lady’s ethereal disapproval.
Despite its petite size, Klaustur is an important crossroads to the attractions nestled at the centre of the island, namely the Laki Craters in Vatnajokull National Park and the Landmannalaugar hiking trails in the scenic Fjallabak Nature Reserve. Only a few kilometres from the village itself lies the spectacular Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.
A short walk east of Kirkjubæjarlaustur will take you to the fascinating Kirkjugólfið “Church Floor”, an 80 square metre flat of basalt columns, shaped and formed naturally by tide and glacial melts.
Reynisdrangar are rock formations situated near the shore of Reynisfjara beach by the coastal village Vík í Mýrdalur on the South Coast of Iceland.
The formations are large and impending sea cliffs, made up of the rock type basalt, that serve as a vital part of the area’s allure as they shoot dramatically out of the ocean under the looming cliffs of Mt. Reynisfjall.
- Visit Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar on these South Coast Tours
The village of Vík only houses around 300 permanent inhabitants, but on a daily basis, travellers scouting the South Coast make their way there to visit what has been voted as one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world. The beach of Reynisfjara, however, can be highly dangerous if proper caution is not taken. As is evident from how the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash upon Reynisdrangar, the currents here are strong, and sneak waves can easily carry anyone that’s standing too close out to sea. The beach is not for wading, but for admiring, and especially the mighty surf bursting on the base of these rocky cliffs.
There is an Icelandic folk tale that explains the origin of the pillars’ eerie appearance. According to legend, a couple of trolls were busy dragging a stranded three-masted ship to shore when the sunlight hit them and turned them into pillars of rock for all eternity. In fact, numerous rock formations in Iceland carry with them tales of trolls or elves, and one has only to look at them to fathom why.
Surroundings & Wildlife
An alternative view of the bewitching cliffs and their surrounding sea can be enjoyed by venturing up Mt. Reynisfjall, by a road to the west of the village. The mountain furthermore functions as a puffin colony every summer, from April to September, meaning guests can enjoy the view in good company. Other birds can be seen gliding around the cliffs such as Arctic terns, fulmars and seagulls.
- See also: Puffin Watching Tours
Hvítserkur, sometimes referred to as the “Troll of North-West Iceland”, is a 15m (49ft) basalt stack protruding from Húnaflói bay, along the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes peninsula. Hvítserkur gets its name from the birdlife nesting atop it. In Icelandic, the name translates to “white shirt”, a nod to the colour of the bird droppings that cover the rock.
It should come as no surprise that Hvítserkur is often referred to as a troll. Folklore implies that Hvítserkur was originally a troll determined to rip the bells down from Þingeyraklaustur convent, an apparent allusion to the people’s stoic resistance to the Christianisation of Iceland. However, as goes the story, the troll paralysed by walking out under sunlight and quickly turned to stone. The Hvítserkur stack is all that remains.
The scientific community has another explanation. Erosion from the cascading sea water has carved three large holes through the basalt rock, sculpting and shaping it into what appears as some petrified, mythological animal. The base of the stack has been reinforced with concrete to protect its foundations from the sea, but this has not stopped visitors’ interpreting the rock’s peculiar shape. Some say Hvítserkur looks like an elephant, others a rhino. Some onlookers have gone as far as to claim the rock appears as a “dinosaur drinking.” Whatever the case, the rock is a nesting ground for seagulls, shag and fulmar, making it appear constantly in motion, further enforcing the idea that Hvítserkur is, in some way, very much alive.
To the south, visitors to Hvítserkur can detour toward Sigríðarstaðir, a location reputable for viewing seal colonies. Hvítserkur is also only a short drive from the historical and quintessential Súluvellir farm, a location that boasts incredible views of the surrounding landscape.
Djúpivogur is a small coastal village located on the Búlandsnes peninsula, nestled between the picturesque fjord, Hamarsfjörður, and Berufirth in east Iceland.
The town has an approximate population of 400 people. Fishing has been the primary engine for Djúpivogur’s economy for centuries. In recent times, the tourism industry has blossomed and a hotel, restaurants, cafés, a campground and shops can all be found in and around the town.
Djúpivogur’s history is deeply interlinked with trading. Records show that Djúpivogur was a trading centre as far back as 1589, meaning over four centuries of commerce in the region. The historic building Langabúð (the oldest warehouse in Djúpivogur), constructed in 1790, has recently been renovated and now serves as the town's cultural centre. Inside is the Heritage Museum, dedicated Djúpivogur’s commercial past.
The cultural centre also displays the incredible sculptures of the late artist, Ríkarður Jónsson (1888-1977). In addition, the town has excellent sports facilities, a swimming pool, museums, and a garden of outdoor sculptures named Eggin in Gleðivík, by Sigurður Guðmundsson. By design or not, these sculptures perfectly capture the prospering local birdlife across the region and make for beautiful photographs.
The landscape around Djúpivogur is overshadowed by Búlandstindur, a pyramid-shaped basalt mountain peaking at 1069m. The mountain is known across Iceland for it’s staggering, almost sculpted beauty. According to local folklore, the mountain is able to grant wishes during the summer solstice and is an ‘energy centre’ for the entire country.
From Djúpivogur, boat tours can be taken to the largest island off east Iceland. Papey, roughly 2 square kilometres in size, was inhabited since the settlement of Iceland until as recently as 1966. The island still resonates with the ghosts of this lost settlement. The oldest wooden church in Iceland, constructed in 1807, can be found in Papey, alongside an automated weather station and a lighthouse. The island is home to an enormous colony of Atlantic Puffins, and is a fabulous day trip from mainland Iceland.
Hallormsstaðaskógur is Iceland's largest national forest, found in East Iceland near Egilsstaðir. The area is a famous for its pleasant hiking trails, wildlife and collection of tree species.
For a largely treeless landscape, a forest in Iceland is something of an enigma. However, the reforestation service of Iceland cares for 53 patches of public access land, most of which are easily accessible for travellers on the Ring Road. Hallormsstaðaskógur is Iceland’s largest forest (though small by the standards of other nations) covering 740 square kilometres.
Initial experiments in planting trees began as early as 1903, though large scale cultivation truly began in 1950. In 1905, Hallormsstaðaskógur was labelled a protected forest. Ever since then, and spite of its diminutive expanse, the forest has been greatly venerated by the local population as an area of respite from the often barren, volcanic terrain of the island.
Common tree species include native dwarf birch and mountain birch, as well as over 80 different species of tree brought from 177 locations overseas. Birds such as redpolls, goldcrests and ravens all use the forest as a sanctuary from predators, with red wings, snipes and meadow pipits joining the fray in the summer months. The area also presents opportunities for botany, as well as berry and mushroom picking. Streams running through the forest are perfectly drinkable spring water.
In June, Hallormsstaðaskógur hosts Skógardagurinn, or “Forest Day”, a weekend of accordion music, active festivities and hot-blooded competition amongst the birch trees. Here, festival-goers can enjoy logging competitions, grilled lamb served by local farmers, art exhibitions and even mini-marathons (one 4km long, the other 14km.) The Skógardagurinn celebrations are a fantastic treat for all the family and provide great insight into the culture of Iceland’s less visited regions.
There are two camping areas in Hallormsstaðaskógur: Atlavík, located in the picturesque tree cover of the inner-forest, and Höfðavík, a site providing a more luxurious standard of service for visitors.
The Diamond Beach is the name of a strip of black sand belonging to the greater Breiðamerkursandur glacial plain, located by the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon on the South Coast of Iceland.
Breiðamerkursandur is a glacial outwash plain located in the municipality of Hornafjörður. The sand stretches approximately 18 kilometres along Iceland’s South Coast, more specifically from the foot of Kvíárjökull Glacier to the famed glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón, that nests by the foot of Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier. Both glaciers count amongst the 30 outlets of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest ice cap.
The outwash plain was formed when three of Vatnajökull’s outlet glaciers, Breiðamerkurjökull, Hrútárjökull and Fjallsjökull, flowed forward due to volcanic activity and ground the rocks of the underlying surface, creating and pushing forward the glacial sediments. Such sand plains are a common part of the Icelandic landscape, due to the island being volcanically active as well as boasting numerous ice caps. The terminus (the tip of a given glacier) also dug deep into the ground and left what is now the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is one of the most famed and visited attractions in Iceland. Floating on the lagoon are enumerable ice bergs that have broken off the resident glacier, creating an ever-changing scenery of incredible allure.
The river Jökulsá connects the lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean, meaning that these icebergs eventually drift out to sea where they are polished by the waves before floating back to the black sands of Breiðamerkursandur. The name "Diamond Beach" comes from the white ice on the black sand appearing like gemstones or diamonds, as they often glisten in the sun and sharply contrast their jet black surroundings.
Fully escorted 7-day bus tour with an English-speaking guide.
Accommodation with breakfast for 6 nights
Entrance with towel at Myvatn Nature Baths
Entrance to all museums
Whale Watching in Akureyri
What to bring:
Day 1 - The Golden Circle
Heading out from Reykjavík City, your adventure starts with the number one attraction of Iceland, the Golden Circle route. First up is Þingvellir National Park, a volcanic wonderland situated on the very rift of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Next up, after a stop at Lake Laugarvatn, is the one and only Gullfoss, a massive three-stepped waterfall of incredible, unharnessed power. Keep an eye out for a stone mural of the woman who threatened to throw herself down the falls for their protection, which is now thankfully established by the state.
Then it is off to the geothermal paradise Haukadalur, home to the two famous geysers Geysir and Strokkur. The mostly dormant Geysir is the very namesake of the phenomena, but Strokkur is still alive and kicking, spouting every 10-15 minutes in a striking display of hydrothermal activity.
After lunch, you will make your way to Flúðir, an archaic village of greenhouse activity and general horticulture. Then it is time to get back on the highway and head south, witnessing the sun setting behind the infamous and active ice-capped volcano Eyjafjallajökull.
Your final destination for the day is Seljalandsfoss, one in the most visited waterfalls in Iceland, in large due to the fact that you can walk behind it. Standing in the mist of the waterfall in the twilight is the perfect end to your first day, after which you will retreat to your accommodation for the night.
Day 2 - The South Coast
On your second day, you will continue your exploration of the south coast and its plentiful attractions. First up is a visit to Skógafoss, one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland, plummeting 15 metres off the cliffs of a former coastline. Because of the waterfall's great produce of mist, it is common for it to display a rainbow or two whenever the sun is smiling.
Your next stop will be at the family farm Þorvaldseyri. There you will watch a short documentary on the nearby Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which so memorably erupted back in 2010, causing a near global disturbance to air travels.
Next up is the black sand beach Reynisfjara by the village of Vík in Mýrdalur. Visible just offshore are Reynisdrangar Cliffs, a unique formation of basalt sea stacks. Remember to look up at Mt. Reynisfjall for the numerous colourful puffins that nest in its cliffs during the summer months.
You will then drive across the post-apocalyptic lava fields of Eldgjá and learn all about the catastrophic eruption of the 18th century, that nearly wiped out the island’s entire population. Be prepared to behold clusters of volcanic craters and a landscape of ancient cataclysms.
After a stopover in the tiny village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, get ready to venture across the vast expanse of Skeiðarársandur, where Europe’s largest ice cap Vatnajökull hovers over the horizon.
The last stop of the day is the one and only Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, where huge pieces of ice, broken from Vatnajökull, float in an ever changing scenery. The neighbouring Diamond Beach is where some of the ice collects to glisten in the sun.
Your accommodation for the night awaits, where you can gather your strengths for the following days on the road.
Day 3 - Trailing through Fjords
It’s time to venture to the south-east, where you will begin by visiting the town Höfn and its surrounding area of Hornafjörður. Reindeer commonly reside in these domains, and there is a good chance of spotting them en route.
You will then make a detour to the headland Stokksnes to admire the towering cliffs of Vestrahorn. Be prepared to drive through this desolated area, once home to a navy base, under the watch of imposing mountains and deserted fjords.
Your next stop is at Djúpivogur, a peninsula-nesting town in the east. It is home to the strange sculpture installation known as the Eggs of Merry Bay, by local artist Sigurður Guðmundsson. You will rest at this picturesque town for a short while before getting back on the road.
You will then continue on your trail east, driving from village to village while enjoying the scenery of the fjords so central to this part of Iceland. Remember that the exact locations of this tour are interchangeable to the needs and wants of the group, but each location has a story to tell and sights to behold.
Day 4 - Lake Mývatn
The east of Iceland is on today’s agenda. You will start by exploring the great lake Lagarfljót, home to the legend of Lagarfljótsormurinn; an aquatic monster believed to live in the depths of the waters. Near the lake, you’ll find Hallormsstaðaskógur, one of Iceland’s larger forests.
Depending on the weather conditions of the day, you will visit the waterfall Hengifoss, the ancient manor estate and museum Skriðuklaustur, or drive to the idyllic fjord town Seyðisfjörður.
Your journey continues through the wilderness of Möðrudalsöræfi, driving for hours through an otherworldly and uninhabited mountainous terrain. The sense of isolation in this area is an experience of its own, but you might catch a glimpse of the few habitat reindeer.
Afterwards, you will visit Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, where you can feel the earth trembling beneath your feet. The route will then take you to Lake Mývatn, a wetland conservation area and one of the highlights of your journey.
This eutrophic lake of the North is situated in an area of active volcanism. The geothermal fields of Námaskarð boast of a multi-coloured scenery, roaring steam vents and bubbling mud pools. Nearby lies the Krafla caldera, where you will visit the volcanic crater Víti.
Your fourth day ends with a much-needed soak in the Mývatn Nature Baths, renowned for the skin-healing abilities of the alkaline and mineral-rich water. You will spend the night at an accommodation in Lake Mývatn.
Day 5 - The North
On your fifth day, you will continue your exploration of Mývatn’s nature reserve, hiking through the lava formations of Dimmuborgir, a citadel of volcanic rocks. Numerous caves are to be found in the area, including the lava cave Grjótagjá and its geothermal hot spring; location of a wildling love scene in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
After emerging from the cave, you will pay a visit to the Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters, formed by powerful gas explosions when boiling lava flowed over the wetlands. Then, it is time to get back on the bus and drive up to the stunning falls of Goðafoss, rightly named ‘waterfall of the gods’.
The falls get their namesake from when the pagan chieftain Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, back in 930 AD, hurled figures of the Norse Gods into the falls, demonstrating the end of pagan worship and the beginning of Christianity.
You will also visit a nearby old church dedicated to the memory of Þorgeir. The route up north continues to the fjord Eyjafjörður; home to Akureyri, your final destination for today.
Day 6 - Whale Watching
Welcome to Akureyri, the ‘capital of the North’. You will start your perfect day in this picturesque town by going whale watching in the waters of Eyjafjörður, where you can gaze upon majestic creatures such as the larger-than-life Humpback in their natural habitat.
In the early afternoon, you will leave Akureyri to drive to the countryside. The routes planned for today vary according to the weather, but possibilities include the town Hofsós and its infinity swimming pool, as well as the Glaumbær Folk Museum; a heritage museum in Skagafjörður.
Next up is the town Sauðárkrókur, where you will learn all about one of its former residents, Grettir the Strong, an infamous outlaw of the 10th century. As you continue your drive through the farmlands and small villages of the area, you will find that every one of them has a story to tell.
One of these historic stops is at the desolate Þrístapar, where the last public execution in Iceland took place in 1830. Hidden beneath the peaceful turf is a fascinating story of murder, passion and deceit.
Your last stop for the day will be at Hvítserkur, a 15-metre high basalt rock formation just off the shore of the Vatnsnes Peninsula. The pinnacle is an incredibly popular stop and provides a unique photo opportunity, since the two holes at its base give it the odd appearance of an animal, such as a dragon, standing in the water.
Day 7 - Back to the City
On your last day, you will visit the numerous interesting sights of the larger Borgarfjörður area, starting with a stop at the local museum at Reykir. This charming museum holds farming and fishing equipment from the 19th and 20th century, as well as the driftwood ship Ófeigur and the only remaining shark-fishing boat in Iceland.
The land around Borgarfjörður fjord has been inhabited ever since the Age of Settlement and holds numerous citings in the Icelandic Sagas. Much later, the fjord was considered the mecca of Icelandic intellectualism, being the homeland of the acclaimed medieval author and scholar Snorri Sturluson.
You will visit the village Reykholt where he resided, and the ancient bathing pool Snorralaug named after him - the oldest human-made structure in Iceland. From Reykholt you will proceed to Deildartunguhver in Reykholtsdalur, the hot spring with the highest flow in all of Europe.
Close by are the two waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafossar, some of the last sights of your ring road excursion. The series of waterfalls are some of the most unique in the whole of the country, formed by rivulets of a lava eruption.
Lastly, you will drive through the fjord of Hvalfjörður, a site of fascinating WWII historical connotations and gorgeous landscapes. You will reach Reykjavík City around dinner time, where your ring road adventure comes to an end.
With your head full of memories and your memory card full of photos, retreat to your chambers knowing you just ventured all around this beautiful island. Book your ring road adventure now.