Visiting Iceland? All highlights + Free travel guide & tips
Iceland has a very diverse and spectacular nature. The area is easy to reach and accessible all year round therefore many tourist like to come here. One of the main and most famous highlights is the Golden Circle in southern Iceland. Want to know more about Iceland and all the things you can see and do there? We made an overview of the best highlights of Southern Iceland!
Organizing your trip to Iceland
Plane tickets, low-cost online booking
The fastest and most obvious way to get to Iceland is by plane. Looking for a cheap plane ticket? Use the site of Momondo or Skyscanner, It will look for the cheapest and most convenient flight.
On a package tour or with a tour operator?
We wrote a complete travel guide to help you prepare your trip. Organizing your own trip takes and effort, you have to plan out your route and book all the hotels. If you opt for comfort and security then it is a favorable choice to book a package holiday. You pay 1 fixed price and all stays, rental car and excursions are included in this price.
Whale watching from Reykjavik
Whale watching starts from the capital Reykjavik all year round. From here you can spot porpoises, minke whales and dolphins, but also humpbacks are often spotted in this water.
Would you like to do a whale watching tour from the harbor of Reykjavik? You can go on a whale safari from € 79 per person.
Visiting the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is Iceland's most famous hot spring and one of the most visited attractions. The warm and clear blue water provides an outdoor wellness and creates beautiful pictures. In addition, the water has a healing effect, and you can relax with mud masks and massages. Many people start or end their visit to Iceland in the Blue Lagoon. A day relaxing in the bath is definitely recommended!
The Seljalandsfoss waterfall is located on the river Seljalandsá. The waterfall is 60 meters high and falls straight down on the former coastline, creating a small lake in the middle of the green meadow. A path leads you behind the waterfall to a cave, from where you can look through the waterfall: a very special view. Be careful because the path is slippery.
The Seljalandsfoss waterfall is lit up at night which creates a beautiful spectacle. You can visit the waterfall for free in the evening and at night.
Our tip: Would you like to do an organized tour in Iceland and visit the Seljalandsfoss waterfall? Check out the possibilities here and book online.
Þórsmörk National Park
Þórsmörk National Park got its name from the Vikings who settled here, they named it after their god Thor. You can take a walk to the waterfall in the Stakkholtsgjá canyon. This spectacular green canyon is about 2 km long and up to 100 meters deep. It gives the illusion that the waterfall falls out of the sky.
During the hike you have to cross a few streams by jumping from stone to stone. Very fun!
If you have some time left you can also do the Þórsmörk panorama walk that leads to the top of the Valahnúkur from where you have a 360° view over Þórsmörk. Be sure to stop at the Gígjökull glacier tongue, part of the Eyjafjallajökull and the home of the Katla volcano (Iceland's most active volcano).
Eyjafjallajökull Erupts Museum
At the base of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, a local farmer opened the Eyjafjallajökull Erupts museum. You can watch a short film of the eruption and get more general information about volcanism in Iceland.
Seljavallalaug swimming pool
The Seljavallalaug swimming pool was built in 1923 to teach the locals how to swim. You can swim outdoors while enjoying the wonderful surroundings. The pool is built next to a cliff and is filled with water from a natural hot spring. It measures 25 meters by 10 meters and has changing rooms. The pool is always open and free of charge.
The Skógafoss waterfall is 60 meters high and 25 meters wide. It is located in the village of Skógar, which lies on the Skóga River, hence its name... Just like other waterfalls in this region, the water falls down on the former coastline. It retracted during the last ice age as the ground layers in the region were pushed upwards. It is now 5 km inland. The former cliffs form a clear barrier between the lowlands and the highlands.
A legend of rainbows and gold pots is linked to the Skógafoss waterfall. The story is still going around, by the way, and goes as follows: Þrasi Þórólfsson, one of the first Vikings to conquer the land, is said to have hidden a treasure of gold behind the waterfall. Locals managed to find the chest of gold a few years later, but they could only grab the ring with which the chest could be held. The chest disappeared into thin air, and only the ring remained. According to tradition, it was donated to the local church.
The Skógar Museum is located on the right side of the Skógafoss waterfall. It was founded in 1949 and consists of three parts and 6 historic buildings. You can see more than 15,000 local (historical) artifacts. In the replica turf houses you can imagine yourself in the time of the Vikings and experience how Icelanders lived through the centuries. There is also a souvenir shop and cafeteria.
Our tip: Spending the night in Southern Iceland? Be sure to try Hotel Laki, budget friendly, very flexible and delicious breakfast!
Solheimasandur airplane wreck
In 1973 an American Navy DC-3 crashed on the black beach of Solheimasandur, because it ran out of fuel. There is no road leading directly to the wreckage and there are no signs leading it to the plane. The place can only be reached by foot. The wreck is on private land and the owner has introduced a ban on driving a vehicle to the wreck since March 2016. You can still go there by foot, or go there with a quad tour, which is highly recommended!
Dyrhólaey ("island with a keyhole") is a cliff of 120 meters high and has a large hole in the shape of a keyhole where seawater can flow through. From the cliff you have a spectacular view of the surroundings. You can also visit the lower Dyrhólaey. There you have an excellent view over the black, volcanic beach.
In spring and summer this is a well-known breeding ground for puffins. Access to the area is therefore sometimes (May-June) limited, so that the birds are not disturbed during breeding. Puffin tours can be booked online.
The black beach of Reynisfjara
Reynishverfi is a long pebbly beach on the western side of the cliff and is characterized by many rows of basalt columns. These pillars give the beach a breathtaking view. About halfway to the coastline lies the cave Hálsanefeshellir.
Those who want to walk along the beach do so best at low tide. The beach is then the easiest to reach. Anyway, it is advisable to keep a close eye on the tides, so you won't be surprised by the rising seawater.
The legend of the 3 trolls of Reynisdrangar
On the black beach you will find the Reynisdrangar: three rock pillars that rise up to 66 meters above the sea. A legend is attached to the pillars. According to the story, the pillars were built by 3 trolls called Skessudrangur, Laddrangur and Langhamar who tried to drag a ship with three masts out of the sea at night. However, they did not succeed in bringing the vessel completely to dry land. The next morning the sun rose earlier than expected. Anyone who has read "The Hobbit" knows what happens then: the trolls changed into the three needle-shaped pillars. As every legend, there are different variations of the story.
The small village Vík is located at the foot of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier (located on the Katla volcano). Be sure to stop at the church of the village, and take the time to enjoy the beautiful view over the rocks and surroundings.
Lava fields of Eldhraun
The lava fields of Eldhraun are the result of what was probably the largest volcanic eruption in history: the eruption of the Lakagígar volcano that lasted from June 8, 1783 to February 7, 1784. It is known as Skaftareldar, which means "river fires of Skafta". It was truly an apocalyptic event with far-reaching consequences. Iceland suffered from numerous diseases, 50% of the cattle died, there were crop failures and there was a general famine. 25% of the population died.
Other countries in Europe also suffered from the eruption. Due to the fallout of volcanic ash, Britain experienced sandstorms during this period and the sunlight was blocked. Also in other countries the harvest failed and there was famine. The eruption also led to drought in distant countries such as India. Some historians even go so far as to say that the volcanic eruption contributed to the French Revolution in 1789.
Many lava fields are covered by moss. Be sure to get out and feel it. In summer there are daily tours from Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
Keldur Turf houses
Keldur is definitely worth a detour. The site is located near the Hekla volcano, and consists of 20 turf constructions, including a farm of almost 1000 years old. This site is mentioned several times in the historical Njal's Saga. The Keldur hall was probably inhabited by Jon Loftsson, a religious leader from the 12th century. The turf houses in Keldur are unique to the region. However, the most striking is the public hall which has several rooms and where you can find a narrow secret escape tunnel in the hill. This tunnel was discovered by accident in 1932.
The Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is 2 km long and 100 meters high. The gorge itself was created about 9000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, when the ice cap retreated and the current gorge was scoured further. The natural plateaus on both sides of the gorge give an idea of the former water level and the initial location of the lake.
De Kirkjugólfið (church floor)
Kirkjugólfið is an area of 80 square meters with 6-shaped basalt columns. It almost looks as if a church once stood here, with the floor as the only remnant but nothing could be further from the truth. The pillars are all formed naturally and are created by lava cooling down very slowly to eventually crystallize. In the floor there is also one column with 10 corners. Can you find it?
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park is Iceland's second largest national park. You can visit the famous Svartifoss waterfall, the Mörsárdalur valley and the glacier Skaftafellsjökull. Thanks to the mild climate in the region, it is one of the few places in Iceland where you can find a natural forest. You can visit the park starting from the spacious car park and the information centre.
There are several hiking trails and routes available. If you have the time, you should definitely take a walk on the glacier. In the visitor center there is also a film about the eruption of the Bárðarbunga volcano in 1996.
Have you ever dreamed of walking through an ice cave?
On the south side of the Vatnajökull there are several spectacular and photogenic ice caves, which you can visit with a guide. You have to book in advance. Because it has to freeze for safety reasons, therefore this activity can only be done during the winter months, from October to March. Bring a pair of good boots or hiking boots as you will be fitted with crampons, which are essential for moving around safely in the ice cave. Don't forget to wear warm clothing!
Jökulsárlón glacial lake
The glacial lake of Jökulsárlón was created in the years 1934-1935, and continued to grow. It initially had a surface area of 7.9 km², but it expanded up to at least 23 km² already. In some places, the lake is 250 meters deep, making it the deepest lake in the country. The Jökulsárlón glacier lake is only separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a very narrow strip of land.
The Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi river carries the meltwater and ice chunks to the Atlantic Ocean. Here too you can explore the lake by boat or amphibious vehicle. During a cruise between the icebergs you can even taste (!) the ice that can be up to 1000 years old, and from time to time you can spot seals.
More tours and excursions in Southern Iceland
The south of Iceland is a true paradise for anyone who wants to discover pure nature. Whether you want to visit an ice cave, descend into an extinct volcano or ride on a snowmobile over a glacier. It's all possible in Iceland. View all tours and excursions online and experience the journey of a lifetime!
What is the best season to visit Iceland?
Iceland can be visited all year round, but every season has its advantages and disadvantages. In the summer months it is warmer and you will have longer daylight. on a downside, there is no chance to see the Northern Lights and it is very busy. For the winter months, it gets very cold and certain sights cannot be reached because of the weather conditions. on the other hand, the chance to see the Northern Lights is very high.
The best travel time depends on what you want to see and do in Iceland. We have listed the pros and cons based on the seasons.
In the spring, The Icelandic landscape slowly shifts from a snow-white to a bright green scenery. The snow melts and purple lupines and bright green moss takes over the white blanket. The days are getting longer and the temperature is rising.
Different bird species come to the island to mate and hatch their eggs. From April the puffins can be spotted. Most cetaceans also return to the waters around the spring.
You have the chance to see the Northern Lights in April and May. Along, since the spring is seen as an mid-season, the prices for accommodation and car rental are lower than during high season. However, the inland is often still closed in the spring, depending on how strong the winter was.
In the summer it stays longer light, because of this you can even enjoy the midnight sun at the end of June. However, that does mean that the chances of seeing the Northern Lights are rather non-existing in the summer. It does get warmer in summer, with temperatures between 10 and 20 ° C. Due to the rise in temperature, there is no snow and less rain, making the inland of Iceland more or completely accessible.
The island is covered by many species of birds and cetaceans who reside around Iceland in the summer. In addition, you can see the Icelandic sheep and horses everywhere.
Unfortunately, summer is high season for Iceland and therefore very busy at all sights. Prices for accommodation and rental cars are much higher.
Autumn is mid-season for Iceland. It is getting colder, rainier and windier again, making it a lot less busy in terms of tourists. However, the transition from summer to winter is only very short and it can already snow at the end of September. Until then, you can enjoy the autumn colors and blueberries.
Farmers drive their sheep away from the highlands in September, therefore many sheep can be seen around the roads. Sometimes you can even help drive the sheep to their winter enclosures.
Prices for accommodation and car rental are lowered during this period, and as the nights gets longer and darker, the chances of spotting the Northern Lights also increase.
In the winter there is a lot of snow, and temperature is around freezing point. Daylight is very limited. From the end of December to mid-January there is around 4 hours of daylight. The roads inland are closed, and parts of the ring road are often closed off during heavy snow. The weather can suddenly change to snowstorms, so make sure to be prepared for this.
There are way less tourists in this season, and prices are a lot lower than in the summer. Certain activities such as driving around with a snowmobile and visiting ice caves are only possible in winter, and the long and dark nights give you a greater chance of seeing the Northern Lights. The reindeer migrates from the highlands to the lower areas in winter, which gives you a better chance of spotting one.
How to get to Iceland?
De prijzen voor een vliegticket naar IJsland liggen ook niet hoog, en gemiddeld heb je voor €200 à €250 een retourticket inclusief bagage. Natuurlijk kan de vlucht nog goedkoper zijn als je mooi van tevoren boekt.
Due to its difficult location in the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland can only be reached in two ways: by plane or by boat. The easiest and fastest way is to take a flight to Keflavik Airport. From several cities in US, UK and EU there are flights to Iceland for reasonable prices (depends on the season).
TIP: book your flight in advance to get a better deal.
It is possible to travel to Iceland by boat. There is a connection of the Smyril Line from Hirtshals in Denmark to Seyðisfjörður Iceland. You are on traveling for at least two days. An advantage of this boat trip is that there is a stop on the Faroe Islands which you can visit for a few days if you would like.
Nonetheless, the ferry is quite costly compared to going by plane, although it can be beneficial if you want to travel around Iceland for a longer time with your own car.
Which car to rent? And how?
If you would like to rent a car in Iceland, with most lenders, you have to be 20 years or older. For a 4x4 you have to be 23 or even 25 to rent it. Along, you must have had your driving license for at least one year.
Creditcard with high spending limit.
Keep in mind you always need a credit card to rent a car, and you must be able to reserve a certain amount as a deposit. For some lenders, you need to reserve a € 1300 deposit on the card, so make sure your spending limit is over € 1000.
Find out your for what you are insured and whether you need an extra insurance. Sometimes this extra insurance also lowers the risk of major costs in case of damage, as well as the deposit that is reserved on your card. Please note that damage to the underside of the car and to the tires can never be insured and is always at your own expense. The damage from off-road driving, which is incidentally illegal, and damage from driving through rivers cannot be insured.
The rental prices of cars vary considerably per model and per season, but also per lender. Assume an average of € 350 per week, with additional costs, such as insurance of € 7 - € 8 per day. There may also be a surcharge if you are under 25 years old or if you would like the possibility to have a second driver. Furthermore, an average of € 200 in petrol costs to travel around the entire island. Parking is free almost everywhere, except for a few parking spaces near the major attractions.
Money in Iceland
Króna is the Icelandic currency. Converted 130 ISK is approximately € 1, $ 0,96 (American) or £ 0,77, however, this might fluctuate depending on the exchange rate. Iceland became largely cash-free throughout the years, therefore you can pay almost anywhere with your bankcard. Nevertheless, it is still advisable to have a little cash in your pocket for emergencies or on the road, small, markets.
Iceland is not a cheap country. Like the Scandinavian countries, prices are rather high. Since many products have to be imported, therefore, the prices are higher, due to the high importation costs. Along, the fresh products that are produced in Iceland aren't much cheaper either. Eating out is also fairly pricey, so it's cheapest if you cook yourself.
When you do your shopping it is best to go to Krónan or the Bonus supermarket. These are cheaper than the 10-11 supermarkets. Try to already take dry products from home, such as rice and pasta, so you only have to buy the fresh products which will save you some money.
You can drink tap water in Iceland, so it is not necessary to stock up on bottled water. Most of the water comes from the glaciers and is filtered through the lava stones from the bottom of the rivers. It is therefore possible to drink the natural water, as long as you can see the bottom of the river or the lake.
Alcoholic drinks are very expensive. Alcohol is strictly regulated by the government, which means that there is a high tax on these drinks. A beer quickly costs five to six euros. Along, alcohol is not available in supermarkets, only in government-regulated alcohol shops.
Where to stay?
Iceland has a very wide range of accommodation. The options range from hotels to guesthouses or mountain cabines.
Hotels are mostly located in and around the cities of Reykjavik and Akureyri and beyond. There are a number of chain hotels that you can find all over Iceland, but also authentic and summer hotels that use the empty buildings of schools in the summer to build it into an accommodation. However, hotels can be quite expensive, so you quickly pay € 80 to € 120 per night.
If you want the luxury of having own accommodation, but slightly cheaper, guest houses are a good solution. These are often smaller and sometimes in a local's home. You can also stay in a farm or in a cottage in the countryside or one that is adjacent to a farm.
Iceland has several hostels where you can stay overnight for a small price. You often have the choice to stay in shared rooms or to rent a private room for a slightly higher price. Nonetheless, you do share the sanitary facilities. You pay around € 30 to € 40 per night for this.
In summer it is possible to camp at one of the many campsites. You can come with a tent or a camper. Mountain cabines are also only available in summer, and you often have to bring your own sleeping bag. For a camping or mountain cabine, you are saving the most money out of all the accommodation options.
Book everything in advance. Due to the rapid growth in tourism, Iceland is not well prepared for the high demand, as a result of which hotels fill up quickly and the cheaper cars are rented out first. Book at least three months in advance if you want a wider range to choose from for accommodation and rental cars.
Icelandic is spoken language in Iceland, a lineage of ancient Norwegian that has barely evolved due to its isolated location. It therefore resembles more to the old Scandinavian languages and the old English of a thousand years ago than to the current forms of these languages. Fortunately, most Icelanders also speak English.
Always stock up on extra food when shopping or refueling. In some parts of Iceland you cannot find a shop or gas station. It is also advisable to do your shopping in advance and take it with you in the car.
Always be well prepared for the unpredictable Icelandic weather. The weather can suddenly change from a sunny day to pouring rain. It can even snow in the summer! Leave your umbrella at home and bring a rain jacket instead. Because of the strong winds it can rain horizontally.
Where to stay in Southern Iceland
Our tip: Spending the night in Southern Iceland? Be sure to try Hotel Laki, budget friendly, very flexible and delicious breakfast!
Don't miss out on anything during your stay in Iceland, get our travel guide!
Like most of us, you don't want to miss out on anything during your vacation in Iceland. Well, we have some good news, because we already did the research for you! Buy our Iceland travel guide with 99 sights (+ GPS coordinates) and a mapped tour. Prefer to try it out first? Download your free Iceland travel guide here.