9 things you need to do in Iceland….

Iceland is one of the most incredible countries I have visited.  Found on the edge of the arctic circle winters are chilly with very little daylight and summers are bright and warm as Iceland becomes the land of the midnight sun.  Whichever time of the year you choose to visit you are sure to have a blast. Breathtaking landscapes, very friendly locals and the lovely city of Reykjavík full of nordic charm, cool bars and quirky places to eat are sure to win you over.  Iceland is easy to get around, hire a car, catch a bus from the airport or book on to a small group tour with transport provided.  There is so much to see and do in Iceland so to help you plan your own trip here are my favourites…


1. See the Northern Lights
If you go to Iceland during the winter look out for the Northern Lights, watching them dance across the nights sky, ever-changing in shape and colour is unforgettable.  The Icelandic Met Office is a great website for checking the Aurora forecast and upcoming weather conditions.  It has a helpful scale to indicate the likeliness of seeing the lights.  Hunt for them yourself or go out with a guide.  When I was in Iceland last year I went on a Super Jeep tour with Iceland Travel, it was a fantastic night.  Not only did I see the Northern Lights I also got to experience the thrill of exploring Iceland at night in a Super Jeep.  Huge wheels meant the 4×4 could plough through the deepest of snow drifts and go where others couldn’t.  We stopped at two different locations and got to witness a lot of Aurora Borealis action, once they disappeared at the first location we moved on to the next.  Finishing off the night with a hot chocolate topped with an optional glug of vodka helped to keep us warm in the freezing weather conditions.


2. Swim in a hot spring
Iceland is famous for its geothermal activity and what better way to celebrate this than with a dip in a hot pool.  The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most famous geothermal spa, located in a lava field it is a must visit.  This is not the only hot pool though, there are plenty of others to be discovered.  The Blue Lagoon was sadly closed for refurbishment when Matt and I were in Iceland, so we visited the Secret Lagoon instead, a lovely small geothermal pool which we stopped at while exploring the Golden Circle.


3. Climb to the top of Hallgrímskirkja
The very impressive Hallgrímskirkja church can be seen throughout Reykjavík, its magnificent structure was designed to look like the volcanic basalt stacks which can be spotted around Iceland.  Inside, the beautiful architecture continues and includes a huge organ with 5275 pipes.  Take the lift to the top of the 73 metre tower, it costs 900 ISK (around £6) and is well worth it.  The views of Reykjavík and the surrounding landscape are breathtaking.


4. Walk on a glacier
It’s not everyday you get to visit a glacier and Iceland is the place to do it.  Mýrdalsjökull glacier near Vik was incredible to see and get up close to.  Unfortunately as I was six months pregnant I couldn’t hike it but it was fun to watch others making the trek up and along this impressive landscape.  Hearing the cracks and seeing the incredible blues of the ice is just out of this world.  If you get the chance to walk on one, do it!


5. Walk along the black sand on Reynisfjara Beach
This beach near Vik is famous for its black sand, caused by volcanic activity it is a beach like no other and worthy of taking plenty of photos.  Stroll along the mysterious shoreline looking out for the huge basalt columns jutting out from the cliffs and the basalt stacks out at sea.  Icelandic folklore suggests that mischievous trolls trying to drag a ship to shore were unwittingly turned into these imposing structures.  Watch out for the waves here, there are dangerous undertows and the water can be unpredictable.  Be sure to stay out of the water and admire it at a safe distance from the shoreline.


6. Stroll between tectonic plates
Walking between tectonic plates is a unique experience, head to Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir) the sight of the world’s oldest parliament for a great walk full of beautiful views.  Walk through Almannagjá canyon created by the division of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.  For more information take a look at Þingvellir National Park website.


7. Watch Strokkur geyser exploding
A highlight of the Golden Circle, this geothermal area is awesome!  Water bubbles away at 100ºC and huge plumes of steam rise from the ground.  Watch the mighty geyser Strokkur explode into action, the giant jet of water erupts every 5 – 10 minutes and is an incredible sight.


8. Say hi to the local wildlife
Iceland’s resident horses are very friendly, take the time to stop for a selfie with them amongst the gorgeous landscape.  Standing between 13 and 14 hands high they could be mistaken for ponies, in Iceland they are horses so be sure to get it right or risk offending a local!


9. Marvel at the beautiful waterfalls
One of Iceland’s most famous and beautiful landmarks are the waterfalls.  There’s nothing quite like watching water majestically fall over rugged hillsides, especially in the winter with snow underfoot and icicles hanging from the edges of the falls.  My favourites are Gullfoss, which can be seen on a tour of the Golden Circle.  It is one of Iceland’s most popular falls and it’s not hard to see why.  Standing up close to this powerful beauty and watching water thunder down below is an exhilarating experience.  Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss are both found in the south of Iceland.  Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls, you can get really close to it which is fantastic for capturing photos.  Seljalandsfoss is a must see, go behind the falls for a completely different view point, it is worth noting that the path is often closed in winter months due the danger of slipping.  Whichever waterfall you choose to visit in Iceland you certainly won’t be disappointed!


For more on what to see and do in Iceland click on the links below…
What to do with four days in Iceland
Adventures on the Golden Circle
Exploring Iceland’s South Coast
Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland


Adventures on the Golden Circle in Iceland…

You can’t go to Iceland without seeing the natural wonders of the Golden Circle, either hire a car and do your own thing or book onto an organised tour. Matt and I went on a small group trip with Sterna Travel. As well as seeing the main sites there were a few other interesting stops along the way, we also chose to add a visit to a geothermal pool as when we were in Iceland the Blue Lagoon was closed for refurbishment.  If you are visiting during the winter months wrap up warm with plenty of layers as the minus temperatures are definitely part of the experience!

The highlights of the Golden Circle are Þingvellir National Park, Geysir hot springs and Gullfoss waterfall. The drive itself was fantastic and a great way to see Iceland’s incredible landscape, we drove along mountain passes, through lava fields, past lakes, over fresh water and glacial rivers which are apparently clean enough to drink, across fault lines and past plenty of steam billowing from the ground from geothermal activity; you could smell the sulphur! Not to mention catching glimpses of volcanoes such as Hekla, which erupts every ten to twelve years making it one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and Eyjafjallajökull the volcano which erupted in 2010 causing disruption to air travel worldwide. I got up close to this volcano whilst exploring the south of the island. Visiting in early January meant not seeing daylight until around 11am. This was the perfect time to stop in the mountains to watch the sunrise; it was an epic start to the day….


The next stop was Þingvellir National Park, the site of the first Viking parliament it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also has a lot of geographic importance due to being on a fault line. You can actually walk between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates through the Almannagjá canyon, which is pretty cool!


Þingvellir National Park

Iceland has its own breed of horse. These hardy creatures stand between 13 and 14 hands high and could be mistakenly classed as ponies. But make this mistake at your own peril, as you will offend an Icelander by calling them ponies! They are very good-natured and I got to make friends with some of them on a short stop.
Onto the geothermal hot spring area where water temperatures hit 100°c and water continually bubbles from the ground, steam rising high into the air. The showstopper here is the hot spring Strokkur, it explodes regularly every 5 to 10 minutes without fail, shooting a high spout of water up into the air. It’s fascinating and addictive to watch!
Gullfoss was one of my favourite stops of the day and I think one of the coldest. The thundering falls are enormous, the power and noise of the gushing water falling into the crevice 105 ft below is like nothing I have experienced before and as I already mentioned the cold was extreme too! Removing your glove for just a second to take a photo led to instantly frozen and painful fingers, but it was worth it!
Next was a quick stop for a selfie at the beautiful Faxi waterfall before the final stop of the day at the Secret Lagoon. As I mentioned the Blue Lagoon was closed during our trip to Iceland so the Secret Lagoon was for us the next best thing. As I was six months pregnant at the time I was unable to go in but Matt went for a dip and loved floating around in the hot pool which is generally around 36-40°c with a beer in hand.  I loved wandering around the edge of the hot pool watching the steam rising and taking photos of icicles hanging from tree branches, retreating into the warmth with a hot chocolate when I got too cold. This natural geothermal pool was first opened in 1891 and is such a unique experience.


Matt at the Secret Lagoon

For more information on what to do in Iceland take a look at my other blogs: What to do with four days in Iceland and if you are planning to see the Northern Lights: Northern Lights photography tips.