A Travel Guide to Iceland


Travel Guide to Iceland, Glacier Hiking, Ice Caves, Golden Circle, Southern Iceland

Iceland is a natural wonder that clears the mind and heals the soul. Walking on an ancient glacier that was formed 2,500 years ago really puts life into perspective.
Travel outside your comfort zone and hike among the magnificent glaciers and icy peaks. Iceland is filled with adventure, ranging from roaring waterfalls and geysers to diamond beaches. The crowning achievement of this experience is standing atop ancient glaciers, looking out at raw nature in all its splendor.

Iceland is full of adventure and awe-inspiring landscapes. To gain the full Icelandic experience, I highly recommend taking an expert guide, to explore secluded locations rarely seen by tourists. We were blessed to have found our tour guide and now close friend, Dan Sommer, who helped us create a customized itinerary. We ventured out to remote locations, hiked through magnificent glaciers, and repelled into breathtaking ice caves. If you are looking for a thrill-seeking adventure in nature, Dan is your man! He will help you plan a trip of a lifetime, with glacier hiking, ice climbing/repelling, ice caving, and exploring the natural beauty of Iceland. Along the way, you'll make stops to feed the adorable Icelandic horses, who love attention...and carrots! You may even spot the stunning aurora borealis, or "northern lights," if you arrive between August to early April.



BEST PLACES TO SEE IN SOUTHERN ICELAND


Iceland's beauty consists of geothermally active terrain, geysers, and hot springs, intertwined with rural coastal villages and wild uninhabited highlands, creating a landscape boasting unique wonders, found nowhere else in the world.




The Blue Lagoon


Discover the waters of the Blue Lagoon. Journey through a spa of the volcanic earth. Harmonize with nature.

Six thousand feet within the earth, ocean water and freshwater converge in a tectonic realm of searing heat and extreme pressure, creating geothermal seawater. Drawn to the surface through geothermal extraction wells, the water emerges enriched with silica, algae, and minerals—the bioactive elements that endow this unique fluid with its healing, rejuvenating, nourishing abilities.



The beneficial powers of geothermal seawater were first discovered in the early 1980s when local residents began to bathe in the serene blue lagoon that had formed in the lava field beside the Svartsengi Geothermal Resource Park. Some people came to the water for pleasure. Others came for healing. But all who came left with sensations of profound revitalization.


The cleanliness, purity, and ecological balance of geothermal seawater are routinely monitored for strict conformance with internationally recognized standards of water quality.


Pre-booking is required

After our flight landed at Reykjavik Airport, we headed straight for The Blue Lagoon. Booking in advance is required and the best time to go is after your long international flight, to begin your adventure with serenity and relaxation. You will enjoy the beauty of volcanic water in peace when arriving at opening hours. 


TIP: The water can dry your hair out to the extreme, so I recommend wearing your hair up in a bun or soaking your hair with a leave-in conditioner before you dip in.


Experience the radiant powers of geothermal seawater with these packages: 

Comfort: Blue Lagoon | From $56

  • Entrance to the Blue Lagoon

  • Silica mud mask

  • Use of towel

  • 1st drink of your choice

Premium: Blue Lagoon | From $ 79

  • Entrance to the Blue Lagoon

  • Silica mud mask

  • Use of towel

  • 1st drink of your choice

  • Second mask of choice

  • Slippers

  • Use of bathrobe

  • Table reservation at Lava Restaurant

  • Sparkling wine if dining



Icelandic Adventure


Below is our 5-day recommended itinerary to see the magnificent beauty of Iceland. Hiring a private guide is the best way to explore the lesser-known gems and to visit the sights without crowds of tourists around. Your guide should provide all necessary equipment for your day trips (helmets, crampons for shoes, picks for ice climbing, repelling equipment, etc). Let's start planning your Icendancic Adventure to experience a trip of a lifetime!


Waterfall, Travel Guide to Iceland, Glacier Hiking, Ice Caves, Golden Circle, Southern Iceland

Iceland's Golden Circle


The Golden Circle consists of three equally stunning locations in southwest Iceland: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall. These sites are renowned across the world and are all as spectacular as they are unique. Less than a two-hour drive from Reykjavík, the Golden Circle sights can be visited within a day. 


Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park is an amazing site, steeped in history and folklore, and surrounded by incredible geology. The incredible geology of the park comes from the fact that it is situated directly between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, in the rift valley that runs through Iceland. This is the only country where the Mid Atlantic Ridge, can be seen above sea level, and nowhere is it more visible than in Þingvellir.


When you enter the park from Reykjavik, you drive towards a sheer cliff that is, in fact, the corner of the North American continent. A pocket of magma rose between these plates and slowly moved apart, creating Iceland millions of years ago. Their continued separation is the reason that Iceland has such fascinating volcanic activity. 


The Geysir Geothermal Area

The second stop on the Golden Circle is the Geysir Geothermal Area, with intense geothermal activity; the steam rising from it is visible from miles away. The area is dotted with many hot pools, clay pots, and fumaroles.


Geysers are a rare natural phenomenon, and part of what makes the Golden Circle so incredible is that you can find an active one, accessible to the public. Strokkur Geysir goes off every ten minutes or so, throwing water from 66 to 132 ft into the air. It is breathtaking and exciting to see!


Gullfoss Waterfall

The third and final stop on the Golden Circle is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, Gullfoss. It can be found less than ten minutes down the road from Geysir. Located in a plunging, ancient valley, this powerful fall tumbles down two drops, from an overall height of 105 ft. At its heaviest flow during summer, an average of 4944 cubic feet of water pours down it every second. Gullfoss is not only known for its breathtaking power but also for the rainbows that are thrown from its spray on a sunny day.


The Crater Kerid

This crater was formed about 6500 years ago and is completely oval with a lake in its bottom. The rocks surrounding the crater are fiery reds and oranges, with streaks of black and green running through them; these colors contrast beautifully with the azure waters.


This site is situated just by the road number 35, close to the town of Selfoss, and there is a small parking lot right next to it. Note there is a small entrance fee to visit Kerið, but it is just 500 ISK ($4) per person.


Secret Lagoon 

The Secret Lagoon, or Gamla laugin, at Flúðir is a great place to relax and renew your energy. It is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, having been built in 1891. The temperature of the pool is 100-104°F year-round, sustained by the water entering it from the surrounding natural hot springs. There’s a walking path around the swimming pool for guests to admire this geothermal area. Flúðir is situated on road number 30.


Golden Circle Sights

  • Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

  • Gullfoss Waterfall

  • The Great Geysir & Strokkur Geysir

  • Kerid Crater

  • Secret Lagoon Hot Bath

  • Visit adorable Icelandic Horses In Route



Iceland's Southern Coastal Attractions


Diamond Beach

When traversing Iceland's Southern Coast, all roads lead to the glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón. 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 ‘Diamond Beach," as ice chunks lying on beach resemble diamonds sparkling in the sun. 


Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

In Southeast Iceland, you'll find a glacier lagoon filled with icebergs. This ice lagoon has become one of Iceland's most popular attractions due to its stunning beauty. Jökulsárlón sits south of Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier. Vatnajökull and its surrounding area, including Jökulsárlón, compose Iceland's largest national park, and the second-largest national park in Europe, after Yugid Va in Russia. 


The lagoon is formed naturally from melted glacial water and is perpetually growing while big blocks of ice crumble from the ever-shrinking glacier; as Jökulsárlón increases in size, the retreating glacier visibly demonstrates the effects of global warming. This, perhaps, makes the lagoon and the nearby glacier tongue even more special, as they will look different each time you visit.


Vatnajökull Glacier

Vatnajökull glacier is the largest glacier in Europe, covering 8% of Iceland’s landmass.

It is the central feature of the Vatnajökull National park, a popular spot for glacier hiking and ice caving tours between November and March.


Vatnajökull has a surface area of approximately 3127 square miles; though it is rapidly shrinking due to climate change. What’s unique about glaciers is that they are constantly moving and reforming. Because of this constant reformation, the glacial landscape is never the same, you’ll see new layers of ash, crevasses, caves, and sinkholes every year, so you never know what’s on the menu.



The time of year is a factor as well; during summer the top layers melt so all the crevasses are visible giving the glacier a more dramatic look. During winter you have to be more careful due to thin layers of snow covering moulins and crevasses. At this time of year, the ice is denser giving it a bright blue color and ice caves start to form giving you a whole new paradise to explore.


Skaftafell National Park

This national park is diverse, with black sand plateau, vibrant glaciers, rivers and icy lagoons, volcanoes, majestic mountain peaks and dynamic floras.


Skaftafell National Park is located by the roots of Iceland's largest glacier Vatnajokull and once there you will witness plenty of its outlet glaciers cascading to the lowland. You can even get close to the glacier tongues making you feel pretty vulnerable and small compared to this giant terrain and forceful nature.


The area has been used as a setting for a few films, depicting both a space planet in Interstellar, as well as countries as diverse as Nepal (in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Tibet (in Batman Begins) and Russia (in James Bond's A View to a Kill).


Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall that can be fully encircled with a drop of 200 feet. Majestic and picturesque, it is one of the most photographed features in all of Iceland.


Skógafoss Waterfall

Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s biggest and most beautiful waterfalls with an astounding width of 82 feet and a drop of 197 feet. Due to the amount of spray the cascade produces, at least one rainbow is present any time the sun emerges from behind the clouds. The land underneath the waterfall is very flat, allowing visitors to walk right up to the wall of water. The river below Skógafoss holds a large char and salmon population and is thus a favorite spot for fishermen in the summer.


Lava Caving

Iceland is situated on top of a ‘hot spot’ on Earth, where there are dozens of volcanoes, craters, and hot springs. Many lava tubes from the volcanoes have turned into caves, some of the craters have cracks that reveal hidden caves and some of the hot springs are even situated within caves.


Iceland is filled with caves of all sizes and shapes. Caves are important in Icelandic history, as many of them have served as shelters for people or animals in harsh winters. Some caves in Iceland are still used as sheds, or barns, for sheep.


Essentially, there are four kinds of caves in Iceland: Lava caves, glacier caves, ice caves, and man-made caves. For any caving experience in Iceland, you will need a helmet, a headlight, and some warm clothing.



Southern Iceland Spots to Hit

  • Diamond Beach

  • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

  • Vatnajökull Glacier

  • Skaftafell National Park

  • Glacier Hiking, Ice Climbing & Ice Caving



  • Sólheimajökull Glacier

  • Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls

  • Northern Lights (Depending on time of year and weather.)

  • Lava Caving



FOOD IN ICELAND


Iceland isn't a place you would consider a "foodie location." Food in Iceland is very expensive, due to it being a remote island, so the most economical way to approach eating on a budget is to visit the local stores and prepare meals yourself. You can hit the low-price stores such as Nettó, Krónan, and Bónus, which are ideal for lunch-pack shopping before you leave town and embark on your adventures.


The popular Icelandic snack is SKYR, which is made of pasteurized skimmed milk and a bacteria culture similar to yogurt. (Note: It's technically not yogurt, it's a soft cheese.) It's rich and thick, but very healthy and not heavy-feeling. It has a wonderfully creamy, spoonable texture and tastes somewhere between tart Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, and soft-serve.


TIP: We brought many meal bars & snacks from home to eat during our stay in Iceland. This helped on our daily adventures, with not having any restaurants out in the middle of nowhere. Once again, this is not a trip for extravagant meals, so plan ahead with your food options.



LODGING


Lodging included with your private tours!

Our tour guide provides guests with free lodging at his cozy home in Þorlákshöfn when you book tours through him. He'll provide you with a private room in his apartment, located in a former boarding school, very cool! We enjoyed cooking together and having meaningful conversations about our lives Icelandic culture.

Glacier Hiking with Dan

Each day, he will take you on an adventure to explore the beauty of Iceland. You can customize your itinerary for a set daily affordable price. Venturing out to Glacier Lagoon requires a stay in Kirkjubæjarklaustur due to the 5-hour drive. We booked a last-minute room at the Hvoll Guesthouse and it comfy and affordable. They have a community kitchen and nice master bathrooms on each floor. Perfect overnight stay for your Southern Iceland journey.



TRANSPORTATION

Driving in Iceland is likely to be different than what you’re used to back home, even if you’re used to snowy, icy winters. Icelandic weather is known to change rapidly, so you must monitor weather conditions regularly throughout the day. Some tourists rent a car for their self-guided tour, but those unaware of weather conditions can get stuck with road blocks or total their rental car due to icy conditions. We recommend downloading the “112 Iceland” app from SafeTravel. It is connected to emergency responders in Iceland and can help locate your vehicle if you find yourself in a hazardous situation.


Opt for a private tour and ride around with a local, an expert at navigating the Icelandic roads. Plus, you will be rewarded with hidden gems destinations along the way, places you may not have found if traveling on your own.


Flights to Iceland

Icelandair has budget flights to Iceland or they have the option to do a “stopover” for no additional cost. This means you can book a flight to another place and stop in Iceland for up to 5 days without any additional airfare costs. This gives you the opportunity to explore Iceland, both country and culture, without adding to your ticket price.



WEATHER IN ICELAND

Iceland actually enjoys a much milder climate than its name suggests. This is partly due to the Gulf Stream that flows along the west and south of Iceland, bringing warmth all the way from the Caribbean!


Another reason for the warmth in Iceland is the fact that Iceland is situated right on top of one of the earth's hot spots. Iceland is a country of incredible geothermal activity, it is full of hot springs, geysers, mud pools, volcanoes, and occasional earthquakes. Average temps in winter are mid 30s and summer around mid 50s.


Diamond Beach, Travel Guide to Iceland, Glacier Hiking, Ice Caves, Golden Circle, Southern Iceland


BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT ICELAND


The best time to visit Iceland will be greatly influenced by what you want to see. We traveled to Iceland the last week of February/beginning of March, which is best for glacier hiking, ice caving, ice climbing, and chasing the northern lights.


Winter In Iceland


Best for glacier hiking, ice caving, snowmobiling, visiting the Blue Lagoon, chasing northern lights, and touring the Golden Circle with a guide (I would not recommend self-driving this time of the year due to weather).


To check the forecast for the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) click here.

Each night will be rated 0-9 (0 being a no chance of seeing the Northern Lights and 9 being the strongest chance). The longer your trip, the more chance you have in seeing the northern lights, as it requires dark and partly clear skies.


DECEMBER JANUARY FEBRUARY

Hours of Daylight: 5–4.5 Hours of Daylight: 4.5-7 Hours of Daylight: 7–10

Average Low: 27ºF Average Low: 27ºF Average Low: 28ºF

Average High: 35ºF Average High:35ºF Average High: 37ºF



Spring In Iceland


Best for whale watching tours, puffin watching tours, diving between the continental plates at Silfa, horseback riding, kayaking, and taking a dip in Myvatn nature bath.


MARCH APRIL MAY

Hrs of Daylight: 10–13.5hrs Hrs of Daylight: 13.5–16.75hrs Hrs of Daylight: 16.75–20hrs

Average Low: 28ºF Average Low: 33ºF Average Low: 39ºF

Average High: 38ºF Average High: 42ºF Average High: 49ºF



Summer In Iceland (Peak Season - Higher Rates)


Best for visiting Jokulsarlon, touring the Golden Circle, road trips around the ring road, horse riding, visiting black sand beaches, waterfall hopping, seeing the Geysers, visiting the Blue Lagoon and other hot springs, kayaking, volcano hiking, and seeing puffins until August.


JUNE JULY AUGUST

Hrs of Daylight: 20–21hrs Hrs of Daylight: 21–18hrs Hrs of Daylight: 18-14.5hrs

Average Low: 44ºF Average Low: 47ºF Average Low: 47ºF

Average High: 53ºF Average High: 56ºF Average High: 56ºF



Iceland in Autumn


Best for the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, day trips to Vik, diving Silfra, horse riding, and swimming in natural pools and hot springs.


SEPTEMBER OCTOBER NOVEMBER

Hrs of Daylight: 14.5–11.5hrs Hrs of Daylight: 11.5–8hrs Hrs of Daylight: 8–5hrs

Average Low: 41ºF Average Low: 36ºF Average Low: 29ºF

Average High: 50ºF Average High: 45ºF Average High: 38ºF




DRESS/ATTIRE



CULTURE/ETIQUETTE

Iceland remains Europe’s most sparsely populated country, with 80% of its landmass uninhabited and 60% of people living in the capital, Reykjavik. Glaciers cover 39,769 square miles in Iceland and our guide said the glaciers might be gone within the next 30 years due to climate change. So, now is the right time to visit!


Is Iceland Safe?

Iceland is rated the most PEACEFUL country in the world, so no worries about it being unsafe for solo women travelers.


Language In Iceland

The education system in Iceland teaches Icelandic, English, and Scandinavian, so we didn't have an issue communicating in English.



TIPPING

You will not be expected to tip tour guides in Iceland. A tour guide makes decent wages and does not rely on gratuities. However, if you want to express your appreciation to him or her for an exceptional and interesting tour, you should leave around 10%.


In Iceland, your restaurant bill may include a service charge, so you don't need to tip. If there isn't a service charge, then a 10% gratuity is perfectly fine.


Spa staff in Iceland won't expect gratuities because the cost will may include a service charge.


Taxi drivers never expect tips in Iceland. The price of the ride will cover any service charge.


Travel Guide to Iceland, Glacier Hiking, Ice Caves, Golden Circle, Southern Iceland