Our trip to Iceland took us once around the whole island. In this article, we’ll cover our highlights of Iceland. For another four insider tips, that’ll make your trip extra special read this post.
1. Highlight: Þingvellir on the Golden Circle
Highlight number 1 is the þingvellir National Park. Conveniently located close to the capital, it’s been a good start to our journey. You’ll find a lot of nature, a lot of peace and much space around here. When you leave the tourist centers behind you, you can enjoy a solitary walk through the park.
In sunshine, the park is particularly colorful. We returned to the park near the end of our journey when it was raining. Unfortunately, the gray of the rain front took a bit of þingvellir’s magic. Nevertheless þingvellir is interesting in any weather, if not always magically colourful 😉
The cleft between the Eurasian and American continental plates can be seen in þingvellir! The plates are said to be drifting apart approximately 2 cm each year. In addition, the þingvellir also has historical value: It used to be the seat of Parliament dating back as far as 930 AD.
Many travel agencies offer tours to the Golden Circle and þingvellir. So if you don’t want to rent a car or have little time, you can discover many beautiful corners of Iceland via guided tours.
2. Highlight: Strokkur Geysir
We continued along the Golden Circle Route to Strokkur for our 2nd highlight. The fountain of this geyser breaks out every 20-30 minutes and takes it to a height of up to 40 m.
When you get out of your car, the newly familiar smell of rotten eggs greets you (other people might say, it simply smells like sulfur, but don’t kid yourself: it smells like egg!). This is because when the geyser breaks out, sulfur gases are released from deep under the Earth’s surface.
Simply follow the sound of the erupting water. Then you’ll come directly to the Strokkur. It’s the only active geyser in the area of the Golden Circle.
Tip: Head up the mountain. There you’ll have a great view of the Strokkur and the surrounding landscape.
3. Highlight: The Hidden Gullfoss
Our third highlight concludes our route on the Golden Circle. We now come to one of our personal highlights – the Gullfoss.
We have seen our fair share of waterfalls in Iceland and in America (namely the Niagara Falls). The Gullfoss however is the most impressive waterfall we have ever seen.
You won’t hear nor see the waterfall at first – it is completely obscurred. This is particularly impressive, when you know, that the water plunges down nearly 70 m at the second of the two stages of this waterfall (The waterfall is divided into two stages. One in which the water flows down small stairs, and the second in which the water descends down a crevice with force). Only just before you can see the waterfall for the first time, you’ll hear it too.
We loved the fact that you can stand directly at the waterfall. One sees and hears down there, which for enormous water masses fall to the earth and gets a feeling for the enormous force of the water.
All in all, the Gullfoss enchanted us.
4. Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
I’m a big fan of airplanes. I especially love the classic machines. Therefore, there really was no question that Marco had to come to the plane wreck with me.
In 1973, the DC3 of the US Navy ran out of fuel and was forced to make an emergency landing in Iceland. Since then, it lies exactly where it landed nearly 45 years ago: on the black beach on the south coast of Iceland.
Just park your car to the side of the street (like everyone else) and follow the “crowd” straight towards the sea. Note: It’s a 4 km one-way route! So you’ll need to walk another 4km to get back to your car. Be prepared for a long hike with a lot of wind.
For airplane enthusiasts it’s worth the trip, though. And usually you’ll get a nice photo out of it, too. Not a lot of people actually bother to walk 8 km to see a long crashed airplane. So you’ll be relatively undisturbed.
5. Highlight: Glymur
The glymur is in basically “just” another waterfall. But it takes some effort to actually see it. We were kinda not prepared and went there in the evening not knowing what was to come. Well … don’t do that!
The hike to the Glymur will take you on a strenuous journey crawling through caves, crossing rivers and climbing up steep slopes. Take something to eat or drink with you. We were unprepared and had to hurry back to our car before dusk. There is a better way 😉 If you prepare for this hike, it’ll be a nice adventure!
6. Highlight: Whale Watching
Husavik is the capital of whale watching. We had heard of it and made our way over there. One evening we booked the tickets for the “Gentle Giants” tour online, the next day we were on our way to the city on the north coast.
The probability of seeing a whale is 97% according to our tour operator (although dolphins are counted as whales, also) Once you see a dolphin, you won’t get a refund (aka your money back or a second tour for free). But the north coast of Iceland is popular with whales. We actually saw two!
In good weather you can really enjoy the boat trip out to sea. It starts in the picturesque harbor of Husavik and you’ll pass the mountain chains on your way towards the open sea. On the ship the crew will provide warm and water repellent overalls for everyone. Depending on the weather, it is worth bringing a hat and gloves though.
7. Highlight: Dettifoss
There is another waterfall near Husavik: The Dettifoss. It‘s the largest in the north-west of the island and is considered to be the most powerful in Europe. This waterfall can be approached from the east and from the west. Depending on the direction you are coming from, you will find a path surrounded by green nature or rocky paths. You might be best off with hiking boots on the rocky side.
You’ll be able to see this waterfall up close, too. In the distance you can see the small origin and the different stages of the waterfall. At the time of our visit, the river had little water. That’s why we had a view of a fascinating landscape, the likes of which you only see in old western films.
Another beautiful waterfall is the Seljalandsfoss. You’ll be able to see him from far away. Fun fact: You can even climb behind the water curtain. Just know that it’s wet and therefore slippery because of the spray and the fine mist. Toward the end the path becomes not exactly obstructed, but at the least not easy to maneuver.
An insider tip is another waterfall only about 100 m further. If you follow the signs to the north, you will soon arrive at a crevice. Balance through the water and you will enter a cave in which a fierce waterfall plunges out of nowhere. A very impressive experience indeed.
9. Highlight: Landmannalaugar
A four-wheel drive car and a bit of courage are needed for the journey to the highlands. A trip to the Landmannalaugar in summer is definitely worth it! In winter, unfortunately, the streets are impassable.
The first river that you have to cross is still a big adventure. This however loses its charm after the 15th river crossing. 😉 But that doesn’t really matter: The beautiful mountains, glaciers and colors make the journey to the highlands a special kind of excursion.
Untouched nature, gravel roads, wild living animals, rivers that have to be traversed – I am getting intoxicated once more by the Landmannalaugar as I write this text.
If you’re into hiking, the highlands are also worth a trip. From the campsite different routes lead into the mountains. Invest in a 4×4 car and get going. I’d return there any time! Preferably now.
10. Highlight: Hot Pots
The hot springs are a the biggest highlights of Iceland! Quickly change into your swimwear and sink into the hot water. A dream come true in cold Iceland!
Highlight number 10 is the hot pot at Landmannalaugar’s campsite. You think you want a hot shower and something to eat after the long and adventurous ride through the highlands? Nah, not even close!
Take warm, spare clothes and a towel with you and make your way to the hot pot. There are showers on the campsite, but a relaxed bath in the hot pot is so much nicer. Find a spot where the warm water rises from within the earth and enjoy your life. The nearer you sit to the source, the warmer it gets. Even sheep graze right next to the source – it’s nature at its purest. I can only say again and again: Heavenly!
11. Highlight: Jökulsárlón
Our absolute number one is at the same time an all time classic. On the south coast of the island lies the glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón. Chunks of ice as big as cars, which broke off of the glacier, swim towards the sea.
The lagoon is an idyllic, peaceful place that truly enthralled us. It’s difficult to put into words what a silence this place emanates. The Jökulsárlón has a special aura – here the power and fragility of nature stand in stark contrast to each other.
Sometimes only the soft rippling of water is audible, another time a dull bang can be heard when a large ice floe breaks apart. In between, ducks and seals swim through the clear water.
If you come from the west, you can park your car right where the other cars are already standing and run up the hill. Go along the (difficult to see) signposted path along the shore and let the Jökulsárlón put you under its spell.
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In this article, we have added additional insider tips that will bring your journey to the next level.
What are your highlights of Iceland?
Jenny & Marco