We took a cruise out of Reykjavik in 2014, so we spent a few days here prior. The city is expensive like all of Scandinavia, but it’s hard to beat Iceland for nature and scenery. Upon arrival, we stopped for lunch and an extended soak at the Blue Lagoon, which is a geothermal wonder and an amazing way to start the trip. It’s located near the airport in Keflavik; if you arrive in the morning before your hotel is ready, you can go straight there, check your luggage, and relax in the mineral-rich hot springs.
We took a tour of the Golden Circle, a 190 mi loop from Reykjavík into the southern uplands and back. We saw Iceland’s three most popular natural attractions: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall, enough to know that we definitely wanted to return someday for further exploration.
That day came in September 2023. In addition to Reykjavik, we visited Ísafjörður, Akureyri, Seyðisfjörður, and Heimaey, and from Reykjavik we did a day trip to the South Island coast.
Reykjavik (July 2014 and September 2023)
The northernmost capital in the world and Iceland’s largest city, Reykjavik is famous for its devotion to culture and the arts. Small and walkable, with lots of good boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops, Reykjavik has nice museums, cultural venues like Harpa Concert Hall and lots of street art. Don’t miss the magnificent waterfall in Elliðaárdalur valley right in the middle of Reykjavik – a hidden gem!
Heimaey (September 2023)
We ended our cruise with a fantastic day on the island of Heimaey, a port we missed in 2014 due to high winds. In Jan 1973, a volcano erupted on this island, requiring the inhabitants to evacuate. A massive operation began to cool the lava with sea water to prevent it from reaching the harbor. The eruption lasted for five months. When it stopped, the island had grown by 20% or 1 square mile, and 400 buildings had been engulfed in ash and lava. A massive clean-up ensued and many homes were later found perfectly preserved under the ash. Today we climbed that volcano and were treated to a stunning view in every direction; it was clear enough to see the mainland of Iceland.
Seyðisfjörður (September 2023)
When you visit Iceland in September, you run the risk of encountering adverse weather conditions which can arise very quickly. We arrived in Seyðisfjörður, but because there was 100% chance of snow in the mountain pass, all the tours were canceled. It was in the 30s and pouring rain but we were able to explore the town.
Akureyri (September 2023)
In Akureyri, in northern Iceland, we visited more of the natural wonders Iceland is known for. Another day, another spectacular waterfall, this one Goðafoss, or “Waterfall of the Gods.” Our next stop was at the Lake Mývatn area with the picturesque Skútustaðagígar Pseudo Craters, formed from explosions when the flowing hot lava met with the ice-cold water from the lake. We enjoyed a great panoramic view of the area. The Dimmuborgir Lava Fields were full of lava pillars and formations and rich in mythical sagas and ghoulish trails. Next, we drove to the warm underground river in Grjótagjá Rift, where the rift between the Eurasian and American Continents is very visible. This was also the cave where the scene in Game of Thrones between Jon Snow and Ygritte was filmed. We ended the visit at the geothermal area of Hverir Mud Pools, with steaming fumaroles, boiling mud pools, and sulfur pits.
Ísafjörður (September 2023)
Ísafjörður, a town in the Westfjords region of northwest Iceland, is known for its dramatic landscapes. We took an excursion to Dynjandi, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland – really a series of seven falls – which says a lot in this land of staggeringly beautiful falls. The day was grey and rainy, about 43 degrees, but upon arrival at the falls, our amazing local guide Sonja with Arctic Shorex parted the clouds and rained glorious sunshine down upon us until our departure. There are no snakes, bears or wolves here, but a cursory glance at the steep mountains surrounding the town might reveal the primary danger during the winter: avalanches. They have installed fences to guard against this threat.