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Iceland Travel Guide

Magic and myth meet under the Aurora Borealis
Imagine exploring a land of raw, natural supercharged splendour, where ice-covered volcanoes rumble, enormous glaciers grind great pathways through the mountains. Or seeing the rush of geysers exploding water 100 feet into the air. Or the thrill of looking up at the night sky ablaze with the glimmering, dancing Aurora Borealis. To be in Iceland is to experience the extraordinary. 

There’s adventure for all here: climbing majestic glaciers that pierce the sky, drifting in a milky-blue geothermal lagoon, sinking your toes into a black sand beach, and letting your imagination tug you into the world of trolls and fairytales. Whether you’re a solo traveller or choosing a group tour, expect a journey of grandiosity and delight, regardless of which travel package you choose.

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Imagine exploring a land of raw, natural supercharged splendour, where ice-covered volcanoes rumble, enormous glaciers grind great pathways through the mountains. Or seeing the rush of geysers exploding water 100 feet into the air. Or the thrill of looking up at the night sky ablaze with the glimmering, dancing Aurora Borealis. To be in Iceland is to experience the extraordinary. 

There’s adventure for all here: climbing majestic glaciers that pierce the sky, drifting in a milky-blue geothermal lagoon, sinking your toes into a black sand beach, and letting your imagination tug you into the world of trolls and fairytales. Whether you’re a solo traveller or choosing a group tour, expect a journey of grandiosity and delight, regardless of which travel package you choose.

Location

Located right at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, this small island nation is Europe's westernmost country and home to the world’s northernmost capital, Reykjavik. It is surrounded by the Norwegian Sea on the east, Greenland Sea on the north, Strait of Denmark on the northwest and Atlantic Ocean on the southwest. Flights from India to Iceland take about 13 hours with a layover in between. Last-minute holidays to Iceland though may take longer with multiple layovers.

When to go

The best time to visit Iceland is from late August to April if you want to observe the magic of the Northern Lights in all its glory. Otherwise, the peak season for travellers is June to August when the temperatures are warmer, and sunlight lasts for a full 24 hours. If you are more of an outdoorsy person and like to go fishing or snorkelling, plan an Iceland trip package during the spring months of April and May.

Where to go

Some of the most important places to visit in Iceland are the capital and cultural city of Reykjavík, the Golden Circle- the most explored traveller route in the country, the South Coast for its stunning natural beauty, and the Diamond Circle to not miss out on some whale-watching! Make sure your Iceland holiday deal include an opportunity to chase the Northern Lights if you are visiting during late fall or experiencing Iceland’s Midnight Sun if your visit is planned during summer.
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At a glance

Currency

Icelandic Króna
The currency used in Iceland is the Icelandic Króna. At the time of posting, the conversion from Icelandic Króna to INR conversion is 1 Icelandic Króna = 0.55 INR.

Weather

As Iceland’s weather is cold and windy throughout the year, no matter when you visit, always pack extra thermal clothing and wind and water resistant outerwear. In winter, temperatures are close to zero, accompanied by some precipitation and strong winds. Summers are cool and relatively dry, with temperatures the warmest during July and August.

Language

Icelandic
Naturally, the most commonly-spoken language is Icelandic, though people also speak English in areas frequented by travellers

Expert travel advice

Travel tips and insider advice that have made the most difference to us, sourced from our
community of like-minded travellers and global experts.

Visit Iceland’s crystal ice caves   

Recommended by Expert Vagabond

“Deep under Iceland’s massive Vatnajökull Glacier, beautiful caves of ice are formed by rivers of meltwater...A long tunnel of ice boasting many different shades of translucent blue, white, and inky black stretches out before us. Thousands of years of snowfall compressed into frozen sculpted waves over our heads.”

Matthew Karsten is an adventure travel blogger and photographer who’s been exploring the world for 9 years.

Explore Vatnajökull National Park   

Recommended by Mapping Megan

“In this region white glaciers descend to black sands, hot streams erupt from frozen banks of ice, and the park is home to Iceland’s highest mountain, (Hvannadalshnúkur), largest glacier (Vatnajökull), and Europe’s most powerful waterfall (Dettifoss).”

Megan and Mike blog about their journeys not only to inspire, but share practical tips too. Their work has been shared in the National Geographic, the New York Times, Forbes, and British Airways High Life.

Unwind at the Blue Lagoon   

Recommended by A Passion And A Passport

“Visiting the Blue Lagoon is on everyone’s bucket list when planning a trip to Iceland – and with good reason! Soaking in the milky blue waters is a wonderful way to destress and say goodbye to any worries you may have- all while keeping you warm in the weird weird Iceland weather and doing wonders for your skin!”

Jessica Kay is the mastermind behind this independent travel blog which shares information on day trips, long weekend travel, to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, as well as general travel tips and destination features.

Experience the magic of the Northern Lights   

Recommended by We Are Travel Girls

“Every person should plan a trip to witness this spectacle at least once in their lifetime...On one of the most memorable nights of my life so far, I watched on in complete awe as a bright green ribbon of light illuminated the sky above me; meandering, twisting and turning in motions as elegant as a ballerina, expanding for miles as far as the eye could see.”

Becky van Dijk & Vanessa Rivers founded We Are Travel Girls, a global travel community, to inspire, connect, educate and empower female travellers around the world. The blog is a popular online resource for female travel tips, advice and stories, and has been featured on Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar and Cruise Magazine amongst others.

Drive the Golden Circle   

Recommended by The Blonde Abroad

 “...the Golden Circle is a circular route that covers about 300 kilometers and loops from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back in a day trip. The route takes you through some of the most amazing sights in central Iceland, with scenery ranging from natural sites to historic buildings, and gives visitors the chance to experience the diversity of Iceland in a relatively short trip.”

Kiersten Rich created The Blonde Abroad to help women find the confidence to travel the world. She shares resources on everything from solo travel to packing guides to photography tips on her site. The Blonde Abroad is a Forbes Ranked "Top 10 Travel Influencer", and has been featured in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Marie Claire, Business Insider, AFAR, Times Now & more.

Incredible places to visit in Iceland

Reykjavík

Your holiday in Iceland will probably start in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital city, which is also the cultural hub of the country. The city has a cosmopolitan soul, dotted with museums, bars, quirky architecture, and a great music scene, plus more than a fair share of whale watching tours.

Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland, visible from anywhere in the city. It is a tall, striking building, with an intriguing design said to have been inspired by Iceland’s basalt lava flows. Make sure you see the colossal 15-metre tall pipe organ inside, and that you also head to the top of the tower for a bird’s-eye view of the city’s colorful rooftops.

Perlan

Perlan, one of Reykjavik's most famous buildings, is a staple on almost all Iceland travel package itineraries, because it is where architecture meets magic!  Built above a geothermal spring, it supplies much of the city’s hot water. It is also topped by a huge glass dome, out of which you’ll see a sweeping 360-degree panorama of Reykjavik, deep-blue ocean and volcanic mountains

Attend Elf School

A highlight for travellers is attending the Elf School for a crash course on elves- the Hidden Folk, locally known as Huldufólk. Spend an eventful day learning about these magical, mischievous beings and their stories of friendships with humans. Complete with a curriculum, textbooks and diplomas, you’ll get a glimpse into myths and legends firmly rooted in the country’s culture, and a charming story to share once you’re back home.

Whale watching tour

A whale watching tour is an opportunity to get up close with Iceland’s most iconic animals. Reykjavík offers some of the best whale watching experiences in the country as the waters are shallow here. Chances to spot whales are higher during summers, so if you are determined to spot a Minke Whale or two, plan your trip to Iceland accordingly.

Visit an ice cave

Ice caves are formed by water running through or under glaciers during the winter season. To step into one is to experience the unique natural beauty of the ice cap from within, a bubble of blue, glistening ice. November to March is the best time to visit an ice cave. Make sure to dress in thermal wear and waterproof outerwear to keep warm in the extreme cold. Visiting an ice cave is definitely one of the best things to do in Iceland.

Snowmobile on a glacier

While the glacier is certainly spectacular from within, nothing beats experiencing it from above. When you climb aboard a sleek snowmobile and zoom over a blanket of snow on the top of gigantic glacier, you’re in for an adrenaline rush like no other. Tour operators will provide you with everything you need for a safe and comfortable ride. All you need to focus on is controlling the accelerator and the brake!

Swim between continents at the Silfra fissure

One of the most remarkable things you could do in Iceland is go swimming in the Silfra frissure in Lake Þingvellir. Here, you can dive into the crack between the North American and Eurasian continental tectonic plates. How many other people do you know who can claim to have done the same? And feel free to take a sip of the water that’s said to be purer than bottled water.

The South Coast

South Coast of Iceland is one of the country’s most scenic regions. It boasts black sand beaches, giant waterfalls, little coastal villages,  and plenty of adventure sports - hiking, paragliding, or trekking through dried lava fields are activities travellers can opt for.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall

There’s no waterfall quite like the 40m high Seljalandsfoss waterfall. If it’s a sunny day, rainbows form through the mist clouds that rise above the gushing water, creating an Instagram-worthy shot. There’s also a pathway leading behind the waterfall so you’ll have the chance to see Seljalandsfoss from a rare perspective – from within; there's no better way to get close to the raw power of Icelandic nature.

Skógafoss waterfall

This 62m high waterfall is one of the biggest in the country! You can walk right up to the wall of water to feel the power of the waterfall up close (but do wear a raincoat as you’re sure to get a soaking from the drizzle). And you can also walk up a steep staircase to an observational platform at the top of the waterfall for a sweeping view of the area.

Town of Vik

Peaceful and scenic with landscapes straight out of a painting, this remote village by the sea has barely 300 inhabitants, making it a novelty in itself. One of the most interesting conversations you have in Iceland could be with a local in Vik, learning about their quiet way of life. The most famous attraction of this town is its black-sand beach; the dramatic sand, and crashing waves makes for a striking sight. When in Vik, you must stop by nearby Dyrhólaey to visit its most famous residents – adorable puffins.

Reynisdrangar rock formations

The Reynisfjara beach is often voted as one of the top ten beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world, and offers some great photo opportunities. Here, you can spot three dramatic black basalt columns jutting out of the stormy waters. They are  remnants of larger, former sea cliffs made of basalt, but according to legend, the columns were once trolls caught by the sunlight at dawn and were turned into stone.

Iceland’s Midnight Sun

While winters are well-known for the dazzling display of the Northern Lights, summer brings the Midnight Sun. This is a natural phenomenon found only north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle in which the sun lingers on the horizon but never fully sets - 24 hours of daylight if you will. This comes to a peak on the summer solstice and the longest day of the year– June 21. 

Visiting Iceland during the Midnight Sun means extra time for sightseeing!  Sign up for a whale watching tour under the light of the Midnight Sun (all the more to your delight if you are a photography enthusiast), or go golfing, running, horse riding, or partying - the light and twilight heightens the experience.

The Diamond Circle

Often considered as an alternative to the much frequented Golden Circle, head to the north-eastern part of the country for the Diamond Circle, an offbeat circuit yet equally naturally spectacular.  The route’s main attractions are Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss Waterfall, and the Whispering Cliffs. Tour operators offer guided tours for the Diamond Circle, but you can also rent a car and drive the route. It’s best to take a local guide with you.

Lake Mývatn

Lake Mývatn is the undisputed star of Northeast Iceland as it is a biodiversity wonderland. Around the extremely photogenic  turquoise-blue-teal-gree  lake, is an area filled with outdoor geothermal bathing pools, unusual lava formations, and volcanic craters. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot an abundance of ducks and water birds here.  Lake Mývatn is a great stop for family travellers, as kids can learn about many different geological forms in one area.

Dettifoss Waterfall

Visiting Dettifoss should be one of your top things to do in Iceland. This is Europe’s most powerful waterfall, a 100m wide curtain of thunder and water, creating a  cloud of mist so strong that on clear days, you can see it from several miles away. Carry waterproof jackets to prevent getting wet if you want to get closer to the waterfall, which of course, you should. Another attraction to visit close by is Goðafoss, "the waterfall of the gods."

The Whispering Cliffs

Also known as Hljodaklettar, the Whispering Cliffs derive their strange name from the weird echoes and acoustic effect created as a result of curiously formed natural rock formations in the area. You’ll see strange honeycomb patterns, rosettes, and swirls on the columns that make it  intriguing for geologists, as well as for the casual traveller who can have fun letting their imagination interpret the wild patterns.

The Blue Lagoon

The world famous Blue Lagoon almost needs no introduction, you’ve probably seen pictures of this bluer-than-blue thermal pool in the middle of a lava field. And taking a dip in its waters is one of the best things you’ll do in Iceland. Lie back and slowly submerge your body in the mineral-rich milky, powder-blue waters for a hedonistic soak. Watch the steaming mist rise above the geothermal waters and let the warm, creamy waters soak all the tension out of your body. Floating in the silky water, surrounded by Iceland's lunar landscape, is a magical experience.

The Golden Circle

Iceland’s raw, rugged interior, known as the Golden Circle offers one spectacular sight after another in high definition no less, and features on all listicles of the best things to do in Iceland. The circle encompasses some of Iceland’s most famous attractions, including Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geyser and the cascading Gullfoss waterfall. While most tour companies offer guided tours, you can also drive along the Golden Circle at your own pace, stopping to explore ancient explosion craters or for rafting in geothermal pools.

Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park

Nature will never look as impressive as it does here. Surrounded by mountains and encompassing a vast lava plain of green moss and wildflowers, Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World heritage site as well as a filming location for ‘Game Of Thrones. Thingvellir also has a strong historical significance as the first democratic parliament assembly was formed here in 930 AD.

Strokkur geyser

Strokkur blows off steam (pun intended) by erupting scalding geothermal water some 80 metres into the air every few minutes. Half the excitement lies in the anticipation, but be sure to also anticipate getting soaked if you don’t stand to the right side! You can also visit the surrounding Haukadalur Valley that has bubbling mud pits, mineral springs and fumaroles. And there are smaller geysers around the area which are worth a visit too. 

Gullfoss waterfall

For sheer size and power, there’s none superior to the two-tiered Gullfoss Falls that cascades from a  whopping height of almost 32m. And regardless of when you visit, the falls is always a striking sight; in winter, when the waterfall is partially frozen, waves of ice sparkle and glimmer, while come summer, you will be able to see the walls framed by rainbows. 

Ride Icelandic horses

Icelanders are proud of their horses. Sure-footed, strong and with a friendly disposition, they are a delight to ride and will heighten the thrill of galloping through the landscape. You’ll find it remarkably easy to ride them, even if you are a beginner.

Hveragerði

Hveragerði, more commonly known as the ‘Hot Spring Town’, owes its name to the fact that the town is built over a hot-spring field. The abundant geothermal heat makes horticulture a thriving livelihood here; lush foliage, natural steam baths and quaint hiking trails makes Hveragerði an attractive travel destination for all. Spend a few hours with the locals, listening to stories of how hot springs abruptly open up in living rooms

The Northern Lights

Of the many activities and experiences that the country offers, watching the Northern Lights in Iceland is at the top of the list. Very few are lucky enough to see the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis in person. Visibility can’t be guaranteed, but if the weather conditions are just right, you will be one of the fortunate to witness the heavens ablaze with glimmering bands of purple, fuschia and green. 

The best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland include Thingvellir National Park, the wilderness of the Snaefellsnes peninsula (just imagine camping under the Aurora!), the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, or by the majestic Skógafoss waterfall. Make sure you are equipped with thermals, snow boots and a steaming flask of coffee to fight the cold during your hunt. Most all-inclusive Iceland packages include at least one hunt for the Northern Lights their itinerary if you are visiting during the winter season.

Top things to do & experience in Iceland

Nobody wants to be a tourist. Here are curated experiences in art, music, food, culture and communities
to help you have an authentic and memorable trip.

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