Iceland is one of the most geologically active areas on Earth. It offers lucky visitors the opportunity to be a first-hand witness to the creative forces of nature at work. With over thirty active volcanoes—and an abundance of glaciers, geysers, and waterfalls— one feels that everything around them is constantly in motion. What you see on one trip likely won’t be there the next time you come, or at least it won’t be the same!
When to go?
Many of my clients travel during the summer, where from May to August, sunlight is endless, and temperatures average 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Iceland makes for a magical destination in the winter, too; even with very short days and temperatures averaging around freezing. Lucky travelers feel as though they have the country to themselves to horseback ride, glacier-walk, explore waterfalls and lava tubes, snowmobile, and soak in the natural hot thermal spas found throughout the country. With a mix of authentic countryside retreats and over-the-top five-star hotels, the experiences go way beyond the activities themselves.
There are big differences between winter and summer daylight hours. From May to August, most of the country experiences 24 hours of daylight. Conversely, in mid-winter, expect only about four to five hours of daylight each day. Spring and fall daylight hours are roughly the same as in Europe and North America.
The water is some of the purest and most delicious in the world, always enjoyed straight from the tap or the stream. Pure water makes for some of the most delicious food on earth! We devoured outstanding local foods from delectable arctic char, lean Icelandic lamb, and wonderfully sweet green-house-grown tomatoes. Yes, whale, horse, and puffin are also on the menu, but my motto has always been to try everything at least once!
Our Local Driver Guides become your New Best Friend, always!
My clients are assigned a local driver-guide in Iceland, and I now know why 100% of the time, they tell me they have a new best friend in Iceland! I absolutely can not wait to go back to see the rest of the country. It is easy enough to get to Iceland, located halfway between the USA and Mainland Europe. One can easily spend two weeks but enjoy a long weekend in trendy Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital!
Our driver guides in Iceland are precious and priceless. We have several “best friends” in Iceland who collect you from the airport and take you to all the hidden gems throughout this magical country. There is no set itinerary in Iceland, and your days unfold based on the nature around you. Only your local Icelandic “bestie” knows where to stop, pull over, or uncover for you based on your preferences and interests. They will check you into your hotels, often delivering your luggage and not showing back up until after breakfast the next day. But in many cases, our clients love to have dinner with their Icelandic guide or even find them again at 2 am as they race out to catch the Aurora Borealis. There is no substitute for the insider experience our local guides bring to your experience!
Where to go?
Iceland is typically divided into seven different geographical regions, including the Reykjavík capital area. Each region differs slightly with respect to both culture and landscape, but all are uniquely Icelandic. On this winter visit we explored Reykjavik, South Iceland, and Reykjanes Peninsula.
Thingvellir National Park
After landing and having a nice breakfast, we drove to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the location of Iceland’s Parliament between the years 930 and 1798. Thingvellir is also one of the few places in the world where you can see the effects of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates pulling apart.
What jet lag? Iceland’s brisk fresh air will exhilarate you.
All of this beauty had us famished by lunchtime, and we stopped at Fridheimar for lunch! Miraculous, at Fridheimar, they grow tomatoes all year round. Not the sad tasteless ones we tend to buy all year round at our local supermarkets at home. Despite Iceland’s long, dark winters, here they grow beautiful, fragrant tomatoes, bursting with both color and flavor! Every item on the menu highlights tomatoes – soup, pizza, bloody marys, pasta, mussels – all delicious, with the star ingredient being Fridheimar’s tomatoes!
Geysir Hot Springs
After lunch we explored the Geysir Hot Springs area, which give its name to the Geyser phenomenon worldwide.
From here, we took a short drive to Gullfoss, or Golden Falls, Iceland’s most famous waterfall.
Later that afternoon, we checked into Hotel Ranga which is perfectly located for viewing the Northern Lights when they are out. Fingers crossed!
I loved my cozy Junior Suite with wood paneled walls, Icelandic wildlife and cultural decor, and dreamy nordic bedding.
Outdoor hot tubs can be reached easily with a lickety split run outside…
You can sign up to get a Northern Lights wake up call, should they appear during the night –
Don’t worry, just come to the lobby in your pajamas as the appropriate weather gear awaits…
The extreme dark of the Icelandic winter has a few perks. People in Iceland are treated to a magnificent natural display between September and April: the phenomenon of aurora borealis, or what we commonly call the Northern Lights.
The Aurora Borealis, more commonly referred to as the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon created when solar wind particles interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. This excites the particles that release energy, causing peculiar luminous green and purple streaks across the skies.
On clear winter nights, sightseeing trips are organized around this spectacular—though fickle—natural phenomenon. The ideal location for sightings varies, and excursion leaders are skilled in “hunting” the lights, finding locations where conditions are best for seeing them on any given night.
There are no guarantees that you will see the Northern Lights during your stay, but in most cases, sightings are greatly improved outside populated areas, especially away from the light pollution of the capital.
Dinner at Hotel Ranga was exceptional – every bite memorable!
Drop of Gold every Day For Breakfast
The tradition of consuming fish liver oil for its health benefits remains strong in Iceland. Health authorities recommend it to counteract Vitamin D shortage—from which people in the far north often suffer—and the fatty acids help lower cholesterol and alleviate symptoms of arthritis. On every breakfast buffet and in every household, you will find that locals consume a shot of cod fish oil, often chased with fresh orange or grapefruit juice. When in Rome, do as the Romans, so they say! I enjoyed it each morning of my trip!
South Coast of Iceland
Waterfalls, Black-Sand Beaches and Top of the World Snowmobiling
Today, we explored the south coast of Iceland, enjoying the dramatic landscape with glacier-tipped volcanoes and cascading waterfalls on one side and the black-sanded beaches on the other.
We stopped at the beautiful Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where for those that did not mind a “little spray” could walk and admire the falls from behind them…
We had planned to go to Eyjafjallajokull volcano-glacier for a private snowmobiling ride at the top of the world, where views on a clear day are supposedly spectacular. Alas, mother nature had other plans, and this happens in Iceland by the minute. Never fear; our resourceful guide had other trips up his sleeve! Exploring the inside of an Ice Cave was breathtaking!
Just a little detour – you would never find this place on your own – trust me and that is why our private driver guides are invaluable!
First we donned our crampons for the ice walk…
Ice Caves, here today, gone tomorrow. If you know, you know. They are constantly evolving, changing, melting so being with a local expert makes all the difference!
We will then visit Skogafoss waterfall and explore the dramatic black-sanded beaches of the south coast.
Some other lovely small hotels are clients enjoy when traveling in the South of Iceland:
Hotel Umi is one of the more contemporary style hotels on the South Coast and a great option for those wanting both a country retreat and walking access to the coast.
Skalakot Manor Hotel is a charming hotel in South Iceland from which to see the Northern Light and ride Icelandic horses.
Viking Horses, Lava Tunnel and Reykjavik
Skeiðvellir Icelandic Horse Farm
Skeiðvellir is a family run horse breeding and training farm which is home to around 100 horses. It is the place for an introduction to Icelandic horses but also for experienced riders, full day riding excursions on their highly coveted and awarded horses.
The owner explained the pedigree and global awards attained by the horses in her family.
A truly beautfiul day!!
The Lava Tunnel
Next, we explore a magnificent lava tunnel, one of Iceland’s longest and best-known lava tubes. A journey into the tunnel is a unique experience and a great opportunity to witness the inner workings of a volcanic eruption as one walks in the path of lava that flowed about 5,200 years ago. Ok, so this experience was a bit touristy, but they do not allow private guides to enter, so we endured a bit of a kitschy tour; it was still cool to see.
For me, our exceptional lunch of lobster soup and mussels at Fjorubordid was a trip highlight. Outstanding find by our guide! This is a must in the summer, combined with some kayaking in the estuary outback. Again another wonderful find by our all-star driver guide!
Fun in the winter, just imagine this place in the summer!
Reykjavík – The Capital City of Iceland
Downtown Reykjavík is the nucleus of Iceland’s culture and arts scene. By day, the café culture rules supreme, with the lively hum of conversations. As evening arrives, people start filling into the city’s excellent restaurants, where local ingredients are served with fresh, delicious lamb, seafood, or wild game.
Reykjavík is a city of bold contrasts: it is both cosmopolitan and small-town, vibrant and sophisticated, young-at-heart and yet full of history. Many monuments, new and old, are also worth a peek, including the newly built oceanfront music and conference center, Harpa. Luckily, everything in Reykjavík is close by: museums, galleries, theatres, cafés, and swimming pools. As such, the city is perhaps best explored by foot or bike.
Reykjavík Edition Hotel
Luxury lodging has been scarce in Iceland, and keeping up with the high demand of travelers coming to the country, has been an ongoing challenge. The Reykjavík Edition is the newest and most welcomed arrival in Iceland’s capital. After staying in charming countryside inns and small hotels, I’ll admit it was a treat to check into this glam hotel and be pampered a bit.
My view onto Reykjavík harbour….
Sometimes a girl just needs a great gym…
Cocktail hour at the hotel bar….
…or in the more esoteric hotel Speak Easy.
The Edition has a great game room and underground night club (It is quaint and would be fun to take over if you are in town for a birthday party or other celebration!)
We walked to one of the many fantastic restaurants in the city – tonight the The Food Cellar
The Food Cellar
Food Cellar is a Grill & Cocktail bar, situated in a 160 year old building in the centre of Reykjavík, serving outstanding Icelandic brasserie style of food showcasing Iceland’s freshest and finest ingredients!
Fantastic ambiance, food and company with our local on-site partner who is the BEST!
We had so much fun exploring Reykjavík in the morning, followed by a food tour!
When in Iceland … taste Whale, Puffin and Horse. In travel: Don’t judge, go with the flow.
THE REYKJANES PENINSULA
The Reykjanes peninsula is a geological wonder where lighthouses outnumber villages. Besides hosting the Keflavík International Airport and, just a few minutes away, the spectacular Blue Lagoon, and the Fagradalsfjall volcano, the Reykjanes peninsula is a destination in its own right.
The Retreat by The Blue Lagoon Spa
The Retreat by the famous Blue Lagoon Spa, set in the heart of a stunning lava landscape, is the top way to start or finish an Icelandic adventure – PURE LUXURY – and the only way to experience the Blue Lagoon in an exclusive and civilized manner. The hotel offers its own private bathing lagoon and Spa for hotel guests. Carved into the volcanic earth, the soothing soaks in the blue lagoon journey culminate with the Blue Lagoon Ritual, an exhilarating cycle of well-being based on the Blue Lagoon’s three defining elements: silica, algae, and minerals, which you sloth on every inch of your skin rendering guests blissfully soothed inside and out!
The room product at The Retreat is some of the most carefully considered with every amenity and upgrade guests long for in a hotel room! Very comfortable with out of this world bathrooms.
Stunning living areas at The Retreat overlook the thermal baths at the Blue Lagoon so you never forget where you are.
Moss Restaurant, the Retreat‘s award-winning restaurant, did not disappoint! The dining concept is based on the reinvention of Iceland’s culinary heritage. They emphasize locally sourced ingredients brought forth from the country’s seas, mountains, rivers, farms, and geothermal greenhouses. An epicurean journey paired with wines made for an indulgent last night in Iceland!
Our last day before heading to the airport was an adrenaline adventure for sure as we quad-biked across lavafields and up on mountains for fantastic views of the ocean, black sand beaches, and the volcanic area of the recent eruption in Fagradalsfjall.
We were able to warm up at steamy geothermal fumaroles.
The entire landscape and constant movement of the earth in Iceland is evident in everything you do! It truly is a miracle of nature!
I thoroughly enjoyed this tiny taste of Iceland and I already am longing for my return during the Summer to explore the north and west of this stunning country!!