In Iceland, the weather is the biggest character you deal with every day. There’s nothing more relevant in your life than what kind of weather it is.
Iceland – a country where nature takes so many diverse and new looks with every km you make: hot springs, lava fields, volcanoes, waterfalls, the highlands, glaciers, rivers, and lakes.
The countryside and the horse farms, the wind and the silence, the green of the fields and the white of the mountains’ peak, the peace and quiet, the beauty of nature, offer you so many chances to get mesmerized and discover yourself.
The South of Iceland is the part of the country visited by far the greatest number of tourists and this is because everything that makes this country interesting can be found in the South. Each season offers something to the curious tourist and probably the most hunted curiosity on long dark winter nights are the northern lights dance.
We visited Iceland in the summer and we didn’t have this privilege but I’ve seen the northern lights in Norway and it’s something unique that nature gifts us with.
In July the nights are bright and the sun barely sets. It’s an incredible switch for the mind but, no worries, in a few days time the body gets used to the white and sunny nights.
I remember when we went out of the bus in Reykjavik the wind was so strong that we believed that if not holding the luggage we will fly. Yes, the summer isn’t hot at all, particularly for a person that lives in Morocco and it used to mild winters and very hot summers. The chilly air felt like a blessing.
We spent 2 weeks in Southern Iceland, somewhere in a small village (3 farms and less than 10 houses) 20 min drive from Selfoss. It’s incredibly hard to pronounce the name and even harder to spell it.
What to see in South Iceland
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoo – impressive icebergs float around in a large lagoon (about 20 square kilometers) that’s nestled by Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull. The ice cold water and the freezing cold air reminds you that you are at a high latitude, just outside the Arctic Circle. The black sand contrasts so beautifully with the white blocks of ice that float on the blue water and makes this place a great attraction for many photographers and tourists.
Vatnajökull National Park – the world’s most voluminous glacier outside of the arctic regions. The national park includes the ice cap and its surroundings, with a total area that comprises 14% of Iceland. Each of the icefalls and glacier tongues offers a variety of scenes that leaves you speechless.
Skaftafell and Svartifoss Waterfall – Svartifoss is a 20 meters tall waterfall where black columnar basalt formations beautifully frame the waterfall and give it its name, Black Fall. While hiking towards it seems like a big heart. It is situated in Skaftafell, which belongs to Vatnajökull National Park and it’s at a hike of 1,5 km from the Visitors Center. On the way to Svartifoss, you come across other two waterfalls in the gorge and the hike to it takes around 90 minutes.
Fjaðrárgljúfur – is a magnificent canyon about 100 m deep and two km long. The canyon has sheer walls and is serpentine and narrow. We saw it in the pictures and wanted so much to see it in reality but we were very close to miss it. Actually when we first put the coordinates into our GPS took us to a different location and late in the afternoon in our way back we saw a small indication of this beautiful canyon. You can walk along a walking path above the canyon or you can walk inside the canyon along the river. However, it’s a must see while in Iceland!
Seljalandsfoss – is a waterfall over 60 m high surrounded by cliffs and green slopes. A footpath leads behind the waterfall, giving you the change to take pictures and enjoy this majestic waterfall from behind and from the front.
Gullfoss – this waterfall is part of the famous Golden Circle and is actually two separate waterfalls. The upper one has a drop of 11 m and the lower one 21 m. The rock of the river bed was formed during an interglacial period. Being such a famous spot is packed with tourists. Even so, it’s so worth seeing it.
Geysir – a geothermal field where hot springs are in abundance, geysers explode every few minutes and pools of hot mud bubble. The biggest geyser, Stokkur, gives a performance every few minutes, shooting a tower of hot water and steam 30 m into the air. The turquoise water of the geyser delights the senses and makes it even more impressive to watch.
Kerid Crater – is a 55 m deep volcanic crater, about 3000 years old. It is now filled with water, blue-turquoise water, that can be seen from above the crater but also you can walk into the crater and sit by the water.
Thingvellir National Park – is Iceland’s oldest National Park and now on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The park has a tectonic and volcanic environment, and the continental drift can be clearly seen in the cracks which are traversing the region. It’s one of the most visited spots in Iceland and this is because its geology, history, and nature, being at the heart of the Icelandic nationhood. Inside the park are plenty of lakes and waterfalls, a museum, and many beautiful paths that you can walk on for hours.
Skógafoss waterfall – tumbles 60 m from the cliffs. Before cascading off the cliffs as Skógafoss, the river flows through a gorge which boasts more than 20 other waterfalls, each with its own charm.
Dyrhólaey headland – is rising 120 m out of the sea with a huge natural arch near Vik and Myrdal. The spot is famous for its black sand and also for the powerful sea currents that unfortunately killed many curious tourists.
Landmannalaugar Volcano region – is a region near the highly active volcano Hekla. The multicolored rhyolite mountains, the lava fields, and moss-covered lava fields, the hot springs, and the surrounding area that displays a wide spectrum of colors still give me chills.
I remember the emotions I had when having to pass near the cars coming from the front and looking out through the side mirror I could only see leaving behind very steep slopes. Due to the heavy rain, we couldn’t see the bottom of the slopes, only imagine how deep they can go. In plus, in the way back we had to cross a river in 5 different spots. Heavy rain, fog, and the water above the wheels of the car made me live 1 year in a day.
Hveragerdi Geothermal park – around 50 min drive from Reykjavik and a hike among hot springs and plumes of steam that can be seen for miles take you to unforgettable places to relax into a warm spring.
The place is very well organized so that you can take a nice bath, and relax in the warm water. I would recommend a full day by the hot springs, as you have to take into consideration the hike up and down the mountain and the time you would like to relax in the water.
Reykjavik – a city which for another European country would be just a town, the capital city of Island has a bit more than 120,000 inhabitants making it the largest city from the country.
Not more than 200 square km but packed with amazing attractions from arts & culture, parks and gardens, thermal pools and spas, festivals, hiking trails and adventures in nature, both in the city and just a bit out of the city.
Reykjavik is the main doorway of the country and most of the visitors spend somewhere from 3 days to a week in this charming city. It has an incredibly diverse offer for tourists and can please even the most demanding requests. Even you are not a city person, like me, I definitely recommend the Icelandic capital, where a myriad of marvels and a paradise of possibilities await your arrival.
Tips when visiting Iceland
-rent a car, take your time – this will give you the chance to enjoy your trip even more and help you save some money, rather than going for tourist agencies to arrange for different tours. We said that next time when visiting Iceland we will rent a caravan, it’s a cheaper option to have accommodation and transportation than paying for hotel/hostel and transport.
In plus, the Icelandic weather is extremely dynamic and unpredictable. By renting a car you acquire both the freedom to control the pace of your journey and the power to take meteorological matters into your own hands.
-cook your own food – you can blow your entire travel budget on food if frequenting the restaurants. Imagine that your grocery bill for two to three days is the price of a single meal in an average restaurant.
Buy your own groceries (local ingredients are cheaper) and cook your own food making use of the kitchens found in every hostel, guesthouse, campsite, Couchsurfing’s house, etc.
-buy food straight from the farm – many Icelandic farmers opened their doors to travelers and sell local farm products. In certain areas, farmers set up little self-service huts where travelers and locals are trusted to help themselves to fresh fruit and vegetables and pay for what they take without supervision.
Icelandic people are trustful and respectful, very kind and welcoming people and they anticipate that the travelers will treat them the same way…so don’t get them disappointed.
-never buy bottled water – there is an abundance of fresh water in Iceland and the quality of the water that runs from every faucet is quite exceptional. Have a bottle and refill as many times as needed.
-bathe in a natural hot spring – outdoor public bathing in warm pools is a deep-rooted Icelandic tradition, dating back to the Viking days.
There are plenty of public baths or swimming pools in Iceland, but nothing comes close to finding a natural hot spring in the wilderness to take the energy straight from nature’s core.
There are many guided hot spring tours on offer in the greater Reykjavik area but with a bit of internet search, you can find them by yourself. Have a good GPS and you are good to go.
-get off the beaten track– if you rent a car or a caravan you should venture from the main tourist spots and you will experience a sublime encounter with the true spirit of the land.
Iceland offers a plethora of unique places where you can find tranquillity and reconnection with nature and would be a pity to run into crowds of tourists all the time. Ancient fishing outposts, spectacular mountain views, and countless hiking trails await the travelers who are looking for an authentic travel experience. Take the change to get lost into nature, but don’t stray from the paths you are walking on!
Be aware: off-road driving is strictly forbidden in Iceland, penalized with fine or imprisonment, because it’s likely to cause soil degradation and with it irreversible damage to the very fragile environment. Iceland’s wilderness is unique precisely because it’s mostly intact and undisturbed, and Icelandic people cherish this and take great responsibility to keep it that way.