We get it. You decided to take advantage of the amazing stopover opportunities that Iceland Air offers and you want to see as much as you can in the short 2-3 days that you have. So what do you do? You probably head to the Blue Lagoon immediately upon arrival (and why not? It’s gorgeous!), you walk the streets of Reykjavík for a day, then head out to the country on a tour to see the Golden Circle. Can’t do it better, right? Wrong. While the Golden Circle is worth a visit, don’t forget these must see 11 locations when planning your trip to Iceland. If you don’t see them, you’ll be missing out.
This must see area in West Iceland can easily be explored in 1-2 days. You will see the majestic Kirkjufell, the most photographed mountain in Iceland, the craggy rock formations on Dutavik beach, and the moss covered lava of Berserkjahraun. Not to mention there’s a giant glacier called Snaefellsjokull, which rests on a dormant volcano crater, that you might get lucky enough to see if the clouds disappear.
Tim’s favourite however, was the strangely positioned, towering rock formations just off the beach near Lóndrangar that locals believe to be an elf church. An important part of Iceland is its elf culture and without seeing sights like this, you will miss a huge part of what makes this country so unique.
Myvatn and area
You will regret not making it to this part of Iceland, as it is a hotbed for volcanic activity and without a doubt, gives you the impression that you’ve landed on the moon. The red earth, boiling mud pots and smell of sulfur at Hverir will have you awestruck. If you have time, make your way up the volcano to see a breathtaking view of Lake Myvatn and the boiling land beneath you.
Twenty minutes down the road is Krafla, one of the most active volcano areas in Iceland. There you can explore around a lake-filled crater and another moon-like crater, not to mention climbing amongst all the fresh lava flow.
To wind down your time here, the Myvatn baths are something to rave about. Much less crowded and half the price of the Blue Lagoon in the south, you can soak your tired bones in these volcanic-heated pools while watching the sunset. Just make sure to rinse in the nude before putting on your swimsuit. It’s a rule in Iceland!
The waterfalls in the North
Don’t get us wrong, Gulfoss is one of the most beautiful waterfalls we ever did see, but the waterfalls up north will give it a run for it’s money. Absolute must sees!
Godafoss is a waterfall that stands 30 metres wide and 12 metres high and has been nicknamed, “The Beauty.” Just off the highway, you wouldn’t expect such a spectacular sight and yet, there it is.
It’s nearby neighbour Detifoss is known as “The Beast,” as it stands 100 metres wide and drops 44 metres. It’s the most powerful waterfall in Europe actually and incredibly impressive to stand beside. If you’ve got time, make the slow trek on a slightly rugged road to the waterfall Aldeyjarfoss, surrounded by basalt and barren land. You’ll most certainly have the place to yourself, so you can really enjoy the views.
The East Fjords
Wow! Driving along the East Fjords, you will literally have your face pressed to the window in awe of all the gorgeous scenery and majestic mountains that surround you. We stopped at every turn to snap photos and take it all in. Apparently in the summer, kayaking can be quite popular here and we can see why. The area is breathtaking!
There are a couple ways to drive along the East Fjords, but honestly we don’t think you can go wrong. Inland or along the coast, those mountains and wild mountain goats will have you cranking your necks to see the sights. The thing is, these mountains are best described as right out of a fantasy novel. We even dubbed one as, “Mount Doom,” from the Lord of the Rings movie, because of it’s unreal size and jagged silhouette. We have since learned this magical mountain range is called Vestrahorn. Don’t miss it!
Off the beaten path hot pools
Selvallalaug in the south was a true gem. After taking a small road and hiking a bit of a trek over a little creek, you’ll find the oldest hot pool in Iceland in the middle of a green valley, completely away from civilization. This hot pool offers up incredible views and desolation, which pretty much sums up our time in Iceland after the Golden Circle.
Another gem of a hot pot is Gudrunarlaug near Snaefellsness. Beautifully sculpted in stone and partially covered in moss, we only had to share it with one other couple. There’s quite a story attached to this spot and that’s what we most loved about Iceland, besides the views of course. The creativity and imagination of their culture was so exciting to learn about. After reading about the story and seeing the little shack that stood nearby, you’ll feel like an elf could pop out at any time.
Snaefellsnes to Akureryi
Driving along the scenic route from Trollaskagi up to Siglufjordur, we stopped at Hofsos for a dip after reading about it in the Lonely Planet book. Designed by the same architect responsible for the Blue Lagoon, this hot pool is arguably one of the most scenic in Iceland. Built on the hillside above the sea and looking out into the Drangey bay, we watched the most magnificent sunset from the infinity pool with only a handful of people beside us.
Winding along the coastal roads with not a single car in view, you’ll reach the town of Siglufjordur, which is where we spent the night. This small harbour town has little to offer, but stunning views of the enormous mountains surrounding it.
Jökulsárlón and surrounding area
You can’t take a trip to Iceland without seeing the epic glaciers spread over top of the volcanoes. Iceland is called the land of fire and ice for a reason. Jökusárlón is the crown jewel within the Vatnajökull National Park. It is a large glacier lake littered with icebergs floating out to the ocean, leaving ice chunks resembling diamonds on a black sand beach. It’s no wonder the location has been used in various Hollywood movies including two James Bond films and Batman Begins. Despite being packed with tourists, it’s an incredible sight to see and should not be missed. You can even take a boat tour around the lagoon and apparently in the winter, there are seals to gawk at too.
Want more glaciers? From Höfn, there are a number of icefalls accessible by gravel roads if you have an SUV. We found one that ended in a glacier lagoon with gorgeous lookout points and an up-close sand beach that we walked along. The best part is we had it all to ourselves. Fjallsárlón is another gigantic glacier lake just south of Jökusárlón. Just as captivating, but with less crowds, we spent some time there too.
Vík is a must see as well. It’s famous for its blank sand beach complete with basalt columns and craggy rock formations sticking out of the ocean. Because of its otherworldly qualities, you’ll want to spend time taking photos there. You can even hike up the mountain there to get a gorgeous overview. However, be very careful on the beach because the waves there are highly unpredictable and powerful.
Not far from Vík you’ll find Myrdalsjökull, a giant glacier you can hike right down to. Tread with extreme caution though, as there is hardly anyone around.
Fjadrárgljúfur Canyon (Try saying that just once!)
Whatever you do, don’t miss this gem. Just 2 kilometres long, the serpentine canyon is 100 metres deep with sheer walls. The views from up top are absolutely stunning! If you go there in the summer, you can even rent kayaks to wind through the waters.
Skaftafell National Park
The must see spot between Vík and Höfn is made up of excellent hikes. Inside the park, you’ll find the gorgeous Svartifoss waterfall surrounded by dark lava columns and beautiful trees.
Be sure to also visit the Visitor Centre here and watch the video to learn about the disastrous Öraefajökull, the ice-covered volcano that wiped out the community and surrounding area in 1362. The area is now referred to as a wasteland and driving through it is pretty eerie. For the very adventurous, we heard you could take your SUV along the black sand beach there and look for the plane wreck to get cool photo ops, but we stayed on the ring road.
The waterfalls of the South
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the waterfalls in Iceland are unbelievable. Seljalandsfoss is just 120 kilometres from Reykjavík and can be seen from the highway. As you get closer, it just gets better and better. You can even walk behind the waterfall for the best views and pictures. Just 2 minutes from there, discover the hidden gem that is called Gljúfrabúi. You either have to trek through some water to get past the rock laying in front of it or climb the rock. Either way, it’s a gorgeous sight that not many know about.
Don’t forget Skógafoss, just 30 kilometres down the road. It’s the waterfall used on the cover of Lonely Planet‘s Iceland guidebook and it’s pretty awesome. It is literally a giant wall of water falling down that you can walk right up to and when you’re in front of it, you feel so tiny and so alive.
There you have it, the must see spots in Iceland if you’ve got the time. Any other gems you can think of that we’re missing? Tell us in the comments below 🙂
Peace & love,
Marcella & Tim
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