Six best things to do in Iceland
By Sophie Raine
Iceland is one of those places you visit, then become evangelical about it to a cult-like degree to anyone who will listen. You find yourself grabbing elderly relatives by the arm, looking into their eyes and telling them they should try and make it there. You get chatting to someone else who’s been and it’s as if they’re your best friend of 25 years, you begin to reminisce together and make each other a pinky promise that you’ll return. I struggled to condense the trip into six picks because there is just so many things I want to insist you see and do but I managed it… just! So here are my six recommendations for the best things to do in Iceland – basically, you simply must go.
Rent a car
If you can’t drive, go with someone who can (but make sure you can bear to spend up to eight-hours a day in the car with them – this is not a trip you want to take with the in-laws). Having the ability to explore by yourself is vital, otherwise you will end up spending enough to feed a small country on excursions and might miss out on finding somewhere amazing. Because that’s what Iceland is about – the stumbling upon incredible things. One minute you’re at a volcano, the next you turn a corner and discover a waterfall or find yourself in an open stretch of ice and snow without another human in sight. My immediate reaction when someone told me I’d need to spend a large proportion of the day in a car was that it didn’t sound like my idea of a holiday, but believe me when I say it’s the best drive you’ll ever do in your life.
Sometimes the place you decide to stay can make or break your trip. Even if you can’t afford your dream hotel for the whole visit, look out for deals and see if you can stay somewhere special just for a night. We did just this at the famous ION Adventure hotel. The hotel looks as though it’s straight out of a Bond film with stunning views across the wilderness. Five star facilities make it a great stay but the setting alone is beautiful and the drive up there breathtaking. It also puts you in prime position to see the Northern Lights. No guarantees though because the pesky lights only come out and play when they darn well feel like it.
Okay, in Iceland you’ll spend 22% of your trip asking your travel companion to check that the sensation in your toes isn’t frostbite, so you may be surprised to hear me tell you that you must go snorkelling. The Thingvellir National Park is the only place in the world that you can snorkel between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates (one to tick off the list). Sure, it’s zero degrees and you’re struggling to stay afloat given you’re wedged between 26 wetsuits but it’s serene and transfixing. Plus, who wants to be in a bikini somewhere exotic posing next to a blowfish when you’ve existed on a diet of fish and chips for the duration of your holiday anyway?
Vik and Jökulsárlónso
You’ll most likely stay in Reykjavik and travel around in the car so a word of warning – this drive is hideously long but very worth it. Jökulsárlón is a glacier lagoon on the south east coast and absolutely spectacular. Notice the icebergs here are often striped from the effects of volcanic eruptions and float slowly in the 260 metre deep lagoon for five to six years. Take a boat trip and be on the look out for packs of seals either taking a dip in the frosty water or lounging on the icebergs themselves. The drive is around five hours in good conditions but there are lots of lovely things to see on the way including Vik (the black beach which you may recognise if you’re a Game of Thrones fan).
The Blue Lagoon
It’s likely you’ve already heard of the Blue Lagoon as it’s one of Iceland’s most popular places to visit. The geothermal lagoon is set in the middle of a lava field, which means despite the weather and surrounding snow, the water is always hot. If you’re lucky you may even spy the Northern Lights from here too. I can’t lie, it’s a #TTT (total tourist trap) but I bloody loved it (everyone does). And come on, you can’t miss it – it’s ‘the’ thing to do in Iceland. Best bit: you can bob along to the bar which is located right in the middle of it, to nab a beer whilst your algae face mask works its magic.
The hotdog stand
If I asked you where the most successful hotdog stand in the world was I’m sure you’d say New York right? Wrong, it’s in Rekyavik, stationed in a little car park not far from the big Harpa Concert Hall. In our humble opinion, the hotdogs are just okay but it’s somewhat of an institution so worth a visit. A quick word on the grub in Iceland as a whole. It’s absolutely fantastic, but a bit on the pricey side. There are some unbelievable restaurants in Reykjavik which, depending on budget, are really worth a visit. Dill and the Seafood Grill (sjavargrillid) are among the best.
Find out more on planning your trip at visiticeland.com
Want more on Iceland? Read about our Glacier hike (and more) here…
Header pic: Moyan Brenn