Nordic nations possess a spectacle that many other countries simply can’t match – that statement rings particularly true with Iceland, filled with jaw-dropping feats of nature, incredible wildlife and a history almost unrivalled. We’ve selected our favourites in this country guide, so you can enjoy the best Iceland has to offer, once you’ve renewed your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) of course!
What better place to start our guide than with Iceland’s most popular tourist attraction, the Golden Circle. Consisting of three equally awe-inspiring locations in Southwest Iceland, the Golden Circle includes the Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area and the Gullfoss waterfall. All within a convenient distance of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, each of these breathtaking locations can be visited within the same day.
Puffins are sea-birds and, quite frankly, one of the cutest and most unique creatures to have ever walked the earth. Famed for their coloured beak and fur resembling that of a penguin, you’ll most likely only be able to see them on the South Coast of Iceland from early April until September of each year.
The rest of the year they spend at sea! Capable of diving up to 60 metres underwater, they are also phenomenal swimmers; they can flap their wings up to 400 times a second and even reach speeds of 80km an hour.
The waterfalls of Hraunfossar are a spectacle in every sense of the word. Not only are they a stunning natural water feature to sit by and marvel, but they also have a 900m long stream of lava flowing under the river below them. As a result of the lava flow, the colour of the river also varies, changing from turquoise to stark white throughout the year.
The Vatnajökull is Iceland’s largest glacier, with an area of 3,100 square miles. It’s so large in fact, that it actually covers 8% of Iceland’s total land. To put the Vatnajökull’s sheer stature into perspective, it is close to the size of the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Cyprus! The average thickness of Vatnajökull’s ice is (1,300 ft), and in the coldest parts of the year reaches a maximum thickness of (3,300 ft).
The Volcano House
Iceland has over 200 active and inactive volcanoes, so it’s best you top up your knowledge when travelling across the country and The Volcano House will help you do exactly that.
With hourly documentaries about the most famous eruptions in modern history, a free hands-on exhibition of semi-precious stones, minerals, ash and pumice and more, you’ll come away a certified volcano expert. You might even collect a few quaint souvenirs from the Volcano House’s boutique as well.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
A mighty glacier, lava tubes, a range of local flora and even whale sightings, sounds better than your average national park right? Well, the Snæfellsjökull National Park offers all of that in abundance, sitting on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the park was named after its signature glacier Snæfellsjökull. Along with jaw-dropping sights, the park has numerous hiking trails, so you can stay active while taking in the sensational scenery.
Iceland is the only place on earth where the effects of two major tectonic plates drifting apart from one another can be observed above sea level. The Þingvellir Plain shows the point between North America and Europe where the plates are moving, resulting in cracks in the landscape which cause rivers and lakes to form. You can trace the plate’s movements along the fault lines of the plane and watch this natural occurrence up close.
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
The Hornstrandir nature reserve is a birdwatchers and hikers paradise. Remote, picturesque and bordering a stunning lake you can sail in, the reserve was first established in 1975. In that time the attraction has become synonymous with the spectacular terrain, stunning waterfalls, sea cliffs and mountain bluffs.
What’s more, along with a variety of birds, the Nature Reserve also homes an indigenous species of Arctic Fox. Also known as a white, polar or snow fox, the species can only be found in arctic regions of the northern hemisphere.
Swim in the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon first formed in 1976 and in the decades that have followed, has become one of the most famous attractions Iceland has to offer, culminating in its inclusion in the National Geographic’s top 25 Wonders of the World.
With an average temperature of 39°C / 102°F all year round, the waters are said to have healing properties due to the fact they contain silica and other minerals, resulting in travellers flocking there every year to treat a range of skin conditions and ailments.
Paying tribute to the nation’s Viking heritage, the Viking World Museum is located in the southwestern town of Njarðvík. Inside you’ll find a replica of the Icelander, a Viking ship from the 9th century which is thought to have once sailed across the Atlantic. You can explore the life-sized replica of the ship and even wander beneath it.
Alongside the Icelander, there is also a fascinating exhibition on Norse mythology, as well as a Settlement Zoo and a Viking playground for children.
Iceland has a wide selection of accommodation for you to choose from, ranging from affordable camping grounds, bed and breakfasts, apartments available for rent and your traditional hotels.
Much of the accommodation is small, due to Iceland’s depleted population, so if you plan to travel in a large group you may have to pay for more than one room. If you do have a larger group, you could opt for a hostel and book out an entire dormitory. While you aren’t always given sole choice on rooms, this can be a great way to meet new people and travel on a budget!
Iceland has a network of long distance bus routes, with five different bus companies supplying public transport. Many of the buses have GPS tracking, so you can see when your bus is approaching and are also equipped with free WI-FI. Pay attention to the timetables, however, as these long-distance routes aren’t always regular.
It’s best to travel to Iceland in the summer if you intend on not driving, specifically from June to August as this is when the most regular transport is available.
If you’re interested in travelling to the natural beauty that is Iceland, make sure you book your EHIC in good time. For more information, visit our FAQs, or simply renew your card, today.