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If you have ever wanted to visit the Land of Fire and Ice, now is a great time because Iceland has reopened!
The nation recently announced they would no longer require tourists to show their vaccination card or provide a negative COVID test to enter their borders. And yes, it's taking everything in me not to look at airfare to Iceland right now!
When people ask where I have traveled and if I would ever return, my answer is usually "maybe, but probably not" because there are just so many places still to see.
If I could return to Iceland, however, I would in a heartbeat. And I'd take my husband this time.
There is just so much to see and explore! With a population of about 345,000 people, the island feels practically uninhabited and beautifully untouched.
From the hot springs to dip in, glaciers to climb, waterfalls to hike to, black sand beaches to comb, volcanic craters to peek over, and tectonic plate fissures to swim between, the activities are plenteous and the natural beauty is astounding.
I recapped my Iceland trip as a docuseries last time. But now that Iceland has reopened, I'm walking down memory lane once more to tell you how to have an epic Iceland adventure of your own!
Iceland Fun Facts
- Why is Iceland called the Land of Fire and Ice? There are 130 volcanoes on the island. However, only about 31 are considered active. Last year, a volcano named Geldingadalir erupted lava for over 5 months. On the other hand, many dormant volcanoes are covered in glaciers, and only 269 of them are named.
- With all that fire and ice, there’s sure to be some water, right? Try to guess how many waterfalls Iceland has. If you guessed even 1,000 you’d be way off. Iceland has 10,000 known waterfalls on its little land mass! You’d have to explore a new waterfall every day for almost 30 years to see them all.
- While the weather and terrain can be deadly in Iceland, there are no lethal snakes, insects, or animals. In fact, even mosquitoes can’t survive in Iceland.
- Early Viking settlers cut down nearly 97% of the forest that once thrived in Iceland. The country struggles to reforest the countryside to this day.
- Iceland is incredibly eco-friendly and sustainable. The majority of the island’s electricity is powered by geothermal and hydro energy. Thanks to all this hot water, swimming is a year-round activity. They also use it to keep the city walkways thawed by running it beneath the pavement. Genius!
- If you’re looking for reassurance to solo travel in Iceland, take comfort in knowing it’s among the top safest countries in the world. In 2017, there were 4 murders total and even less of other crimes.
- On Christmas Eve, Icelanders celebrate Jolobokaflod, a holiday dedicated to book giving! I might start that tradition in my own home…
- Lastly, don’t worry about reading road signs or conversing with locals. English is one of three languages Icelanders learn in primary school. Most at least understand the basics!
How to Get There
Several airlines fly into the Keflavik airport from most US airports.
However, you’ll generally get more bang for your bank with an IcelandAir Stopover. A stopover with IcelandAir is a layover that, get this, can last up to 7 days and totally count in your overall itinerary cost.
For example, in 2017 I flew from Seattle to Reykjavik, took a 6 day Ring Road tour, hopped back on a plane to Paris and it all counted as the first leg of my trip. After another week in Europe, I had a quick layover again in Iceland before returning to Seattle the same day.
Regarding whether to join a tour or explore Iceland independently...
I have to say I enjoyed both experiences for different reasons.
On my first visit, I needed to make sure I could get back to the airport in time to catch my flight. Driving alone around the island could have gone awry in so many ways. A delay would be uncalled for.
Not only that, but with Iceland being so expensive, a discounted tour through Arctic Adventures actually turned out to be a good bargain.
Along with transportation and accommodations, breakfast was included every day, as well as all excursions like the glacier hike to the ice cave and our whale watching boat ride.
I had plenty of free time, saw all the main tourist spots and more, and learned a lot about the landscape, history, and culture from our driver and guide than I would have if I’d gone solo.
However, if you’re adamant about being your own guide, I hear you. Just keep in mind that you’ll want a vehicle with 4WD if you plan to get off the main road at all, and it will probably be costly.
Also, the farther you get from civilization, the less accommodations will be available. Camping is great and all, but if you’re traveling light and on a budget there’s little chance you’ll come prepared with all the right equipment.
Best Time to Visit Iceland
I’ve visited Iceland twice now, once on the small tour in April, and a second time on a 3 day stopover from Scotland in October, the same year.
Both times I hoped for dramatic Aurora Borealis night shows. Both times were unfruitful, except for a hazy glimpse the first night my dad and I arrived. I also didn’t know about the Aurora Forecast that we tried to use on our Alaska trip this past September (also unfruitful but at least we were more prepared).
As a general rule, I like to travel during shoulder seasons. Usually, students are still in school during these months. The days aren’t super long, but neither are they too short. Weather is unpredictable but still tolerable.
In a place like Iceland, visiting during a shoulder season means there’s more chance to experience both cold and warm weather activities.
For instance, if you want to trek a glacier and visit an ice cave, you need to go before the ice melts and it is declared too dangerous. When I went at the end of April, we were lucky to experience the ice cave in its very last week before they closed it for the season. We could actually hear the ice melting and water rushing while we were in there.
Another straddle-season activity could be a northern lights excursion. Although this phenomenon could technically happen any time in the year under the right conditions, it is more likely to occur during the coldest, clearest, and darkest nights.
While not a lot naturally grows in Iceland to begin with, spring does bring some wildflowers. If the snow has significantly melted, the mountains and valleys will be a lush, vibrant green.
In the fall months, the countryside is glowing orange from the fading moss and shrubbery across the volcanic landscape.
What to Pack
I admit that on my first visit to Iceland, I under packed. My budget was tight, too. Which meant that I didn’t invest in the proper footwear and waterproof clothing before heading out on my adventure.
Not that it really affected my overall experience. But being dryer and warmer is always a good idea in Iceland, especially if you’re traveling alone.
No matter the season, Iceland is windy! Like, so windy it could knock you off your feet.
Due to its geographical location, the weather can shift dramatically within a matter of minutes. After all, Icelanders' famous saying is "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes; if you do like the weather, wait 5 minutes."
So, first things first, pack a waterproof jacket. If you select a light shell like the one below, you can still travel light but remain warm and dry.
This one's $30 off on Amazon right now and comes in several colors. But the pink is cute, no?
Then, don’t bother packing your cutest leather boots or nice flats for dinner. I promise, they aren’t necessary. Icelanders are rugged and won’t bat an eye if you walk in with some mud on your feet.
I’d also argue that simple running shoes won’t cut it, either. Even if you don’t plan on hiking a ton, pack sturdy, waterproof hiking boots. You’ll need the grip and warmth.
These Columbia boots come in a variety of cute shades but more importantly, they'll keep your feet dry.
Depending if you plan to join a tour or go it alone, you may want a waterproof hiking backpack as well.
For something smaller and foldable to easily slip back into your carry-on, this one is a wee bit cheaper.
Even in the summertime, temperatures barely reach into the 60s. The best clothing items to pack are layers you can peel off or quickly put back on.
These fleece lined base layer shirt and leggings are ideal for keeping your core regulated while you hike in the Icelandic elements.
If you're going to Iceland during colder months, I'd recommend Mod Sportswear's snowskirt set!
No matter when you go, though, you will want swimwear for a hot spring experience. But if you have sensitive skin I suggest wearing a thin layer into these geothermal waters to test your tolerance.
Another amazing fact about Iceland is the tap water is delicious and super clean. To avoid buying water bottles, pack your water bladder to fill up each day for free!
My Favorite Spots in Iceland
Even if you only have a couple days to explore Iceland, you're in for a treat. But if you have the time, take a week to complete the ring road.
The landscape varies tremendously as you make your way around the island from the south coast to the east fjords, then up north to Akureyri, one of my favorite stops.
In no particular order, these are all the places I've seen and highly recommend fitting in your Iceland itinerary:
- Thingvellir National Park - This is where the shifting tectonic plates are most visible on land.
- Geysir - Basically Iceland's version of Old Faithful, but you can get much closer and I felt like it was more regular.
- Vatnajokull - Our tour stopped at this park to take a glacier hike and explore an ice cave.
- Vik and Renisfyara - When we stopped, it was misty and I was still soaked from our previous stop, so I didn't get a ton of pictures. But these are the famous black sand beaches with basalt columns and volcanic rock formations in the surf.
- Jokulsarlon and Diamond Beach - This bay contains icebergs of various sizes, many of which wash upon the black sand shores and look like giant diamonds. We also saw a seal merrily swimming in this glacier bay.
- Whale watching and fishing in Dalvik
- Myvatn - If you've seen Star Wars, you'll instantly feel like you're on Tatooine. The entire lake and area around it is a geothermal hotspot, literally. Be prepared for harsh Sulphur smells, though!
- Borgarfjordur crater - There are many craters to explore in Iceland, but we happened to see this one. Pictures really don't do the size justice!
- Blue Lagoon hot springs center - technically closer to the Keflavik airport, but it's a great day trip from Reykjavik or on your way to it from the airport.
- Hallgrimskirkja - An iconic, non-religious church structure in downtown Reykjavik that you can go inside and climb to the top for a fun view of the town and harbor.
- Grotta Island Lighthouse
- Sun Voyager Sculpture
- Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur AKA the Best Hot Dogs in Town - No joke! I don't even LIKE hot dogs and these are delicious. They're also the cheapest eat in town.
As you'll probably guess, the "foss" suffix indicates "waterfall" in Icelandic :)
Things to See on My Next Iceland Trip
For such a small island, there's a lot to see in Iceland. Of course, most activities or sites feature natural beauty.
While the capital city, Reykjavik, and a few other towns around the island do have some fun spots to explore, Iceland isn't popular for its city life. Which, is exactly why I love it.
The next time I hop on a plane to Iceland, I for sure want to check these four sites off my must-see list:
- Silfra - Take a swim between the shifting tectonic fissure!
- Sólheimasandur DC plane wreck - Not as eerie as it sounds or looks. All passengers survived, but the plane's remains make for cool pictures along the black sand beach.
- Hornstrandir Nature Reserve – Looks a lot like the Faroe Islands, and is only accessible in the summer and on foot. But, you get a chance at spotting the native and elusive Arctic Fox.
- Studlagil Canyon – Basalt columns tower along the sides of this massive canyon.
The first time I visited Iceland, I made a reservation for a shuttle to pick me up at the airport and transport me to the Blue Lagoon. Not gonna lie, it was a great way to adjust into a new time zone.
Little experiences compare to floating in the truest blue, warm water on a cold and cloudy day and applying the hot springs' natural mud to my skin.
On my second visit, we stopped at Laugarvatn Fontana for a quick soak at night. The water was perfectly soothing and the hot sauna room was a nice bonus, as well.
Sky Lagoon is now the closest hot spring spa and wellness center to Reykjavik.
This place looks super fancy, facing out toward the ocean in an infinity style pool. Of course, it would count as a big splurge on your credit card bill, but I think it would be worthwhile!
The Secret Lagoon is close to the Geysir park area and is much more casual than Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon. It's also less expensive. The grounds look well cared for, though, so this might be a great budget option.
Unfortunately, the (non-life threatening) volcano that was a tourist hotspot (pun intended) stopped spewing lava by the end of summer in 2021.
However, Iceland is known to have a volcanic eruption every few years in some way or another. Since most of the island is uninhabited, there's a good chance it won't affect the Icelander lifestyle.
Needless to say, after seeing the photos from last year's display, watching a lava eruption in Iceland is now on my bucket list.
In the meantime, there are other volcanoes and craters you can visit up close.
Thrihnukagigur Volcano comes highly recommended! Local guides will take you down inside the empty lava tubes to marvel inside the crater.
Waterfalls for My Next Iceland Trip
- Klifbrekku falls
- Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss
Iceland has Reopened - Will You Go?!
Well, that's a wrap on my Iceland recap. Honestly, every time I see an Instagram post or an old picture from Iceland, I get travel-sick. I so enjoyed my time there!
Even if you're not super adventurous or like cold weather, Iceland is still an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience that will take your breath away at every turn.
Now, go see it for yourself!