So you finally decided to take that long deserved vacation time and plan an incredible adventure! Of all the places in the world to choose from, something is calling you to Iceland. Whether you heard it through a friend or saw some ads online, the pictures and tales of green mosses, rainbow sands, and white waterfalls have convinced you to travel to the land of fire and ice and overwhelm your desire for adventure in the midst of magnificent landscapes. The catch is that you can only stay for one week; how do you choose from all of the possibilities to make sure you have an extra special experience? Outdoor Project is here to help you plan an incredible trip that will be one of the most meaningful and impactful adventures of your life!
Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital and largest city (population 125,000), is an excellent place to start off while you make a quick adjustment to the change in time zone and learn about the origins of Icelandic culture. There are plenty of sights and museums to explore as well as a vibrant nightlife that is considered to be some of the best in the world!
Standing 74.5 meters (244 feet) on a hill overlooking the city is the Evangelical-Lutheran church of Iceland. It is the largest church in the country and one of the most visited destinations. The stepped concrete facade reflects the volcanic basalt columns and high fjords present throughout the Iceland landscape, and it is a perfect introduction to this national symbolism and architectural style. After seeing the magnificent organ, take a lift up the tower to the clock's interior and viewing platform. On a clear day, you can see all the way west to Snæfellsjökull; the massive glacier capped volcano that is the starting point in Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel "Journey to the Center of the Earth."
A second iconic structure in Reykjavík is the giant glass domed building set atop several large hot water tanks. At 25.7 meters (84.3 feet) high, it can be seen from all over the city. Inside, there is a newly installed Wonders of Iceland Exhibition with an incredible Glaciers and Ice Cave experience along with the educational area. Up in the dome you can grab something to eat, venture out to the large observation deck, and walk around a 360-degree viewing platform.
Obviously you’ve heard of all the hot spring activity, so you're anxious to find somewhere to relax Icelandic style. Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach is a local swimming and bathing paradise on the coast of Reykjavik that is open all year. Water heated by natural volcanic activity is fed into the bay, making it an extremely popular spot to enjoy all year long. There is also a hot tub on shore!
If you are looking for more opportunities in the city, you can check out 48 Hours in Reykjavík. But now that you’ve gotten used to the foreign daylight hours and tried the cured shark (maybe?), you’re ready to venture out into the vast landscapes that begin just beyond the city’s limits. Iceland’s Golden Circle ranks among the highest tourist density locations in the country, but this congestion is far outweighed by the magnificent sights and geological phenomenon.
Serving as one the most historical, cultural, and geologically significant places in Iceland, Þingvellir is a stop that can’t be missed. The national parliament of Iceland was established here over 1,000 years ago, and the entire park lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
The Golden Circle is a primary demonstration of Iceland’s natural geothermal energy, and it holds the likes of several geysers and bubbling mud pits. Spectators have been visiting this location since the 18th century, and Strokkur continually blows about every five to 10 minutes, spraying boiling water over 20 meters (65 feet) into the sky. Between eruptions you can see the clear blue water burbling and sinking as the pressure builds in preparation of the next eruption.
This massive two-tier waterfall in the southwestern region of Iceland thunders down the Hvitá River and drops 32 meters (105 feet) into the Olfusa Canyon. It is one of the most famous waterfalls in the country, and it is visited by thousands of people every day. More recently, this waterfall played a significant role in the foundation of Iceland’s environmental preservation values.
If you already feel it is time to resubmerge yourself in natural hot spring water, then you can make a stop at Laugarvatn Fontana, where there is a long tradition of the community using these mineral-rich waters for religious practice as well as restoration of the body and soul. In addition to the spa treatment there are steam room cabins, a Finnish-style sauna, and three mineral baths that vary in depth and size. If at any point you’re looking for a quick cool down, walk out onto the dock into Lake Laugarvatn, where you can take a dip in this refreshing Icelandic lake.
So you’ve had a few days to become adjusted to the Icelandic weather and culture… or, at least the culture, because the weather will still surprise you. Be prepared to experience all of the seasons on a regular basis (seriously, appropriate clothing required). Embark on Route 1, Iceland’s famous Ring Road that circles the entire country. The southern route to the east holds plenty of amazing opportunities to fulfill the remainder of your week-long stay and all of the following destinations you can easily access with a two-wheel drive vehicle.
Visible from the road is a 60-meter (197-foot) waterfall that is among the most recognizable in the country. The massive amount of water pouring over this high cliff, believed to once be Iceland's coastline, sources from volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökullin. A walking path circles behind the falls, so you have the opportunity to explore the thunderous water from all angles! Bring waterproof clothes for the heavy mist and a good pair shoes for the slippery rocks.
If you’re looking for a more secluded hot spring experience, Seljavallalaug is a built up pool that is set on the side of a valley surrounded by mountains on almost all sides. The 1-kilometer walk to the pool from the car lot is completely worth the trek as you settle into the naturally heated water amid the beautiful scenery.
Making your way along the southern coast, you can stop in the small town of Vík, which hosts some of the most expansive black sand beaches in the country. The color and architecture are naturally formed from volcanic ash and historic lava flows making contact with the water.
Not far off of the Ring Road lies a 2-kilometer (1.25-mile) long canyon with 100-meter (328-foot) high moss-covered walls that were carved and washed out by glacial melt thousands of years ago. A majestic walking path goes along the canyon’s edge up to these cliff tops. You will be graced with spectacular views that span from the high green walls down to the low flowing water.
Vatnajökull National Park is the largest national park in Iceland and offers an incredible climax to your week-long adventure. Its variety of landscape features created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, and volcanic activity are a marvel. Svartifoss is Icelandic for "Black Falls," and it is nestled into an amphitheater of tall basalt columns created by rapidly cooling lava. This short hike can be continued over to Sjónarnípá, where you’ll be immediately overwhelmed by an incredible view across Skaftafellsjökull, a glacier flowing down the steep mountain into a preglacial lake far below.
If you find you're moving along quite quickly, continue onto Iceland’s most famous glacial river lagoon at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull. You can even hop on a boat tour to get close and personal with some of the icebergs! There are unmarked trails you can explore that lead around the rim of the lake for several kilometers. Diamond Beach is another black sand beach on the coastal side of Ring Road where you will likely find smaller icebergs washed ashore.
You've made it so far this week, and Iceland has been more than you could ever hoped for. The amazing beauty of the land makes you realize that the enormous hype about traveling to this country was such an understatement. This is a life-changing and eye-opening experience! As you make your way back to Keflavik Airport, there is one more treasure of the Reykjanes Peninsula to enjoy before your departure.
Set atop an 800-year-old lava field in a UNESCO Geopark, the Blue Lagoon (Bláa lónið) is Iceland’s most luxurious geothermal spa with milky-blue waters that are rich in blue-green algae, mineral salts, and fine silica mud. These ingredients form a natural blend that softens skin and soothes the body in an unforgettable and enchanting experience. It is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland, and in 2012 it was named one of National Geographic’s “25 Wonders of the World." It is open every day of the year, and pre-booking is essential.
Outdoor Project wishes you the best of luck with your adventure planning, and we know you are guaranteed to have an amazing time with the above itinerary! If you plan to be in Iceland for longer than one week, be sure to check out our Guide to Iceland’s Ring Road. For more adventures on foot, you also don’t want to skip over Iceland’s Best Hikes!