- Hike through Thorsmork, where you'll find some of the must rugged and naturally beautiful landscapes in the world.
- Go 'beyond the wall' and hike on Europe's largest glacier in Skaftafell National Park.
- Drive the beautiful roads around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and enjoy some secret hot pots away from the crowds.
- Horse ride along Southern Iceland's famous black volcanic beaches.
A bit about Iceland
We flew into Iceland's Keflavik's International Airport at about 2:30am in late July and the sun was just starting to rise over the surrounding hills. Coming in to land and looking out through the window you would be forgiven for thinking that the landscape is pretty bleak. But don't let that first glimpse deter you; Iceland is primed for exploring and 10 Days in Iceland is the perfect amount of time to get a good taste!
Iceland, aptly named the land of fire and ice, is the ultimate destination for nature lovers. The below itinerary will give you some of the best things to see and do in Iceland in 10 Days in Summer.
But first, a few comments:
Whilst Iceland is only a small country with a population of around 330,000 people, it receives upward of 2 million visitors per year - many of whom stopover in Iceland while travelling over the Atlantic and only stay a few days. This means certain attractions, such as the Golden Circle, can now be extremely busy during the day.
How do you avoid the crowds in Iceland?
Drive! Driving allows you to go to places the buses don't visit or visit less frequently. It also gives you the option to take advantage of the long nights in summer. Buses will go to most destinations during what we would consider to be normal hours. The biggest tip we can give is to travel, hike and swim in the evening or late at night. Not only are the sights devoid of people but you can take advantage of what photographers call the Golden Hour, where the sun is just hovering around the horizon, to take some amazing pictures!
Driving in Iceland
If you are going to be 10 days in Iceland then a car is almost mandatory.
Is hiring a car in Iceland expensive?
Yes, but not as much as it used to be. Also, buses and tours are very expensive so if there is more than one of you then driving likely the cheapest option.
Is it worth hiring a car in Iceland?
Definitely, a car is a must to explore Iceland's beautiful landscapes. Iceland is actually bigger than people expect; larger than Portugal, Ireland and Hungary and similar in size to the UK but without the public transport system - so to get around and keep your independence having a car is a must.
Do you need a Four Wheel Drive in Iceland?
Nope. In summer nearly all roads are accessible with a 2WD. We had a small two door car and didn't have any problems. Just avoid the F Roads (mountain roads); even if you have a 4WD insurance won't cover you on these so it is almost pointless getting a normal 4WD. Although there are some specialist companies within Iceland that let you hire special 4WD for these roads (albeit they are super expensive). There is so much to see and do in Iceland in 10 days that you won't need to go on any F Roads.
Where should I drive to in Iceland?
After seeing Reykjavik, we suggest the following itinerary for people's first visit in Iceland!
Day 1: Snaefellsnes
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is only 150 kilometers (2 hours) from Reykjavik and is the perfect place to start your 10 days in Iceland. Grundarfjordour makes a great base to visit all the main attraction on the Peninsula.
On the way to Grundarfordour make sure you visit the beautiful fishing village of Stykkisholmur. If you are lucky you will see some puffins.
Once in Grundarfordour, enjoy and photograph Iceland's most iconic mountain, Mt Kirkjufell near Grundafjordour. This is especially stunning when visited in the evening.
Day 2: Snaefellsnes
Explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We would recommend a day itinerary starting from Grundarfordour and heading to the following places (in order):
- Olkelda Mineral Spring - Olkelda is literally a water pump on a farm that produces natural sparkling mineral water. It was actually quite fun to find and play around with - the water is also believed to have some health benefits (though not enough for me to enjoy the metallic taste).
- Ytri Tunga Beach - Ytri Tunga is home to the common seal and the grey seal (normally visible every day in June to August). The advantage here is that the seals are bathing with the Snaefellsjokull Volcano as the backdrop.
- Budir - Budakirkja is a beautiful black church dating back to 1703 which sits in an old lava field and has the ocean and surrounding mountains as its backdrop.
- Raudfeldsgja Canyon - The canyon is a very skinny gorge that extends 40 metres into the mountain. The first part of the canyon is easily accessible and worth visiting but the next 30-35 metres is through a very narrow space that will likely see you getting wet... but the reward is a stunning waterfall covered in green moss.
- Hellnar and Amarstapi - These are two tiny hamlets that are nice in their own right (without having much to do) but the 1.5 hour hike between the two goes through a spectacular lava field.
- Saxholl Volcanic Crater - Saxholl, a small, extinct volcano in the shadow of the glacier covered Snaefellsjokull Volcano, is a great place to see inside a volcano. The climb is short (less than 200 metres) and gives good views of the surrounding lava fields.
It may seem like a lot to do in a day but you would be surprised, everything is on the main road and is easy to get to.
Other things to do in the area include going caving in Vatnshellir Cave (you need do go on a tour) and snowmobiling on top of Snaefellsjokull.
Day 3 - Golden Circle and Fludir
Today we drive south towards the Golden Circle. However, before you get there, you have to experience this amazing hot spring... literally a hot pot in the middle of nowhere.
Landbrotalaug is a small hot pot of perfect temperature. The only catch is that it is small and intimate and you probably don't want to share it with anyone other than your close friends and family. Tip: Go in the morning to make sure you are on your own. When we were there it was incredibly cold outside but amazing inside - one of my favourite experiences in Iceland.
After your relaxing morning, follow the road south towards the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is the tourist name given to the following three attractions:
- Pingvellir National Park
- Strokkur Geyser
- Gullfoss Waterfall
Pingvellir National Park is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. There are places in the national park where there are deep fissures in the ground showing where the tectonic plates are moving away from each other. I will be controversial here and say your time is better spent elsewhere than here. Despite there being thousands of tourists at Pingvellir on days trips from Reykjavic; it was just not that amazing. I will admit that I have heard that diving in the crystal blue water between the tectonic plates does sound like a special experience.
Strokkur Geyser is exactly what you imagine; an explosion of water from a hot spring that has a temperature of over 100 degrees (Celsius). Each eruption occurs every 5-10 minutes. The longer the wait generally means, the larger the eruption. The anticipation!
Gullfoss Waterfall is incredible. The volume of water, about 140 cubic meters per second in summer, makes it Europe's largest waterfall by volume of water. Well worth a visit just to see the sheer awesomeness of nature!
After the Golden Circle spend the night in the nearby geothermal town of Fludir.
Day 4: Thorsmork
Bus Driver Joke:
How do you find your way out of a forest in Iceland? Stand up!
There are almost no tall trees in Iceland; it is primarily tundra type vegetation due to the cold and the wind.
Þórsmörk is a hikers dream! Set in the South of Iceland between volcanic glaciers, green, mossy mountains and everchanging glacial rivers, Thorsmork truly is too good to be true.
The only problem is that it is hard to get to as you need to hop on a mountain bus or Superjeep to get across the powerful Krossa River; which, in summer, is particularly fast flowing from the melting glaciers.
I'd recommend leaving your car in Hella for two days and jump on the mountain bus.
Day 5: Thorsmork
Best hikes in Thorsmork (all starting from the Volcano Huts):
- Valahnukur: All the best photos of Thorsmork are from this small 450m mountain, where you get amazing 360° panoramic views of Thorsmork. The hike itself can take you anywhere from about 1 hour to 2 hours return. Best done in the evening after dinner when the sun is low.
- Tindfjöll Circle: A steep and relatively tough 5 to 6 hour hike over the Trindjoll Mountains which gives you stunning views over the beautiful Thorsmork Nature Reserve.
- Stakkholtsgjá Canyon: Jump on the local mountain bus and drive the 15 minutes across the Krossa River (bus leaves the Volacano Huts at lunch time and picks you up again in the afternoon). The hike is about 2 hours return following a fast flowing stream between 100 metre high moss covered walls that culminates at a cave opening. At the entrance of the cave you can climb a few boulders and get a view of the stunning waterfall that feeds the stream.
Day 6: Skaftafell National Park & Jokulsarlon
Catch the early morning mountain bus back to your car in Hella and drive the 2.5 hours to Skaftafell National Park. Accommodation is limited around here but there are quite a few options within about a 30 minute - 1 hour drive.
The mountain bus will stop just after leaving Thorsmork at the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall; a stunning waterfall that you can walk behind (just be prepared to get wet). Make sure you get out and spend 15 minutes or so enjoying this incredible sight.
The Skaftafell National Park is famous for two things:
- Svartifoss Waterfall: A waterfall flowing over the top of beautifully sculptures natural basalt columns (formed from lava flows).
- Vatnajokull Glacier: Europe's largest glacier that has an average thickness of over 400m deep. The glacier is also situated on top of several volcanoes. The volcanic ash that is frozen among the glacier gives it a completely otherworldly look. Do not miss an opportunity to hike on top the glacier.
Day 7: Skaftafell National Park & Jokulsarlon
The two things to do today:
1. Hike on the Vatnajokull Glacier.
Ever watched Game of Thrones? This is where many of the 'Beyond the Wall' scenes have been filmed.
The glacier hike itself must be done through a tour agency and the majority of tours take you to the Svinafellsjokull Glacier Tongue (part of the Europe's largest glacier; Vatnajokull). The tour companies provide you with crampons and all the gear you need. Just remember to wear warm clothes. There are tours suitable for all fitness types.
2. Visit Jokulsarlon Lagoon and Diamond Beach.
Jokulsarlon Lagoon is a glacial lagoon that captures the ice-melt from the Vatnajokull Glacier. Jokulsarlon is located approximately 45 minutes from Skaftafell National Park and is on the N1 (ring route). The blue ice mixed with the black volcanic ash makes for some brilliant contrasts and photos.
Diamond Beach is directly across the road and is a black sand beach. The special thing about Diamond Beach is that the ice from the lagoon washes up on shore and, in the sun, the beach sparkles (like a diamond). If you are lucky you will also see seals playing among the ice.
Day 8: Vik (via Fjadrargljufur & Skogafoss)
Slowly head back towards Reykjavik to the beautiful black beaches of Vik. However, there are two important stops along the way before reaching Vik:
1. Fjadrargljufur Canyon
Fjadrargljufur Canyon is located just off of the ring route near the town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur. Hike on top of the 100 metre high canyon walls for amazing views of the canyon. The hike takes about 30 minutes and is not streanous.
You can also walk along the floor of the canyon but you will have to be prepared to get wet from the shallow Fjaora river. The best views are from the mountain walls.
2. Sokgafoss Waterfall
The truely powerful Skogafoss Waterfall stands at about 60 metres high and is certainly a highlight when visiting Iceland. Make sure you get right underneath the waterfall and experience its power; just be prepared to get drenched.
Day 9: Vik
Vik is the main town in Southern Iceland. I say 'main town' but it only has a population of about 200 or so. Despite its size it is a great base to explore the volcanic Southern Iceland region! Vik is located just below the Myrdalsjokull glacier, which lies on top of one of Iceland's largest and most active volcanoes; Katla. Katla has not erupted since 1918 but usually erupts every 60 or so years and hence a large eruption is expected in the next 10 years. Our three favourite things to do in and around Vik are listed as follows:
1. Horse Riding
Vik is famous for its black, volcanic beaches and there is no better way to view them than on horseback. We found that Reynisfjara Beach (the black sand beach with beautiful basalt columns) had too many people there all the time and whilst it is a good place for a quick visit, it just wasn't somewhere we wanted to hangout for a long time at. HOWEVER, we signed up to go horse riding and seeing the beach from horseback was amazing, as not only are you slightly more elevated, but you go on parts of the beach where there are no or very few people.
We went with the Vik Horse Adventure Company whose horses were absolutely beautiful and who we would definitely recommend.
2. Super Jeep Tour
There are many Super Jeep Tours that take you into places you can't get to with normal vehicles in the Southern Highlands. Ice caves, glaciers and volcanoes... you are definitely not short of things to see!
3. Airplane Crash Site
In 1973 a DC-3 airplane belonging to the US Navy had to make an emergency landing on the bland sand of Solheimasandur Beach. All crew survived but the fuselage was abandoned on the beach, which now makes for some wonderful photos. The site is located just off the N1 at the sign for Solheimajokull and is about a 4km walk each way. Just avoid peak times as it can get incredibly crowded at the crash site during the middle of the day.
Day 10: Reykjavik
On the way back to Reykjavik stopped at the world famous Blue Lagoon. Whilst it can't be missed, the Blue Lagoon is incredibly commercial now. You have to pre-book tickets, are given a certain time slot during the day and have to fight your way through the change rooms to get a locker. HOWEVER, drinking a beer while relaxing in the beautiful, warm blue water is a great way to end your holiday.