Iceland’s many natural wonders are as magnificent as they are varied, from the sheer drama of the pristine Snæfellsnes Peninsula to the magic of the Aurora Borealis. Touring Iceland by campervan is the best way to experience these wonders unmediated. You’ll be able to choose where and when to stop and admire the views, and then move on when you like. To help you plan your Icelandic tour, we’ve put together our top 10 things to do in Iceland - with an emphasis on the country’s glorious great outdoors.
The Blue Lagoon
Perhaps one of Iceland’s most famous destinations, the Blue Lagoon is a must-visit. The milky-blue waters of this thermal lagoon are surrounded by craggy, volcanic scenery. At a balmy 38°C, the mineral rich waters are a welcoming prospect for travel weary bones, so do make sure that you book your slot ahead to avoid disappointment. Iceland’s iconic Blue Lagoon is open year-round, but has longer opening hours during the summer months – June to August.
The Aurora Borealis - Northern Lights Iceland
The holy grail of any trip to Iceland is of course witnessing the magical Aurora Borealis. Visible from approximately September to April – Mother Nature willing – Iceland is one of the best countries in the world to see the Northern Lights. Caused by solar particles entering Earth’s magnetic field, these mysterious dancing lights have many a legend and folktale attached to them. On a driving tour of Iceland you are best placed to get lucky with a sighting, or even several. The lights are best observed on clear, cloudless nights, away from artificial lights – ideal if you’re travelling by motorhome. So find a remote parking spot, warm a cup of cocoa and settle in to enjoy the show.
Hiking in Iceland
Iceland’s hiking trails are a delight to discover, from easy day hikes taking in the scenery at a leisurely pace, to more challenging multi-day hikes that get the blood pumping. One of Iceland’s classic day hikes is the 7km trail that winds along the volcanic range that includes Mount Esja. From the summit you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik. Another great hiking destination is Brennisteinsalda in the south of Iceland. This volcanic area has several hiking trails to choose between and you’ll enjoy beautiful views of multi-coloured rocky slopes in fiery red and burnt orange hues. For somewhere a little more off the beaten path, try the remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. This isolated park with its wildflower meadows and impressive fjords is one of the most pristine areas in Iceland and you’ll likely have the place more or less to yourself.
Hot Springs in Iceland
We all know about the Blue Lagoon, but Iceland has many more thermal hot springs to enjoy. After a day of hiking or a long drive, the perfect way to unwind tired muscles is to sink into the healing waters of a hot spring – in fact bathing in the great outdoors is so addictive that you might even want to plan your itinerary around it. The stark plains around Landmannalaugar are home to some spectacular scenery, with vast gravel fields, orange volcanic slopes and lonely snowy peaks. Soaking in the warm waters of the springs here is a wonderful way to take in the drama of the landscape. Mývatn also has some lovely hot springs, including the Mývatn Nature Baths, similar to the blue Lagoon, but a little less visited and more serene.
Iceland’s Midnight Sun
If you travel to Iceland during the summer months then you’ll get to experience the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun. It can take a little getting used to, but once you’ve mastered the art of sleeping in sunlight (that’s why curtains were invented), then there are some wonderful rewards to travelling at this time of year. If you’re on a self-drive tour of Iceland then it gives you all the more time for sightseeing. The roads will be quieter at night and you’ll be able to see some of Iceland’s remarkable landscapes bathed under the beautiful twilight hues of the night sky.
Whale Watching in Iceland
Seeing these mighty aquatic beasts up close is one of those travel experiences that will stay with you for a long time. Iceland is one of the best destinations in the world for whale watching, and with its remote location and favourable mix of warm and cold sea currents, it’s possible to spot whales year-round here. The height of the season is from approximately April to September, but there’s always a good chance of seeing a whale, along with other sea life, including dolphins. From the huge Sperm Whale, to Humpback Whales and Minke Whales, there is an abundance of activity in Iceland’s waters. Trips set out from Reykjavik, as well as Dalvik in the North, and several other seaside towns and ports. Don’t miss a trip to see the giants of the ocean.
Hike a Glacier in Iceland
Wrap up warm and experience the otherworldly landscapes of some of Iceland’s ancient glaciers. Witness the deep blue glow of the ice, the vast expanse of the slowly moving glacial fields and marvel at their size and age. With experienced guides and the right equipment, it is possible to walk and climb on these magnificent icy giants. No experience is necessary, just a reasonable level of physical fitness (a little more for the climbing). Close to Reykjavik, the Myrdalsjokull Glacier makes for an easy visit, or head to the Svínafellsjökull Glacier with its deep blue glow. This one is known as the Hollywood glacier, having been featured in several movies and TV shows, including Game of Thrones and James Bond. Also in the Skaftafell Nature Reserve is the Falljökull Glacier – meaning ‘falling’. This huge icefall arcs steeply down from the mountains creating some beautiful icy sculptures in its wake.
Boat tours in Iceland
The inhabitants of Iceland have lived in harmony with the ocean for centuries and have found all sorts of ways to enjoy its waters, including Iceland’s rivers and lakes. As well as whale watching, you might also like to try a sea angling boat trip - and then light the BBQ for a fish dinner. Another wonderful way to enjoy Iceland’s waterways is to take a boat trip around a glacial lagoon. As you weave your way through calm waters, amongst sculpted glaciers that appear to glow from within, you’re sure to be blown away by the beauty of Iceland.
The raw and dramatic beauty of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula makes it a must-see on any trip to Iceland. This 100km peninsular is not far from the capital and combines some of the country’s most awesome scenery. Glittering fjords, sweeping coastline, a soaring volcano peak, waterfalls and bizarre lava fields – your camera will be full before you know it. Hiking trails weave through the landscape and there are a few small towns and villages dotted around, but happily, plenty of long, uninterrupted views to enjoy.
Thingvellir National Park
This beauty was Iceland’s first national park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thingvellir National Park’sdramatic rift valley was created by the separation of two tectonic plates, and beautiful natural scenery abounds here with tumbling waterfalls and craggy peaks. The park is also historically very important. This was the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10thto 18thCentury. As such there are several ancient sites where you can see stone foundations indicating the various settlements. Close your eyes and picture the Vikings of yesteryear taking council amidst this raw and stunning scenery. The Thingvellir National Park is just a short drive from Reykjavik, so makes for a great first stop on a self-drive tour of Iceland. You’ll be introduced to the country’s stunning scenery, as well as its fascinating history. Buckle up and enjoy!