- Hike to see puffins and Arctic fox in remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
- Horseback riding along the beach and lava flows of Snæfellsnes Peninsula
- Soak in the geothermal pools in Husafell Canyon
- Zodiak trip or kayak the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
|Day 1||Arrive in Reykjavik, Domestic Flight to Ísafjörður||Ísafjörður|
|Day 2||Hiking in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve||Ísafjörður|
|Day 3||Dynjandi & the Northern Westfjords||Patreksfjörður|
|Day 4||Latrabjarg, Raudasandur, & the Southern Westfjords||Stykkisholmur|
|Day 5||The wonders of Snæfellsnes, Horseback Riding Tour||Stykkisholmur|
|Day 6||West Iceland & Borgarfjörður, Hvítá River Valley, Husafell Canyon Baths||Þingvallavatn|
|Day 7||Golden Circle||Þingvallavatn|
|Day 8||South Coast Waterfalls & Black-Sand Beaches||Kirkjubæjarklaustur|
|Day 9||Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Skaftafell Nature Resreve, Jökulsárlón Boat Tour||Kirkjubæjarklaustur|
|Day 10||Drive Back along the South Coast to Reykjavik||Reykjavik|
|Day 11||Depart Reykjavik|
Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik, Domestic Flight to Ísafjörður
Arrive at Keflavik airport today and transfer to your domestic flight to Ísafjörður, the northernmost settlement in Iceland (as well as one of its most important fishing ports). The picturesque town, cusped by the sheltering mountains of Skutulsfjordur fjord, is the gateway to the wild and offbeat Westfjords in the far northwest of Iceland. You'll pick up your 4WD rental vehicle upon arrival at Ísafjörður airport.
You can use any hours left in your day for a walking tour of the town, including the Ísafjörður Maritime Museum, housed in Iceland's oldest cluster of 18th-century timber frame houses ("turnhús") and where exhibits include an impressive accordion collection. Adjacent ancient buildings house a local folk museum and the Tjöruhúsið seafood restaurant—a great place for a fish buffet and to hear traditional live music.
Day 2: Hiking in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
Today you'll take a one-hour scenic boat ride the length of Ísafjarðardjúp fjord for a full day exploring the remote and rarely-visited Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, occupying a virtually uninhabited peninsula in the extreme north of Iceland. You'll be dropped off at a beautiful sandy beach where seals are frequently seen swimming along the shore. Hornstrandir is home to millions of nesting seabirds and a refuge for the Arctic fox, which preys upon the birds nesting along the towering cliff-faces; visitors frequently and easily see the bold foxes.
Begin by hiking to a small lake called Teistuvatn, where you can see graceful whooper swans and kittiwakes swimming in the water. Then head up to the grassy clifftops to view noisy colonies of nesting puffins, fulmars, Arctic terns, and guillemots; and where you can peek over the edge and see waves crashing against the rocks almost 1,500 feet (500 m) below. You'll also visit a World War II British naval radar station before descending to beach-rimmed Aðalvík Bay to take the boat back to Ísafjörður. Keep your eyes open for whales on the way "home"!
Day 3: Dynjandi & the Northern Westfjords
Today’s drive is a non-stop visual feast through some of Iceland’s most scenic landscapes as you snake west around majestic fjords and over steep mountain passes through sub-arctic tundra. First, you'll drive through the 6-mile-long (9 km) Vestfjarðagöng tunnel and descend to Önundarfjörður, a particularly pretty fjord made more so by curling white-sand "Golden Holt" beach at its head. You'll then drive through a long, glaciated valley to Dýrafjörður fjord and the historic fishing village of Þingeyri, where you can explore the relics of a medieval assembly hall ("Þing") behind the village church.
Then comes Arnarfjörður, one of Iceland’s most spectacular fjords and at the head of which tumbles the Dynjandi ("Thunderous") waterfalls—the highlight of today’s journey. Seven individual cascades stairstep down from the iconic, trapezoidal uppermost cascade colloquially titled the "Jewel of the Westfjords." You can hike to the top (a great spot for a picnic), passing each cascade in turn. Finally, continue west via tiny Tálknafjörður to spend the night in the fishing village of Patreksfjörður.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Latrabjarg, Raudasandur & the Southern Westfjords
Today, head west to the Látrabjarg promontory, which stretches for 8 miles (14 km) and where the cliffs plunge into the ocean 1,450 feet (442 m) below. Millions of seabirds nest here in summer, notably puffins, but also razorbills, fulmars, guillemots, and kittiwakes, all nesting and raising their chicks on the cliff-face. (Látrabjarg is considered to be Europe’s most populace bird-nesting cliff.) Spend an hour or two hiking the clifftops before continuing to honey-hued Raudasandur Beach. Stretching unbroken for 5 miles (8 km), this beach draws harbor seals, which often haul out to bask on the sands.
Continue east through the remote Southern Westfjords via lonesome and lovely Barðastrandarsandur Beach to the Brjánslækur wharf. From here, catch the afternoon ferry (reservations required) to Stykkishólmur, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, referred to as "Iceland in miniature" for its microcosm of iconic attractions. Time permitting, you might explore the peninsula's largest (yet still small) town, where highlights include its Norska Húsið (Norse House), built in 1828, and today a history museum, the Volcano Museum, for a lesson in vulcanology, and the 1990 modernist Stykkishólmskirkja Church.
Day 5: The Wonders of Snæfellsnes, Horseback Riding Tour
This morning, follow a counter-clockwise loop around the peninsula, heading first to shark-tooth-shaped Kirkjufell ("Church Mountain"), an iconic 1,519-foot (463-m) pinnacle with the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall at its base. Next, circle around the glacier-clad Snaefellsjokull stratovolcano (4,744 ft/1,446 m), at the peninsula's tip. Stop at Lóndrangar (with its twin clifftop basalt pillars), then the photogenic Gatklettur (Arch Rock) and other coastal rock formations stretching from Hellnar to the fishing hamlet of Arnarstapi. You can lunch here before continuing the short distance to Stóri Kambur.
Here, you'll mount up for an afternoon spent horseback riding (no riding experience is necessary). You’ll begin by crossing the ancient lava field of Búðarhraun, including stops to explore the lava tube cave of Búðarhellir and photograph the lonesome and iconic Búðakirkja black church atop Búða beach. Finally, you'll ride three-mile-long (5 km) Löngufjörur Beach, with snow-capped Snæfellsjökull in front of you and beautiful Ljósufjöll (Light Mountains) to your right. Return to Stykkishólmur and to your hotel.
Day 6: West Iceland & Borgarfjörður, Hvítá River Valley, Husafell Canyon Baths
Depart the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and head south today through the lava-clad Borgarfjörður region of West Iceland, making the Grábrók crater, just off Route 1, your first stop. You can walk around the crater rim along a boardwalk trail before continuing south to Glanni Waterfall. Then make a detour into the Hvítá River Valley to view the Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls, uniquely tumbling through a lava field perpendicular to the river. Nearby, you'll then enjoy a two-hour guided hike up a majestic gorge to bathe in the geothermal Husafell Canyon Baths.
Exiting the valley, stop to explore Reykholt medieval Saga heritage village and, close by, Deildartunguhver, Europe's most powerful hot spring. You'll then continue south to Borgarnes to visit the fascinating Settlement Center regaling the history of Iceland's early settlement, beginning in the late 9th century. Finally, follow the shore of Hvalfjörður fjord for the exhilarating hike up the canyon to the 650-foot-tall (198 m) Glymur waterfall—Iceland's second-highest. Finally, continue the short distance to the Þingvallavatn lake area of the "Golden Circle," which you'll explore tomorrow.
Day 7: Golden Circle
You'll follow the Golden Circle, Iceland's most popular sightseeing route, renowned for its geysers, raging waterfalls, and a rift valley cleaving two tectonic plates. Begin by exploring Þingvellir National Park to hike the gorge separating the Eurasian and North American plates, ending at the Öxarárfoss waterfall, which tumbles into the fissure and is accessed by a boardwalk. Before departing, don a wetsuit and ease into the crystal-clear glacial waters of the Silfra fissure for an unforgettable 2.5-hours snorkeling adventure amid supernatural shades of blue as you swim through a narrow volcanic canyon.
Next, head to the Geysir geothermal area, where the spectacular geysers (derived from the verb "gjósa") gave their name to spouting hot springs worldwide. The best-known of the many geysirs here is Strokkur, which erupts every 8-10 minutes, blasting scalding water 65 feet (20 m) in the air and occasionally twice as high! Continue the short distance to the beautiful, two-tier Gulfoss ("Golden Falls"), one of Iceland's most iconic waterfalls, descending into the grand Gullfossgjúfur canyon. Then drive south to hike around the red-ash volcanic Kerid crater, filled with a beautiful jade-colored lake, before returning to your hotel.
Day 8: South Coast Waterfalls & Black-Sand Beaches
Today's drive takes you along the South Coast via the "Ring Road" (Route 1), stopping at many of Iceland's most iconic attractions. Begin with Seljalandsfoss waterfall: uniquely, you can walk behind the cascade tumbling 200 feet (60 m). Another 19 miles (30 km) brings you to Skógafoss waterfall, where you can hike uphill to the top of the falls to follow the Fimmvörðuháls trail to other waterfalls higher up. Then call in at the Skógar Folk Museum to peruse a heritage collection that includes age-old agriculture and fishing displays, plus a traditional turf farmhouse.
Continue east to the Dyrhólaey cliffs (another chance to see puffins), stone sea-arch, and beyond, the black-sand beach of Reynisfjara, punctuated by dramatic basalt sea stacks. Then continue to Vik to visit the Icelandic Lava Show, which recreates a volcanic eruption with real molten lava (2000°F / 1100°C) pouring bubbling and sizzling into the showroom. Finally, make a brief detour to Hjörleifshöfði, a promontory amid the black lava wash, to view the summit burial mound of Viking settler Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson (killed here in 875 CE). You'll overnight in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a short distance beyond.
Day 9: Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Skaftafell Natural Resreve, Jökulsárlón Boat Tour
Today is rich with adventure as you head east across a lava field to snaking Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, easily accessed by a moss-covered ridgetop hiking trail amid a surreal landscape seemingly from "Lord of the Rings." Further east, explore the highlight sites at the base of Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier, covering almost one-tenth of Iceland. The Skaftafell Natural Reserve beckons with easy walks to the Skaftafellsjökull glacier tongue and picturesque Svartifoss waterfall, with its dramatic backdrop of surreal basalt columns.
Continue along the shore to Jökulsárlón ("glacial river lagoon"), a breathtaking coastal lagoon dotted with small icebergs. You might opt for a tour by Zodiak or amphibious boat, or don a dry-suit and slip into a kayak for three hours paddling among the 1,000-year-old 'bergs, which float down to the sea to be stranded on "Diamond Beach." With luck, curious seals will pop up beside you while others laze atop the electric-blue ice floes. Then, return to Kirkjubæjarklaustur to relax in your hotel's sauna or hot tub.
Day 10: Drive Back along the South Coast to Reykjavik
Head west along the "Ring Road," visiting some other iconic South Coast highlights. Start by heading inland via a gravel road that leads to the ruggedly beautiful Þakgil Canyon—perfect for an invigorating hike. Next, back on Route 1, park roadside for the two-hour round-trip hike to the wreck of a US Navy DC-3 that in 1973 crashed on Sólheimasandur Beach. Lunch in nearby Hveragerdi, then head up to Reykjadalur ("Steam Valley"), alive with bubbling mud pools, sulfurous fumaroles, and boiling springs. Don your swimwear and hike the trail (one hour each way) to bathe in the geothermal river.
You'll then continue west into Reykjavik, where the balance of the day and evening is at leisure. You can relax, or explore some of the capital city's iconic sites. Be sure not to miss the modern and beautiful Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, the shorefront, glass-sheathed Harpa Concert Hall, and, a short distance east along the shore, the iconic Sun Voyager Sculpture—a gleaming steel contemporary interpretation of a Viking ship.
Day 11: Depart Reykjavik
Head to Keflavik airport to drop off your car and check in for your departure flight. You can first check out one or more of the city's world-class museums if time allows. For that, head to the Old Wharf to the Saga Museum, where with an audio guide in hand, you'll learn about critical moments in Icelandic history that have shaped the personality of the island and Icelanders. Next door, the Aurora Reykjavik offers an interactive experience that guarantees you'll see the Aurora Borealis. Then head to nearby Fly Over Iceland for an exhilarating sensory experience that gives you the feeling of flying over the island.
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