- Whale watch with an expert in the waters off Húsavík
- Explore Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon by Zodiac, amphibious boat, or kayak
- Have fun steering a snowmobile across the Langjökull Glacier
- Gaze at the Northern Lights from your transparent room at the Bubble Hotel
|Arrive in Keflavik, Blue Lagoon & Drive to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
|Snæfellsjökull National Park & Guided Vatnshellir Cave Tour
|North Iceland via Vatnsnes, Godafoss & Mývatn Nature Baths
|Húsavík Whale Watching, Hike Asbyrgi Canyon & Dettifoss
|Northern Volcanic Rift Zone to Eastfjords, Stuðlagil & Hike to Hengifoss
|Skaftafel via Stokksnes, Diamond Beach & Jökulsárlón Boat Tour
|Skaftafell Ice-Cave Hike, To Hella via Canyons, Beaches & Waterfalls
|Golden Circle: Kerid Crater, Gullfoss, Glacier Snowmobiling & Geysir
|Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park, Reykjavik & Bubble Hotel
Day 1: Arrive in Keflavik, Blue Lagoon & Drive to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Arriving at Keflavik airport, you'll pick up your 4WD and head the short distance to the world-famous Blue Lagoon spa to soothe any travel stress as you soak in the turquoise mineral-rich, geothermal waters surrounded by a lunar-like lava landscape. Then set out for the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, perhaps with stops to photograph the Hofrungur AK 91 shipwreck and to learn about ancient Icelandic sagas at the Settlement Centre in the harbor town of Borgarnes.
Arriving at Snæfellsnes, make a short detour via a gravel road to view the Gerðuberg cliffs—a mile-long (1.6 km) plateau of symmetrical hexagonal basalt columns resembling a medieval fortress wall. The next stop is Ytri Tunga beach, a small patch of pinkish sand where common and grey seals often haul out to bask. Continue west to Buða, where the iconic and lonesome, black 19th-century Búðakirkja church stands atop a headland. Then head to your hotel to relax while looking forward to exploring more Snæfellsnes Peninsula sites tomorrow.
Day 2: Explore Snæfellsjökull National Park & Guided Vatnshellir Cave Tour
This morning you'll explore the peninsula on a counter-clockwise loop around Snæfellsjökull National Park and its eponymous ice-capped volcano. Stop first at the iconic, perfectly conical Kirkjufell ("Church Mountain"), made famous as Arrow Head Mountain in the "Game of Thrones" HBO series; and, at its base, the exquisite triple-tier Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall. Then call in at the visitor center in the fishing town of Ólafsvík for a good overview of Snæfellsjökull National Park: the top sites concentrate to its south, along the shore.
Arriving in Djúpalónssandur, you can walk its black-pebble beach studded with surreal volcanic formations (note: Djúpalónssandur is one of Iceland's most dangerous beaches due to rogue waves, even in good weather). Continue the short distance to Vatnshellir Cave for a one-hour guided tour of the underground lava tube, then head to Lóndrangar basalt cliffs, pinned by towering volcanic plugs, and the Malarrif lighthouse, built in 1917 in the shape of a rocket. Finally, gaze in awe at the fantastical volcanic sea stacks, including the photogenic Gatklettur arch, between Hellnar and Arnastapi.
Day 3: North Iceland via Vatnsnes, Godafoss & Mývatn Nature Baths
A long drive today takes you east to North Iceland via the Vatnsnes Peninsula. De rigueur stops include the Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi to understand pinniped ecology; and Húnafjörður Bay to view the surreally eroded basalt Hvítserkur sea stack, which local legend says is a petrified troll. Then continue through Varmahlíð, with its fascinating Glaumbær Turf House Museum, and on to Akureyri, nestled at the head of Eyjafjörður fjord and the second-largest city in Iceland. Enjoy a late lunch here before continuing east along the Diamond Circle sightseeing route.
The first stop along the route is Godafoss, one of Iceland's most beautiful waterfalls. Then continue east to the volcanically active Lake Mývatn region, located astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge; begin by getting acquainted at the visitor center in Reykjahlid. Nearby, check out the azure Grjótagjá underground hot spring (made famous as a setting for "Game of Thrones"); hike amid the volcanic rock formations of Dimmuborgir; and marvel at the Skútustaðagígar "pseudocraters" rising from wetlands popular for birdwatching. Finally, head to Mývatn Nature Baths to bathe in the geothermal lagoon.
Day 4: Húsavík Whale Watching, Hike Asbyrgi Canyon & Dettifoss
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
This morning you'll drive to the fishing port of Húsavík and board a boat for a thrilling three-hour whale-watching trip of Skjálfandi Bay. An expert guide will provide commentary as you look for humpback, minke, and other whale species, which abound in these waters. Back ashore, check out the town's Whale Museum, where 11 complete cetacean skeletons, including that of a blue whale. Then follow the Diamond Circle along the north shore to hike forested and spectacular Asbyrgi Canyon, where the visitor center has excellent plate tectonics and vulcanology displays.
Nearby, head south into the Vesturdalur Valley, where you can hike to the surreal Hljodaklettar basalt formations and adjacent rust-red Raudholar hills. Continue south to admire the Hafragilsfoss waterfall and upstream to be awestruck by Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall, thundering into Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon. Arriving back at Lake Mývtan, you can explore the Hverir geothermal area, with its bubbling mud pools and sulfurous fumaroles (and perhaps even enjoy a second soothing soak at the idyllic Mývtan Nature Baths).
Day 5: Northern Volcanic Rift Zone to Eastfjords, Stuðlagil & Hike to Hengifoss
You'll continue your clockwise tour of Iceland today as you pass through the geologically fascinating landscapes of the Northern Volcanic Rift Zone. First, you'll cross the Möðrudalsöræfi plateau—a black lava-sand desert—and turn south into the Stuðlagil Canyon to be awed by its walls of basalt columns. Passing through Iceland's most lushly forested region, you'll arrive at Egilsstadir, capital of the Eastfjords, on the banks of Lagarfljot lake. Keep your eyes open for wild reindeer that uniquely inhabit northeast Iceland and frequent these lush lowlands in winter.
After lunch in Egilsstadir, take a drive around the long, tendril-thin Lagarfljot lake via the emerald-green Hallormsstaðarskógur birch forest. At the southern end of the lake, you can hike the 1.5-mile-long (2 km) uphill trail to Hengifoss waterfall. Then continue through the beautiful glacier-carved Breiðdalur valley for overnight in the fishing hamlet of Breiðdalsvík, set in a horseshoe bay formed by a rugged mountain meniscus. You can relax in your hotel or check out the old general store, the local heritage museum inside an old fish factory, and even a craft brewery.
Day 6: Skaftafel via Stokksnes, Diamond Beach & Jökulsárlón Boat Tour
The Ring Road delivers no end of scenic drama this morning as you snake in and out of the narrow fjords of sparsely inhabited Eastfjords, hemmed by steep mountains spilling down to the sea. You might take a short break at the head of Berufjörður and hike to the Folaldafoss waterfall, pouring from a majestic volcanic staircase. Then, immediately after passing through the Almannaskarð tunnel to exit Eastfjords, turn south for the starkly beautiful Stokksnes Peninsula for its magnificent view of the ragged Vestrahorn Mountains looming massively over a black-sand beach.
Continue via the harbor town of Höfn—a good place for lunch—and on to Jökulsárlón ("glacial river lagoon"). This breathtaking coastal lagoon is dotted with small icebergs breaking off from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, which float down to the sea to be stranded on "Diamond Beach"—named for the sparkling 'bergs sprinkling the shore. You can tour the lagoon by Zodiak or amphibious boat, or don a dry-suit and slip into a kayak to paddle with a guide among the electric-blue ice floes (don't be surprised if curious seals pop their heads up beside you). Continue to your hotel in Skaftafell.
Day 7: Skaftafell Ice-Cave Hike, To Hella via Canyons, Beaches & Waterfalls
Lace up your hiking boots and meet your expert local guide to don crampons and experience an incredible three-hour exploration atop the Skaftafell glacier and through an ice cave and tunnel—a wonderland of ever-shifting shades of blue. Then continue west via the sinuous, moss-covered Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, accessed by hiking an equally serpentine ridgetop trail. Crossing a vast lava field, you'll next stop at black-sand Reynisfjara beach, cusped by cliffs of polygonal basalt columns; and, a short distance further, Dyrhólaey for clifftop views over dramatic sea stacks and a bridge-like volcanic arch.
Continue along the Ring Road to Skógafoss, one of Iceland's most photographed waterfalls (not least for the spectacular rainbow it creates). Then check out the nearby Skógar Museum, with its old turf-house farmstead, plus traditional farming and fishing displays. Next, head to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where (uniquely in Iceland, and conditions permitting) you can walk behind the actual 200-foot-tall (60 m) cascade. Finally, you'll overnight in nearby Hella, the gateway to the "Golden Circle."
Day 8: Golden Circle: Kerid Crater, Gullfoss, Glacier Snowmobiling & Geysir
Your first stop today as you tour the popular Golden Circle is at Kerid crater, a small volcanic cone filled with a jade-colored lake. After hiking around the crater, continue up the Hvítá river canyon to Gullfoss ("Golden Waterfall"), one of Iceland's most beautiful cascades and where viewing platforms offer sensational views of the two-stage fall and the Langjökull glacier beyond. Here, enjoy an early lunch at the Gullfoss Café, where you'll meet your guide and board a "Super Jeep," then ride up to Langjökull for four hours of thrills on a group snowmobile tour across the glacier.
Round out your day with a visit to the Geysir geothermal area. The eponymous geyser, once the world's largest, is today more-or-less dormant, but the smaller Strokkur still erupts regularly as clockwork every 5-10 minutes, spouting boiling water up to 100 feet (30 m) in the air. Although Strokkur is the favored site, the area is alive with bubbling hot springs, steaming vents, and colorful fissures to explore along well-defined trails.
Day 9: Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park, Reykjavik & Bubble Hotel
Complete your tour of the Golden Circle today by heading to Þingvellir National Park—mainland Iceland's only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spanning the rift valley between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, its many attractions surround (and include) Þingvallavatn Lake. Here, you can opt for an exciting snorkeling or scuba diving adventure through the crystal-clear glacial waters of Silfra fissure. Then follow the rift to marvel at the Oxarafoss waterfall, where the Oxara river tumbles into the Almannagja gorge, before heading to Reykjavik for the afternoon and overnight.
You can explore Reykjavik Centrum (the historic downtown) by foot or rented bicycle before heading to the striking, contemporary Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, the glass-sheathed Harpa Concert Hall (inspired by Iceland's iconic basalt column formations), and the shorefront "Sun Voyager" sculpture. Nearby, Hofdi House hosted the 1986 summit of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. An exciting alternative would be to overnight in the Golden Circle's Bubble Hotel, where you'll sleep in a transparent glass dome—perfect for admiring the Northern Lights—before heading to Reykjavik the following day.
Day 10: Explore Reykjavik
Dedicate today to exploring Reykjavik's many world-class museums. Start by heading to the Old Wharf area and the Reykjavik Maritime Museum: housed in an old fish factory, this waterfront museum explores Iceland's dramatic relationship with the sea. Then expand your knowledge of Icelandic history at the nearby Saga Museum, where you can even dress up like a Viking! Now you've caught the Viking bug, head to the Settlement Exhibition, with fascinating high-tech exhibits built around the remains of a 10th-century Viking longhouse unearthed here in 2001.
The Settlement Exhibition is one block from lovely Austurvöllur Park, hosting the Althing parliament building. Next, walk north two blocks to the Reykjavík Art Museum to view works by Iceland's leading contemporary artists. Or walk south along lake Tjörnin to the National Gallery of Iceland, displaying the country's largest collection of works by Icelandic artists. Nature lovers might like to check out Whales of Iceland, with exhibits on Iceland's 23 whale species; Aurora Reykjavik, for a virtual tour of the Northern Lights; and/or FlyOver Iceland, for a breathtaking simulated flight of the entire island.
Day 11: Depart Reykjavik
Today bid farewell to Iceland as you head to Keflavik airport for your departure flight.