From the wonder of eerie underground caves to the splendor of the Northern Lights, there are an incredible array of once-in-a-lifetime experiences in Iceland. Here are five things not to be missed.
#1 Scramble Through the Leidarendi Lava Caves
There are few places in the world where you can walk beneath a lava field. At the underground Leidarendi caves, visitors are protected by a millennia-old rock layer between the caves and the lava.
The series of half-mile-long caves lie beneath the active Tvibollahraun lava field. The name is literally translated as “the end of the journey.” Adventurous visitors can scramble over rocks, squeeze through narrow passageways, and feel their way through this 2,000-year-old subterranean stalactite-laden hideaway. Smell the smoky remainds of the volcanoes in your wake.
The Leidarendi Lava Caves are just a 30-minute journey from Reykjavik along Route 41, just southeast of Hafnarfjodur. If you leave Reykjavik early in the morning you can avoid the crowds and have the caves almost to yourself. Or you can go on a 4 hour guided tour of the caves for 10900 ISK ($90) with pick up from Reykjavik.
#2 Get Wet at the Golden Falls
The Golden Falls, or as they are known locally, Gullfoss, is Iceland’s second biggest waterfall at 105 feet tall. On a sunny day, the spray fills the air with a glittering golden haze. Ramp up the fun by walking along the slippery path behind the cascading water as the cold spray hits your skin. If you’re feeling less adventurous, stand on the viewing deck and gaze down.
The falls are about 75 miles outside of Reykjavik. Rent a car for the drive or sign on to a pre-arranged tour of the Golden Circle.
#3 Visit both Europe and North America at Silfra
Welcome to Silfra Fissure, the meeting point of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The clear waters of Þingvallavatn Lake make visible the two plates, which are pulling apart at the rate of two centimetres per year.
If you can brave the icy cold Lángjökull glacial water, dive down and touch the two tectonic plates. The clearest, most pollutant free waters in the world are home to algae found nowhere else. On a sunny day, the algae forms strings that bind together to create unique shapes that float down the river.
The Silfra Fissure is 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik along Route 1, Route 36 through the lush green hilly Þingvellir National Park, and Route 361. A visitor center is just a short walk from Silfra in Hakið with a small café and toilets. If you plan to venture into the frigid waters, a wet suit is recommended, which you’ll need to bring with you.
#4 Witness the Splendour of the Northern Lights at Thórsmörk
No visit to Iceland would be complete without witnessing nature’s greatest miracle - the Northern Lights - in absolutely stunning surroundings.
Thórsmörk, or “Thor’s Wood,” is remote, but the three-hour drive to get there is more than worth it. Once there, you will breathe clean glacial air and see clear night skies and breathtaking scenery.
After the sun sets over the moss-covered canyons, the light pollution-free skies come to life with flashes of greens, oranges, blues and reds. But the Northern Lights are more than a treat for your eyes; listen, and you will hear an unearthly screeching echo between the towering cliffs.
Three hours southeast of Reykjavik along Route 1, this secluded region is only accessible by 4x4 all-terrain vehicles. Hire one, complete with a driver, from the many specialist excursion companies in Reykjavik. It’s worth it for the amazing views alone.
There are a few Volcano huts to stay in at Thórsmörk. Fully furnished, with kitchens, bunk beds and a shop, they form a little community, surrounded by Iceland’s natural beauty.
#5 Heli-Ski Near the Arctic Circle
Unique and typically Icelandic, heli-skiing is how Icelanders ski in the north, and the 1,500-square-mile Troll Peninsula is a favorite place to do it.
The 5,000-foot-high cliffs of the Troll Peninsula are surrounded by the North Sea and covered in layers of powdery white snow. Skiers jump from a low hovering helicopter, land on the snow and drift down to the base. There are mountains and glaciers suitable for all abilities of skier. In some spots, skiers simply climb to the peak of the smaller cliffs and ski down again. In the summer during the midnight sun, a spectacular orange glow lights up the landscape. Arrange your trip with Arctic Heli Skiing who offer different programs for heli-skiing in the Troll Peninsula.
Neighbouring Akureyri has an abundance of accommodation options. Hostels, homestays, B&Bs and hotels are just a short drive from the peninsula.