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Iceland Holidays – First Timer’s Guide to Iceland

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  • Iceland holidays offer the chance to explore a stunning volcanic landscape with striking vistas and rugged coastlines
  • Explore Reykjavik and the Gullfoss waterfall, and relax in the Blue Lagoon – a natural geothermal spa
  • Find out about what to wear, when to go, what cuisine to sample and the must-see sights in Iceland

Iceland is an intriguing country and features on many people’s bucket lists. There’s an incredible variety of activities and experiences for visitors to enjoy, including the chance to spent time in Reykjavík, go on a Golden Circle tour, experience a whale-watching adventure and take a dip in the Blue Lagoon. Depending on the time of year, you may even get a sighting of the captivating Northern Lights. But if you’re travelling to Iceland for the first time, what should be on your holiday itinerary?

Iceland holidays Reykjavik skyline

Reykjavik

Iceland holidays: 5 must-see sights
Strokkur geyser

Strokkur geyser is Iceland’s most active hot spring. Found in a geothermal area that’s a 90-minute drive from Reykjavík, Strokkur geyser erupts every five to 10 minutes, blasting water some 20 metres up into the air. While you may be eager to get close to the steaming bubbles to watch the action, don’t get soaked! Its neighbour, the Great Geysir (after which all geysers are named), is known for shooting water 80 metres high, though it’s rarely active these days.

Gullfoss waterfall

Gullfoss, the ‘golden falls’, is another stop-off on the popular Golden Circle Iceland tours. It is undeniably spectacular, especially if you visit the waterfall on a sunny day when rainbows appear within the clouds of spray. During the summer, water cascades down this unique-shaped waterfall in two stages, dropping 32 metres into a deep crevice below. In the winter, Gullfoss often freezes into glistening ice. Wooden pathways enable visitors to get stunning views from above. For a more dramatic experience, follow the lower trail.

Thingvellir National Park

Icelandic holidays wouldn’t be complete without seeing Thingvellir (or Þingvellir), the site of the country’s first parliament, established around 930 AD. Now a protected national shrine and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is not only historically significant, but its geology is also remarkable. Thingvellir sits on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Thought to be drifting an additional 2cm apart every year, seeing evidence of the faults and fissures in the landscape is fascinating. Thingvellir’s picture-postcard church is also worth visiting.

iceland holidays thingvellir antional park iceland

Thingvellir National Park

Threngli Pass lava plateau

A trip to the stunning countryside to marvel at volcanic landscapes and lava fields makes it easy to see why Iceland is often referred to as the Land of Fire and Ice. On some Iceland tours, you’ll be able to travel through a remarkable lunar-like terrain of multi-coloured lava plateaux and discover the Threngli Pass and River Ölfusá – the latter famous for its excellent salmon. Look out for pretty villages dotted with colourful wooden cottages and herds of hardy Icelandic horses.

Bakkagerði

More adventurous travellers can explore remote areas of Iceland, such as Bakkagerði, an enchanting hamlet far off the beaten track on the country’s east coast. Known as the Land of the Elves, one possible hiking trail takes you up to Álfaborg, a distinctive outcrop and nature reserve said to be the dwelling place of the highest-ranking elves. It’s a relatively easy climb, and the reward for reaching the top is a magnificent vista of the Borgarfjörður valley.

Iceland holidays: 5 must-do experiences
Explore the city of Reykjavík

Downtown Reykjavík is full of quirky shops, enterprising cafés and bars, as well as a 73-metre-high cathedral, Hallgrímskirkja, designed by an architect inspired by Iceland’s towering basalt columns. A statue of Viking Leif Erikson stands outside – it’s thought he set foot in North America 500 years before Columbus. Wander along the waterfront too, to see a massive steel boat-like sculpture called Sun Voyager. Look out for Höfði, a poet’s home where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met in 1986, a summit that signalled the end of the Cold War.

Relax at the Blue Lagoon Iceland

Holidays to Iceland wouldn’t be complete without taking a rejuvenating dip at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa set in the heart of a volcanic landscape. Hot mineral-rich water from nearby underground springs keep the pools heated to a constant 38°C. You wouldn’t expect it from the name, but a trip to Iceland practically demands you bring your swimsuit. At the in-water mask bar, feel the cleansing, revitalising power of algae and silica – it’s said to unlock the door to healthy, ageless skin.

iceland holidays blue lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Search for the Northern Lights

There’s no guarantee you’ll catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights while on holiday in Iceland. However, as darkness falls, every visitor gazes up to the night sky – just in case, this natural phenomenon puts on a colourful performance. The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is from September through to March when nights are longer. A superb spot in Reykjavík is up Öskjuhlíð hill or facing the sea beside Grótta Lighthouse. Alternatively, join a guided evening excursion away from the bright city lights. Wrap up warm, cross your fingers and wait for the light show to begin.

Go on a whale-watching expedition

If you’re keen to go whale watching, Iceland is a perfect destination, and you may spy humpback, orca and minke whales lurking in the surrounding sea. Playful dolphins often appear alongside boats too – so be sure to keep your eyes fixed on the water. To increase your chance of being mesmerised by these magnificent marine mammals, Iceland’s whale-watching season is from April to October. Peak months for whale-watching are June, July and August. Countless puffins also nest on coastal cliffs from April to September.

Sample the local Icelandic cuisine

Being a small island, it’s no surprise fish features on many menus in Iceland, with haddock, salmon and monkfish being popular choices. However, you may also notice something called harðfiskur, a type of fish jerky, as well as Hákarl, cured shark meat – its strong ammonia-rich smell won’t be to everyone’s taste! Smoked lamb is a traditional dish, especially at Christmas, and for those with a sweet tooth, try the country’s chocolate-covered liquorice. Locals love ice cream with plenty of toppings too.

iceland holidays icelandic cuisine cod fish and tomatoes

Cod and tomatoes, a popular dish of Iceland

What to wear in Iceland

The weather in Iceland is unpredictable, can change quickly and you’ll find it much cooler than the UK. Even during the summer months, temperatures won’t reach more than 12°C. In winter, Reykjavík is typically around 2°C, although it can drop as low as -10°C. Pack layers, thermal tops and a warm jacket to deal with bracing wind, especially if you’re in Iceland for the whale-watching season. If embarking on a Northern Lights adventure, you’ll need a hat, scarf, gloves and warm shoes too.

Days can be filled with intense sunshine, though, so sunglasses are a must. It’s wise to bring sunscreen too.

Iceland holidays – plan your trip

Waterfalls, geysers, volcanic landscapes, hot springs, whale watching, Iceland offers all this and so much more. If contemplating visiting for the first time, even on a short five-day Iceland tour, you won’t be disappointed by the adventures that await.


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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