Iceland is one of the new hot spots for tourism in the last decade. We had the opportunity of going there this summer and it’s no wonder why so many people are heading there. This beautiful, simple, and delightful country was a great place to vacation. Here is my list of things to do in Southern Iceland.
1. Blue Lagoon– The Blue Lagoon is a natural geothermal spa just 20 minutes south of the Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. What better way to relax after a long flight. The lagoon is expensive, but not overrated. To save money we bought the standard package and just paid extra for the towel. You can stay as long as you like. We were there about 3 hours. Make sure while you are there you put your algae masks on, get a Krapp drink at the poolside bar, stand under the waterfall, and listen to the history of the lagoon in the cave. After your relaxing dip in the lagoon head over to the lagoons specialty Lava Restaurant. This was one of the great places to eat in Iceland. We loved the lamb and the fish. They also had delicious bread served with the most amazing butter on a lava rock!
2. Explore the colorful city of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is the largest city and capital of Iceland. Our hotel was stationed in the center of downtown and we could walk just about everywhere. Make sure you go on one of the free walking tours while you are there. They are given by a local and are extremely informative. They took us around the city and gave an excellent history of the historic buildings and settlers of Iceland. On your walk around town you will so so many beautiful murals painted on the sides of buildings. Other great sites to see around the city are the Hallgrimskirkja Church. You can’t miss it. It’s one of the largest buildings at the top of the hill. This inspiring edifice has a gigantic organ inside and an elevator you can ride to the top for $9 to get a great view of the city. See the Hofoi House where the Reagan and Gorbachev meeting was held for the start of the end of the Cold War. Take a trip to the Volcano House and walk along the old harbor to get your picture in front of the Sun Voyager.
3. Eat an Icelandic Hot Dog. Great places to eat are found around every corner. Make sure to check out Baejarins Beztu Pylsurs to get the world famous Icelandic hot dog. They are made of 75% lamb and super delicious. The lines are always long but move super fast. For desserts check out Elder Crepes and Valdis for excellent ice cream.
4. Go see a show at the Harpa. The Harpa is an amazing architectural wonder. At night they put lights on the building to look like the Northern Lights. They also have many shows to choose from each day. You can hear the Symphony, Jazz, Comedies, Opera, and more. We went to the comedic Icelandic Sagas and had a great time. It was very well done and they pulled a lot of people from the audience making it memorable.
5. Take the Into the Glacier Tour– Langjokull “long glacier” is one of 4 major glaciers on Iceland. This is where we experienced the icy part of Iceland. Our tour started at base camp and then we took a massive snow truck ride up the glacier to the tiny tunnel opening. We had a great tour guide who led us through the heart shaped caverns and pointed out lots of cool spots in the glacier. We also got to try the coldest and purest Icelandic glacier water here. We filled up our water bottles straight from the running water pouring out of the ceiling.
6. Expore Barnafoss and Hraunfossar in Borgarfjordur. This is an hour away from Reykjavik. We saw it on our way home from the glacier tour. It is a beautiful walk with two waterfalls. Hraunfossar which means Children’s Falls and Barnafoss which stands for Lava waterfalls.
7. Check out Thingvellir National Park . A great first stop on your way around the Golden Circle. This is where Albingi the Icelandic parliment was founded in 930 AD. You can walk to Oxararfoss another amazing waterfall. Silfra is also located here, you can dive down in between the two continental shelves. This is a beautiful, peacefull place with large rocky walls and then the marshy valley bottom with a church, graveyard, and farm houses.
8. Enjoy Geysir National Park. There are many geysirs around Iceland but this is where you can see the biggest ones. Strokkur goes off every 5 minutes or so and gives off a super fun show. There are lots of colors and smells here.
9. See all the rainbows at Gullfoss. This amazing waterfall has many viewing areas. I recommend taking them all in. The view is so spectacular you’ll want to stay there as long as you can. Enjoy the rainbows shimmering everywhere.
10. Viking Village Restaraunt Fjorukrain. A fun family friendly viking themed restaurant with singing musicians and a little show during dinner. Will you get picked to become the next viking? We did!
11.Ride an Icelandic Horse. One of the things you will notice as you drive around everywhere are the magnificent horses. We wanted to spend a little more time with them so we went on a Laxnes Horse Farm Riding Tour. It was so wonderful. They were the nicest sweetest family who you could tell took such great care of their horses and their farm. They took us on a ride up the mountainside to their own Troll waterfall. On the way back they even let whoever wanted to go in a faster group and do some tolting. Tolting is a special Icelandic horse speed that has a surprisingly smooth ride.
12. Hike to lower and upper Gluggafoss. There are so many waterfalls in Iceland. I feel like almost every farmer has their own private one. Gluggafoss was magnificent and it seemed as if it was just in someones backyard. The hike to the upper falls was steap but the view of the farm below was stunning. We also ran into a few sheep on our hike. The lower falls are just as beautiful. This water fall is named window falls because the water runs down and comes out of basaltic rock tunnels or windows.
13. Walk behind Seljalandsfoss. This is a waterfall along the road as you head Southeast to Vik. This towering falls shoots out over the cliff giving enough space for you to walk behind. Dress appropriately because you will get drenched.
14. Explore Rutshellir. These are man made caves found on farms all around Iceland. We asked permission before we jumped over a fence and explored the one below.
15. Hike the stairs to see Skogafoss. You can see this waterfall from miles away. It is massive and gorgeous. The hundreds of stairs to the top look scary, but take the time to walk them. The view is incredible.
16. Explore Dyrhólaey. Dyrhólaey literally means “the hill island with the door hole”. You learn that most things in Iceland are named rather literally. You can view it from up high and down low. At the top is a “castle shaped” lighthouse. As well as views of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, and the beautiful black lava seastacks Reynisdrangar. There are black sand beaches for miles.
17. Stop and see the puffins. Further southeast of Dyrhólaey are gorgeous basalt pillars that form a couple caves. They are on the black sand beaches and home to some puffin nesting grounds. We went there in the evening when all the puffins were coming in from the days fishing. They are small and hard to snap a picture of as they zoom over your heads with their lightening fast wings.
18. Stay in the quaint town of Vik. Vik was a great stop for us after a long day of travel. We got some of the most delicious soup at The Soup Company. There is a striking white and red roofed church that can be seen on the top of the hill here as in most towns.
18. Take the Ferry Ride to Herjolfur. The ferry ride was relatively inexpensive and was a 30 minute ride to the Westman Islands. We spotted mink whale off the side of the ship and were amazed at all the islands with one little house on them. Talk about living a secluded life.
19. Explore Heimaey on a Trike E Bike. We had done a lot of walking this trip and our legs needed a break so we hopped on these fun bikes and explored the town. There was a great music festival going on in the valley and we rode the bikes to see Elephant Rock. A giant mountain shaped like an elephant that is drinking from the ocean. You can also spot lots of other islands out at sea like Surtsey a brand new island that is still forming. Make sure you don’t leave without trying out Fiskibarinn’s. It was the best fish we had while we were in Iceland. They served it right out of the pan for us to eat. We also enjoyed doing some sprangan on ropes on side of mountain.
20. Visit the Eldheimar Museum. This was a fabulously done volcano museum about the Eldfell reuption in 1973. Lava flooded the community and the island is known as being the Pompeii of the north.
Other Tips for going to Iceland
Iceland was a great adventure. There is so much to do and see. Some tips if you plan on heading there. Food is extremely expensive. Most things have to be imported. We tried to buy groceries at a local grocery store (Bonus with the pink pig logo is the cheapest). Iceland was super friendly to tourist and pretty high tech. We used our cards everywhere as well as Apple Pay and never had to exchange money. Also know that you will have to pay to use many of the bathrooms in the country so don’t leave home without money. Another thing to know about living in Iceland is the days are either super long in the summer or super short in the winter. When we were there in August the sun would come up around 3:30 am and not go down until 11:30 at night (and even then it never got truly dark). It just made for more time to have fun and explore.