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Iceland’s Travel Guide, Attractions & Places to Stay

Sandra Gouveia

The dramatic landscapes of Iceland have taken the breath away from many travellers.

Iceland may well seem like a remote place in the North of Europe, but those who visit it feel quite close to one of the world’s greatest wonders: the power of Nature. If that’s what you are seeking and you wish to plan your trip to Iceland, then here are the country’s key-attractions, best places to visit and the hotels we would pick in Iceland.

Key-Areas in Iceland

Daniel Schoibl

Reykjanes Peninsula

When arriving at Keflavik International Airport in the Reykjanes Peninsula the feeling is of entering a whole new world. A swim in the Blue Lagoon (the perfect way to start or end your journey), taking some impressive photographs in the Kleifarvatn Lake (the largest in the peninsula), and crossing the small Sandvík bridge over both the Eurasian and American tectonic plates, are some of the most interesting things to do in the area.

 

If you decide to stay in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, you’ll find colourful buildings, fine restaurants and great shopping places. Beautiful views over the city are possible from the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church and from the rotating glass dome at the hilltop Perlan Museum. Take some time to stroll around the harbour, pass by the impressive Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre and lace up your sneakers for a hike to Mt. Esja.

 

If wishing to enjoy the nightlife, Reykjavik is your playground with its many bars and entertainment venues where you can gulp down a couple of Icelandic schnapps and local beer, socialize with the Nordics and dance until you drop.

Where to Stay

Hotels in Reykjanes Peninsula

Tower Suites Reykjavík is a hotel like no other with the utmost panoramic views over Reykjavik and the harbour from its 20th-floor glass tower suites.

 

No less impressive is the old-world luxury of Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel, Curio Collection By Hilton, a stone’s throw from the Concert Hall.

 

Next to Keflavik Airport, the boutique and modern Hotel Berg overlooks the glistening waters of the North Atlantic.

Martin Jernberg

West Iceland: Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Westfjords

A two-hour drive away from Reykjavik and you’re already in the 90-km long Snæfellsnes Peninsula, also known as “Iceland in Miniature”. Lava beaches (Djúpalónssandur and Dritvík) as well as golden ones (Langaholt), Eldborg volcanic crater, Mt. Kirkjufell (one of the most photographed mountains in the country), the impressive Gerduberg Basalt Columns, the black Búðir Church, the beautiful waterfall nestled inside the dramatic Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, picturesque fisherman villages (like charming Stykkishólmur for example), the pitch-dark Vatnshellir Cave and the Snæfellsjökull Glacier – the starting point for Jule Verne’s book, “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” – are some of the many astonishing things to see in this scenic place.

 

If you’re looking to explore some of the most off-the-beaten-path locations in Iceland, than Westfjords is a good pick. Getting to know this vast and remote area requires spending some hours behind the wheel and you’ll not be close to Iceland’s main attractions, but Westfjords itself is home to some of Iceland’s most magical places. Towering mountains, innumerous hot springs (list down Hellulaug and Gvendarlaug), the Látrabjarg cliffs (a bird’s paradise and the westernmost point in Iceland), a red sand beach (well, in Rauðasandur the sand is actually golden but it sure is a postcard-worthy beach), the enormous and hidden bride’s veil Dynjandi Waterfall and the chance to get a glimpse of Greenland from Bolafjall Mountain are what make this peninsula such a stunning place to visit for repeaters.

Where to Stay

Hotels in West Iceland: Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Westfjords

In the countryside of Snæfellsnes, close to Stykkishólmur, is Hotel Stundarfridur, a cosy place from where you can explore the peninsula and its surroundings.

 

In Borgarnes – a delightful town between the Reykjanes Peninsula and Snæfellsnes, and also a nice to place to stay in case you’re driving along the Ring Road – are the chic B59 Hotel and the minimalist Icelandair Hotel Hamar.

Robert Bye

North Iceland

What a place! There are so many natural, breathtaking sites to visit and delightful towns all packed in North Iceland. Looking for waterfalls? There is Kolugjúfur, Aldeyjarfoss, the Kolufossar Falls and Godafoss (the waterfall of the gods indeed). But the largest of them all is Dettifoss, located in Jökulsárgljúfur, an area within the Vatnajökull National Park.  In this place of diverse beauty, you will also find the unbelievable Ásbyrgi Canyon (Shelter of the Gods) and the incredible Hljóðaklettar Rock Formations.

 

What about more places to watch some volcanic evidence? We can list the volcanic landscapes of Borgarvirki and Dimmuborgir, Námafjall and the simply mysterious and secluded Grjótagjá cave. And if you’ve ever googled for North Iceland landscapes we’re sure that the Hvitserkur Rock, “the drinking dragon”, is not unfamiliar to you.

Where to Stay

Hotels in North Iceland

Located by the harbour of Siglufjörður, a lovely fisherman town (the northernmost of mainland Iceland), is the friendly Siglo Hotel.

 

Further east is the small yet bustling city of Akureyri, also a charming place to stay in the North with its cultural and historical museums, Botanical Garden as well as seasonal festivals and concerts.

 

In Hafdals Hotel, all rooms have a panoramic sea view on a more secluded area across the Eyjafjörðurd, overlooking the city centre.

 

Not far from the Godafoss Waterfall and Krafla Crater is the boutique Hótel Laxá, while closer to Lake Mývatnis is the modern Fosshotel Mývatn.

 

Along with Lake Mývatn, the town of Husavik (a great place for whale watching), is part of the scenic Diamond Circle (a circuit of around 260 km across the Northeast of Iceland). In Husavik you can stay at the nautical Fosshotel Husavik, located minutes away from Húsavík Whale Museum, the Port and the picturesque Húsavík Church.

 

@alcala_13

East Iceland

Another not-so-visited area of Iceland is the east. The rhythm in this part of the country is much like the one from nature. In East Iceland you will also find stunning fjords, charming little villages (such as the much beloved Seyðisfjörður and its lovely Blue Church), geothermal spots, wonderful hikes and dazzling waterfalls (e.g. Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss); apart from all that here is where Hallormsstadaskogur – the biggest forest in Iceland – and the only reindeer population in the country are found.

 

Egilsstadir is often called “the hub of East Iceland” with a regional airport, interesting museums, two different golf courses and even a lake believed to be haunted by a monstrous creature (Lagarfljot Lake). In all of Iceland, people do tend to believe in mystic creatures, especially elves, and in Borgarfjordur Eystri – one hour’s drive from Egilsstadir – is where Borghildur, the queen of the elves, is said to have established herself.

 

Another magical place in the East, right next to the abode of the elves and laying under the equally majestic Dyrfjöll mountain range, is the underrated Stórurð valley and the great hiking experiences it offers.

Where to Stay

Hotels in East Iceland

Adjacent to Lake Lagarfljó in Egilsstadir lays Gistihúsið – Lake Hotel Egilsstadir, a renovated farmhouse with a calm and idyllic atmosphere. Hotel 1001 Nott, just 5km from the city centre is a great hideaway also sitting by the lake shores.

 

Further southeast, in the former French fisherman’s village of Fáskrúdsfjördur, is the Fosshotel Eastfjords, a nice design hotel that sets the base for the East Fjords.

 

Also belonging to the same hotel chain and 14km from Höfn, is Fosshotel Vatnajökull, a modern and stylish option offering breathtaking views over the stunning Vatnajökull glacier.

 

In Hnappavellir, Iceland’s greatest climbing area, you can find Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, a beautiful and contemporary property. The hotel is in close proximity to the Diamond Beach (or Breiðamerkursandur) – a black sand beach with an amazing landscape of icebergs fragments.

Jonathan Auh

South Iceland

South Iceland is a favourite among travellers, mostly because it is easily reachable from Reykjavik and offers a wide range of outdoor activities along with natural wonders. In 930 AD, the world’s oldest parliament was established here, more precisely in Thingvellir National Park, between two tectonic plates.

 

If you’ve ever heard of the infamous Golden Circle of Iceland then you are probably aware that most of the must-sees in the circuit lay in Southern Iceland.

 

Waterfall lovers are (really) going to adore the mighty Gullfoss, and won’t surely miss Skógafoss or Seljalandsfoss (do take the walk behind this gigantic sheet of water). Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon (in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve) and Sólheimajökull (a great place for ice climbing) are some of the most chilling beautiful landscapes around, while things can get utterly hot in the famous Great Geysir, the always erupting Strokkur and the cute Litli Geysir in Geysir Geothermal Field.

 

Other stunning places in the area include the famous Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach) in the secluded little village of Vik, Iceland’s southernmost point Surtsey Island (“born” in 1963), and the off coast Westman Islands.

Where to Stay

Hotels in South Iceland

So where to stay in the South? We recommend the stylish, cosy Hótel Kría in Vik, and UMI Hotel in Eyvindarhólar (quite close to Eyjafjallajökull Glacier Volcano). Only 200 meters from the Geyser and in proximity to Gullfoss as well as to many delicious restaurants is the appealing Litli Geysir Hotel. All these hotels are located close to the Ring Road and therefore to many of the attractions on the South.

 

In the largest and only inhabited island of the Westman Islands archipelago  – Heimaey – the top pick is the comfortable and centrally positioned Hotel Vestmannaeyjar.

Claire Nolan

The Highlands

The Highlands are a hiker’s paradise right in the heart of Iceland. Don’t expect to reach some of the areas during the winter, as a blanket of snow covers the roads leading there. But as soon as summer arrives, the opportunity to explore these rugged lands on a 4×4 opens up.

 

The usual waterfalls, glaciers, ancient volcanoes and hot springs are also found in this immense unpopulated area as are some of Iceland’s most delightful attractions. Among them the Hveradalir geothermal paradise in Kerlingarfjöll, Hekla (one of the planet’s most active volcanoes), the incredibly colourful landscape of Landmannalaugar, and Thórsmörk Natural Reserve with its white-crowned magnificent mountains intersected by complex river networks.

 

In the northern side of the diverse Vatnajökull National Park is the remote Askja Caldera, a must-see for the most curious and daring visitors.

Where to Stay

Hotels in the Highlands

Most of the accommodation options in this region are not so luxurious or modern… apart from Hótel Húsafell. Surrounded by Icelandic wonders and located near Langjökull Glacier, this hotel features a golf course and its own geothermal baths.

 

A comfortable base to explore Landmannalaugar is The Highland Center Hrauneyjar, while for the more adventurous ones the options lay in staying at a cottage, a glamping tent or a room in the secluded Volcano Huts Þórsmörk on the Thorsmork Nature Reserve.

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