The Golden Circle is a popular 300km route which takes visitors on a tour of some of Iceland’s best attractions. Highlights include: Þingvellir National Park, where Iceland’s first Parliament congregated in 930AD, and the tectonic Silfra Fissure which offers icy glacial water for scuba diving and snorkelling; Haukadalur, a geothermal region where the geyser Strokkur fires scalding water 100 feet into the air every 10 minutes; and the thunderous Gullfloss Waterfall where the Hvítá River plunges into a deep crevice, thick with mist and rainbows.
When the light hits the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon just right, it lights up the verdant cliffs, deep valleys and serpentine river Fjaðrá like a scene out of Middle Earth. Hikers can make their way down to the river – though be prepared for a little wading at times – or trek the walking path up on the canyon’s edge to soak up the panoramic (and very ‘Instagrammable’) views that spread out before them.
This peculiar yet beautiful rock formation lends itself well to Icelandic folklore, littered with tales of trolls, giants, elves and dwarfs. The stories say these immense, hexagonal basalt columns were built by dwarves to use as their homes. However, geologists offer a different explanation, suggesting the famous cliffs were moulded at the end of the Ice Age through the cooling of lava, motion of the tides and the build-up of contraction forces.
This village may just win the prize for having the most tongue-twisting name of any in Iceland. While small in stature with only 150 inhabitants, Kirkjubæjarklaustur has become a popular destination for visitors due to its position as a major crossroads to several dramatic locations. Discover the charming double waterfall, Systrafoss, before dropping by Systravatn lake – once a bathing place for nuns. Next, find a local to tell you the macabre backstory linked to Systrastapi or ‘Sister’s Rock’ and visit Kirkjugólf, a curious field of basalt rock and moss.
A wilderness to some and an oasis to others, the beautiful Skaftafell is an area of Vatnajökull National Park that offers epic landscapes, favourable weather conditions and a range of hiking trails to keep even the most dedicated of outdoors enthusiasts happy. Short trails lead visitors on an easy journey to the Black Waterfall, Svartifoss, and Iceland’s most famous glacier, Skaftafellsjökull. However, those who wish to truly test themselves should set their sights on scaling the peaks of the Kristínartindar mountain range – snow-capped Hvannadalshnjúkur is the highest in Iceland.
The glorious Svartifoss waterfall cascades down 12 metres of unique black basalt cliffs and has the reputation of being the crowning glory of Skaftafell. While it may not have the power of some of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls, there is a romantic quality to this picturesque scene. Hike the gentle 90-minute trail to the top for the very best views of the falls and fill your lungs with the crisp, clean air.
For many visitors, a trip to Iceland is not complete without paying a visit to Europe’s largest glacier. Svínafellsjökull is a tongue of the monumental Vatnajökull Glacier, stretching right to the verdant region of Skaftafell. Tours are generally available from March through to December and involve fun and easy trekking across the jagged ridges, blue crevasses and many glacial tongues of this otherworldly ice cap.
If walking on ice isn’t enough for you and you’re keen to see what lies beneath, book yourself in for an ice cave tour – Iceland has plenty to choose from! Perhaps one of the best-known is the entrancing Crystal Cave, hidden within the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier. The largest ice cave in Vatnajökull National Park was formed as a result of the glacier hitting the Icelandic coastline. The interior is a dream-like study of textures, coloured in fifty shades of blue – it must be seen to be believed.
If you want to see a beach that glitters like diamonds, the magical southeast of Iceland will make your wish come true. Jökulsárlón is one of Mother Nature’s greatest triumphs; a glacial lagoon and the deepest natural lake in Iceland, waters broken only by fish, seals and glowing chunks of ice. Head down to the seashore to see more of this ice dotted amongst the black sands, polished to sparkling perfection by the tides and creating the impression of a beach littered with diamonds, shimmering under the sun.
Iceland’s most notorious volcano announced its presence to the world when it blew its glacier cap back in 2010, grounding thousands of planes throughout Europe. However, the trail to the 5,466-foot summit is one of the most beautiful day hikes in Iceland, earning adventurous trekkers expansive views of the country’s coastline and the craggy Vestmannaeyjar Islands offshore. You can even go for a snowmobile tour on the ice cap as you marvel at the effects the eruption had on the landscape.
While Iceland enjoys four distinct seasons, the climate is renowned for being changeable. Fortunately, there is no ‘best time of year’ to visit South Iceland – it just depends on what you’re looking to do.
Visit south Iceland in winter to enjoy snow adventure activities with an added edge of excitement, and stand the best possible chance of seeing the magical Northern Lights.
Plan your trip in April or May to make the most of springtime and enjoy the start of the fishing, whale watching and golfing seasons. This is the best time to tour the Golden Circle and hike in the most verdant regions of the country’s national parks.
A trip during the summer months is best to explore the countryside in full bloom and experience the magnificent Midnight Sun, which bathes the country in almost 24 hours of daylight.
Alternatively, visit in the autumn as the temperatures cool but the cultural calendar hots up. Some of Iceland’s best film, art and musical festivals are scheduled for this time of year.
Enjoy the views and tranquility of rural Iceland at Fosshotel Hekla, deep in the countryside of the south, yet just an hour outside of Reykjavik.
Escape from reality at Fosshotel Núpar, nestled right in the heart of one of the most unique landscapes in Iceland.