I need to come back to Iceland to see more! We hear this phrase more than any other from our customers at the end of our trips. So this, Returning to Iceland blog post is dedicated to the places in Iceland that are often missed first time but should definitely be visited second time around.
The funny thing is, even our guests who have joined us for the 2nd and even 3rd time in Iceland say they need to come back to see more. It’s like a never ending bucket list. Every time you tick off one thing, you add three more. It seems the more you come to Iceland, the more you learn and the more you want to see. So, this post covers some of those places. You can either come back to Iceland to experience them or simply extend your first trip. It’s up to you.
Is once enough I hear you ask?
You will likely have been told by a friend that you can do the ‘must see’ sights over a long weekend. Or maybe 5 or 6 days. This is true and false at the same time. True in the sense that you can have an incredible action packed long weekend first time you come to Iceland. Especially if you join our Essential South Iceland 3 day tour. But false in the sense that all the ‘must see’ sights could take almost a month to get through, in our opinion. Especially if you are relying on weather to let you do certain activities. For example, you can’t exactly experience the summer Midnight Sun and the winter Northern Lights in the same trip now can you?
What do people do first time round?
Your first trip to Iceland will inevitably be filled with the most popular attractions in Iceland. In fact, despite the name Hidden Iceland, our biggest sellers are the Golden Circle: Platinum tour and our Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon 2 day tour. Both of these trips cover some of the most celebrated places in the country alongside the more intimate sites too. But, both trips are crafted to avoid the crowded spots at the wrong time of day. So you get to tick off the ‘must see’ elements but in the right way. And at the right time. They include a little adventure (glacier hike), a lot of incredible sights (Skógafoss) and plenty of relaxation (Secret Lagoon geothermal hot pool). These aspects work really well together actually. In fact, many of our private tour guests like to combine both tours, creating our Essential South Iceland 3 day tour. Many people then prefer to have a relaxed day afterwards to explore the museums, restaurants and streets of Reykjavik.
Then, on either side of this excursion you add in a quick dip at the Blue Lagoon on arrival day and a little shopping on departure day and you’ve used up your entire week before you know it. Some guests do manage to squeeze in an extra day trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula with its broken sea cliff walks and impressive volcanic landscape too. But I’d say that’s all you can really get up to in the space of a week without rushing things unnecessarily. Basically, Returning To Iceland becomes a necessity if you’ve only travelled for a week to Iceland regardless of what you achieve. After all, the north, east, highlands and islands are still waiting for you if you follow my above suggestions.
Returning to Iceland | Top 3 Locations
So we have compiled our top 3 locations, or rather, our 3 favourite trips to take. How much or how little of each tour you choose to take is entirely up to you. Bear in mind that this list focuses on the locations rather than the time of year. Some are season specific like the Grand Circle (summer only) and our Ice Cave tours (winter only). So if you have only been to Iceland in the summer, consider winter. If you’ve done winter and summer, consider spring and autumn. There’s no such thing as a bad time of year to visit Iceland.
1. The Wild Westfjords (recommended for summer)
I’ve decided to start with the least travelled part of the country first because a lot of our guests request solitude or photography spots on their second or third time to the country. And with only 7% of tourists making it to the north west of Iceland we can virtually guarantee that.
The forgotten Westfjords is the oldest part of the country and one of the least populated. Countless volcanic eruptions and ice ages have scarred and shaped this 14 million year old landscape. Over a 4 day period you can whisk around high mountain tops and deep into tranquil fjords, peer over towering cliffs and delve into the folklore and history of this storied area. The drive and the view is a big part of this trip so we always recommend summer time to give you the best chance for clear skies and calm days.
Over the four days, you can be acquainted with Iceland’s Viking heritage by visiting Eiríksstaðir, the home of Erik the Red. For anyone not in the know, Erik the Red is famous for discovering Greenland. His son, Leifur Eiríksson, would later be the first European to discover America. Quite the over-achieving family. You can also get a chance to experience rural Iceland with visits to working dairy farms (Erpsstaðir) and overnight stays in hidden hotels, one of which is located on a horse ranch.
Later in the trip, you can hike along the edge of the 1400m vertical sea cliffs while searching for the migrating Atlantic puffin at Látrabjarg. Add in a bumpy boat trip to the tiny island of Vigur, where they collect Eider down feathers, and get up close to Dynjandi, 100m waterfall, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking the Westfjords is a country of its own, separate from Iceland entirely. In fact, the locals often consider the Westfjords their own little paradise. A place that demands time, understanding and a good car for the bumpy roads.
Hidden Iceland run scheduled 4 day tours to the West Fjords between early June and early September but are open to running tours outside of this time by request. This is our top request for people Returning to Iceland.
2. Ice Cave Exploration (winter only)
Second on the list is heavily desired by first timers too but due to the limited time of year to see them it is often relegated to a return visit.
The best and bluest ice caves in Iceland are almost always found in the Vatnajökull National Park, in the south east of Iceland. Glacier hikes are also fun and safe to do all year round if you don’t come in winter.
However, if you want to actually go inside a glacier you need it to be a good bit colder to freeze the caves in place while you are in them. They form from summer melting and movement, then freeze in their current form for winter. That’s when we go exploring. Each year’s ice cave is always different. From snake like labyrinths to open aired cathedrals to enclosed holes. The only thing that we guarantee is that each year they will be blue and beautiful.
Since these icy sculptures are only safe to enter between November and March (when it’s nice and cold), many people miss them first time around. They are also located in the south east of Iceland which requires overnight accommodation. So for those first timers who made Reykjavik their base then this was likely missed for them too. In actual fact, even if you did manage to get to see an ice cave on your first trip they are rarely the same cave the following year so it is definitely a great activity a second time around too.
Hidden Iceland’s small group tour, 2 Day Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Ice Cave tour travels the entire south coast of Iceland, stays overnight at a secluded hotel searching for the Northern Lights, and enters a newly discovered ice cave the following day. It’s an action packed 2 days. Well worth the time if you are returning to Iceland.
3. The Diamond Circle (or The Grand Circle)
There is plenty to explore in the north of Iceland, including the Diamond Circle, which recently had the roads that complete the circuit fully paved. This has opened up an easy driving circuit between the geological paradise of Lake Myvatn, the mist and spray of Dettifoss Europe’s most powerful waterfall, the birch forests nestled in the crescent shaped Ásbyrgi canyon and the deep blue seas of Husavik, which is known as whale watching capital of Iceland. That doesn’t even include all of our favourite ‘hidden’ spots tucked away between all these iconic sights.
As the Diamond Circle is almost as far from Reykjavik as you can travel, it does often make sense to then finish the loop of Iceland to get back to Reykjavik. So now we are talking about doing one of the world’s ultimate road trips, The Grand Circle of Iceland! This isn’t really a location at all but rather a trip around the entire island. You can do this at a leisurely pace in Spring and Autumn but we definitely recommend the long summer months. In fact, planning it around the midnight sun period is optimal, before and after the 21st of June. Witnessing the sun barely set in the north of Iceland over the open ocean is truly spectacular.
Also, Iceland is bigger than you might think. The ring road, without detours, is around 1400 km (over 800 miles). So although you can physically drive around in just a few days we highly recommend a minimum of 6 or 7, with a preference for up to 10. Any less time and you will be driving past too many great sites in the hope of getting to your hotel on time.
There are far too many places and activities to list in this blog but some of the highlights of the grand tour include: Europe’s most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss. Whale watching in Húsavík or bathing in natural hot pools in Myvatn. Perhaps some puffin spotting in the Eastfjords or glacier hiking in Skaftafell. These are some of the things that make up an action packed trip if ever you saw one. The drive itself, like the Westfjords, is just as magnificent with its tall mountains, distant ice caps and unspoiled terrain.
Hidden Iceland offer this tour as a private trip so that you can amend and add things as we plan it out for you.
Returning to Iceland | A Summary
So as you can see, Iceland has so much to offer beyond the popular Golden Circle, south coast and city lights of Reykjavik. In fact, you can’t even do all of the above in one more trip anyway. So hopefully at the end of the tour you’ll be saying the exact same thing, I need to come back to Iceland to see more!
A couple of notable return-friendly places that I didn’t mention above are; the volcanic Westman Islands with its still warm volcano and large puffin colony and the Reykjanes Peninsula with its huge underground lava tunnel and geothermal pools. These spots are just as great as those included on the above list but since some of our guests do manage to squeeze them into their first visit they’ve been left out this time around.
I hope I managed to inspire you to come back to Iceland for a second…and third…and fourth…and tenth time. Do get in touch if you are hoping to plan your next adventure soon.