Festivals in Iceland

Festivals & Concerts in Iceland

Festivals & Concerts in Iceland

By Michael Chapman

Festivals & Concerts in Iceland

By Michael Chapman

What are the biggest music and film festivals in Iceland, and when are they held? What other smaller events take place each year? Read on to find out all you need to know about Iceland festivals taking place throughout the year.

Typically, thoughts of Iceland go hand-in-hand with peaceful solitude, open landscapes and natural tranquillity. However, every month or so, pockets of this sub-arctic island come alive with party-goers eager to hear the latest bands, see the newest films, or participate in events that demonstrate pride in Icelandic history and culture.

Festivals in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Anthony Delanoix)

Iceland has long boasted a reputation for being an artistically tuned-in nation. The talent and drive to create incredible, experimental sounds is alive and well here, with live performances being part-and-parcel of daily life. However, with that said, well-known bands and artists like Bjork, Of Monsters & Men and Sigur Ros are just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover your new favourite musician after taking a trip to Iceland?

In times of COVID-19, Iceland’s festival circuit took a hit, with many events cancelled due to health concerns and limitations on crowd sizes. As restrictions lift here, event organisers, performers and festival-goers are eager to make up for lost time.

The Biggest Festivals in Iceland

Ready to party in Iceland?
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Danny Howe)

As we move into a post-pandemic world, Icelanders will slowly be returning to the festival circuit they know so well. So, without further ado, let us look into what festivals and events are considered the big favourites every year.


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Secret Solstice

Secret Solstice is very much an open secret, it must be said. It is among the biggest music festivals in Iceland annually, attracting local and international artists to the stage and thousands of happy music fans. If you’re looking for an authentic party atmosphere, then Secret Solstice is most definitely your best bet!

The festival takes place in Laugardalur, a large green park found on the outskirts of Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. This recreation area is the perfect place to picnic and relax with loved ones in more typical circumstances, but the month of June is a different story altogether. It is cordoned off with chain-link fences, and ticket-holders queue up eagerly outside. As with all great festivals, guests are patted down and have their bags checked before entry to avoid an influx of alcohol and party drugs.

Previous years have seen some of the biggest international names in pop, rock and hip-hop. Famous acts such as The Sugarhill Gang, Anderson Cooper, Bonnie Tyler, The Black-Eyed Peas and Pussy Riot have graced the stage. Given such headliners, it is little wonder the festival gets more significant year after year after year.

Iceland Airwaves

Iceland has many music festivals throughout the year
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Marcela Laskoski)

Iceland Airwaves is another enormous music festival in Reykjavik, though the focus is far more on local, upcoming acts. Instead of the massive outdoor stages at Secret Solstice, concert-goers’ focus on smaller venues; bars and cafes, libraries and art museums, where guests can have a more intimate experience with the music.

Iceland Airwaves started in an empty hangar at Reykjavik Domestic Airport, all the way back in 1999. Only five bands were scheduled to perform but proved to be such a hit that the festival was quickly organised into a revolving event. Given Iceland’s geographical position on our planet, many festival-goers travel here solely for Iceland Airwaves to claim they’ve partied as close as one can to the Arctic Circle. Iceland music festivals don’t get more exciting than this!

Reykjavik Film Festival

Shooting a video in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Christian Smith)

Popcorn at the ready! For more visually-oriented guests, several film festivals take place in Iceland throughout the year. The Reykjavik Film Festival is the biggest of these, organised by the prestigious Icelandic Film Institute.

The Reykjavik Film Festival attracts famous guest-speakers such as the well-known director Baltasar Kormakur, famous for blockbuster productions like Everest (2015) and the original Netflix series Katla (2021).

The Icelandic film industry is much smaller than those found elsewhere. This status has little to do with the quality of the movies produced here but the sheer lack of people working on films at any given time. Nevertheless, previous Icelandic movies that have attracted international attention from the festival include Rams (2015) and Jar City (2006).

Reykjavik Pride Festival

A rainbow street in Reykjavik
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Ludovic Charlet)

Iceland’s progressive approach to LGBTQ+ rights is celebrated in August with the Reykjavik Pride Festival. Expect an abundance of rainbow flags and vibrant floats as the main parade travels down the city’s major shopping street, Laugavegur, as well as a wide array of events such as drag shows and queer-themed comedy.

2021 marked the 21st Pride Festival in the country. Like previous years, a 10-metre rainbow flag sewn by American gay activist Gilbert Baker leads the city’s parade. There are many ways to get involved; volunteering to be a flag-bearer or simply enjoying the festivities as a spectator.

Smaller Festivals in Iceland

Dancing at an Iceland concert
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Stephen Arnold)

Not every event or festival in Iceland is globally known, but those beloved locally are just as exciting for guests looking for a unique experience. Smaller festivals in Iceland are a great way to know Icelandic culture and history better and discover performers and artists on their way to stardom.

Frostbiter Horror Film Festival

Despite being held in the small town of Akranes, the Frostbiter Horror Film Festival has remained a staple event annually thanks to its focus on spooky cinema and annual prizes for the best contributions. In addition, filmmakers from around the globe submit their films for viewing, which adds a unique, international flavour to this event.

Perfect for devotees of horror, this festival showcases well-known hair-raisers, cult classics and informative documentaries. For instance, a documentary detailing ghosts in Icelandic folklore was showcased only this year, revealing a supernatural side to this culture that guests often overlook.

Dark Days Music Festival

Since its founding in 1980, Dark Days Music Festival focuses its lens on contemporary and progressive local sounds, transcending normal Iceland concerts for something entirely different.

Showcasing more new projects than any other event in Iceland, musicians and composers have long found inspiration at this Reykjavik-based festival. Given the amount of new work premiering, Dark Days is considered far more bold and daring than similar festivals and is sure to leave you with a lasting impression of this island’s musical capabilities.

Unfortunately, Dark Days Music Festival was cancelled in 2021 due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. The next Dark Days Music Festival is scheduled for January 2022.

Winter Lights Festival

To close off the season in style, Iceland’s Winter Lights Festival takes place annually each February. Reykjavik city centre is decked out with fantastic light installations, extending the festive Christmas period well into the new year.

Festival guests are invited to participate in the Winter Lights walk, which begins at the city landmark church, Hallgrimskirkja and ends at City Hall, on the banks of Lake Tjornin. As if that’s not enough, there is also an interesting art walk that showcases Icelandic cultural talent.

Cultural Events in Iceland

Inside of Iceland's Harpa Concert Hall
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Andrea De Santis)

Icelandic culture goes well beyond music and film. This island has a long history of birthing fabulous artists, from landscape painters to innovative sculptors, all of which are best found at various cultural events around the country.

Danish Days

Iceland and Denmark have a long relationship in so much as the two nations were united under the Danish Crown, right up until the latter’s invasion from Nazi Germany in 1940. There are still reminders of this connection; take the castle-like Danish Embassy in Reykjavik, which remains one of the more impressive buildings in the city.

Such history is celebrated with the Danish Days festival in the small town of Stykkishólmur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Stykkishólmur was an important port for Danish and Icelandic traders in prior centuries, acting as one of the foundational pillars for the controversial Danish Trade Monopoly.

Reykjavik Fringe Festival

A firebreather in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Darius Soodmand)

Creativity is at the heart of the Reykjavik Fringe Festival, which takes a casual, grassroots approach to what shows it hosts under its banner. Stand-up comics, drag queens, singers, beat-poets, musicians; all have the chance to book themselves a spot at any one of the many venues available city-wide.

The Reykjavik Fringe Festival is part of the Nordic Fringe Network, a regulatory body that oversees counterpart festivals in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania and Finland. Like these, the festival’s acts are only half the story; there is a fantastic opening and closing party, as well as a prestigious awards ceremony.

It is one of the newest festivals on the circuit, having only started in 2017. Thankfully, the event is held at the height of summer, transforming the city with its bohemian atmosphere. The Midnight Sun provides plenty of time to enjoy countless acts throughout the capital, with ticket-holders able to move from show to show at their leisure.

LungA Arts Festival 

A girl in Seydisfjordur, Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Dave Herring)

Held annually in the East Iceland town of Seyðisfjörður, the LungA Arts Festival is a must-do for culture lovers. Not only will guests discover a wealth of art exhibitions and concerts, but they can also participate in various informative courses and lectures.

LungA first began in 2000 and has gone from strength to strength each year. One example of this growth is the opening of LungA School, an educational institute dedicated to artists and their processes. Previous instructors at the school have included the hilarious Icelandic cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson, American Rapper Princess Nokia and the renowned local author, Andri Snær Magnason.

Imagine Peace Tower

In the depths of winter, you might look outside your hotel window in the city and witness a glowing beam of white light shooting towards the stars. In tribute to the late-Beatles member, John Lennon, the Imagine Peace Tower illuminates the October skies from the island of Videy, just off Reykjavik’s coast.

Created and attended each year by his wife and multimedia artist Yoko Ono, the Imagine Peace Tower symbolises hope and light, a direct response to the conflicts and tragedies occurring globally each year. The tower was unveiled on October 9th 2007, which would have been John Lennon’s 67th birthday, and remains lit until the anniversary of his death on December 8th.

Reykjavik Culture Night

Fireworks over Reykjavik, Iceland.
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Mike Swigunski)

For one night each year, venues across Reykjavik dedicate themselves to showcasing the city’s cultural heritage. Both guests and residents have the chance to delve into the city’s history, from the moment early settlers arrived from Norway, to the western republic we know and love today.

The date, August 21st, marks the beginning of the calendar for many museums and art galleries, who launch their programme of events from then. Thankfully, all events taking place between 1pm – 11pm are entirely free to partake in. In addition, there are many museums and other cultural establishments you can visit; The National Museum, The Settlement Museum and Perlan Museum and Observation Deck, to name just a handful.

To top off the evening, a glorious firework display takes place above the iconic Lutheran church, Hallgrimskirkja. Watching the colourful explosions erupt above you, you’ll realise there’s no better time to enjoy the city than on Culture Night.


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Outside of a supermarket

Supermarkets & Groceries in Iceland: 5 Things you should know

Supermarkets & Groceries in Iceland: 5 Things you should know

By Michael Chapman

Supermarkets & Groceries in Iceland: 5 Things you should know

Which supermarkets in Iceland are best for travellers on a budget? What kind of food is available for purchase, and what hours are stores open? Read on to find out five essential things you should know about supermarkets and groceries in Iceland.

Among the most commonly shared facts about Iceland is its expensive cost of living, especially when compared to other countries across Europe. When it comes to Iceland grocery shopping, the story is not too much different; you’ll likely find the prices more than you’d initially expect.

Icelanders rely on imported goods, everything from clothes to electronics and snacks. As you can imagine, this means that each item comes at a more significant expense, which is often a shock for guests accustomed to cheaper locales. Fear not, though; whatever Iceland grocery store you visit, you are sure to find all you need available to purchase on their shelves.

Buy Iceland groceries to keep within your travel budget

Shopping in times of Covid-19
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Imants Kaziluns)

Wallet-conscious travellers need to know how to keep their costs down when in the land of ice and fire. One of the best methods of mitigating your expenses is purchasing food, drink and other necessities from any of Iceland’s supermarkets. For the purposes of this article, when we mention buying some Iceland grocery, we are referring to shops throughout the country, rather than Iceland supermarket specifically.

In fact, grocery shopping in Iceland should be considered a necessity, whatever your budget. Preparing your meals is always a cost-effective option, especially considering the prices in petrol stations and other small shops located on the Ring Road. For example, a mere soda and hot dog will likely set you back $15 USD, or £11 GBP. Who really needs that when the budget is already stretched?

Given the costs you’ll already be putting forward for accommodation, vehicle rentals and activities, it’s much wiser to keep conscientious about your food purchases throughout the holiday period. That’s not to say you shouldn’t head out to explore Iceland’s fine dining restaurants, but eating out should be thought of as a treat if you hope to return home with any cash at all.

The cheapest supermarkets in Iceland are Bonus and Kronan

The two largest and cheapest chains are Bonus and Kronan, the latter coming out as just a tad more expensive. Iceland groceries don’t come more bog standard than this, making both supermarkets a favourite for residents and visitors alike.

Note that there hasn’t been a price test conducted over all supermarkets in Iceland since 2019, so costs will likely differ year to year. If you have any doubt as to the price of an item, you can often scan its barcode at one of the many price-check outlets situated around the store.

However, rest easy knowing Bonus and Kronan are always the go-to supermarkets if you’re looking to save the pennies. Getting your fill of Iceland grocery doesn’t need to break the bank!

Both supermarkets promote a bright yellow colour scheme and can be found close by to most major urban settlements in the country. You’ll know you’ve arrived at a Bonus if you see their pink Piggy-bank mascot, while a smiling coin represents Kronan.

Bonus and Kronan offer a wide selection of food and drink items, though they differ in brands. All necessities are available to purchase; fresh fish and meats, cheeses, milk, bread, fruits and vegetables. Any extra items you might need, from toothbrushes to sunscreen to sunglasses, can also be located at either store.


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There are a range of other supermarkets in Iceland

Fruit and vegetables on sale in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: NRD)

Netto is a mid-scale supermarket that offers a wide variety of food, drinks and goods. It is not much more expensive than Bonus and Krona, so it makes for a suitable alternative that should be far away from the cheaper markets. In addition, many Netto stores stay open throughout the night, making this a good choice for those who arrive in Reykjavik in the early hours of the morning.

Hagkaup is the supermarket that branches off from just food, offering clothes, toys, cosmetics, garden furniture and many other items. In this way, the store resembles a mall more than your average grocers, and you can spend a decent half-hour perusing the many wares on offer.

10/11 is one supermarket to be avoided as it almost entirely catered to tourists or those too lazy to walk an extra half-mile to a cheaper store. While there is very little difference in the wares offered, the price differentiation is astronomical and without consistency from store to store.

Krambudin is much the same, though a different company owns it. However, if you do plan on shopping here, expect your bill to be around 50% higher. So why not ask yourself, are you so flush with cash that you don’t mind being robbed in broad daylight? No, we thought not. So best keep the purse strings tight, eh?

Fruit on sale in an Iceland supermarket
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Fikri Rasyid)

The supermarket chain ‘Iceland’ can also be found here, though there are far fewer stores than, say, in the UK or the rest of Europe.

Previous price tests have shown Iceland to be the most expensive supermarket in the country, which is odd considering its focus on frozen meals. However, having lived in this country for over five years now, I’ve never personally witnessed anyone shopping in an Iceland supermarket, which begs the question as to how they remain open.

Perhaps most guests forgive the expense in exchange for snapping a picture in front of the supermarket’s sizeable white lettering if only to add a fun, meta contribution to their holiday album. For those without much sense of humour, this could very well be the high point of your holiday abroad. Iceland in Iceland, after all… now that’s funny…

You can buy classic Icelandic food!

A classic Icelandic hot dog
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Andy Wang)

Grocery shopping in Iceland can be a fun activity in itself if you approach it with the mindset of trying out new and delicious meals.

For centuries, Icelanders relied on whatever food was available, mainly fresh fish, other seafood, and lamb. Over the years, these ingredients have been perfected and make up the foundations of modern Icelandic cuisine.

Skyr is another old yet widely popular dessert eaten every day by Icelanders, either as part of a healthy breakfast or a quick snack between meals. Though the plainest flavours boast a yoghurt consistency and taste, Skyr is a curdled cheese, similar to that eaten in Russia and Germany. Many people enjoy eating Skyr paired with oats and berries, while others are happy to eat it as is.

Another popular dish in Iceland is plokkfiskur, better understood as mashed white fish served with potato and, in some cases, cheese, with a side of buttered rye bread.

The Icelandic food listed above is just a handful of examples of what Icelanders commonly eat. For genuinely adventurous eaters, you’ll find more intimidating options in the form of liver sausage, fermented shark, or hanged meats.

You’ll find recognisable brands on sale in Icelandic supermarkets

Famous brands can be found in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Nico Smit)

Well, we’ve presented you with some ideas about what the Icelanders like to eat, but there’s always the chance you’re something of a philistine when it comes to eating overseas cuisine. If you are, fear not; there are hundreds of international brands ready for purchase and will bring with them all the comfort you’re used to at home.

For quick snacks on the road, you can grab crisp brands like Doritos, Pringles and Lays. If you are more of a sweet-tooth, you’ll find classic chocolates like Twix, Snickers, Oreos and Hersheys. While none of these are healthy, per se, they might give you a minor dopamine hit, a little reminder of home on your travels.

Of course, there are many other well-known brands beyond the world of snacks. For example, the world-famous Heinz company offers nearly its full range of sauces and tinned goods. UK visitors can also find the likes of Coleman’s Mustard and Branston Pickle, should they keep an eye out for them when browsing grocery stores in Iceland.

For travellers coming from beyond the west, there are many South-East Asian grocery stores in Iceland. Here, you can buy all manner of noodles, fish and rice dishes, and exotic ingredients you might not have expected to find on this lonely, sub-arctic island.

Other useful information about shopping in Iceland

yellow and red apples
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: gemma)

Despite what you might think, Icelanders are busy people, so rely on self-checkout to get in and out of the shop quickly.

When it’s time to pay, you’ll likely find only a few cashiers on duty, so it’s best to scan the items yourself. Employees keep a keen-eye on the self-checkout machines throughout the day, so there’ll be no five-finger discounts unless you’re prepared to spend the night in a Reykjavik jail cell.

Self-checkouts bring us to another important point. Icelanders are bona fide plastic payers, meaning credit and debit cards are the go-to choice for transactions rather than cash. Many places across the country do not accept cash, so always be sure to keep your cards handy on your person when travelling.

Plastic bags are also no longer available in many supermarkets, with brown paper bags offered as an alternative. Be aware that these are also not free, and you will have to pay a few extra krona should you forget to bring your own bag with you.

man in t-shirt shopping
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Atoms)

In times of COVID-19, all grocery stores in Iceland have implemented hand sanitisers at their entrance. Though most restrictions have been lifted here, it is still important to keep distance between you and other shoppers.

While we’re taking notes, be aware that any product containing an alcohol level above 2.25% is not sold in Icelandic supermarkets. You can only buy beer, wine and spirits in state-run liquor stores.

Guests should also be aware that much of Iceland’s fruit and vegetable produce is imported, meaning it is far from fresh. This can be particularly irritating for vegetarians, vegans, or any traveller conscious of healthy eating habits.

One of the most disappointing shopping experiences that occurs regularly in Iceland, for instance, is to buy an avocado only to find at home that it has already begun rotting on the inside. Because of this quick degradation, shoppers should plan to eat their fruit and vegetables soon after buying them.

Opening Hours for Grocery Stores in Iceland

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Zuzanna Adamczyk)

Below, you can find the opening hours for each of Iceland’s supermarkets. Do note, however, that opening hours for Iceland supermarkets are liable to change on holidays. Always make sure to check the company website before heading out to grocery stores in Iceland so as not to interrupt your travel plans.


(Monday – Thursday) 11.00 – 18.30

(Friday) 10.00 – 19.00

(Saturday – Sunday) 10.00/11.00 – 18.00


(Monday – Sunday) Hours differ between stores. See here.


(Monday – Sunday) 09.00 – 21.00 or Open 24 Hours


(Monday – Sunday) Hours differ between stores. See here.


(Monday – Sunday) 07.00 – 12.00


(Monday – Sunday) 24 Hours

Again, please be aware that opening hours for supermarkets in Iceland change from time to time, so always be sure to check the website before setting out.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, shopping at supermarkets in Iceland is sure to save a penny or two, as long as you’re aware of which shops boast the best prices. What Iceland grocery store you choose to visit is up to you!

Aside from the days you decide to eat-out at a restaurant or cafe, be sure to pack your lunches and snacks with items bought from either Bonus or Krona, or any other cheap Iceland grocery store you come across. Remember; you’re bound to get more bang for your buck when purchasing Iceland groceries over ready-made meals.

If late into the night you’re feeling peckish, or are in sudden need of bathroom necessities, 24/7 shops like Netto and 10/11 are your best bet. Though you might not think it considering the diminutive size of this country, grocery stores in Iceland mirror larger countries in being available for late-night buys.

Whatever the situation, there’s a supermarket, food mart, corner shop or grocery stores in Iceland that will provide you with all you need.


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Self-Drive Tours in Iceland, and why Adventurous Travellers choose them

Why choose Self-Drive tours in Iceland?

By Michael Chapman

Your Journey. Your Adventure. Your Pace.

Why choose Self-Drive tours in Iceland?

By Michael Chapman

Your Journey. Your Adventure. Your Pace.

Iceland boasts many beautiful sites and attractions; so many, in fact, that planning how best to see them can be a real challenge.

Many holiday-makers planning a trip to Iceland are put off by the idea of packed minibuses, travelling with strangers and following another’s schedule. Frankly, who can blame them? 

One’s holiday should be time well spent, in the company of loved ones and friends fulfilling personal goals and ambitions. To ensure this dream becomes a reality, it is vital that visitors research exactly what they want to see and do long before arriving in the land of ice and fire

One great way of easing these problems is to book self-drive tours in Iceland. Self-drive tours in Iceland are considered a separate type of package to your usual day tours, and are best suited to those adventurers looking to maximise their time in the country.

What is a Self-Drive tour in Iceland?

Travellers who value their independence abroad need look no further than Self-Drive tours in Iceland. These packages put you in the driver’s seat, equipped with a loose itinerary you are free to follow or ignore at your leisure.

Whereas many companies sell multi-day tours, we are the only travel operator who also includes overnight stays in our transparent bubbles. Not only that, but our vehicles are battery-charged Teslas; a follow-through on our commitment to protecting Iceland’s environment.

We take care of all the other arrangements, from the logistics of your trip, to your car and accommodation, leaving you free to enjoy your time in Iceland without the need to worry. Don’t skip over what a benefit this is; sorting out the right hotels and vehicles can be a real hassle when in the planning stages of a trip, and cause you stress before even leaving the house.

Of course, you’ll want to stick fairly closely to the routes we provide so as not to miss out on any of the unforgettable natural attractions and activities in store. But, specific activities aside, the road is yours to do with what you like.


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What does a Self-Drive tour offer over a Guided Tour?

Driving in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Robert Bye)

There are countless reasons to choose multi-day self-drive tours in Iceland over guided day tours, the most important being the freedom and flexibility it provides guests.

Those with their own rental vehicle can more easily set the pace of their holiday. Not only can they spend as much time at each attraction as they like, but they can also make any diversions that seem interesting in the moment. This autonomy is clearly preferable to many people when compared to the regimented, twenty-minute stops so common on sightseeing tours.

Self-drive tours in Iceland allow for greater customisation and can more easily be adapted to fit your specific time schedule. If you were originally planning to be in Iceland for a long weekend, you might be interested in our 2-day or 3-day Self-Drive packages, for instance, which cover many exciting stops in West and South Iceland.

From our offices in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, we provide you with a state-of-the-art Tesla vehicle, an exciting and action-packed itinerary, and personal support throughout your trip.

If there are particular aspects of a Self-Drive tour that you would like to change, it is merely a matter of browsing the countless excursions we offer, or contacting us directly to set about pairing the right package with you.

What will I see on a Self-Drive tour in Iceland?

Driving to Thingvellir National Park
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Robert Bye)

As we’ve mentioned, Self-Drive tours cover a far greater number of attractions than specific day tours, which focus on only one or two sites. You can find Self-Drive tours that take you around the entire country, or are more specific to certain regions.

The majority of our tours will see you exploring West and South Iceland, both of which are famous for their incredible scenery and countless points of interest.

For example, you might choose a tour that sees you spend the first day experiencing the Golden Circle route, home to Thingvellir National Park, Geysir hot spring and Gullfoss waterfall.

On your second day, you’ll visit the South Coast. This gorgeous stretch of coastline includes the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, and the black sand beach, Reynisfjara. Nature lovers and photographers alike will find the south a true paradise, and is far more enjoyably explored at one’s own leisure.

The fun goes well beyond sightseeing, however. There is always the opportunity to add specific activities to your tour that will lead you to entirely new destinations. These could be anything, from horse riding through the quaint rural meadows of West Iceland, or a thrilling ATV ride at the base of Mount Esja.

There are many other examples. If you decide you’d like to try your hand at cold water snorkelling, you’ll discover the crystal-clear glacial spring, Silfra Fissure. If you decide to go snowmobiling, you’ll find yourself speeding across the white expanse of Langjokull ice cap.

Sleep in a Bubble in Iceland

(Photo Credit: Kevin Pagès)

All of our Self-Drive tours come with at least one overnight stay in our transparent bubbles, among the most unique and appealing accommodation choices in the country. Able to sleep up to two people, these fantastic arrangements allow visitors to enjoy a 360-degree view of their surroundings; the woods and hillsides of Olvisholt.

During the winter, our bubbles double up as private observatories, providing guests the chance to watch the Northern Lights from the comfort of their beds. In the summer, the Midnight Sun bathes the landscape golden into the morning, so we will be sure to provide you with a sleep mask to help you ensure a restful night.

Another nice addition is Olvisholt brewery, only a short walk away from our bubbles. This means you can sample fine Icelandic beverages late into the evening without having to worry about driving.

With all this mind, it seems mad not to opt for a Self-Drive adventure when travelling in Iceland. Not only do these tours offer enhanced personal freedom, but also countless opportunities to see this island’s most beloved natural attractions, and the chance to stay in one of the world’s most unique accommodations.

Make sure to check out our wide selection of Self-Drive tours and packages here. If you don’t see something that fits your particular criteria, make sure to contact us directly.


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Icelandic highlands

Discover the Icelandic Highlands | Iceland's Untamable Oasis

About The Icelandic Highlands

By Michael Chapman

It’s time to discover Iceland’s wildest region…

About The Icelandic Highlands

By Michael Chapman

It’s time to discover Iceland’s wildest region…

Iceland’s largest and innermost region is a vast plateau of glacial mountainsides, geothermal springs and untameable wilderness.

Of course, most of the Highlands constitutes empty black desert, which in many ways, is as striking as the scenery around it.

Despite these dark plains being subject to glacial flooding, water filters through the rock so quickly here that plant-growth is impossible. The lush and green areas famous in travel photographs are normally found along rivers that run from the plateau’s highest elevations.

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Joshua Fuller)

Aside from its natural splendour, the Highlands are revered for their place in history, having served as a crucial trading pass for many centuries.

However, the inhospitality of the land has meant that Icelanders never chose to settle their country’s highest plateaus, instead remaining on coastal settlements where food was plentiful and the weather more temperate.

The Highlands lack the infrastructure of Iceland’s more widely trodden tourist trails, making it impossible to explore the area in winter without the leadership of a professional guide.

Top locations in the Icelandic Highlands

Despite their relative inaccessibility during Iceland’s winter, the region is home to countless attractions worthy of any explorer’s appreciation.


A landscape shot of the Icelandic Highlands
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Stephanie Braconnier)

In Icelandic, Landmannalaugar translates to ‘Pools of the People’. This name can be traced to the many naturally-formed geothermal pools that dot the region; bubbling hot pots that served warm relief both for the shepherd’s flock, and the shepherd himself, in bygone times.

Today, tourists have taken their place, so for that reason, it’s always a good idea to bring along a towel should you find one of these pools during your visit.

Landmannalaugar is famed for its rhyolite hillsides; shingly slopes that reflect the passing sunlight, and appear to shift in colour accordingly. This dazzling spectacle is enough reason to pay Landmannalaugar a visit, though there are many other attractions nearby, including Mount Brennisteinsalda and Bláhnjúkur volcano.


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The Icelandic Highlands
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Riccardo Chiarini Ljng)

Named after the Norse God of Thunder, this dramatic Highlands oasis is entirely surrounded by glaciers and mountains. In fact, it is located directly between the glaciers, Tindfjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull, making for impressive framing to any viewpoints you come across.

Thorsmork serves as the beginning of the day-long Fimmvörðuháls hiking trail, a gorgeous and beginner-friendly route that sees its guests arriving in the tiny village of Skógar.


Maelifell volcano
(Photo Credit: Kevin Pagès)

Maelifell is a photographer’s dream. A cone-shaped mountain that rises from the empty black dunes around it, its slopes are covered with a thick green moss during the summer, creating fantastic colour tones. In the winter months, however, the mountain stands above all else like a towering stalagmite of ice.

If you want to learn more about this fascinating mountain, make sure to read our feature article Mælifell Volcano | Secret Treasures of the Icelandic Highlands.


Even though Herdubreid is a feast for the eyes, it is not considered among Iceland’s most famous mountains. This lack of appreciation must be due to its remote Highlands location rather than its dramatic aesthetic; steep slopes rise up to a wide rocky plateau, a mountain seemingly inspired by the mythic locations found in Norse Mythology

Officially, Herdubreid is a tuya mountain, and is located as part of Vatnajökull National Park. Icelanders will often refer to it as ‘The Queen of Icelandic Mountains’ due to its striking form, and indeed, it has sheltered numerous outlaws over the island’s 1000 years of settlement.

Visitors here will have fantastic views of Ódáðahraun desert, and will also have a chance of seeing Askja volcano, if they’re willing to make a short detour,Surrounded by the oasis of Herðubreiðarlindir, the area is great for camping, as well as visiting Vatnajökull National Park to the south.

Top Activities in the Icelandic Highlands

Sightseeing is the main reason why people choose to visit the Icelandic Highlands, bolstered by the opportunity to snap some incredible photographs of their experience.

However, there is a wealth of other activities to keep one entertained in the Highlands, and partaking in any of them is sure to heighten your time in the area.

Snowmobiling in the Icelandic Highlands

Golden Circle in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Diego Van Sommeren)

If there is one activity that’s sure to get the heart-racing wherever it takes place, it’s taking a snowmobile and speeding off towards the horizon. It just so happens that the wide valley of Thorsmork makes for one of the most visually striking environments in Iceland, adding a litany of reasons why you should choose to snowmobile there rather than elsewhere.

At certain points during your snowmobiling tour, your guide will pull everybody over to dismount their snowmobiles and appreciate various sights enroute. Among the most extraordinary is the extinct volcano Einhyrningur, or Mt. Unicorn, named after the large, horn-like protrusion that rises from its slopes.

If mountains don’t tickle your fancy—and if not, why not?—then perhaps the gargantuan gorge, Stakkholtsgjá, will satisfy. With towering cliff sides that seem to drop without end, you’ll quickly realise just how high up you are in comparison to the rest of your time in the land of ice and fire.

If you’re not one for heights, then fear not; you’ll be back snowmobiling in no time!

Hiking the Laugavegur trail

Overlooking the Highlands in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Philip Lindberg)

The Laugavegur trail shares a name with Reykjavik’s most busy shopping street, which can cause a little bit of confusion when planning a hiking trip. If you find yourself, walking-poles in hand, stomping purposefully past a variety of Puffin-themed souvenir shops, restaurants and bars, you’ve arrived at the wrong place and should act accordingly.

The actual Laugavegur trail is far more remarkable, least of all because of the challenge it provides, and more due to the spectacular scenery from beginning to end.

Open between June and September each year, one can expect a well-marked route with enough foot traffic that getting lost along the way would be quite the feat.

Covering 55 kilometres in total, Laugavegur boasts eclectic natural highlights, from raging river rapids to gnarled lava fields and stretches of obsidian emptiness.

Note that the Laugavegur trail can take anywhere between 3-8 days to hike, depending on your speed and level of physical fitness. This distance makes Laugavegur longer than the nearby Fimmvörðuháls pass mentioned above.

There are currently six overnight cabins that are operated by the Iceland Touring Association, Ferðafélag Íslands, making it easy to rest up at the end of each day.

Horse riding in the Highlands

Horses in Iceland
(Photo Credit: Kevin Bridges)

Another brilliant method of experiencing the Icelandic Highlands is from atop the saddle. Frankly, Icelandic horses are the only means of transportation that can compete with the 4x4s so commonly spotted around the island as these miraculous and genetically pure animals have become well-adapted to the environment over preceding centuries.

Icelandic horse tours are as suitable for beginners as they are experienced riders, and you’ll find your guides will help you and your steed to keep a pace that fits your skill level.

Driving in the Icelandic Highlands

Experience the Golden Circle in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Tim Trad)

Summer visitors are free to explore the Icelandic Highlands as part of their holiday, but they must remember a few crucial facts before they do so.

First of all, a 4×4 vehicle should be considered critical to your journey. If you consider this point dismissable, expect to find yourself trapped in the middle of nowhere, struggling to secure a network connection on your phone so as to call the rescue services.

All roads in the Highlands are gravel and mountainous thoroughfares that normal cars are simply not able to conquer. On top of that, there are countless ridges and river crossings that pose a challenge, even to the most experienced driver-guides.

Have you ever wondered why you see so many Superjeeps and large-wheeled titan wagons when travelling around Iceland? Rugged terrain like that found in the Icelandic Highlands is the exact reason why.


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is it safe to travel to iceland

Is it safe to travel to Iceland?

Is it safe to travel to Iceland?

By Michael Chapman

Despite being amongst the safest nations worldwide, there are still some things to watch out for in Iceland...

Is it safe to travel to Iceland?

By Michael Chapman

Despite being amongst the safest nations worldwide, there are still some things to watch out for in Iceland...

Currently, the world is facing the backend of an unprecedented global crisis; one that has cost lives, one that uprooted the very fabric of society.

Restrictions on international travel has seen the tourism industries of every country take a hit. Iceland, whose economy relies on a yearly influx of travellers, is no exception. Here at home, there is some debate as to the right course of action; some wish to reopen borders as soon as possible, others point at the domestic cases as a reason to keep them closed.

Whatever one’s view on the matter, there is good reason to be optimistic.

Despite the litany of issues that have arisen during their roll-out, vaccination programmes are underway across the world, signalling light at the end of the tunnel.

The Icelandic government expects the vast majority of its citizens to be vaccinated by late-July; what-would-be the peak tourist season is previous years.

Daring, once again, to dream of future escapades abroad, people have started to tentatively ask the question, ‘Is it safe to travel to Iceland?’ Well, we hope this article might bring some clarity on the situation…

Why is Iceland so safe?

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Roma Ryabchenko)

Iceland routinely ranks first on the Global Peace Index thanks to a lack of crime and historic aversion to conflict.

The country’s one major city, Reykjavik, is known to be among the safest capitals on the planet.

Strolling its quaint, wind-swept streets, most visitors can’t help but feel a general sense of tranquillity in the air; it’s one of those places that’s strikingly timeless, as if trapped in a less noisy, chaotic era.

Of course, ugly incidents do occur from time to time in the city, but crime figures demonstrate they are more sporadic than many other urban environments elsewhere.

Another major reason for Iceland’s comparative safety is its lack of people. One must remember that little more than 360,000 people call this entire country home; about the population of a fairly small town in England.

Given this pint-sized nation and culture, a neighbourly attitude has developed amongst fellow countrymen over the years.

Aside from that, criminals are almost immediately recognised, meaning there is very little room to behave in dastardly ways for too long.

Is Iceland safe for LGBTQ travellers?

A rainbow street in Reykjavik
(Photo Credit: Jasmin Sessler)

It would be an understatement to write that Iceland is welcoming of travellers in the LGBTQ community. Iceland is among the most LGBTQ friendly countries in the world.

Not only do most citizens pride themselves on both progressive politics and the pursuit of equality, but they put their words into action. Do not forget that Iceland was the first country to elect a gay Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who served in office from to 2009 to 2013.

A couple in Iceland
(Photo Credit: Ihor Malytskyi)

Same-sex couples have been allowed the same access to IVF and adoption as straight couples since 2006.

Under Sigurðardóttir’s leadership, gay couples were finally granted the right to marry in 2010, and legislation was passed that helped to codify how trans people go about changing their identity.

In Reykavik, there are several gay bars in which to relax and socialise, including the likes of Gaukurrin and Kíkí Queer Bar. However, anyone and everyone is, of course, welcome to dine and drink wherever they wish in the city.

Whichever establishment you choose, you’ll be welcomed with open arms, (and, in all likelihood, a rather hefty bill… some things never change.)


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Top 10 Tips for Travelling Safely in Iceland

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Isabella Juskova)

Congratulations! After all that trouble, you’ve finally set foot in the Land of Ice and Fire.

As is to be expected, there are hazards worth paying attention to that have absolutely nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic at all. Frankly, Iceland is quite capable of being dangerous and deadly without the incursion of a viral outsider.

We encourage everyone to get out there and explore the very best sites that Iceland has to offer, as long as it is done so in a safe and sensible way.

To make sure you remain on the healthy-side throughout your visit, pay special attention to the top 10 tips we here at Bubble have picked out for you.

1) Respect Iceland’s Nature

A cropped aerial view of Gullfoss Waterfall in the winter
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos)

Whilst beautiful, unique and incredibly dramatic, both Iceland’s climate and landscape poses untold dangers for those who do not respect it.

The vast majority of Iceland is uninhabited, leaving enormous swathes of mountain ranges, volcanic desert and lava fields between one village to another.

It is these wilderness zones that many natural attractions are also found; a fact that comes with inherent risks for those travelling to them.

2) Dress for the weather

(Photo Credit: Kevin Pagès)

Who would have thought that one of the most important contributions to enjoying your holiday in Iceland happens before you even arrive?

Packing your suitcase is, arguably, more important when the Land of Ice and Fire happens to be your destination, if only because of the weather and terrain you’ll find there.

One of the most commonly shared facts about Iceland remains as true as ever; the weather here is flagrantly interchangeable.

One minute, you’ll be enjoying a warm summer’s day out, only to be suddenly shaken by the intrusion of gusty rainfall.

As I write this, the sun outsides shines through a break in the grey clouds; heavy snow pushes by, horizontal and fast on the North Arctic wind.

The weather doesn’t appear to know what it wants to be, and it’s far more often that way than not.

Packing bags for your Iceland holiday
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Anete Lusina)

Thinking about the right footwear is equally important to the rest of your clothing as much of Iceland’s terrain is rough; rocky ledges, steep gullies, narrow pathways and loose footing all make up the topography of this wild and mystic land.

Those planning on hiking in such an environment should count a sturdy pair of boots as a necessity. If you don’t already have a pair in the cupboard, then you’ll need to get yourself down to the shoe shop right away.

Even in Reykjavik, where the city streets are tarmacked and the sidewalks are paved in concrete, danger always lurks its head, this time in the form of unseen ice.

3) Rent a 4x4 when travelling into the Highlands

A mountain range in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: George Bannister)

The Highlands of Iceland are a beautiful and dramatic region worthy of exploration by any daring traveller hoping to remove themselves from the beaten track.

The shimmering and colourful geothermal hillsides of Landmannalaugar are a sight to behold during summer, when the Midnight Sun glints off the shingle, whilst the cragged canyons of Thorsmork make for truly dramatic scenery

4) Watch your alcohol intake

Reykjavík is a great city for fine-dining
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Marco Samaniego)

Alright, so without straying too far into sanctimoniousness, there’s no denying that alcohol tends to be involved when unfortunate incidents occur.

Icelanders are no different from the travellers that frequent the same bars; they love a good drink, love a good, social time, and Reykjavik at the weekend makes for a great party city.

As the evening progresses, however, overtly drunk and obnoxious characters are not uncommon, and are best avoided if you’re trying to enjoy a late stroll around the city.

Understand, some people are capable of getting drunk, or being drunk, without posing much of a threat to those around them, but it never hurts to be vigilant, especially when abroad.

5) Do not climb on icebergs or glaciers without a guide

A man sits inside an ice cave in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Mattia Crasti)

Given their slippery terrain, instability and gargantuan size, it should be evident to everyone that climbing atop icebergs, glacial tongues, or venturing into ice caves alone is both entirely forbidden and rather foolish.

For one, these environments require years of expertise to navigate them safely.

Glaciers are rife for unseen crevasses and sinkholes that pose incredible risks to those who do not follow safely in the footsteps of their guide.

Icebergs, on the other hand, can quickly roll over in the water, knocking anyone on top of them into the cold depths of Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

Finally, ice caves in Iceland are composed of countless tunnels that lie beneath anyone of the country’s glaciers.

Not only are these caves subject to melting in warmer temperatures, but at greater depths, emanate noxious gases that are lethal when inhaled.

6) Keep back from the waves at Reynisfjara black sand beach

The strange formations of Hálsanefshellir cave at Reynisfjara beach in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Chris Henry)

Reynisfjara is one of South Iceland’s most beloved sites; a stretch of dark volcanic shoreline laid out beside the minute coastal village, Vik i Myrdal.

Complete with towering sea cliffs, hexagonal rock formations and the huge basalt stack, Reynisdrangar, Reynisfjara is arguably one of the most unique and beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world.

With all this beauty on offer around you, it is possible you’ll miss the many warning signs that dot the coastline here warning of huge sneaker waves capable of dragging unsuspecting guests into the ocean.

Such incidents are not merely hypothetical, but have happened far too many times to count.

If you were looking to learn more about the dangers present at Reynisfjara, make sure to read our feature article, About Iceland’s Breathtaking Black Sand Beach.

7) Keep your driving speed down

The Ring Road in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Antoine Julien)

Driving slowly is especially important during the wintertime when conditions can be more than a little challenging.

Heavy snowfall and rain, permeating mist and all-encompassing darkness can make your time on the road more difficult than expected.

When you leave the city boundaries behind, you’ll find that traffic throughout much of Iceland is pretty minimal. With clear roads ahead, the temptation to speed can raise his head, but resist the urge, remembering that those caught by police or speed cameras are subject to heavy fines.

Let’s face it; you’ve probably paid enough for your holiday experience without adding onto it for no good reason.

8) Don’t stray too close to geothermal sites

There is a big difference between geothermal hot springs and geothermal hot pools. Mistaking the two can be deadly; at the very least, capable of causing a traveller great injury.

Iceland’s most famous hot spring, Strokkur at Geysir geothermal valley, is roped off to prevent guests from stepping too close. The same situation can be seen at Europe’s most powerful hot spring, Deildartunguhver, and the Martian likes landscapes of Námaskarð Pass, which can be seen nearby Lake Myvatn.

9) Keep checking the weather forecast

Viti crater lake in the Icelandic highlands
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Ronan Furuta)

As we’ve mentioned, there is no knowing what the weather will do in Iceland from one minute to the next.

Not much can be done to combat this unpredictably, save the packing tips above, but there is another small piece of preparation one can do each day to help maximise their chances of sightseeing and adventuring in good weather.

With that said, it is best to plan your days around when meteorologists promise serene conditions, rather than, say, snowstorms or heavy rainfall.

To do this, make sure to pay a visit to the website, Vedur.is, where you will have climate information for the week provided for you.

10) Know the emergency information

Driving a road in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Fabian Moller)

If, at any point during your travels, you find yourself in a sticky situation, know that 112 is the contact number for the Icelandic emergency services. Dispatchers are available 365 days a year, 24/7, providing much needed assistance to those who require it.

112 will connect you with the Icelandic police service, fire service and rescue teams; three professional and experienced organisations well-equipped in handling the difficulties of the Icelandic environment.

There are other numbers that you can reach the same services by: 444-1000 for the police, 570-5900 for search and rescue. If you require immediate medical care, you can contact the Hospital and E.R at 543-2000.


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Icelandic horses

Everything you need to know about majestic Icelandic Horses

Everything you need to know about Icelandic Horses

By Michael Chapman

Don’t judge a horse by its size, but its character.

Everything you need to know about Icelandic Horses

By Michael Chapman

Don’t judge a horse by its size, but its character.

Icelandic horses are a beautiful and unique breed native to the land of ice and fire. These four-legged friends are famous worldwide for their curious nature, slight build and resilience to the elements.

If you were ever pressed to name an Icelandic superstar, one could not blame you for blanking on famous names. But, if the same question was posed ‘with four legs’ as an addition, no doubt the words Icelandic horse would leap to your mind.

Icelandic horses
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Doruk Yemenichi)

Yes, indeed, Icelandic horses rival Atlantic Puffins, Whales and even Arctic Foxes for the coveted prize of this island’s most iconic animal. Where horses win out is their long-standing relationship with people throughout history. It is a working bond that remains to this day, one which pays homage to this animals’ nickname ‘a most useful servant’.

Given the distances they have travelled with us, the burdens they have carried, and the nourishment they have provided, it’s hard to deny these animals rightfully deserve the esteem we praise upon them. With that said, let’s learn more about these fascinating animals and their critical and historic role in Iceland’s culture and environment.

What are the traits of Icelandic Horses?

A close up of an Icelandic horse.
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Simon Migaj)

When most people think of Icelandic horses, they remember them to be of more diminutive stature. Generally, Icelandic horses grow to around the size of ponies, though they boast far more robust, more muscular bodies.

Resilient to diseases in their native Iceland, this particular breed is known for its longevity, a trait that has led to solid bonding between animal and man ever since the settlers first brought horses over from Norway in the 10th century.

Icelandic horses can come in over 100 colour varieties, each of which has its corresponding Icelandic word. Four colours are found more commonly than others; chestnut, black, brown and white.

According to some equestrians, prospective riders can assess a horse’s personality through its colouring alone; brown horses are stable on their feet, white are calm and reliable, while chestnut can have lively dispositions. Curious travellers will have to stop by a stable on their visit to check the veracity of these claims, of course.


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Five unique gaits of the Icelandic horse

A herd of horses during winter.
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: RedCharlie)

The Icelandic horse differentiates itself from other horse breeds through its natural ability to gait in five ways. For laypeople, a gait is the natural manner of walking for a horse or any animal. Icelandic horses can fluidly perform gaits known as the walk, the trot, the canter, the tölt, and the flying pace.

The walk, the trot and the canter are common to all horses, but the last two make Icelandic horses stand out from the crowd. Both are fast movements, with the flying pace capable of reaching 30 mph. In Iceland, any horse rider who can successfully perform the flying pace is said to have mastered the art of the saddle.

What is the History of Horses in Iceland?

Icelandic horses grazing
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Jonatan Pie)

During these formative years, in the earliest days that Norsemen first civilised this dark and inhospitable land, horses were considered symbols of fertility and routinely sacrificed as part of elaborate religious ceremonies and banquets.

Readers of Norse Mythology will likely remember the proud eight-legged steed, Sleipnir, who the legends claim could only be tamed by Odin, the All-father, himself.

Beyond mere mythology, horses were considered prized possessions during Medieval times in Iceland. We know for a scientific fact that clan leaders, known as Godar, were often buried alongside their horses, showing a kinship rarely seen through archaeological evidence.

More cruelly, horses were often pitted against one another in deliberate battles to the death during this period, serving as avatars for opposing clans looking to settle their disputes.

In the centuries that followed the initial settlement of Iceland, a blend of natural selection and selective breeding formed these animals into those we see today. Natural selection came in the form of severe famines that have struck Iceland at various times in its history, as well as the often inhospitable winter weather and even volcanic eruptions.

What are the breeding regulations for Icelandic horses?

An icelandic horse stood in front of Seljalandsfoss waterfall
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Dimitris Kiriakakis)

With all this in mind, it is, perhaps, little surprise that the import and export of Icelandic horses is subject to strict regulations; measures imposed to protect the breed’s genetic purity.

Rules are so strict, in fact, that any horse that leaves Iceland is forbidden from returning. In the opposite case, Iceland does not allow any other species of horse into the country. While these rules might seem to fly in the face of biodiversity, it is crucial to ensure that 1000 years of untampered breeding can continue without obstacle.

There are approximately 80,000 or so horses in Iceland currently, just less than a quarter of the total number of people living here. The largest population of Icelandic horses outside of the country is in Germany, where the breed is increasingly popular with riding clubs and breeders.

Can you go Horseback Riding in Iceland?

Two Icelandic horses enjoying the sunset.
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Gunnar Bjarki)

Discovering Iceland’s countryside by horseback is, perhaps, the most authentic and thrilling means of sightseeing visitors can partake in. Equestrian centres and stables across Iceland are well-practised leading beginners and experts alike on tours, and will do their utmost to partner riders with an animal of suitable temperament.

Horseback riding tours can be undertaken regardless of the season. Summer allows for long evenings under the rays of the Midnight Sun, revealing beneath it a landscape of mossy lava rock, sweeping mountain plains and trickling glacial rivers.

If you should stop by in winter, prepare for terrains reminiscent of Narnia; utterly bejewelled, twinkling and calm. That is, of course, if it’s not otherwise shrouded in the dramatic mist and sleet that comes hand-in-hand with the season. Regardless of when you choose to visit for your horseback riding tour, the landscapes of Iceland are sure to delight and inspire awe in all places.

Two Icelandic horses play together
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Genevieve Perron Migneron)


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Icelandic moss

The Benefits of Icelandic Moss | About Iceland's Rich Plant Life

All About Icelandic Moss

By Michael Chapman

Discover a volcanic landscape blanketed with unique plant life.

All About Icelandic Moss

By Michael Chapman

Discover a volcanic landscape blanketed with unique plant life.

Travellers to Iceland quickly note the absence of trees; in their place, they find a rugged landscape of ancient lava rock, much of which is covered by a thick and cosy blanket of Icelandic moss, or Cetraria islandica.

Icelandic moss is as much a part of nature here as the waterfalls, glaciers and black sand beaches that have made this island a favourite among travellers worldwide.

The moss adds a particular fantastical element to many viewpoints, and it is all too easy to imagine a supernatural race of elves, or Huldufólk, living amongst the lichen. While that might seem far fetched, rest easy knowing Icelandic moss is a brilliant habitat for many thousands of tiny microorganisms.


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What is Icelandic moss?

Sunset over Icelandic moss
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Chris Ried)

For the sake of transparency, it only fits to clarify that Icelandic moss is not a moss at all but rather a lichen. At one time or another, its leafy, cushioned and upright appearance led to this misnomer, and it has stuck ever since. However, do not be fooled; Cetraria islandica is still officially part of the fungi kingdom, formally recorded by Swedish botanist Erik Acharius in 1802.

Despite the misnaming, one would think Icelandic moss is exclusively found in Iceland. The opposite is true, in fact. Icelandic moss can be found in mountainous areas of many places, including the northern UK, Newfoundland, and the Appalachians’ highest elevations, to name just a few. There are, in fact, over 600 species of moss in Iceland alone, the most common being a species called woolly fringe-moss.

How does Icelandic moss grow?

Moss covering volcanic rock
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Alexander Milo)

When it comes to reproduction, moss is an incredibly resilient plant capable of producing sporophytes both sexually and asexually. In the latter case, new plants will form from broken off stems, though it will take many decades to start spreading out.

Because of a lack of roots or soil depths, the moss can never grow very high, but instead moves out over far distances, soaking up water from the earth and sun rays from above. With that said, the moss’ growth is extremely prolonged, increasing in size by only 1 cm each year.

Is consuming Icelandic moss healthy?

Moss covering a waterfall valley in Iceland.
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Kai Gradert)

Icelandic moss is known to have many health benefits. As such, it is a staple of many herbal remedies sold across the country. According to some chemists, Icelandic moss stimulates the salivary glands, increases appetite and lines the stomach with healthy membranes. Aside from that, the plant is known to help soothe a dry cough, among many other uncomfortable ailments.

According to most scientists, more evidence is needed to verify just how beneficial Icelandic moss is for these issues. With that said, both the Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) and the scientific advisory board, German Commission E, have found the medicinal use of Icelandic moss to have no detrimental effects at all. Some people digest it as tea; others routinely use a tincture.

In bygone times, Icelandic moss was far more popularly used in cooking and was considered a staple ingredient in bread, porridge, and soups. Today, only a tiny handful of chefs and distilleries in Reykjavik include lichen as part of their menu, Fjallagrasa Icelandic Schnapps being one notable example.

Why is it important to protect Icelandic moss?

A portrait shot of an Icelandic landscape
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Theodor Vasile)

Icelandic moss is a vital part of this island’s ecosystem, crucial not only to the aesthetic but also to soil fertility and humidity. Many people are not aware of this, nor do they understand just how fragile the plant is and how long it takes to repair. Whilst above we mentioned the moss’ resilience, it is undeniably weak when it comes to trampling by man or animals.

Writing this is not mere doom and gloom, nor should it be a section to briefly read over and then dismiss as obvious. There are mossy hillsides in the countryside that, many years ago, were deliberately vandalised, with names and crass symbols carved out in giant lettering for all to see. Decades on and still these scars remain, serving as a cold, unfortunate reminder that a reckless attitude towards nature has lasting consequences.

How can you help protect Iceland’s moss?

Landmannalaugar in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Michael Hacker)

At Þingvellir National Park, visitors will find signs warning them against walking on the moss for fear of a hefty fine. However, in most cases, conservation comes down to how individuals treat the environment around them.

Let us remember that much of Iceland’s vast wilderness is untouched, untameable and unsupervised, which is all the more reason to leave each site untampered with. After all, the parts of the country that draw visitors are those seen to be raw and natural to the point of defying expectations.


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where to see puffins in iceland

Where to see Puffins in Iceland? | About this Island's Beautiful Birds

Where to see Puffins in Iceland?

By Michael Chapman

Known as “prófastur” (preacher) in Icelandic, Atlantic Puffins are Iceland’s most iconic birds.

Where to see Puffins in Iceland?

By Michael Chapman

Known as “prófastur” (preacher) in Icelandic, Atlantic Puffins are Iceland’s most iconic birds.

When most people think of Icelandic wildlife, their minds trail off to whales and porpoises, arctic foxes and countless species of seabird, of which there is no more famous than the colourfully-billed Atlantic Puffin.

Atlantic Puffins are a migratory species, meaning they can only be seen during the summer months in Iceland. Visitors between May and early September have several locations around the country at their disposal to watch these stunning creatures swoop, soar and nest in their natural habitat.

But first things first, we really should have, at least, a basic understanding of the creatures we’ve travelled so far to see. Without further ado, let’s look at the Atlantic Puffin in closer detail, and see just why it’s become such a beloved figurehead in this country.

What is a Puffin?

Atlantic Puffins are known for their colourful bills
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Emily Crawford)

Each part of the Auk family, there are three species of puffin found around the world, but it is only the Atlantic variety that finds itself in Iceland every year. This particular species can be recognised for its bright and colourful beak, as well as black and white feathers.

Atlantic Puffins are otherwise known as Common Puffins, and can also be found in such places as Greenland, Nova Scotia, Norway and the eastern UK, Sometimes, under-read travellers will confuse these birds for penguins—an animal that does not thrive, nor exist in Iceland—even when the Puffins take off in glorious flight.

where to see puffins in iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Wynand Van Poortvliet)

Atlantic Puffins are monogamous animals, meaning they will only ever breed with one mate during their lifetimes. After spending the winter alone and far out at sea, it is something of a wonder that breeding pairs manage to find one another out of the millions of lookalikes nesting around them.

The end result of all this flying, nesting and lovemaking is, of course, baby puffins, which are known as Pufflings. Only a single egg is laid per breeding pair, and the young chick will be fully fledged in little under six weeks. Now capable of flight, but still inexperienced in using its wings, Puffins swim out into the ocean under the cover of night. They do not return to land for several years.


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Top locations to see Puffins in Iceland

A Puffin soaring over a sultry Icelandic coastline
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Thomas Somme)

Considering the sheer breadth of the Icelandic landmass, some planning is necessary when hoping to spot Atlantic Puffins in the wild.

The best bet for most people is taking to the South Coast, a gorgeous and scenic stretch easily accessible from Reykjavik, with their mind set on reaching Dyrhólaey Promenade.

Dyrhólaey in South Iceland

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Roberto Nickson)

Dyrhólaey is a former island, though receding sea levels have long kept it joined to mainland Iceland. Aside from the birdlife that nests amid its towering cliffsides, it is the epic rock arch and historic lighthouse that has drawn visitors to Dyrhólaey year after year.

Of course, wildlife enthusiasts come for the Puffins, of which there are thousands upon thousands to see. With their blue and orange bills and tuxedo-like feathering, these little birds are easy to spot as they waddle along the promenade’s rocky ledges, chirping back and forth to one another as though engaged in merry conversation.

The Westman Islands

An Atlantic Puffin about to take flight
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: D Tan)

Heimaey is both the largest of the Westman Islands, and the only one populated. Residents of this isolated, yet cheerful settlement share their summers with the largest Atlantic Puffin colony on earth, a breeding flock numbering over 2-million birds. Unfortunately, the size of the colony has been declining in recent years, leading the townsfolk to help stranded birds whenever they can.

It is possible to fly to Heimaey from Reykjavík domestic airport, though flights are frequently cancelled due to poor weather. A more secure and traditional way of reaching Heimaey is by boat; the Herjólfur ferry departs from Landeyjahöfn harbour twice daily during the summer and offers fantastic views on its three-hour journey.

Hornstrandir in the Westfjords

Two Puffins in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Joe Desousa)

The Westfjords is among Iceland’s least visited regions. It is an area of sweeping hillsides and table-top mountains, of untarnished meadows replete with long swaying grass and wide open skies. Only those travellers looking to move beyond the traditional tourist trails will ever venture this far north, but those that do are rewarded with sights and experiences that have no rival.

Famed for their grandeur and wild aesthetic, it is Látrabjarg bird cliffs particularly that offer birdwatchers the best views and numbers. Falling like great vertical slabs into the ocean, Látrabjarg’s cliffs also mark the most western point of not only Iceland, but the European continent, adding further reason to pay a visit to this most secluded and untouched natural paradise.

See Puffins From Reykjavík

A view overlooking the city of Reykjavík
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Tim Trad)

If you’re remaining within Reykjavík city boundaries throughout your trip, then I’m afraid it might be considered a little too hopeful to expect to see Puffins. While on rare occasions Puffins do fly into the city, they have normally taken a wrong turn and will quickly retreat back to wilder, wetter locations, far from the noise and bustling of any urban environment.

The best means of spotting Atlantic Puffins from Reykjavik is to partake in a whale watching tour on Faxafloi Bay, as these birds are known to frequent the same coastal waters as Iceland’s largest marine mammals. From aboard your vessel, you will look out from the deck to see tiny Puffins bobbing happily in the water, darting beneath the surface, every so often, on the hunt for fish.

There is a small spec of land amid the waters of Faxaflói Bay called Lundey, but colloquially known as ‘Puffin Island’. Boat trips can be purchased that will take you around the location, offering a more intimate experience on the waves alongside these delightful winged animals.

Other locations to see Puffins in Iceland

An Atlantic Puffin in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Poseidon)

Though we’ve mentioned the best known places to see Puffins in Iceland, there are many other peninsulas, beach-heads and cliff sides where they can also be observed. Travellers in the North, for instance, should ensure they take a birdwatching tour from the delightful town of Akureyri. As the biggest town in the region, a visit here transcends just wildlife, but also allows for a dose of history and culture to compliment your trip.

If you’re willing to travel further out, why not head to the stunning geological wonderland known as the Tjornes Peninsula? There, you’ll find a large puffin colony, settled in their burrows amongst the ancient lava rock. Further north than that—so north, in fact, that we cross over into the Arctic Circle—Grimsey Island is another well-known spot where Atlantic Puffins gather during summer.

To the east is Papey Island, which according to the ancient sagas, was once home to Irish hermit monks who quickly left their homes after the arrival of the first Norsemen. Papey was inhabited until 1966, but still attracts visitors with its Puffins. On the other side of the country, just off the Westfjords, the island of Vigur makes for a fantastic day out for the family with its scenic coastal views and abundance of birdlife.

A portrait shot of a Puffin mid flight
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Tamara Bitter)


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tips for travelling in Iceland

15 Top Tips for Travelling in Iceland

15 Top Tips for Travelling in Iceland

By Michael Chapman

Useful points to keep in mind when in the Land of Ice and Fire

15 Top Tips for Travelling in Iceland

By Michael Chapman

Useful points to keep in mind when in the Land of Ice and Fire

Visiting Iceland is among the top travel experiences available to globetrotters. As revered for its sublime and unique natural environment as it is for its rich and historical culture, discovering the Nordic island has become something of a pilgrimage for those seeking beautiful and dramatic locations.

Tips before you arrive to Iceland

Experienced travellers know all too well that an essential part of any overseas experience is looking forward to it beforehand. Researching your arrival destination can be a thrilling job in itself, building excitement for the trip ahead, plus laying out the groundwork for necessary logistics involved.

1. Pack and prepare for all types of weather

Packing bags for your Iceland holiday
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Anete Lusina)

People aren’t lying when they tell you Iceland’s weather is capable of changing from serene and tranquil one minute to dark and stormy the next. Sure, the seasons differ when it comes to temperature, climate, levels of precipitation and daylight, but that’s still not a promise the weather will behave predictably.

Prioritise thick layers of clothing when packing your suitcase, skipping over highly absorbent materials like denim in favour of wool. You will also need a beanie hat, scarf and thick gloves to combat both the winter chill and summer winds, as well as your most fashionable pair of sunglasses. Who said you couldn’t travel in style, after all?

2. Research the best attractions in Iceland beforehand

Vestrahorn mountain in East Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit. Norris Niman)

There is a wealth of articles, information sites, youtube videos and online photo galleries dedicated to showcasing the visually striking natural attractions that dot this Iceland. If you make sure to spend time before your visit getting to know these sites by name and location, you will have a far easier time planning your trip around the country.


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3. Learn some basic Icelandic words and phrases

tips for travelling in iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Ethan Hu)

Icelanders are rightfully proud of their English-language skills, with the vast majority of them speaking it with more fluency and poetry than I, as a native speaker, could ever think to muster. This lack of a communication barrier can be highly appealing to travellers daunted by the prospect of spending time in a place where they cannot freely communicate with others.

With that said, the Icelanders are even more proud of their language, one that is essentially unchanged from the Old Norse of the ancient sagas, the exact words and phrases and patterns of speech that settlers spoke here over 1000 years ago. 

While it might not exactly be necessary to learn any Icelandic, one should do so anyway, if only to immerse themselves in a unique and rich mother-tongue.  Here are a few to get you started;

  • Góðan daginn – Good day!
  • Já / Nei – Yes / No
  • Takk – Thank you
  • þú ert velkominn – You’re welcome

Travel Tips for when you're in Iceland

Now that you have safely arrived in Iceland, there are a handful of tips that will not only help acclimatise you to the new surroundings but can also save you money and oh-so-valuable time.

4. Buy booze at duty-free or state liquor stores.

Drinking in downtown Reykjavik
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Damien Petit)

Laws regulating the purchase of alcohol are somewhat stricter in Iceland than in many other countries across Europe. For one, it is not possible to buy any beverage in a supermarket with an alcohol strength of over 2.25%, an unwelcome discovery that has taken many a thirsty drinker by surprise.

If you’re looking to buy real beer, wine or spirits, you will have to turn to the state liquor store, Vinbudin. Open throughout the week save Sundays, these shops provide all one could need for a relaxed, albeit befuddled evening. As with everything in Iceland, the prices might be somewhat shocking to the system, so purchasing your drinks when arriving at the airport is a more fiscal choice.

5. Leave Reykjavik behind and explore nature

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: World Adventures)

Though small, Reykjavik is a city worthy of exploration, bursting with culture, history, dining, accommodation and fun things to do. Despite this fact, it’s an inescapable reality that most visitors to Iceland come here for nature and wilderness. With such splendid and dramatic scenery on show, it’s hard to blame them.

Two of Iceland’s most popular sightseeing routes, the Golden Circle and the South Coast, are accessible from Iceland’s capital city. You can check out such sites as Thingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal valley, and the unrivalled Gullfoss waterfall on the first of these trails.

Those venturing South will stumble across such treasures as Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, Reynisfjara black sand beach and the iceberg-filled Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

6. Feel free to drink the tap-water

A small waterfall in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Denys Nevozhai)

Iceland’s water is among, if not the purest water on earth. Such purity has its origins in this country’s mighty glaciers, the meltwater from which is filtered over the centuries as it travels by way of underground volcanic tunnels and rivers toward the ocean.

7. Take a dip in Iceland's swimming pools and hot pools

An aerial view of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Stephen Leonardi)

Speaking of water, bathing in geothermal hot pools is about as traditional an activity one can get while visiting Iceland. Many pools have formed naturally throughout Iceland, allowing for an immersive escape into relaxation whilst in the countryside.

If you can’t make it out to one of these natural pools, fear not! All of Iceland’s swimming pools utilise geothermal energy to keep them warm throughout the year. On top of that, many complexes come with steam rooms and hot tubs, bringing the potential for health, rejuvenation and relaxation to whole new depths.

8. Choose the right accommodation

There are many accommodation choices to choose from when staying in Iceland, from luxury hotels that suit Reykjavik’s metropolitan ambitions, to rustic guesthouses, airBnb’s and even farm stays! Regardless of where you wish to retreat to at the end of a long day, you can be guaranteed that Icelandic accommodation often exceeds the quality and comfort promised.

Of course, staying in one of our transparent bubbles is an accommodation choice that doubles as an unforgettable experience set out amidst the Icelandic countryside. Warm inside, and with total views of the forests and hillsides that make South Iceland so unique, you’ll feel truly at home in one of our bubbles and might even catch a whole night of the Northern Lights above.

9. Take your camera and tripod everywhere

a photographer in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Bella Huang)

Iceland is a photographer’s dream, offering colourful vistas and diverse landscapes beyond every bend of the road. While a mobile phone might suffice for some, true shutterbugs will want to make the most of the visual offerings available to them, requiring more professional equipment.

To catch a picture of Iceland’s wildlife, a telephoto lens is a must, as is a fast-shutter speed and quick-eye. Anyone seeking to capture the Northern Lights will need a tripod to keep the image still, plenty of patience and the right clothing to ward off the winter cold.

10. Make sure to budget accordingly

Viti crater lake in the Icelandic highlands
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Ronan Furuta)

It’s common knowledge that Iceland is an expensive country to visit, made more pricey by the cost of other amenities like food, drinks and petrol while here. However, there are ways to help dampen one’s expenditure as long as one makes the most of the various deals and cost-cutting avenues on offer.

For instance, almost every bar and restaurant in Reykjavik offers Happy-Hour deals, which often equate to two drinks for the price of one. Similarly, supermarkets like Bonus and Kronan provide a wide variety of ingredients and ready-made meals that can be prepared at your accommodation for next to nothing.

11. Watch your gas when driving from site-to-site

Driving in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Robert Bye)

There are vast distances between Iceland’s towns, villages and natural attractions, much of which passes nothing but wide stretches of wilderness and farmland.

For this reason, keeping an eye on your petrol (or gas, if you happen to be American) is a must. In days gone by, travellers would have been forced to memorise petrol stations as they appeared on the map, lest they wind up stranded on the roadside, far from civilisation.

Today, with the help of smartphones and satellite navigators, guests will have to remind themselves to check the fuel gauge before diverting to the nearest petrol station accordingly. Nearest can be any significant stretch, so always ensure the vehicle is full of fuel before setting out on long drives.

12. Appreciate Iceland's wildlife

An Arctic Fox in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Jonatan Pie)

Iceland’s diverse wildlife is a crucial aspect of what makes its environment so beloved.

Whale Watching is among the top visitor’s activities, offering guests the chance to set out on the high seas searching for majestic marine mammals. With trips available in both winter and summer, the most common sightings in Icelandic waters include Minke and Humpback whales and Harbour Porpoises.

Birdwatchers are particularly keen on Iceland’s many cliffsides, where species such as guillemots, skuas, gulls and, of course, Atlantic Puffins choose to nest during the summer. Dyrhólaey promenade on the South Coast, and Latrabjarg in the Westfjords are two sites considered among Iceland’s best places to observe bird life.

13. Be on the lookout for elves, or Iceland's 'Hidden Folk'

A man inside an ice cave in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Davide Cantelli)

While it might seem strange to foreigners, there is a belief among some Icelanders they share the land with a race of magical elves known as the Huldufolk. Many stories from Icelandic folklore tell of these interdimensional beings luring stray travellers from the road, taking them deep into the wilderness where they, no doubt, meet an untimely end.

Alright, so a sincere belief in Iceland’s elves is waning, but that doesn’t mean cautious superstition still isn’t rife here. Only a few years ago, for instance, a proposed tarmac road had to be moved in the town of Kopavogur so as not to disturb a beloved and ancient ‘elf rock’.

If you want to learn more about these fascinating, albeit fictional beings, make sure to pay a visit to the Elf School in Reykjavik, as famously showcased in Richard Ayoade’s TV show, Travel Man.

Tips for after your holiday in Iceland is over

While it’s always a little sad when a fantastic holiday comes to an end, there is no reason to wallow. After all, the experiences you have in Iceland are sure to remain with you for years to come and will no doubt end up reminding you as to plan a repeat visit in the future.

So, with that said, bear in mind these valuable tips to help beat the post-vacation blues after your time in Iceland is over.

Lupin flowers in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Michael Humphries)

14. Reminiscence over your Iceland souvenirs

Walking around the capital city, you’ll no doubt find yourself a fun and memorable item that will long draw you back to your time in Iceland. 

Fashionistas might look to pick up a traditional Icelandic sweater, known as a Lopapeysa. Woven of sheep’s wool, these thick and rustic jumpers are the best way of both fighting the cold, and keeping a little bit of Iceland with you wherever you go. 

Travellers looking for tasty delights would do well to make a stop at Reykjavik’s OmNom Chocolates, where their selection of cacao bars range from sea salted almonds to black barley. If you’re looking for a more authentic food product to bring back, try grabbing a bag of dried white-fish or a bottle of Icelandic schnapps, Brennivin.

15. Plan to visit Iceland in a different season 

In many ways, the seasons shape Iceland into entirely different countries. During the short summer, the land is green and abundant with purple lupin flowers. Sheep and horses roam the countryside, hikers stop at roadside cafes to enjoy a beer or coffee, and sightseers take their time moving from one attractive site to the other. 

In winter, Iceland takes on a much harsher, no less beautiful face. Farmlands, volcanic deserts and black beaches are blanketed with a thick layer of white snow. The sun rises above the horizon line for only a couple of hours, leaving the vast majority of the day in darkness. For those that dress themselves warmly, this environment is tantamount to a winter wonderland, and of course provides the chance to spot the Northern Lights above.


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Reykjavik | All About Iceland's Beautiful Capital City

All About Reykjavik

By Michael Chapman

A little city with a big reputation!

All About Reykjavik

By Michael Chapman

A little city with a big reputation!

Reykjavík is our planet’s northernmost sovereign capital; a coastal city, no-bigger than a town, that boasts more culture, history and excitement than one might expect of Iceland’s only major city.

Reykjavík is where the vast majority of visitors will arrive and stay during their time in Iceland, and is close by to some of its greatest attractions, including the Golden Circle Iceland tour.

Where is Reykjavík?

Reykjavík is found on the southwest coast of Iceland, a sub-arctic island east of Greenland. The country is located roughly midway between North America and Europe; the city itself marks the halfway point between New York and Moscow.

Due to this geographical location, the city makes for a great weekend break for travellers arriving from both sides of the Atlantic. So too does it serve as the optimum stopover for business people, a vibrant Nordic city in which to hold conferences and presentations.

A white church in Reykjavík
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Evelyn Paris)

Looking north from Reykjavík, guests will look out over the glittering blue waters of Faxaflói Bay, named after one of the island’s earliest settlers. On clear days, it is possible to make out the outline of Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano, as well as buildings in the small town of Akranes.

Reykjavík has its own domestic airport, though this is only used for local and private flights. Iceland’s only international airport is Keflavik, which is approximately forty minutes drive from the capital.

The History of Reykjavík

Icelandic Saga Museum
photo by Kevin Pages

As the oldest, largest and most industrious city in Iceland, Reykjavík is considered the cultural heart of this country. Over the last thousand years, this city and this country has remained isolated from the outside world, passed between greater powers as if as an afterthought.

It is only since the outset of the Second World War that Icelanders began to consider themselves a people in their own right, pursuing a lasting independence from their Norwegian or Danish overseers. For now, however, let us go back to the beginning; to the very first time people set foot on a land that would come to be beloved by so many.

The settlement of Reykjavík

Icelandic horses grazing in the countryside
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Vladimir Riabinin)

In Icelandic, Reykjavík translates to ‘Smoky Bay’. According to the Book of Settlement, this island’s first settler, Ingolfr Arnason, coined the name after spotting plumes of steam from his ship. While then these were surely a mystery to the crew, we know today they were looking upon the geothermal fields that dot West Iceland.

As was tradition among Norse seafarers at the time, Ingolfr let loose two large logs from his ship, then waited to see where they washed up on the shore. It would be here the earliest settlers made home; rudimentary buildings constructed of stone and timber, the remnants of which can still be seen at the Settlement Museum downtown.

Reykjavík in the Second World War

Icelandic police training during the WW2
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Public Domain.

Reykjavík served as the arrival point of Operation Fork, the codename used for the British invasion of Iceland that took place on 10 May 1940. Iceland was then neutral during the war, so the Allies decided it was important to deny Nazi Germany a stranglehold over the North Atlantic.

The invasion, if indeed it can be called that, occurred without a single shot being fired. In fact, many Icelanders helped British soldiers with the unloading of their ships. Among the first priorities of the new arrivals was to arrest the German consulate, who they quickly found in his respective embassy burning documents.

The British would remain stationed in Iceland for the next year, at which time American forces took over. Throughout this period, Reykjavík experienced enormous growth, bolstered by the construction efforts of foreign soldiers. The presence of said troops also brought with it problems, namely rivalry between them and the local men for the attention of girls.

Reykjavík in 21st Century

The Reykavik Summit in Iceland
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Public Domain.

In more recent times, Reykjavík remains central to Icelandic politics, and is home to both the Prime Minister’s house and the parliament building of the government, known as the Althingi. Reykjavík has also maintained an important place in world politics and culture.

The 1986 Reykjavík Summit saw US and Soviet Union leaders meet at the iconic Höfði House to discuss bringing an end to the Cold War. Though their meeting was ultimately unsuccessful, many historians believe discussions held at Höfði House were instrumental in bringing about peace between the two superpowers.

The capital also sees meet-ups of the Nordic Council and Arctic Council group, as well as visits by foreign dignitaries. It is for reasons such as these that Reykjavík is still rightfully seen as the governmental and economic centre of the country.

How many people live in Reykjavík today?

Colourful homes in Reykjavík
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Nicolas J. Leclercq)

As of 2021, around 131,000 people live in the municipality of Reykjavík, equating to about a third of the total population. Around 233,000 people live in the greater Capital Region, by far making it the most populous region in the country.

The second largest settlement in Iceland, Akureyri, is roughly 5 hours drive north from Reykjavík. Its 19,000 strong population shows a significant difference in how busy each region is, though has lent the town the unofficial nickname, ‘Capital of the North’.

What are people from Reykjavík like?

Though it is impossible to speak for every resident of the city, Reykjavíkings tend to share similar values, placing high emphasis on personal freedom, the pursuit of equal rights and the sanctity of freedom of speech. When it comes to the heart and imagination, the city has a truly eclectic performance scene, made up of musicians, comedians, writers, painters and cartoonists, all bound by a love of the arts.

Reykjavík is a city of two halves; the summer sees the population come alive, frenzied by the sudden appearance of the Midnight Sun. During this period, they will spend nearly 24 hours lavishing in the city’s beer gardens, playing frisbee-golf in the park, languishing in a hot pool or setting out into the wilds for a dash of hiking or horseback riding. No surprises then that it is at this time urban Icelanders live up to their reputation as rugged outdoorsy folk.

Lupin flowers in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Michael Humphries)

It is during the winter that Icelanders’ more cerebral qualities come into play. It is then they will resume working on their take on the great Icelandic novel—1/10 people here will publish a book in their lifetimes—or squirrel themselves into a basement cafe, chugging coffee after refillable coffee over a game of chess, or perhaps an intimate performance by a local music act or speaker.

Reykjavík is considered a very safe city. Icelanders are, by and large, very welcoming to travellers of any persuasion. With that said, the local people have had their fair share of run-ins with disrespectful and obnoxious tourists over the years, many of whom, it must be said, have had one too many whilst out discovering Reykjavík’s taprooms. Sucdsh incidences can be grating, especially after repeat offences.

If you’re hoping to avoid a good stripping-down by the locals, might we remind all visitors that we hope Reykjavík remains a safe and peaceful location for many decades to come.


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What do people from Reykjavík call themselves?

A man enjoying Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Farouk Mechedal)

Residents of the city are considered Reykjavíkings in Icelandic, though you’ll rarely hear the term thrown around town if you’re just here for a visit. At least colloquially, the hipster crowds refer to themselves as Downtown Rats, praising—or bashing, depending on who you decide to ask—classic Icelandic films like 101 RYK and Sodoma Reykjavík as cultural influences.

Somewhat amusingly, somewhat nastily, Icelanders from the countryside can sometimes take a dim view of their urban compatriots, demonstrating that a divide in mindset is as real here as it is anywhere else.

For that reason, you might hear, at some point during your travels, the people in the city described as “lattelepjandi lopatrefillinn”, or latte sipping wool scarf wearers. If you fit the bill—as I’m afraid, the author does—it’s best not to take it too personally. When was the last time you milked a cow, after all?

What to see and do in Reykjavík?

There is no-end of things to see and do in Reykjavík, and thankfully, the vast majority of its attractions are within easy walking distance from one another. Visitors loyal to the traditional methods of exploring a city will want to check out Reykjavík’s most iconic landmarks first and foremost.

Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church

Reykjavík's most famous landmark, Hallgrímskirkja church.
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Yves Alarie)

Hands down, the best place to begin your walking tour of the city is Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church. Hallgrimskirkja is to Reykjavík what the Big Ben is to London, what the Colosseum is to Rome or the Empire State Building to New York. With its towering grey steeple, built up like a naturally-formed pyramid, this building has been synonymous with Reykjavík since first opening its doors in 1986.

Designed by the respected state architect, Gudjon Samuelsson, Hallgrimskirkja’s steeple was inspired by the hexagonal basalt columns that surround Svartifoss waterfall in southeast Iceland. Gudjon is also responsible for the designs of many other buildings in the capital, no less the National Theatre of Iceland, the University of Iceland and, of course, a favourite spot among locals, Sundhöllin swimming pool.

Some have remarked the church outline resembles the hammer, Mjölnir, belonging to the Norse God of Thunder, Thor. Of course, this hypothesis is quickly debunked in light of the fact the Christian Church is unlikely to endorse icons associated with Iceland’s prior Pagan beliefs. Hallgrimskirkja is among the tallest points in downtown Reykjavík, making for great views over the colourful tin rooftops so characteristic of Iceland’s capital.

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre

Harpa Concert Hall in Iceland's capital, Reykjavík
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Jeremy Zero)

Another building equally worthy of your admiration is Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, a glassy, abstract construction composed of unique window panes, some that look out over the city, others over neighbouring Faxafloi. Home to staple acts like the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera, Harpa also regularly attracts performers from overseas.

Though Harpa is today considered an essential landmark to visit while in the city, there was a time when the structure, then unfinished, served as an uncomfortable reminder as to government overspending. Thankfully, Harpa’s popularity is proof Iceland has finally moved on from the economic crisis’ that plagued it only ten or so years ago.

The Sun Voyager Sculpture

The Sun Voyager in Reykjavík
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Lamerbrain)

Walking down along the water-front promenade that sits besides Harpa, it is only a matter of time until guests will stumble upon the iconic sculpture, The Sun Voyager.

Shaped like the skeleton of an ancient ship, the piece was designed by the late Jón Gunnar Árnason. Most visitors believe the boat to resemble a Viking vessel, though the artist’s intention was merely to create a ‘dream boat’, a testament to the sun, forever sailing towards the horizon.

Learn about Iceland’s history at Reykjavík’s museums

Perlan Reykjavik Iceland
(Photo Credit: Kevin Pages)

Previously, we mentioned the incredible view that comes from standing atop Hallgrimskirkja. Another excellent viewpoint is promised at the 360-degree observation deck found atop the unmissable, domed ceiling of Perlan Museum, set out amidst the pine-trees of Reykjavík’s Öskjuhlíð hill.

Once used for holding the city’s water, the four enormous cylindrical tanks that frame the museum adds to the unusual aesthetic of this place. These are not likely to hold your attention, however, given you will have full scope over the city skyline, Faxafloi bay and the ever-present tabletop mountain, Esja.

Esja Mountain Reykjavik
(Photo Credit: Kevin Pages)

Inside Perlan, you’ll find the ‘Wonders of Iceland’ exhibition; a multimedia journey into the natural forces that have sculpted this magnificent island. Not only will you witness a fully recreated version of the Latrabjarg bird cliffs, but will also step inside an artificial ice tunnel, taking your imagination deep beneath the glaciers.

The National Museum of Iceland provides a more traditional look back at this island’s history, focusing on the development of its culture and the many talented people who have helped to sculpt its national identity over the years. It is the oldest museum in the country, having been founded in 1863, and can be found between the University of Iceland and Lake Tjornin.

Another great stop for anyone looking to learn more about Iceland’s heritage should pay a visit to Safnahúsið (the Culture House), where many of this island’s most revered artifacts are on display.

Sample delicious Icelandic cuisine

Reykjavík is a great city for fine-dining
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Marco Samaniego)

There are many sophisticated, affordable and critically-acclaimed restaurants in which to dine-out in Reykjavík, a city that has only recently stepped-up its game regarding cuisine.

Famished guests looking to sample the dishes that have traditionally been eaten in this country should pay a visit to the aptly-named Icelandic Bar (Íslenski barinn) downtown. Among its cosy pub-like confines, you can sample fermented shark, rye bread and the tart Icelandic liqueur, Brennivin.

Several other charming restaurants can be found down by Old Harbour, a picturesque and historic location in the city where diners can eat their food whilst surrounded by bobbing yachts and swooping seabirds. Venture a little further and you’ll reach the neighbourhood, Grandi; a sure favourite among locals with its row of stylish eateries and new indoor food market.

Take part in live events in Reykjavík

Reykjavik Fringe Festival
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Ahmad Odeh)

The events calendar in Reykjavík is jam-packed each year, and as eclectic as you would expect from a city so invested in the arts. On any given week night, you’ll find bars and cafes playing host to a rotation of local musicians, and two comedy clubs, The Secret Cellar and Gaukurinn, offer laughs for next to no cost. Come the weekend, the nightlife takes on a far more debaucherous tone, with locals and guests alike making the most of the happy hour deals on offer. Without exception, Friday and Saturday nights provide the best outlet for seeking out the best in authentic live performances.

Of course, there are some events that simply cannot be overlooked, namely the enormous music festivals, Iceland Airwaves and Secret Solstice. While the former sees a mix of live and international acts perform within small venues in the city, Secret Solstice attracts the crowds with its domineering outdoor stages and the foreign superstars who perform atop them.


Travelling to Iceland?

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