We stayed in Iceland for an extended weekend in February 2017 and can highly recommend a visit. We chose a winter visit so as to have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. I'd recommend a car for flexibility and avoiding the crowds. The scenery is stunning, with numerous impressive waterfalls. We flew with Icelands WOW air.
As we landed, we could see some geysers near the airport, a taster of things to come. The drive from the airport was uneventful, Reykjavik was quite busy and not very inspiring. Countless KFC outlets and an Ikea was not quite what I was expecting. There are at least no McDonalds on the island ;)
Once out of the City, the landscape started to get seriously impressive though.
We stayed at Hotel Ranga as it's relatively remote and increased our chance of seeing the Northern lights (no local light pollution). Unfortunately, the night the Aurora forecast peaked, the weather didn't (too cloudy) - so we missed the lights on our short trip.
Nevertheless, the hotel was a great location to explore Southern Iceland.
The Glacier Lagoon was probably the highlight for us. Jökulsárlón is a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It's an absolutely stunning location. Whilst we visited, a poor bride was shivering away suffering for her wedding photography.
On the nearby beach you can actually touch the icebergs that have beached themselves - they vary from cloudy, to crystal clear, to a bright blue in colour. Who'd know that ice can vary so much and be so beautiful.
A warning though - driving to it (direction from Vik / Reykjavik) involved about 2 hours of driving through absolutely NOTHING - so be prepared. The views were at least interspersed with the sight of various glaciers flowing down the mountainside.
We stopped off at the Black Beach near Vic on the way to the lagoon - which was also well worth a visit. The black sand beach and Reynisdrangar rock formations have been named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Enormous and unpredictable waves crash onto a black basalt beach. It's quite dangerous though so heed the warning signs and do not turn your back on the waves - numerous tourists are caught out and it can be fatal.
A film location for The Game of Thrones, who were there shortly before we visited – unfortunately though I missed Jon Snow this time.
The Golden Circle is the well known route that covers a number of sights – so it can be very busy with tourists. We skirted the Pingvellir National Park and visited the Kerid Crater (the only thing we paid an entrance fee for), then on to the Geysers and Gullfoss waterfall - thankfully they are all relatively close to one another (a bit of a trek from Reykjavik though).
On the way back from the Golden Circle, we stopped off at the Secret Lagoon -a smaller and less busy version of the Blue Lagoon (the latter has to be pre-booked). A geothermal pool whee you can soak away your troubles.
The Blue Lagoon is between Reykjavík and the airport, so many people do it as a last stop on the way to the airport, which is a reasonable distance from town.
A storm was moving in so we decided to stay local on Day 3. We visited the nearby Seljalandsfoss waterfall (at the base of Eyjafjallajokull - the volcano that caused all the problems a few years back), which was my favourite waterfall of the trip - you can walk around, and even behind it.
One if the things on my Icelandic bucket list was to ride an Icelandic horse and try out the tolt. The horses are a particular breed that are small and hardy (they look like very cute grown up Shetland ponies). They are also distinctive for a special gait – the tolt. The tölt is a four-beat gait where the sequence of foot falls is the same as in walk. This means that at least one foot is on the ground at any time - there is no period of suspension so it has a smoothness which is comfortable for the rider as there is no time when the horse bounces the rider out of the saddle. One story says the gait was invented for drunkards to get back from the pub comfortably.
Not far from the Seljalandsfoss waterfall is the Skalakot horse farm, so we headed off there to get an equine fix. Highly recommended – very friendly people and lovely horses. They can arrange all sorts of experience depending on what your riding experience is, what you want, and how much time you have; in the summer they arrange multi-day camping excursions up the glacier. Hmm…
There were a surprising number of Chinese tourists on the island - including the group in a pair of 4WD vehicles that stopped on the main road on a blind crest just so they could get out and pat the cute horses! It's also popular as a US weekend destination – stopovers are widely advertised, but all the people we spoke too had made a special journey just for the weekend.
The weather is VERY changeable - we saw it all, even within the space of an hour - take layers to dress in accordingly. There is a saying that if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes. They are not kidding. Sun one minute, driving snow the next. The wind however is something to experience - when it blows, it blows! Some of the waterfalls were actually "flowing" upwards on Day 3 of our trip.
Liquorice. Numerous versions of liquorice sweets - Just try it! J
If you have more time, or visit in summer there's more active stuff like glacier trips - by 4WD and/or snowmobile; dive/snorkel (yes really) the rift between American and European continental plates. Walk along the continental divide if you don't fancy diving, there are hiking routes galore. One place to walk is 10 mins from the airport - they even give you a certificate - although we didn't try it.
Top Tip: Download an aurora watch app to maximise the chance of seeing the lights (which is only only possible in winter).
Tour of Iceland