Photo Story | Iceland

Ten Things You Don’t Want to Miss on an Iceland Circumnavigation

© Michelle Valberg

Each Adventure Canada expedition holds its own unique highlights. Jaw-dropping scenery, mind-blowing volcanic geology, and fantastic wildlife sightings astonish us in Iceland. These are our ten picks for the top experiences for an Iceland Circumnavigation—a trip of a lifetime!

More than anywhere else on Earth, Iceland is a place of dramatic extremes. It is simultaneously a place of fire and ice, of placid sheep pastures and blasting geysers, of ancient folklore and newborn lava-rock isles, of scented botanical gardens and sulphurous steaming badlands, and of friendly folk and untamed animals—blue whales, puffins, feral ponies, and more.

Seydisfjordur Iceland

© Michelle Valberg

1. Stretch your legs (and your senses) in Iceland’s stunning eastern fjords

In Iceland’s dramatic eastern fjords, Seyðisfjörður may be the prettiest spot. Nestled at the tip of its namesake fjord, this little town boasts a flourishing art scene and numerous hiking opportunities, including a walk up to the Tvísöngur sound sculpture on a nearby hill. The Skálanes Nature and Heritage Centre is home to scores of bird species, plus Arctic foxes and reindeer herds. Meanwhile, Pórarinsstadir is the site of an eleventh century Viking graveyard and church, one of the oldest enduring structures in the country.

Akureyri iceland

© Jessie Brinkman Evans

2. Explore Akureyri, Iceland’s ‘other’ capital, a city both remote and refined

Iceland’s second-biggest city, Akureyri, stands out in several ways. First, despite its near-Arctic location, it’s downright lush, with evergreen forests and the world’s northernmost botanical gardens, boasting thousands of plant species. Second, it’s urban while still distinctly Icelandic, boasting chic-yet-homespun boutiques (Icelandic sweaters!), eateries (lamb rubbed with black-lava sea salt!), craft breweries, and a whopping ten museums to peruse. Don’t miss the monumental Lutheran church, where the view is well worth the climb.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula

© Michelle Valberg

3. Set sail around ‘Iceland in miniature,’ the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Jutting into the Denmark Strait, Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a bite-sized sampler of the best Iceland has to offer, featuring medieval fishing villages, violent geology, eerie legends, and bazillions of wild sea beasts. Nearby is Látrabjarg, where black guillemots, razorbills, common murres, fulmars, kittiwakes, and Atlantic puffins nest on the breathtaking cliffs.

Geyser iceland

© Michelle Valberg

4. Cross two continents and the Arctic Circle, all on one trip!

Iceland might be considered the ultimate bucket-list ticker for geographic superlatives. The country straddles both the North American and Eurasian continental plates, and this mid-Atlantic rift gives the country its characteristic glaciers, fissure eruptions, geysers, and geothermal baths. Grímsey, the northernmost island in Iceland, straddles the Arctic circle. And Látrabjarg near the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is Europe’s westernmost point. Cross them all off your travel to-do list in one swift go.

Dynjandi waterfall large falls

© Michelle Valberg

5. Go wild in the Westfjords, Iceland’s most awe-inspiring coast

The Westfjords—a ragged tangle of peaks, ocean passages, vast golden beaches, and traditional villages—are off the beaten path even by Icelandic standards. Traipse beneath the immense “bridal veil” waterfall of Dynjandi (the name means “thunderous” in Icelandic), ogle the endless array of brooding, snow-clad mountains (some so tall you can see Greenland from their summits), and maybe even kayak through a bucolic fjord, where the seals are as curious about you as you are about them.

Husavik whale watching

© Michelle Valberg

6. Have a whale of a time in Iceland’s epicentre of marine life, Húsavík

Húsavík, in Iceland’s far north, is the country’s whale capital. Fifteen cetacean species frequent the area, including humpbacks, seis, minkes, and the biggest creatures to ever live: blue whales. You’re also sure to spot seabirds, especially the abundant puffins. On land, museums await, including the Húsavík Museum—which tells the tale of Garðar Svavarsson, Iceland’s first Scandinavian settler, who wintered here in 870—and the Exploration Museum, with artefacts from the Apollo astronaut training that took place in this area.

Vatnajokull glacier iceland

© Jessie Brinkman Evans

7. Along the south coast of Iceland, the glaciers are out of this world

Southern Iceland is home to some of the country’s most fetching natural attractions. Here you can explore a unique mix of features: volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, geysers, spectacular waterfalls, and famous ice-filled lagoons. One such lagoon, Fjallsárlón, is a periglacial lake at the edge of the Vatnajökull glacier, the largest ice cap in Europe. Another is the Jökulsárlón lagoon, where the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier disgorges glittering icebergs downstream. Have your camera ready in case of calving ‘bergs!

Vestmannaeyjar

© Michelle Valberg

8. Visit famous Heimaey, the town that was nearly buried in ash

Off the south coast of Iceland, Vestmannaeyjar comprises countless rocks, skerries, and islands, but only one of them has residents—and they’re lucky to be alive. Heimaey rose to prominence in 1973 when it was nearly destroyed by an eruption of the volcano Eldfell. Hike to the now-peaceful volcano, and also visit the Eldheimar museum, built around a house excavated after being buried in volcanic ash. Nearby sea cliffs offer excellent opportunities for bird sightings, including razorbills, fulmars, and puffins.

Siglufjordur herring reenactment

© Michelle Valberg

9. Tour Iceland’s Arctic shore, home to fishermen and seabirds galore

In its heyday, Siglufjörður bustled with activity as the heart of Iceland’s herring industry. Today this north-coast village is resurgent, with an Icelandic folk music centre, its Herring Era Museum (live re-enactments!), chocolate factory (yum!), and brewery (double yum!). Offshore lies Grímsey Island; its human population is tiny but world-famous for their skill at chess. The animal population, meanwhile, is far larger, with millions of seabirds, especially auks. A Zodiac cruise among its outcrops is a trip highlight.

Reykjavik street with church and houses

© Dennis Minty

10. Have a hot time in Reykjavík, a city that’s ancient, quaint, and chic

According to lore, Iceland’s hip little capital was founded by Ingólfr Arnarson, who liked the steamy local hot springs (Reykjavík means “smoky bay”). Today, eleven centuries later, the city boasts dozens of geothermally heated outdoor pools. Extend your stay here by a few days to take a dip, check out the towering expressionist-style Hallgrímskirkja Church, stroll by the placid Tjörnin pond in the city center, or visit the National Culture House (which preserves the Norse Sagas in their original manuscripts).