Insider's Guide to Iceland

For take-your-breath-away scenery, thunderous natural wonders, a vibrant culinary scene and quirks aplenty, Iceland ticks all the boxes.
September 2023

For take-your-breath-away scenery, thunderous natural wonders, a vibrant culinary scene and quirks aplenty, Iceland ticks all the boxes. This cool Nordic nation sits sedately in the North Atlantic, some 280 kilometres off the Greenland coast, and right where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates start to detach. This geological phenomenon explains the country’s abundance of geothermal activity from its gently steaming fissures and explosive volcanoes to its bubbling geysirs and hot baths. A year-round destination, you can explore Iceland’s mountain meadows, black sand beaches, waterfalls and sparkling fjords with the backdrop of winter’s dancing Northern Lights or the endless daylight of summer’s Midnight Sun. Read on for some ideas of things you’ll want to do when you visit.


Nearly every Icelandic adventure will begin in the capital, Reykjavik. This charming seaside city of around 300,000 people is a hive of cultural activity with a vibrant music scene, a full calendar of festivals, art galleries and museums aplenty and an innovative cuisine. Easily explored on foot, wander past pretty painted houses, through the bustling streets, along the waterfront, through parks and gardens and admire the iconic architecture, all of which is reason enough to spend at least a couple of days here.

Reykjavik Food Walk

Discover why Icelanders are rightly proud of their food on a walking food tour of the city. With a knowledgeable guide, stop in at five or six of the city’s stand out dining locations from small family-run eateries and top-notch restaurants to secret local hangouts. Taste traditional favourite dishes from grass-fed lamb, fish stew and hot dogs to Icelandic ice cream and skyr with fresh berries.

VIP Blue Lagoon
After a day of exploration, enjoy a secluded health-giving soak in the bubbling, mineral-rich waters of the Blue Lagoon. Exclusive access to the Retreat means you’ll enjoy the experience in privacy with a heavenly treatment in the Spa of the Volcanic Earth to complete the indulgence.


Inspired by the nostalgic atmosphere of Beirut, Sumac is a lively fusion restaurant with concrete walls, leather banquettes and a charcoal grill where Icelandic ingredients are given a Middle Eastern twist. Food is rustic and flavoursome with the shared mezze platters highly recommended alongside the grilled lamb ribs with grapes, lentil and almonds and the plaice with chermoula, tomato and raisins.

Icelandic Ice Cream
Ice cream in Reykjavik is famous, and delicious. And Omnom Chocolate and Ice Cream Shop at Hólmaslóð 4 is legendary. Choosing from the many colourful and adventurous creations will be tough so you’ll likely need to make more than one trip.

Treat yourself to some creative Icelandic cuisine in this rustic and welcoming harbourside restaurant. Menus here change with the season and are inspired by the flavours of Iceland. Wooden beams, exposed brick, cascading foliage and warm lighting are a fitting backdrop to the inventively plated dishes which ingeniously combine a range of ingredients and cooking methods. Stone crab soup or smoked char might start you off, while grilled goose breast or crown of lamb with black garlic may follow.

The Reykjavik EDITION

Located in the historic heart of downtown Reykjavik by the Old Harbour, this relative newcomer to the city hotel scene is a refreshing addition. Exuding laid back luxury and sophistication, the cosy interiors use basalt, oak and lava to reflect the Nordic landscape with bespoke furniture, faux fur rugs and locally crafted artworks setting the scene. Rooms frame beautiful views, and some boast outdoor terraces. Dining is a treat here too with Tide from Michelin-star chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason offering a modern Icelandic seafood-focused menu. A rooftop terrace is the perfect spot to view the northern lights and there’s even a secret speakeasy-style bar and underground club.

Parliament Hotel
One of the newest hotels to open in Reykjavik, Iceland Parliament Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton has an excellent location in the main city square. A light, airy and contemporary entrance welcomes guests to this cleverly combined amalgamation of new and old which showcases Icelandic contemporary art, design and history. The 163 guest rooms have an Art Deco feel and in-house restaurant Hjá Jóni promises diners a true culinary adventure while a beautiful spa offers traditional hot tubs, sauna, steam baths and an array of treatments.

Golden Circle

Iceland’s foremost attraction, the Golden Circle, is a 300-kilometre-long route brimming with stunning landscapes, powerful geysers and extraordinary waterfalls and as well as offering outstanding photo opportunities, gives interesting insight to Iceland’s geological history. The area comprises three of the most stunning locations in southwest Iceland — Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area and Gulfoss Waterfall.

Buggy Rides

Zoom through Iceland’s unique, vast and often moon-like landscapes by buggy. Feel fully secure in an ATV equipped with robust roll cage and 4-point seat belt. After a full briefing, head off-road past lakes and mountains admiring the rugged and breathtaking scenery along the way.

Icelandic horses

Said to be more curious, intelligent and independent than other breeds, the Icelandic horse first arrived aboard Norse settlers’ ships between 860 and 935 AD. No other breed of horse has ever been allowed into the country so it remains one of the purest breeds in the world and the only one to possess five gaits. Short, sturdy and thick-coated, these friendly animals are well suited to the often harsh Icelandic conditions. So, saddle up for an unforgettable guided ride through hills and forests.

Snowmobile adventure
For an adrenalin rush like no other, jump aboard a snowmobile for a thrilling charge across Langjökull glacier, Iceland’s second largest. You’ll be suitably dressed for the conditions allowing full unbridled exhilaration on your adventure across the icy landscape.

Intercontinental Snorkelling

Snorkelling (and diving) the crystal-clear waters of the Silfra fissure is one of the world’s great underwater adventures. The crevice opened in 1789 due to tectonic movement within Thingvellir National Park and the water can take up to a century to reach the fissure. This long filtration process results in the water’s extreme clarity and drinkability. Snorkel through the clearest water on Earth between the tectonic plates which are so close you can almost touch them.

Greenhouse tomatoes

Fridheimar is one of Iceland’s most productive tomato farms with a restaurant inside a greenhouse. Some 10,000 plants produce four varieties of tomato which are successfully grown here thanks to the abundant geothermal power. Lunch menus include Caprese salads, mussels in red sauce and a famous tomato soup, as well as Bloody Mary varieties galore. There are also regular Icelandic horse shows on the farm.

Hotel Ranga

Warm and inviting, this log cabin style hotel is reminiscent of a traditional hunting lodge with a beautifully remote location by the salmon-filled East Rangá River.

Local artworks and Icelandic quilts adorn the shared spaces while rooms are cosy and comfortable with incredible views of Iceland’s legendary Hekla volcano and twin glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Modern Nordic cuisine showcasing local produce is served up in the hotel restaurant while outdoor geothermal hot tubs with volcano views are the ultimate drawcard.

Torfhus Retreat

Cool and understated, this rustic eco-lodge 15 minutes from the Great Geysir has been built in the tradition of the old Icelandic Torfhouses crafted from local stone, reclaimed wood and turf. Powered entirely by geothermal and hydroelectric energy, the retreat is rightly proud of its sustainable credentials which also include locally sourced, or reclaimed, materials and furnishings and living turf rooves. Views over volcanic plains to snow-capped mountains and the Langjökull glacier beyond are breathtaking with a basalt hot tub for each guesthouse. Meals are creative, yet traditionally Icelandic, using the finest, and freshest, local produce.

South Shore

Stretching from the greater Reykjavik area in the west to the magnificent Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in the east, this part of Iceland is blessed with myriad natural attractions including mesmerising waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers and black sand beaches, some with giant basalt sea stacks.

Ice Cave

Located on the south coast of Iceland, next to an active volcano and beneath the Kötlujökull glacier, Katla ice cave is a huge and ancient natural-carved wonder. The glacier is known for its multicoloured layers of ice and black ice which makes the ice caves here quite unique. Katla cave is underground and accessed on foot with a guide. During your hike, take note of the black ash from centuries of volcanic eruptions, the older layers of blue ice and the trapped air bubbles.

Glacier hike
For incomparable views, strap on crampons and hike onto Solheimajokull glacier, an outlet glacier of the vast Mýrdalsjökull icecap. Unlike other glaciers, this one is not surrounded by tall mountains which means the views of the south coast are unimpeded. More intrepid hikers may choose to climb (with ice axe) one of the many ice walls in the vicinity.

Dream trail

National Geographic has named the Laugavegur trail in Iceland’s southern highlands among the best hikes in the world. Taking four days, the trail goes from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork passing many beautiful waterfalls, multi-coloured rhyolite mountains, ancient lava fields and glaciers. Its raw landscapes are said to have been the inspiration for Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the fantasy land of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

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