How best to spend a week in Iceland

    Written by Laura Birtles
    Iceland

    Iceland is currently on the UK’s green list, so now is the time to go. With its awe-inspiring landscapes, experiences, lodges and private houses in remote locations, this small and beautiful country is a wonderful choice for adventure lovers, nature enthusiasts and families alike. For winter adventures, such as glacier walking, snowmobiling and witnessing the magical Northern Lights, we recommend travelling between November and March. Our summer is the best time for exploring Reykjavík, hiking, horse riding or visiting volcanoes, geothermal pools and lava tunnels.

    “From steaming hot springs and slumbering volcanoes to ancient glaciers and grassy pastures, Iceland is a land of raw natural beauty, still echoing with the sound of Viking chants. This is a unique destination like no other place on earth, drawing together an eclectic collection of awe-inspiring sights into an island of just 103,000sq km in size. There aren’t many places on earth where you can scuba-dive in crystal-clear glacial waters between two continental plates or be lowered into the heart of a volcano.

    Iceland is the best place in Europe for whale-watching, with humpback whales, minke whales, northern bottlenose whales and the largest of all, blue whales, being a common sight in the icy waters. Cantering across fields and black beaches on Icelandic horses, a unique and robust breed, offers a profound connection with the landscape. Animal lovers can also enjoy spotting waterfowl, harlequin ducks, puffins and even golden-tufted Slavonian grebes.

    More than 30 active volcanoes help support the countless bubbling hot springs and geothermal lakes. This geothermal power has been harnessed to create green energy for homes but also offers opportunities for relaxation and pampering in pools and saunas, beneath the Northern Lights or the pink hues of the Midnight Sun.”

    Whether you’re travelling alone, as a couple, with friends or children, every itinerary we create is totally tailored to you. However, below is an example of what we can arrange, outlining how best to spend a week in Iceland:

    DAY 1
    On arrival in Reykjavík, you will be met at the airport and taken to your hotel or villa. Every place we select for you to stay is based on your individual wants and needs, but for those travelling alone or as a couple, we tend to suggest 101 Hotel, a sleek boutique hotel right in the midst of downtown Reykjavík. This is a wonderful place to stay if you want to soak up the buzz of the Icelandic capital. However, if you are travelling with your family or a group of friends, we recommend basing yourselves at the stunning Hvitarnes Villa, about an hour from the city. Tucked away in a peaceful landscape, and just a short drive from Thingvellir National Park, this private house provides a secluded and elegant retreat in nature, with beautiful views of the distant hills and mountains. It is perfectly located for exploring the wider area and the highlights of southern Iceland.

    Hvitarnes villa

    Hvitarnes Villa

    In the afternoon, you will meet your fun, experienced and knowledgeable guide who, if you wish, can accompany you for your whole trip. We recommend this as he or she will ensure a completely smooth journey at all times and give you the inside track on everything you see. If you don’t require a guide, we can still equip you with a driver who can take you wherever you want to go. 

    For those who are interested in Icelandic cuisine, we suggest your guide takes you on a foodie expedition through the city, stopping off at a number of culinary hotspots, ranging from well-known ‘must-visit restaurants’ to small family-run joints and secret local hangouts. You will soon see why the Icelanders are so proud of their local food and taste many examples of delicious traditional dishes.  

    This evening, you can either have dinner at the villa, or if you’re staying in downtown, head out to one of our favourite restaurants in Reykjavík. 

    Evening in Reykjavik

    Evening in Reykjavík

    DAY 2
    After breakfast, explore Reykjavík, the Biggest Little City in the World. Every day can be tailored to your individual wants and needs – doing as little or as much as you like – but in general, we suggest the following. Your guide will enlighten you on many interesting facts and stories relating to the history and culture in Iceland, and open your eyes to some of the city’s highlights, such as the old Höfði house on the city’s seafront, where the all-important summit between former US President Ronald Reagan and former USSR Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev took place in 1986. You will also visit Hallgrímskirkja church whose design was inspired by basalt lava columns, a common volcanic rock formation in Icelandic nature, the old town centre, the town hall and the Icelandic parliament, Althingi. For those wishing to explore the city alone, this can also be arranged. Something special that we like to do for clients is to arrange for them to enjoy a drink at the top of Perlan, which is built on the city's hot water tanks and has spectacular views.

    Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik

    Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík

    After lunch, visit the Whales of Iceland Exhibition, which consists of 23 man-made life-size models of the various whale species found in Icelandic waters throughout its natural history, including a 25m-long blue whale, a full-size sperm whale and the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. We particularly recommend this to nature enthusiasts and families.

    Afterwards, we will arrange for you to set out on a private whale-watching expedition. During this exciting boat ride, you will hopefully be able to get quite close to these majestic creatures. Minke whales are lively and appear in large numbers, making them the most spotted whales in Iceland, while sightings of orcas, white-beaked dolphins and humpback whales can also occur. In the summer, not only can you spot whales but puffins too, as they both flourish beneath the Midnight Sun, while winter is a whole new experience, providing low-hanging daylight and white-capped mountains that create a completely unique atmosphere. Whale-watching is possible year-round in Iceland.

    Whale watching, Iceland

    Return to your hotel or villa to relax and reflect on the day. 101 Hotel has its own spa and you can even have an in-room massage, while Hvitarnes Villa has an indoor pool, an outdoor sauna and a private massage room, so you can really unwind.

    Indoor Pool and Spa, Hvitarnes villa, Iceland

    The indoor pool and spa at Hvitarnes Villa

    DAY 3
    After breakfast, set off with your guide on a journey to Iceland’s famous ‘Golden Circle’, travelling through the stunning countryside to Thingvellir, the site of the original Althing, the founding place of the oldest democratic parliament in the world. This area is noted for its spectacular lava formations and for being the only place in the world where you can see the tectonic plates drift apart. Today, Thingvellir is an outstanding national park, the jewel in the crown of Iceland’s historical sites.

    Thingvellir, Iceland

    Thingvellir National Park

    We suggest having lunch at Fridheimar farm, a welcoming, Icelandic family-run enterprise. Primarily a working farm, it is also a restaurant, an organic tomato producer, a horse-breeding stables and grocery store all in one. In 1995, husband-and-wife team, Knútur Rafn Ármann, and his wife, Helena Hermundardóttir, followed their dream of combining their passions for horticulture and horse breeding and founded the farm. Each year, many visitors come to admire the greenhouses, where tomatoes are grown all-year round – no simple feat in the harsh Icelandic climate. Their technical wizardry combines greenhouses with geothermal heating from Iceland’s natural subterranean supply. Juicy, fresh tomatoes are, of course, the main ingredient on the menu, and the tasty food is served among the sweet-smelling tomato plants.

    After lunch, you will continue to the Haukadalur valley to see the famous Geysir, the ‘geyser’ that gave its name to all other erupting hot springs. While Geysir hasn’t been particularly active recently, one of the most active geysers in the area is just 50m away from it: Strokkur is capable of shooting water 90ft high and erupts every five minutes on average. There are also about 30 smaller geysers and hot pools in the area, including one named Litli Geysir ('Little Geysir'), making this area a thrilling hub of geothermal activity.

    Strokkur Geysir

    Strokkur geysir

    Afterwards, you will head to one of the most impressive waterfalls in Europe, the Gullfoss (or ‘Golden Falls’), where thousands of tons of icy water thunder majestically down into a deep gorge from the glacier Langjökull. You will have the unique opportunity to get up close to the very brink of the waterfall and feel glacial water spray on you as you admire its sheer power and hear its thundering roar. 

    Gullfoss Waterfall

    Gullfoss waterfall

    After an exciting day, we suggest families or groups of friends return to Hvitarnes Villa for dinner, but for solo travellers or couples, we recommend staying at UMI Hotel for the next two nights, situated by one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the country. Surrounded by unspoilt nature and with magnificent views of the Westman Islands and the southern coastline, this small hotel is a wonderful place to stay in this area. 

    DAY 4
    After breakfast, set out on a day trip along Iceland’s southern shores to Reynisfjara and the country’s southernmost point. Along the way, you will stop briefly to admire stunning waterfalls – including the enchanting Seljalandsfoss waterfall, one of the most captivating sights in southern Iceland – black-sand beaches, mountains and dramatic lava formations.

    Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Iceland

    Seljalandsfoss waterfall

    Reynisfjara, a spectacular black-sand beach, was rated the most impressive of its kind in Iceland, and one of the world’s top 10 most beautiful non-tropical beaches. The pitch-black grains of sand merge with smooth, midnight-black pebbles. The beach itself is complimented by awe-inspiring rock formations. The incredible basalt steps and a turf-capped pyramid of rectangular rocks of varying heights are breathtaking and reminiscent of skyscrapers in a futuristic metropolis. However, there is nothing man-made about these geometric marvels. They have been created entirely by nature. There is a gaping cave that entices you to enter and ogle at the angular shapes woven across its roof. Reynisfjara is just a stone’s throw from the jagged sea stacks of Reynisdrangar, which, according to folklore, was created when sea trolls were transformed into rock when daylight broke.

    Reynisfjara black sand beach in south Iceland

    Reynisfjara black-sand beach

    After lunch in an excellent local restaurant, we suggest clients who are able should join your private guide for a walk across the ice on the ancient Sólheimajökull glacier, the southernmost glacier in Iceland, where the ice is up to 200m thick and the total size of the glacier, including the ice cap Mýrdalsjökull, is about 600sq km. Beneath the main ice cap is the caldera of the volcano Katla, one of Iceland’s biggest volcanoes. This is not for the faint-hearted but it is a truly magical experience in a frozen kingdom of glistening ice caves, crevasses, tunnels, ridges and sinkholes.

    For families and the less intrepid, the above might seem too adventurous. If so, we have many more experiences up our sleeves – from riding Icelandic horses to exploring a 1,360m-long lava tunnel on foot or visiting a geothermal bakery, where you will witness a loaf of fresh bread being dug out of the hot black sand. We also recommend going to the family-run Efstidalur Dairy Farm, which sells a variety of products straight from the farm, such as the famous ice cream, skyr and feta cheese – all really delicious. Here, you can get a great insight into farm life in Iceland. 

    Return to the comfort of your hotel for dinner, or if you are basing yourselves at the Hvitarnes Villa, return to your home from home for dinner cooked by your private chef.

    DAY 5
    After breakfast, you will be taken to the little port to catch the ferry to the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, or Westman Islands, a group of 15 to 18 isles and about 30 skerries sand rock pillars off the mainland’s south coast. They were formed by submarine volcanic eruptions along a 30km-long fissure lying south-west to north-east. 

    At 13.4sq km, the largest island is Heimaey, which has a dramatic history. In the early hours of 23rd January, 1973, without warning, the Eldfell volcano erupted, which caused an emergency evacuation of the entire island. It would be more than a year before many of the inhabitants could return back to Vestmannaeyjar, and sadly, many would never return to their houses, as the lava flow destroyed around 400 homes, belonging to nearly a third of the population. After five months of lava and ash flowing out of Eldfell, the eruption finally stopped and the islanders were able to start rebuilding their lives on Heimaey. Geothermal heating systems were created from the cooling lava flows and the tephra produced in the eruption was used as landfill where 200 new homes were built.

    The best way to explore this incredible archipelago and witness its glorious nature, wildlife and sea caves is by RIB. This is a wonderful experience that allows you to get completely off the beaten track and discover isolated and secret spots. For those who are interested, we can also arrange for you to spend some time with native islanders who know the history of the islands and their inhabitants inside out to hear about the island’s history first-hand. 

    RIB safari, Iceland

    After lunch at our favourite restaurant on the harbour, your guide will take you to Eldfell itself, a composite volcanic cone that is 200m tall on the island of Heimaey. We also recommend taking time to wander around the Eldheimar museum, where you will see homes still half inside and half outside the flowing lava from 1973. For any keen golfers, we can arrange a stunning round at the Vestmannaeya Golf Club, which certainly provides golf with a view, and for those interested in conservation, we can arrange a fascinating visit to the SEA LIFE TRUST Beluga Whale Sanctuary, a new visitor and education centre that includes a new puffin hospital, where you can learn more about the project and interesting local wildlife.

    Return to the mainland by ferry and continue on to the luxurious and chic Retreat Hotel beside the iconic Blue Lagoon, a shimmering, ethereal thermal pool, bordered by moss-covered lava fields and with mystical healing qualities.

    Retreat Hotel, Blue Lagoon, Iceland

    The Retreat Hotel, which overlooks the iconic Blue Lagoon

    DAY 6
    After breakfast, leave the hotel to embark on a full-day expedition exploring Iceland’s south-east coast by helicopter – an extraordinary experience. You will soar over the incredible landscapes of the southern highlands, past ferocious volcanoes, glaciers, glacial rivers and beautiful waterfalls that only a lucky few get to see. You will be guided through the wilderness and enlightened on how Iceland has been shaped in this unique way by both fire and ice. You will fly along one side of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, and as you approach the glacier, you will touch down in order to explore the area on foot and get a closer look at the floating white and blue icebergs that have broken off the glacier’s edge.

    Helicopter Tour Iceland

    From here, swap the helicopter for a boat and set out on an adventure in one or two Zodiacs on Jokulsarlon, a large glacial lake on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. The lake has grown over time because of the glaciers melting and has increased fourfold since the Seventies. At more than 248m deep, it recently became the deepest lake in Iceland. The icebergs glide towards the river mouth along with the tide and the wind and get entrenched at the bottom. If you sit quietly, you can hear the cracking sound of the icebergs as they move and drift around, and seals and birds can also be spotted swimming around in the lagoon too. This is a truly spectacular scene and one that you will never forget. 

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

    Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

    We will ensure that you are equipped with a scrumptious picnic for you to enjoy in a stunning, remote spot somewhere along your journey, before continuing further south for an unforgettable flight over the black-sand beaches, infamous volcanoes and waterfalls of Iceland’s south coast. Once again, you will have the opportunity to touch down on the glacier for a spine-tingling exploration on foot. 

    On the way back to the Blue Lagoon, you will fly over Fjagradalsfjall, an active volcano, before returning to The Retreat Hotel. Tonight, we recommend dining at Moss Restaurant, which lies at the highest point of the Blue Lagoon, offering stunning views and serving creative Icelandic dishes, a truly fantastic way to end the day. 

    DAY 7
    After yesterday’s excitement, we suggest that you spend the day relaxing at the Retreat Spa, not just your typical spa but one that is carved into an 800-year-old lava flow. For the ultimate spa experience, we can book the Lava Cove lounge for you, which comes with its own small lagoon that you can enjoy for the entire day in total privacy. 

    Retreat Spa's Lava Cove Lounge and Private Lagoon

    The Retreat Spa's Lava Cove Lounge and private lagoon

    Spend your time soaking up the timeless powers of the Blue Lagoon’s waters as well as enjoying other treatments until your Blue Lagoon Ritual, which we have arranged as the grand finale to your wellness day. In a spacious sanctuary of interconnected chambers, your body will be covered with the three treasures of geothermal seawater: silica, algae and minerals. Silica brings radiance and cleansing. Blue Lagoon algae brings nourishment and anti-aging. Minerals bring exfoliation and revitalisation. After a day like today, you will no doubt feel totally serene and refreshed.

    DAY 8
    Today, after breakfast, we will arrange a private vehicle to take you to the airport for your flight home.

    Every itinerary we design is totally tailored to each individual client. This is just one example of what we can create.

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