Reykjavik Hallgrimskirkja Church
Hallgrimskirkja Church is a Lutheran place of worship located in the heart of Reykjavik. The church holds a spectacular location at the end of Skolavordustigur Street and boasts magnificent 360 views over the city from the top of its tower.
Hallgrimskirkja stands at 73 metres tall and is one of the countries tallest, and most impressive, structures. The church was originally designed in 1937 by Gudjon Samuelsson yet construction wasn’t completed until 1986 with work continuing for over 40 years. Inside you’ll find a giant pipe organ weighing over 25 tons and an interior décor that reflects some of Iceland’s most rugged landscape.
The church is open to the public daily, except for Sunday’s, and visitors can explore the interior pews and organ before riding the central lift to the churches highest point. Admission cost per adult is ISK 900 (£6) while admission for children is just ISK 100 (£1).
Budir Black Church
Tucked away on Iceland’s west coast on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula sits the quaint black church of Budir. As one of only three black churches in the country, the church is incredibly unique, and the structure stands out from the surrounding landscape making it a great location for photographers.
From Reykjavik head north-west follow Ring Road 1 until you reach Borgarnes, here take the left turning to join Route 54. From here continue up along the coast winding further west as you go until you make a final left turn towards Búðakirkja. In total the journey takes two hours though you’re bound to stop en route to capture the surrounding scenery.
Most churches in Iceland are white and feature bright orange tiled roofs which is why Budir Church’s exterior decor is such an impressive contrast. The surrounding landscape is impressive too as the Atlantic Ocean sits to the south and the mountains of the peninsula provide a backdrop to the north.
The small town of Arnarstapi sits on the south coast of Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula and is home to the spectacular Hellnar Sea Cliffs. The area was made a Natural Reserve in 1979 and, as such, the scenery here is quite striking from jagged sea cliffs to thrashing Atlantic waves.
This tiny village was once a thriving trading post home to many fishermen, today it’s far quieter and is home only to a guesthouse or two. Life here is peaceful, picturesque and secluded which makes for a great place to explore Iceland’s natural beauty.
From Arnarstapi you can walk along the coastal headland heading west towards Hellnar. This route is approximately 2.5km and can be done in less than an hour. Upon arriving in Hellnar, you’ll reach a pebbled beach and the Hellnar Sea Cliffs, a rocky formation that’s well worth climbing atop for a picture. Make sure you pack your binoculars too as this coastal path is renowned for its birding.
Kirkjufell Mountain is the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland thanks to its distinctive shape and the nearby waterfall that cascades in front of it. The mountain sits near the small village of Grundarfjordu, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and is a hot spot for photographers and travellers alike.
The mountain is always busy with tourists so getting a clear photograph is tricky unless you get here for sunrise before everyone arrives. Alternatively, watching the sunset over the mountain is a must-do experience but make sure you wrap up warm for the dark walk back to the car.
Guided hikes to the top of Kirkjufell are available and offer fantastic views of the surrounding beaches and ocean. There’s also plenty of bird life that habitat the mountainside and birding tours are available for those interested.
Snaefellsjoekull National Park
Snaefellsjoekull National Park sits on the very tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula around a three-hour drive north-west of Reykjavik. The park has no entry fee and driving through it takes approximately 40 minutes if you stick to route 54 and hug the picturesque coastline.
Snaefellsjoekull is Iceland’s first ever National Park and covers approximately 65 square miles of the peninsula. The parks geology is fascinating as it’s home to rock formations from across an array of periods including the ice age.
The park is also home to rocky alcoves, black sand beaches and Vatnshellir Cave which is an 8000-year-old lava tube. Tours run daily throughout the year and offer an educational insight as to how one of Iceland’s most popular cave was formed and how it continues to be preserved today.
Oxarafoss Waterfall is located in the heart of Pingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, just off Ring Road 1. The waterfall is part of the golden circle and is always busy so arriving just before sunrise is recommended.
From the top car park, the walk down to Oxararfoss falls is approximately only 15 minutes and passes through a stone walled valley known as the Path to Eyrie. Wooden decks then wind round to the waterfall and some veer up to a heightened viewpoint where you’ll find a café serving hot beverages.
Upon arriving at the falls you’ll be stunned by their cascading beauty. The falls are relatively short in height yet the water pummels down at an impressive speed into the pool below and a good hour can be spent admiring this geological wonder. Make sure you bring a camera to capture the falls in all their glory.
Path to Eyrie
The Path to Eyrie is a snug valley, home to impressive rock formations, located near the western entrance to Pingvellir National Park. Whether you arrive by bus tour or bring your own vehicle the walk from the northern car park takes only five minutes before you find yourself at the top of the valley.
The valley and surrounding landscape have been forged over millions of years by moving glaciers and erupting volcanoes which eventually led to what we see today. The site stands as both a historical and cultural sight too as it’s here that the North Atlantic and Eurasian Plates are slowly drifting apart.
The valley has become famous for being a location in the early seasons of Game of Thrones and, as such, it attracts fans from across the world. The HBO television programme has also filmed elsewhere in Iceland, but it’s the Path to Eyre that appears to be the most prominent, picturesque, location.
Haukadulur is a small valley in Iceland home to an impressive array of active geysers and hot springs including two large geysers named Strokkur and Geysir. Expect to see plumes of steam hitting the cold air and the screech of an audience surprised by their eruption.
The geysers, which were activated by an earthquake years ago, are a big attraction in Iceland and people travel across the country to witness this geographical display. To avoid the crowds get here early before sunset or hang around after sunset for a glimpse of them in the dark.
The smaller geysers go off every couple of minutes or so, billowing steam into the cold air and releasing the strange smell of sulphur while the larger geyser’s, Strokkur and Geysir, erupt less often.
Tucked away atop a winding snowy road sits Bruarfoss waterfall, a picturesque stream of cascading blue water surrounded by jagged black rocks and rolling fields of fern. Come winter the access is a little more restricted but it’s easily reachable in a 4×4.
Iceland is home to many impressive waterfalls, but non have water as crystal blue as Bruarfoss. The waters impressively clear and strikingly beautiful blue colouring comes from the movement of the tectonic plates below which effects the tint in the stream.
The waterfall is located between Skogafoss waterfall and the Haukadulur geysers and can be accessed by car along Ring Road 1. Once arriving at the car park, it’s then a further 10-minute walk following the outlined path across small footbridges winding through fields of fern. If you get lost, follow the sounds of rushing water upstream, and you’ll find the waterfall soon enough.
Gullfoss Falls is an Icelandic waterfall of epic proportions that stands at 32 metres high and spreads out over a rocky canyon. This natural waterfall is a must see when travelling the countries golden circle.
This spectacular waterfall was noted as a nature reserve by the Icelandic government in 1979 and is today protected to ensure its beauty remains untouched. The best time to visit this protected spectacle is at sunrise when the skies take on an orange and pink hue and cast light over the cascading water. Pack a breakfast, take a seat on one of the benches and enjoy breakfast with a view.
The falls are located just off Ring Road 1 and parking is available in the Gulfoss Falls café area. Once parked, head down behind the café following the steps until you see the falls. From here there are plenty of viewpoints to walk to, simply look at the map and follow the trails along the path of the river.
Langjokull Glacier is Iceland’s second biggest glacier and the third largest in Europe, as such it’s really quite a spectacle. Glistening white snow covers a giant sheet of ice and the temperature drops rapidly up here which make it the perfect location for a spot of snowmobiling.
The best way to visit the glacier is on a snowmobiling tour, and these run from both Reykjavik where you’ll board a coach and take the three-hour drive and from Gulfoss Falls where you can park your car and join a tour. It should be noted that the road up to the glacier is not accessible on your own and all travel must be done on a tour.
Snowmobiling tours vary with some being four-hour excursions and others being day trips. Combining snowmobiling with ice caving is a fun experience and involves 30 minutes of snowmobiling, 30 minutes ice caving and an hour and a half transportation either side in giant snow buggies.
Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss
Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss are two of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls and are both conveniently located within 20 minutes of each other on the south coast. Both are impressive sights to behold as Skogafoss stands at a remarkable loft and Seljalandsfoss cascades beautifully into the icy pool below it.
After arriving at Skogafoss head along the pebbled pathway towards the waterfall, continue off piste until you reach the foot of the falls where you’ll enjoy optimum viewing. Tread carefully as you go as, thanks to the cold temperatures and waterfall spray, a lot of the rocks are iced over. After taking plenty of shots, head up the iron stairs to the right and climb to the viewpoint at the top, keep your eyes peeled for the elusive rainbow that bounces off the water and into the cliff face.
Just a short drive down Ring Road 1 leads you to the dramatic Seljalandsfoss falls. Follow the path around the back of the falls to capture the iconic shot, watch out again as the path is always icy in winter. After, head out of the waterfall and over the bridge to the right. Follow the path for ten minutes, and you’ll wind up at a small cave, hop across the stepping stones into the heart of the cave, and you’ll find a secret waterfall, away from the hubbub of tourists.
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
Solheimasandur Beach is a black sand beach on the south coast of Iceland that’s home to the US Navy DC-3 plane wreckage. The site is packed with history and thanks to its positioning the sun both sets and rises behind it providing ample photo opportunities.
On the 24th November 1973, this small navy plan crash landed onto Solheimasandur Beach due to serious icing. In a miraculous tale of luck, all the crew members survived to tell the tale, and the plane wreck remains on the beach to this day, and it’s now considered a photographers dream destination.
The plane is located a 50-minute walk south of Ring Road 1, just a two-hour drive from central Reykjavik. Park in the unmarked car park and begin walking along the path to the beach or, alternately, bikes can be hired to shorten the trip distance. Make sure you head here for sunrise to get photographs of the wreckage without the crowds.
Iceland is particularly famous for its natural hot springs, and fresh lagoons, perhaps most famous is Reykjavik’s Blue Lagoon, but if you’re looking to escape the humdrum of tourists then the Secret Lagoon is a far better option.
The lagoon is tucked away in the small town of Hvammsvegur and is a perfect stop-off on any golden circle tour. Though a lot smaller than the Blue Lagoon, and still fairly busy, the Secret Lagoon provides a great place to relax after a long day of cold excursions.
Pre-booking at the lagoon is advised, but it’s also possible to turn up and pay on the day, depending on the season and how busy the lagoon is. Adult entry is 2800 ISK (£20), senior entry is 1400 ISK (£10), and children enter for free when accompanied by parents.
Reykjavik Primo Restaurant
Located on Reykjavik’s Laugavegur street Primo Restaurant is a quaint Italian restaurant where wine flows, candles flicker, and pasta is ready-made each day. The staff here are all Italian and have worked in Reykjavik for decades fine-tuning they’re Italian style in an Icelandic setting.
Located in an old yellow and greenhouse in central Reykjavik this little Italian mixes fresh ingredients with Italian passion to create both delicious dishes and an inviting ambience. Small tables are dotted around the room to create a cosy atmosphere, and the window tables are particularly quaint.
Pizzas range from classic Hawaiian to more fish orientated with local scallops, shrimps and mussels being some of the restaurants favourite toppings. The foie gras tortellini is rich and delightful while the homemade lasagna is the perfect heart-warming dish after a day out in the cold. For a lighter bite try the avocado salad or the parma ham platter.
Travel Tips for the Winter Season: (October – April)
- Gloves. Always pack two pairs of thermal gloves for when your first pair don’t dry off from that slip in the snow. Nothing ruins your day more than frostbite!
- Crampons. The winter season in Iceland brings with it plenty of ice, and you’re going to need crampons if you’ve got any hope of staying upright when wandering off-piste. Even the main footpaths are iced over, particularly around all the waterfalls.
- Pack light. Every day you’ll be wearing salopettes (or a good pair of waterproof walking trousers) and a raincoat (or down jacket). As taking your coat off outside is not advised everything you’re wearing underneath won’t be caught on camera and, as such, you can get away with repeating the same outfit daily. Just pack a couple of different thermal tops in case you sweat into them.
- Plan ahead. Daylight hours in winter are short with as little as 5 hours in January. In November you’ll find the sun rises at around 9.30am and sets around 16.30 so your seven hours of daylight need to be curated carefully to avoid disappointment. Plan your day well ahead of time to make the most of the light.
- Beat the crowds. Rising early is vital to beat the crowds as you’ll quickly realise every attraction is a tourist trap. Though getting up at 7.30am and driving in the pitch black to your destination may seem tiring at the time, it’s totally worth it to watch the morning light break in solitude.
- Hire a 4×4. Iceland’s ring road provides a great road trip across extraordinary landscapes with the bonus of being able to pull over and jump out whenever you see fit. Though it might be tempting to travel around the island by bus tours, it’s nowhere near as fun as having your own little vehicle for a bit of privacy and a lot of freedom.
- Petrol. Fill up whenever you can as stations can be few and far between when you get out into the sticks, and you really don’t want to be doing a ten hour round trip on foot to the garage to pick up a canister of petrol. Trust me.
- Reign it in. Don’t think you can drive around the entire island in a week, reign it in, there’s so much to see, and there’s no fun in feeling rushed. Ideally, Iceland should be discovered in quarters, and the above itinerary covers the south-west coast over seven days. Remember, you can always come back!
- Reykjavik. As quaint and glistening as Reykjavik is you don’t need to spend any more than a day here. This small capital city has a lot of charm, but it’s really just a pretty gateway into a far better territory: the vast countryside!
- The Northern Lights look better in pictures. The northern lights aren’t always green to the eye, but they’re incredibly green on camera. Apparently, our eyes at night engage different cells to view, and these cells struggle to pick up colour, instead of seeing green lights we see a grey colour with a tint of green. However, our cameras are pro at picking up the green light (hence why you’ve seen so many cool pictures of them before) so make sure you’ve practised setting your camera up to take star pictures beforehand. Don’t be disheartened if the sky’s don’t look bright green to the eye; the lights could be there, let your camera find them!