This past fall my daughter and I returned to Iceland to celebrate her 16th birthday. Generally, when I travel, I prefer to explore places on my own with one or two small and short tours sprinkled in. Iceland, however, is a different story. In my opinion, Iceland is best seen through the eyes of a tour guide. It’s remarkable how much more Icelanders know about geology than the average American. Because the land they live on is one of the most active volcanic regions on earth, terms like geysers, hot springs, lava fields, geothermal energy, and tectonic plates seep into their bodies at a young age and become a part of their everyday vocabulary. We have found that the tour guides in this country are either locals who have been learning about their land since they were small children, or people from all over the world who have come to Iceland to study these phenomenons. And either way, they know a lot more than I could ever learn by just exploring an area on my own with a travel book in hand.
So, when we go to Iceland, we prefer to see this profoundly beautiful country through the eyes of an experienced tour guide. Here are a few of our favorite tours, all originating in Reykjavik, which is the most common central jumping off point.
- Golden Circle Tour – by far the most popular (and crowded) tour on the island, the Golden Circle Tour is like Iceland 101. It is so popular because you will get a chance to experience many of Iceland’s wonders in under a day and its an easy ride from Reykjavik. The Golden Circle tour covers a ring in Southern Iceland full of natural wonders. The tour can be done in a half day (5-6 hours) or a full day with a few little add ons (9 hours). Every Golden Circle Tour includes, at a minimum, stops at the Strokkur Geyser which shoots water 100 feet in the air every 4-8 min. The Gulfoss Waterfall which lies in the canyon of the Hvítá River with 2 dramatic drops (36ft and 69ft). And Thingvellir National Park – the site of the worlds longest running parliament and the opportunity to walk between two tectonic plates. If you have a full day, we like the Small Group Golden Circle Tour with Kerid Crater & the Ice Cream Farm as add-ons. Where possible, take small group tours. They usually consist of a mini bus of no more than 20 other people, plus the guide.
- Landmannalaugar Hike – Slightly further afield, but no less fantastic are the Iceland Highlands. An uninhabitable volcanic desert, the Highlands are totally different from the rest of the country. They are a raw and powerful energy center where new lands are forged regularly by erupting volcanoes. We found this to be a wonderful and unique place to get a little exercise. The trip is far, 2.5 – 3 hours each way, but the ride is really interesting. The final hour of the ride is over the volcanic desert and gets very bumpy. The hike itself lasts about 5 hours, is moderately difficult, and is only available in the summer months. We did the tour with Extreme Iceland and the tour guide was terrific. If hiking isn’t your thing, consider experiencing this area in a Super Jeep tour by the same company.
- Glacier Lagoon tour – One of my all time favorite tour days in the whole world happened here. The south coast tour of Iceland is another trip that is very manageable from Reykjavik – although it is a very full day! We really wanted to see the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and not only did we see that, but our really fun and experienced tour guides showed us the time of our lives. Read my blog post here on the detailed events of the day with Gateway to Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon Tour.
- Two day Snaefellsnes Penninsula tour with Viator – The Snaefellsnes Penninsula is often referred to as “Iceland in Miniature”. With its charming fishing villages, beautiful mountains and volcanic craters, you can find a little bit of everything. Since it takes a little over 2 hours to arrive to the penninsula, and another few hours to drive around it, we liked the overnight aspect of this small group tour. We were picked up at our hotel in Reykjavik and spent the first full day in the penninsula with a well informed guide who grew up in the region. Then we were brought to a nearby hotel in a tiny town called Bogarnes for the night. We were picked up the next morning by another guide and spent the 2nd full day in the area of Borgarfjordur exploring lava caves, visiting waterfalls, and experiencing the beautiful Krauma spa. We were returned to our hotel in Reykjavik around 7pm that night.