103,000 square kilometers of land and only a population of around 350,000 people, Iceland is one of the worlds most sparsely populated countries in Europe.
But you know what that means don’t you? Quiet and untouched areas to explore!
Iceland is known for its black sandy beaches, landscapes that change from red dessert sand to glacier lagoons, fjords and volcanoes. With these spectacular landscapes, it is also known that Iceland is one of Europes most expensive countries. From my experience, Switzerland and Norway top this list!.
Would you like to know about free activities in Iceland? Here are a few tips that I picked up along the way…
*assuming your group has a rental vehicle
– Northern Lights –
The northern lights can usually be seen dancing across the skies of Iceland between September to April (no guarantee). And they are easy to locate!
If you have a rental car or are staying in a rural area with no light pollution, then you can view the northern lights independently. If you are a beginner at hunting the northern lights, then you can read more about chasing and photographing the northern lights here.
At the start of Winter, you might notice that the reindeer have droopy red antlers. Don’t fear, the males that are shedding their antlers at the end of the mating season!
– Fjords from the Shores –
A lot of people opt for a Fjord cruise or a day trip. This is a plesant, but costly way to see the fjords.
An alternative is driving with a hire car along the coast. This way you’ll be able to cruise through the small fishing villages located within the fjords, see people drying the fish which will be then used for bar snacks and be steeped with mountain views.
– Hiking –
Summer in Iceland is perfect for day or multi-day hiking trips.
Iceland has a mix of both marked and unmarked hiking trails. Guide to Iceland offers a wealth of information on hiking in Iceland from the best hikes to the hazards on the trails.
– Icelandic Sunrise & Sunset –
During winter and weather permitting, you’ll have the opportunity to have a lie in and watch the sun rise around 10:00!
Unfortunately due to the shorter days during the winter months, this won’t leave much time for daylight exploring, but before you know it, it’ll be time for a spectacular sun set.
Sunrise and sunset in Iceland will display a spectacular show of pinks, purples, oranges and reds, set against the back drop of snowy mountains and the ocean.
If the weather isn’t on your side, how about relaxing?
– Icelandic Hot Springs –
The famous one here is the Blue Lagoon, but at almost 50€ entrance per person, this could blow your budget out of the water. (like the pun?).
But did you know that the Blue Lagoon isn’t actually a natural hot spring?
The rock formations are real, but the water is run off water from the geothermal plant next door.
That said, Iceland is home to many natural hot springs. The main difference between the paid hot springs and the free ones are facilities.
At the free ones, you do not have to pay, but you’ll have to find a space to get changed, take your own food and drink (you’d pay for this anyway in the Blue Lagoon) and you have to run from the hot springs to your car (instead of the changing rooms).
Seek out local knowledge before bathing in an unknown pool or river. Some of them have temperature of 100 degrees celsius, so better to be safe than sorry!
Hveravellir is located around 4 hours from Reykjavík, so would make a perfect stop if you are doing an Iceland tour (and not staying in Reykjavík). This hot spring is free to enter, but there is a fee of around 5€ if you would like to use the parking, toilets and showers at the campsite.
Reykjadalu is situated around a 30-45 minute drive from Reykjavik (weather dependent). This is a river rather than a pool, which is cool, right? The thermal river is around a 45-60 minute walk from the car park and is free to enter. More information can be found here.
Note: take a towel, plus dry and warm clothes to get changed into once you are finished. Sometimes the thermal pools can be packed; therefore, it could be better to visit early morning or late afternoon / evening.
In winter, remember to take a hat to wear in the pool!
– Golden Circle Tour –
There are four main parts to this tour: Gullfoss waterfall,
Geyser Strokkur, Þingvellir National Park and Friðheimar greenhouse. A bus tour will cost around 50€ per person and will last around 8 hours. Food and drink are not usually included in this price.
If you are travelling as a group of 2 or more people and have a rental vehicle, it can be cost efficient to do the tour yourself.
All parts of this tour are quite close together, but are around 2 hours outside of Reykjavik.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir is the park that you’ll drive through on the way to Gullfoss, the geyser and Friðheimar. If you are lucky with the weather, you might see some epic sunrises and sunsets here. Also this is home to the Silfra Fissure: where the North American and Eurasian techtonic plates pull Iceland apart by approximately 2.5cm a year.
Gullfoss is a gigantic three step waterfall and is a part of the glacial river
Hvítá, It falls 62 metres (105ft) into the canyon and it is frozen in winter.
Geyser Strokkus is the active geyser in this area. Every few minutes, it shoots up a column of water 30 meters (98ft) into the air!
Friðheimar is Iceland’s largest greenhouse. They have over 600 bumblebees to polinate their pesticide free tomatoes!
be sure to take care as there is usually lots of ice on the outdoor paths. It was very windy and slippy when we were there. I would recommend grödl as they will stop you from slipping (mini crampons). I even saw some women in heels at the geyser and Gullfoss…
In winter, we started the Golden Circle tour by driving out of Reykjavik and driving around the northern side of þingvallavatn and then onto gullfoss, Geysir and then to Friðheimar and back to Reykjavik via Selfoss.L
Geysir and Gullfoss can be extremely busy, so it is advisable to get there either early morning or late afternoon. If you are travelling in winter, this could be tricky as you will have limited daylight hours.
– Glacier Lagoons –
Imagine a lagoon filled with mini icebergs. This is what you have at Iceland. These are formed when parts of the glacier break off and then are floating around in the lagoon. The lagoons are formed when the glaciers retreat and then the lagoons are left in place of the glacier.
With all the places listed below, there is somewhere to park your car within a 5 minute walking distance of the lagoon. These are around a 5 hour drive from Reykjavik and we did this during a multi day tour along the south coast.
Jökulsárlón is Icelands most famous glacier lagoon and it is Iceland’s deepest lake with a maximum depth of 248m! The icebergs in the lagoon are upto 1000 years old and come from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. There are companies that offer zodiac tours that get you close to the icebergs and the glacier, but this will be at a cost that could blow your budget.
If you are interested in seeing a glacier closer, there are other lagoons where the glacier can be seen more closely, but still at a safe distance.
The icebergs quite often float onto the black beach and glisten in the sun. For this reason, the beach is also known as diamond beach.
Neighbouring Jökulsárlón is Fjallsárlón, which is located at the south end of the Vatnajökull glacier. Unlike with Jökulsárlón, the lagoon is smaller and you’ll feel closer to the source of the icebergs. It is possible to get a zodiac boat tour, but it is possible to have a great experience without a tour.
As this lagoon is smaller, you will have a full panoramic view of the beach, lagoon, icebergs and the glacier.
This isn’t officially a lagoon, but there is a small lagoon where icebergs are floating. Sadly due to climate change, there are a lot of glacier lagoons popping up at the edge of receding glaciers.
Here there might be less people and consequently, you’ll be able to sit and listen to the eery sound of the glacier cracking as it moves.
– Kolaportid Flea Market –
Every weekend, there is a flea market in Reykjavik. It is indoors and located near the old harbour. Here you can buy Icelandic delicacies, but remember to bring cash. More information is available here.
– The Sun Voyager –
Along from the Kolaportid flea market, there is the famous sun voyager, which is the symbol of Reykjavik and proudly looks out over the ocean. The artist Jón Gunnar Árnason wanted give the city something that sparked the imagination, inspired dreams and symbolises light and hope.
– Meet an Icelandic Horse –
These friendly, short and shaggy haired horses have been pure bred for over 1000 years. While driving or hiking around the island, you’ll often see the horses in fields. When walking by, they’ll often come over to the fence to say hello.
– Elliðaárdalur Valley –
Nestled within Reykjavik’s city centre you’ll find the Elliðaárdalur valley. Here you can take a stroll along Elliðaá river and enjoy the wildlife running around. Remember to bring your own food and drink with you!
This is definitely one of the most expensive countries that I have visited, but thankfully there are lots of free activities in Iceland.
Is Iceland on your bucket list? If so, are there any things that would stop you visiting here?
I’d love to hear them and help 🙂