Iceland map & itineraries
Make the most of your time
There are a dazzlingly diverse array of places to visit in Iceland. The Westfjords, Snaefellsnes and Porsmork score in the 'wildest' stakes, though grey sand desert and barren mountains in the central highlands have a raw magnificence that attracts hardy hikers. Icy peaks, lonely peninsulas and islands, lakes and waterfalls break up the gentler north hills. The southern plains are home to the so-called Golden Circle – an enclave of geysers, glaciers, hot springs and history near Reykjavik.
The charming 'capital' of north Iceland generates an impressive cosmopolitan buzz for its size (pop: 17,000) – gourmet restaurants, boho cafes, evening bustle and summer festivals. Museums encompass history and art plus antique toys, planes and motorbikes. It's also a good place to witness runtur ('round tour') where young Icelanders drive slowly around bumper to bumper with horns and voices blaring.
Less wild than Westfjords, these still feel remote; their understated drama ripe for exploration on foot or kayak, heading out from tiny fishing villages in the lee of immense mountains. Borgarfjordur is framed by ethereal cliffs, Mjorifjordur is enlivened by multiple waterfalls, while Seydisfjordur's bohemian town offers multicoloured wooden houses and a delightful vibe.
If you don't fancy a multi-day trek, this is a wonderful one-day option. There are several waterfalls – Skogafoss stands out – plus an eerily steaming ash plain left from Eyjafjallajokull's 2010 eruption. Flower-covered stone terraces and a ridge-rimmed valley provide eye-opening contrast. There's also a chance to clamber the still warm lava of the world's two newest mountains, Magni and Modi!
Fjallabak & Katla
Iceland's first Geopark was designated in Fjallabak, and though Bárdarbunga's 2014 eruption grabbed global headlines, vulcanologists eye up the eponymous Katla most warily – long-overdue a cataclysmic eruption. Iceland's most southerly town Vik would probably vanish in ensuing glacial floods, so visit its iconic black strand now to see why it was once voted among the world's most beautiful beaches.
These are Iceland's Badlands – so lunar the Apollo astronauts came to train! But one person's bleak is another's rawly majestic, and this interior massif is a hardcore hiking/biking Mecca, offering lava fields, ice-sculpted caves, Kerlingarfjoll Mountains, and hot springs to ease the challenging Kjolur trail. The Sprengisandur route has a melancholy majesty with tales of ghosts and on-the-run desperadoes.
Just by the Ring Road, this lagoon stops drivers in their tracks to watch ghostly-blue icebergs calve from an offshoot of Vatnajokull, lingering after their crashing arrival. Cruise among the bergs or gaze from jet-black beaches dotted with seals and ice. Cinematographers love it – Tomb Raider, Batman Begins and Die Another Day all shot here (the Bond crew lost six Aston Martins on the frozen lagoon)!
The world's northernmost capital was established by a 9th century Norse chieftain, and crams an enviable cultural scene into a compact slice of urbanity close to the geothermal gems of the Golden Circle. Buildings range from colourful traditional to modernist marvels like the Harpa concert hall. Potter round sculpture-ringed Tjornin Lake, or take a whale watching tour from the picturesque Old Harbour.
The gigantic Snaefellsjokull ice cap featured in Jules Verne's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Eerie volcanic peaks and lava fields, bird-filled sea cliffs and golden beaches cram this 100km peninsula pierced by the islet-dotted Breidafjordur. 19th century Stykkisholmur is a picturesque coastal base with a volcano museum in an old cinema and a stunning futuristic church.
The world's oldest parliament was founded here in 930AD, with edicts proclaimed from Loburg (Law Rock). The natural fissures let visitors watch tectonic plates tear North America and Europe apart. Designated horse and hiking trails are complemented by submerged rifts offering dive sites of astounding visibility, such as Lake Thingvallavatn, an oasis of eco-diversity.
Road tunnels linking once isolated towns opened up this enclave of geo-drama within the gentler northern hills. Take your pick from ski fields, whale watching tours or boats to offshore islands. Man-made attractions include a fjordside hot pool at Hofsos, fine local produce and an evocative museum at Siglufjordur chronicling Iceland's vital herring industry.
Europe's second largest national park, Vatnajökull covers nearly 15 percent of Iceland, its geological cornucopia mixing mighty waterfalls like Dettifoss with rivers fringed by beaches of black ash. Reindeer roam its broad wetlands and expansive ranges, while its eponymous glacier – the world's largest ice cap outside the poles – conceals active volcanoes in a true meeting of ice and fire.
Like giant pincers keeping the Arctic at bay, the Westfjords are Iceland's Rugged Max. Tiny fishing villages clinging to a twisting shoreline are sole riposte to the rule of wild nature. Sweeping beaches adorn the south, slipped between fjords and wave-battered cliffs where seabirds shriek . Spot Arctic fox as you roam the tundra in the hiking and mountain biking heaven of Hornstrandir.
This archipelago includes one of the world's youngest islands – Surtsey, born in fire from the sea in 1963. Only Heimaey is inhabited, its little port set between dunes and volcanoes brooding on a resonant past: a fort built by 15th century English raiders, a mass kidnap by Algerian slavers in 1627, plus the 'Pompeii of the North' – dwellings excavated from lava that covered 300 houses in a 1973 eruption.
Travel times in Iceland
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Iceland.
- Reykjavik – Akureyri: 6 hours by car/bus
- Reykjavik – Vik: 4 hours by car
- Reykjavik – Westfjords (Isafjordur): 50 minutes by air
- Reykjavik – Westfjords (Isafjordur): 6 hours by car
- Landeyjahofn – Heimaey (Westmann Islands): 35 mins by ferry
- Reykjavik – Stykkisholmur: 3 hours by bus