The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. Participants should note that the daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in opening hours, road conditions, flight schedules etc. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents. The tour price includes daily buffet breakfast and 28 meals, indicated in the itinerary where B=buffet breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
During the program, weather permitting, 4 picnic lunches are planned. Knives, forks, spoons, plates and cups will be provided. These lunches are indicated in the itinerary where P*=picnic lunch.
Borgarnes - 1 night
Day 1: Saturday 17 June, Reykjavík – Borgarnes
- Transfer from Keflavik Airport to Borgarnes at 4.30pm.
- Welcome Dinner
Meeting Point: Please meet your group leaders in the Arrival Hall of Keflavik Airport (KEF) at 4.30pm.
We commence the tour with a transfer by coach to Borgarnes, capital of the county of Borgarfjörður, located some 70 kilometres north of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. We will be based at the Hotel Hamar, on the outskirts of Borgarnes, which has fine views of the surrounding countryside. Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner at our hotel. (Overnight Borgarnes) D
Stykkishólmur - 2 nights
Day 2: Sunday 18 June, Borgarnes – Snaefellsnes Peninsula – Stykkishólmur
- The Settlement Centre, Borgarnes
- Hraunfossar (Lava Falls)
- Barnafoss (Children’s Falls)
- Deildartunguver Thermal Spring
- Gerðuberg Basalt Columns, Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- Black Church of Búdir, Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- Arnarstapi Coastal Trail, Snaefellsnes Peninsula
We begin this morning with a visit to the Settlement Centre, which offers fascinating insights into the history of Icelandic settlement and the Saga era. The centre features two main exhibitions. One is devoted to the story of the first Viking settlers in Iceland. The Egil’s Saga exhibition recounts the amazing adventures of Egil Skallagrímsson, who embodied all the contradictions of the Viking age in a single character, as he appears not only as a fighter, but also, unlike medieval English literary images of Viking marauders, also as a trader, farmer and poet.
Departing Borgarnes, we make an excursion to the waterfalls of Hraunfossar and Barnafoss and the thermal area of Deildartunguver. Hraunfossar (Lava Falls) is an intriguing series of springs that issues from the Hallmundarhraun lava flow. The gentle cascades of bright, turquoise water emerge from under the moss-covered lava to tumble down a series of rock shelves into the river over a distance of about 900 metres. In contrast, Barnafoss (Children’s Falls) is far more lively; it was here that two children fell to their deaths when crossing a narrow stone arch that once spanned the river. A modern footbridge now affords an excellent view of the water churning violently as it channels through the ravine below. Deildartunguver, Europe’s largest hot spring, has a very high flow rate (180 litres/second); the temperature of the emerging water is 98°C.
We spend the afternoon exploring the fascinating Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which contains the Snaefellsjökull glacier and was the setting for Jules Verne’s book Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The peninsula is also the main setting of the Laxdaela Saga – one of the most important Icelandic sagas. This saga is unique in medieval Icelandic literature, in that the majority of the central characters are women, suggesting that the author was female. The saga is a heroic tragedy running over several generations, where conflicting loyalties subvert the bonds of family and lead to a blood-feud.
At Gerðuberg we meet with a local geologist and view the impressive ‘natural’ wall of hexagonal basalt columns which range from 7 to 14 metres in height. These cliffs of dolerite, a coarse-grained basalt rock, were formed when flowing lava, cooled by the sea, were solidified in very evenly running columns.
We continue west along the southern coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula for a walk along the white, shell sand beach at the abandoned fishing village of Búdir. Surrounded by a vast lava field, the site features a tiny pitch-black church dating from 1703, and unsurpassed views out over the Atlantic.
The sleepy coastal village of Hellnar was for centuries one of the largest fishing towns beneath the Snaefellsjökull ice-cap. Remnants of fishing sheds built by Hellnar’s 11th-century settlers may still be viewed. The Snæfellsjökull glacier lies atop a 1,446m high stratovolcano that last erupted around 250 AD. The national park, inaugurated in 2001, extends down from the glacier and volcano to cover the entire western tip of Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The cliffs between Hellnar and Arnarstapi constitute a nature reserve and the trail linking the two settlements offers spectacular views including Gatklettur, a magnificent arch extending into the sea. The peculiar Badstofa caves are known for their unique light refraction and colourful interiors. Other natural highlights we shall view include bizarre rock formations in the form of stacks, as well as cliffs swarming with huge colonies of birds.
Following our walk along the Arnarstapi Coastal trail we continue to the fishing village of Stykkishólmur, beautifully situated on the northern side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland. (Overnight Stykkishólmur) BP*D
Day 3: Monday 19 June, Stykkishólmur – Snaefellsnes Peninsula – Stykkishólmur
- Breiðafjörður Bay: Bird & Nature Watching Cruise
- Ólafsvík Maritime Museum
- Bæjarfoss Waterfall
- Bjarnarhöfn Farmstead: Shark Museum & Church
Stykkishólmur is situated on the widest fjord in Iceland, called Breiðafjörður (broad fjord). This fjord is one of the most important areas in the whole of the North Atlantic for birdlife. In addition to the Icelandic breeding birds, thousands of other migratory birds pass through Breiðafjörður on their way from Western Europe to and from their nesting grounds in Greenland and the northern part of Canada. The main reason for such rich birdlife here is an abundance of food, resulting from the interplay of the geography, great differences in tide levels and the sea’s richness. Around 65% of the rocky shores of Iceland and 40% of all mudflats are located in Breiðafjörður.
We shall take a cruise amongst the many islands to see the birdlife – including puffins, eider ducks, shags, kittiwakes, fulmars and the majestic white-tailed sea eagles. During the journey we trawl the ocean bed to bring on board assorted shellfish, crabs and sea stars, and take the opportunity to sample some tasty fresh scallops.
Following lunch at a local restaurant by the harbour, we spend the afternoon exploring sites along the northern coastline of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. From Breiðafjörður Bay we journey west to Ólafsvík village and Bjarnarhöfn farmstead. Ólafsvík is the oldest trading town in the country; it was granted a trading licence in 1687. It has a small aquarium and a maritime museum that contains a fascinating collection of old fishing boats. Overlooking Ólafsvík is the 50-metre high Bæjarfoss waterfall, which we visit.
Bjarnarhöfn farmstead is the leading producer of hákari (putrid shark meat), a traditional Icelandic dish; the small museum deals with the biology of the Greenland shark and the lives of seafarers who risked their lives hunting it. On site there is a private 19th-century wooden church owned by the farmer and his family, with no other parishioners. (Overnight Stykkishólmur) BLD
Vatnsnes Peninsula - 1 night
Day 4: Tuesday 20 June, Stykkishólmur – Haukadalur Valley – Hvammstangi – Vatnsnes Peninsula
- Reconstruction of a 10th-century Viking Longhouse at Eiríksstaðir, Haukadalur Valley
- Icelandic Seal Centre at Hvammstangi and Seal Colonies of the Vatnsnes Peninsula
- Hvítserkur Sea Stack
- Icelandic Horse Show, Gauksmýri Lodge
This morning we journey along the coast of Hvammsfjoður to the Haukadalur valley to visit the remains of the farm of Eiríksstaðir, one of the most historically significant archaeological sites in Iceland. This was the starting point for all westward expansion by the Vikings, first to Greenland and later to the shores of North America. Leif Eríksson (‘Leif the Lucky’) is associated with this site. His father, Erik the Red, founded the colony of Greenland and gave the country its name. Leif was blown off-course on a voyage to Greenland and was probably the first European to land on the American continent at ‘Vine Land’. At Eiríksstaðir archaeologists found the remnants of a 50-square-metre hall dated to 890-980 AD, and, although no timber was unearthed, they did identify doorways clearly marked with stone paving. An evocative reconstruction of Eiríkur’s original longhouse now stands in front of the ruins. Its turf walls, 12 metres long by 4 metres in depth, surround a dirt floor and support a roof made of rafters covered with twigs atop a layer of turf.
We cross the Laxárdalsheiði grassy heathland and continue to Hvammstangi, located on the Vatnsnes Peninsula in Northwest Iceland. This small fishing village is home to the Icelandic Seal Centre, which provides informative exhibits on the region’s harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) – Vatnsnes Peninsula is home to one of the largest seal colonies in Iceland.
Following lunch in an old restored freezing-house by the sea, we continue exploring the Vatnsnes Peninsula whose shores blend wild coastline with fertile grazing land for horses and sheep. On clear days the west side of the peninsula has spectacular views out over the bay towards the needle-sharp peaks of the Strandir Coast. Weather permitting, we take a short walk to view seal colonies, and Hvítserkur – a striking 15-metre high basalt stack rearing up from the waves. The rock has two holes at the base which give it the appearance of a dragon who is drinking.
We end the day with a visit to Gauksmýri Lodge, a horse riding centre located on the Vatnsnes Peninsula. Here we witness a display of horsemanship and learn the history of the Icelandic Horse and its extra – fifth – gait called the Tolt. The history of the Icelandic horse can be traced back to Iceland’s settlement in the late 9th century. Viking settlers brought with them their best horses, most of which were from Germanic stock. The Icelandic horse was renowned in Norse mythology. Several Norse gods owned horses that played major parts in their myths. The most famous of these was Sleipnir, the eight-footed pacer. The influence of the Norse myths can still be seen in Icelandic horsemanship, as many modern riding clubs bear names of mythical horses, as do several horses. According to the Icelandic Sagas, horses played a vital role in warfare. (Overnight Hotel Laugarbakki) BLD
Siglufjörður - 1 night
Day 5: Wednesday 21 June, Vatnsnes Peninsula – Blönduós – Varmahlið – Hólar – Siglufjörður
- Textílsetur Islands (The Icelandic Textile Centre), Blönduós
- Glaumbaer Farm Museum, Varmahlið
- Hamlet of Hólar
Today we journey from Laugarbakki to the port of Siglufjorður. We first visit the Icelandic Textile Centre, located in the the town of Blönduós on the estuary of the Blanda River. The Centre, which aims to promote and develop Icelandic textiles, regularly hosts students from the Iceland Academy of the Arts. Three shared studio spaces include a weaving room and dye room. The Vatnsdælur Tapestry by Jóhanna Palmadóttir, a 46-metre embroidered tapestry that illustrates the local Vatnsdælur Saga, is currently being woven here.
We continue our journey to Varmahlið and on to the famous Glaumbaer Farm Museum, a superbly restored large turf-roofed farmstead. Glaumbaer was founded in the (Viking) Settlement Period, but is now composed of a row of turf-walled, turf-roofed dwellings with painted wood façades; these were inhabited until 1947. Their lop-sided, hobbit-like construction, with wood-framed windows set into their thick grass-covered turf walls, gives them a charmingly rustic appeal but they are also a powerful reminder of the impoverished lives many people led in Iceland before the 20th century.
From here we drive the lovely coastal road through the county of Skagafjoður, which is famous for its horses, and along the Skagafjorður Fjord. We pause at Hólar, the Episcopal See for Northern Iceland, and a cultural and educational centre for almost 7 centuries (1106-1798). Bishop Jón Ögmundsson founded the diocese in 1106 and it soon became one of Iceland’s two main centres of learning; the country’s first printing press was established here in 1530. Today, with a population of around 100 people, this small community is home to the Hólar University College and the Centre for the History of the Icelandic Horse.
In the late afternoon we continue to the town of Siglufjorður. This small settlement sits on a narrow shelf on a deep bay that is surrounded by mountains; until 1946 it could only be reached by sea. Our hotel is located on its shores. (Siglufjorður) BP*D
Akureyri - 1 night
Day 6: Thursday 22 June, Siglufjörður – Akureyri
- Herring Era Museum, Siglufjörður
- The Akureyri Botanical Gardens
- Akureyrarkirkja (The Church of Akureyri)
- Time at leisure in Akureyri
- Laufás Hertiage Site and Museum
When Norwegian fishermen began salting herring in the tiny village of Siglufjörður in 1903 it became the centre of the herring industry that initiated the transformation of Iceland, after a millennium of isolation and poverty, into a modern affluent nation. The industry reached its peak in 1950. Seventeen years later, the herring disappeared and the industry died. We shall visit the Herring Era Museum, a maritime and industrial museum depicting the ‘glory days’ of Iceland’s herring fisheries and industries. The first exhibit, Róaldsbrakki, is a fully-restored 1907 Norwegian-built herring salting station. The second exhibit, Grána, houses a re-built herring oil and meal factory from the 1930s to1950s. The Boathouse, which opened in 2004, contains a recreation of the town’s thriving 1950s harbour with many old fishing boats at the dock.
From Siglufjörður we drive to the capital of the north, Akureyri, situated by the Eyjafjorður (Island Fjord), surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Akureyri (pop. 15,000) is Iceland’s largest town outside Reykjavík. It is famous for its good weather due to the influence of the Gulf Stream and has many well-established trees and gardens.
Our tour of Akureyri includes a visit to the local museum and the most northerly botanical gardens in the world. The gardens include a noteworthy collection of Icelandic flora along with many high-latitude flowers, trees and shrubs from around the world. Note: as an alternative to visiting these sites, weather-permitting, there will be an option (at your expense) to join a whale-watching cruise.
Guðjón Samúelsson, the architect of Reykjavík’s extraordinary Hallgrímskirja (church), also designed the Lutheran Church of Akureyri that towers above the city. Built in 1940 in a distinctive modernist style, the church contains a large 3200-pipe organ and some rather eccentric reliefs of the Life of Christ. There’s also a ship model suspended from the ceiling that reflects an ancient Nordic practice of donating votive offerings for the protection of loved ones at sea. Perhaps the most striking feature, however, is the beautiful central stained-glass window in the chancel.
Following our visit to the church and some time at leisure to explore the town, we visit the heritage site and museum at Laufás. Laufás is mentioned in historical records soon after the settlement of Iceland (874-930) and since the earliest period of Christianity a church has been located there. The site, which includes an old rectory dating from 1840, was home to priests from 1047 until 1935. The farmhouse, which was rebuilt between 1853-1882, is considered to be the prototype of Icelandic architecture, although significantly larger than the ordinary Icelandic farmhouse. It was built to accommodate between 20 and 30 people who were necessary to undertake the various farming activities which included haymaking and the collection of eiderdown. The current buildings are furnished with household items, clothes and utensils from the beginning of the 20th century. One of Laufás characteristics is the Bridal room where brides prepared themselves for the big event. The existing church, built in 1865 features a pulpit dating from 1698. (Overnight Akureyri) BD
Lake Mývatn - 2 nights
Day 7: Friday 23 June, Akureyri – Lake Mývatn
- Goðafoss – ‘Waterfall of the Gods’
- Mývatn Nature Baths
- Sigurgeir Bird Museum
- Time at leisure to explore Lake Mývatn’s nature trail
This morning we journey to Lake Mývatn, set in an area of diverse volcanic activity with examples of all volcanic structures, including a huge explosive crater, Hverfjall, pseudocraters, and Dimmuborgir (‘Dark Castles’), a lava lake drained to expose huge lava stacks. It is a landscape of mountains torn apart by volcanic activity and volcanoes whose old lava flows after many years are still hot. Steam rises from the ground everywhere, including from the tops of mountains. There are hot, bubbling mud pools along with gushing, hissing steam vents; this area sits astride the Continental Rift System.
We begin with a visit to Goðafoss, ‘Waterfall of the Gods’, so named because, according to the Icelandic Saga of Christianity, Thorgeir, a former pagan chieftain, denounced his beliefs by throwing wooden carvings of pagan gods into the falls. Here, the water of the River Skjálfandafljót majestically falls 12 metres from a width of 30 metres.
From Goðafoss we continue to Mývatn for a leisurely soothing dip in the nature baths, in warm thermal waters that are extremely relaxing. We also visit a private bird museum established by Sigurgeir Stefansson. The museum displays about 180 species of birds and more than 300 specimens. Many duck species may be viewed directly in front of the museum, including the Barrow’s goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) whose main breeding habitat in Europe is by Lake Mývatn.
The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure for you to enjoy a leisurely walk around the lake. (Overnight Lake Mývatn) BP*D
Day 8: Saturday 24 June, Lake Mývatn
- Skútustaðir Pseudocraters
- Dimmuborgir (‘Dark Castles’)
- Hverfjall tuff ring volcano
- Námaskarð Hot Bubbling Pools
- Leirhnjúkur Lava Fields & Krafla Caldera
- Stóra-Viti Crater
A pseudocrater looks like a true volcanic crater, but is not. These distinctive landforms are created when flowing hot lava crosses over a wet surface, such as a swamp, a lake, or a pond, causing an explosion of steam through the lava. The explosive gases break through the lava surface in a manner similar to a phreatic eruption, and flying debris builds up crater-like features which can appear very similar to real volcanic craters. Pseudocraters are also known as rootless cones, since they are characterised by the absence of any magma conduit which connects below the surface of the earth.
A classic locality for pseudocraters is the Lake Mývatn area of Northern Iceland that was formed 2,300 years ago by basaltic lava eruption. The lava flowed down the Laxárdalur Valley to the lowland plain of Aðaldalur, where it entered the Arctic Ocean about 50 kilometres away from Mývatn. There was a large lake in the area at the time, a precursor of the present-day Mývatn. When the glowing lava encountered the lake some of the water-logged lake sediment was trapped underneath it. The ensuing steam explosions tore the lava into small pieces which were thrown up into the air, together with some of the lake. Repeated explosions in a number of locations built up groups of pseudocraters, which now dominate the landscape on the shore of Lake Mývatn and also form some of its islands. Led by a local geologiest, we visit a group of such craters at Skútustaðir on the south shore of the lake.
Nearby we visit Dimmuborgir (dimmi ‘dark’, borgir ‘castles’), a large area of unusually shaped lava fields east of Mývatn. The area is composed of various volcanic caves and rock formations, reminiscent of an ancient collapsed citadel (hence the name). Its most distinctive features are contorted crags and pillars reaching 20 metres in height. Dimmuborgir was formed around 2,200 years ago, when molten lava formed a temporary ‘lava lake’ on the site. Eventually the lava found an outlet and drained into Mývatn, but hardened pillars had formed around steam vents (lava finds steam chilling) and were left behind. The surface of the lava lake had half-congealed, and left all kinds of crusty ‘watermarks’ on its way out. In Icelandic folklore, Dimmuborgir is said to connect earth with the infernal regions. In Nordic Christian lore, it is also said that Dimmuborgir is the place where Satan landed when he was cast from the heavens and created the apparent ‘Helvetes katakomber’ which is Norwegian for ‘The Catacombs of Hell’.
From Dimmuborgir we travel to the Hverfjall tephra cone and take a walk up to the crater which is approximately 1 kilometre in diameter. The volcano which erupted 2500 years ago has spread tephra all over the Lake Mývatn area.
If you’ve ever longed to walk upon the barren red terrain of Mars, experiencing Námaskarð will get you close. Situated on the north side of Lake Mývatn, this geothermal wonder of hot sulfuric mud springs and steam springs is otherworldly. Black rivers and bubbling pools of sulfuric mud cut through a landscape that is rich with colourful minerals and is continuously steaming.
Next we view the Krafla Caldera, an active volcanic region consisting of steaming vents, brightly coloured craters and aquamarine lakes. The heart of volcanic activity is known as the Krafla central volcano, but, rather than a cone-shaped peak, Krafla is a largely level system of north-south trending fissures underlaid by a great magma chamber. Krafla itself has been quite active throughout history. It has erupted 29 times; its last eruption was in 1984. In 1724, Krafla began an eruption that lasted for five years. During this eruption, which was called ‘The Mývatn Fires’, lava flowed from an 11-kilometre long fissure until it reached approximately 20 kilometres in length after one year.
Krafla’s most impressive attraction is the colourful Leirhnjúkur crater and its solfataras, which originally appeared in August 1727. It started out as a lava fountain and spouted molten material for two years before subsiding. This is the best place to witness remnants of the 1975 to 1984 eruptions, and may be the most surreal landscape you will ever see. The earth’s crust here is extremely thin and in places the ground is ferociously hot. (** This walk is mostly on level ground and it takes about 40 minutes to reach the lava field. At this point care should be taken when walking through the lava. Stopping to explore and take photos, we shall take a total time of just under 2 hours.)
We end our day with a visit to Stóra-Víti, a steep-sided explosion crater, formed by the 1724 eruption, with a blue-green lake at the bottom. A trail circles the rim and descends on the far side to an interesting hot spring area. (Overnight Lake Mývatn) BLD
Egilsstaðir, East, Iceland - 2 nights
Day 9: Sunday 25 June, Lake Mývatn – Husavik – Egilsstaðir
- Church of Husavik
- Ásbyrgi Canyon, Vatnajökull National Park
- Hljóðaklettar (Echoing Rocks), Jökulsárgljúfur National Park
- Dettifoss Waterfall, Jökulsá Canyon National Park
- Moon-like landscapes of Möðrudalur
We leave the Mývatn area, and journey around the Tjörnes Peninsula, stopping at Husavik to see the lovely church, before reaching Ásbyrgi Canyon, a horseshoe-shaped depression located in the Vatnajökull National Park. It measures approximately 3.5 kilometres in length and 1.1 kilometres across. For more than half of its length the canyon is divided through the middle by a distinctive rock formation 25 metres high, called Eyjan (‘the Island’), which offers spectacular views. One hundred metre high cliffs rise steeply from woodlands of birch and willow on the canyon floor. Ásbyrgi Canyon was most likely formed by cataclysmic glacial flooding of the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum after the last Ice Age. Floods occurred some 10,000 years ago and recurred some 3,000 years ago. The river has since changed its course and now runs about 2 kilometres to the east. A legend explains the unusual shape and origin of the canyon differently. Nicknamed ‘Sleipnir’s Footprint’, it is said that the canyon was formed when Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, touched one of its feet to the ground here. (**The Ásbyrgi walk: this is leisurely, through birch and wild geraniums; 30 minutes there and 30 minutes back, with stops for photos etc. The walk includes steps down to the pool area, and steps with rail up to the viewing platform – not difficult.)
Weather permitting, we shall enjoy a picnic lunch at the echo rocks at Hljóðaklettar. Here we may view spectacular patterns of crystallised basalt – spirals, circles, twists, and hefty basalt blocks. The rocks are the vestigial cones of volcanoes, most of which have been eroded down to the hard plugs of crystallised basalt that closed off their flows. The sound of the turbulent glacial Jökulsá á Fjöllum River, the second longest river in Iceland, echoes among the pinnacles. (**Hloðaklettur: the walk to the basaltic areas takes 40 minutes. From there, those who are sure-footed can take a more difficult walk with the driver and assistant guide, while others explore this area at a more leisurely pace.)
This afternoon we view Europe’s largest waterfall, the mighty Dettifoss. The Jökulsá Canyon National Park surrounds the 25km long gorge of the Jökulsá River, a powerful glacial torrent, which has its source on the northern edge of Vatnajökull. The park’s vast waterfalls continue to cut back and lengthen the gorge. The largest, Dettifoss, which we will visit, is 45 metres high. Though far from being the highest in Iceland, this is undisputedly the country’s most impressive fall, possibly the most powerful in Europe. The gorge below is densely wooded in places. It supports interesting flora including several orchids, serrated wintergreen, the rare Paris-herb (lover’s knot) and fungi, including the edible Boletus caber. This is also one of the best places in Iceland to see gyrfalcons that prey on the park’s ptarmigan (grouse). (**Dettifoss: the walk to the falls takes 40 minutes there and 40 minutes back, plus stopping for photos, etc. The path, which follows level ground amongst boulders, leads down to the edge of the falls, which is wet because of the spray. Overall the walk is not too difficult; remember to bring a light waterproof jacket for the spray.)
In the late afternoon we journey across moon-like landscapes, such as Möðrudalur, where Neil Armstrong and his crew spent 6 months training for the moon landing.
We continue to Fljótsdalur Valley, location of Lake Lagarfljót and the city of Egilsstaðir. Here we spend the first of two nights at Egilsstaðahusið, a lovely farm hotel that stands on the shores of the lake. As in the case of Loch Ness, locals believe a huge serpent called Lagarfljótsormurinn lives in its depths. (Overnight Guesthouse Egilsstaðir) BP*D
Day 10: Monday 26 June, Egilsstaðir – Seyðisfjorður – Fljótsdalur – Egilsstaðir
- Scenic Route 93 from Egilsstaðir to Seyðisfjorður
- Ferry port town of Seyðisfjorður
- Historic site of Skriðuklaustur, Fljótsdalur
Today we take the scenic Route 93 from Egilsstaðir, climbing to a high pass then descending along the waterfall rich river Fjarðará to the ferry port of Seyðisfjorður. Our drive affords wonderful views of Egilsstaðir and Lake Lagarfljót.
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the picturesque town of Seyðisfjorður, with its many splendid multi-coloured old timber houses, is the most historically and architecturally interesting town in East Iceland. We shall view a number of the town’s wooden buildings such as the warehouses by the harbour, Seyðisfjorður school, the town’s oldest home, Nóatún (1871), and the pretty, pale blue church which was built in 1922 using timber rescued from a previous 19th-century church that was blown off its foundations.
Our day includes a buffet lunch at Skriðuklaustur. This historic site contains the ruins of the last medieval monastery founded in Iceland (1493). Icelandic cloisters were either Augustinian or Benedictine; Skriðuklaustur monastery is commonly thought to have belonged to the Augustinian Order. All of Iceland’s nine medieval cloisters were dissolved during the Lutheran Reformation.
The site also contains the former stone farmstead (built in 1939) of author Gunnar Gunnarsson. Often considered one of the most important Icelandic writers, he wrote the novel Af Borgslægtens Historie (Guest the One-Eyed) and the autobiographical novel The Church on the Mountain (1923-28). (Overnight Egilsstaðir) BLD
Skálafell - 2 nights
Day 11: Tuesday 27 June, Egilsstaðir – Djúpivogur – Skálafell
- Full day exploring the Eastern Fjords
- Teigarhorn Natural Monument and Nature Reserve
From Egilsstaðir we take the coastal road that weaves around the eastern fjords to the small fishing village of Djúpivogur, located on a scenic spit of land jutting out into the Berufjörður Fjord.
Just before reaching Djúpivogur we visit the Teigarhorn Natural Monument and Nature Reserve which is a world-famous site for zeolites. Here, zeolites are found in hollows and crevices in the rock, coming to light when wave action breaks rock out of cliff faces. In geological terms, the zeolite formations at Teigarhorn are connected to dikes extending from the main volcano that was active more than 10 million years ago. Local merchants and others used to gather rocks indiscriminately here and sell samples around the world. However, in 1976 Teigarhorn was declared a natural monument and consequently the natural formations are now strictly protected. Examples of zeolite crystals may be viewed at the small farm museum. There is also a lovely short walking trail around the coast which is ideal for birdwatching.
After lunch at Framtið Restaurant, which overlooks Djúpivogur’s harbour, our journey continues down the coast during which we may catch our first glimpse of Europe’s largest glacier – Vatnajökull (jökull means ‘glacier’ in Icelandic). We also pass the port of Höfn, famous for its lobsters, and arrive at our hotel, to enjoy the vast choice of food on its famous buffet. (Overnight Skálafell) BLD
Day 12: Wednesday 28 June, Skálafell – Vatnajökull – Jökulsárlón – Skálafell
- Snow Cat across Vatnajökull Glacier
- The Þórbergur Centre
- Breiðárlón Glacial Lagoon
- Jökulsárlón Beach: Crystal Icebergs and Black Lava Sands
- Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon: Duck Boat amongst the Icebergs
Vatnajökull (2110m) is the largest glacier in Iceland and the largest glacial mass in Europe. It covers an area of between 8100 and 8300 square kilometres, and is about one kilometre thick at its thickest point; average thickness is 400-500 metres. The total ice volume of Vatnajökull is around 3,300 cubic kilometres. In 2008, Vatnajökull and its magnificent surroundings were declared a national park. Two existing national parks, Skaftafell in the south and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north, as well as several nature reserves, were integrated into the newly established Vatnajökull National Park, thereby creating the largest national park in Europe; it covers 13% of Iceland. The park boasts a stunning variety of landscape features.
This morning we travel by 4 x 4 jeep to the top of Vatnajökull and take a snow cat across the glacier. The spectacular ride up to the glacier offers sweeping views down into the valleys and over the North Atlantic Ocean.
Following an early buffet lunch in a ski hut on top of the glacier, we descend and drive to the The Þórbergur Centre, containing an exhibition dedicated to the great writer Þórbergur Þórðarson (1888-1974). An ironist, satirist, volatile critic, and ground-breaking achiever in experimental auto-fiction, Þórbergur arguably remains among Iceland’s most beloved 20th century authors. The centre occupies a prominent purpose-built site featuring a row of two metre-high book spines that line the side of the building.
The remainder of the afternoon is devoted to visiting the Breiðárlón and Jökulsárlón glacial lagoons. From the centre we continue further along the coast, where at the south end of Vatnajökull, we first visit Breiðárlón, a land-locked glacial lagoon.
At Jökulsárlón Beach we view some of the marooned glistening blocks of ice, which have been carried down from the lagoon by tidal currents and now lie stranded on the black lava sands. While the ocean has melted some of the icebergs away, many of the ones that wash ashore have been beautifully sculptured by the wind and water, appearing like sparkling jewels in a vast desert.
We end our day with a visit to the breathtaking Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, filled with icebergs. The lagoon was formed by global warming a mere 60 years ago as the Breiðamerkurjökull (a branch of the larger Vatnajökull) began to retreat. At one time, the glacier reached the sea, but as the ice began to melt more rapidly, chunks of ice broke off (known as calving) and as they fell, a lagoon was formed.
We take an excursion by duck boat to view icebergs of white, black, blue and turquoise colours sparkling in the lagoon. Although colourless themselves, icebergs pick up the reflections of particles in the water, ice and their surroundings. The ones in Jökulsárlón have a special ash lining due to the surrounding volcanoes. It makes for a very dramatic effect!
Jökulsárlón is also one of the favourite places of the skuas or big seagulls. They are often seen during the summer where they build nests on the dunes around the area. There is also a notorious nesting ground of Artic terns. (Overnight Skálafell) BLD
Vík - 2 nights
Day 13: Thursday 29 June, Skálafell – Skaftafell – Kirkjubaejarklaustur – Dyrhólaey Promontory – Vík
- Svartafoss (Black Falls), Skaftafell National Park
- Skaftafell National Park Visitors Centre and Video
- Skaftafellsjökull Glacial Tongue
- Kirkjubaæjarklaustur: Video of the Laki Eruption
- Eldhraun Lava Field
- Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Reynisdrangar Basalt Sea Stacks, Reynir Basalt Columns and Cave
- Atlantic Puffins, Coastal Bird Sanctuary of Dyrhólaey
This morning we continue to the Skaftafell National Park where we take a walk to the park’s main attraction, Svartafoss (Black Falls), a 20-metre high waterfall surrounded by magnificent dark hexagonal basalt columns. (**Svartifoss: the walk to the falls and basalt columns takes approximately 40 mins there and 40 mins back, plus stopping for photos etc.)
Next we visit the park’s Visitors Centre where the story of fire and ice is told, including the way in which volcanoes and glaciers have formed the surrounding topography and the effects of eruptions and glacial outburst floods on the daily lives of people.
After lunch there will be an option to take one of Skaftafell’s shortest walks which runs from the Visitor Centre to the front of Skaftafellsjökull itself. This is an easy thirty-minute walk through low scrub around the base of yellow cliffs. The woods end at a pool and stream formed from glacial meltwater, beyond which stretch ice-shattered shingle and the glacier’s 4m-high front. From here you can appreciate how much the glacier has retreated in recent times, a concerning example of how climate change is steadily affecting the glaciers.
From Skaftafell National Park we continue to the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (‘church farm cloister’), a former site of a 12th-century convent. Here we view a short film on the Laki eruptions. Lakagígar (Laki Craters) is a series of craters that were formed in one of the world’s largest mixed eruptions in recorded history. Now referred to as the ‘Fires of the River Skaftá’, this continuous series of eruptions emitted a vast quantity of lava and substantial amounts of volcanic ash from a fissure stretching 25 kilometres across the area west of the ice cap. The first eruption began on 8 June 1783 at the southwest end of the fissure. Lava flowed across the flat land destroying a large number of farms, stopping just outside the small town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur on 20 July. The northeast part of the fissure then erupted. From 29 July until well into October, lava flowed along the course of the River Hverfisfljót and across the countryside on both banks. Although volcanic activity then began to subside, the eruption was not finally over until February 1784. The largest crater in the row is a small tuff mountain called Laki, which stands in the middle of the fissure. The total area of the resulting lava field is 565km² and the estimated volume of volcanic material is over 12 kilometres cubed. The Laki eruptions devastated the island’s agriculture, killing much of its livestock. It is estimated that perhaps a quarter of Iceland’s population died through the ensuing famine. The Laki eruption created a haze of dust and sulphur particles over much of the northern hemisphere, over Norway, the Netherlands, the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, North America and even Egypt. Ships remained moored in many ports, effectively fogbound. Crops were affected as the fall-out from the continuing eruption coincided with an abnormally hot summer. The eruption is now thought to have disrupted the Asian monsoon cycle, prompting famine in Egypt. Environmental historians have also pointed to the disruption caused to the economies of northern Europe, where starvation was a major factor in the build-up to the French Revolution (1789).
We continue south to Vík, taking a scenic route through extensive lava fields covered in thick layers of moss. The vast Eldhraun lava field (Fire Lava), was created during the 1783 eruption of Laki. The southern coast of Iceland is among the most beautiful and dramatic parts of the island state. It is also one of the least hospitable areas, dominated by washed-out sand and lava flows, and an exposed coastline with no natural harbours for hundreds of kilometres west of Höfn. Inevitably given its location, it was the first part of Iceland that many travellers came to, including the very first Norse settler, Ingolf Arnarson.
On arrival we explore the coastline between Vík and the rocky headland of Dyrhólaey. The beach at Vík is composed entirely of black basalt sand deposited by the nearby Katla Volcano. Here we may view the Reynisdrangar basalt sea stacks that lie just offshore. Legend has it that the stacks originated when two trolls unsuccessfully attempted to drag a ship to shore; they were caught by the sunlight at dawn and turned into needles of rock. We also view the nearby basalt columns and cave at Reynir.
Iceland forms the breeding ground of about 60% of the world’s Atlantic puffins. We shall explore the small Dyrhólaey Peninsula; in summer puffins nest on its cliff faces. The best time to spot a puffin is in the morning (7am-10am) or evening (6pm-10pm) since they are out fishing during the day. Many other nesting birds make Dyrhólaey their summer home, including fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, gannets and seagulls. The views from the top of this 120-metre high peninsula are breathtaking. In front of the peninsula we may view the gigantic black arch of lava standing in the sea, which gave the peninsula its name (‘hill-island with the door-hole’).
We spend two nights at Hotel Dyrhólaey, located 9 kilometres from the village of Vík. (Overnight Vík) BLD
Day 14: Friday 30 June, Vík – Landeyjahöfn – Vestmannaeyjar – Seljalandsfoss – Vík
- Sailing from Landeyjarhöfn harbour to Vestmannaeyjar
- Eldheimar – Museum of Remembrance, Vestmannaeyjar
- Heimaey Circle: Boat Tour
This morning we take a half-hour ferry ride from Landeyjarhöfn harbour to Vestmannaeyjar (The Westman Islands), an archipelago consisting of fifteen islands and numerous rock stacks and skerries. The islands were formed by submarine volcanoes around 11,000 years ago, except for Surtsey, the archipelago’s newest addition, which rose from the waves in 1963. Surtsey was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, but its unique scientific status means that it is not possible to land there, except for scientific study.
The biggest island, called Heimaey, is home to the town Vestmannaeyjarbær with approximately 4,000 inhabitants. The other islands are uninhabited. Vestmannaeyjar came to international attention in 1973 with the eruption of Eldfell volcano, which destroyed many buildings and forced a months-long evacuation of the entire population to mainland Iceland.
On arrival at the historic Heimaey harbour, we visit the Eldheimar Museum of Remembrance whose exhibition focuses on the 1973 volcanic eruption in Vestmannaeyjar and the Surtsey eruption of 1963.
After lunch we take a one-and-half hour boat tour to view the newly formed volcanic island of Surtsey and other islands of the archipelago. Among the special features of the islands is the spectacular lava coastline which features basalt columns, picturesque coves, grottos and deep bird cliffs. All of Iceland’s seabirds can be found in Vestmannaeyjar: the guillemot, gannet, kittiwake, Iceland gull, and puffin. The puffin is the most plentiful species (around 10 million birds come here to breed) and is the Vestmannaeyjar emblem. More than 30 species of birds nest in their millions in the cliffs and grassy ledges, and other species make irregular appearances. Seals, small types of whale (which can be seen on occasions) and other marine species are also present in large numbers around the islands.
Late-afternoon we return by ferry to Landeyjarhöfn and take a short walk to view Seljalandfoss, one of the best-known waterfalls in Iceland. Here the glacier-fed River Seljalandsá leaps from the lip of a 60-metre-high cliff. (**Seljalandfoss: a very short walk. It is possible to follow a path behind the waterfall, however the trail is wet and slippery; recommended only for those who are sure-footed). (Overnight Vík) BLD
Reykjavík - 3 nights
Day 15: Saturday 1 July, Vík – Skógar – Friðheimar – Skálholt – Reykjavík
- Skógafoss (Wood Falls), Skógar
- Skógar Folk Museum
- LAVA – Iceland Volcano & Earthquake Centre, Hvolsvöllur
- Lunch at Friðheimar Thermal Greenhouse
- Historic Skálholt
We begin with a visit to Skógafoss, a waterfall situated on the Skógá River rolling over the cliffs of a former coastline. After this coastline receded seaward 5 kilometres from Skógar, the former sea cliffs remained, running parallel to the coast for hundreds of kilometres creating, together with a number of mountains, a precise border between the coastal lowlands and Iceland’s highlands. Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 25 metres and a drop of 60 metres. A single or double rainbow usually appears on sunny days, in the waterfall’s extensive spray.
Nearby, in the village of Skógar, we visit the wonderful Folk Museum which depicts traditional life in Iceland. The museum includes a huge variety of tools and implements used for fishing and farming, as well as artefacts dating back to the Viking age. There is also an open-air museum containing a number of reconstructed turf houses, and a museum of transport that tells the story of technology and transportation and its development in Iceland in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Next, we visit the new state-of-the-art Lava Centre. Opened in June 2017, the centre provides an interactive, high-tech educational exhibition depicting volcanic activity, earthquakes and the creation of Iceland over millions of years. Located in the town of Hvolsvöllur, the centre lies in the shadow of three of the country’s most prominent volcanoes, Katla, Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull. The latter became a household name in 2010 when it released an ash cloud that shut down European air space. The three volcanoes are visible from Lava’s 360-degree viewing platform, one of the highlights of the centre. Exhibits includes an earthquake simulator (equivalent to 4 on the Richter scale), an artificial smoke cloud, and an impressive 12-metre high structure simulating the mantle plume and the magma flow underneath the country.
From Hvolsvöllur we continue north for lunch at Fridheimar, a 5,000-square-metre greenhouse that cultivates delicious tomatoes year-round in an environmentally friendly way. After a lunch of Friðheimar tomato soup we learn how this family-owned business uses heat from the nearby hot geothermal water (95°C).
Skálholt is a historical site located by the river Hvitá. From 1056 until 1785, it was one of Iceland’s two episcopal sees, along with Hólar, making it a cultural and political centre. The first cathedral was constructed in the 12th century; altogether there have been ten wooden churches built here. The present memorial Cathedral, built between 1956 and 1963, features the Bible of bishop Guðbrandur, called ‘Guðbrandsbiblía’ in Icelandic. Published in 1584, this is the first edition of the Icelandic Bible and one of the few remaining copies still in its original bindings. (Overnight Reykjavík) BLD
Day 16: Sunday 2 July, Reykjavík: The Golden Circle Route
- Þingvellir (Thingvelir) National Park: Parliament Plains & Rift Valley marking the Mid-Atlantic Ridge & Rift Valley Lake
- Gullfoss (Golden Waterfalls)
- Great Geysir & Strokkur Geyser, Haukadalur Geothermal Valley
Today we drive north from Reykjavík to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. Boasting UNESCO World Heritage-listed status, Thingvellir is one of the best places to view the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as it crosses Iceland. This predominantly submarine ridge running along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean traverses the globe from north to south for more than 45,000kms. The ridge is the longest and the most extensive chain of mountains on earth, but being located underwater, more than 90% of this mountain range remains hidden from view. At Thingvellir, the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates (now moving at a rate of about 2.5cm per year) can clearly be seen in the cracks or faults that traverse the region. Over the past 10,000 years the Thingvellir Rift Valley has widened by 70m and sunk by 40m. Not only did this mid-ocean ridge create Iceland, it is also constantly changing its topography. As the two tectonic plates shift, fissures periodically form in the crust that allow molten rock from underground to surface as lava, creating Iceland’s many volcanoes.
Among the dikes, faults, fissures, rivers and a sprawling, trout-filled lake, Iceland’s Viking settlers established, in 930 AD, the Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of the island. An Icelandic flag designates the spot where the speaker would announce parliament’s new laws, including Iceland’s conversion from Norse paganism to Christianity in 1000 AD; the surrounding basalt cliff amplified the voices of the speakers. Remains of the Althing include fragments of around 50 booths built from turf and stone. The site is also significant for the archaeological evidence of agricultural use over the centuries, providing an insight into the way the landscape was husbanded for 1000 years. A new visitor centre provides information about this evocative site, a prominent presence in the Icelandic Sagas.
Traversing a walkway, fringed on one side by a sheer fault wall of volcanic basalt and on the other by a grassy meadow, we view Iceland’s largest natural lake, fed with pure glacial water from the Langjokull ice cap. We shall also see an idyllic wooden church, first consecrated in the 11th century (rebuilt 1859), and a neighbouring farmhouse, constructed in 1930 to mark the 1000th anniversary of the Althingi’s inauguration. Thingvellir is associated with a rich corpus of eerie myths, legends and gruesome tales.
Next, we continue to Gullfoss, which forms part of the 300-kilometre ‘Golden Circle’ route that retraces the settings of the Viking Sagas, with some of the country’s most striking waterfalls as well as magnificent geysers along the way.
Gullfoss (Golden Falls), formed by a canyon on the Hvítá River (White River), is undoubtedly the most spectacular waterfall in Iceland. Early in the 20th century locals saved Gullfoss from being turned into a hydroelectric plant. The winding river flows down a succession of three great shelves before abruptly plummeting down two shelves. The first, 11-metre drop is followed by another of 21 metres. The water flow twists abruptly through a 90° angle, the two falls being at right angles to each other. The final drop is into a magnificent crevice, 32 metres deep. The two-tiered waterfall is 2.5km long. To view the falls, we shall take the walkway up to the viewing decks. (**Gullfoss: the walk is along planked paths to a bird’s eye view platform, with steps leading down, all with banisters. The unmade track leading down to the edge of the falls can be wet, due to the spray from the waterfall, but most people can do this easily.)
We continue along the famous ‘Golden Circle’ to the geothermally active Haukadalur Valley, the location of the ‘Great Geysir’ from which all the world’s spouting hot springs take their name. The English word ‘geyser’ derives from the Icelandic word ‘geysir’ meaning ‘gusher’. Scholars believe this geyser was created around the end of the 13th century when a series of strong earthquakes, accompanied by a devastating eruption of Mt Hekla, hit the geothermal valley of Haukadalur. It spouted regularly every third hour or so up to the beginning of the 19th century and thereafter progressively at much longer intervals until it completely stopped in 1916. (**Great Geysir: the walk is not difficult; all on flat ground, and not far from the coach parking site.)
A hundred metres south of the Great Geysir we visit the Strokkur (‘The Churn’), another geyser, which erupts every 5-10 minutes; its white column of boiling water can reach a height of up to 30 metres. The whole area sits on a vast boiling cauldron. Belching sulphurous mud pools of unusual colours, hissing steam vents, hot and cold springs, warm streams, and primitive plants, are all found here. (Overnight Reykjavík) BLD
Day 17: Monday 3 July, Reykjavík
- City Orientation Tour: Hallgrímskirkja, City Hall & The Settlement Exhibition
- Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre (exterior only)
- National Museum of Iceland
- Time at leisure
- Farewell Dinner at the Kolabrautin Restaurant
This morning we take an orientation tour of Reykjavík visiting the Hallgrímskirja, Town Hall Settlement Exhibition and the National Museum of Iceland. We also view the exterior of Reykjavík’s sparkling Harpa concert hall and cultural centre. Designed by Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects, Icelandic firm Batteríið Architects, and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, Harpa opened in 2011.
The Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran (Church of Iceland) parish church, is the largest church in Iceland. It is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674), author of the Passion Hymns – Iceland’s most popular hymnbook. State architect Guðjón Samúelsson designed the building (completed 1986) to resemble the lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. Its interior includes an eye-catching vast 5275-pipe organ installed in 1992.
Opened in 1992, The Reykjavík City Hall is an impressive building located on the north shore of Lake Tjörnin. Boldly modern, this impressive building, with planted walls, was designed to attract birdlife to the centre of town. In the exhibition hall is a huge 3D topographical map of Iceland, providing a unique perspective of the entire island with its many volcanoes, mountains, craters, fjords and glaciers.
One of the things that makes the island state unique in Europe is that Icelanders know the year the first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson, came to Iceland from Norway. The Icelandic script, Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders), written by Ari the Wise, tells of the first explorers who landed here. Three previous expeditions had touched the shores of Iceland, but many believe that the first men who arrived in order to settle permanently were Ingólfur and Hjörleifur (874 AD). Hjörleifur was killed by his slaves, which left only Ingólfur and his wife Hallgerdur Fródadóttir. They are believed to have settled on land now occupied by Reykjavík. The excavation in the city centre of the remains of a building of around 871AD seems to to confirm this story.
The Settlement Exhibition is a fascinating archaeological ruin/museum based around the 10th-century Viking longhouse unearthed here from 2001 to 2002, and other settlement-era finds from central Reykjavík. Since Ingólfur is thought to have arrived here in 874 AD, the remains found on Aðalstræti are considered to be one of the very earliest traces of human occupation anywhere in Iceland. Among the interesting hi-tech displays are interactive multimedia tables explaining the area’s excavations, a wrap-around panorama showing how things would have looked at the time of the longhouse, and a panel that allows you to steer through different layers of the longhouse construction. Artefacts range from great awk bones to fish oil lamps and an iron axe. The latest finds from ancient workshops near the current Alþingi include a spindle whorl inscribed with runes. The original building seems a place where Icelandic archaeology, history and myth coalesce.
The National Museum of Iceland displays state-of-the-art exhibitions on the cultural history of Iceland. The permanent exhibition, ‘Making of a Nation – Heritage and History of Iceland’, gives a comprehensive picture of Iceland’s cultural history from the days of Viking settlements to the 21st century. The main exhibition has over 2000 artefacts discovered in various parts of the country. In pride of place amongst the museum’s many treasures is the Valthjófsstadur door, featuring elaborate medieval engravings depicting scenes from the legendary 12th century chivalric tale Le Chevalier au Lion.
The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure for you to explore Reykjavík’s compact city centre. Our last night in Iceland is celebrated with a dinner at Kolabrautin, a modern restaurant located on the fourth floor of the Harpa Concert Hall and offering a magnificent view of the Reykjavík harbour. (Overnight Reykjavík) BLD
Day 18: Tuesday 4 July, Tour Ends in Reykjavík
- Transfer to Keflavik Airport (time to be advised)
Our tour ends in Reykjavík. A group transfer to the Keflavik Airport will be arranged in the early morning (departure time to be advised). B