Discover Hidden Corners & Highlights as We Circle This Nordic Realm of Fire & Ice
Day 1: Reykjavik, Iceland
Arrive at Keflavik International Airport, where you're met on arrival. A private 45-minute transfer takes you into Iceland’s compact capital. Both casual and sophisticated, Reykjavik is the heart of Iceland's cultural, economic and governmental activity and is among the cleanest and greenest cities in the world. The first permanent Norse settlement in Iceland was established here in the 9th century, though today's city dates to the late 18th century when it developed as a trading town.
Our Expedition Leader meets you at our hotel this morning, although many guests prefer to arrive a day early, to rest up or explore more of Reykjavik and the Golden Circle on their own. At 11 am, we depart for a half-day regional tour, accompanied also by a local guide. Following the coastline, we stop for a traditional crayfish lunch in the small town of Stokkseyri, founded in 900 AD by Viking settlers and known for its broad seashores and breaking waves. Continuing westward along the Reykjanes Peninsula, traverse fields of jagged black lava as we learn about Iceland’s dramatic geology in the very rift zone where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia meet. In the Krisuvik geothermal area, a guided walk reveals bubbling mud pools and sulfuric steam rising from the ground. We also visit a local Icelandic horse park to meet and learn about this special breed on a tour of the barn and equestrian facility. Our loop drive is complete as we return to Reykjavik. Dinner this evening features Icelandic specialties at a charming local restaurant, built as a ship owner’s house in 1834.
Day 2: Exploring the Westfjords
From Reykjavik’s domestic airport, we fly north to Isafjordur this morning, with aerial views of Iceland's indented coastline and glacier-carved interior. Originally settled in the 9th century, Isafjordur became a trading post for foreign merchants in the 16th century and today is the main town in the remote Westfjords in far-northwest Iceland. The sheer isolation of this region has kept it off the traditional tourist circuit. Our focus is the wild hinterlands, which we explore on an all-day jeep tour, stopping for walks, photos and a picnic lunch. At Onundarfjordur, we observe the rich birdlife
in the marshlands and shallow estuary at the head of the fjord. Continue driving to the village of Thingeyri and beyond, transitioning to dirt track around the Fjallaskagi Peninsula. Our high-clearance 4WD vehicles are essential for negotiating this rugged terrain as we circumnavigate the highest mountains in the area. Keep an eye out for Arctic fox, often seen in this region, and look for pieces of petrified trees sticking out of the rocks alongside the narrow road, remnants of a much warmer climate thousands of years ago. On the return journey, time permitting, we may stop at the oldest botanical garden in Iceland, Skrudur, established in 1909.
Day 3: Vigur Island—Whale Watching / Isafjordur
From Isafjordur we reach Vigur Island via a short private boat ride. This small island is home to thousands of seabirds including puffins, Arctic terns, black guillemot and especially eider ducks, the source of precious down from which the island’s resident family makes its living, collecting feathers during the spring and summer and cleaning and drying them during the winter. Just a handful of people inhabit the tiny island, and we’ll have lunch in one of their homes. You can also send a postcard here from Europe’s smallest post office. Our Westfjords boat tour continues as we head deeper into the intricate fjord system, searching for humpback and minke whales. We make a landing at Mongufoss waterfall, with an opportunity to walk up the rocky path for a close-up view where it plummets over a sheer basalt cliff.
Day 4: Lonafjordur Fjord / Hesteyri / Isafjordur
This morning we travel by boat to see the harbor seal colony in Lonafjordur Fjord, then visit the abandoned village of Hesteyri. Nearly a hundred people once lived in this small settlement established in the early 1900s, but the last inhabitants made a collective decision to move away in the 1950s, finding life without roads or electricity ultimately too daunting. Today their descendants maintain many of the old houses as summer homes, and we stop for coffee and pancakes in the Doctor’s House. We’ll also walk to the nearby ruins of a Norwegian whaling station that was abandoned in the early 20th century. Returning to Isafjordur, we savor dinner tonight at the Tar House restaurant, renowned for its fish stew and fresh Icelandic seafood. From our centrally located hotel, it's easy to walk around downtown this evening, too, in the lingering light of Iceland's long summer days.
Day 5: Akureyri / Husavik / Oxarfjordur / Asbyrgi Canyon
Fly today from Isafjordur via Reykjavik to Akureyri
on Iceland’s north coast, saving a full day of overland travel on very winding roads. From here, we drive to Husavik, then round the tip of Tjornes Peninsula to Oxarfjordur Bay, as close to the Arctic Circle as we will get during our time in Iceland. If this parallel at 66’ 33” north were
a visible line, we would see it from here. Next, we visit Hjodaklettar, or Echo Rocks, inside vast Vatnajokull National Park. This distinctive geological formation is a cluster of basalt columns that lie at varying angles, reverberating sound with striking clarity. Around the area is a labyrinth of caves, rock castles
and lava rosettes, developed when the lava stream forming the columns cools from all sides simultaneously. After an easy hike in the area, continue to Asbyrgi Canyon, covered in a birch and willow woodland and walled by 300-foot cliffs.
Day 6: Lake Myvatn / Dettifoss / Modrudalur
Depart early this morning for Lake Myvatn, formed during a massive eruption 2,300 years ago. The region is still a site of geothermal activity, with fresh lava flows coming from the most recent eruption of Krafla volcano in 1984. One of the premier birdwatching
areas in the world, Lake Myvatn’s marshes provide habitat for huge numbers of migratory birds during the summer. More than 115 species have been sighted at the lake, including 13 species of nesting ducks. Numerous lava formations are found in and around the shallow lake, and we explore the pseudocraters of Skutustadir on a short hike. These phenomena are formed when lava flows over wet ground, pushing it down and trapping steam. As the pressure mounts, steam explosions create these fascinating "false craters." We’ll also walk among the Dimmuborgir ("dark fortress") rock formations, an evocative site of volcanic caves and black lava pillars reminiscent of a ruined castle.
This afternoon we visit the Hverarond geothermal area, an otherworldly setting of noisy steam vents, bubbling mud, cracked earth and pungent sulphur
. Then, witness the power of Dettifoss, Iceland’s largest waterfall by volume. This thundering curtain of water, 330 feet wide and 150 high, is fed by the giant Vatnajokull glacier, largest in Iceland. Driving into the highlands, we reach our small family-run accommodation at Modrudalur. Though the guest house is simple, it allows us easy access to Askja Volcano for our 4x4 adventure tomorrow.
Day 7: Askja Volcano Super Jeep Tour / Holuhraun Lava Flow / Modrudalur
This morning we set out for a thrilling tour to Askja Volcano in Super Jeeps. These large 4x4 vehicles have been modified with big tires and extra shock absorption to provide a more comfortable ride over offroad
terrain, allowing us to penetrate deep into Iceland’s central highlands. First, we'll hike in Drekagil (Dragon) Canyon, then explore the massive Askja Caldera, formed when the volcano erupted in 1875. Lake Askja, which fills part of the caldera, is one of the deepest lakes in Iceland at nearly 700 feet. The caldera contains several overlapping craters with active volcanoes beneath, including Viti, which warms a sulphuric blue-green crater lake—the more adventurous among our ranks may even opt for a dip in the tepid water! In the afternoon we drive on to Holuhraun, a large lava field just north of the Vatnajökull ice cap. We have a chance to walk atop
the newly formed lava, created through fissure eruptions in 2014-15 when molten orange lava spewed hundreds of feet in the air through cracks in the earth’s surface. The eruption was one of the largest in Iceland’s recent history, covering 33 square miles.
Day 8: Eastfjords / Hofn
Rounding Iceland’s northeast side, we travel along the Eastfjords today, a little-visited region of forests, farms, scenic coastline and picturesque fishing villages, backdropped by snowcapped
mountains. In the town of Djupivogur, we stop to admire the Eggs of Merry Bay, one of Iceland’s most unusual sculptures. Created in 2009 by Icelandic artist Sigurdur Gudmundsson, it consists of 34 large-scale egg replicas representing 34 bird species found in the area, each one mounted on a platform along the harbor. We’ll take a scenic walk along the coast near Alftafjordur Fjord, then join a local resident to stroll around a historic fishing town, learning about life in a small village where tradition and livelihoods center on the sea. After lunch at a local restaurant, travel on to Hofn to spend the night. Located on a peninsula in southeast Iceland, Hofn means “harbor,” and this small fishing port is surrounded on three sides by the sea.
Day 9: Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon / Skaftafell National Park
Ice dominates the agenda today, with two exciting excursions that immerse us in Iceland’s glacial realm. We leave early for Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, one of the country's greatest natural wonders. On a Zodiac cruise among the icebergs, see massive chunks of blue ice that continually break off the Breidamerkurjokull Glacier to float on the lagoon, drifting with the wind and gradually melting away. Driving onward, we traverse a sprawling black sand desert en route to Skaftafell National Park, which borders Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull. Here, we can divide the group for a choice of outings: a guided walk among birch trees and waterfalls in the park, or an optional glacier hike (cost included) with a specialized guide and all necessary equipment including crampons. In the afternoon, we continue west to Kirkjubaejarklaustur to spend the night.
Day 10: The South Shore / Hveragerdi
Explore Iceland’s southern shore as we drive west along the coast today. Our first stop is Reynisdrangar Rocks, a set of basalt sea stacks next to Reynisfjall Mountain. Legend holds that the formations originated when two trolls were out fishing in a three-masted ship. When they did not return to their cave before sunrise, they and their vessel turned into needles of stone, since trolls cannot tolerate daylight. Iceland’s south coast is known for its black sand beaches and countless waterfalls, which we’ll stop to see several of. We are also traveling through the area affected by the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in 2010. At a local visitor center, we watch a short film about the eruption and its effect on a local farmer.
Our Iceland adventure concludes in Hveragerdi, the “Hot Springs Capital of the World.” The town, which lies about 30 miles east of Reykjavik, sits atop a 5,000-year-old lava field. Pillars of steam rise from the numerous hot springs in the area,
and many residents enjoy private geothermal pools in their own backyards, by virtue of the natural geology. At the town’s famous geothermal park, visitors soak in the mineral-rich waters, enjoy a natural clay foot bath, and even bake Iceland’s famous black bread in a hole in the ground, using the geothermal energy as an oven. Our hotel has its own geothermal spa with swimming pool to enjoy at your leisure. Hveragerdi is also the site of Iceland’s first greenhouse, built in 1930 and marking the start of a horticulture industry that today provides much of the island country’s fresh produce. Our exhilarating journey around Iceland comes to close with a farewell dinner.
Day 11: Transfer to Keflavik or Reykjavik / Depart
After breakfast this morning, a transfer is included to Keflavik International Airport for departing flights, or back to Reykjavik, for those continuing their travels in Iceland.
Physical Rating: Moderate