Friday, 24 June 2016

Four outdoor pools in Iceland worth visiting

Iceland is not only known for its outstanding volcanic landscape and geothermal energy but also for its 100+ public swimming pools, most of them heated thanks to the all-natural volcanic heat. Icelanders of all ages go to the pool regularly.  If you are awake early on a weekday and feel like a morning hot pot, the standard opening time is 6:30 am. When at the pool so early, you’ll be amazed to see it more crowded at opening time, than at 9:00 or 15:00! A dip in the pool before work is common!

Four outdoor pools in Iceland worth visiting

The swimming pools in Iceland come with strict hygiene rules, everyone must shower naked before entering the pool, but don't panic! men and women have separate shower rooms. Showering naked at the public pool is the norm for Icelanders, but for anyone uncomfortable about it, most pools have at least one shower with a curtain. You must know, the pool facilities are not just for swimmers, many people go just to lounge in the hot pots, steam rooms, and jacuzzis.

Four outdoor pools in Iceland worth visiting

More than just a leisure activity, the swimming pool is an institution in Iceland, even the smallest village has a pool. The swimming pools are around 30 degrees celsius and the hot pots between 37 to 43 degrees celsius. In the middle of winter, do not hesitate to go to the pool, after ten minutes in a hot pot at 40 degrees celsius, you can easily walk from a pot to a pool without feeling the cold.

The swimming pool in Hofsós, Skagafjörður is well known in Iceland for having an extraordinary view.  While there you can enjoy the spectacular view of the Þórðarhöfði peninsula, Drangey island, and  Skagafjörður fjord. The pool overlooks the sea, so from certain photo angles, you would think that the pool and sea are one.

Four outdoor pools in Iceland worth visiting

The local pool in Akureyri consists of two large pools, a small children's pool, four hot pots, two slides and a steam room. This perfect pool complex suits everyone's needs and even has a cold pool for the brave. Well worth checking out when you are in Akureyri.

Four outdoor pools in Iceland worth visiting

While visiting the beautiful peninsula Seltjarnarnes in the west of Central Reykjavík, check out the local pool.  It has a large salt water pool, a children's pool, four hot pots and steam room. This is certainly the right place to come to relax after a morning’s outing in Reykjavik.

Four outdoor pools in Iceland worth visiting

The pool Hreppslaug, near Borgarnes, was built in 1928 and is protected as a cultural heritage. It is surrounded by beautiful nature and hot springs, that supply Hreppslaug's pool and hot pots with natural hot water.

Four outdoor pools in Iceland worth visiting

Joanne, Iceland24

Monday, 20 June 2016

Hiking routes in Skaftafell National Park Iceland

Following are suggestions for a few of the more popular hiking routes in Skaftafell. Whenever possible the suggestion is a circular route. Please note that these are only suggestions; in most cases it is possible to use alternative paths, return the same way, do a reverse circle etc. Also note that distance and walking times are for reference only.

Hiking maps for Skaftafell are available in visitor centres, information offices and from park rangers. You can also use the ones here on the right; click on each picture for enlarged version.

Skaftafellsjökull (Skaftafell glacier) 
Distance: 2 km (4 km round-trip) 
Walking time: 1½ hrs. 
Route difficulty: 1 (easy) 

A paved path goes from Skaftafell Visitor Centre towards Skaftafell glacier. From the end of the paved section a gravel path leads to a point where there is a good view towards this impressive outlet glacier and its roots in Vatnajökull ice cap.

After enjoying the view you should walk back the same gravel path and then take another gravel path on the left which will lead you to Skaftafell Visitor Centre.

Svartifoss ('Black waterfall') 
Distance: 2 km (4 km round-trip) 
Walking time: 2 hrs. 
Route difficulty: 1 (easy) 

After walking 250 meters from the visitor centre through the campsite take you slightly upwards into the mountain heath in Skaftafell (elevation is 140 meters in 1.5 kilometers). From that point the path will take you down into the ravine below the waterfall).

After enjoying the waterfall and its surroundings you should walk up the basalt column steps on the other side of the ravine and follow that path all the way down to the campsite via Lambhagi. When visibility is good It is recommended to do a little extra loop to the viewpoint at Sjónarnípa on the way down.

Kristínartindar ('Kristín's mountain peaks') 
Distance: 16 km 
Walking time: 7 hrs. 
Route difficulty: 3 (difficult) 

The route to Kristínartindar goes from Skaftafell Visitor Centre through the campsite and up into the mountain heath as if you were going to Svartifoss. It is possible to go all the way to Svartifoss and then head on to Sjónarsker, but the shortest way is to cross the river on the walking bridge next to Magnúsarfoss and from there head to Sjónarsker. From Sjónarsker the path goes all the way towards Kristínartindar. When arriving at the foot of Kristínartindar you have two options.

The easy one is to walk the path around the mountain peaks where you will come onto the walking route again. The other option is to walk the path that goes through the rock scree all the way to the top of the mountain. For that hike it is strongly recommended that you have good boots and trekking poles. To go down you return the same way as you came up, with the exception of that when you arrive at the shoulder between the mountain peaks you take the path that goes to the left.

That path will take down towards Gláma where the paths meet again. From Gláma the path takes you down to Sjónarnípa and then onwards to the visitor centre/camp site via Austurbrekkur.

Sjónarnípa (a viewpoint) 
Distance: 3,5 km (6,5 km round-trip) 
Walking time: 2 hrs. 
Route difficulty: 2 (challenging) 

From the camp site walk up towards Svartifoss. Skip the first signpost for Sjónarnípa. After 450 meters another 'Sjónarnípa signpost' appears. Choose that path towards Sjónarnípa. Then continue back towards the camp site via Austurbrekkur. Even better option is to skip the second signpost also and choose the third one which is located right before Svartifoss.

Morsárjökull (Morsá glacier) 
Distance: 10 km (20 km round-trip) 
Walking time: 6 hrs. 
Route difficulty: 2 (challenging) 

The route goes from the camp site in Skaftafell across the mountain heath to Grjóthóll in Morsárdalur. A marked path goes from Grjóthóll towards Morsárjökull and the glacial lagoon in front of it. On the return you take the same path towards Grjóthóll and continue across the walking bridge on Morsá river.

You then continue on the trail next to the river all the way down to another walking bridge by Götugil. Walk over the bridge on follow the marked path that leads to the camp site.

Bæjarstaðarskógur ('Farmstead woods') 
Distance: 7,2 km (15 km round-trip) 
Walking time: 5 hrs. 
Route difficulty: 2 (challenging) 

The route goes from the camp site in Skaftafell across the mountain heath to Grjóthóll in Morsárdalur. A marked path goes from Grjóthóll towards Morsárjökull. From Grjóthóll continue across the walking bridge over Morsá river and straight on the marked path that leads to the woods in Baejarstaðarskógur.

The path continues through the woods and past two beautiful ravines that are worth a closer look. After passing the ravines it is relatively easy to walk across the sands back towards Skaftafell. There is no marked path on this route but aim for the lower end of the Skaftafellsheiði mountain heath and you should arrive at the walking bridge by Götugil. Walk over the bridge on follow the marked path that leads to the camp site. If you are not comfortable with crossing the unmarked sands you can return the same way as you came.

Kjós ('Dell') 
Distance: 12 km (24 km round-trip) 
Walking time: 8 hrs. 
Route difficulty: 2 (challenging) 

The route goes from the camp site in Skaftafell across the mountain heath to Grjóthóll in Morsárdalur. A marked path goes from Grjóthóll towards Morsárjökull. From Grjóthóll continue across the walking bridge over Morsá river and straight on the marked path that leads to the woods in Baejarstaðarskógur. Then instead of walking into the woods you should turn right and walk on the gravel bank of Kjósarlaekur.

Please note that there is no proper path or way marking. Continue until you arrive in Kjós. The same route will take you back towards Grjóthóll but instead of crossing the bridge you should continue on the trail next to the river all the way down to another walking bridge by Götugil. Cross the bridge on follow the marked path that leads to the camp site.

Getting there

By car: Road 1 goes from Reykjavík to Skaftafell (326 km). Road 998 (2 km) leads up to the visitor centre in Skaftafell. Road 1 continues to the east from Skaftafell. The distance to Höfn is 136 km and the distance to the Glacial Lagoon is 56 km.

By bus: A scheduled bus goes between Reykjavík and Höfn via Skaftafell. For further information check this website:

Restaurants / food stores 

A cafeteria is operated in Skaftafell during the summer. It offers hot soups, sandwiches, cakes and coffee, along with some basic dairy products, bread, biscuits and fruits, to mention some.

A restaurant can be found in Freysnes which is 5 km to the east from Skaftafell (opposite Hotel Skaftafell). It is operated all year round and also has a small-scale food store. A larger grocery store is in Kirkjubæjarklaustur (70 km to west) and yet another one in Höfn (136 km to east).


Information on accommodation near Skaftafell can be found on the website of the regional tourism organisation.

Skaftafell campground

The campground in Skaftafell is in full service from 1 May to 30 September. Guests are permitted to camp outside the service season but must take notice of limited services. Guests should contact the service desk at the visitor centre prior to camping.

Late arrivers should make contact first thing in the morning. Vatnajökull National Park does not offer any equipment rental.

Tel: +354 4708300

Source: Vatnajökull National Park

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

For many years now, Askja has been the most popular excursion from Lake Mývatn and one of the top destinations in Iceland.

You will travel through the largest wilderness of Iceland, filled with marvels of nature, driving across lunar landscapes where US-astronauts trained before they ventured to the moon in 1969.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

You will see scenes of unforgettable nature and exiting geology. Askja, the huge caldera, is still in the making through bedrock subsidence above a deep-seated magma source. It lies centrally in the mountain massif Dyngjufjöll and is an active centre of a volcanic system.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

Askja was not explored until the 19th century. In 1874-1875 there was a series of volcanic eruptions in the system, culminating in a very powerful eruption. Some 2 billion cubic metres of ash and pumice where blown from vents now on the bottom of Lake Öskjuvatn . This 11 sq. km-lake formed within a few years, following the event. It is the deepest lake in Iceland, 220 m. The latest eruption in Askja occurred in the autumn 1961.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

We recommend you to walk at the slopes of a 1961-crater. An easy 30-min.-long walk leads you to the explosion crater Víti (Hell) at the rim of Lake Öskjuvatn.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

A small, milky and warm lake adorns the crater. Amazingly, it turns into a heaven if you care to take a bath in it. After enjoying the unearthly quietness and bizarre landscape our passengers return to the bus.
Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

Víti is a popular bathing site, but if you intend taking a dip, please be aware that the sloping path is very slippery in wet weather.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

Route back to Lake Mývatn, you could make a stop is made at Herðubreiðarlindir where clear water flows from springs in an old lava flow. The springs sustain beautiful vegetation and form small ponds providing conditions for flowering plants and birdlife in the otherwise barren, volcanic landscape. The high bulk of the old sub-glacial volcano (tablemountain) Herðubreið (1682 m) rises about 3 km distant and provides a breathtaking background to this wilderness oasis.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

Askja is a 50 km2 caldera in the Dyngjufjoll mountains. The mountains emerged in eruptions under an Ice Age glacier cap. Askja itself was formed, for the most part, at the end of the Ice Age in a major ash eruption which caused the roof of the magma chamber at the heart of the central volcano to subside. Askja is a part of Vatnajökull National Park. The caldera contains several volcanoes, including Víti (explosive volcanic crater). Water has accumulated in the crater, its temperature is variable - it is around 30°C on average.


The road to Askja goes from road 1 to road 901 and onto mountain road F905. Onward to F910 to Drekagil. On this route there are two fords to cross, usually small. From Drekagil goes mountain road F894 (8 km) to the car park at Vikraborgir.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

Another option is to go from road 1 to mountain road F88 via Herðubreiðarlindir to Drekagil. On this road ther are fords on the rivers Grafarlandsá and Lindá that need to be crossed. The fords can be difficult or even impassable for small jeeps.


So what do you have to keep in mind when planning a trip to the highlands?

-You have to be driving a 4x4 vehicle.
-It is strongly advised that people travel together in 2 or more cars.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

-You should check information about the conditions of the roads before you start your journey. It is best to call 1777 or check
-Make sure that the F road you plan to travel on is open for traffic.
-Driving outside of the roads in the highlands is strictly forbidden. Actually, driving off road in Iceland is always forbidden!

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

-Buying a detailed map of the route you will be travelling is much better than using the standard free map you can get at tourist information centers and gas stations. This is not necessary but can be very helpful.
-Whenever possible, try to talk to local people about conditions in the area, such as rangers.
-Tell somebody about your travel plans. You can for example tell the good people over at (or just the ranger you talked to before).

-It is good to be prepared for all types of weather as the weather in the highlands can change almost with a blink of an eye.
-Be aware that telephone signals in the highlands are not very stable and you can go for a long while without a mobile connection.
-The emergency number in Iceland is 112. You are able to call it in the highlands, even without a mobile connection.
-There is no petrol station in the highlands so make sure you fill up! :)


When you cross rivers, make sure that the 4 wheel drive has been engaged before going into the river. Drive very slowly and use the low range if possible. Never switch gears in the middle of the river.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

Glacial rivers usually have less water in the mornings. During warm summer days, the flow of the river can increase a lot. Heavy rain can also increase the flow of a river substantially. Be aware that rivers can sometimes not be crossed even if the road is open and you are driving a 4x4 vehicle.

A good rule of thumb regarding glacier rivers is that if you would not want to wade through a river you should not drive through it. Crossing rivers can be a serious matter if people are not careful. Whenever possible, cross with someone with experience in crossing rivers.

Askja volcano travel guide (Iceland)

Fords over rivers are usually marked and should be easy to spot. Be aware of big rocks that might be under the surface of the water. The worst place to cross is where the water is most calm because that is usually the deepest part of the river. The best way to cross is to follow the torrent diagonally down the river, that way the torrent helps the vehicle over.

If you prefer a guided tour, we recommend a guided tour from Lake Mývatn to the Askja Caldera with this Icelandic company.

You can also make it with a Bus 4x4 from the company Visit Askja. Good price and great adventure!

Peter and Helga

Friday, 10 June 2016

Landmannalaugar travel guide

Landmannalaugar looks extremely Icelandic not because most of Iceland looks like this (it doesn’t), but because Iceland is practically the only place you will see landscape like this.

Landmannalaugar travel guide

The cascading ranks of bare-sided rhyolite mountains look a bit like a massive cake spackled with cream caramel icing, over which occasional streaks of garish food colouring have been indiscriminately flicked. It might be easy to believe for a while that this was the site of a huge industrial accident which has poisoned the land and killed it totally.

But it won’t take long to see through the lie, as the valleys and plains between the mountains are coated in lush grasses and meadow flowers; the slow-to-depart snow patches on the peaks are pearly white; the birds, tourists and other creatures are evidently in the peak of physical health; and the lakes, ponds, and rivers are pristine and pure.

Landmannalaugar travel guide

Landmannalaugar Travel Guide - Organized tour or do-it-yourself?

We always recommend that you travel by yourself but in the case of Landmannalaugar we suggest that you book an organized tour if:

a) You want to travel in winter as it is impossible to do it with a normal 4x4.
b) You do not have a 4x4 vehicle (It is forbidden to drive to Landmannalaugar without a 4x4 car).
c) You have no experience driving on gravel roads and/or crossing river.
d) You are traveling with a motorhome or a camper.

Here is a link for a company that specializes in tours to Landmannalaugar. If you want to save money, there is a 4x4 bus with a price of 14.500 ISK per person everyday from Harpa (Reykjavík).

Landmannalaugar travel guide

The rivers are hot, however – which is one of Landmannalaugar’s biggest attractions. The name Landmannalaugar could, in fact, be translated as Pools of the People, due to being such a fantastic (and free) place to bathe in natural warm water.

Landmannalaugar is in the Highlands and therefore not easy to get to – and totally inaccessible between roughly October and May. But one of the three ‘roads’ leading to this magical place is juuuuuust about suitable for normal two-wheel drive cars in the summertime. Although maybe not your own car, if you love it!


There are limited facilities in the area, including huts to sleep in, a campsite, a very basic shop, and scheduled coach services passing through from time to time. This puts some people out of their comfort zone, while others find it all far too much. As probably the busiest and best-serviced place in the Icelandic Highlands, the former group will have to resign themselves to the fact that it doesn’t get any better – while the latter group can rejoice that it doesn’t get any worse.

Whichever group you fall into, Landmannalaugar is a crazy and unique place you will want to visit at least once. Climb a red or purple mountain, see for many tens of kilometres in every direction, relax in the hot streams, revel in being in the middle of nowhere (even if there are a fair few other people there with you). Landmannalaugar is even allegedly the best place in Iceland to see the northern lights.


The reason for this is that there is absolutely no ambient light pollution, that you absolutely have to be soaking in the hot water while gazing upwards, and that the colours and shapes of the lights match the landscape like nowhere else. Pure heaven! But it’s really only late August and September, when the area is still accessible and the nights actually get dark, that you’ll be able to indulge in this surreal pleasure.

Landmannalaugar Travel Guide - How to get there

With a bus: There are daily tours to Landmannalaugar from Reykjavík from the middle of June to the middle of September. Departure from BSÍ (omnibus central station) at 8:30. There are also daily tours from Skaftafell. The busses stop for 2 hours in Landmannalaugar and leave to Reykjavík and Skaftafell around 14:30 (changable schedule!). In the mid summer there are scheduled bus tours between Landmannalaugar and Mývatn. Reservations are not necessary.

Tel. +354 77-444-77


Driving a car: You can take your own car to Iceland with the ferry or rent a car in Iceland. Insurances do not pay for damaged rental cars on F roads (mountain roads). There are three main roads leading to Landmannalaugar. The easiest one is F 208 from the north, from the power stations. There are no rivers to cross, so a normal car will be enough, but be prepared for some shaking. You need bigger cars, with 4Wd for the other roads. The second easiest is F 225 from the west (close to mt. Hekla) and the third easiest is F 208 from the south (between Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur). Inform yourself about the weather because water in the rivers can differ a lot.


Landmannalaugar Tours: You can let experts do the driving and carry the responsibility (Day Tours every day; +354 776 76 76, A Super Jeep Tour to Landmannalaugar cost around 38.000 ISK (summer and winter).

Some people hitchhike but that requires patience, since most drivers in the highlands are using all their space.

Biking: This is cheap but can be very difficult. Weather can be awful and some roads are so sandy that they are too loose to bike in. The scheduled busses can take bikes for a reasonable fee. You use the same roads as the cars. Biking on the Laugavegur hiking trail is not forbidden, but only suitable for trained mountain-bikers, who can take care of not spoiling the tracks and the land.


Hiking: Almost everyone who walks to Landmannalaugar follows the Laugavegur trail from Þórsmörk.   It takes 3 or 4 days and there are huts on the way. There are bus connections at both ends. Hiking day tours around Landmannalaugar are many and magnificent.

Landmannalaugar Travel Guide - Where you can sleep

Camping: In the nature reserve area, you may only camp at Landmannalaugar, Landmannahellir and Hrafntinnusker. Outside the area, you may camp anywhere where you don´t spoil anything. There are camping facilities where there are huts and there you have to pay something.

Landmannalaugar Travel Guide - Hiking the Landmannalaugar-Thorsmork Trail

The total hiking distance is close to 53 km and the route from Thorsmork to Skogar on the south coast adds 24-26 km.

 The Landmannalaugar - Thorsmork route is called „Laugavegurinn", The Hot Spring Route, which is very appropriate. It is clearly marked between the huts in Landmannalaugar, Hrafntinnusker (Obsidian Skerry), on lake Alftavatn (The Lake of the Whooper Swans) and on river Sydri-Emstrua in Fremri-Botnar.


The "Laugavegurinn" Trail is one of the most popular and most travelled hiking trails in Icelandic wilderness. It is equally popular with domestic and foreign hikers. This is not without a reason as the trail offers a great variety of landscape. Mountains in almost every colour of the rainbow, great glaciers, roaring hot springs, big rivers and lakes. Generally the hike lasts four days and the starting point is Landmannalaugar (altitude approx. 600 meters) Overnighting is in huts but you have to supply your own sleeping bag. Those with confirmed reservations have a higher priority so it is important to look in aðvance if you want to have a certain place to stay.

Landmannalaugar Travel Guide - Day One: Landmannalaugar-Hrafntinnusker 

Distance 12 km, estimated walking time 4 - 5 hours. Elevation increase 470 meters. 

From the hut in Landmannalaugar (75 persons, GPS 63°59.600 - 19°03.660) the trail goes through a rough lavafield "Laugahraun". From there on up the slopes of "Brennisteinsalda" and to the plateau. The view offers an incredible spectrum of colours. After 3 - 4 hours you arrive at "Stórihver", a hot spring and almost the only green spot visible in the first day. In most years the rest of the trail from "Stórihver" to "Höskuldsskáli" hut is covered with snow. Chances of fog are very high so even though the trail is clearly marked you must be careful. A walk to the icecaves (approx. 1.5km from the hut) is a must. The huts location GPS 63°55.840 - 19°09.700 and sleeps 36 persons.


Landmannalaugar Travel Guide - Day Two: Hrafntinnusker - Álftavatn 

Distance 12 km, estimated walking time 4 - 5 hours. Elevation decrease 490 m. 

The first part of the trail takes us through a valley with some small ravines but be careful as they may be filled with snow. If the visibility is good a walk up to the top of mountain "Háskerðingur" (1281 m) will reward your with a breathtaking view. Soon we leave the colourful rhyolite mountains and enter an area with dark palagonite mountains and glaciers. You will also notice a considerable increase in vegetation. The trail down the "Jökultungur" is rather steep but leads down to a friendly oasis on the banks of river "Grashagakvísl" a fine place to rest for a while. From there on the trail to the two huts by the lake "Álftavatn" is on flat land. There are two huts (58 persons, GPS 63°51.470 - 19°13.640).


Landmannalaugar Travel Guide - Day Three: Álftavatn - Emstrur (Botnar) 

Distance 15 km., estimated walking time 6-7 hrs., elevation decrease 40 m. 

The trail takes us over the ridge "Brattháls" into "Hvanngil" ravine, wading across the river "Bratthálskvísl". In "Hvanngil" are two huts, one built for sheepherders in 1963 and one for tourists, built in 1995. A short walk from the huts is the river "Kaldaklofskvísl" with a bridge for hikers. On the eastern bank of "Kaldaklofskvísl" the trail branches, one branch leading eastwards to "Mælifellssandur" (Road F 210) but the other one southwards to "Emstrur" and we choose the latter. Less than one km from "Kaldaklofskvísl" another river has to be waded and approximately 4 km further we come to the river "Nyrðri Emstruá" but this time there is a bridge to cross it. Soon we will be overlooking the huts in "Botnar" (40 persons, GPS 63°45.980 - 19°22.480). A fine walk in the evening is to the "Markarfljótsgljúfur" canyon.


Landmannalaugar Travel Guide - Day Four: Emstrur (Botnar) - Þórsmörk 

Distance 15 km., estimated walking time 6-7 hrs., elevation decrease 300 m.

First, we have to go around the canyon of "Syðri - Emstruá" and there is a very steep path down to the bridge so be careful. Then a walk through the area known as "Almenningar" with crossing of among other rivers "Þröngá". It is good practice when wading to go hand in hand and head downstream. After crossing "Þröngá" a 30 minutes walk takes us to the hut in "Langidalur" in "Þórsmörk" (75 persons, GPS 63°40.960 - 19°30.890) Landscape and vegetation is changing rapidly. Birchwood and all kinds of plants a welcome change after the desert now behind us. The hut in Thorsmork is Basar huts in Godaland, in Langidalur Hut Skagfjordsskáli and cottages and huts in Husadalur.


Jóhanna Rós & Kolla
© 2016 Iceland24

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Popular waterfalls in the north of Iceland

Goðafoss (the waterfall of the Gods), 12 meters high and 30 meters wide, is located on the number 1 route between Akureyri and Myvatn, on the Skjálfandafljót glacier river. This magnificent waterfall is connected to an important event in Icelandic history; that is, in the year 1000, when the Icelandic parliament rejected Paganism in favour of Christianity as the official religion, Þorgeir Þorkellsson (the law speaker of the Icelandic parliament) threw statues of Pagan gods into the Goðafoss waterfall to symbolise the conversion.

Popular waterfalls in the north of Iceland

Aldeyjarfoss is based in the Barðardal valley at the start of the Sprengisandur road. At this spectacular waterfall you’ll see a contrast between the white gushing water from the Skjálfandafjót glacier river and the dark basalt stone columns surrounding its 20-meter drop. This is definitely a sight to have your camera ready for!

Popular waterfalls in the north of Iceland

Ullarfoss is situated in a river that runs across the Bárðardal valley,  joining the Sudura valley and then continues to flow into the Skjálfandafljót glacier river.

Hrafnabjargafoss like the three previous waterfalls emerges from several canyons on the Skjálfandafljót glacier river. Hrafnabjargafoss possesses an incomparable beauty, especially in winter time, and yet, not many travelers know it exists. Once stumbled upon, it captivates both amateur and professional photographers alike. If you decide to explore the surrounding area a little, you will discover many other waterfalls, such as Ingvararfoss, Fiskárfoss or Glæfra.

Popular waterfalls in the north of Iceland

Selfoss is not so high (11 meters), but is intensely strong and wide. This adorable waterfall is situated upstream from the glorious Dettifoss waterfall and marks the beginning of the Jökulsá gorge (Jökulsárgljúfur in Icelandic).

Dettifoss is situated 308 meters above sea level in one of the canyons of the river Jökulsá at Fjöllum, a river resulting from the melting of the Vatnajökull glacier. Dettifoss is perhaps the most popular waterfall in Iceland, and the most powerful waterfall in Europe because it is 100 meters wide,  45 meters high, and flows at an impressive speed. Dettifoss is found in the Vatnajökull national park and has become a movie attraction when it appeared in the opening scene of the film “Prometheus” by Ridley Scott.

Popular waterfalls in the north of Iceland

Hafragilsfoss is located 2 kilometres downstream from the mighty Dettifoss waterfall, meeting the glacier river Jökulsá at Fjöllum at a 27-meter drop. Hafragilsfoss pours down volumes of water at a forceful speed and this you can see from both sides of the river. The series of impressive waterfalls comprising of Selfoss, Dettifoss and Hafragilsfoss is a must see for any one wishing to have a full-on waterfall experience.

Safety advice for lovers of Icelandic waterfalls

The summer of 2015 has seen a rise in tourism in Iceland,  and a rise in incidences involving visitors unaware of the dangers of getting too close to the edge of steep waterfalls. Yes! Icelandic nature is powerful and energetic, but also let’s not forget to respect that it’s sometimes fragile too. There is still very little infrastructure around the waterfall sites listed above. Pathways and fences are few, so please be careful! and remember! that “no fence” is not an invitation to get as near as you wish. Take in the lovely view of course… but not too closely!

Joanne, Iceland24

Friday, 3 June 2016

South Iceland complete Travel Guide

Nowhere on earth is the junction between the European and American tectonic plates in the Earth’s crust as clear as on the Reykjanes peninsula in the southwest, and at Þingvellir: the plates diverge here by as much as 2 cm per year. But the gap is constantly being filled, as volcanoes have been erupting regularly throughout Iceland’s history.

The boundaries of this area are drawn at the glacial lagoon Jokulsarlon in the East, and fishing and ferry town Thorlakshofn in the West. Towns, villages, places of interest and recreation are mentioned above and below.

South Iceland complete Travel Guide

The South is both densely and sparsely populated. Between the town Hofn and the river Markarfljot are vast alluvial or outwash plains, lava fields and narrow strips of lowlands, which limit agricultural activities, but the western part contains the largest and fertile agricultural area of the country and a few townships.

South Iceland complete Travel Guide

The landscapes of the lowland and highland areas contain many of the most interesting and beautiful spots of the country. The southern central highlands boast of the largest glaciers, most active and largest volcanoes and eruptive fissures, rhyolite intrusions and hyaloclastite mountains. There are many very active geothermal areas in the mountains and lowlands between the middle of the area all the way to the western boundaries.  One of the two main seismic areas of the country streches from Mt Hekla across town Hveragerdi to the end of the southwest peninsula Reykjanes.

Must do and see in South Iceland

1. Thingvellir National Park

Þingvellir (Icelandic "Þing": parliament, "vellir": plains) is a place in the southwest of Iceland near the peninsula of Reykjanes and the Hengill volcanic area.

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It is famous for two reasons:

a) As one of the most important places in Icelandic history. In the year 930 the Alþingi, one of the oldest parliamentary institutions of the world, was founded. The Alþingi met yearly, where the Lawspeaker recited the law to all of the gathered people and decided disputes as well. In the year 999 or 1000 the Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. After the conversion it is said that, upon returning from the Alþingi, Þorgeir then threw his statues of the old Norse gods into the waterfall that is now named Goðafoss ("Waterfall of the Gods"). At this historical place, the independence of the Republic of Iceland was proclaimed on June 17, 1944.

b) As a national park (since 1928) because of the special tectonic and volcanic environment. The continental drift can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which are traversing the region, the biggest one, Almannagjá, being a veritable canyon. This causes also the often measurable earthquakes in the area. Þingvellir is situated on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn, the biggest lake of Iceland. The river Öxará traverses the national park and is forming a waterfall at the Almannagjá, called Öxaráfoss Together with the waterfall Gullfoss and the geysirs of Haukadalur, Þingvellir is part of the most famous sights of Iceland, the Golden Circle.

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Þingvellir is a designated UNESCO World Heritag Site

Thingvellir, 50 km (31 miles) to the east of Reykjavík, is the national shrine of Iceland. Icelands most historic site, and one of its most beautiful places, it is also part of The Golden Circle tour. The oldest existing parliament in the world first met here in AD930. The Alþing met here every year to enact laws, including the law passed in AD1000 to introduce Christianity into the island. It has always been the focal point for the country, and whenever a major event is to be celebrated, thousands of people come here. At the celebration of the 1,100th anniversary of the first settlement in 1974, more than 60,000 people packed into Thingvellir.

Nearby Lögberg is the cliff overlooking the place where the Alþing (assembly) met, and speakers stood to address the gatherings from this point. Nearby is Drekkingarhylur (The Drowning Pool), where mothers of illegitimate children were drowned. It is sited in the river Öxará in Almannagjá, a lava gorge, which with the Öxarárfoss waterfall, is an impressive sight.

Peningagjá (The Money Chasm) is a deep fissure filled with crystal clear spring water; people throw coins into it from the bridge that lies across. The coins give off strange reflections as they drop through the water, it is said that if you can follow the coin all the way down until it comes to rest on the bottom, your wish will come true. Scubadiving and snorkeling in wet suits is becoming increasingly popular here.

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The lake is part of the Þingvellir National Park. The volcanic origin of the islands in the lake is clearly visible. The fissures around it - the famous Almannagjá is the biggest of them - indicate that here the tectonic plates of Europe and The Americas are in a conflict. In this lake, the large quantity of sulfur and salt, the lake is extremely light and the water seems to be in less weight than other lakes.

2. Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon 

Check our article about Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon

The main lagoon measures about 7 square miles (20 km2) and until 1932 was covered in thick glacial ice. Then the glacier started to retreat, and nowadays more than 300 feet (100 m) of ice breaks away each year to reshape the lagoon and fill it with spectacular icebergs.

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The lagoon is open to the sea and so contains a mixture of salt and freshwater, giving it a unique blue-green color. There are hundreds of seals here in the winter and the lagoon supports many species of fish including krill, herring, trout and, occasionally, salmon.

3. Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss is actually two separate waterfalls, the upper one has a drop of 11 metres and the lower one 21 metres. The rock of the river bed was formed during an interglacial period.

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Water flows over Gullfoss at an average rate of 109 cubic metres per second. The heaviest floods have recorded a flow of 2000 cubic metres per second. During the summer the flow is 130 cubic metres per second, which would take only 3 seconds to fill this building. People were eager to exploit the power potential of Gullfoss and many plans for hydroelectric developments on the river Hvítá have been proposed.

Check the article call "Iceland's favorite Waterfalls"

4. The great Geysir

One of the greatest natural attractions of Iceland and part of the famous "Golden Circle Tour", The Great Geysir, or Stori-Geysir, has been dormant since 1916 when it suddenly ceased to spout. It came to life only once in 1935, and as quickly went back to sleep. Since then its repose has sporadically been disturbed by the dumping of tons of carbolic soap powder into its seething orifice in order to tickle it to spout.

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It is not exactly known when Geysir was created. It is believed that it came into existence around the end of the 13th century when a series of strong earthquakes, accompanied by a devastating eruption of Mt. Hekla, hit Haukadalur, the geothermal valley where Geysir is located. What is known is that 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. Whether its silence is eternal or temporary no one knows. When it was alive and shooting, it could thunderously blast a spectacular jet of superheated water and steam into the air as high as 60 to 80 meters according to different sources. Its opening is 18 meters wide and its chamber 20 meters deep.

One reason for cessation is believed to be the accumulated rocks and foreign objects thrown into it by thousands of tourists throughout the years. Though definitely damaging, this however could not be the only reason for its dormancy. The Great Geysir was among the most notable geysers in the world, such as those in Yellowstone Park, New Zealand and North Iceland. The English word "geyser" is derived from the Icelandic word "geysir" which means gusher. Though the Great Geysir itself is now more or less inactive, the area surrounding it is geothermically very active with many smaller hot springs.

The attraction of the area is now Strokkur (The Churn), another geyser 100 meters south of the Great Geysir, which erupts at regular intervals every 10 minutes or so and its white column of boiling water can reach as high as 30 meters. The whole area is a geothermal park sitting on top of a vast boiling cauldron. Belching sulphurous mud pots of unusual colors, hissing steam vents, hot and cold springs, warm streams, and primitive plants can all be found here.

A short distance away to the west stands the small Laugarfjall Mountain with a panoramic view overlooking the Geysir area. King Christian IX of Denmark visited the area in 1874 and by the foot of the mountain are the rocks where he leaned while his hosts tried to impress and amuse him by boiling eggs in the hot springs. The rocks are now called Konungssteinar ("The King's Stones").

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5. Eyjafjallajokull Glacier 

Eyjafjallajökull is one of the smaller ice caps of Iceland, situated to the north of Skógar and to the west of Mýrdalsjökull. The ice cap covers the caldera of a volcano with a summit elevation of 1,651 metres (5,417 ft).

It derives its name from the Island Archipelago off the south coast, The Vestman Islands. This mountain massif is actually the result of continuous eruptions during thousands of years and a vast crater on top has probably been active a few times during historic times of this country. The only documented eruptions took place in 920, 1612, which was seen all the way to the northern part of the country, and during the period 1821-23. The latter two eruptions caused at least damage to property by glacier bursts (floods) and ash fall.

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The latter caused a three hours’ flood, covering the wide valley floor north of the mountain.  Before and around the turn of the last century, an increased earthquake activity and escaping gasses were watched closely.  This volcano, and many others, is within the most active 50 miles wide zone of the country.

The volcano has erupted relatively frequently since the last glacial period, most recently in 2010.

The icecap on top is the sixth largest of the country, and is relatively easily accessible from the mountain saddle Fimmvorduhals, the farms Seljavellir and Mork, and from the north at Stakkolt and Langanes. Nowadays it is not considered a great deed or too much of an adventure to conquer the glaciers in specially equipped and modified jeeps or other vehicles.

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Two aircraft have crashed on the icecap. In 1952 an American rescue plane, with five on board, went down and only one body was found on location. The other four obviously had survived and walked away, not to be found during the next few years. Twelve years later, another body was found and a wedding ring of another. The glacier tongue delivered the remaining three bodies in the summer of 1966.  Scrap and pieces from the plane have been appearing gradually in and by the sides of the glacier.  In 1975, an American couple crashed and lost their lives.

6. The Vatnajókull region

In the magnificent nature of the Vatnajokull Region, everyone can find enjoyable recreation. There are options for adventure trips as well as relaxing trips; for summer as well as winter; for children as well as the elderly and everything in between. Tourists in the Vatnajokull Region can choose from a variety of activities, scenic views, historical sites and points of interest.

South Iceland complete Travel Guide

You can choose from a variety of outdoor activities such as golf, bird watching, fishing, horseback riding, boat tours,  kayak tours, mountaineering, trekking, ice climb, glacier walk, kayak tours, boat tours, snowmobile tours, super jeep tours or ATV tours.

Visit the Thorbergur Center of Culture or the Art gallery in Höfn. Take a swim in the geothermal-heated swimming pool in the town of Höfn or relax in the geothermal hot tubs in Hoffell. Here below you can search for options based on type or location.

7. Westman Islands

Westman Islands is one of the best kept secrets in Iceland and you haven't seen Iceland until you have visited Westman Islands. Westman Islands is one of the wonders of nature, surrounded by mountains, islands, volcanoes and seabirds. Westman Islands also has one of the most beautiful and extraordinary 18 hole golf course in the world.

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A common mistake that visitors make when coming to Westman Islands is that they stop for one day. We haven't met a tourist yet that didn't want to stay longer so our advise to you is, spend at least two days and then you might be able to experience all the great things about Westman Islands.

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The island is surrounded by rocky mountains, volcano and 14 other small islands which are all in different size and shape. In Westman Island you can find one of the most beautiful and extraordinary golf course in the world, if you like golf you can't let this one pass you by. To enjoy what the island has to offer, we recommend that you take a guided tour around the island and you should take the boat tour, that is truly a spectacular experience where you sail around the islands, into caves, by other small islands/skerries and experience the buzzing birdlife that is in Westman Islands and who knows maybe you will see a flock of killer whales swimming by. Furthermore we recommend that you take a hike :) and walk to Skansinn, Eldfell, Hamar or just walk up the next mountain, you can also rent a scooter if you want to cover more ground.

8. Landmannalaugar

The Landmannalaugar area is a popular tourist destination and hiking hub in Iceland's highlands. The area displays a number of unusual geological elements, like the multicolored rhyolite mountains and expansive lava fields, not far from the service center. The many mountains in the surrounding area display a wide spectrum of colors including pink, brown, green, yellow, blue, purple, black, and white. Two of the most popular mountains among hikers are Bláhnjúkur (meaning "blue peak") and Brennisteinsalda (meaning "sulphur wave").

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Tourists visit the area from June through late September, after which time the road is closed. A mountain lodge, in operation since 1951, can accommodate 78 people and has basic amenities. It is located centrally near natural geothermal hot springs, also popular with tourists.

Check our article about Landmannalaugar

South Iceland complete Travel Guide

9. Climbing Hekla
Trip Difficulty 3 out of 5 possible

Mt. Hekla is undeniably Iceland’s most famous mountain. It is the second most active volcano in Iceland and has erupted frequently in historic times. Last eruption occurred in February 2000. The mountain towers over South Iceland at roughly 1500 meters. The height changes due to movements of the earth crusts and seismic movements. For hundreds of years the mountain was believed to be the gateway to hell and no one dared climbing it. Until, Eggert Ólafsson, a famous Icelandic biologist, decided to throw caution to the wind and succeeded in summiting the mountain in the summer of 1750.

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Since then hiking to the top of Mt. Hekla has become a popular route. The terrain is rough lava fields and then ice and snow as we get closer to the peak. It usually takes 3-4 hours to get to the top and there you´ll get your reward. The view from the top of Mt. Hekla is wide and beautiful; you can see all of Fjallabak mountains, up to Vatnajökull glacier (Europe’s biggest glacier) not to mention all the evidence of recent and longstanding volcanic activity.

10. Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey is located at latitude 63° 27 N and longitude 19° 06 W. The Icelandic name ending on -ey might indicate that it is an island, which it is not; its a promontory, reaching out into the ocean. It is thought to have been created during a submarine volcanic eruption approximately 80 thousand years ago.

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The eruption, which formed Dyrhólaey and the pillars around it (originally parts of it), presumably took place in the same way as other submarine and subglacial eruptions. In the beginning, a major tephra eruption took place and later, when the crater reached the surface of the sea, the lava started to flow and thus ensured its existence. Dyrhólaey is a promontory reaching out into the ocean on the south coast of Iceland. It is the southernmost part of the country and is around 120 m high. Off Dyrhólaey, there are rock pillars, that are unique natural formations.

The roaring Atlantic and its foamy waves wash the black sands at the foot of Dyrhólaey. From there you can enjoy the sight of the varied and fantastic scenery of the Mýrdalur valley, fresh green fields and pastures. Above them, moors and tuff mountains of different shapes, and the mountains of the highland pastures, high and awesome, cut by deep ravines and gorges. Behind them, the white glacier reaches a height of almost 1450 m.

To the west the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago is clearly visible, when visibility is good, and also the mountains Eyjafjöll and the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Not far off the coast to the west of Dyrhólaey is the Kamburinn, much further out and more to the west is the stack Máfadrangur, where the Gannet colonized a few decades ago.

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To the south of the promontory is the stack Lundadrangur with a sizable cave, into which you can go by boat, when the weather is nice and the ocean is calm. To the east is the sheer stack Háidrangur (56 m), which the daredevil Eldeyjar-Hjalti was the first human to climb in 1893, as far as we know. The southernmost part of Dyrhólaey reaching into the sea is called Tóin, and there is the famous opening, which gives it its name Portland in English.. The surroundings are all amazingly beautiful and ever-changing from different viewpoints. A very rich birdlife can be enjoyed, and inquisitive seals are seldom far away.

Few places in the country offer better opportunities for enthusiastic birdwatchers than Dyrhólaey. The various species of seabirds are most prominent in the promontory itself, and not least in the stacks. On some days the rock walls of the promontory and the stacks are almost covered with seabirds.

11. Katla Geopark

Katla Geopark includes geological features of global significance. Over 150 volcanic eruptions have been recorded in the area since the 9th century. The eruptions created the landscape and influenced where people settled. Through the centuries, man and nature have affected the region’s history. The area is constantly changing due to the volcanic activity.

A geopark is defined as a territory, which includes a particular geological heritage and a sustainable territorial development strategy to promote development. It must have clearly defined boundaries and sufficient surface area for true territorial economic development.

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The Geopark covers about 9% of Iceland, 9542 km2, and follows the borders of three municipalities, Skaftárhreppur, Mýrdalshreppur and Rangárþing eystra. About 2700 people live within the Geopark. GeologyIceland lies astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where tectonic plates move apart from each other, causing a rift zone.  A mantle plume exists below the country, centred beneath Vatnajökull ice cap. In South Iceland the interaction of the rift zone and the mantle plume results in complex and diverse volcanic activity. Volcanic activity and its widespread effect on the area’s nature and landscape make Katla Geopark very special.

The Geopark is in the most volcanically active area of Iceland, and the volcanic systems at Eyjafjallajökull, Katla, and Grímsvötn are particularly active. The region is characterised by central volcanoes, eruptive craters and fissures, rootless cones, lava fields, table mountains (tuyas), and hyaloclastite ridges which trend SW-NE, like the rift zone.

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Ice caps are prominent in the landscape, topping the highest volcanoes. Outlet glaciers and glacial rivers flow from them and glacial landforms, e.g. moraines and ice-dammed lakes, occur in the area. Large floods, usually glacier outbursts associated with subglacial eruptions, have formed outwash plains in the lowlands. The oldest bedrock in the area is about 2.5 million years old, and can be found at the base of Lómagnúpur, an old sea-cliff (671 m). Other interesting features in the Geopark are fossil-bearing xenoliths, and tephra layers which are useful for dating (tephrochronology).

12. Skaftafell National Park

The second national park, Skaftafell, established in 1967 (400-500 square kilometres), contains some of the most precious natural pearls of  the country. The rugged landscapes, mountains and glaciers, the flora and the fauna have a magnetic influence on the visitors.

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In 1984, it was increased in area (1736 square kilometres) including a considerable part of Glacier Vatnajokull. In November 2004 the area of the park was still increased to 4,807 square kilometres.  It now comprises the Laki Area as well as about half of Euorpe's largest icecap, Vatnajokull. There are no roads in the park, but a network of trails offers the opportunity for differently extended hikes. The camping grounds are large but it is difficult to hammer the tent pegs into the gravel surface. Among the services rendered in the park are toilets, washing machines, a restaurant, a small shop and a very interesting Visitors Centre.

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The park wardens offer regular guided walking tours and daily bus tours tours from the park to the volcanic Laki area and Jokulsarlon as well as the daily schedule. A comprehensive brochure with maps and  hiking trails is available at the Visitors' Centre. The distance from the capital is about 340 km.