5. Soak in Grettislaug
Of the many hot springs in Iceland, Grettislaug might have the best backstory. After swimming 7.5 km through bitterly cold waters, and attracting some ridicule from some local women for the effects on his extremities, outlaw hero Grettir reputedly jumped into this hot pool to warm up again.
Whether the story’s true is beside the point – as you lie in the steaming water, Tindastóll looming to one side and the sea stretching out to the other, the invigorating effect will make you feel as strong as a Viking.
Grettislaug hot spring by night © Vaclav Jirousek/Shutterstock
6. Wander the volcanic sands at Vík
Down at the southern tip of Iceland is the tiny coastal village of Vík, home to a tumble of buildings and a sweeping, black-sand beach – a reminder (if you needed one) of the island’s volcanic heart. It’s also a good base if you fancy spotting some puffins without getting on a boat, or want somewhere welcoming to return to after striking out into the bleak deserts of southeastern Iceland.
A bracing walk west along the coast is Dyrólaey, with its towering basalt columns, a true icon of Iceland – the design of the stunning modern in Reykjavík was based on them.
The black sand beach at Vík © Jurjen Veerman/Shutterstock
7. Head into the glacier at Langjökull
The second-largest glacier in Iceland, Langjökull boasts something its bigger rival (Vatnajökull) doesn’t: tunnels chiselled out of the icecap itself, giving visitors a totally different view of this slowly flowing mass of ice. Visiting the glacier is truly one of the best things to do in Iceland.
The trip give you a remarkable insight into how glaciers function, but it would be worth it just for the visuals – the ice looks perfectly clear in places, cloudy white in others, and in others still startlingly blue, and has to rank among the best things to see in Iceland. Strap on your crampons, head into the ice, and marvel at the power of the glacier.
The glacier tunnel at Langjökull © tipwam/Shutterstock
8. Dodge icebergs in Jökulsárlón
The vast Vatnajökull – Europe’s biggest glacier – creaks and groans towards the sea, only to break apart into icebergs once it reaches the water. You can see these up close by taking a trip out onto the lagoon at Jökulsárlón, or just by strolling along the black beach, where icebergs are washed up onto the sand like broken glass.
Jökulsárlón lagoon © BBandSIRI/Shutterstock
9. Watch whales off the coast at Húsavík
Way up in the north of Iceland is the friendly town of Húsavík, clustered around its harbour in the shadow of towering Húsavíkurfjall. It’s a likeable spot, especially in summer when the mountain is green and the clear waters reflect the colourful wooden houses and sailing ships, but most people come here for one reason: whales.
You can go on a whale-watching trip from Reykjavík too, of course, but only from Húsavík can you see blue whales. They’re not the only cetaceans you might spot, either – with orcas, minke whales, fin whales, sperm whales and humpbacks in these waters, too, you’re almost guaranteed a sighting.
Whale watching in Húsavík © SasinTipchai/Shutterstock
10. Stroll the flower meadows of Flatey
Iceland’s natural scenery is rugged, bleak, otherworldly… but pastoral? The small farming island of Flatey is a peaceful escape, with meadows strewn with delicate flowers and stunning views across to the more dramatic landscape of the West Fjords. Icelanders think of it as a rural idyll, and visitors too can enjoy coming here to stroll through the fields of buttercups, admire the scenery, perhaps take a leisurely boat trip – and not worry about anything else.
The flower meadow at Flatey © CherylRamalho/Shutterstock
11. Save the pufflings in Heimaey
Every August, the island of Heimaey is home to a truly heartwarming spectacle. Around this time, the adult puffins fly out to sea and their chicks leave their nests to follow, in search of food. However, many of them become confused and fly into Heimaey town, where the local residents charitably collect the fluffy young birds and release them somewhere safer.
It’s a fun, friendly affair, led by the kids of the town – and if you can look at a happy child tenderly scooping up a lost puffling without cracking a smile, your heart must be stonier than Heimaey’s coastline.
Adult puffins in Heimay © Ventura/Shutterstock
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Top image: Vik beach © kovop58/Shutterstock