Culture Trip’s Feel-Good Places to Visit in 2021 – Iceland

With a new ring road, Iceland is getting easier to explore year-round
With a new ring road, Iceland is getting easier to explore year-round | © Jon Flobrant / Unsplash
Photo of Cassam Looch
Editorial Manager1 September 2021
View

Iceland remains one of the top bucket-list destinations in the world. This Nordic country is popular with Europeans and Americans and offers an incredible array of experiences catering to all. We take a closer look at what you can expect on your next trip to the stunning island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Experience the magic of Iceland for yourself – book Culture Trip’s five-day, exclusive Iceland tour and escape to the land of fire and ice.

There’s no pretending that Iceland is a secret destination. Its recent tourism boom has been well-documented, and if you haven’t already visited, it’s quite likely you had plans to do so long before the dramatic events of 2020.

The huge success of the TV series Game of Thrones captured part of the landscape, but other films and entertainment shows have also used dramatic Icelandic locations to great effect. In 2020, Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga saw viewers furiously searching the internet to find out if the town of Húsavík was real. Like many of the locations seen on screen and associated with Iceland, this cosy village at the centre of the musical movie is well worth a visit.

Húsavík is a charming town in northern Iceland | © Imagebroker / Alamy Stock Photo

The capital, Reykjavík, in the southwest, is the first port of call for the majority of visitors and serves as an excellent starting point. Road trips are a popular way of exploring the country, with a major ring road, Route 1, circling several of the main towns and landmarks you’ll want to visit. Driving around Iceland is a reassuringly painless experience, as the roads are well maintained and clearly signposted. It’s difficult to get stuck and almost impossible to get lost.

To make things even more enjoyable, a new route known as the Westfjords Way (Vestfjarðaleið) opened in 2020. This 950km (590mi) circuit ventures into a lesser-seen part of Iceland, making it ideal for those of us looking to return to the country for a new experience, or first-timers hoping to avoid potential crowds. The Westfjords were previously incredibly difficult to access during the winter months due to adverse weather conditions, but the new route changes all that. Constructed as part of this new road, the Dýrafjarðargöng tunnel now links Ísafjörður, the largest town in the Westfjords, with the rest of Iceland throughout the year.

A new road now makes accessing the Westfjords easy all year round | © Paul Mayall Iceland / Alamy Stock Photo

Winter in Iceland is a magical experience, and a big part of the attraction for many travellers is the chance to see the Northern Lights. If these spectacular illuminations are the main reason you want to visit, then plan your trip between mid-October and April, and also look to head out of Reykjavík to avoid light pollution from the city.

There’s so much more to discuss when looking at Iceland that it’s impossible to fit it all on one page. Make sure you check out our informative guides and tips before you head off to one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Feel-good places to stay in Iceland

Ion City Hotel

A room at Ion City Hotel with a double bed, bathtub and a view of Reykjavik
Courtesy of Ion City Hotel / Expedia

Ion City Hotel is a great little place in Reykjavík, and while there are plenty of hotels around the city centre, there are few that tick as many boxes as this one does. It combines the quaint, cosy aesthetic usually associated with Nordic properties with an ultra-practical modern design, and it’s surprisingly affordable in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s also a great place to orient yourself, as it’s worth spending a couple of days in the capital to plan the rest of your trip.

Frost and Fire

Frost and Fire hot tub dramatically perched over river and surrounding hills
Courtesy of Frost and Fire Boutique Hotel / Expedia

Being off-grid isn’t really a selling point in Iceland, as most places outside Reykjavík are remote wilderness. However, the geothermal-powered Frost and Fire feels even more isolated than many other properties on this list. In Hveragerði village, about 30 minutes from the capital, this boutique hotel is an excellent base from which to explore the country. Nearby is the Varmá River – which means “warm waters” – a great place for a swim.

Magma Hotel

Magma
Courtesy of Magma Hotel / Expedia

The black volcanic sands of Reynisfjara are just one of the draws in southern Iceland that make it among the most popular regions in the country. Near Kirkjubæjarklaustur, where moss-covered lava fields and vast glaciers form the dramatic landscape, Magma Hotel has 12 cabins, each with a distinctive feel, boosted by sleek Nordic design throughout. Its location makes it easy to get to and explore landmarks such as Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon and Eldhraun lava field.

Bragdavellir Cottages

Bragdevellir Cottages
Courtesy of Bragdavellir Cottages / Expedia

The accommodation options at the family-owned Bragdavellir Cottages are as cosy as they come. They sit in eastern Iceland – close to the main ring road – a fascinating part of the country and about as far off the beaten path as you can get. We recommend spending at least a couple of nights here to embrace the Icelandic way of life; you’ll feel as if you’re standing on the edge of the world.

Methodology

The Culture Trip list features places with a feel-good factor that we can’t wait to visit in 2021 and beyond (once we can travel again). It celebrates travel that’s good and makes you feel good. The destinations are dedicated to sustainability; they offer something new and exciting, or an unforgettable moment that will make us fall in love all over again with the world we’ve missed in 2020.

Culture Trip compiled the list based on insights and recommendations from its global community of travel experts and local insiders, combined with search data from millions of users from around the world to understand interest in those destinations.

These recommendations were updated on September 1, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel – and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Epic Trips, Mini Trips and Sailing Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travellers and friends who want to explore the world together.

Epic Trips are deeply immersive 8 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and enough down time to really relax and soak it all in. Our Mini Trips are small and mighty - they squeeze all the excitement and authenticity of our longer Epic Trips into a manageable 3-5 day window. Our Sailing Trips invite you to spend a week experiencing the best of the sea and land in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm – and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"