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
Social Editor1 September 2021

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.

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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.

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  • 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

    Boutique Hotel, Luxury
    4.7/5 (141 Reviews)
    Ion City Hotel
    Courtesy of Ion City Hotel / Expedia
    Price Drop
    Now from $198 per night

    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.

    More info

    Frost and Fire

    Boutique Hotel, Spa Hotel
    4.6/5 (686 Reviews)
    Frost & Fire
    Courtesy of Frost and Fire Boutique Hotel / Expedia
    Price Drop
    Now from $203 per night

    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.

    More info

    Magma Hotel

    Hotel, Lodge, Cottages, Eco-Lodge
    4.8/5 (162 Reviews)
    Magma
    Courtesy of Magma Hotel / Expedia
    Price Drop
    Now from $227 per night

    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.

    More info

    Bragdavellir Cottages

    Eco Hotel, Lodge, Cottages, Eco-Lodge
    4.5/5 (30 Reviews)
    Bragdevellir Cottages
    Courtesy of Bragdavellir Cottages / Expedia
    Price Drop
    Now from $160 per night

    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.

    More info

    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.

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