Somewhere Wonderful in Iceland is Waiting

The Black Church of Budir contrasts sharply against the verdant landscape of western Iceland
The Black Church of Budir contrasts sharply against the verdant landscape of western Iceland | © Hartmut Albert / Alamy
Gethin Morgan

Content Editor

There’s no country on earth quite like Iceland. You’ll find geographic anomalies everywhere, from the capital of Reykjavik in the southwest to the Eastern Fjords and the charming towns of North Iceland, the blend of unique culture and stunning natural beauty is captivating. Now that the nation’s gates have been opened to anyone with a vaccine and, following the news that Iceland has been placed on the UK Government’s green list, it’s all ready for you to explore.

Even if it sometimes feels like a large metropolis, Reykjavik is a very small city

Most tourists stick to Reykjavik and the surrounding areas, which happen to be home to some of the country’s most popular attractions. The capital is a good place to set up camp, with a great food scene, plenty going on and easy access to other parts of the island, be it by car, public transport or tour guides.

However, all of Iceland is well worth visiting and, if you’re looking to avoid the tourist rush, you may be better placed finding a quieter spot to call home. Head east and you’ll find the seaside town of Vik, home to a remarkable black sand beach, and head further northeast until you reach Egilsstadir, found in one of the most scenic areas in all of Iceland.

The town of Akureyri in North Iceland on a summer day

The northern capital is Akureyri – it has a domestic airport and flights from Reykjavik can be under an hour – which is a perfect base if you’re looking to explore a different side of the island. From there you can discover the many quaint little villages and towns along the coast, such as Húsavík, the tiny fishing outpost made famous by Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020).

Covid Travel Rules & Guidelines

Green list status means that arrivals into the UK from Iceland will be welcome from 17 May, as long as you take a pre-departure test, as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of your arrival back into the UK. You won’t have to quarantine at all – unless you test positive, of course – and won’t need to take any extra tests.

Travelling to Iceland is simple if you’re fully vaccinated. Since 6 April, all travellers have been welcomed into the country if they can provide a certificate showing full vaccination. Interestingly, they also accept a certificate of previous Covid infection – this must be an official lab-tested confirmation – a doctor’s diagnosis will not be accepted – and, obviously, the positive result must have occurred more than 14-days prior to arrival. If either of these conditions is met then you are only expected to undergo one test, free of charge, upon arrival. You must head straight to your accommodation and quarantine there until your results come back, which will usually take five to six hours but could take up to 24 hours.

PCR tests can be carried out at home

Things are a little trickier for those without proof of vaccination or prior infection. You will need a negative PCR test, taken within 72 hours of departure, before boarding the aircraft. Then, once you’ve arrived, you’ll need to take the initial test, just like vaccinated travellers. However, you then have to quarantine for five to six days before taking a second test, and if that test is clear you can finally go out and explore Iceland. This quarantine period would most likely be in a designated hotel, unless you have a suitable alternative.

All arriving travellers will need to pre-register electronically, before departure, at The Icelandic Government also recommends downloading the Rakning C-19 tracing app.

Most places are now allowed to open in Iceland, although a 10pm curfew remains in place. Masks are to be worn indoors and any other time when 2m (6.5ft) social distancing cannot be maintained. Track and trace is also pretty rigorous here, so you will be expected to provide personal information at most venues.

Things to do in Iceland

Unless you’re planning on an extended stay, planning your must-see Icelandic attractions is crucial. It’s impossible to cover all of that beauty in a short stay, so choosing your favourites and planning around them is a wise approach. Check out our selection of the best attractions in Iceland for a more in-depth guide. If you’re in search of the Aurora Borealis then we also have a specific guide for the best places to see the Northern Lights. In the meantime, we’ve chosen three of our personal favourites to start you off, and you can also search for bookable experiences and activities across Iceland.

The interior of Harpa, a concert hall in Reykjavik with a uniquely modern design

1. The Golden Circle

Park, Natural Feature

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland.
© STEPHEN FLEMING / Alamy Stock Photo

Let’s start with the obvious. A normal length holiday in Iceland means leaving out countless spots of natural beauty that would be on top of your bucket list in any other country. So, while it’s always worth checking out what fjords, geysers and waterfalls are in the area you’re staying in, the simplest way of getting a really good grasp of this country’s amazing land is to take a Golden Circle tour. The tour covers three of the nation’s most cherished natural landmarks: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall. It’s a full day’s worth of exploring but there are many guided tours to choose from, most of which depart from Reykjavik, and it’s a truly spectacular insight into the diversity of Icelandic geography.

2. Mývatn Nature Baths

Natural Feature

Jaroboeoin thermal bath, Myvatn Nature Baths, the Blue Lagoon of the North, Norourland eystra region, or north-east region
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Now let’s try something a little different. The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s other famous attraction – and with good reason. The mineral-rich warm waters are irresistible, it’s conveniently placed in the island’s more accessible southwest and the high-tech spa built here is mightily tempting. However, it gets extremely busy and for a place so tranquil, it feels strange to be surrounded by so many people. This is where the case for Northern Iceland comes in. The waters at Mývatn Nature Baths are pretty much identical and arguably even richer in minerals yet are much, much quieter. While it is a must-visit for those in the north, it isn’t totally out of the question for those in the southwest. A trip here from Reykjavik would be a full day’s round journey but, by car, would also happen to be one of the best road trips in the world, along the country’s famously scenic Ring Road.

3. Rauðasandur

Natural Feature

Rauoasandur, Westfjords, Iceland
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Nobody books Iceland for the beaches but seeing this stretch of sand in the northwest is worth the flight alone. That’s because this is no ordinary beach. Changing colour throughout the day, the sand is naturally a striking reddish colour, which contrasts beautifully with the black cliffs and deep blue waters. When the sun shines, the sand glimmers as if full of diamonds, while rainfall can make it turn white or even black. Learn more about this extraordinary natural wonder by reading our guide to Rauðasandur, which includes tips on how to get there and the facilities available upon arrival.

Where to stay in Iceland

In recent years, as Iceland has become increasingly popular, the nation’s hotel industry has flourished. Now there’s a healthy mix of accommodation options available to all travellers, and we have extensive guides on where to book. Whether you’re looking for a boutique hotel, a city hotel in Reykjavik or, for the full Iceland experience, a relaxing spa hotel, there are plenty of choices.

We also have guides on budget-friendly hotels, hostels, apartments, B&Bs, luxury hotels and resorts. Or, you can even hand-pick your own favourite by searching all of our places to stay in Iceland. The choice is yours, but here are three of our absolute favourites.

4. Frost And Fire Boutique Hotel

Boutique Hotel, Spa Hotel

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

Frost & Fire is only around 30 minutes from Reykjavik but it feels a million miles away from city life. Nestled in geothermal foothills on the banks of the Varmá river, and near the village of Hveragerði, this is a truly unique escape in one of Iceland’s richest geothermal regions, making it perfect for swimming and soaking in the nearby hot springs and pools. Watch plumes of steam rise from the ground from the comfort of your room, many of which offer views of the river and Mount Reykjafall in the distance. There is an excellent restaurant on-site and outdoor spa facilities are free for guests to use.

5. The Retreat At Blue Lagoon Iceland

Spa Hotel

The Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland with footbridge and blue waters
Courtesy of The Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland / Expedia

The Blue Lagoon is arguably the country’s most popular attraction, so why not give yourself unlimited access to the incredible Retreat Spa, the Blue Lagoon itself and the Blue Lagoon Ritual. While you also have access to the Retreat Lagoon, a more secluded space flowing from the very same water, which juts through lava canyons and hidden coves. The lagoon circles the hotel like a moat, so you can enjoy views of the milky blue waters and extraordinary surrounding landscape from the minimalist rooms or multiple top-notch restaurants. There are also steam caves, lava springs, private saunas and more. This really is a spa retreat like no other.

6. Siglo Hotel

Boutique Hotel

The green-and-white Sigló Hótel in Siglufjörður overlooks the sea and is backed by lush green mountains.
© Sigló Hótel / Expedia

Most people tend to stick to Reykjavik and the surrounding areas in the southwest, but there’s no reason not to venture further afield, particularly when somewhere like Siglo Hotel is waiting for you in the northern town of Siglufjord. It was once the herring capital of the world and what remains is a delightfully Icelandic fishing town with a stunning mountainous backdrop. The hotel has three excellent restaurants, outdoor spas and a sauna, while rooms are classically designed with the kind of views you could only find in Iceland.

Where to eat and drink in Iceland

Iceland has, in the past, been unfairly dismissed as a country lacking a good food scene. If that ever was true, it certainly isn’t now. Not only is the cuisine here among the healthiest in the world, it’s also unique, dynamic and incredibly creative. Great restaurants are popping up everywhere and we’ve selected three of the best to help you get started.

7. Grillmarkadurinn (The Grillmarket), Reykjavik

Restaurant, Market, Steakhouse, Northern European

Grillmarkadurinn restaurant in Reykjavik, stylishly decorated with lava rocks and fish skin lampshades. E9WMXN
© Icelandic photo agency / Alamy

Don’t let the sleek design of this central Reykjavik restaurant fool you, this place is all about natural ingredients cooked traditionally. All of the produce is acquired directly from local farmers, while fire, smoke, wood and coal all play their part in the cooking process. There are veggie options available but, unsurprisingly, this place specialises in quality meat and fish. The restaurant recommends group meals – you can have a sharer three-course meal, or try the group tasting menu – but we won’t blame you if you want to keep the succulent steak, or catch of the day, all to yourself.

8. Matur og Drykkur, Reykjavik

Bar, Restaurant, Wine Bar, Northern European, European, Seafood

Some of Iceland’s more traditional dishes can be challenging to foreign palettes. At family restaurant Matur og Drykkur – named after an old Icelandic cookbook and set in a former salt fish factory overlooking the harbour – chefs take traditional recipes and give them a subtle contemporary twist. Try the cod’s head for a slightly scary but very delicious plate of food, or go for the six-course seasonal tasting menu for a comprehensive Icelandic dining experience.

9. Hotel Framtid, Djupivogur, East Fjords

Restaurant, Seafood

Hotel Framtid_5cd5f8c3
Courtesy of Hotel Framtíð / Expedia

Good food in Iceland isn’t confined to the capital. On the eastern side of the island, in the tiny fishing village of Djúpivogur – population 450 – is this hotel and restaurant dating back to 1904. A window table offers the most peaceful view of a quaint harbour occupied by colourful little boats. The food, meanwhile, is a seafood lover’s dream. You can’t go wrong with the catch of the day, but we also recommend the mussels, grilled lobster tails with garlic butter and, for those wanting a meaty alternative, the roast lamb fillet with fragrant thyme sauce is a winner.

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