One thing I hear again and again is how people go to Iceland for the first time and feel they have only begun to scratch the surface.
They feel that what they saw was just the tip of the iceberg.
Even people who have returned time and again feel this way!
Iceland is the gift that keeps on giving, after all!
Chances are likely if you’re planning a trip to Iceland you’re going at least in part because you would like to see with your own eyes why this country has been dubbed “The Land of Fire and Ice.” The allure of experiencing the yin and yang of Iceland’s beautiful landscapes is what brings so many to this island in the middle of the North Atlantic.
I know it’s what brought me!
And if you’re headed to Iceland, you’re probably trying to figure out what’s possible during your stay given the amount of time you have and ground you want to cover. It’s an overwhelming task narrowing down your long list of points of interest and deciding what stays and what goes on that final draft of your itinerary.
I get it!
This is why I reached out to Nordic Green Travel! What a trip-saving decision that was!
But if you have but one trip to Iceland to make, and limited time in which to do it, I highly recommend traveling across South Iceland to visit some of the cooler elements that have given Iceland its well-suited moniker.
Our Iconic Highlights of South & West Iceland tour included many of these and they ended up becoming some of our favorite highlights of our trip, and in Iceland, that’s really saying something!
Because truth be told?
Everything in Iceland is spectacular.
So to get a true taste of what the ‘Ice’ in the Land of Fire and Ice is all about, let’s take a journey along Iceland’s South Coast, shall we?!
MUST DO #1: SNORKEL THE FREEZING WATERS OF THE SILFRA
If snorkeling between tectonic plates in icy water that hovers just between 35- and 39-degrees Fahrenheit sounds like your idea of a good time, then you have truly come to the one place in the whole wide world where you can do so!
Snorkeling the Silfra Fissure, which is part of the Golden Circle and located within Thingvellir Park, is truly a must-do if you ask this gal. I wrote a whole blog post about why this activity belongs squarely at the top of any Iceland itinerary you have put together!
And as far as experiences go, you won’t find one more uniquely life-affirming!
Yes, this is an experience where loss of feeling in your extremities is just par for the course.
But, you also won’t likely snorkel in water as mesmerizingly clear…
Trust me when I say that there is an ethereal, otherworldly experience just waiting for you under the surface of the Silfra.
Book a tour (we used Adventure Vikings) and see what I’m talking about!
And don’t worry: follow the safety protocol your experienced guides go over with you and you’ll be fine.
A few numb fingers and toes never hurt anyone!
MUST DO #2: HIKE A GLACIER
If you find yourself in Iceland, then I hope you’ll take things one step further and find yourself hiking atop one of its glaciers, for there is nothing quite like traversing a sea of frozen ice with crampons on feet and pickaxe in hand!
Nothing, I say!
We took a 3-hour tour which was the perfect amount of time to learn about the history of glaciers in Iceland, their attributes, and of course, explore one with our own two feet!
Because glaciers are ever-moving and shifting, I highly recommend that you heed caution and go with a reputable tour company who will send you out onto the glacier with a knowledgeable guide, one whose primary focus will be to make the hike a safe and enjoyable experience for you.
We took a tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides on Sólheimajökull glacier and had the most magnificent time. One can take tours like these on a number of glaciers throughout Iceland.
Yes, when in Iceland, getting up and close with a glacier just has to be on your must-do list:
If you don’t see and do all the icy-y things, you might just be doing Iceland wrong!
That’s all I’m saying!
MUST DO #3: VISIT (AND GLIDE UPON) A GLACIER LAGOON
There are numerous glacier lagoons (Jökulsárlón, Fjallsárlón, and Breiðárlón, to name a few) that one can visit as you travel along Iceland’s South Coast that are just a stone’s throw apart, meaning if you’re going to do one, you gots to do the others!
It just makes logistical sense!
And let me tell you: standing at the shore of a glacial lagoon is incredible!
The air that sits chilled atop its waters and envelopes you, turning your nose and cheeks rosy red!
The fact that you’re surrounded by glaciers thousands upon thousands of years in the making!
To put it simply: it is an arresting, serene, and humbling sight:
The lagoons are changing all the time, as icebergs drift in from the sea or break from the glaciers, collide into one another, and turn over in the water. Standing and watching for any length of time and you are sure to witness the lagoon landscape changing moods by the hour!
It’s the kind of place that is always reinventing itself.
I wonder what the lagoons will look like on your visit!
Only one way to find out!
AMPHIBIAN BOAT TOURS AT JÖKULSÁRLÓN
I highly recommend taking a boat tour on the lagoon while you are visiting Jökulsárlón. Gliding out onto the frigid lagoon water to get up and personal with gorgeous, gleaming icebergs is the stuff of magic! And as far as tours go, a boat tour is one that won’t set you back far in terms of price or duration.
At approximately one hour in length and $50 USD/adult, an amphibian boat tour on Jökulsárlón hits all the right notes! This is one of those tours that gives you a lot of bang for your buck!
Not only will you get to leave your perch along the dry shore to enjoy the icebergs up close, but you’ll learn a ton as you marvel at your surroundings!
Our guide even retrieved a chunk of ice and allowed everyone to take a small piece to taste for themselves.
Let me tell you: that glacier ice was re-freshing!
MUST DO #4: DON’T FORGET DIAMOND BEACH!
What do you get when you pair a black sand beach and chunks of glittering ice that find their way on to it as the tide brings them in?
Gorgeous perfection, that’s what!
People flock to Diamond Beach, which is a short and easy walk from Jökulsárlón, to see this sight for themselves, and for good reason! The juxtaposition of pure white ice against inky black sands is a true feast for the eyes and makes for some stunning photography!
When we went, we were admittedly a bit disappointed, as the pieces of ice scattered on the beach were fairly modest in size:
But a quick search on Instagram and you can see that depending on the day and time of year, the ice chunks on the beach can be massive!
If you’ve made your way far enough west along the South Coast of Iceland to Jökulsárlón, then don’t forget to visit Diamond Beach on your visit. This is a twofer spot and not to be missed!
Actually, this is a three-fer! Don’t forget to have a pylsa, an Icelandic staple, after all your “cold” sightseeing.
It will warm you right up!
Make sure to have it with everything!
A WORD OF WARNING
Please be careful in the Land of Fire and Ice! Do not be foolish, for example, and attempt to climb or otherwise get on top of one of the icebergs. It’s extremely dangerous as the icebergs are constantly moving and turning in the water, which is freezing and cannot sustain human life for long.
Case in point: a grandmother made headlines back in March when the iceberg she was sitting atop at Diamond Beach got drudged back out to sea by the tide. Imagine her fear as she found herself a sitting duck surrounded by the frigid North Atlantic! Thankfully, her story ended well as she was brought to safety by passersby.
Not everyone can be guaranteed the same happy ending, however.
So please, I implore you to be a sterling steward of Iceland: enjoy everything Iceland has to offer in a safe manner! In this example, take all the pictures you can handle from the safety of shore and dry land!
OKAY, WHAT TO WEAR?!
If you’re going to be doing all these cold things in unpredictable and wind-crazy Iceland, you’re probably wondering what to throw in that suitcase of yours!
It’s a bit of a conundrum to be sure!
In my mind, one must absolutely have, at a minimum: a sturdy pair of waterproof hiking shoes/boots, wool socks, thermal layers, a wind/waterproof layered jacket or coat, and a warm hat and mittens/gloves.
I promise you this: you will enjoy Iceland to the fullest when you can take in your surroundings without the sense that you are losing all feeling from the neck down!
It just makes everything more enjoyable when you’re comfortable!
If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in Iceland, I hope you will make every effort to see the highlights of this special country that have given it its apt moniker The Land of Fire and Ice! The varied landscapes of Iceland are, after all, one of the main reasons people keep returning there, time and time again.
If you make your way across South Iceland, you can snorkel the waters of the Silfra, slay a glacier, glide upon a glacier lagoon, and visit Diamond Beach as your grand finale.
In other words?
It’s all about the Ice, Ice Baby!
Be sure to consider all the tours offered that will allow you to enjoy these unique and majestic landscapes to the max. Our tours were absolute highlights for me and will be sure memory-makers for you as well!
And above all, simply take in the extraordinary landscapes of Iceland that set it apart from any other place you have ever visited.
Iceland can’t help it.
Iceland is just effortlessly cool.
Nordic Green Travel offers numerous self-drive tours that include the South Coast highlights mentioned in this post. They can also help you book any excursions you’re interested in during your tour, including glacier hiking, snorkeling, or a lagoon boat ride. Check out their tours and excursions offerings here.