Into the Heart of Iceland: Three Self Guided Iceland Adventures
Iceland is a wonderfully big, wild, sometimes scary looking country and organised trips and tours are a great way to experience it quickly, efficiently and safely. But if all you do is visit The Blue Lagoon, do a Golden Circle Tour and take a whale watching trip, you will see a bit of Iceland but you won’t feel it in your bones. For real Iceland adventures you have to venture in a little deeper, without the comfort of a guide.
If you’re an independent spirit, like the idea of exploring for yourself and are willing to put yourself out there to get a feel for the raw power and magnetic beauty of Iceland, then here’s three ideas for mini-adventures you can plan and organise yourself. Adventures we know will enable you to see, feel and experience Iceland for yourself, often on you own, in the absolute middle of nowhere with only the Huldufólk for company.
1 Cycle the Dream Road – Svalvogar Circuit
What is it? An adventure cycling route in the Western Fjords. Say goodbye to tarmac and what little civilisation there is in the furthest fingers of Western Iceland as you take off on an incredible trail around the spectacular Svalvogar peninsular. Cycle along gravel track and muddy cliff top, past a lighthouse and always with the sea in your sights. You’ll have to ford small rivers and synchronise your ride with the movement of the moon on a section which gets completely submerged at high tide. Then climb a gravel strewn pass to return back to where you started. Tough but so worth it. Afterwards.
Where is it? The Svalvogar Circuit is in the Western Fjords of Iceland, one of the remote fingers of the western Icelandic mainland. The nearest settlement is Þingeyri. It’s may look fairly close to Reykjavik as the crow flies but expect a very long drive and some rough roads just to get there.
Who can do it? This is the open road and wild county so there are no age guidelines, it’s for you to judge whether you and your kids have the skills and can cope. It’s a serious undertaking with no support but we managed it with our kids when they were 7, 11 and 12. The younger ones rode on the back of tandems, the older one on his own bike. We are quite used to wild riding and camping though.
How much? Assuming you have all the cycle touring and camping gear, nothing. You pay the price in your legs though.
Why do it? For the incredible solitude, magnificent scenery, varied cycling, the fun of fording little rivers on a bike, camping wild and the challenge of timing things so you can safely cross at low tide.
For more information: Check out our post on cycling the dream road.
2 Bathe your way around a Hot Pools Trail
What is it? A trail of natural hot pools in and around the Western Fjords. Hot pools are everywhere in Iceland, a defining part of the fabric and culture of the country and a not to be missed experience. But why just try one? Why not experience the diversity of the country’s hot pool by hopping in and out of different pools on a hot pool road trip? You can sit in a hot pool by the sea in Drangsnes, run naked across a field and jump in a natural spring bubbling up in a field at Heydalur, try and swim lengths in a large geothermally heated swimming pool at Reykjanes, or plunge in next to a wizard’s hut at Laugarholl. And that’s just for starters.
Where to do it? Check with West Iceland tourist information centres for details of the West Fjords trail, read this article from the Guardian on a hot pool holiday, or do a little online research and create your own trail. You could do this anywhere in Iceland as there are hot pools everywhere.
Who can do it? Anyone who enjoys hot pools. If you suffer from high blood pressure, heart or circulatory conditions may want to seek medical advice before plunging in.
How much? Not a lot. Some are wild, hard to find and free. Others may have a small entrance charge but it’s way, way cheaper and more personal than the big commercial operations like the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik or the spa complex at Myvatn Nature Baths.
Why do it? Hot pools are part and parcel of Icelandic culture. It’s a great way to get the kids motivated for a road trip around the fjords. Can you think of a better way to relax?
For more information: check out our post on 8 Unique Hot Pools in the Western fjords.
3 Camp in the Icelandic Interior
What is it? A 4WD camping adventure like no other, heading into the wilds of the Icelandic interior to be at one with the raw power of Icelandic nature. You can do this on an organised tour but it’s more exciting to rent yourself a 4wd vehicle in Reykjavik, pack a tent and some supplies and plot a route to one of the recognised camp spots in the interior in search of some human company and a place where you stand a reasonable chance of getting tent pegs into volcanic rock. The interior is vast, awe inspiring, overwhelming, challenging but accessible too. If you have the nerve and the interest you can make a great 2 or 3 day trip to sample it for a night or two from Reykajvik. Aim for places less than a day’s drive away and I guarantee you’ll find them sufficiently remote that you’ll feel a million miles away.
Where to do it? You can camp and swim in hot springs at Landmannalaugar, a great spot to play hide and seek in the rhyolite. You will find the 17 green tin roofed mountain huts of Kerlingerfjöll a welcome sign of civilisation after hours of emptiness bumping along the Kjölur route. Or for solitude try heading to the Hvitarnes Hut, down by Lake Hvitarvatn, one of many small mountain huts that provide refuge in the wilderness.
Who can do it? You need someone with a full driving licence to drive a rental car. Both driver and passengers will need the courage and patience to take on Iceland’s gravel roads and possibly nerves of steel if you have to attempt a river crossing. Remember your insurance may not cover you for this so do check and take advice before committing to a route involving river crossings. They can be extremely dangerous in the wrong conditions or if you don’t know what you are doing. You also need good navigation skills, camping gear and the confidence and skills to look after yourself in wild country.
How much? Renting a car is your main expense. Companies like Guide to Iceland have search engines which can help you find some of the cheapest car rentals in Iceland. Camping is cheap, accommodation in huts less so. You won’t need much for bars, restaurants or attractions. There are none, which of course is the attraction.
Why do it? There no better way to really get a taste for the Icelandic interior than to crunch pumice underfoot and then spend a night sleeping on it. Where else can you wake in the shadow of the tongues of the Langjökull glacier, spend an afternoon playing hide and seek amongst fresh rhyolite towers, and end the day watching a lone sea kayaker chase a setting sun under a sky of pink footed geese?
For more information: Read our post on our 4WD experience to visit Landmannalaugar and our post on driving the Kjölur route in the Icelandic interior. See also our tips on how to tour the landmarks of Iceland on a road trip.