Iceland is a country with a bit of everything. Whether you’re a photographer, an adventurer, a history buff, or an art enthusiast, you’re sure to find attractions that inspire you — and United Airlines can help you get there. We’ve partnered with United to celebrate the launch of the airline’s new routes, one of which takes travelers from New York (Newark) to Iceland. On our trip with United, we visited some of the most popular destinations throughout the country and explored its stunning landscapes along the way. If you have the opportunity to visit this country full of otherworldly views, check out some of our favorite destinations on this island nation.
VISIT THE CAPITAL CITY
Reykjavík may be compact, but there is plenty to explore. The city’s relatively small size makes it easy to visit various cafés, shops, churches, and other attractions on foot or by bike. For amazing architecture, stop by Harpa Concert Hall, an iconic glass building which you can appreciate from both the interior and exterior. You can also check out the hall’s events and enjoy an array of shows, such as Iceland’s Symphony Orchestra performances.
For more great photo opportunities and stunning architecture, visit Hallgrimskirikja, the largest church in Iceland. The church was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937 and was inspired by the shapes that emerge when lava cools. The church tower can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and if you climb to the top, you’ll be met with some of the best views of Reykjavík. From there, it’s easy to explore the city center on foot. If you’re looking for a place to shop, visit Laugavegur Street, or other popular shopping areas, such as Bankastræti, Skólavörðustígur, and Lækjargata. We were able to easily search for retail locations with the help of Travel Wifi‘s 4G plans in Europe, which kept us connected throughout our trip.
To experience a common Icelandic pastime, visit one of the many swimming pools in the Reykjavík area. Located behind Hallgrimskirikja, you’ll find Sundhöll Reykjavík, the oldest public baths in Iceland. If, after spending some time relaxing in the pool, you’d like to learn more about Icelandic culture in a more formal setting, the interactive and informative National Museum of Iceland is also located within walking distance of the city center.
RELAX AND REJUVENATE
After walking or biking around the heart of Reykjavík, take take some time to relax at Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, located about 30 minutes from the capital city by car. You can also take a bus from Reykjavík to the spa. Offering soothing waters that cleanse your skin, this natural spa is open year-round and the water in the large lake is always warm. Experience the seemingly magical powers of geothermal seawater and enjoy a mask bar, massage, in-water bar, and sauna and steam room. But be sure to book in advance.
TRAVEL ALONG THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
The Golden Circle is a route that features three of Iceland’s most popular destinations: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Springs Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. If you’re looking for a way to experience this route, Hotel Grimsborgir offers a great starting point, as it’s located directly at the start of the route and 45 minutes from Reykjavík. This luxury hotel features spacious rooms with serene, minimalist décor and modern amenities, and the on-site restaurant, Grimsborgir Restaurant, serves both Icelandic and international dishes, such as oven-baked Icelandic cod, Icelandic mountain lamb, and ratatouille. The restaurant also offers a breakfast buffet that is included in the hotel booking fee.
The hotel hosts many Golden Circle tours that you can choose from, or you can drive around the circle on your own.
The first stop along the circle, Thingvellir National Park, became a national park in 1930 and later a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known for both its fascinating geology and unique history, many people are drawn to Thingvellir because of its location in a rift valley with tectonic plates, lava rocks, and surrounding volcanoes. It was also used as a meeting place for the parliament of the Viking Age commonwealth (its name means “the fields of parliament”). It’s a popular location for bird watching, diving, snorkeling, and viewing the Northern Lights in the winter.
Gullfoss Waterfall is a breathtaking waterfall located in a dramatic, ancient valley. The two-tiered waterfall is beautiful during cold and warm months alike. In the winter, the waterfall freezes, offering stunning views of the ice. When it’s sunny, however, you’ll have the chance to see many rainbows due to the falling mist.
The Geysir Hot Springs Area is just a short drive away from Gullfoss Waterfall and a 50-minute drive from Thingvellir. The Geysir is the most famous hot spring there, but it isn’t the only geyser in this geothermal area. The most active one is Strokkur, which sprouts hot water approximately every few minutes. So, have your camera ready, but also be sure to keep a safe distance from the boiling eruption.
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN BEAUTY
Incredible views are not tough to come by in Iceland. It seems like everywhere you look, there are natural wonders to observe and photograph. One of the country’s most beautiful destinations, though there are many, is Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, a lagoon with large, glistening icebergs. It’s also a popular locale for viewing the Northern Lights. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon offers amphibian boat tours, which allow you to sail alongside the icebergs, spot a few seals swimming in the lagoon, and learn all about the geology of the area over the span of 30 to 40 minutes. Note that the lagoon is about a five-to-six-hour hour drive from Iceland’s capital city — but it’s also a beautiful drive, offering you the chance to observe a range of Icelandic scenery along the way.
With waterfalls, lava rocks, icebergs, and saunas, Iceland offers a seemingly endless amount of places to see and experience. Which sight is on your must-see list?