SUMMER IN ICELAND
SUMMER (June – August)
Summertime is the warmest time of the year with relatively mild weather (for an arctic country) and average highs in the mid-50’s. The “land of the midnight sun” experiences 20 – 21 hours of sunlight daily (and in June 24 hours), which means that you won’t be able to see Northern lights at this time of the year.
Most attractions are open and accessible, but being the tourist season, you can expect crowds and elevated prices.
THINGS TO DO IN SUMMER
Waterfalls are seriously everywhere and it’s often a daunting task deciding which ones you’d like to visit. You’ll see most of them along the Golden Circle Route. Others, however will require some amount of hiking, but are well worth the effort. To help you make your decision, we’ve included descriptions of 14 great waterfall, in no particular order.
Kirkjufellsfoss - Kirkjufellsfoss is located near the small town of Grundarfjörður on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland. This waterfall has been the subject of countless photographs, with the dramatic Mount Kirkjufell as a backdrop. Despite its small size, it is probably one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. You may have to fight for a spot though, since the site frequently becomes crowded with photographers and their tripods, trying to capture the right angle.
The waterfall is spectacular in any season, during winter you may get the chance to capture it with the Northern lights above it. While in summer the midnight sun cast a different light on the falls, that is equally magical.
Aldeyjarfoss - This waterfall is located in Northern Iceland, about 90km from Húsavík. In order to reach it you will require a 4WD vehicle (if traveling on your own), as it a 41km drive each way into the Bárðardalur valley and off the beaten track. This 60ft high glacial waterfall is surrounded by a huge amphitheater of basalt columns and is a stunning sight.
The falls can be viewed from both north and south sides, however the north side is easier to access. Getting to the south side involves a scramble down a rocky hill, but it will afford you views of the howle rock-face.
Thanks to its amazing symmetry it is one of icelands most photogenic falls.
Hraunfossar - These striking waterfalls are located in Borgarfjörður, near Husafell in west Iceland, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It is only 60 kilometers (or an hours drive) north of Reykjavík, which is about a one-hour drive.. They are conveniently located right next to another dramatic waterfall, Barnafoss.
Hraunofossar waterfall, means ‘Lava Falls’. Clear, cold spring water from the Langjokull glacier seems to magically seep out of cracks in the Hallmundarhraun lava field, creating rivulets that pour into the glacial Hvita river below. The falls, often a unique turquoise blue color, create a spectacular arc of rivulets extending over a distance of 2,955 ft., and are widely considered to be amongst the most spectacular falls in Iceland.
The waterfall has been a protected National Monument since 1987.
Bruarfoss - This splendid series of small waterfalls is located in Brúará river, in the area of Grímsnes in southwest Iceland, between Þingvellir and Geysir. This waterfall is slightly off the beaten path and considered something of a hidden gem.
This is not one of the biggest waterfalls, but most certainly one of the most charming. Watching Brúarfoss falling in thousands of small, striking blue rivulets as it enters the deep gorge makes it a captivating scene, and an ideal photography location.
Háifoss - Haifoss is located in South Iceland, close to Hekla volcano, at the entrance to the Icelandic Highlands. It’s a 2-hour drive east of Reykjavik on the Ring Road, in the great Þjórsárdalur valley. To access it by road, you will require a 4WD vehicle, as the last 7km are via a gravel mountain track. The waterfall can also be accessed by hiking trail.
The name Haifoss means ‘High Falls’. At a impressive height of 400ft, This is one of Iceland’s tallest waterfalls and was originally believed to be the highest waterfall in Europe. Right next to Haifoss, flowing over a 2-million-year old ridge, you’ll find another, bonus waterfall called Granni, which means ‘Neighbor’. Together the afford an astonishing view.
Glymer - Glymer is located about one and a half hours from Reykjavik, in Botnsdalur. It is the second highest waterfall in Iceland and is a staggering 649ft tall. Getting there does, however involve a 2 hour hike, but it is well worth the stunning views. The ride from Reykjavik to the start of the trail, takes you along the Hvalfjörður, considered one of Iceland’s most beautiful Fjords. The hike is stunning, but not recommended for those with a fear of heights. Good hiking shoes are essential and some people even wear helmits. At one point you have to cross a river by walking across a firmly bolted log – a steel cable runs above to steady yourself. The hike takes around 4 to 5 hours, round trip.
Prior to 2007, the waterfall was believed to the the highest of Iceland, but another, even higher waterfall has been discovered at Vatnajökull glacier, Morsárfoss, with a drop of 684 ft.
Svartifoss - Svartifos is located in Skaftafell Nature reserve, in Vatnajökull National Park, in Southeastern Iceland. It is reached via a popular hiking trail from the visitors center parking lot. The hike takes around 45 minutes, with a distance of around 1.24 miles. En route you’ll pass another 3 noteworthy waterfalls; Magnúsarfoss, Hundafoss, and Þjófafoss.
Svartifoss means 'Black Waterfall' inspired the dark hexagonal basalt columns surrounding the contrasting white water of the falls. Broken pieces of columns have collected at the base of the falls, creating a dramatic picture.
This waterfall inspired the columnar architecture of Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík, the ceiling of the National Theatre, and sculptor Richard Serra‘s work 'Milestones', located on Viðey island.
Hrafnabjargafoss - This beautiful waterfall is located in the mighty Skjálfandafljót glacier river in north Iceland. It is the first of three successive falls on this popular river, the other two being Aldeyjarfoss and Goðafoss.
Aldeyjarfoss - Aldeyjarfoss is the second waterfall, and also the tallest, with a 60ft cascade. As with Svartifoss, you‘ll see the dramatic contrast between the white water and dark basalt columns here.
Godafoss - Goðafoss, the third river in the succession is an imposing horseshoe shaped waterfall, 39ft high and 98ft wide. It is the most famous of the three Skjálfandafljót waterfalls and more so, one of the largest and most famous waterfalls in Iceland. It is one of the few waterfalls featured on the classic 'Diamond Circle' route.
Godafoss or ‘The waterfall of the Gods’ derived its name from an act involving Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, in the Icelandic Sagas. In the year 1000, in one of the most important events in Icelandic history, he settled a religious crisis by throwing the idols of the Old Norse Gods into the falls to symbolise the nation's (and his) conversion to Christianity. Certainly, those who witness the sheer beauty of the falls will agree that the name is fitting.
It’s an easy half a 0.35 mile walk to the waterfall from the parking lot and definitely well worth it.
Dettifos - Dettifoss is not far from Godafoss and is also in close proximity to other places of interest, such as Mývatn, Dimmuborgir and Ásbyrgi. It’s located on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river, which flows from the mighty Vatnajökull glacier. Two roads lead from the Ring Road to the glacier, 864 and 862, however, only 862 is tarred. Road 864 is very rough and you will require a 4WD to access. These roads may not accessible year round, due to snow and poor conditions, so it’s best to call ahead before you commit to the trip.
It is often referred to as “The Beast” and when it comes to the sheer water volume Dettifoss is Europe’s largest and most powerful waterfall. A massive amount (2075 square foot) of water plunges into the gorge below with a deafening sound. If you stand close enough you can actually feel the earth tremble beneath your feet. It is truly an impressive site.
Gullfoss - Located in the mighty Hvita glacial river in South Iceland on the famous Golden Circle route, Gullfoss, ‘The Golden Waterfall’, is widely considered the most famous of Icelandic waterfalls. It’s a 1.5 hour drive from Reykjavik and receives more visitors than any other waterfall in Iceland. Luckily it’s so big that there’s more than enough room for everyone.
Gullfoss has an interesting history. In the early 20th century, many foreign investors wanted to harness the waterfall to produce electricity using a hydroelectric power plant. This would have totally destroyed the waterfall. Luckily strong protests put an end the project, and it’s now protected for the world to enjoy.
This mighty waterfall plunges in two cascades, down approximately 100ft into the narrow gorge below. In good weather you can take the trail leading down to the waterfall so you’re close enough to feel the spray on your face. Watching the Golden Falls in the Icelandic sun is a truly magical experience and offers a glimpse at the strength and beauty of the untouched Iceland.
Skogafoss - Skógafoss is a well-known waterfall located on Iceland’s South Coast, close to the Ring Road. It’s just two hours from Reykjavik, close to the little village of Skógar, on the Skogá river.
It is perhaps one of Icelands most dramatic and beautiful waterfalls, and at 197ft tall and 80ft wide, it is also one of the tallest and most powerful. Due to the amount of spray it produces, rainbows and even double rainbows are a common sight on sunny days.
The waterfall can be viewed from many different perspecitives. Trails lead to the right side of the falls and it’s even possible to hike to the top if you’re willing to climb the 500 steps. The hike is well worth it and will afford you a spectacular view. You can walk to the bottom to experience the full majesty of the falls – bring a raincoat as you’ll more than likely get showered.
There are campsites in the area, so you might want to spend a night there and hike the waterfall at your own pace. This way you’ll also get to experience it at both sunset and sunrise.
A little bit farther on, there is an amazing hiking trail called Fimmvörðuháls, which is 25-kilometer long, and if you arrive early it’s a perfect way to spend a day.
Legend has it that a chest of gold and treasures is hidden behind the waterfall. The legend says that Þrasi Þórólfsson, the first Viking settler at Skógar, hid the precious chest underneath the waterfall around year 900 and that the first man to retrieve the chest will get to keep the treasure.
Seljalandsfoss - Located on the South Coast and about an hour and a half’s drive from Reykjavik, and is just steps away from the Ring Road.
This stunning waterfall is one of iceland’s most famous, and very popular with photographers. It plunges 213ft from an ancient sea cliff, into a shallow pool below. This tall and narrow cascade is distinguished from other falls in that you can actually walk behind it for a spectacular photographic perspective.
It’s recommended that you visit either in the very early morning or late in the afternoon/evening to avoid the crowds.
Whale and Puffin watching
May-Sep is the best time to go whale watching; (if you go in the fall, you can combine orcas with Northern Lights in late September).
Peak months for whale watching are June and July. In the north of the country, you’ll have a wider window to enjoy humpbacks, minkes, and dolphins, which frequent the area from May to August; a few humpbacks may hang around until the end of the year, while Blue whales pass through here in June.
There are tons of whale watching tours to choose from, depending on which whales you’d like to see and which region you want to visit.
If you visit from May to August, you can also include Puffin watching during their nesting season!
Visit the Black Sand Beaches
Iceland has several volcanic beaches, but Reynisfjara is by far the most famous. People from around the globe flock to see its surreal black sand (actually more stones than sand), massive hexagonal basalt columns, towering cliffs, lava formations, caves and wild ocean. It is one of the most scenic spots in a country famous for its natural beauty, and was ranked in the top 30 most beautiful beaches on earth. It’s really a stunningly surreal site, especially at sunset when the black sand glimmers in the warm light.
Reynisfjara is located about two and a half hours from Reykjavik, on the Ring Road and is easily accessible by car. It’s situated near a large volcano that is currently under ice and has been dormant for nearly one hundred years.
While you’re in the area you can visit Hálsanefshellir, a nearby basalt cave. Just be aware of the tides, as the cave become inaccessible at high tide, so don’t get caught inside. Other landmarks in the area are Reynisfjall (Reynir’s Mountain) and Reynisdrangar (Reynir’s columns). It’s hard to miss these towering basalt sea columns jutting out of the ocean on Reynisfjara beach. According to Icelandic folklore, these rocks were once sea trolls who tried to drag three passing ships to the shore. They didn’t realize that the sun was rising and quickly turned to stone when the morning rays touched them.
Other notable black sand beaches in Iceland are Diamond Beach, Djúpalónssandur, and Héraðssandar.
Snorkel Between the Eurasian & American Tectonic Plates
Silfra is a fissure created by the separation of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, and it’s the only place in the world where you can dive and snorkel at the rift between two of these plates.
It is located in Thingvellir National Park and was formed in the 1800’s by the divergent movement of two tectonic plates and the accompanying earthquakes. Although several fissures opened up during this period, Silfra actually cut into an underground spring filled with glacial meltwater from Langjökull glacier. The water filtered for decades through hardened, porous lava rock before reaching the spring that feeds into Silfra, making it one of the purest bodies of water in the world. This results in unsurpassed underwater visibility of over 300ft. The incredible water clarity reveals a mesmerizing underwater world filled with colors you don’t see on the surface. While the water in Silfra is very cold, since the fissure is constantly filling with fresh water, it never freezes, but stays at 34 – 38 dg F year round.
Located between two tectonic plates, Silfra is constantly changing and the constant shifting of the earth creates new tunnels, and caves and underwater landscapes.
While snorkeling or diving you’ll be wearing a dry suit dry suit to ensure you are warm and comfortable during your tour. You will explore the four major sections of Silfra. Float through Big Crack, ironically Silfra’s narrowest section. Continue on to Silfra Hall, a widened section, where you’ll see the full spectrum of colors in incredible clarity. As you approach the opening to Thingvellir lake you’ll enter Silfra Cathedral where the depth increases and you feel like your soaring over boulders and glacial silt. Your tour ends in the Silfra Lagoon, which seems to go on forever.
Immerse yourself in the clearest water in the world and float between two continents in Iceland! A snorkeling adventure in the famous Silfra fissure is a once in a lifetime experience that you don’t want to miss.
Summer offers long, dry days, with cool temperatures, making it the prime hiking season. Especially for serious hikers keen on exploring some of the more remote mountains and Fjords on foot. All of the well known mountain trails are open this time of the year.
Depending on which mountain range you take on as a visiting hiker, you may come across a bubbling hot spring, wildflowers, lava fields, a rushing waterfall, or a volcano. Iceland is, at its core, a mountainous, volcanic island that is continuously being formed by dynamic geothermal activity. With over half the country made up of hill and mountains, Iceland was seemingly sculpted for hikers. There are hikes suited to every fitness and skill level, from simple 2 hour hikes to multi-day treks.
Whichever route awaits, be it in the north, east, south or west, is sure to provide an experience unlike anything found elsewhere. To explore the wildest and most beautiful hiking spots you'll need to embrace your adventurous side and step out of your comfort zone.
Top 5 Hiking Spots in Iceland
The Icelandic Highlands - Being home to Iceland’s highest mountains, largest glaciers, best known volcanoes, endless black deserts and lush geothermal oases, the highlands are top of every hikers bucket-list.
This vast deserted wilderness has some of the most exceptional and legendary multi-day treks on earth.
The Westfjords - For those who enjoy getting “off the beaten track”, the Icelandic Westfjords with their dramatic cliffs and breathtaking fjord scenery, will satisfy your every desire. This remote region has a very low population and is rarely visited by tourists.
In the quiet and uninhabited northernmost corner, lies the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. This is renowned for being untouched by any type of motor vehicle and can only be explored by foot.
The Reykjanes Peninsula - Sitting on a drift zone between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates, the Reykjanes’ landscapes are extremely diverse and lunar-like. It has a diverse network of hiking trails, including one of Iceland’s longest multi-day treks.
Being close to Keflavik International Airport, it is the most easily accessible are for hiking if you’re flying in from abroad. This area is, sadly, rather underrated, most visitors only do a drive by en route to the Blue Lagoon.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula - This 56 mile long peninsula offers a bit of everything - hot springs, stunning waterfalls, dramatic coastal cliffs, lava fields, small fishing villages and the famous Snaefellsjökull glacier. It is also home to some truly magnificent hiking trails.
Snaefellsnes is ideal for families and those preferring shorter day hikes, without too many tourists. Climbing to the top of the Snaefellsjökull glacier is a tempting challenge for experienced adventurers.
The Reykjavik Area - Reykjavík is surrounded by fascinating mountains and active geothermal areas. While some trails are quite touristy, others remain hidden and are only known to locals.
The volcanic range of Mount Esja, is located only 12 miles from the city. Hikers can spend days on end exploring the vast network of hiking trails in these mountains
Icelandic Horseback Riding
Horseback riding is a unique and wonderful way to experience the Iceland countryside. Icelandic horses are a breed known for their reliability, intelligence, small stature and friendly character and riding the famous “Icelandic Pony” should is an opportunity not to be missed. Purebred since Viking days, the sturdy Icelandic horse has a smooth gait for crossing rough Icelandic terrain, making this a great activity for beginners and experienced riders alike.
As some stables close in the colder months, summer is an ideal time to partake in this activity.
Here are links to some of the best horseback riding tours:
If you are looking for something a little bit different and to experience the scenery from a different perspective, why not give kayaking a try. Kayaking tours of various difficulty levels and types are offered throughout Iceland. Some popular options are on Geldinganes, in Reykjavik, and in Western Iceland in the calm waters of the Westfjords. There are also a number of glacial lagoons where you can kayak. Below are descriptions of some of the most popular options.
Geldinganes in Reykjavik - For a great day out from Reykjavik, enjoy a gentle paddle through the calm waters of beautiful Geldinganes. Encounter fabulous bird life, occasional seals and amazing tranquility.
Jokulsarlon glacial Lagoon – this surreal iceberg filled landscape attracts tourists from around the world, and offers a chance to get up close to the amazing beauty that Jokulsarlon has to offer. Glide across the smooth waters threading your way between oddly shaped and often massive icebergs. Discover places you cannot reach on land.
Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier kayaking is the ultimate way to experience Vatnajökull National Park. Take an unforgettable kayak trip on the calm Heinaberg glacial Lagoon and experience unbeatable views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. Kayaking allows you to explore Europe’s largest glacier from every perspective. Heinabergslón is “of the beaten track”, so there is rarely any other people on the water.
Sólheimajökull Glacial Lagoon – Kayak the crystal clear waters of the glacial lagoon, dotted with icebergs and framed by the majestic glacier. This tour offers peace and tranquility and some spectacular scenery.
Isafjordur in West Iceland – The remote Westfjords boast some of the most beautiful landscapes in Iceland, with ancient mountains dating back to sixteen million years. There are few better ways to get to know these fjords than by exploring its calm waters by kayak. With majestic mountains rising on either side you, you’ll really feel at one with nature and be able to experience this amazing landscape for a different perspecivie. Kayaking along the fjords with their snow-covered slopes is a magical experience.
The wildlife of this region is also amongst the best in the country. You are likely to see many seabirds as your travel and have a great chance of seeing seals. If you’re lucky you may even see whales and dolphins, most commonly humpback whales, harbor porpoise and white-beaked dolphins. Occasionally you may get to see blue whales and orcas.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula – embark on a sea kayaking tour from the charming little village of Stykkisholmur in Breidafjordur bay, known for its innumerable islands and wonderful wildlife. Experience an impossible blue seascape as you make your way along the magnificent coastline, with its basalt columns, cliffs and remote islands and even an historic shipwreck. It’s not uncommon to see wildlife including puffins, seals and occasionally whales.