Incredible Iceland: Explore 8 Coastal Towns

Travel By Kühl Editor

Last summer, Ira and I completed another bucket-list adventure, a tour of Iceland. To focus on the island’s perimeter, we embarked on a Silversea intensive cruise that started and ended in Reykjavik. This itinerary allowed us to see eight ports during a ten-night sailing. We couldn’t stop taking pictures of the diverse terrain filled with an abundance of waterfalls and geothermal energy. We were surprised to learn that more than half of Iceland’s homes are heated with geothermal energy.

South Shore Adventure in Reykjavik

We maximized our pre-cruise day in Reykjavik by reserving space on a South Shore Adventure run by Reykjavik Excursions. For this all-day adventure, we traveled by motor coach down the coast to Vik, and then returned to our Reykjavik hotel at dinner time. Vik, the wettest place in Iceland, is approximately 100 miles from Reykjavik. Our adventure included a trek to a small lake created by the receding Sólheimajökull Glacier, two waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.

The bus ride to and from these destinations was amazing, and we couldn't stop recording random images of the countryside. The entire tour was a wonderful introduction to Iceland. At the Sólheimajökull Glacier, we read that the snout of the glacier was 1,749 meters further in 1930 compared to today. Global warning appears to be having an adverse effect on this glacier.

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Sólheimajökull Glacier

At the beach, warning signs advised visitors not to turn their back on the ocean. Deadly sneaker waves are a life-threatening occurrence. While walking to a cave where columnar basalt formations are a notable landmark, we listened to a folktale regarding seal skins. Throughout our time in Iceland, we heard an abundance of local tales.

At the Skógafoss Waterfall, we climbed more than 500 steps to an observational platform so we could see the top of the waterfall and the surrounding area. While we enjoyed the view, I preferred the view from the base, where the 60 meters (200 Feet) waterfall crashed into a pool of water.

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Skogafoss Waterfall

This tour ended with an incredible attraction, the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Preparing for the ultimate waterfall excursion, we put on our waterproof gear so we could walk behind the cascading waterfall. The pathway to the waterfall was a bit slippery but relatively easy to navigate, while the exit required some scrambling through muddy and slick boulders. We lucked out because our visit coincided with a beautiful sunny day. We were able to dry naturally before returning to the waiting bus.

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Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Patreksfjordur

Our first port was Patreksfjordur, one of Europe’s most westerly points. With a population of approximately 700, we most likely saw more birds near the cliffs than people. While bird lovers headed to Látrabjarg to see the protected puffins and other birds at Europe’s largest bird cliff, we participated in an excursion entitled the Mountains and Waterfalls of Arnarfjordur. Like our day in Reykjavik, we were able to capture a multitude of random photos of Iceland’s fantastic terrain.

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Fantastic landscapes near Patreksfjordur

Our hike to the Dynjandi Waterfall was the highlight of our day. Since 1981, this site in the Westfjords has been a protected natural monument. The Westfjords are the oldest part of Iceland.

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Ira and Sandy, Dynjandi Waterfall, Patreksfjordur

Dynjandi means thundering noise. We could clearly hear the rushing sound of water from the parking lot. Our walk took us to the area near the base of the main waterfall which is 99 meters high and 30 meters wide. Along our route, we saw signs identifying seven additional waterfalls.

Siglufjordur

On the third day of our cruise, we arrived at Iceland’s northernmost town. Dark clouds and a pelting rainstorm caused a less than stellar first impression of Siglufjordur. As the storm clouds receded, the jagged snow-covered mountain peaks came into view.

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Snow-peaked mountains in Siglufjordur

We scurried in and out of the rain to visit one of the main attractions in this tiny town, the Herring-Era Museum. Our guided tour offered a comprehensive overview of the impact that the herring industry had on this region.

Akureyri

When we arrived in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city, we were only 60 miles from the Arctic Circle. As our motorcoach weaved its way through this city, we saw why this bustling city is often referred to as the “Capital of the North.”

Our full day tour highlighted the diverse terrain of this part of Iceland. We stopped at the Dimmuborgir Lava Fields, bubbling hot pools at the Namaskard Geothermal Fields, the amazing 12-meter high Godafoss Waterfall, and the Skutustadir Pseudo Craters.

When the local chieftain was deciding whether Icelanders should adopt Christianity in 1,000 CE, he chose to discard all his pagan statues into the waterfall. Thereafter, this site was referred to as the waterfall of the gods or Godafoss. Well-marked paths, along with a bridge, allowed us to traverse both sides of the valley covered with 8,000-year-old lava. The Godafoss waterfall flows into the Skalfandfjot River.

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Godafoss Waterfall, Akureyri

At Sutustadagigar we took a short hike on a looped trail that exposed clusters of pseudo-craters. While some were admiring the local birds, we were fascinated by these rare geological formations created when molten lava flows over water or wetlands. When the steam escapes to the ground’s surface, explosions occur. This causes the lava to rip apart and, in the process, creates pseudo-craters.

Mother Nature has left a wide variety of geological formations around the world. When we arrived at Dimmuborga, near Lake Myvatn, we were at the intersection of the tectonic plates of America and Eurasia. Lava pillars, columns, and ridges are the focal point of this site. Within our allotted time, we strolled on the paved path to discover a variety of landforms and learn about more folktales associated with the landforms.

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Landforms at Dimmuborga

Namafjall is a geothermal area with an abundance of fumaroles and mud pots. As we walked along the designated paths, we could smell the hydrogen sulfide intermingled with the steam emanating from the ground. Large clouds of gas obstructed our view in some places as we navigated our way on the path that ran adjacent to bubbling liquid. Signage warned visitors that the soil had temperatures between 80 and 100 degrees Celsius.

Husavik

When we visit an unfamiliar destination, we usually head to the main attractions. However, when the visit entails speculative sightings of wildlife, we sometimes consider other choices. At Husavik, the European capital of whale watching, we felt the odds were in our favor to take a half-day sailing in the Skjalfanda Bay, the prime location for minke whales.

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Whale Museum, Husavilk

During our morning excursion, we only spotted one whale which we followed around for a while. Fortunately, Ira is taller than me. He had the best angle to capture this elusive whale. The afternoon sailing had better luck with multiple sightings. On the way back to the ship, we stopped into the informative whale museum.

Seydisfjordur

Traveling on foot is the best way to explore a remarkable landscape with an unforgettable cascading waterfall valley. At Seydisfjordur, we put on our hiking boots and packed our rain gear for a hike called Chasing Waterfalls in the Vestdalur Valley. The trailhead led uphill where we shared the terrain with a small herd of sheep grazing in an open field with some wildflowers. In the distance, we could hear rushing water. Eventually, we reached a platform where we took pictures of a relatively small waterfall.

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Chasing Waterfalls hike in Vestdalur Valley, Seydisfjordur

Next, we followed our guide to a path running adjacent to the rushing Vestdalsa River, which appeared to be heading downhill toward the sea. Along this path, we came upon a series of incredible waterfalls. The adjacent fertile mountains were filled with small streams leading into the river. The best views came from looking back uphill. Even though it was raining on and off, we found this hike to be spectacular.

Djupivogur

To avoid unnecessary time spent on a motor coach, we took a tour to the black beach in Djupivogur. Our guide shared bits and pieces of local culture, as well as some local treats. At the beach, I collected an assortment of mostly blue-colored, fragile seashells. Drifting piles of sand and brisk winds mixed with rain made it challenging to navigate at certain points. Due to poor weather conditions, it was necessary to walk back to the ship sooner than anticipated.

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Black sand beach, Djupivorgur

Heimaey, Westman Islands

After learning that the 1973 Eldfell volcano came close to destroying Heimaey, an island off the coast of Iceland, we chose to take the Eldfell Hike on a lava field created by the volcano. The last volcanic activity lasted more than five months and left behind ash layers up to four meters thick.

Unlike most uphill treks that have switchbacks, this trail didn’t traverse much. The climb was steep and slippery due to the crushed lava that offered little traction. Our views were spectacular from the top.

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Sandy and Ira at top of Eldheimar Volcano

Before returning to the ship, we spent time in the Eldheimar Volcano Museum, watching videos capturing the townspeople fleeing the island and learning about Surtsey, a new land that rose from the sea in the 1960s off the southern coast of Iceland. We found it interesting that the founders of this museum chose to place the museum on top of partially excavated homes that had been dug out after the volcanic eruption.

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Inside Eldeheimar Volcano Museum, Heimaey

Reykjavik

Our cruise package included a post-cruise day in Reykjavik. To learn more about the area near Reykjavik, we participated in a Golden Circle tour which took us to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and the hot springs at Geysir. We were able to capture a limited number of images for the Thingvellir National Park, the eruption of the geyser and the waterfall, but we were unable to spend adequate time in both places.

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Gulfoss Waterfall, Reykjavik

Anyone who embraces outdoor adventures will love Iceland. If you haven’t made the journey yet, I highly recommend you add it to your bucket list, and plan a trip to Iceland soon.


When Sandy Bornstein isn’t trekking in Colorado or writing, she’s traveling with her husband Ira. After living as an international teacher in Bangalore, India, Sandy published an award-winning book, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, as a resource for people contemplating an expat lifestyle and living outside their comfort zone. For more information on Boulder, check out Sandy’s second book, 100 Things to Do in Boulder Before You Die.


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Kühl Editor