The wonders of Iceland

A single road will take you on a spectacular tour of this beautiful island, says Alice Gråhns.


The landscapes in Iceland are wonderful: see them by car, or by horse
(Image credit: Shaiith)

We've only been on the road for 20 minutes and already the cinematic comparisons are flowing like lava," says Emma Cook in The Guardian. Game of Thrones. The Lord of the Rings. Narnia. "It could be all of them, depending on where your gaze settles." One minute it's glacial rivers and snow-capped mountains, then you're plunged into a landscape of black lava fields or "moss-green meadows and cascading waterfalls".

Route 1 is an 832-mile stretch of road circling the island from Reykjavik into the southern uplands and back. In fact, the so-called Golden Circle will take you to almost all the tourist destinations on the island. One of the stops should be Gullfoss, one of Europe's largest waterfalls. A short drive away from there is Strokkur, Iceland's best-known active geyser. Hotel Rang, "a log-cabin-style hotel in the middle of nowhere", is a good place to stay (see

Its owner, Fririk, has added a northern-lights alert to the hotel's rooms, "which is why we find ourselves standing outside at 1am in pyjamas and snowsuits with other bleary guests staring up hopefully into the darkness", says Cook. Then it happens. "The sky looks celestial, backlit by green glowing light."

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The next morning Cook and her family are back on Route 1, this time headed to Vk, a deserted village with a volcanic shoreline. When the joys of driving wear thin, swap the car for Icelandic horses. But be careful not to call them ponies: "only one type is allowed in and it's been that way since they were brought here by the Vikings 1,100 years ago".


Strokkur: stop off on the Golden Circle and take in Iceland's best-known active geyser
(Image credit: Olga_Gavrilova)

The island's largest glacier

While in the south, go for a boat tour on lake Jkulsrln, says David Whitley in The Mail on Sunday. It "is quite the spectacle" and it's little wonder it is often used as a film location, including for the Bond film Die Another Day. Whitley's craft for the adventure to the edge of the lake's glacier is a Zodiac rigid inflatable "small enough to get up close and manoeuvre", while remaining exposed to the elements. Eventually the Zodiac pulls up next to the glacier wall, but not too close: chunks 600 ft tall can break off. This time, nothing broke. "But tomorrow, the lake will look totally different again."

A hidden side to Iceland

Htel Djpavk (see, housed in an old herring factory in the Westfjords, is located close to the ocean, and it has a fascinating history, says Emily Hodgkin in the Daily Express. Once a thriving fishing factory, people came here during the season to work, making oil, fishmeal and packaging herrings to sell as food. The factory closed in 1954, when the herring moved east, and workers followed the fish up the coast. In the 1980s work began to create the hotel that stands there today. Nearby are hot springs, which are often created "via a happy accident by Icelanders digging for drinking water". Far from the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, perhaps the best known thermal spa, "these pools and hot tubs are rarely frequented and have a retro charm".

A game-changing hotel

Since the beginning of April, the first luxury hotel within the Blue Lagoon has been welcoming guests and "it's poised to be a game-changer" for Iceland, says Jacqueline Gifford in Travel+Leisure. Just a 30-minute drive from Reykjavik, the 62 suites of The Retreat offer floor-to-ceiling windows and the rooms on the lower levels have private terraces facing the lava fields and surrounding waters. Some rooms even offer direct access to the lagoon itself. The hotel spa offers "a slew of amenities", such as a steam room, massages given in the water, and a cold well. Guests can also participate in a Blue Lagoon Ritual, where they cover themselves with healing silica, algae, and minerals. Meanwhile the hotel's Moss Restaurant "highlights the area's natural bounty: scallops from the west, reindeer... from the east, and fresh lobster and cod from the south".

From 144,000 Icelandic krnur per night; see

Alice grew up in Stockholm and studied at the University of the Arts London, where she gained a first-class BA in Journalism. She has written for several publications in Stockholm and London, and joined MoneyWeek in 2017.