Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Travel to Iceland, a world away yet tantalizingly close. This OAT travel adventure showcases Iceland's natural beauty and Viking heritage from a truly Icelandic perspective—through its inhabitants. Meet hardy locals who carve a living from both the land and sea in farming communities and fishing villages. Discover the history of this isolated nation preserved in a series of enchanting medieval tales known as the Sagas. In the beautiful capital city of Reykjavik, witness the creativity of a city that harnessed the power of nature to provide sustainable heat and electricity to its inhabitants. Raft on the Hvita River, watch for whales, and journey to within 40 miles of the Arctic Circle at Akureyri. Icelandic culture and traditions, together with the power of nature, combine for an unforgettable adventure in an unspoiled land of stark beauty.
Depart from the U.S.
After an overnight flight from the U.S., you'll arrive in the early morning at Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik, Iceland. You'll be met by an OAT representative, and transfer to our hotel, then enjoy breakfast. Get acquainted with the neighborhood surrounding your hotel on a walk to the city center with your Trip Leader this afternoon. Later, gather for a Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers, including those from our Worlds of Fire: Iceland's Westman Islands trip extension.
We'll depart Reykjavik after breakfast and head into the rolling meadows of the verdant Borgarfjordur agricultural district, where we'll view one of Iceland's powerful hot springs. In a country known for its thermal hot springs (there are hot springs in 250 districts around the country), the Deildartunguhver thermal area is in a class by itself. Emitting nearly 50 gallons of boiling water per second, it has the highest flow of any hot spring in Europe. The water that emerges here reaches temperatures of 212 degrees F and has been used for heating since 1925, making Iceland a pioneer in sustainable energy.
We'll also view the "magic waterfalls" of Hraunfossar, a 2,900-foot stretch of lava where crystal-clear springs splash through rocks and birch-scrub before tumbling into a river that unexpectedly appears from beneath the lava's edge.
As we continue through the unspoiled landscape, we enjoy views of colorful mountain cliffs, pristine fjords, and fertile valleys where wild horses graze. This is the region that inspired 13th-century poet and native son Snorri Sturluson, the most celebrated figure in Icelandic/Nordic literature. We'll discover some of Iceland's Saga-like history at the Settlement Center in Borgarnes. This award-winning center retells the Norse settlement of Iceland, giving us an insight into the country's founding.
After lunch on our own, we drive to Helgafell ("holy mountain"), a sacred hill about 250 feet high. Those who want to hike to the top may earn a wish—if you follow tradition and climb silently to the top without looking back!
Then we continue to Stykkisholmur, the largest town on scenic Snaefellsnes Peninsula, with important ties to trade and religion. It was once a center of devotion to the Norse god Thor. The town's location makes it an ideal jumping-off point for many of Iceland's highlights, including Snaefellsnes Peninsula National Park.
Enjoy dinner tonight at our hotel, followed by a vicinity walk to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings.
This morning in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, we'll explore the area that marks the entry point to Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.
We'll continue to the abandoned fishing village of Arnarstapi, known for its constantly changing weather. The village is situated along a coastline punctuated by fascinating geologic features like arches, caves, basalt cliffs, and blowholes. We'll hike to a yellow-sand beach and along the dramatic rocky coastline followed by lunch in the Hellnar valley. Keep an eye out for the tiny elves and huldufólk ("hidden people") said to inhabit this countryside.
Then we'll discover another side of Icelandic culture on a visit to a shark farm. Here we'll have the opportunity to meet a shark farmer and taste a national delicacy—hákarl, made from aged shark meat and served with a potato liquor called brennivín. It's not for the faint of heart, but our host will help us understand the Icelandic legacy of processing shark meat, as well as the country's maritime history.
Dinner will be on your own this evening in Stykkisholmur.
Or, join an optional excursion to beautiful Breidarfjordur Bay. You’ll enjoy a boat cruise around the islands to view the scenic splendor (and myriad birdlife when in season) and dine on fresh seafood for dinner before returning to the hotel. Please note: This optional tour is not available on September-October departures.
After breakfast this morning, we'll depart Stykkisholmur for the Eiriksstadir Museum, once the site of the home of Erik the Red, father of the legendary Viking Leif Eiriksson. Known as "Leif the Lucky," Erik's famous son visited North America around 1000 AD, well ahead of Christopher Columbus. The family occupied this farmstead until Leif was six years old, at which time they were exiled and went to Greenland. We'll learn more about their story from historic interpreters at this living museum.
Then we'll visit a local horse farm to meet affable Icelandic horses first brought to the country by Viking settlers. Icelandic horses are a common sight across the countryside. A unique breed, they've adapted to the local climate with a thick, heavy coat. Though small in size, their strength is formidable, and they're known for their cheery disposition, bravery, intelligence, and smooth gait. We'll learn more about these horses, and their place in Icelandic culture, as we hear firsthand from the family that owns the horse farm. We'll also enjoy lunch at the horse farm.
Afterwards we'll continue to Akureyri, Iceland's second largest urban area. Situated on the northern fjords just 40 miles from the Arctic Circle, Akureyri is improbably sunny and enjoys a mild climate in spite of its location.
This evening, we'll have dinner together at our hotel.
After breakfast this morning, we head for the picturesque fishing village of Dalvik, where we'll set sail on a restored fishing vessel from the harbor for a whale-watching excursion. The onboard staff members are experts on local marine life, and with their help, we hope to spot minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, harbor porpoises and humpback whales in the waters of the Northern Atlantic. Please note: Whale watching is weather dependent and relies upon the cooperation of migratory patterns, which can be difficult to accurately predict. The boat is not exclusive to OAT travelers. If necessary, an alternative activity will be provided.
Then, we stop at the fishing village of Olafsfjordur, followed by a visit to Siglufjordur, Iceland's northernmost town. At one time, Siglufjordur was the capital of the North Atlantic's herring industry, and after lunch at a local restaurant here, we'll visit a museum dedicated to this once thriving industry. The Herring Era Museum—the only one of its kind in the world—features a variety of cultural exhibits, art works, and personal stories relating to Siglufjordur's rich fishing heritage. There will also be free time to explore the picturesque town on our own.
Back in Akureyri, you’ll have some free time to relax before enjoying a Home-Hosted Dinner this evening.
Today we begin with a visit to Godafoss ("waterfall of the gods"), where the current carries rushing water along a glacial river and over the rocks, falling 40 feet into the pool below. It is said to have gained its name when one of the leaders of the country's parliament disposed of his statues of Norse gods at this waterfall upon the adoption of Christianity as the official religion in the year 1000.
We'll visit a handcraft workshop run by local women before discovering the Lake Myvatn area, sculpted throughout the ages by volcanic eruptions and renowned for its diverse bird population, with ducks, gyrfalcons, plovers, ptarmigans, and more. We'll explore the pseudo crater field, formed by steam explosions when lava flowed over wet earth, at Skutustadir. Afterwards, we'll visit the whimsical "black castles" lava formations of Dimmuborgir, where a lonely troll is said to have lived. According to legend, he was paid a visit by his friends, and they stayed up dancing and celebrating all night long—until the light of morning turned them to stone. After lunch at a local restaurant, we witness some of Iceland's more recent volcanic activity during a visit to the Krafla caldera and Námaskard geothermic area.
Then we travel overland back to Akureyri. Upon arrival, we'll explore the city, visiting the harbor and then the Botanical Gardens.
Dinner tonight is on your own.
We transfer to the airport for our flight to Reykjavik after breakfast this morning. Today we'll discover more of Iceland's marvels as we circumnavigate the Golden Circle, a ring of natural highlights: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir hot spring area and Gullfoss waterfall. First, we'll stop at Thingvellir National Park, the location of a major rift between two tectonic plates—the European and North American—which creates a dramatic (and growing) fissure in the land. The snowcapped mountains surrounding this forested plain, dotted with canyons, caves, streams and springs, form a striking natural amphitheater. It's not surprising that the world's oldest Parliament was formed here. Lunch is on our own after the visit at Thingvellir.
Then we'll visit Geysir, the geyser from which all others take their name, which erupts frequently in dramatic columns of water that shoot into the air. In this area of intense geothermal activity, puddles of water on the ground literally boil.
We end our Golden Circle tour with a visit to the stunning Gullfoss waterfall, which features three tiers of rushing white water that flow into a hundred-foot deep crevice.
We'll continue overland to Selfoss/Hveragerdi and check into our hotel. Selfoss is the largest town in South Iceland and the gateway to all that this area of rich farmland and natural wonders has to offer. Located on the banks of the Olfusa River, it is home to around 6,300 inhabitants. We'll have dinner at our hotel this evening.
After breakfast this morning, we’ll witness the breathtaking landscape of South Iceland firsthand—the river gorges, the farmland, and the waterfalls.
We'll enjoy an included glacier walk, donning special shoes to stroll across the Solheimajokull glacier with an expert local guide. Afterwards, we’ll journey to the south coast and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. We’ll go off-road driving for an included Super Jeep Tour, introducing you to the black beaches. Our next stop is the wispy Seljalandsfoss (the word foss means “waterfall” in Icelandic). Located near the Seljalands farm, this picturesque waterfall drops about 200 feet over the rocky cliffs country’s southern coastline. We’ll also have views of the Markafljot River, a glacial river sunk into a canyon that in some spots sinks to depths of 180 meters (590 feet).
Dinner is on your own tonight.
First, we'll enjoy meeting locals as we visit a flower farm that relies on geothermal energy to grow lilies, roses and other species. Then we'll embark upon an exhilarating river-rafting trip on the Hvita glacial river. You'll don wetsuits, helmets, waterproof shoes, and life vests to board inflatable rafts, and take up paddles that you'll use to make your way along the course of the river, passing through serene canyons and over raging rapids. Please note: River rafting may not be available on October departures, depending on weather.
We then continue to the geothermal power plant at Hellisheidi that, together with four other plants, provides 30% of the electricity needed by the Icelandic people. It is a combined heat and power plant developed to meet increasing demand for energy in an environmentally friendly way. We'll learn more about Iceland's progressive approach to sustainable resources as we tour the plant.
Afterwards we'll travel to Reykjavik, the world's most northerly capital, and choose from one of the city's many restaurants for dinner on our own.
Called the "biggest little city," Reykjavik and its suburbs are home to 180,000 people, more than half the country's population. Its aptly chosen name means "smoky bay," and it is the site where Iceland's first settler, Ingolfur Arnorson, built a farm in AD 874. This morning, join us for a visit to the iconic Blue Lagoon, Iceland's best-known hot spring, where locals and visitors alike enjoy the healing waters and mineral-rich mud of this man-made oasis in the midst of a lava field. You'll have the chance to relax lagoon-side and take a dip in the healing waters.
After lunch on your own, enjoy leisure time in Reykjavik. Perhaps you'll view the ancient Saga manuscripts at the Culture House, or relax in one of the city's many coffeehouses. Other worthwhile stops include soaring, modern Hallgrimskirkja Church; the old town center, bordered by Tjorn pond; the Parliament building; the Cathedral; and the harbor, where black-and-red whaling vessels remain as relics of the whaling industry.
Tonight we'll enjoy a Farewell Dinner at our hotel with our fellow travelers.
After breakfast, we'll visit the National Museum in Reykjavik. Then we'll transfer to the airport to board your flight home. Travelers taking the post-trip extension, Greenland: Gateway to the Arctic, will visit the National Museum on Day 11 and fly to Greenland this morning. Please note: Depending on your air itinerary, trips returning in September and October will include an extra night in the U.S. upon arrival. This will not apply to travelers whose final destination is New York or Boston.