Highlights of Iceland & Heimaey school tour

A school tour to Iceland will stick long in the memory, as will the welcome from its natives

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Discover a truly epic landscape with geological marvels

When you take Voyager’s Highlights of Iceland & Heimaey school tour to Iceland, you are guaranteed something quite spectacular. Your starting point will be Reykjavik, the planet’s most northerly capital city.

From there a trip to ‘the Golden Circle’ is unmissable. ‘The Golden Circle’ consists of Thingvellir National Park (site of the oldest existing seat of parliament and the exact meeting place of the American and European continents) the majestic waterfall, Gullfoss; and the valley of Haukadalur, home of the original Geysir – the famous spouting hot spring.

Other highlights of your tour include the Gigjokull Glacier, the lava flows at the Reykjanes Peninsula and a trip to see Eldborg volcano – but don’t worry, although there are around 130 volcanoes in Iceland, this one is definitely extinct!

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Overview

Day 1 - Depart UK – Arrive Iceland – Sightseeing in Reykjavik

Day 2 - The Golden Circle Tour – Explore National Park – Find out about geothermal power and energy

Day 3 - Westman Island boat trip to Heimaey – Enjoy full day of sightseeing – Visit Eldfell Volcano

Day 4 - Skogar – Seljalandsfoss – Vik – South Coast – Visit waterfalls, the coastline, Reynisdrangar

Day 5 - Krysuvik Geothermal Field – Reykjanes Peninsula – the Blue Lagoon – Depart Iceland

Sample tour

Day 1 - Depart UK

Relax and enjoy the direct flight from the UK to Keflavik, Iceland. Gaze out the window of the plane and you’ll see the stunning coastline of Iceland and, if you’re exceptionally lucky, you may glimpse the Northern Lights – this is a just a small taste of what’s to come in the spectacular ‘Land of Fire and Ice’.

At the airport, we’ll be met by our guide and transferred to our accommodation in Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland and its economic, political and cultural centre. Throughout our stay in Iceland we have the use of our own private coach and driver to transport the group around the island. This means that the driver can be extra attentive to the needs of the party and plan excursions around the cloudy weather conditions for which Iceland is famous.

Reykjavik has a small population of around 120,000, but for what the city lacks in size, it makes up for with stunning views of the snowy mountains and icy Atlantic Ocean. Reykjavik is also one of the most creative and fashionable destinations in Europe with an array of theatres, concert halls, galleries and museums. It has a packed calendar of festivals and interesting events and in 2011 Reykjavik was designated UNESCO City of Literature. Located slightly south of the Arctic Circle, Reykjavik is the most northerly capital in the world and receives only four hours of daylight on the shortest days of winter. During the summer, the city experiences over 20 hours of daylight, and Reykjavik turns into ‘the city that never sleeps’. Whatever time of year you visit you’ll be rewarded with a unique experience.

After settling into the rooms, we’ll spend the afternoon on a guided walking tour of the city. Nearly everything in the city is within walking distance and exploring on foot is the best way to take in the interesting architecture, quirky shops, historic sites and that crisp Arctic air. Highlights of the tour include the Viking Boat sculpture on the harbourside and Harpa, the impressive, multi-million pound concert hall and opera house with its geometric glass design. When it’s dark, it’s possible to see the Imagine Peace Tower too. This tall column of light was commissioned as a memorial to John Lennon by his wife Yoko Ono. At the end of the tour, our guide will take us to the superb Perlan building. The views from the observation deck on the third floor are wonderful and the cafe serves up lovely hot chocolates!


Day 2 - The Golden Circle Tour

Today we leave Reykjavik and begin the epic Golden Circle Tour before heading to Hvolsvollur. Hvolsvollur is over 100 km from Reykjavik but the landscape on the journey is awesome. Our first stop is the Thingvellir National Parkwhich has both historical and geological wow factors. Iceland has the world’s longest running Parliament which was founded here in AD 930. Our guide will take us to see some of the remains of ancient assemblies. The landscape at Thingvellir is astounding as the area sits on the mid-Atlantic ridge where movement of the tectonic plates caused long, deep fissures to form. The landscape is rugged and scarred with cliffs, streams, waterfalls and volcanoes. We’ll also see Iceland’s largest lake, Lake Thingvallavatn. The possibility of spotting the Aurora or rainbows adds to the magic of this breathtaking tour. The area is a nature-lover’s dream and was pronounced a UNESCO World Heritage in 2004.

Next stop is the Great Geysir, one of Iceland’s most famous geysers and yet another fabulous force of nature. The smell of sulphur is one of the first things people notice when they arrive at this bubbling, steamy sight. These days, the Great Geysir is fairly dormant but about 50 metres away the geyser Strokkur (the Churn) erupts about every 4-8 minutes. You’ll hear the sound of people gasping in surprise and clapping as boiling water spurts 10 to 30 metres into the air. Grab your cameras and snap away because each eruption lasts just a few moments. There are plenty more photo opportunities in the area, including hot bubbling springs, steaming vents, warm streams, colourful algae and amazing mineral deposits. 

Gullfoss is the next spectacle on the agenda; and you’ll hear it before you see it because the mighty waterfall makes such a noise. Wear waterproofs if you want to get up close because the spray will soak you – a waterproof camera isn’t a bad idea too! Gullfoss isn’t the largest waterfall in Iceland but it is certainly one of the most powerful and dramatic. Water from the River Hvita cascades downwards about 32 metres in two falls. The canyon above and below the falls is 70 metres deep and 2.5 km long. It’s the perfect place for Geography students to see how a U-shaped valley is made. However, this is an experience not to be missed by anyone: when the sun shines you’ll see myriads of rainbows, and on a cloudy day you may feel you’ve entered another world… After all that, there’s a shop and cafe at the top of the falls.

In the afternoon we’ll head towards Hvolsvollur, en route we’ll pass the town and lake of Laugarvatn. The lake has geothermal springs and there are places along the shoreline that are warm enough for bathing all year round!


Day 3 - Westman Islands, Heimaey, Eldfell Volcano

In the morning we’ll head to Heimaey, the largest of a group of fifteen volcanic islands, known as the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). The islands are located 10 km off the coast of southern Iceland and the ferry crossing takes about forty minutes. Heimaey is just 14.5 km² but the geography, scenery, natural history and birdlife is incredible. The island has a population of about 5,000 people and millions of beautiful seabirds, including puffins! Tourism only took off to Heimaey after a volcanic eruption in 1973 turned it into a geological phenomenon. In terms of geology, the island is very young; about 12,000 years old; and it continues to grow because of volcanic activity – during the last eruption Heimaey grew about 2.1 km. A neighbouring island called Surtsey is often referred to as the ‘Youngest Place of Earth’ because it was formed in 1963 after a submarine eruption. Today it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and a hot-bed of scientific research.

Today, we’ll get a real feel for Heimaey with a boat trip, visits to a couple of local museums and the cliffs. The day will end on a high as we climb up Eldfell Volcano.

The 1973 eruption went on for 5 months and was a near-disaster for the island as the giant lava flow swallowed up about one third of the island. We’ll see the volcanic crater that was created and explore parts of the island that were covered in lava to see first-hand the catastrophic effects of the eruption and why it’s also known as the ‘modern-day Pompeii’.

On the boat trip around the island you’ll catch glimpses of Surtsey Island and get a brilliant perspective on how these unique islands were formed. If you’re lucky you may see whales or white beaked dolphins – orcas and minke whales are often sighted in these waters. The bird-spotting is pretty awesome too with guillemots, puffins, kittiwakes, razorbills and gannets all putting in regular appearances!

The Natural History Museum was founded in 1964 and is a welcome break from the outdoors and a great place to find out more about the birds and other quirky facts about the island. We’ll need about an hour to see everything but the highlight for many is the aquarium which has a collection of bizarre Icelandic fish.

The chance to get up close to a smoking volcano that is still warm from its last eruption is not something that happens every day. Today, we’ll hike up to the summit of Eldfell Volcano, the brutal beast that erupted in 1973 and brought such devastation to the area. At the top you’ll get a marvellous view down to the sea and you can run your hands through the earth and feel the warmth still emanating – beware, in places it’s still hot enough to cook on!

We’ll get more panoramic views on the hike up Helgafell Mountain. Helgafell translates as ‘Holy Mountain’ and was sacred to the Vikings and to early Christians who built a church at the top. Rising up 73 metres, Helgafell is a relatively easy climb and you should reach the top in less than twenty minutes. The mountain is also named the ‘Wishing Mountain’ because if you follow a given set of instructions then it’s said you’ll be granted three wishes. It’s up to you to discover whether it’s just another bit of Icelandic folklore fun or the truth!

We will board the ferry at Vestmannaeyjar later this afternoon and set sail for Landeyjarhofn.


Day 4 - Exploring the south coast

You may feel blown away by the things you’ve seen in the last few days, but your trip down to the south coast is full of many more stupendous sights such as Seljalandsfoss. It is a gorgeous, 60 metre-high, slender and elegant waterfall that can be experienced from all angles. This is because there is a path running behind the curtain of water. The view from behind the falls, out to sea, will fill you with wonder. On sunny days there are beautiful rainbows cast by the wispy mist the cascade produces.

Jump back in the coach and continue on to Skogar, to visit its enchanting museum. It is a collection of Icelandic cultural artefacts displayed in a series of historic buildings including turf-roofed houses and a fabulous, tiny church. Also on site is a transport museum filled with all manner of odd motors from this isolated island’s history.

Just a short walk away is your next waterfall – Skógafoss. It’s about the same height as Seljalandsfoss, but much wider and denser. You must make the effort to climb to the top to see unparalleled views of Iceland’s magnificent south coast. Again, when the sun comes out you will be dazzled by the spectacular rainbows the mist creates. Even if the sun isn’t shining you will be amazed by the almighty roar it creates.

The next part of your journey takes you to the small coastal village of Vik, with its famous black sand beach. There are three marvels to visit around this area; Reynisdrangar, Reynisfjall and Dyrholaey.

Reynisdrangar and Reynisfjall are close together – the former is a series of basalt sea stacks. Legend has it that they were formed when trolls dragged a three-masted ship into shore only to be turned into stone as daylight broke. You can let your geographers and geologists work out fact from fiction! Reynisfjall is a steep mountain, covered in fulmars and puffins, overlooking the sea stacks. There is an abandoned Loran – a wartime radio station – here that affords magnificent views of the stacks from above. It’s well worth the climb. 

Dyrholaey, a spectacular sea arch, is the southernmost point of Iceland. It is so vast that under certain conditions, boats can safely pass through. It is another astonishing example of how nature, using vast amounts of time, copious amounts of water, and a fair amount of wind can produce some mind-blowing designs.


Day 5 - Geothermal delights

Today we will head back towards Reykjavik to experience some of the benefits a highly geothermal, volcanic island brings.

Our first stop is the Hellisheidi Power Station, for a guided tour and interactive display. Here you will learn how heat generated deep inside the earth makes energy in Iceland cheap, clean and renewable.

A few kilometres away at the Krysuvik Geothermal Field we will see the strange colours that geothermal activity inflicts on the landscape. Be prepared to be astonished, and occasionally splashed, as you walk over colourful crater lakes, bubbling mudpots and hissing fumaroles on a specially constructed boardwalk. Bring waterproofs or you will be soaked by the steam, even if the weather is fine.

Our next stop is the the curious, cone-shaped volcanic crater at Elborg. It is only about 100-hundred metres high and takes about half an hour to climb to the summit, which allows us to look into this extinct volcano and enjoy the glorious views from the rim.

Our final destination, today is the Reykjanes Peninsula, an area covered with dry lava flows.The Peninsula was used as a training ground for NASA before they landed on the moon, because the scientists thought that the surface in Iceland closely resembled that on the moon.

Like the rest of Iceland, Reykjanes is full of geothermal activity, but here it boasts the Blue Lagoon, a bright-blue, swimming pool with geothermally-heated water, set in the middle of a large lava field. It is a relaxing way to complete your trip floating in the buoyant, mineral-rich waters that have been warmed by the turbulent earth beneath you. Fortunately the Voyager Worldwide guide will make sure that you don’t drift off and miss your flight back to the UK from Keflavik Airport.

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