– By Chris Ayliffe, Traveo
There’s no question about it, Iceland is the ultimate land of adventure. You can explore volcanoes, glaciers, mountains, endless waterfalls and the most unique geothermal areas. However, there are some ways of experiencing these fantastic sites that can take your trip up a notch and make it that extra special.
Taking your Iceland adventure to the skies is one of the most incredible experiences you can have. With trips taking you hovering directly above the colourful quirky streets of Reykjavik, the powerful geothermal areas, some of the most spectacular hidden waterfalls, as well as further afield to land on glaciers and explore the Highlands is truly mind-boggling.
What’s unavoidable is that the quirky and wonderful country of Iceland was meant to be explored in the most epic of ways possible. In this blog, I will explain exactly why you need to book a trip to the skies on your next holiday to Iceland, and why this will make it the most unforgettable trip of a lifetime.
Why Should You Take a Helicopter Tour?
Well, aside from the obvious fact that you can have a holiday feeling like a James Bond villain, for most of us taking a helicopter tour is a once in a lifetime experience. Let me just paint the picture for you really quick.
You meet your helicopter pilot who guides you out onto the airfield and into your seat in the front of a pristine looking chopper. Once his pre-flight safety checks are complete, you’re buckled in with your Bose headset on where you’ll hear the pilot asking if he has clearance to take off. The muffled sounds of the propellers start to grow in volume as your pulse raises in tandem (surely you can’t fly like this?!). Then, you gently take off several hundred feet in the air, with the helicopter tilting slowly forward to zoom across the airstrip and out higher and higher over the colourful city roofs of Reykjavik.
By this point, you’re experiencing a cocktail of excitement, wonder and delight as you zoom off on your helicopter adventure with all the trepidation left behind you.
Not only this, but Norðurflug participated in some of the most incredible films featured in Iceland. These include: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Oblivion, Noah, Flags of our Fathers, Batman Begins, Star Wars, Game of Thrones amongst a plethora of others. So, when it comes to picking the right provider for a helicopter tour, you’re in expert hands.
Simply put, it’s one of the best things to do in Iceland.
Which Helicopter Tour is the Best and Which Should You Take?
An excellent question, but this all depends on what you want to see, how long you want your ride to be and how much time you have. So, with that in mind let me break down the options for you so you can make an informed decision.
This is the perfect flight for those of you who either have some extra time on a day in Reykjavik or would like to try a helicopter experience for the first time to see if the shoe fits as it were. The total duration of this trip is around 40-45 minutes and will take you up and out over the Reykjavik rooftops and across the adjacent bay, to land on top of either the beautiful Mount Esja, Stóri Bolli or close to Bláfjöll based on the weather conditions of the day.
Once you’ve landed, your pilot will guide you out of the chopper and show you some of the most surreal views few get to witness unless they’ve been hiking for hours, sweating and aching from the exhaustion. However, you’ll get to take your time gathering some pictures and videos, or simply enjoy the unique silence of the top of the mountain and sip some complementary sparkling wine. Combine this with the long daylight hours of the midnight sun and you’re in for the complete treat.
I personally took this tour a few months ago and the experience was incredible. The pilot was very helpful and informative about the geology and geography of the panoramic views around me, and the chance to look down from the top of a mountain to the beautiful carved city of Reykjavik across the bay with the steaming geothermal vents to the east, is a sight to behold.
Warning – if you’re travelling with couples, watch out for the imminent proposal from the summit of Mount Esja! With an experience this good, it’s pretty hard not to.
Explore a Geothermal Area
Iceland is known as ‘the land of fire and ice’, and it’s for good reason. The name basically comes from the fact that we have an abundance of glaciers (including Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull), and beneath our very feet we walk on top of a tremendously active volcanic island.
You’d think for Icelanders, given the fact that they live on a major faultline (between the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates), and the abundance of active volcanoes dotted around the country, that this would be something to be wary of. However, though Icelanders retain a deep respect for the power of nature around them, it does also make our landscape that extra more interesting.
As a result, this tour option is perfect for those of you who have a little extra time and are wanting a little longer helicopter ride to get up close and personal to Iceland’s richly volcanic geothermal side.This trip will take you over one of the most active volcanic regions in Iceland, the Hellisheiði plateau. You’ll fly through lava fields, over basalt mountains and land in regions well away from the crowds that few get to witness, such as the Hengill geothermal area (an old volcano). The flight duration of this tour is around 50-60 minutes and will let you get up close and personal to what makes the ‘fire’ in the name ‘the land of fire and ice’.
Discover Iceland’s Craters from Above
Part of the perks of being a volcanic island is that Iceland also has a huge number of incredible landscapes and craters. For the geological geeks among you, this might be the perfect tour for you. This tour takes to the skies and lasts 65-90 minutes as you witness some further afield splendours of the neighbouring, richly volcanic and often overlooked, Reykjanes peninsula.
The Reykjanes peninsula from above looks very much like another world, with the sheer number of craters, expanses, colourful lakes and endless lava fields. It’s one of the most active volcanic regions in the country, with even a recent inflation of activity beneath Thorbjorn volcano near the Blue Lagoon. I can feel your pulses racing, but fear not, there is no imminent eruption expected and you are in very safe hands with the very best helicopter pilots in Iceland who have experience in all of our country’s wonderfully bizarre and varying conditions.
This tour will take over the stunning Lake Kleifarvatn and Lake Grænavatn, nestled by the surrounding mountains of old lava flows. Then, onto the active and oozing geological colours of the Seltún geothermal area, before heading further south towards the world famous Blue Lagoon. However, no helicopter tour counts without an incredible stop. On this tour, your pilot will land at Eldvörp on the Reykjanes peninsula, which is a 10km long crater row containing such extensive geothermal activity that you will always see the steam rising from the earth beneath you.
This tour is an incredible geological and otherworldly experience, and also gives you the most unique perspective of the powerful volcanic grounds of Iceland’s southernmost peninsula.
Land on a Glacier and a Volcano
This tour is the next step up for those willing to spend a little more to get a truly special Icelandic experience. You will literally get to land on top of a glacier and a volcano.Imagine planning a holiday which involves landing a helicopter on these giants of the natural world. This simply doesn’t happen, except in Iceland. This is the perfect tour for those of you keen to spend a little extra to complete one of the most incredible bucket list items few would even know was possible.
As soon as you’ve buckled up and put on your headphones, your pilot will zoom straight out of the city, over the geothermal area and land on Þórisjökull Glacier, just south of Langjökull glacier.On your journey, you’ll fly over Iceland’s tallest waterfall, Glymur, which thunders down 198m into the carved cavern belows. This waterfall is well off the traditional tourist trail, and a treat indeed for travellers taking up this tour.Once you’ve landed, you’ll get your first taste of the views from a summit of a glacier. Take your time to capture some shots of the panoramic mountain peaks and tranquil carved valleys below this creeping titan. As you slowly head back into the skies, make sure you look down at the various caverns and cracks of this mighty glacier beneath which is constantly on the move.
Next, you’ll fly over the visible divide of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates at Þingvellir National Park as you explore Iceland’s Golden Circle from above. This will also take you over Iceland’s largest natural inland lake, Þingvallavatn, which is regularly known as one of the best places to see the Northern Lights from. Your second stop will take you to the remote geothermal area of Hengill well away from the tourist trails. With easily accessible secluded hot springs and bubbling mud pots, this is a stop you’ll want to keep your camera close for.
The Essential Iceland Helicopter Adventure
Now, this is without a doubt the ultimate helicopter adventure you can possibly have in Iceland. On this 3-4 hour epic adventure, you’ll get to witness volcanoes, glaciers, geothermal areas and the most incredible waterfalls. This tour takes you far and wide from the Reykjavik surroundings and out into the wild rugged terrains of Iceland.
You’ll start by flying over the incredible locations on Iceland’s most popular travellers trail, the Golden Circle. Look down on the open fissures in Þingvellir National Park, the blasts from the towering geysir of Strokkur, and the mighty falls of the thunderous waterfall of Gullfoss. Next, you’ll head straight for the much untouched outback of Iceland’s incredible highlands. You’ll visit the uniquely vibrant and colourful terrains of the spectacular Landmannalaugar, and even thread the needle of the towering glacier of Þórsmörk, to visit the very site of Eyjafjallajökull’s 2010 eruption.
Afterwards, you’ll head straight past some of Iceland’s most breathtaking, and much overlooked, waterfalls in between the mountain crevices around you before gliding over the famous black sand beaches of Iceland. This is the perfect trip for those who have at least half a day spare and are willing to spend extra to visit some of the most inaccessible and frankly, most breathtaking views of Iceland. With a combination of famous trails, hidden waterfalls and the secluded highlands, there really is nothing like it.
No matter which option you choose, I can guarantee you from experience that you’re in for ticking off a bucket list item few have even heard of. It’s the icing on top of the cake of your holiday with the most epic and surreal views. What’s more, you’ll also get to zoom, glide and explore some of the most beautiful spots of Iceland. Whether you’re daring yourself to try riding in a helicopter tour for the first time or pushing the limits to explore volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, the highlands of Iceland and more, there is an option that’s just right for you.
If a helicopter tour wasn’t on your plan when deciding to visit Iceland, it should be now!