Iceland | Cultural Exploration

Legends & Landscapes at the Edge of the Arctic Circle

Join us for a two-week student travel adventure amid Iceland’s glaciers, lava fields, and dramatic fjords. Explore the remote and culturally rich Westfjords region by paddle and on foot as we kayak pristine waters and hike fields of wildflowers along the staggering coastline of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Catch a live musical performance in Reykjavik’s acclaimed Harpa Music Hall, and enjoy a soak in the famous geothermal pool, the Blue Lagoon.

July 6, 2017  –  July 20, 2017
At A Glance:
  • Adventure
    Outdoor exploration, hiking, biking, swimming, and other active pursuits
  • History
    Exploration of the country’s past, politics, and culture, and visits to historical sites
  • Wildlife
    Exploration of flora and fauna in natural habitats, national parks, or wildlife reserves
Completing grades 9 – 12
US Gateway City:
New York
Cultural Exploration
15 days
Typical Group:
15 – 18 students, 2 leaders
$ 6,290 + airfare
  • Kayak pristine fjords as you scout for whales, seals, and seabirds along the coastline
  • Traverse the glacier that inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • Ride Icelandic horses on the beach before relaxing in natural, geothermal hot springs
  • Learn about the Icelandic folklore of elves, gnomes, and trolls with a huldufólk expert

Leader Profile: MATT PIERCY

Education: Oregon State, B.S., Sociology; University of Colorado, Boulder, M.A., Elementary Education/Bilingual Education

During college, Matt studied abroad in Australia. While earning his master’s, he taught in diverse inner-city public school settings. Matt has lived and taught in… read more

During college, Matt studied abroad in Australia. While earning his master’s, he taught in diverse inner-city public school settings. Matt has lived and taught in Quito, Ecuador, for five years, studying Spanish and volunteering with underprivileged children. He spent a year traveling through Mexico and Central America studying ancient civilizations. Matt has also taught in Budapest, done a self-tour by bicycle through Cuba, and ridden several stages of the Tour de France. He has traveled to the Galápagos Islands, Nepal, and Southeast Asia. Matt has taught Social Justice and Sustainability to students grades 3–12, and has taught middle school on the Big Island of Hawaii for the past nine years. He has led student groups to New Zealand, Australia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Vietnam, and Peru. Matt is fluent in Spanish. He has led Putney’s Global Awareness in Action Cambodia, Middle School Alaska, and Cultural Exploration Iceland programs.


Departure • Travel DayMeet your fellow high school student travelers and one or more of your leaders  in New York, and fly together to Keflavik, Iceland. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

Reykjavik and the Golden Circle • 2 days • Begin your trip in Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital, with an in-depth program orientation to get to know your fellow group members and leaders. Soak in the famous Blue Lagoon, explore Reykjavik’s many museums and eclectic cafes, and join a local professor for a class on elfin folklore and contemporary huldufólk culture. Head east into the interior highlands and travel the famous Golden Circle. Visit thundering Gullfoss, stand on the edge of the Mid-Atlantic ridge on the site of Iceland’s first national assembly, and witness Geysir’s steamy eruptions.

Isafjordur  • 4 Days • Journey north and hike to the summit of the second tallest waterfall in Iceland, as you wind through caves and climb switchbacks for a bird’s-eye view of the falls and into the thundering, mossy-green canyon below. Travel on to Holmavik, a small fishing village located at the narrow gateway to the Westfjords, and meet with the curator of the local Sorcery and Witchcraft Museum. Learn about the rich history and traditions of sorcery and magic in the region.  Then travel to Isafjordur, the largest town in the Westfjords situated just 35 miles from the edge of the arctic circle. Kayak pristine, blue waters scouting for playful seals, whales, and seabirds then soak in natural geothermal hot springs on a local farm. Meet with local fish mongers to see firsthand the incredible varieties of species and catch caught in the north Atlantic, visit the Westfjords Heritage Museum, housed in one of the oldest buildings in Iceland, and gain an understanding of contemporary life in the arctic.

Spend an afternoon at the Arctic Fox Center, dedicated to continuing research and educating visitors about the thriving Arctic Fox population in Iceland, then travel by boat from Isafjordur to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, considered one of the last true wilderness areas of Europe, and scout for the elusive, wild Arctic Fox. Hike through fields of wildflowers along picturesque seaside cliffs, between centuries old cairns and rocky plateaus dotted with glacial lakes, as you explore abandoned villages that dot the landscape.

Patreksfjordur • 3 Days • Travel south and explore the southern peninsulas of the Westfjords from the quaint town of Patreksfjordur. Soak in geothermal hot springs overlooking the ocean, hike between cairns that once connected ancient settlements, and photograph puffins nesting along the Látrabjarg peninsula, the westernmost tip of Europe. Try your hand at sea-angling as you join local fishermen on their boat in the fjord, visit newly emerging fish farms that dot the water, and interview fishermen about their livelihoods, the challenges they face, and how their trade continues to evolve in the face of climate change.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula • 3 Days • From Patreksfjordur, continue south to explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, considered a geologic microcosm of the rest of Iceland, Explore the black-sand beaches of Djupalon and Dritvik to learn the stories of the ancient lifting stones, investigate a lava tunnel thought to house resident trolls, ride Icelandic horses along the ocean, scale towering basalt columns, and trek across rocky lava fields. Then, don crampons and an icepick and traverse the stunning Snaefellsjokull glacier, perched atop an active volcanic crater, and made famous as the gateway in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. The volcano is revered in both norse mythology and by scientists around the world for its unique energy field.

Reykjavik • 1 Day •  Return to Reykjavik and spend the final day of your trip sharing independent projects and enjoy a final celebratory meal with new friends.

Return • Travel DayFly from Keflavik to New York with your group and a leader, then continue on to your final destination   To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

A Day in the Life: ISAFJORDUR

Due to the traveling nature of this student program abroad, each day is different. Here is a snapshot of a day in Isafjordur.

8 AM Breakfast
9 AM Morning hike to the ‘Troll’s Throne’ for a bird’s-eye-view of town
11 AM Learn about the human and geologic history of the Westfjords at the local heritage museum
1 PM Enjoy a picnic lunch on the wharf
2 PM Kayak in a nearby fjord and scout for playful seals
4 PM Visit the Arctic Fox Center to meet with biologists and see rescued pups
6 PM • Free time to work on independent projects and the group’s journal
7 PM Dinner and time to relax by the water
9 PM Group meeting to discuss the day and what’s ahead for tomorrow

I expected the trip to be amazing, but this trip completely exceeded my expectations! It was absolutely phenomenal. I don’t have the words to describe it!

— Clara P., Fox Lane High School, Bedford, NY

What to Expect

Independent Project • Pursue an independent project and explore an aspect of local culture of particular interest to you—Trace the footsteps of a local saga, investigate the lore behind a hidden elf cathedral, or interview a traditional fisherman on the ways his livelihood is evolving with the Icelandic economy.

Physical Activity • This is a physically active summer program. Hiking, glacier trekking, horseback riding, and kayaking are all activities in which you might participate during this program. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

Accommodations • Accommodations in Iceland are varied, ranging from youth hostels to small, family-run guesthouses and farmsteads. Many of our residences are run by welcoming Icelandic families who live in town or on the premises. Rooms are a mix of doubles, triples, quads, and dorms. Leaders reside together with the students throughout the program.

Meals • We begin each day with a traditional Icelandic breakfast at our accommodations. During our time in Reykjavík, lunch and dinner are eaten at nearby cafes and restaurants. For our time outside of Reykjavík, all of our meals will be prepared with the help of an Icelandic cook, with most lunches eaten on-the-go during our daily excursions. Dinners are eaten at our guesthouses, and the group forms cooking and cleaning crews to help with meal preparation.  

Every day was packed full of exciting new experiences, and she came home with wonderful stories, a group of fantastic new friends and all the confidence and feelings of accomplishment a parent could hope for!

— Randall and Peter de Seve, Brooklyn, NY

Ask Us

Call Anna at 802.387.5000 or email

The Cultural Exploration Iceland summer program is directed by Anna Kayes. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our high school student travel abroad summer programs, please get in touch!

Anna Kayes

The College of William and Mary, B.A., Anthropology, B.A., Archaeology.

During college, Anna studied abroad in Guatemala and joined excavations at several Preclassic Maya sites in Tikal National Park. After working at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as a research and curatorial assistant, Anna moved to India and Thailand for a year to teach English and coach youth soccer. She returned to the U.S. and spent a year working for an international education provider in Boston before joining the Putney staff full time. Anna has led our Cultural Exploration programs in Thailand and Iceland, and has twice led our Community Service programs in the West Indies. She coordinates our programs in Alaska, Iceland, and Thailand. In her free time, Anna plays soccer and assists in coaching a local high school soccer team. She enjoys hiking, dancing, cross-country skiing, and spending time with her family and yellow lab.