Golden Circle

What are the most popular tours in Iceland? Which parts of the country must you see, and what activities are not to be missed? Are there any unique trips in Iceland you should not miss? Read ahead to find the best tours that you should join during your stay in Iceland.



Iceland attracts hundreds of thousands of guests every year, drawn by images and videos of its majestic landscapes, otherworldly features and thrilling adventure opportunities. Upon arrival, however, many guests are left wondering how to best access the country, and what tours will allow them to make the most of every minute in the Land of Ice and Fire.

Obviously, everyone's tastes are different, so there is no 'catch-all' agenda that will fit the wants and needs of all guests. Many tours have a limit on age, so they may not be suitable for families with young children; other tours require a certain degree of mobility and fitness; some are very relaxing, which may not suit thrill-seekers, while others require some nerve to embark on, ill-fitting for those who simply want to unwind.

Iceland's highlands are only accessible from late June until September

Obviously, everyone's tastes are different, so there is no 'catch-all' agenda that will fit the wants and needs of all guests. Many tours have a limit on age, so they may not be suitable for families with young children; other tours require a certain degree of mobility and fitness; some are very relaxing, which may not suit thrill-seekers, while others require some nerve to embark on, ill-fitting for those who simply want to unwind.

Iceland is also a country of extreme seasonal contrasts, so excursions such as Northern Light hunting can only be undertaken by winter travellers, while river rafting tours are exclusively there for those visiting in summer.

What tours you can take also depends on the parts of the country you plan on visiting, and whether you are driving yourself or being driven, either on day tours from Reykjavík or as part of a vacation package.



While all items on this list of Top Ten Tours in Iceland will therefore not accommodate everyone, the majority should be considered by all guests prior to arrival. Each of them represents one (or many) of the incredible sides to this magnificent country, and will be enjoyed by the vast majority of travellers whether they are looking for relaxation, adventure or awe-inspiring landscapes.

Contents

10. Sightseeing Around the Golden Circle        

The Great Geysir is not an active geyser in Iceland, but its next door neighbour Strokkur is.

The Golden Circle is the most popular sightseeing route in Iceland, and there is no wonder as to why; it's accessible all year round, it can be visited in half a day from Reykjavík whether booking a tour or driving yourself, and the sites along it are incredible.

The destinations included are the breathtaking waterfall Gullfoss, renowned for the rainbows which arc from its spray; the Geysir hot spring area, where you can witness the geyser Strokkur erupting to great heights every few minutes; and Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located directly between two tectonic plates. Some tours visit a few bonus sites, such as the dramatic Kerið Crater Lake.

Gullfoss: Iceland's most famous and visited waterfall, seen on every Golden Circle trip, is pictured here in summer.

Not only do the sites of the Golden Circle boast the unbelievable natural beauty for which this country is renowned, they also tell fascinating tales of the history and culture of Iceland. Gullfoss, for example, would have been dammed for profit in the 19th Century but for the tireless work of one unlikely hero; Geysir, meanwhile, was renowned so early that it gave its name to all similar phenomena. Þingvellir, most impressively, was the original site of the world's longest ongoing parliament, dating back to 930 AD.

Due to its popularity, there are a vast array of Golden Circle tours to choose from. Some are very affordable and efficient, such as this bus tour with audio guidance in ten languages, while others are slightly more expensive but much more personal, such as this private tour for up to seven guests. In summer, there are even Golden Circle tours that are undertaken beneath the Midnight Sun, and trips organised for those travelling to Iceland by cruise ship.



Thingvellir National Park during autumn in Iceland

As the Golden Circle takes only half a day to complete, many tour operator offer excursions that combine the sightseeing route with another adventure, often offered year-round. Enjoying the Golden Circle with a snowmobiling tour is a popular option; you could also combine it with a riding tour aback a charming Icelandic horse or a thrilling snorkelling trip. To witness Iceland both above and below the earth, you could combine the Golden Circle with lava caving.

If you'd rather just relax, you can add a trip to Blue Lagoon on the same day, or a relaxing whale watching tour from Reykjavík Harbour. Literally hundreds of different tours head out every day from an array of different operators throughout the year, each boasting something unique. The options for how to enjoy the Golden Circle truly are endless, making it an unmissable point on this list of top ten tours.



9. Sightseeing Around Lake Myvatn and the North         

If you have a longer stay in Iceland, or even a shorter one that you want to make a little different, it is a great idea to head to north Iceland. Not only is it a little less busy that the south and east, but it boasts a huge range of spectacular, diverse natural sights to enjoy.

Taking yourself away from the capital does not mean that you will be lacking amenities; Akureyri is the largest town in the region, a cultural hub, and has everything a traveller needs to remain comfortable. Situated within the beautiful fjord, Eyjafjörður, the settlement is surrounded by mountains, one of which, Hlíðarfjall, has arguably the best skiing slopes in Iceland.

The town can easily be reached by driving along Route 1 from Reykjavík or by taking a flight from the domestic airport, and many tour operators are based within it, meaning taking sightseeing or adventure excursions could not be easier.



Lake Mývatn surroundings

While there are a many incredible natural sites in north Iceland, the most famous and popular is the Lake Mývatn area. This area has it all: spectacular views over the water, unique flora; a wealth of birdlife; dramatic geological formations; surrounding mountains, craters and lava fields; and abundant geothermal activities. Those coming to Iceland for relaxation will find the trip well worth it simply to bask in the healing geothermal waters of the Mývatn Nature Baths.

Fans of Game of Thrones, meanwhile, will enjoy exploring the area as many scenes were shot here; the Dimmuborgir lava fortress, for example, was used as a setting north of the Wall, and a cave within it marks the spot where protagonist Jon Snow consummated his relationship with his wildling lover in one of Season Three's most romantic scenes. 

While the area around the lakes is rocky but verdant, dramatic contrasts can be found just a short drive away at the barren, seething geothermal area of Námaskarð Pass. With sulfur filling the smoky air and not a shoot of green grass in sight, this destination reveals just how diverse north Iceland can be, and how its landscapes have been shaped by the fires burning just beneath the surface of the earth.



Goðafoss waterfall between Akureyri and Lake Mývatn

Between Akureyri and Lake Mývatn is another beautiful attraction, the famous Goðafoss waterfall. Besides from being a spectacular natural feature, it has a wealth of history; in 1000 AD, it was here that the Lawspeaker of Iceland tossed his idols of the Old Norse Gods to officially mark the nation's conversion to Christianity, inadvertently beginning centuries of religious turmoil.

A little further east are even more incredible sites. Dettifoss, for example, is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, thundering into an ancient canyon with such force that it must be seen to be believed. Near to here is the verdant, horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi, a feature so perfectly formed that early Viking settlers could only attribute its creation to the interference of their gods.

For something completely different, meanwhile, you could head to arguably the oldest settlement in Iceland, the town of Húsavík, which is not only a historical and cultural centre but one of the world's greatest location to go whale-watching. In summer, a tour from here will introduce you to the beautiful creatures of the deep, such as humpback whales and white-beaked dolphins, as well as a wealth of birdlife that may include puffins in the height of summer.



Dettifoss waterfall is close to Lake Mývatn

If you are eager to make the most of all of these sites, then it is highly recommended to book a Diamond Circle sightseeing tour. Not only will such a tour introduce you to all (or in a few cases, most) of the sites listed above, they are similar to Golden Circle tours in that they come in a variety of forms. This excursion, for example, will allow you to sightsee while travelling in a four-wheel-drive jeep, whereas those with more of a budget will be blown away in awe by this once-in-a-lifetime trip that explores the sites from the sky.

While this tour misses out on a few locations listed, it conveniently includes flights to and from Iceland's capital, making the sites of the north accessible even for those basing themselves in Reykjavík.



8. Descending Inside a Volcano         

Inside volcano

Iceland is known as the Land of Ice and Fire, with the 'Fire', of course, meaning its volcanoes. While these volcanoes are not in a constant state of eruption (the last one finishing at Bárðarbunga in 2015), their consequences shape the island, with its enormous mountains, fields of lava and countless craters. No matter where you go, you will see the effects volcanic activity has had on the country.

In order to witness this in a way that is not offered anywhere else on earth, however, look no further than the Thrihnukagigur Volcano Tour. On this excursion, you have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to actual enter into the vast magma chamber of a volcano that has been dormant for the past 4000 years, Þríhnúkagígur.

At this incredible feature, you'll board an old mining lift, which will lower you into a cavern large enough to comfortably fit the Statue of Liberty. The colours, created by elements within the lava such as iron, sulfur and nickel, are unbelievable, swirling across the walls, ground and ceiling so intricately it almost seems as if they were painted. Once your lift reaches the bottom, you'll have the opportunity to walk around the base, shining your torch around the magnificent space that surrounds you.

This tour is particularly unique as usually, once a volcano goes dormant, the magma either cools to solid rock, or drains away and causes the peak to collapse into it. As mentioned, however, this cavern has existed for millennia and is thus structurally sound, making the excursion perfectly safe.

The Into the Volcano tour is only available in the summer months, and due to its remarkable nature, is very popular, so it is essential to book well in advance. While the tour is open to everyone over eleven years old, a short, uphill hike across rocky ground is required to reach the lift, meaning it is only recommended to those who are comfortable on their feet. 

If you are not travelling to Iceland in summer, or are put off by this tour's price tag, you can also witness the colourful, dramatic effects of a volcanic eruption beneath the surface of Iceland's lava on a caving tour.



7. Snorkelling Between Continents         

ThingvellirIceland may not initially strike you as a destination for snorkelling and diving, particularly in a location where the water is not geothermally heated. The spring within Silfra fissure in Þingvellir National Park, however, is so unbelievably beautiful that thousands of guests a year brace the cold and take the plunge, and few regret it. In fact, Silfra is so stunning that it is regularly ranked as one of the top snorkelling and diving locations in the world.

Its appeal comes is largely down to two reasons. The first is the clarity of the water; the visibility often exceeds 100 metres, allowing you to witness incredible shades of blue as you look ahead towards Lake Þingvellavatn. The second is its location; as mentioned, Þingvellir is located between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and the ravine was created by an earthquake caused by them pulling apart. As such, a snorkelling tour in Silfra is literally conducted between two continent.

The reason Silfra is so clear is that the water comes from Langjökull glacier, travelling underground for thirty of so miles through porous lava rock, that removes all particles within it. It takes years to reach the spring, and when it emerges, is clean enough to drink.



Snorkelling in Silfra on the Golden CirclePhoto from Snorkelling Silfra Day Tour

Of course, the water is also very cold, being just two degrees Celsius year round. By wearing drysuits with insulating 'teddy-bear' suits beneath, however, you will not feel the chill on your body at all; they are also very buoyant, so you don't need to work at all to keep yourself on the surface. Wetsuit gloves and hoods allow the water in, but due to the nature of neoprene, this water quickly heats up and forms a protective layer.

Some operators offer tours where you only wear wetsuits, while allow for greater mobility and provide the opportunity to free-dive, although this is only recommended for those who are physically very fit and ready to be quite chilly for the forty or so minutes you'll spend in the water.

Those trained in Scuba can take diving tours to explore Silfra, but due to the complications associated with the cold, you will need to at least be a PADI Openwater Diver (or have equivalent certifications) with a drysuit specialty or ten logged drysuit dives in the past two years. 



6. Hiking in the Highlands         

Thor's Valley, or Þórsmörk, in south Iceland's highlands is a must visit in summer

The Icelandic Highlands boast the country's most remote, raw and dramatic landscapes. Defined by lava fields, endless plains of black sands, mountains, rivers, volcanoes, glaciers and a spectrum of different colours, they attract hikers and photographers the world over. 

The two most popular places from which you can access the Highlands are Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugar. The Laugavegur trail, which connects them through the country's interior, is Iceland's best-known multi-day hiking route and a fantastic way to explore the region.

This five-day tour is a classic way to enjoy the trail, staying in remote cabins each night and trekking through unbelievable landscapes each day; you can also elect to follow the same route by bike. This three-day tour, meanwhile, will cover part of the Laugavegur route, while also including a hike through the Fimmvörðuháls Pass, through lava and craters created in the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.

Landmannalaugar in Iceland's highlands are a must visit in summer!

Þórsmörk translates to 'Thor's Valley', after the Old Norse God of thunder. Unlike much of the region, it is densely forested with birch trees, which makes a stark and beautiful contrast with the surrounding lava formations and gleaming glaciers. Landmannalaugar, meanwhile, is a place of rhyolite mountains and steaming geothermal areas that you can bathe in. If you are travelling with children or not eager or able to take the Laugavegur trail, both can be visited on day tours from Reykjavík.

This excursion, for example, allows you to reach Landmannalaugar in a super jeep, and includes a dip in the hot springs; for even more adventure, you can book this buggy tour, but will need to drive to the Highland area yourself. This super jeep day tour, meanwhile, will take you to both Þórsmörk and the waterfalls of the south.

If you're planning a trip to both Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugar, as well as some of Iceland's other main attractions such as the Golden Circle, the South Coast and Reykjavík, then this 6 Day Highlands Camping Tour Self Drive is the perfect option.



Thorsmork valley

If travelling in winter, there are even a few options to see Landmannalaguar; this 3-day tour is a fantastic way to witness Iceland's Highlands in this season, and will also provide you with plenty of opportunities to see the Northern Lights. If you would like to take such a tour but would also like your whole holiday sorted for you upon arrival as part of a vacation package, this 10-day adventure includes the aforementioned tour. It also boasts visits to the South Coast, ice caves, Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon and Snæfellsnes Peninsula.



5. Glacier Hiking          

Glacier hiking

Obviously, whilst in the land of ice and fire, you will need to visit the glaciers too.

If you don't have much time in Iceland but still want to get as much glacier action in as possible, then you should book this glacier hiking and boat day tour to go hiking on Iceland's largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The feeling of walking over an enormous block of ice is incredible and leaves you in awe of Mother Nature. A boat ride on Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is also included in this tour. This tour is only available in the summertime.

Iceland's glaciers are truly impressive!

Another great tour is this Sólheimajökull glacier expedition, that takes place on Sólheimajökull glacier in the south of Iceland. You can choose to meet the guides on location or be picked up in Reykjavík. This tour is only available in the summertime.


On this glacier hiking & ice climbing tour, you not only get to go hiking on a glacier (also on Sólheimajökull glacier) but you also get to try your hand at ice climbing. This tour is available all year round.

This south coast & glacier expedition doesn't just take you to Sólheimajökull glacier for a hiking experience to remember—but also boasts some of Iceland's most picturesque waterfalls and black sandy beaches. On a clear day, you can see all the way over to the Westman Islands. This is a nice and easy tour, with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. Available between May and December. 



4. Sightseeing Around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula             

Snæfellsjökull glacier on a summer's day in Iceland

Snæfellsnes peninsula is breathtakingly beautiful, filled with pretty waterfalls, birdlife, lava fields, black pebbly beaches and impressive mountains. And the cherry on top, Snæfellsjökull glacier, crowning the tip of the peninsula.

Snæfellsjökull glacier is also a volcano, responsible for the surrounding lava field. This volcano was the entry point to the centre of the earth in Jules Verne's famous novel, "Journey to the Centre of the Earth."

Kirkjufell mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss on Snæfellsnes peninsula

Besides the glacier/volcano itself, there are numerous other attractions on the peninsula that will make your trip worthwhile. These include the picturesque mountain, Kirkjufell, and its nearby waterfall - a popular spot for landscape photographers.

Arnarstapi at Snæfellsnes peninsula

A short stroll between the small villages Hellnar and Arnarstapi is not to be missed, with views towards the impressive coastline on one side and towards the glacier on the other. Djúpalónssandur beach is a black pebble and sand beach that rivals the beauty of Reynisfjara in South Iceland. The black church by Búðir is framed by both white beaches and the glacier in the distance. 

This great and reasonably priced bus tour to Snæfellsnes peninsula takes in all the main sights—and possibly even some hidden ones if time permits. Here, you can find various Snæfellsnes Peninsula tours. Snæfellsnes is accessible all year round.

Black church at Búðir on Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland's wintertime

The charming town, Stykkishólmur, is the largest town on the peninsula and offers multiple boat tours around the many islands of Breiðafjörður fjord. Stykkishólmur is also a convenient gateway to the Westfjords since the ferry Baldur crosses the fjord regularly, with an optional stop at the tranquil Flatey island.

If you want to take your time, then hire a car and spend 2-3 days exploring the peninsula, or even longer if you plan on heading towards the Westfjords. 



3. Witnessing the Northern Lights          

Northern Lights

In wintertime, there are dozens of Northern Lights tours you can choose from. There's an aurora forecast online where you can check how active the lights are supposed to be, along with what the predicted cloud cover is.

In order to see the Northern Lights it needs to be dark and a clear sky. You can go on all sorts of Northern Lights tours & holidays, from just a few hours to multi-day tours such as this 7-day self-drive tour.

You can even go on a Northern Lights cruise or hike up a mountain near Reykjavík and camp overnight on this Northern Light Mountain Camping tour!

Northern Lights over Vestrahorn in east Iceland

If you'd like to spice it up with some activity and lovely food, then this Northern lights, caving and lobster tour is a great winter choice. You start by exploring the great underground formations of Leiðarendi cave, followed by a lovely lobster feast in a local restaurant (included in the price). After a nice meal, you'll set out in a comfortable jeep to go hunting for the Northern Lights—just make sure you pick a clear night to go! 

For most Northern Lights tours, if you don't see the lights then you can go again another night (this does not apply to tours that include other activities, such as dinner).

Here you can see the variety of the Northern Lights tours available.

2. Sightseeing Around the South Coast     


This best value day tour to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon lasts 14 hours and takes you along the entire south coast of Iceland. You will pass through picturesque fishing villages all the way, finally arriving at the breathtakingly beautiful Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.

On the way, you'll pass Iceland's largest glacier, Vatnajökull, as well as the beautiful Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls—you can actually stop to walk all around Seljalandsfoss and up some stairs to the top of Skógafoss.


When you reach the glacier lagoon, you'll go on a boat trip between the chunks of ice in the lagoon. This tour is available between April and October but there are plenty of other south coast tours operating in wintertime as well.

The way to get there during winter is to join this 2-day tour to Jökulsárlón or this 3 day tour to the glacier lagoon with ice caving and glacier hiking. The bonus of visiting Jökulsárlón in winter is that you can go into an ice cave, which is described in detail later in this article.

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Right next to the lagoon is a black sandy beach that's covered with chunks of ice, earning it the name Diamond Beach, as the ice glistens like diamonds in the sunshine.

The south of Iceland is spectacularly beautiful and you can easily drive it yourself—unless, of course, you'd prefer that someone else does the driving, allowing you to take time admiring the surrounding landscapes instead of the road.

A variety of south coast tours are currently available, and you can find Jökulsárlón tours here.

1. Exploring an Ice Cave         


Ice caves are only accessible during winter time, as they disappear during summer. When the weather gets milder, they either collapse or melt, so they are a temporary structure that forms every year.

Each cave is unique and the caves vary in size and shape—but they all have this gorgeous blue colour that you can see in the video above and pictures below. It's necessary to enter the caves with a guide that knows the area well and knows where it is safe to go.

Inside an ice cave

The ice caves form in Vatnajökull glacier, Europe's largest glacier. Vatnajökull is in the southeast part of Iceland, about a 6-hour drive from Reykjavík. Conveniently, the tours start from Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, so you can also spend a part of your day exploring the gorgeous glacier lagoon and the nearby Diamond Beach.

If you are driving yourself, you can meet the guide at Vatnajökull and join this ice cave tour, or book this 3 Day Winter Self Drive Tour.

If you're not driving yourself, you can join this 2 day tour to the ice caves or this 3 Day Golden Circle, Glacier Hiking Ice Cave & Northern Lights Tour.


Winter travelling in Iceland can be truly spectacular!

For an ultimate winter package, we recommend this 5 day winter package, that includes the ice caves, Northern Light hunts, the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon and the south coast of Iceland. 


Have you been on a trip to Iceland? What was your favourite tour?