Golden Circle

Which are the most popular and best value activity and nature trips in Iceland? See this to find the best tours that you should join during your stay in Iceland.

The most common question we get here at Guide to Iceland is: What should I do when I go to Iceland? To help you out with that answer, we've made a list of our most popular tours that take you to stunning locations and are good value for money. 

Obviously, people will want to see and do different things when they come to Iceland. Some tours have a limit on age, so they may not be suitable for families with young children; other tours require people to be quite fit, offering adventure, whilst some are focusing on relaxation.

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

When booking your trip, note if the tours you are interested are available all year, or only run at a specific time. Northern Lights and ice cave tours, for example, only run during wintertime. While Inside the volcano and river rafting tours, for example, only take place during the summer.

Glacier walks and whale watching tours, the most popular activities in Iceland, operate all year long.

We've tried to take this into consideration while making this list by giving you a few options to choose from.

Additionally, we think that the best way to explore Iceland and enjoy your Icelandic holiday to the fullest is by taking your time and exploring it on your own. We have a wide variety of self drive tours available, complete with a suggested itinerary and all accommodation taken care of in advance. You can even customise your own self drive tour

If you'd like to explore the country completely on your own without an itinerary, then you can easily rent a car and hit the road. If it's guided sightseeing tours or activity based tours where you'll need a guide, then you can compare tours on the largest marketplace of tours in Iceland here.

Following is a list of the top tours in Iceland:

10. The Golden Circle        

The Golden Circle is a Must Do when visiting Iceland. It's accessible all year round and the most popular tour to go on for travellers. On the Golden Circle, you'll see the breathtaking waterfall Gullfoss, the Geysir hot spring area (where you can witness the geyser Strokkur erupting every few minutes) and you'll go to Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It only takes about half a day to see all three locations so it's ideal to combine the Golden Circle with another half a day trip. It's no wonder most of our popular trips are Golden Circle combination trips!

Thingvellir National Park during autumn in Iceland

The options are almost endless. If you want some action, you can go on a Golden Circle and Snowmobiling Tour, or combine it with horseback riding or snorkelling. If you prefer a less active combination, you could go caving or bathe at the Blue Lagoon on the same day as you visit the Golden Circle.

The snowmobiling tour is a great option if you want to add some adrenaline to your trip. You'll get to travel in a super jeep, something that all car fanatics shouldn't miss out on. Langjökull glacier, Iceland's second biggest glacier, is situated not far from Gullfoss waterfall. In order to reach it, you'll need to be in a 4 wheel drive car, only adding to the adventure. On the vast white plains of the glacier, you can have spectacular views on clear days and get the adrenaline pumping whilst driving your own snowmobile in the crisp air. 

Whale watching

If you're not too fussed about adrenaline but are an animal lover, then perhaps this whale watching and Golden Circle day tour is more your thing. It starts in Reykjavík harbour with a 3-hour whale watching tour in the morning before setting off to see the Golden Circle in the afternoon.

There's a variety of Golden Circle options, you can decide between going on a tour or simply drive it yourself. Here are all the Golden Circle tours options and here you can rent a car.

9. See Lake Mývatn and the North         

Why not venture a little further away from Reykjavík, heading north to Akureyri? Akureyri is the capital of the north and the second biggest town in Iceland besides the greater Reykjavík area.

Akureyri is situated within a beautiful fjord, surrounded by mountains, and boasts a rich art culture, great dining options, interesting architecture and arguably the best skiing site in Iceland, Hlíðarfjall.

Not far from Akureyri is the stunning Lake Mývatn. There are plenty of attractions in the area, ranging from rich flora and fauna, waterfalls, volcanoes, craters and geothermal activity.

Lake Mývatn surroundings

Námaskarð is the area you'll want to visit for bubbling hot springs, colourful ground and that sulphur smell you'll either love or hate. All this geothermal activity in the area results in numerous hot springs, not just in Námaskarð, but also in the stunning Grjótagjá cave. They also make up part of the Mývatn Nature Baths, the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing soak.

Hiking enthusiasts should visit the volcanoes Hverfell (or Hverfjall) and Krafla, found right by Lake Mývatn. You can also see the picturesque Skútustaðagígar craters. Dimmuborgir, or the Dark Cities, is an eerie lava field that also shouldn't be missed by anyone on a trip in north Iceland. It holds hiking trails from as short as 15 minutes up to a couple of hours if you really want to get lost between troll-shaped lava rocks.

Goðafoss waterfall between Akureyri and Lake Mývatn

Between Akureyri and Lake Mývatn there is the famous Goðafoss waterfall; a little further east from Lake Mývatn is the impressive Dettifoss waterfall.

The charming town Húsavík is situated between Akureyri and Lake Mývatn, an ideal stop for a whale watching tour. And if you head further east then you can explore the impressive Hljóðaklettar region or the lush Ásbyrgi canyon.

Dettifoss waterfall is close to Lake Mývatn

From Akureyri, you can join this hot spring tour around Lake Mývatn for a fantastic day out. Waterfalls, craters, lava formations, hot springs and a nature bath are just the tip of the iceberg in this stunningly beautiful area around Iceland's most beautiful lake. Available all year.

If you're in Reykjavík and want to go on a day tour, you can join this Mývatn Sightseeing Tour and hot springs with flight. Once again, available all year round. 

8. Go Inside a Volcano         

Inside volcano

Iceland is known to be the land of fire and ice, or the land of volcanoes and glaciers. Most people that come to Iceland want to see a volcano, and there are plenty of volcanoes to choose from (although none that are continuously erupting).

When volcanoes erupt in Iceland, it is sometimes possible to visit to watch the eruption, depending on the type of eruption. The last volcanic eruption in Iceland took place between September 2014 until February 2015 in Bárðarbunga. 

This Thrihnukagigur Volcano Tour on the other hand, offers you the chance to go INSIDE! Not to worry, the volcano in question, Þríhnúkagígur, has been dormant for the past 4000 years and shows no signs of activity. Quite safely, you can descend right to the bottom of the magma chamber. You'll be greeted with a colourful cave that's large enough to fit the Statue of Liberty, but you won't see any flowing lava in its bottom!

This is the only place in the world where you can go inside a volcanic magma chamber and this tour is only available in the summertime, with limited availability - so be sure to book it early. 

If you're interested in volcanoes, there are plenty more volcano tours to choose from, seeing as Iceland has around 130 volcanoes, both active and non-active ones.

Learn more about volcanoes in Iceland here.

7. Go Snorkelling Between Continents         

ThingvellirSnorkelling in the Silfra fissure, one of the best diving sites in the world. The water is so crystal clear that the visibility can exceed 100 metres—an incredible experience that shouldn't be missed! This is only for people that can handle the cold though, since the water is VERY cold (drysuits are provided)!

There are multiple snorkelling tours on offer—we'd recommend this Silfra snorkelling tour that's modestly priced and available all year round.

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

Snorkelling can be combined with the Golden Circle, so check out this Golden circle and snorkelling tour if you want to spice up your trip—again, it's available all year round.

If you have your certified scuba diving license, then you can opt for a diving silfra day tour. There are other snorkel and dive sites available in Iceland, if you want to explore more of Iceland's landscape from underwater. 

6. Þórsmörk Valley or Landmannalaugar         

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

The Icelandic highlands are only accessible during summertime, from late June or early July until September. The two most popular destinations within the Icelandic highlands are the distinctly different Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugar. We can't make up our mind of which one you should go to, so we've included them both.

Þórsmörk translates to 'Thor's Valley'; an impressive name for an impressive location. In order to reach Þórsmörk, you'll need to cross some rivers, go over some rocky roads and traverse mountain paths; the scenery just gets prettier and prettier with every twist and bend. Covered with birch trees and rock formations, this valley is lush and harsh simultaneously, making it a definite must-do for all nature lovers.

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

Landmannalaugar is 55 km north of Þórsmörk and equally stunning, although in a completely different way! Landmannalaugar is full of colourful sandy and rocky mountains, with little vegetation. Due to much geothermal activity the ground in Landmannalaugar comes in all colours—that includes green, blue, red, pink and purple! There is also a lava field there and various lakes.

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

Between Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugar is a hiking route, Iceland's most popular trail called Laugavegurinn, so named after Reykjavík's main shopping street. It's not as busy as the shopping street though—and much more spectacular in beauty!

If you're an avid hiker, in good shape and you've got 4-6 days available, then we'd recommend doing the Laugavegur hiking tour and the Fimmvörðuháls pass. You'll cross glaciers and rivers, valleys and volcanoes.

The campsite at Emstrur on the Laugavegur hiking trail in IcelandPhoto credit: Philip Gunkel

Accommodation can either be in huts along the way, or in tents if you want to save on money. You can choose between booking a highland hikers passport and plan it yourself (that means carrying all your clothes, food, tent and cooking utensils with you) or you can book a guided tour where your gear and food will be transported for you.

There are multiple Laugavegur hiking tours available, but this Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk 4 Day Camping Tour is a great option. All hiking tours in the area are only available in the summertime.

Hiking in Landmannalaugar is only possible during summertime

If, on the other hand, you just want to go on a day trip to see the area, then this south coast and Þórsmörk valley tour allows you to go hiking inside Þórsmörk (summertime only), and this Hekla volcano and Landmannalaugar tour gives you enough time to go for a short hike and relax in the natural hot spring there (summertime only).

Relaxing in Landmannalaugar's natural hot pool during wintertimePhoto from Super Jeep & Northern Lights Landmannalaugar Winter Tour

The only way to visit Landmannalaugar during wintertime is to join this 3 day Super Jeep & Northern Lights Landmannalaugar Winter Tour. Access to the area is heavily dependent on weather and road conditions, so it's restricted to going with a guide only. This tour is also included in this Ultimate 10 Day Adventure | Highlands in Winter & the Ice Cave, in case you want to come for a longer amount of time. 

5. Go 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. See Snæfellsnes 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. 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. South Coast and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon         

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. Visit a Natural Glacier 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?