Icelanders are often asked: what do you recommend? What are the most exciting and unique things to do in Iceland? Where can you find the country’s most beautiful locations and landmarks? Read on to discover our suggestions for what to do and where to go in Iceland.
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An island of striking landscapes, where rivers run through deserts and molten lava erupts from ice. Iceland is a realm of stark contrasts.
It is a country where the natural elements dance between the poles of fire and frost, during winters with endless nights, and summers where the sun never sets.
It can be a little overwhelming, therefore, to decide what to do and where to go in Iceland. Before you book your trip, there is a lot to take into account.
There are so many unique attractions and differing landscapes that fitting them all into a holiday may seem like an impossible task. Some sites and activities, however, are must-see destinations. Below is a summary of our top ten things to do and places to go in Iceland, in no particular order.
To optimise your time in Iceland, we recommend you check out these best self-drive travel plans in Iceland.
Or if you don't want to drive, you can book a vacation package from Keflavík international airport or Reykjavík, that takes you to the best surrounding sites in fun small-group guided tours.
If you want to see the diverse landscapes and features of Iceland, all you need to do is plan a day trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Snaefellsnes has been nicknamed ‘Iceland in Miniature’ due to the sheer variety of landscapes you can see on the peninsula. While all are unique and beautiful, none compare to its crowning glory, Snæfellsjökull glacier.
Snæfellsjökull is a twin-peaked glacier that sits over a volcano on the peninsula’s tip, surrounded by jagged lava fields and a dramatic coastline on three sides. You can see it from some of the area’s other top attractions, such as the all-but-abandoned hamlet of Búðir and the Lóndrangar sea stacks.
The glacier has such an essential place in the heart of Icelanders that it was declared a National Park in 2001. It shares this status with only two other places in this country (both of which feature in this list).
Many pieces of art, particularly literature, have been inspired by Snæfellsjökull. Most famously, Jules Verne’s science fiction novel; ‘A Journey to the Centre of the Earth’. The glacier bestows the same sense of inspiration upon every guest who looks upon it.
If you have rented a car, it is possible to drive to the glacier and back within a day. Many self-drive tours, such as a six-day winter self-drive, include time on the peninsula.
There are plenty of Snæfellsness tours and packages to choose from. As one of the best places to visit in Iceland you’ll get to experience an otherworldly peninsula like no other.
Many guided tours will introduce you to Snæfellsjökull and its surrounding features, including providing you with options to glacier hike and snowmobile on top of the glacier.
If you want to do more than just sightseeing, some day tours include a snowmobiling trip on the glacier’s icy surface. It is also possible to go caving in the Vatnshellir lava tube within the National Park.
A visit to Snaefellsnes is truly magical. Visit Kirkjufell, widely considered one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland due to its iconic feature in the Game of Thrones TV series.
There is so much to see and do there that if you plan to incorporate it into your Iceland travel plan, you may wish to read our ultimate guide to the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
It’s easy enough to rent a car from Reykjavik and travel there yourself. This gives you the freedom to choose your own route. Meanwhile, if you prefer organised trips where you don’t have to drive, you’re sure to find something for you in our wide range of package vacations.
Iceland’s South Coast is extremely popular among travellers. It is a region everyone should consider visiting when deciding what to do in Iceland.
If you decide to take a tour of the South Coast of Iceland, make sure to explore the black sand beaches that lay along the coastline. While its waterfalls, glaciers and volcanoes are beautiful, it is the beaches here that make it truly unique.
Iceland’s glaciers and the effects of coastal erosion mean that the vast majority of its coastline is rocky and jagged, with fjords defining the West, North and East. Much of the South Coast, however, is vulnerable to glacial flooding, which has flattened the rocks into black sand.
Most famous of these black sand beaches is Reynisfjara. Like many of the most beautiful places in Iceland, Reynisfjara’s beauty comes from how stark and haunting its landscapes are.
Powerful waves regularly beat the dark sands and retreat out to sea towards two basalt pillars called Reynisdrangar.
Like many of Iceland’s most striking rock formations, these pillars are said to be trolls, frozen in the light of the morning sun. They face out to Reynisfjall mountain, where you can find rare hexagonal columns carved by nature into the black rock.
In walking distance of Reynisfjara is the magnificent sea-arch of Dyrhólaey. From its peak, visitors can achieve incredible views of the surrounding area, and in summer, the arch will be covered in nesting puffins. This is just one of the many beautiful places to see puffins in Iceland.
All year long, the lagoon is full of icebergs, which, after breaking from a glacial tongue, slowly make their way towards the ocean. When they reach it, the waves push them onto the beach, and the result is mesmerising.
The blue in the ice and the white of the surf contrast with the black sands. These contrasts are what make the Diamond Beach so beautiful.
Add in the colours of the Northern Lights (low light pollution and low cloud coverage is crucial to catch sight of them) or the hues of the midnight sun, and you have yourself a sight that appears as if created by a fantasy novelist.
As if the site were not complete enough, it’s possible to watch seals playing in the lagoon and out to sea. Nearby Vatnajokull glacier is home to lots of stunning ice caves: a truly marvellous feat of nature.
When visiting either of these beaches, remember that the sea is dangerous due to cold water temperatures and heavy currents. Reynisfjara is particularly perilous, due to the sneaker waves that unexpectedly surge upon the shore.
Swimming is forbidden and you should keep at least 20 to 30 metres (67 to 100 feet) from the surf at all times. Any safety advice provided at attractions should be taken extremely seriously during your time in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and perhaps the country’s most visited geothermal spa. The water here is an opaque, milky blue, unlike anything found elsewhere on earth.
The hot pool is rich in minerals and thriving with good bacteria. Silica masks are available for all guests, too. Both the water and masks have granted the lagoon a reputation for healing.
The Blue Lagoon sits within incredible nature. It is located on the volcanic Reykjanes Peninsula, known for its stark and haunting landscapes.
Lava fields coated in grey moss, therefore, stretch all around the spa. When witnessing this through a veil of steam, the impact is otherworldly.
A trip here will rejuvenate even the most worn-out guests. Those looking for something even more luxurious may want to consider some of the private treatments available.
There are, for example, a range of in-water massages you can enjoy. Natural beauty treatments tailored for your skin, using rare algae and minerals and specific procedures for those with skin conditions such as psoriasis.
The lagoon is conveniently located just ten minutes from Keflavík International Airport and thirty minutes from Reykjavik city centre, making it the perfect place to start or end a holiday. There is a range of airport transfers to choose from, many of which will stop at The Blue Lagoon.
Please note that the Blue Lagoon is a top-rated attraction in Iceland and you must, therefore, book your admission ticket in advance.
Photo from Husavik Traditional Whale Watching
Over twenty species of whale, dolphin and porpoise can be found in Iceland’s waters, making it a top destination for whale-watching.
While boat tours head out from ports such as Reykjavík and Akureyri, in places such as the Westfjords you can catch sight of whales from shore. The most successful tours usually set out from the small northern town of Húsavík.
Often nicknamed the whale watching capital of Europe, Húsavik sits by Skjálfandi Bay, which teems with aquatic life throughout the summer. Spot harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins and humpback whales almost every day.
Occasionally, lucky guests may also see more unusual species such as orcas, blue whales, fin whales and even disoriented narwhals.
Summer is also the nesting season for many species of migratory birds in Iceland, most notably the puffin.
Intertwined with the Sagas, and populated until the early decades of the 20th century, the northernmost part of the Westfjords is called Hornstrandir. Abandoned due to its remoteness and lack of industry, it has found new life recently as an incredibly well-preserved nature reserve.
There is so much wildlife in this area, which is what makes it one of the best places to visit in Iceland. This wild land is the least populated part of the country outside of the Highlands, but best known for its non-human residents.
Photo from Arnar Tomasson
The magnificent cliffs here, which stand up to 534 metres above sea level, are home to tens of thousands of seabirds. In the overgrown fields, you have a high chance of spotting Iceland’s only native land mammal, the Arctic Fox.
The animals in this region have no problem with humans getting close to them. While feeding wild animals is heavily discouraged, the fearless foxes here would quite happily eat out of the palm of your hand.
The Eastfjords of Iceland are sparsely populated and mark the farthest point from Reykjavík.
This means that only those driving the full Ring Road or who have booked a vacation package around the country are likely to see them. However, those that do visit often return, saying it was their favourite part of the country.
The Eastfjords allow you to get in touch with the landscapes of Iceland away from the tourist crowds, providing the tranquillity so many seek on a trip to Iceland.
Photo from Arnar Tomasson
Driving up and down high mountain passes and along dramatic cliff edges, you will expose yourself to magnificent seascapes and incredible views of Vatnajökull National Park and its enormous central glacier.
These traditional towns and villages are set within incredible nature. Seydisfjörður is particularly spectacular, nestled deep within a fjord with sheer cliffs and great ocean views.
As you drive through the Eastfjords, you should keep a keen eye out for its local wildlife.
The waters are fertile, meaning marine mammals swim in the seas, and many birds nest in the cliffs. The Eastfjords are also the only region in the country where you can see reindeer roaming free.
There are countless natural attractions in the area that come highly recommended, such as Húsey and Borgafjörður Eystri.
However, the whole of the Eastfjords warrants a place on this list. There is just such outstanding beauty in the remote region.
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular sightseeing routes in Iceland.
Þingvellir, or Thingvellir National Park, is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site on Iceland’s mainland.
Located in an incredible valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, it boasts a spectacular landscape of lava fields and forests, interrupted with crystal clear streams.
The Geysir Geothermal Area, meanwhile, has such explosive geysers that the name of the largest became ‘The Great Geysir’.
Though the Great Geysir is now virtually dormant, its neighbour Strokkur erupts every five minutes or so, to heights of over twenty metres.
Gullfoss is the best-known waterfall in Iceland, surging with enormous power down two tiers into an ancient valley carved out in the last Ice Age.
Those who visit on a sunny day will be delighted by the rainbows slicing through the mist here.
Due to the popularity of these sites and the fact it only takes half a day to get around them, many tour operators offer additional fun activities to this sightseeing journey.
In northeast Iceland, just off of the beaten track, is a natural feature so intricately formed that early Icelanders could only put its existence down to divine intervention.
The horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi is believed to have formed when one of the hoofs of Oðin’s eight-legged Icelandic horse came in contact with the ground.
The cliffs that surround it, and the plateau that rises from the centre, allow for some of the country’s most dramatic views and photographs.
The valley is also beautiful from within, filled with thickets of birch, willow, fir, larch and pine. Indeed, it is so rich with vegetation that it’s hard to imagine this is a location in Iceland.
It is little wonder, therefore, that many myths surrounding the hidden people (or Elves) of Iceland originate from here.
The Skaftafell Nature Reserve has such varied and beautiful landscapes that it was once a National Park in its own right.
Now it is one of the most alluring, incredible and yet accessible features of Vatnajökull National Park.
The area formed in the constant duel between fire and ice.
You can camp in the greens of a birch wood forest by a beautiful glacial stream, yet be only a short walk from haunting black deserts and dramatic lava fields.
Glacier tongues and lagoons can be found throughout the reserve, all originating at the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull.
Even if you don’t want to walk on the ice, you can enjoy the many other hiking trails that the area boasts.
Most notable amongst these is the trail to Svartifoss waterfall, where the water flows over a dramatic cliff of black basalt columns.
Skaftafell boasts a convenient location on the South Coast of Iceland, just under an hour’s drive from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond Beach.
Around an hour’s drive east of the ‘Capital of North Iceland’, Akureyri, is a geological and geothermal wonderland called the Lake Mývatn area.
The lakes formed during a streak of catastrophic eruptions over two millennia ago.
The area now boasts a wealth of hidden gems that visitors can reach by taking a tour of Myvatn.
The lakes themselves are beautiful, in their formation and the life that flourishes within them.
There are dozens of bird species that flock to the waters in summer, and those with an interest in flora should look out for moss balls, which form in few other places around the world.
The geology that surrounds Mývatn, however, is perhaps even more spectacular.
Perfectly formed pseudo volcanic craters line many banks. They can be walked up to and encircled, revealing the secrets of the volcanism in Iceland.
Dimmuborgir, meanwhile, is a field of lava so dramatic it is often called the Black Fortress.
Within this lava field, hidden in a cave, is the increasingly famous Grjótagjá hot spring.
Though you cannot bathe in the ever-changing temperature water, it is a must-see for fans of the Game of Thrones series. It was a shooting location for one of the franchise’s most famous love scenes.
Those who want to bathe in geothermal waters need not look far; however; the Mývatn Nature Baths are a perfect place to unwind when travelling through the region.
Those in the Mývatn Area will find a range of other fascinating sites just a short drive away.
It is, for example, close to Námaskarð Pass, where one can discover seething fumaroles and bubbling mud-pits on a stark mountain plateau.
It is also close to some incredible waterfalls, most notably, Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
We hope this helps you find where to go and the best things to do in Iceland to make the most of your stay here.
Let us know what your favourite natural attraction in Iceland is and share any hidden gems you discover while in Iceland that you'd like to share with the rest of us.
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