An island of striking landscapes, where rivers run through deserts and fire erupts from ice, Iceland is best described as a realm of stark contrasts—a land in which the natural elements perpetually dance between the primordial poles of fire and frost, during dayless winters and nightless summer months.  

Find out where to go and what to do, and discover Iceland's ice-capped fiery heart in this top 10 list of things to do and see in Iceland. The attractions are listed in no particular order, as they are all amazing places that deserve a visit. 

10. Hekla Volcano 

One of the most active volcanoes on earth, Hekla, towers 1,500 m (5,000 ft) into the south Icelandic sky, forever threatening infernal holocaust and raucous thunder.

The earliest documented eruption of Hekla took place in 1104, and since then between twenty and thirty significant eruptions have been recorded. With the volcano sometimes remaining active for the greater part of a decade, medieval European scribes and legend makers had no choice but to place the gates of hell in its very centre.

The iconic Icelandic horses.

In 1180 The Cistercian monk Herbert of Clairvaux wrote in his De Miraculis:

“The renowned fiery cauldron of Sicily, which men call Hell's chimney ... that cauldron is affirmed to be like a small furnace compared to this enormous inferno.”

In modern times Hekla and her rugged vistas have served as the inspiration for numerous artists and filmmakers, such as director Ridley Scott who partly filmed his Prometheus there as the volcano's lunar landscapes encapsulated his vision of a hostile alien planet in the darkest corner of the known universe.

If you decide to drive to Hekla yourself, be sure not to confuse it with the small nearby town of Hella. 

9. Reynisfjara Beach

Reynisdrangar in Iceland by Iurie Belegurschi.

Approximately 180 km (110 mi) southeast of Reykjavik is Reynisfjara, a black sand beach, surrounded by roaring surf, and the hexagonal basalt columns of Reynisfjall mountain.

Perpetually accosted by North-Atlantic storms, three titanic rocks which are said to be the petrified remains of careless trolls hit by sunlight, stand strong in the constant sea spray, facing only the strange dark caves which gape in the cliff-face on shore. 

Dyrhólaey Peninsula, South Iceland.

In walking distance is Dyrhólaey, a gigantic pillar of dark lava, arching 120 m (400 ft) into the sea, forming a peninsula from which travellers can clearly see the mighty Mýrdalsjökull glacier, and enjoy sweeping views of the south Icelandic coastline.  

There are regular guided tours to the beach from the neighbouring town of Vík. If travelling alone, please be advised that the sea is extremely dangerous, because of the cold water temperatures, ruthless surf, sneaker waves and heavy currents.

Swimming is absolutely forbidden, and you should keep at least 20-30 m (65-100 ft) away from the surf at all times. 

8. The Blue Lagoon

Bláa lónið, or the Blue Lagoon, is a geothermal spa, filled with seawater, which is believed to have natural healing powers. The water, rich in silica and minerals, has worked well on all sorts of eczema and other skin related problems (e.g. psoriasis), and the Blue Lagoon even has a special clinic for skin treatment.

It also offers a variety of luxury spa treatments, and it is possible to dine at the restaurant Lava situated at the lagoon. 

An experience in the Blue Lagoon is always beautiful; it has milky blue water and is surrounded by lava, making the place enchanting and mysterious.

For years the Blue Lagoon has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. It is situated on Reykjanes peninsula, close to Keflavík International Airport, only forty minutes’ drive from the capital.

Reykjanes peninsula is well known for its raw and rocky landscape, which many compare to the moon, and it is worthwhile to make a trip around the peninsula to visit the fisherman's town of Grindavík. 

7. Seljavallalaug Pool

Built in 1923, Seljavallalaug, is one of the oldest outdoor swimming pools in Iceland. This unexpected architectural marvel is built into a wet hillside, at the roots of a lonely mountain, forever channelling the natural warm water that constantly gushes from the rock face that makes up one of its four sides.

Seljavallalaug is warm throughout the year :)

This unique geothermal pool encapsulates the tranquil and beautiful side of man's ancient dualistic contesting of nature, humbly situated in an otherwise untouched natural setting, surrounded only by bubbling brooks, and whispering streams, flowing through an ethereal landscape, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. 

Seljavallalaug is reachable by foot from Seljavellir, in south Iceland. The path is undemanding and it takes about a 15-minutes to walk to the pool from the parking lot.

From Reykjavík, it takes about 2-hours to drive to the pool and the best way to get there is to rent a car and go exploring on your own. Head South on the ringroad towards Skógafoss Waterfall. Just before you reach Skógafoss, turn left onto road no 242 towards Seljavellir. 

6. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Intertwined with the Sagas, and populated until the early decades of the 20th century, the northernmost part of the Westfjords is called Hornstrandir. This colossal cliffside peaks at 534 m above sea level, providing the perfect habitat for one of the greatest seafowl colonies on earth.

Hornstrandir in the Westfjords of Iceland

Due to general poverty, lack of technology, and geological isolation, communications with the outside world were, until recently, always difficult at best, making the former few inhabitants of this one horse province renowned for their distinct rituals and beliefs, especially their liberal generative attitudes towards closely related family members.

Luckily, the farms and villages have all been vacated, and nowadays an increasing number of travellers visits the area to enjoy the solitude and magnificent landscapes.

The Hornstrandir area is reachable by ferries from Ísafjörður fjord and Strandir district. 

5. Husey in East Iceland

Located between two glacial rivers and surrounded by the Mountains of the East, Húsey offers endless opportunities for excursions to discover Iceland's untouched nature.

175 species of plants grow in the area (more than in any other place in Iceland), providing ideal nesting spots for the 30 species of birds who squat there every spring.  

Riding the black sands of Iceland is an unforgettable experience!

Visit Húsey in mid-summer, mount up, ride past the grazing reindeer, and onto the obsidian sands of the wide river banks; pass hundreds of idle seals, lazing under the midnight sun, dismount where the two rivers cross into the sea, and stand in awe while the sky blushes crimson. 

4. Thingvellir National Park

Þingvellir is a national park in southwest Iceland, part of the Golden Circle and just a 45-minute ride from Reykjavik; it is brimming with historical, cultural, and geological importance.

The crystal clear waters of the Silfra Cleft in Þingvellir under the Midnight sun

It has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland, as it is both the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and home to Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland, and the otherworldly Silfra diving spot—"Iceland's best kept secret" according to many divers—located exactly on top of the cleft which separates America and Europe.

Parliament, or Alþingi, was established at Þingvellir in 930, and until 1789 it served all branches of the legislative process, making Þingvellir an extremely effective political forum where the poor, the sick and the righteous were banished, tried, sentenced and properly drowned in Drekkingarhylur (Drowning Pool). 

3. Asbyrgi Canyon

In northeast Iceland, the horseshoe-shaped canyon, Ásbyrgi awaits travellers who thirst for spiritual fulfilment through tranquilly experiencing natural splendour.

The canyon is 3.5 km (2 mi) in length and 1 km (0.6 mi) across, split by a towering cliff structure from which travellers enjoy fantastic views, while below, fellow pilgrims parade through a thicket of birch, willow, fir, larch and pine.

Ásbyrgi Canyon in North Iceland

Although Ice Age flooding of the river Jökulsá á fjöllum likely caused Ásbyrgi’s shape, legend explains the curious frame of the gorge in another way. To this day some locals still maintain that Ásbyrgi was created when Odin's horse, Sleipnir, touched one of its eight hooves to the ground.

Numerous myths also relate that the canyon is the principal dwelling of "hidden people" (huldufólk), who supposedly live within the cliffs.

2. Skaftafell Nature Reserve

Measuring 4800 km² (1,850 mi²), Skaftafell is home to some of the strangest and most surreal landscapes on the planet.

The area is formed by a constant duel of fire and water, and camping in the greens of a birch wood forest, surrounded by black desert sands, glacial rivers, and a spur of the Vatnajökull ice cap is always a humbling experience.

Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell by Vatnajökull national park

Numerous hiking trails take you away from the campground, to such natural treasures as Svartifoss (Black fall), which flows over a sublime cliff of black basalt columns.

Skaftafell is renowned for its warm climate and sunny summer days, and local services include guided tours around the area and onto the glacier, ice-climbing tours, transportation, food and accommodation.

Only a short drive away, titanic icebergs float magnificently on Jökulsárlón, a majestic sky-blue glacier lagoon, where travellers can sail among the countless mountains of ice that constantly fall from the glacier.

1. Lake Myvatn Geothermal Area

Approximately 90 km (55 mi) east of Akureyri is Mývatn, Iceland’s fourth largest lake which was most likely formed by a catastrophic volcanic eruption some 2300 years ago. The area is still very volcanically active, the Krafla volcano being close by, its last eruption taking place in 1984.

A bubbling crater nearby Lake Mývatn

The lake is rich with birdlife, and its surroundings are composed of many of Iceland's most precious natural marvels.

Unique and unusually shaped lava-formations make up the mystical Dimmuborgir (Dark cities), where, according to legend, Satan himself landed after being cast from the heavens, only to be outlawed by the local light-elves who then turned his “Catacombs of Hell” into their capital city.

The thundering Dettifoss is near to Lake Mývatn

In the surrounding lava fields, one is likely to chance upon cracks and caves full of naturally heated water suitable for bathing.

Bursts of earthquake have, however, caused some of the natural baths to become extremely hot, and thus very dangerous. It is, therefore, best to ask the locals for guidance before diving into the enchanting warm water.

Tours to the volcano Krafla are easy from Mývatn, and some include other beautiful attractions, such as Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall. 

What is your favourite natural attraction in Iceland? Did you discover any hidden gems you'd like to share with the rest of us? Don't hesitate to leave your comments and queries below.