See these top 10 things to do and see in Iceland. Find out where to go, attractions are listed in no particular order, as they're all amazing places that deserve a visit.
- To drive to these attractions see the: cheapest cars rentals in Iceland
1. Lake Myvatn Geo-thermal Area
Approximately 90 kilometers east of Akureyri is Mývatn, Iceland’s fourth largest lake. It was most likely formed in a catastrophic volcanic eruption some 2300 years ago, and the area is still very volcanically active, the Krafla volcano being close by, its last eruption taking place in 1984.
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.
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, and it is therefore wise to ask the natives for guidance before diving into the enchanting warm water.
2. Skaftafell Park
Measuring 4800 square kilometers, 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.
Numerous hiking trails rest across the campground, leading to such natural treasures as Svartifoss (Black fall), which flows over a sublime cliff of black basalt columns, and only a short distance 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.
Through the years the lagoon has provided the scene for numerous Hollywood films, i.e. Tomb Raider, Die Another Day, A View to a Kill, and Batman Begins.
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.
3. Asbyrgi Canyon
In northeast Iceland, the horseshoe-shaped canyon, Ásbyrgi awaits travellers who thirst for spiritual fulfilment through the tranquil experiencing of natural splendour. The canyon is 3.5 km in length and 1 km across, split by a towering cliff structure from which travellers enjoy fantastic views, while below, pilgrims parade through a thicket of birch, willow, fir, larch and pine.
Although flooding of the river Jökulsá á fjöllum, after the last Ice Age, likely caused Ásbyrgi’s shape, legend explains the curious frame of the gorge in another way, and to this day some locals still maintain that Ásbyrgi was composed 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.
4. Þingvellir 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.
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 a priceless political forum where the poor, the sick and the righteous were banished, tried, sentenced and properly drowned in Drekkingarhylur (Drowning Pool).
5. Husey in East Iceland
Located between two glacial rivers, the Jökulsá á Brú and Lagarfljót, and surrounded by the Eastern Mountains, 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.
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.
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.
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 both Ísafjörður and the Strandir district.
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 channeling the natural warm water that constantly gushes from the very rock face that makes up one of its four sides.
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 the south of Iceland, and the path is undemanding - about a 15 minute walk from the parking lot. Best way to get there is to rent a car and go exploring on your own. From Reykjavík it's about a 2 hour drive, head south on the ringroad towards Skógafoss. Just before you reach Skógafoss, you turn left onto road no 242 towards Seljavellir.
8. The Blue Lagoon
Bláa lónið, or the Blue Lagoon, is a geothermal spa with seawater, which is believed to have natural healing powers. The water, rich of 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 the Reykjanes peninsula, close to the international airport in Keflavik, and only forty minutes’ drive from the capital. The 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.
9. Reynisfjara Beach
Approximately 180 km southeast of Reykjavik is Reynisfjara, a black sand beach, surrounded by roaring surf, and the hexagonal basalt columns of Reynisfjall mountain; oft befriended by North-Atlantic storms, three titanic rocks, said to be the petrified carnal remains of careless trolls hit by sunlight, stand strong in the constant spray of sea, facing only the strange dark caves, gaping in the cliff-face.
In walking distance is Dyrhólaey, a gigantic pillar of dark lava arching 120 meters into the sea, forming a peninsula from which travellers can enjoy a brilliant view of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, and the South Icelandic coastline.
There are regular guided tours to the beach from the neighbouring town of Vík. If traveling alone, please be advised that swimming in the sea is extremely dangerous, because of the cold water temperatures, ruthless surf and heavy currents.
10. The Volcano Hekla
One of the most active volcanoes on earth, Hekla, towers 1500 meters 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 there have been between twenty and thirty significant eruptions, with the mountain remaining active for the greater part of a decade, inspiring medieval authors to place the gates of hell in its very centre.
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 rough roots have inspired artists such as director Ridley Scott, who partly filmed his Prometheus there, capturing this unique volcanic landscape which for some reason encapsulated his vision of a hostile alien planet in the darkest corner of the known universe.
If you are driving to Hekla yourself, make sure you don't confuse it with the small town Hella that's nearby!