Find the top things to do in Iceland. Read about where to go and what to see. Learn about Iceland's must-see tourist attractions. Plan your trip with our map of the 18 best things to do and see.
There are too many things to do in Iceland to keep count. It’s a realm of stark contrasts. It’s an island of striking landscapes where rivers run through deserts and molten lava erupts from ice.
It’s a country where the natural elements dance between the poles of fire and frost, with endless nights during the depth of winter and summers where the sun never sets.
It can be a little overwhelming to decide what to do and where to go in Iceland. Before you book your trip, there’s a lot to consider.
Your average sightseeing guide of Iceland is probably the size of a dictionary. There are so many unique Iceland attractions and landscapes that fitting all of them into a holiday may seem like an impossible task. So, we’ve made a map of must-see places in Iceland below for you to reference:
You might notice that there are only 17 attractions on the map, but that’s because number 18 is not restricted to a location!
To optimize your time in Iceland, we recommend you check out these best self-drive travel plans in Iceland.
If you don’t want to drive, you can book Iceland vacation packages from Keflavik International Airport or Reykjavik, which will take you to the best surrounding sites in fun, small-group, guided tours.
Whether you’ve decided to self-drive around Iceland or take a tour, we’ve rounded up not only the top 10 things to do in Iceland but the top 18. This includes the must-see places, things to do and see in Iceland, and what you should avoid.
If you want to see Iceland’s diverse landscapes and features, all you need to do is plan a day trip to the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
The Snaefellsnes peninsula has been nicknamed ‘Iceland in Miniature’ due to the sheer variety of landscapes you can see on the peninsula. There’s so much to see and do there that you may want to read our ultimate guide to the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
But its crown jewel is the Snaefellsjokull glacier. It’s 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 Budir and the Londrangar sea stacks.
The glacier has such a special place in Icelanders’ hearts that they declared it a National Park in 2001. It shares this status with only two other sites in the entire country (both featured on this list).
Many art pieces, particularly literature, have been inspired by the Snaefellsjokull glacier. The most famous is Jules Verne’s science fiction novel ‘A Journey to the Center of the Earth.’ If you’re wondering what to see in Iceland, the Snaefellsjokull glacier is a great choice.
It’s possible to drive to the glacier and back within a day, but you will probably want to spend more time there. It’s one of Iceland’s must-see attractions included in many self-drive tours, such as a six-day winter self-drive tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle & Snaefellsnes because you need to spend more than a day there!
There are plenty of Snaefellsnes tours and packages to choose from, including ones that take you on a snowcat ride on the glacier’s icy surface. It’s also possible to go caving in the Vatnshellir lava tube in the national park.
Of all the spectacular places to see in Iceland, Kirkjufell mountain is one of the most impressive. Kirkjufell is one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. You might recognize it as the Arrowhead Mountain north of The Wall in the Game of Thrones TV series.
Kirkjufell mountain translates to Church Mountain and is a popular destination for self-drive tours. The water in front of the mountain makes it even more scenic. It produces either a mirror image or becomes a perfect white blanket of ice and snow in the winter. It’s also possible to hike up it if you’re an experienced hiker!
Iceland’s South Coast is extremely popular among travelers. It’s a region everyone should consider when deciding what to do in Iceland.
Iceland’s glaciers and coastal erosion have left the vast majority of its coastline jagged, with fjords defining the West, North, and East. However, much of the South Coast is vulnerable to glacial flooding, which has flattened the rocks into black sand.
If you decide to take a tour of the South Coast of Iceland, be sure to explore the black sand beaches along the coastline.
The most famous of these black sand beaches is Reynisfjara. Like many of the most beautiful places in Iceland, Reynisfjara beach’s beauty comes from its stark and haunting landscapes.
The black sand beaches might be some of the best things to see in Iceland, but it’s forbidden to swim at them. The sea is dangerous because of cold water temperatures and strong currents. Reynisfjara is especially risky because of the sneaker waves that unexpectedly surge upon the shore.
You should stay at least 67 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) from the surf at all times and take any safety advice provided at attractions seriously.
The lagoon is full of icebergs that slowly make their way towards the ocean after breaking from a glacial tongue year-round. When they reach the sea, the waves push them onto the beach, and the result is mesmerizing.
The blue of the ice and the white of the surf contrast with the black sand and make Diamond Beach exceptionally beautiful and one of Iceland’s best places to visit.
Add the colors of the northern lights or the dramatic hues of the midnight sun, and you have a view that looks like a fantasy novelist created it.
As if that wasn’t enough, sometimes you can also spot seals playing in the lagoon and out at sea.
The mighty waves of South Iceland have carved two basalt pillars called Reynisdrangar. They’re near Vik and were featured in Game of Thrones as Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.
Like many of Iceland’s most striking rock formations, some say these pillars are trolls, frozen in the light of the morning sun. They face Reynisfjall mountain, where you can find Iceland’s famous black basalt hexagonal columns.
In walking distance of Reynisfjara is the magnificent sea-arch of Dyrholaey. From its peak, visitors can see incredible views of the surrounding area, and in summer, nesting puffins cover the arch. Dyrholaey is just one of the many top places to see puffins in Iceland.
One of the best places to visit in Iceland is the Vatnajokull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. It makes up 8% of Iceland’s landmass with countless stunning ice caves, each a marvelous feat of nature.
Under the ice are at least three active volcanoes and the tallest peak in Iceland. Vatnajokull glacier also feeds countless rivers and outlet glaciers. It’s featured in Games of Thrones and two James Bond movies.
The Blue Lagoon is perhaps the country’s most visited geothermal spa and the top tourist attraction in Iceland. 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 given the lagoon a reputation for healing.
The Blue Lagoon sits within the volcanic Reykjanes peninsula’s incredible nature, which is known for its stark and haunting landscapes.
The spa is surrounded by lava fields coated in grey moss. When seen through a veil of steam, the scene is otherworldly.
A trip here to relax and rejuvenate at the start or end of your journey is perfect. Those looking for something even more luxurious may want to consider some of the private treatments available.
Some treatments available are in-water massages and natural beauty treatments tailored for your skin. The latter use rare algae and minerals with specific procedures for those with skin conditions, such as psoriasis.
The lagoon is just 14 miles (22.3 kilometers) from Keflavik International Airport and 31 miles (49.2 kilometers) from Reykjavik’s city center. Conveniently, there are affordable airport transfers to the Blue Lagoon.
Please note that the Blue Lagoon is a top-rated Iceland attraction, and you must book your admission ticket in advance.
There are over twenty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises in Iceland’s waters, with many cities offering boat tours.
You can find whale-watching tours in ports such as Reykjavik and Akureyri, and in places such as the Westfjords, you can catch sight of whales from shore. But one of the best places in Iceland to whale watch is the small northern town of Husavik.
Husavik, nicknamed ‘the whale watching capital of Europe,’ sits by Skjalfandi Bay. The area is teeming with sea life in the summer. You can spot harbor porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, and humpback whales almost every day.
Occasionally, lucky guests may see more unusual species such as orcas, blue whales, fin whales, and even the rare narwhal.
Summer is also the nesting season for many migratory bird species in Iceland, most notably the puffin.
Intertwined with the Sagas and inhabited until the early 20th century, the northernmost part of the Westfjords is called Hornstrandir. Abandoned due to its remoteness and lack of industry, one might think this place doesn’t belong on a list of what to do in Iceland.
But it has recently found new life as an incredibly well-preserved nature reserve.
There’s so much wildlife in this area that it’s one of the best places to go in Iceland for wildlife lovers and photographers. This wild land is the least populated part of the country outside the Highlands and is best known for its non-human residents.
Photo by Fabianna Rizzi
The magnificent cliffs rise to 1,752 feet (534 meters) above sea level and are home to tens of thousands of seabirds. You have a high chance of spotting Iceland’s only native land mammal in the overgrown fields, 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 will happily eat out of the palm of your hand.
Where should you visit in Iceland if you like remote, off-the-beaten-path things to see and do? Aside from Hornstrandir, the Eastfjords are sparsely populated and mark the country’s farthest point from Reykjavik.
Only those driving the full Ring Road or who have booked a vacation package around the country are likely to see them. However, those who visit often return, saying it was their favorite part of the country.
This remote corner of Iceland is far from the tourist crowds, providing the tranquillity many seek on their trip to the island.
Driving up and down high mountain passes and along dramatic cliff edges, you’ll see magnificent seascapes and incredible views of Vatnajokull National Park and its enormous central glacier.
Despite its remoteness, the East has several settlements such as Djupivogur, Seydisfjordur, and Egilsstadir, where you can find services such as gas, food, and comfortable accommodations. These traditional towns and villages are seated within incredible natural surroundings.
As you drive through the Eastfjords, keep a keen eye out for the local wildlife. The waters are fertile and filled with marine life, and numerous sea birds fly in the skies above. The Eastfjords are also the only region in the country where you can see reindeer roaming free.
One reason why they aren’t on most lists of Iceland’s things to see might be because reindeer aren’t native to Iceland. A royal decree introduced them in the 18th century from Norway and Denmark, but only those in the Eastfjords survived.
The best place to spot them is at the fjord near the town Seydisfjordur or on a super jeep wild reindeer experience tour.
The Golden Circle is one of the top Iceland tourist attractions. The route is 186 miles (300 kilometers) long and takes you to the most spectacular Iceland attractions in Southwest Iceland: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and the Gullfoss waterfall.
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 by crystal clear streams.
Meanwhile, the Geysir Geothermal Area has such explosive geysers that the name of the largest is ‘The Great Geysir.’
Though The Great Geysir is now virtually dormant, its neighbor Strokkur erupts over 65 feet (20 meters) in the air every five minutes.
Gullfoss is the best-known waterfall in Iceland, surging with enormous power down two tiers into an ancient valley carved out during the last ice age. On a sunny day, you might just find a rainbow or two slicing through the mist!
There are plenty of guided tours of the Golden Circle, but many visitors also opt to self-drive so that they can see Iceland’s sights at their own pace.
If you want to add a little zest to your self-drive Golden Circle tour, there are also several top things to do in Iceland that require just a slight detour from the route.
Due to these sites’ popularity and the fact it only takes half a day to get around them, many tour operators offer additional fun activities to the Golden Circle.
Thrill-seekers can snorkel in the Silfra rift or join a cold water diving tour (if qualified) in Thingvellir’s freshwater springs, the Silfra rift, for some of the best underwater sights in the world.
In Northeast Iceland, just off the beaten track, is a natural feature so intricately formed that early Icelanders thought it was the result of divine intervention.
They believed the horseshoe canyon of Asbyrgi was formed when one of the hoofs of Odin’s eight-legged Icelandic horse came in contact with the ground. This is a must-see in Iceland if you’re interested in Norse mythology.
The cliffs surrounding it and the plateau that rises from the center 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’s so rich with vegetation that it’s hard to imagine this location is actually in Iceland.
It’s no surprise that many myths about Iceland’s hidden people (elves) originate from here.
Skaftafell Nature Reserve has such varied landscapes it was once a national park.
Now it’s the most alluring and accessible section of Vatnajokull National Park and one of Iceland’s best places to visit for nature lovers.
You can camp in the greens of a birch wood forest by a beautiful glacial stream just a short walk from haunting black deserts and dramatic lava fields.
The glacier tongues and lagoons throughout the reserve all originate in Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull. Those eager to enjoy the magnificent views from the top can book a glacier hiking tour on one of the glacial outlets, Svinafellsjokull.
Even if you don’t want to walk on the ice, you can enjoy the area’s many other hiking trails.
The trail to Svartifoss waterfall is the most notable, where the water flows over an impressive cliff of black basalt columns.
Skaftafell is conveniently located on the South Coast of Iceland, 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach.
A series of catastrophic eruptions formed these lakes over two millennia ago. The area now boasts a wealth of hidden gems you can reach by taking a tour of Myvatn.
The lakes themselves are beautiful in their formation and the life that flourishes within them.
Dozens of bird species flock to the waters in summer, and those interested in flora should look out for moss balls, which form in few other places around the world.
But the geology that surrounds Myvatn lake is perhaps even more spectacular. Perfectly formed pseudo volcanic craters line many banks. You can walk up to and around them and discover the secrets of Iceland’s volcanism.
Though you cannot bathe in this water due to its ever-changing temperature, it’s a must-see for fans of the Game of Thrones series. The cave was a shooting location for one of the franchise’s most famous love scenes.
However, those who want to take a dip in geothermal waters need not look far. The Myvatn Nature Baths are perfect for unwinding when traveling through the region.
Visitors to the Myvatn lake area will find many other fascinating sites just a short drive away.
For example, Myvatn lake is close to Namaskard Pass, where you can discover seething fumaroles and bubbling mud-pits on a stark mountain plateau.
It’s also close to some incredible waterfalls, notably Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Iceland.
The charm of a never-setting sun and the beauty of northern lights are stunning natural sights to behold and a must-see in Iceland. Although not an actual site, they are undoubtedly the top Iceland attractions. Both have a plethora of tours dedicated to them.
We’ve written a whole post on when exactly is the best time to visit Iceland to see the northern lights. Generally, the best time is between late August and April, with mid-winter offering you the best chance of seeing them. Of course, joining a northern lights tour guided by experts also increases your chances of spotting the aurora borealis.
Come to Iceland between May and August and enjoy the never-setting sun if you prefer warm weather. We’ve discussed what to be aware of when chasing the Midnight sun, and there are many top midnight sun tours to choose from to experience the magical hours.
Since both are top things to see in Iceland, you may want to visit Iceland twice to witness both the magic of the northern lights in winter and the midnight sun in summer.
Like all places frequented by tourists, there are things to avoid in Iceland for various reasons. We’ve covered all of them in our dumbest things to do in Iceland.
In terms of places to avoid - we’re happy to say that all the attractions in Iceland are as pretty in real life as in photos. That said, the best thing to do to avoid disappointment is to book your visits in advance to famous Iceland tourist spots. The chief among them is the Blue Lagoon.
We hope this helps you find out where to visit in Iceland and the best things to do to make the most of your stay here.
Let us know your favorite natural attraction in Iceland and share any hidden gems you discover while traveling across the unique landscape.
Don’t hesitate to leave your comments and queries below.