Iceland has become one of the most popular countries to visit thanks to its abundance of natural beauty and the availability of cheap flights from North America and Europe. This list of the top things to do in Iceland includes many of its best waterfalls, geothermal features, historic sites, wildlife areas, and more. These suggestions are based on my own experiences as well as contributions from fellow travel bloggers – I encourage you to check out their links for more great content if you enjoy their sections. After the initial grouping of the top ten things to do in Iceland – the best of the best! – these are broken down into categories to assist you in finding things that interest you.
- 1 Top ten things to do in Iceland
- 1.1 Take a road trip around the Ring Road
- 1.2 Drive the Golden Circle
- 1.3 Snorkel between continental plates
- 1.4 Go ice caving inside a glacier
- 1.5 Get close to icebergs at Jökulsárlón and Diamond Beach
- 1.6 Hike Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
- 1.7 Walk along Reynisfjara black sand beach
- 1.8 See Iceland in a nutshell in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- 1.9 See the Northern Lights
- 1.10 Relax in the Blue Lagoon
- 2 Natural wonders in Iceland
- 3 Hot springs and baths in Iceland
- 4 Top waterfalls in Iceland
- 5 Wildlife spotting in Iceland
- 6 Other top things to do in Iceland
- 6.1 Visit Game of Thrones filming locations
- 6.2 Ride adorable Icelandic horses
- 6.3 Get a bird’s eye view on a helicopter tour
- 6.4 Visit the eerie plane wreckage from a 1970s crash landing
- 6.5 Hit the water on a RIB boat tour
- 6.6 See Hallgrímskirkja’s unique architecture
- 6.7 Learn about Iceland’s geology at the Perlan
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Top ten things to do in Iceland
I pulled this group of ten things to do in Iceland from different categories because I think they’re the best the country has to offer. These Iceland attractions and activities feature some of its most spectacular and unique scenery. They’re what I’d consider must-sees for visitors planning a trip to Iceland.
Take a road trip around the Ring Road
While the city is definitely worth exploring, we highly recommend leaving the busy streets of Reykjavik, with its many roundabouts, for the wide-open, adventure-filled Ring Road. With 828 well-maintained miles to explore, it is perfect for those wanting to explore off-the-beaten-path places – like Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and Dettifoss. It is extremely easy to drive and navigate. Plus, there are plenty of campgrounds and other lodging options – and lots of cheap gas station hotdogs. So, getting out of the city can make for a smart budget move as well!
Of course, the main draw to looping the whole of Iceland is to see the stunning natural wonders this country has become so well known for. The Ring Road (or Route 1, as it is also known) is lined with waterfalls and black sand beaches along the south coast. Then it crosses over a glacier lagoon, passes through quaint fishing villages, and even goes through geothermal areas as you loop your way back to Reykjavik. While you could technically drive this route in one very long day, a week or more is recommended with all the stops you’ll want to do. Trust us, you won’t want to rush this drive!
And if you are up for more adventure, taking a side trip to the Western Fjords will provide more amazing views, some great places to soak in a natural hot tub, and a much more nail-biting drive – if the Ring Road sounds a little too easy for you.
Read more about our two-week campervan road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road.
By Brooke & Buddy from TrailingAway.com
Drive the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle typically sits high atop the suggestions for what to do in Iceland, and for good reason. This area includes important historic and geographic sites, each of which highlights a different aspect of the country’s wealth of natural wonders. It’s also one of the most easily accessible places for visitors staying in Reykjavik, as it can be done as a short day trip, either by driving yourself or joining a bus tour from the city.
There’s no set order for which sites you should do first, but we began our visit at Þingvellir National Park, which lies on the continental divide between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. In addition to its geographic significance – the valley you see here is gradually widening as the plates spread apart – it’s also important historically as it was the site of Viking congresses for years. You can walk down into the rift area and even join a snorkeling or scuba diving excursion that allows you to swim in between the plates (keep reading for more on that from one of the other contributors!).
Another important location is the Geysir area. This geothermal area is so famous that the English word “geyser” derives from its name. Though Geysir itself rarely erupts anymore, nearby Strokkur can be expected to spout ever 5-10 minutes, so you’re almost guaranteed to view at least a couple eruptions while you’re there. A trail will also take you near hot springs and other geothermal features – just be sure to stay on marked paths as the crust can be fragile. The third most popular stop on the Golden Circle route is Gullfoss, a powerful two-tiered waterfall. The cascade can be viewed from above along two levels of trails.
Snorkel between continental plates
We were looking for fun activities to add to our itinerary when we stumbled upon Silfra snorkeling in Iceland. It’s the only place on Earth where swimming between the Eurasian & North American tectonic plates is possible. Besides being an adventure, this was our once in a lifetime experience and so we had to do it. The best part about Silfra snorkeling is that you don’t have to go out of your way. Silfra is located inside Thingvellir National Park, which is a main stopover on Iceland’s Golden Circle. Give yourself 3-4 hours from start to finish for this activity even though the actual swimming time is only about 30 minutes.
This excursion is nothing like snorkeling in sea water. We were stunned by the clarity of glacier water especially seeing everything crystal clear almost up to 100 meters. And if you swallowed the water it was deliciously fresh. Man, would I like love to snorkel without worrying about swallowing salty water again.
The only challenge here was the glacial water temperature. Even though we went in the summer the water temperature was below freezing. Your snorkeling company will get you insulated in layers and a dry suit from top to bottom except your mouth. Given that it is only a 30 minute activity and you can flip on your back to give your mouth a little warmth it’s not a deal breaker.
We highly recommend everyone going to Iceland to give this adventure a try!
By Richa from My Tickle Feet
Go ice caving inside a glacier
When I was planning a trip to Iceland, I was absolutely captivated by the striking photos of bright blue ice caves. With sunlight filtering down through the ice, these shimmering caves were stunning. My sister and I took a tour that allowed us to go snowmobiling atop Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, and then deep into a nearby ice cave. These caves are formed by ice that melts during warmer months and carves out the passage. In the winter, when temperatures drop, they are able to be explored on foot.
The flowing water that forms them leaves rippled patterns in the ice, and exposes streaks of volcanic ash from eruptions hundreds of years in the past. It really does make you feel like you’re in Elsa’s ice palace or Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, depending on your fandoms. Visitors can do tours closer to Reykjavik in tunnels carved into the ice, but those pale in comparison to the views we got in the naturally formed ice cave. Our tour left from the Jökulsárlón parking lot, so you can easily pair a Vatnajökull ice cave tour with a visit to the glacier lagoon.
Get close to icebergs at Jökulsárlón and Diamond Beach
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon home to numerous icebergs floating serenely in its calm waters. These chunks of ice have recently broken off from the glacier, and are slowly making their way out to sea through the narrow channel exiting the lagoon. Before they do, visitors are treated to the sight of these gorgeous blue masses of ice, sometimes striped with striking black streaks made up of volcanic ash, floating along. There is a decent-sized parking lot there, as well as bathrooms and a small snack shop (be warned, the lines for these were insanely long even in the slower winter season) there, and plenty of spots along the shore to take photos. During warmer months, boat tours into the lagoon will also get you closer to these gorgeous ice bergs.
Just on the other side of the Ring Road, you’ll find Diamond Beach, a stretch of black sand where some of the icebergs that have made their way out to sea get washed ashore. When we visited in winter, the beach was absolutely covered with uniquely shaped chunks of ice, some small enough to hold in your hand, and others large enough to climb on. It was an absolute dream for photography, and we could’ve spent hours there. It was also fascinating to watch the waves breaking on larger ice bergs stuck further out in the water, as the force of the ocean inexhaustibly wore the ice down and pushed it further toward the beach. These gorgeous – and free! – natural wonders are one of the top things to do in Iceland, so don’t miss out.
Hike Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is one of Iceland’s most famous canyons and is easily accessible if you are visiting Vik or the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. At almost 100 meters deep and with winding, moss-covered cliffs, this canyon makes for a gorgeous addition to your Iceland vacation. The canyon was formed about 9 thousand years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. Fjaðrárgljúfur certainly looks ancient and is definitely one of the most unique gorges I have seen. One of my favorite things about it was having views over the entire canyon and the nearby lava fields.
There is a marked trail with multiple lookout points culminating in a view of the entire gorge and waterfalls at the end. While some of the old viewpoints are roped off, this is done to allow the moss to regrow in areas where it has been damaged. Staying on the trail and going to the outlooks gets you plenty of great photo ops while being respectful of rehabilitation efforts.
You do need to walk up a fairly large hill to view the canyon so if it’s winter time, you may need crampons. If you have a 4WD vehicle, you can drive to the upper parking lot and skip walking up the hill. The lower parking lot at Fjaðrárgljúfur can fill up at peak times. For the best experience, go early or late in the day to make sure you get parking. The canyon is making its way onto more Iceland itineraries.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is located about an hour east of Vik near Kirkjubæjarklaustur off of the Ring Road. Because you have to drive about 10 minutes down a gravel road to get to the canyon, it can be closed during winter so check road conditions in advance. The canyon may also be closed in winter season to protect the natural area from visitors during the thawing.
By Brianna from Curious Travel Bug
Note: Due to the need to protect the canyon’s ecosystem from the ever-increasing number of tourists, the canyon may close for periods of the year. You can find out about closures by searching here. If you’re lucky enough to get to visit, please be respectful of the environment – though really that should be the case everywhere you go.
Walk along Reynisfjara black sand beach
As the most famous of Iceland’s black sand beaches, Reynisfjara is an incredibly popular stop along the Ring Road, and it’s one of the most famous black sand beaches in the world. Located just west of Vik, this gorgeous beach features the obvious black volcanic sand, plus views of the Reynisdrangar rock formations at its eastern end, caves, and beautiful lava formations along the cliffs. The Reynisdrangar are said to be trolls that stayed out too late and were caught in the sunlight, thereby turning into solid stone. There is also a restaurant on site if you want to stop and grab a bite. Be careful on the beach as rogue “sneaker” waves can come up way higher than the rest and catch tourists off guard. Signs in the parking area warn of the dangers and recommend that you not turn your back to the waves.
See Iceland in a nutshell in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
They call Snaefellsness ‘Iceland in a nutshell’ because it considered being the microcosm of the Island. This peninsula has everything right from a National Park, a glacier, a volcano, wildlife, whales, lava fields, small towns and fjords. While some may prefer to cover the entire peninsula on one day, I would recommend taking it a wee bit slower.
Borgarnes is the main town in the Snaefellsness Peninsula and has all the makings for a lunch break and a short walk around. The cafe at Settlement Center serves good food (a very elaborate vegetarian menu I must add) and it displays 2 exhibitions too.
From here, one can move on to cover the north end of the peninsula, which brings you to the beautiful harborside town of Stykkisholmur. Its first brush with fame came with its appearance in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Located by a fjord, one can take a cruise into the waters, spot some wildlife and birds and if you are lucky you can taste some fresh catch from the sea while on the cruise. Very close by is the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum which is essentially a shark curing farm. The friendly hosts will tell you about the local Greenland Shark whose meat is used to make the “Hakarl.” Vast lava fields will lead the way to the famous Kirkjufell next an oft-photographed mountain. Nearby, the sleepy neighboring town of Grundarfjordur is a surprising hub for whale watchers.
The south of the peninsula brings you to the white sand Ytri Tunga beach where seals are often spotted. The beach is picturesque with the Snaefellsness Glacier as the background. The small town of Budir will fall next on your way where the Black church is an often photographed spectacle with the mountains in the background frequently covered by clouds. Driving ahead will bring you to the fishing village of Arnarstapi. It now houses a few homes and a visitor center and a quaint pier for boats. In addition, one can hike from here to the next village of Hellnar along the coastline, and that promises to be a fun 30 minutes. A few kilomoters along the coast, the black sand beach of Djupalonssandur is equally beautiful and dangerous as its south coast brother, the Reyjnisfjara. The shores reward you with black sand and smooth black pebbles.
That’s Iceland in a nutshell for you, a.k.a the magnificent Snaefellsness Peninsula.
By Sudeepta from Moonlite Kingdom
See the Northern Lights
A chance to see the Northern Lights is a major draw for many visitors to Iceland. The colorful lights dancing through the sky are visible in many parts of the far North, and with its location near the Arctic Circle, Iceland is a great spot to see them. I’d been wanting to see them my whole life and was absolutely ecstatic when we were treated to a couple light shows in the sky. Seeing the Northern Lights takes a little bit of luck – you need to be there on a day when they’re active and have clear skies. This article on viewing the Northern Lights has a few tips and web resources you can use to try to predict when you might be able to spot them and track the cloud cover in the area.
The auroras can be seen from anywhere in Iceland – we even saw them faintly in Reykjavik – but your best viewing will be in a dark area away from city lights. The two best viewing experiences we had were in our hotel parking lot across from Geysir – I can’t even tell you how cool it was to see them in the sky while Strokkur erupted below them! – and at a random spot along the Ring Road where we pulled over after seeing an aurora start to form in the sky. For stunning photos, you could try to set up shop at one of the famous landmarks to see if you can capture a shot of the Northern Lights above a waterfall or something similar too. For the best photos, be sure to bring a good camera and tripod – you can find out more tips about photographing the auroras here.
Relax in the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most famous spot to go for a hot water soak. Its bluish waters contrast beautifully against the black volcanic rock around it. While bathing in power plant runoff doesn’t sound appealing, the way this manmade lagoon of hot, mineral-rich water was created is just as fascinating as its appearance is gorgeous. Seawater is pumped deep below the surface of the earth where it’s heated naturally and forms steam which is used to produce electricity and power municipal water heating. The hot water is then pumped into the Blue Lagoon area where visitors can soak in it. The water is full of silica and other minerals, and is known for being good for the skin – but bad for your hair. (You’ll definitely want to make sure you keep it out of the water).
There is a restaurant and a café on site, as well as a swim up bar. You can also book a room at the adjacent hotel. Ticket packages include mud masks and access to the locker rooms and showers, and more expensive options include drink tickets, robe rentals, and/or spa treatments. The Blue Lagoon is one of the top places to visit because of its proximity to Reykjavik and the country’s main airport, and its popularity is reflected in its ticket prices. It really is beautiful though, and our visit toward the end of our week in Iceland was the perfect way to relax before we headed back home. Read more about my visit here.
Natural wonders in Iceland
Sometimes I travel for history. Sometimes I travel for culture. Sometimes I travel for Mickey-shaped foods. When we went to Iceland, I was 100% there for its natural wonders. I’ve hit 6 different continents and never see such an incredible array of landscapes and natural beauty packed into such a small area. If you don’t see something that amazes you in Iceland, I don’t even want to know you.
Explore the Dimmuborgir lava fields
Dimmuborgir is one of the most unique landscapes in Iceland; the area consists of large expanses of lava fields east of Lake Myvatn. The lava field is full of unusually shaped lava rock formations, volcanic caves, and dramatic rocky arches.
In Icelandic, the word “dimmuborgir” means “dark castles” and the name is actually quite fitting since the rock formations are reminiscent of a collapsed citadel. It’s cool seeing these lava structures in real life, but even more interesting when you find out how they were created.
Approximately 2,300 years ago, Dimmuborgir was formed from a lava bubble which was created when hot molten lava flowed over a pond and trapping the water underneath. As the lava cooled, steam rose to form large lava pillars as it escaped the bubble. The stacks of lava rock have been preserved ever since.
The area of Dimmuborgir is full of caves and lava rock formations that are hauntingly beautiful. Some of the caves are along the trail and can be explored, but be sure to stay on the path as the rock can be brittle and easily damaged. Dimmuborgir is a great place to visit while exploring northern Iceland!
By Constance from The Adventures of Panda Bear
Get away from the crowds in the Westfjords
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Iceland, the Westfjords have to feature on your bucket list. The Westfjords are Iceland’s most rural and least visited region, also known as Iceland’s Best Kept Secret. If you’re an outdoors and nature lover you have to visit the Westfjords. As you drive around you’ll often drive for hours without seeing any houses or other people, just the occasional group of sheep that wander around the side of the street.
Isafjordur is one of the largest settlements in the Westfjords with around 2,500 inhabitants (which gives us you an idea of just how rural this area is!). It can be a great base from which to explore the natural beauties of the Westfjords.
Some of the must-see natural attractions are Dynjandi Falls, Rauðasandur Beach and Latrabjarg. Dynjandi is a huge waterfall composed of seven smaller waterfalls, that starts at the top of a fjord and goes all the way down to the sea. You can walk all the way up to the main waterfall, just be careful as the path can get quite slippery!
Latrabjarg is the most Western point in both Iceland and Europe. Latrabjarg is a 14km long promontory, with cliffs up to 440m high. It is also a nesting site for puffins, which you can often see perched on the side of the cliffs. It’s a beautiful spot for a walk along the sea but just be careful not to get too close to the edge, there are no railings and the wind is really strong! There are signs everywhere advising you to crawl to the edge on your stomach if you want to see the puffins, as standing close to the edge can be dangerous.
Another unique natural landscape is Rauðasandur, the famous Red Beach. Unlike the beaches in the south of Iceland that are black due to volcanic activity, this one is characterized by red sand. It’s a 10km stretch of beach, surrounded by the cliffs of the fjords on every side, where you can also often find seals basking in the sun.
The Westfjords are a very unique region characterized by stunning natural beauty, that I highly recommend adding to your Iceland bucket list.
By Greta from Greta’s Travels
Visit the colorful Kerið Crater
The Kerið Crater is part of Iceland‘s famous Golden Circle route but the natural attraction is one of the least visited of the Golden Circle highlights. Some organized tours do not include the crater in their itinerary (or allow a very limited visiting time) and independent travellers often run out of time to visit this site after a long day sightseeing on the Golden Circle. The Kerið Crater should not be missed and any visit should not be rushed! There is no hint on the approach to the 3,000 yr old crater as to what you will see as the perfect caldera is not elevated.
The Kerið Crater is the remnants of a cone volcano which collapsed on itself after the magma chamber emptied. The crater is an impressive myriad of colors displaying the different hues and tones of the rich Icelandic soil, particularly the vivid red volcanic rock found in this region. The colors of the soil and rock contrast with the opaque, milky aquamarine of the crater lake at the center of the caldera. If you time your visit to catch good light – such as noon or sunset- the vivid colors glow. Walk for 50 meters down to the crater lake to appreciate the size and shape of the caldera. Alternatively, you can also walk around the rim of the crater; the unfenced rocky trail takes around one hour to complete. Unlike the other Golden Circle attractions, there is a small entrance fee to visit the Kerið Crater, but it is a fee well worth paying!
By Sinead from Map Made Memories
Explore the Vestrahorn Mountains
The Vestrahorn Mountains are located in east Iceland, near the city of Höfn and on the Stokksnes Penninsula. It is a stunning area with views of tall horned mountains next to a black sand beach. The Vestrahorn Mountains are nicknamed the “Batman Mountains” by locals as they resemble Batman’s logo. When the beach is calm, the area makes for great photography due to an opportunity to catch the mountains reflecting off of the water. There are also many impressive humps/hills close to the beach, providing excellent opportunities for photos. Seals also tend to hang out on the stretch of sand, so if you’re lucky, you can catch a picture of a cute seal. The views are breathtaking, and this spot has become quite a popular spot, which is why the landowners have decided to start charging to use the road to the beach. If you plan on driving on the road, be sure to stop in at the small shop near the entrance to pay. The road to Vestrahron is a bumpy ride so it is best to have a good car that can handle driving on a long, dirt road.
By Michelle from The Wandering Queen
Get away from the mainland in the Westman Islands
Visiting the Westman Islands should definitely be on your Iceland bucket list if you’re wanting to get off the heavily beaten tourist track, but you also don’t plan on straying too far from the Golden Circle. A 90 minute drive from Reykjavik and short ferry ride from the mainland, the Westman Islands can easily be visited in a day, though it will certainly make for a brilliantly full day as there is a surprising amount to see and do on this small collection of islands, although only one is actually inhabited all year round – Heimaey.
During our day trip to the Westman Islands, we climbed Eldfell, the volcano that dominates much of the island. It didn’t take long to hike up, but once we were at the peak it wasn’t just the panoramic views that amazed me as I spotted a number of the other eleven islands surrounding Heimaey, but it was also the fact that I could feel that the browny-red gravel I stood on was still warm from the volcano’s relatively recent eruption in 1973. The story of this eruption is one of Iceland’s most famous near-misses as it came as a complete shock to residents and prompted an emergency mass evacuation of Heimaey’s 5,300 population in the middle of the night, something that was made possible only because a number of shipping boats had docked in the harbor due to a storm the day before.
Once descended from Eldfell, we took a short drive to the other side of the island where it narrows out into rocky cliffs and is home to one of the biggest puffin colonies in the world during summer months. We visited in June and didn’t have to look hard at all to find a scattering of these beautiful birds perching on small flats and narrows of the cliff. We were sadly too early to see the babies they were protecting in their nests – they usually hatch in August – but I didn’t feel like I’d missed out! It was with a heavy heart that we then headed back to catch our ferry back to the mainland, as I would have liked to have explored and learned more about the Westman Islands.
By Frankie from As the Bird Flies
Stroll along Djúpalónssandur Beach
The beaches were the highlight of our travels to Iceland with kids. But our favorite, and perhaps most interesting, is Djúpalónssandur, also known at the Black Lava Pearl Beach.
Djúpalónssandur is a black pebble beach facing south to the roaring surf that explodes off the North Atlantic, buffering each pebble perfectly smooth (hence its alternative name). Surrounding the beach are many interesting lava rock formations, including a rather interesting lava rock with a hole in the middle which you can see on the walk down to the beach. Many of these rock formations are linked to local stories and folklore.
This stretch of ocean has been unforgiving to many fishermen and on the beach, you can see the shipwreck remains of a fishing trawler from Grimsby (Epine GY7) scattered across the beach and left to remember the fourteen men who lost their lives on that tragic day of 13th March 1948. This beach used to have up to 60 fishing boats and was one of the most prolific fishing villages. The bay is now uninhabited, but you can still see four lifting stones where fisherman would test their strength.
By Jenny from TraveLynn Family
Explore inside a lava tunnel
The Lava Tunnel is a 30 minute drive from Reyjkavik. It is located at Raufarhólshellir and it is the fourth largest lava tube in Iceland. It can be accessed all year round and the standard tour is quoted as being easily accessible for everyone, although I do recommend it only for the able bodied and those over 5 years old. We visited in early April and it had recently only just stopped snowing. At the time of year we visited, there were ice mounds, icicles and snow piles that were simply stunning.
The lava tunnel itself was also very picturesque and the standard tour took around one hour. Some of the path is via a footbridge, some of it is over craggy rocks. It is an experience well worth doing and although costly, most of Iceland does not come cheap. They also have a more extreme adventure tour for those who are up to it.
By Suzy from Our Bucket List Lives
Hot springs and baths in Iceland
Iceland’s hot springs are great places to relax and rejuvenate. Because it’s such a hot spot for geothermal activity (bad pun, I know), you can find toasty warm waters to soak in in various spots around the country. You’ll definitely want to pack a bathing suit and hit at least one.
Soak in the Reykjadalur Thermal River
It would be a shame to travel to Iceland and never get to soak in at least one of their famous hot springs! And after experiencing more than a few during our 2 weeks in Iceland, the Reykjadalur Thermal River was by far our favorite. It’s such a surreal experience to step into an entire river of warm water while surrounded by the emerald green hills of Iceland.
Reaching the river requires a bit of effort, but the reward is well worth it. You’ll begin near the small town of Hveragerði, approximately 45 kilometers northeast of Reykjavik. From the parking lot, you’ll hike 3 kilometers uphill through the Reykjadalur valley. As the trail climbs up through the mountains it offers views of the river cascading down the valley below. You’ll walk past boiling mud pits, steam vents, and several hot springs that are too hot for bathing.
When you arrive at the bathing location you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a well maintained wooden boardwalk along the river and several changing screens to change into your swimwear. Several hot springs feed into the river just above this location so you’ll find varying temperatures depending on where you enter the water. The farther up the river you go, the hotter the water. Visitors are requested not to venture too far up the river for safety reasons.
Reykjadalur is a long-time favorite soaking location for Icelandic locals but it has recently become more popular with tourists. Make sure you get an early start so you can experience the Thermal River without any crowds.
By Nick and Val from Wandering Wheatleys
Soak in the Myvatn hot springs
If you are travelling Iceland on a budget, then Myvatn is a great affordable alternative to the infamous Blue Lagoon. This thermal spa, which is considerably cheaper, is found in the North of Iceland near Godafoss waterfall and right next to the Namafjall Hvenir geysers so you can visit all 3 easily in a day. The closest big town is Akureyri, which has its own airport. The scenery here is like something from another planet, with volcanic rock stretching for miles and steam rising from geysers in all directions. It could easily be Mars!
The spa itself costs from about £28 for entry for an adult which is less than half the price of visiting the Blue Lagoon and yet the facilities are very similar. It’s only missing the swim-up bar! There is a cafe on-site and easy parking facilities. It’s also very easy to finds along the ring road.
I was worried that as a solo traveller I would get bored staying here by myself for too long. In reality, it was super relaxing and I ended up making lots of new friends by asking a group of people if they’d mind taking a photo of me. We ended up chatting for hours, soaking up the beautiful views as we lounged in the warm water talking about our Iceland highlights.
By Leanne from The Globetrotter GP
Relax in the Secret Lagoon
Icelanders love nothing more than ending a hard day with a soak in one of the many hot geothermal spas that grace their land of fire and ice. A tradition travellers really learn to appreciate after long days exploring Iceland’s rugged terrain. The Secret Lagoon is, as the name suggests, one of Iceland’s hidden gems. Lesser known than tourist hotspot, The Blue Lagoon, The Secret Lagoon offers the heat, humility and peace of a typical Icelandic spa, but minus the price tag of The Blue Lagoon.
The Secret Lagoon site is, in fact, Iceland’s oldest swimming pool and a natural one too. A small geyser erupts every few minutes, creating a natural geothermal spa, which is loved by locals and tourists who discover it. The grounds surrounding the pool are particularly beautiful, with moss-covered rocks and heat steam trickling into the air giving this scenic spot an air of mystery.
The Secret Lagoon is the perfect place to unwind after a day exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle, located in nearby village Fluðir, an easy drive from Geysir, and waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Gullfoss. Open from 11 am – 8 pm and priced at 3000 ISK per person (towel hire 700 ISK), make like the locals, enjoy the serene surroundings and sunset and relax after a long day exploring Iceland. Not to be missed, unwinding in Iceland’s hot thermal lagoons and Secret Lagoon will be one of the things you long for well after you return from your trip to Iceland.
By Jasmine from The Life of a Social Butterfly
Top waterfalls in Iceland
These could’ve easily fit in the natural wonders section, but because there are so many gorgeous waterfalls, I decided to break them out into their own grouping. Believe it or not, these are just scratching the surface of Iceland’s waterfalls. You’ll almost certainly spot many more during your travels.
Visit Europe’s most power waterfall
Dettifoss is known for being one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe. Located a little more off of the beaten path in northeast Iceland, it is definitely worth a stop on a Ring Road road trip. There are viewing areas set up on each side of the waterfall, but the sides are a 1.5 hour drive apart. If you don’t have time to visit both, you’ll have to pick a side.
If visiting with a tour, you will visit the west side of the waterfall, which gives you a direct view of the fall. This parking lot is made for buses, and there is a large viewing platform. The day we visited, the mist heavily obstructed the view from the west side and drenched the people visiting that side.
If you are visiting on your own, opt for the east side of the waterfall. Because the road is a dirt road part of the way and there is no parking for buses, there are less people on this side. You can get right up close to the waterfall since there is no viewing platform. You can walk right up to the edge of the canyon and waterfall if you so choose. While you do not have a direct view of the fall, you can feel the power and still get a great view.
Don’t miss out on Selfoss while you are there. From the west side, follow the walkway back to Selfoss to get a view of the main waterfall as well as a side view of the string of waterfalls leading up to it. From the east side, take the 1 km (.75 miles) walk to see Selfoss. You will see the main fall from further back and all the smaller falls from directly across the gorge, a beautiful sight to see.
If you like to play it safer or want a direct view of the waterfall, head to the west side of Dettifoss. If you have a sense of adventure and want to feel the power of Dettifoss, make sure to visit the east side. Either way, don’t miss out on the chance to experience Europe’s most powerful waterfall.
By Christine from Live. Love. Run. Travel.
Walk behind Seljalandsfoss
The southern Ring Road waterfalls are some of the top attractions in Iceland. Heading east from Reykjavik, the picturesque Seljalandsfoss is the first that you’ll spot. This waterfall is one of the most photographed spots in Iceland and you’ve almost certainly seen photos of it in guide books. Seljalandsfoss is surrounded by greenery and visitors can even walk along a pathway behind the waterfall, though it’s very misty back there. (This pathway is closed during winter time.) Be sure to wear something waterproof and protect your electronics if you don’t want everything to get wet. We were pretty well drenched by the time we left, which is why I added the waterproof rain pants I was too proud to wear to my Iceland packing list.
Visit Godafoss waterfall
Some of the best items to tick off your Iceland bucket list are the country’s magnificent waterfalls. And there’s no shortage of them to explore! Waterfalls can be found all throughout the country, but one of the biggest and most impressive falls to visit is Godafoss waterfall. Also known as the waterfall of the gods. It lives up to the name!
Fed by the river Skjálfandafljót, the water falls from a height of 12-meters and flows over a 30-meter wide horseshoe-shaped rock that rises in the center, separating the waterfall in two. Visiting Godafoss is a photographer’s dream, as there are multiple viewpoints to view the falls from and capture its beauty.
Godafoss Waterfall is located right off the Ring Road (the main highway in Iceland), so it’s easy to access. To reach Godafoss, just drive half hour drive West (50km) from Akureyri, the capital of the north of Iceland. There is a car park near the waterfall, and no entrance fee to get in. Visiting Godafoss Waterfall is one of the best attractions to see in Iceland.
By Lora from Explore with Lora
Climb to the top of Skógafoss
Located just east of the previously mentioned Seljalandsfoss, you’ll find the turn off for the larger and more powerful Skógafoss. This waterfall is narrow, but tall and is really quite impressive. The thundering can be heard all the way from the Ring Road. You can walk close to the pool at its base for photos, where you’ll get
wet soaked from the mist – but it’s worth getting a little damp for.
There is also a staircase winding up the cliff to the top of the waterfall. With 429 stairs, it’s definitely a workout and shouldn’t be attempted by visitors who aren’t in good enough shape to handle it. From the top, you’ll be able to look almost straight down the length of the waterfall and enjoy views far off into the distance.
Dynjandi is a series of waterfalls with a height of 100 meters in the remote Westfjords. It’s one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, but sees far fewer visitors than those on the Golden Circle—we had the top entirely to ourselves. Arriving at Dynjandi is part of the adventure. It’s the ideal place to stop when driving between Brjánslækur, where the ferry arrives from the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and Ísafjörður, the largest town in the Westfjords. The drive was spectacular with views of mountains, waterfalls, lakes, frosty lava fields, and fjords.
Dynjandi is located on the edge of the fjord with stunning views from the top. It’s a 1.2km (0.75 mile) walk from the car park up to the main falls and you can enjoy the many beautiful small falls that cascade down the mountain along the way. The huge main falls are even more impressive when you get up close and are up to 60 meters wide.
The walk up only takes about 15 minutes, but we spent an hour and a half at the falls exploring and eating our packed lunch (there are picnic tables and toilets). Make sure you wear decent shoes as the path is rocky and muddy and can be icy near the top.
Don’t miss Dynjandi if you want to see a quieter part of Iceland. It was a highlight of our Iceland itinerary.
By Erin from Never Ending Voyage
Take a peek at Iceland’s “secret” waterfall
Just a short walk away from Seljalandsfoss is the often overlooked Gljufrabui, also known as the secret waterfall. This small but fascinating cascade is mostly hidden behind a large outcropping of rock. If you wish to see more than the top couple of feet of it, you’ll have to wade through the stream as it winds its way out – be sure the flowing water isn’t too deep or fast-moving at the time you visit or it can be dangerous – or climb the front of the rock using a narrow path and some chains fastened to the cliff.
If you choose the route through the stream, you’ll find yourself in the misty cavern at the base of the waterfall looking up at its full height. We were able to wade in and keep our feet dry by stepping from rock to rock and holding onto the rock wall on the righthand side wearing hiking boots/mini rain boots with waterproofing a couple inches high. If you choose to climb up the front of the rock face, you’ll get to the top where you can peek down into the cavern from above. There may or may not be a ladder at the top for the best view, but at the time we visited it was broken and we had to get creative to peek over the final ledge. We did both and had a blast even though we ended up soaked and muddy.
Visit Fagrifoss waterfall
Iceland certainly has no shortage of gorgeous waterfalls, and it’s impossible to visit all of them in one trip. So why does Fagrifoss deserve to be on your bucket list above all the others? Well, unlike some of the more well-known waterfalls in Iceland, this one is not yet overrun with tourists.
While it’s not that easy to reach (you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle), that’s what makes Fagrifoss quite literally off the beaten track and a real hidden gem in a country suffering from overtourism. Don’t expect something huge and powerful like world-famous Victoria, Niagara or Iguazu Falls. While Fagrifoss is certainly a powerful force of nature, it’s strength is combined with a soft elegance that gives it a striking beauty. In fact, the word “Fagrifoss” actually means “beautiful waterfall” in Icelandic, and it’s certainly an appropriate name.
The only way to reach the waterfall is by a rough dirt road. Along the way, you’ll need to negotiate a river crossing, so don’t attempt this without a four-wheel drive. If you’re planning to visit the Laki Craters, you’re in luck, because Fagrifoss is on the way. Don’t pass up the chance to stop here and witness the Geirlandsá glacial river plunging into a deep gorge 80 meters below. The falls are mostly hidden inside the moss-covered gorge, so you won’t see them until you are practically right in front of them. This surprise factor is part of what makes a trip to Fagrifoss so special.
By Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan
Hike to Glymur
Until recently, Glymur was considered Iceland’s tallest waterfall, measuring 198 meters. Although it has since lost its title to another, Glymur has retained its Icelandic charm. Unlike more popular waterfalls in Iceland, you can’t drive to Glymur itself. Instead, you must hike through a cave, cross a small river while gripping onto a steel cable, and travel along a moss covered canyon. The round trip journey takes about 3.5 hours, but the views are well worth the effort. The start of the hike is about an hour north of Reykjavik and can easily be added into a Ring Road itinerary.
By Mikaela from Voyageur Tripper
Wildlife spotting in Iceland
Be sure to make some time to look for Iceland’s incredible wildlife while you’re visiting. These three suggestions will take you along the coasts and out into the sea for a chance to spot puffins, whales, and seals.
Spotting puffins is one of the top things to add to your Iceland Bucket list (if you’re traveling during the summertime, that is!). These adorable black and white seabirds have bright orange beaks that almost look as if they’re painted, and their wide eyes are almost comical! Their beautiful features make them a favorite of photographers, bird-enthusiasts, and just regular people who appreciate cute animals!
These birds are known to nest with their partners for life, and both the male and female puffins raise the chicks together. Talk about gender equality!
Iceland is a great place to spot these beautiful birds, as the country’s south coast has the largest Atlantic puffin colony in the world, tallying up to 6 million birds! With tens of thousands of birds belonging to each colony, merely watching them fly to the sea and back is awe-inspiring.
Puffins are only in Iceland during the summer months, so if you’re traveling to the country between June and September, you’ll have a good chance of seeing them. They nest near the sea, and the craggy cliffs near Dyrhólaey is a popular and easily-accessible place to spot these charming creatures.
If you add puffin watching to your Iceland road trip, be sure to do so responsibly. Respect these birds and keep your distance. Also, remember that feeding wild animals is never okay, as it can be harmful and disruptive to their natural instincts.
By Katie and Ben from Two Wandering Soles
Take a whale watching tour
Husavik is often referred to as the whale capital of Iceland. Children under the age of 7 can join for free, making it the perfect place to head out on a whale watching tour. Gentle Giants offers a number of tours and quite affordable prices. The GG1 Whale Watching Tour is by far the most popular amongst tourists visiting the area. While the tours operate year round, you’ll find more options in summer with 6-7 tours going out per day in June, July, and August.
While the company doesn’t guarantee a whale sighting, the chances of spotting one hover around 98%! The most common whale species spotted on the tours include white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, humpback whales and blue whales. In fact, if there are no whale or dolphin sightings on a tour, you are invited to join another tour free of charge. The GG1 Tour costs 10,400 ISK for adults and 4400 ISK for children between the ages of 7-15. These rates include a specialized whale guide, light local refreshments, and additional clothing (overalls, rain coat, etc).
After the tour, head across the street to Fish and Chips and enjoy some lunch. It’s a simple shop across from the water offering just one item on the menu, fish and chips.
By Taylor from Taverna Travels
Look for seals in Hvammstangi
During our counterclockwise trip on Iceland’s Ring Road, one of our stops was at Hvammstangi, a small town on the Vatnsnes peninsula and sitting on one of Iceland’s many fjords. Our first stop was at the Icelandic Seal Center where we learned about seals and sealing. It was a great introduction to our road trip along the peninsula in search of seals. The peninsula is the best place in Iceland for seeing seals, and the optimal times are two hours before and after low tide. The nicer the weather, the more likely you’ll be able to see them sunning.
Unfortunately for us, it was a cloudy, windy, and chilly day, so the viewing wasn’t the best. We took highway 711, a sometimes bumpy, 2-lane road, to the Illugastadir seal watching area, passing lots of Icelandic horses on the way. Some Icelandic sheep watched us take the short walk to the beach where we were rewarded with the sight of a few seals swimming a good distance from the shore. Thanks to my zoom lens, we were able to see them and get a few pictures, and we were glad we made the drive!
By my mom!
Other top things to do in Iceland
This is the rest of the best! Including spots in Reykjavik, horseback riding, a chance to see places where Game of Thrones was filmed, and adventurous things like flying in a helicopter, just because these didn’t fit into a specific category doesn’t mean they’re not worth checking out.
Visit Game of Thrones filming locations
For many people the main reason to visit Iceland is because of Game of Thrones. The HBO TV series really showcased the beauty of Iceland’s natural landscape and left many viewers wanting to see more. What better way to appreciate the wonders of Iceland and the television show than with a Game of Thrones tour? Most of the filming locations used are open to the public so you can visit them yourself on a self-guided trip if you know where to look, however I highly recommend that you take the Game of Thrones Tour with Gray Line Iceland. Not only will you see the spectacular sights in the comfort of a tour bus, but the tour guides were all extras in the show so are full of extremely interesting information and behind-the-scenes information.
The tour is weather dependent so the locations you visit can vary but even in the middle of winter and a heavy snowstorm we managed to see three filming locations (Þórufoss, Þingvellir and the settlement era lodge at Þjórsárdalur valley) and had an extra stop to meet some of the Icelandic Horses that were used in the filming. The good thing about this tour is that it takes you to lesser known places so you pretty much have them to yourself. For any Game of Thrones fan, this tour is definitely worth adding to your bucket list and even if you’re not, the beautiful landscapes are still not to be missed.
By Amy from The Travel Fairies
Ride adorable Icelandic horses
If you do any driving in Iceland, you’re sure to see the super cute Icelandic horses (not ponies!) in fenced in fields along the road. They’re little and incredibly photogenic – some of their manes look better than my hair – and definitely worth keeping an eye out for on your visit. To get up close and personal with them, you can join a horseback riding tour. We took one from a family-run stable along the scenic black sand beach in Vik, and it was delightful. The beach was deserted in the early morning hours and we could see the black spires like those at the more famous Reynisfjara beach as we rode. When we got down close to the shore, our guide dismounted and snapped photos of each of us on our horses. We even got to do some trotting across the beach, which was a lot more fun than the typical slow walk in a line that I’ve done on other horseback riding experiences. The tour groups are small, so it’s definitely something you should book in advance if you want to go for a ride.
Get a bird’s eye view on a helicopter tour
When you’re talking about bucket list experiences, then a helicopter flight has to be right up at the top. I took an incredible helicopter ride over Iceland with Helo Tours. It was an amazing experience and something I’ll always remember.
Our flight over Iceland took place in early February when the landscape was encrusted in ice and white with snow, which looked quite eerie and ethereal. We sat in the helicopter as the pilot finished his checks and the blades slowly started to turn. The noise got louder and the blades faster until they were just a blur and we lifted up into the air and the adventure began.
Heading away from our takeoff point near Reykjavik, we crossed inlets and beaches and swooped down low over black sands. We could see the tides from the Atlantic Ocean rushing over the black beaches beneath us. We saw vapor rising from thermal springs and roads which looked like black ink drawn across a blank white sheet. We had a bird’s eye view of glaciers, volcanoes and endless fields of lava. It was breathtaking.
I totally recommend taking a helicopter tour when visiting Iceland to get a bird’s eye view of the land of fire and ice. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. Helo Tours offer various packages with different tours, themes, duration and cost from 70,400 ISK per person.
By Suzanne from The Travelbunny
Visit the eerie plane wreckage from a 1970s crash landing
In the early 1970s, a US Navy plane crash landed on one of Iceland’s black sand beaches after it ran out of fuel. Miraculously, everyone on board survived, and after the valuable parts of the plane were removed, the rest of the wreckage was abandoned where it landed. Nowadays, the plane’s deteriorating fuselage is a popular hike for tourists along Iceland’s southern Ring Road, and offers some great photo opportunities. In the past, you were able to drive close to the wreckage, but with its increasing popularity, visitors were damaging the surroundings and parking is now restricted to a lot near the main road. From there, you’ll walk about 4 kilometers over the black sand to get to the plane crash site.
Over the decades, the airplane has deteriorated due to exposure to the elements, and you’ll notice that that fuselage is riddled with holes and several key parts are missing. Set against the black sand, it certainly makes for a dramatic photo opp. The day we visited had solid grey skies, and combined with the white fuselage and black sand, my photos look like they were taken on a black and white setting even though they still have full color. If you choose to climb on the wreckage, be careful because there are sharp edges and it’s very easy to bump your head.
Hit the water on a RIB boat tour
The most exciting way to see the puffins, rock formations, wildlife and the amazing Westman Islands is to choose a tour on a RIB Boat. For that, you have to go to the Vestmannaeyjar islands, more precisely to Heimaey, which is situated 4 nautical miles off the south coast of Iceland. Heimaey is the largest and the only populated island of the Vestmannaeyjar islands.
Attending a RIB speedboat sightseeing tour is a must for those who are hungry for an adrenaline kick. This adventure is a mix of riding fast and rocking gently on the waves while having stops. During the ride you will see a lot of wildlife including seabirds such as fulmars, kitty-wakes, gannets and puffins. If you are lucky, you can also spot whales and seals during your ride. During the stops, you can check out some incredible natural rock formations such as Elephant Rock, and sea caves, some of which can only be entered on a RIB Boat.
You will be guided by true islanders who love the ocean. They will also tell you stories about the history of the islands, traditions, folk-stories and inform you about the nature. You will be equipped with a warm float suit by the company. Hat and gloves, sneakers or hiking shoes on the trip are recommended.
By Bernadette from Mindenütt jóóó – Travel Blog
See Hallgrímskirkja’s unique architecture
Iceland doesn’t have the kind of grand cathedrals many visitors might be used to finding in other European cities, full of ornate décor and gilded carvings, but it does feature the beautiful and unique Hallgrímskirkja. Completed in the 1980s, this Lutheran church was designed to resemble the basalt columns found in many areas of the country with their hexagonal shapes rising toward the sky. In front of the church, you will also find a statue of Leif Erickson that was gifted by the US government in honor of the 1000th anniversary of the parliament in Þingvellir.
Inside, you’ll find the décor beautifully understated, with smooth white curves and arches giving a sense of grandeur without being over the top. For a fee, you can take an elevator to the observation deck at the top for a great view of Reykjavik, but the line can move very slowly. It’s hard to miss, but definitely worth adding to your Reykjavik itinerary.
Learn about Iceland’s geology at the Perlan
Opened in 1991, and sitting on top of a forested hill, Perlan‘s dome can be seen from much of Reykjavik. Inside is an exhibition-based museum celebrating what makes Iceland what it is. Here you will learn about everything natural from geology to climate to wildlife to waterfalls.
Not a thing of beauty externally, an internal multi-level space links six great drums which hold the exhibitions. Book a seat in the planetarium first for its immersive features on the aurora borealis as well as Iceland’s unique nature. In the adjacent Forces of Nature rooms, you can see how the widening gap between the American and European tectonic plates created this volcanic island, and why Iceland is much less cold than its frozen neighbor, Greenland. Probably the best-known exhibition is the 100m long ice tunnel. It exhibits different kinds of ice brought in from real glaciers, from dirty volcanic layers to crystal-clear diamonds.
There are other exhibitions too, including a cliff face, and a glacier room, but our favorite was the water exhibition. Here we found everything from tiny bugs to a beautiful display celebrating Iceland’s waterfalls. There are so many of these that there aren’t enough names to go around and some have to share. Then climb to the roof and catch a stunning view of the whole city – and the mountains beyond if the weather allows.
Like everything in Iceland, Perlan is worth the visit, even though it’s expensive, at 9,000 ISK (more than 70 USD) for a family ticket. But for the money, you will be captivated by its comprehensive and well-crafted displays.
By Ania from The Travelling Twins
Check out these other posts about Iceland:
- Your Perfect Six-Day Southern Iceland Itinerary
- 25 Pictures to Put Iceland in Winter on Your Bucket List
- Iceland Packing List for Winter
- Should You Visit the Blue Lagoon in Iceland?
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