A trip to Iceland is any nature and wildlife lover’s dream. People who go rave about it, and end up going multiple times. It’s an expensive country to travel to, but worth the investment for sure.
Any time of the year is good for planning a trip to Iceland. Some people may prefer to go during the summer months, when it’s easier to hike. Others should go in the winter, for higher chances of seeing the northern lights.
Iceland is packed with volcanoes: as many have already realized, I have a mild obsession for volcanoes (there’s one even on my logo). I have hiked many (like Pacaya, in Guatemala) and a trip to Iceland is bound to include a hike of the famous Eyjafjallajökull, the one that kept the entire northern hemisphere ransom in the spring of 2010 (it is meant to be one of the most amazing hikes in the world, by the way!).
If you are considering a trip to Iceland, here is a selection of 21 amazing places to visit in Iceland and things to do.
21 Places To Visit And Things To Do During A Trip To Iceland
To me, there is no visiting any country without spending at least a couple of days in the capital. A trip to Iceland would be no different, and I would like to see Reykjavik. It is a really charming city, and I would like to see the iconic Hallgrímskirkja, which actually is a lutheran church. It’s supposed to be one of the coolest places to visit in Iceland, and I have a passion for quirky architecture!
Visit Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is so close to Reykjavik that it would be a pity to miss it when on a trip to Iceland. It is a series of volcanic ridges, canyons and waterfalls such as those of the Oxara River. Other gems in the area include totemic sites like the Silfra fissure and the Peningagja pool, which actually is a rift lake that glimmers with coins that have been thrown there more than 100 years ago. Last but not least, Thingvellir is a hikers’ paradise, and history lovers will enjoy the remains of Iceland’s first Viking age parliament, which was established in 930.
Go to Iceland’s northern capital, Akureyri
Thought to be the northern capital of Iceland, Akureyri counts less than 20000 people. Yet, this fishing port and seaside city is a real gem. The center is packed with cafes and teahouses (have I ever mentioned that I am practically addicted to coffee?), and the main shopping street (Hafnarstraeti: I challenge you to say its name!) is a series of lovely boutiques and craft stores. Akureyri Church makes for an interesting building. It really is one of the places to visit during a trip to Iceland!
Visit Lake Myvatn
East out Akureyri, Lake Myvatn is famous for its beautiful landscape of volcanic plug holes that bubble up mud pools. The lake itself is thought to be the result of a volcanic eruption more than two millennia ago, and it now is a birdwatchers paradise, as well as a fantastic place to hike. The sulphuric Myvatn Nature Baths complete the picture (they are a fantastic alternative to the crowded Blue Lagoon!). Definitely a must see during a trip to Iceland.
Soak up in the Blue Lagoon, Grindavík
I remember the time when, in Bolivia, I went to the hot springs on an incredibly cold morning. It was -7 degrees Celsius outside, and the water was lovely and warm and regenerating. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa only 40 minutes away from Reykjavík and one of those places that, for as touristy as they are, anyone on a trip to Iceland should see. Besides, the hot spring water is really beneficial for health and skin (Tip: for as good as the water is to the skin, it is terrible to the hair. The best thing to do is not to soak your hair there!).
Drive along the Ring Road and hike volcano Grabrok
Iceland is the known as the land of ice and fire. There are volcanoes everywhere (which you know is a bonus for me!) and driving along the Ring Road is a great way to see them, scattered everywhere. The best way to plan a trip to Iceland is by opting to rent a car, drive around and then go hike volcano Grabrok, which is actually not active anymore – but apparently the views of Borgarfjordur, a fjord in the west of Iceland, from the top are spectacular. It’s pretty much the way that anyone who travels to Iceland does it!
Head to the The Westfjords
Among the top places to visit in Iceland there is the Westfjords peninsula. This is one of the most impressive natural wonders in the country, and a perfect place to visit for people who, like me, enjoy walking. Places like the Hornstrandir reserve, complete with Arctic foxes and seal pods, and the Latrabjarg are meant to be fabulous. Other things to do in this part of Iceland include sea kayaking, cliff walking and walking to Raudasandur.
Feel mesmerized by Jökusárlón or the “glacier lagoon”
Filled with floating icebergs, from there, it is possible to reach Breiðamerkursandur, a beach covered in icebergs that from the lagoon float out to the sea. How crazy is that? Needless to say, I would recommend including it on any itinerary of a trip to Iceland.
I have a thing for small, sleepy fishing towns. Picture after picture on my Instagram feed, and I became captured. Grundarfjordur has to be included on any trip to Iceland itinerary. Located on the edge of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, this is where some of West Iceland’s most unique coastal formations make their way up towards the waters of the Greenland Sea.
The nearby national park is a fantastic place for hiking (you know me and hiking!), and Grundarfjordur itself is home to a lovely summer folk festival hosted by the local Viking Foundation (I mean, who doesn’t want to go to a Viking festival?!). It also is the perfect point to take photos of Mount Kirkjufell. I suppose this is enough to appreciate why this is one of the top places to visit in Iceland!
Whale watching in Iceland
I love observing wildlife, and whenever I have a chance to add some wildlife spotting to my travels, I feel even more accomplished. I always make it a point to only work with tour operators that are responsible, and that in no way cause any danger to the animals. In fact, I often campaign against the use of animals in tourist attractions. I even wrote a post about it: “Don’t ride that elephant.”
Having said this, Iceland is known to be a great place to observe whales and there are lots of whale watching tours in Iceland from which to pick. Going on a whale watching tour is a must during a trip to Iceland, but needless to say, remember to look for a company that runs its tours in the most responsible way.
Apparently, the places to visit in Iceland to spot whales vary according to season, and in the winter time the best starting point is Grundarfjörður, in the Snæfellsnes peninsula. This is where white beaked dolphins and killer whales like to show up, although the killer whales can be seen only further away from the coast.
A whale watching tour in Iceland is meant to be an incredible experience. One thing to keep in mind is that it takes time and patience to spot animals in their natural environment, and that it never goes without saying that they will show up. It’s the beauty of nature.
Go to Myrdalsjokull Glacier Park
More volcanoes! Myrdalsjokull Glacier Park is one of the places that have to be included on a trip to Iceland. It is a series of volcanoes covered in ice (how cool can it be?!). It’s a place that is ideal for hiking, though it is recommended to hire a guide. Spots like the Fimmvorduhals pass and the ridges of Eyjafjallajokull are magnificent sights.
See the geysers
The first thing I learned in geography class about Iceland was that there are geysers. These are due to the volcanic activities that go on underneath the surface. There are supposed to be geysers scattered all around Iceland, so there is no way that I’d recommend going on a trip to Iceland and missing on the chance to see one.
Drive the 300 Km of the Golden Circle of Iceland
The Golden Circle of Iceland is the most popular tourist route in Iceland, and it goes from Reykjavik into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. It is a popular day trip and along the way there are some beautiful sights. One of them is the Gullfass waterfall, which is located in the canyon of the Hvítá river. The perfect trip to Iceland is bound to include it!
Go to Gullfoss Waterfall
No trip to Iceland would be complete without a visit to Gullfoss Waterfall. This majestic waterfalls roars to amaze visitors in south-western Iceland. It is supposed to be one of the most dramatic and beautiful waterfalls in the world (I wonder if it is anything like Kaieteur Falls, in Guyana). Water falls over a series of stepped rocks and terraces and eventually plunges over a drop of 32 meters in a crevice, looking like it’s almost disappearing! One of the prettiest sights there is the rainbow that often appears right above it, thanks to the tiny drops of water that float in the air.
Discover an amazing lighthouse
I have a thing for lighthouses – after all, I grew up on an island. There is a beautiful lighthouse on the south coast of Iceland that offers incredible views. It’s supposed to be one of the nicest places to visit in Iceland. More than that! It is also a fabulous place for bird watching. I am all for discovering that and I’d recommend including it on a trip to Iceland.
Hofn is a tiny fishing town located in southern Iceland, on a series of gorgeous small islets and peninsula. It’s close to Vatnajokull National Park and the perfect starting point to explore the east of the country. There is a folk museum, the Ice Land Glacier Exhibition and what are supposed to be the best lobster eateries in the country. A good trip to Iceland should definitely include at least a 2 days stop here!
Get a bit off the beaten path in Landmannalaugar
Anywhere I go, I either plan to (or, more often than not) end up off the beaten path, usually because I get lost or because I escape locations that I find too busy or overrated. Landmannalaugar is meant to be a real hidden gem, so I would like to include it on a trip to Iceland. What makes it particularly attractive aren’t just the volcanoes (this is Iceland we are talking about, after all!) but also the hot springs and the surrounding mountains. Besides, there are many hiking trails in the region. A must!
And stay off the beaten path at Skalholt
Skalholt is located right on the edge of the Hvita River. Seemingly unimportant, this used to be one of the most powerful spots in the country from the 11th century, and used to be the most important place for Icelandic Catholicism. The oversized Skalholt Cathedral dominates the city nowadays. This was entirely rebuilt in the 1900s, to include some elegant Danish stained-glass. Easy to see why it has to be included in the list of places to visit in Iceland.
Discover Vatnajokull National Park
Vatnajokull National Park is meant to be one of the coolest places to visit in Iceland. Located in the south east and central part of the country, it offers varied landscapes (from meadows to waterfalls such as Dettifoss Fall) to lowlands such as Skaftafell as well as glacial fields. The wetlands are home to reindeer too. Last but definitely not least, there is a canyon (Eldgia canyon) that is supposed to be fantastic to learn more about volcanic geology).
Hike around Asbyrgi Canyon
Speaking of canyons, another place that should be visited on a trip to Iceland is Asbyrgi Canyon. Located in the north-east part of the country, its amazes visitors with its gorges and ridges. The edges run for more than 3 km and go up to 100 meters in height. Naturally, it is hikers’ paradise with many trails!
Finally, here’s what to pack for a trip to Iceland regardless of the season.
Have you ever been on a trip to Iceland? What did you like the most there?
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