The Best Things To Do In Iceland

There are many incredible things to do in Iceland.

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 to visit 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 the best things to do in Iceland, and the best places to visit.

things to do in Iceland
Iceland’s capital is a good starting point to explore the country

27 Unmissable Things To Do In Iceland

See Reykjavik

To me, there is no visiting any country without spending at least a couple of days in the capital. Seeing Reykjavik certainly is one of the things to do in Iceland. 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, especially if you have a passion for quirky architecture!

Reykjavik is also the best place in the country to discover local cuisine – it’s really unknown outside of Iceland, so you shouldn’t miss the opportunity!

For a great guided tour of Reykjavik, click here.

things to do in Iceland
Winter may well be the best time to go to Iceland, at least if planning to see the Northern lights

See the Northern lights

Can you really say you’ve been to Iceland if you haven’t seen the Northern Lights? I say not! You will need a car for that, and to get out of the city so that you can spot them in the dark – though when they are really strong, you can see them even with some level of light pollution. The best months to spot them are March and September.

For a guided tour to see the northern lights, click here.

Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is a must see

Visit Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park is so close to Reykjavik that it would be a pity to miss it. 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.

For guided tours to Thingvellir National Park click here.

on the way to Akureyri
The views on the way to Akureyri

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. Visiting is really a must-do.

Make sure to check out this guided tour in Akureyri.

GOOD TO KNOW: Would you rather go south? Make sure to check out the village of Vik and the nearby Reynisfjara, a stunning black sand beach. Don’t miss the lighthouse of Dirholaey too!

Go to Tröllaskagi Peninsula

Home of the lovely Siglufjörður, one of the prettiest fishing villages in Northern Iceland, going to Tröllaskagi Peninsula is one of the best things to do in Iceland. Not only it’s a gorgeous place to visit in and of itself, but Road 76, which you will need to get, offers impressive views.

On the way there, you can stop in Hofsós, a small village that has is one of the oldest trading ports in the country and home to a stunning infinity pool. Another place worth a visit is Grafarkirkja, the oldest church in the country.

GOOD TO KNOW: Another cool place to visit in Northern Iceland is Hvitserkur, a rhino shaped rock that can be easily reached on a short detour from the Ring Road.

Lake Myvatn
Scenic Lake Myvatn

Visit Lake Myvatn

East of 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!) – you can get your tickets here.

But there is so much more to see and do in this area than just the lake itself! Visit the colorful geothermal area of Hverir, take a walk in a giant lava field of Dimmuborgir, and drive up to the Viti volcano crater nearby. Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall is just a short drive from Myvatn and so is Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland. For this and many more ideas, take a look at this guide with the best things to do in Myvatn.

These are all fun things to do in Iceland, and you shouldn’t miss on them!

GOOD TO KNOW: Goðafoss Waterfall, AKA the waterfall of Gods, is located right off the Ring Road and is easy to visit.

Trip to Iceland
Visiting the Blue Lagoon if one of the best things to do in 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, you really should make a point to see. Besides, the hot spring water is really beneficial for health and skin.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can get your ticket for the Blue Lagoon here. Alternatively, join this guided tour that also goes there.

TIP: For as good as the water is to the skin, it is terrible to the hair. Don’t soak your hair there!

Explore Reykjanes Peninsula

Home of the Blue Lagoon and easily accessible from either Reykjavik and Keflavik Airport, this part of the country is often overlooked but truly impressive. The best part of it is that you can easily get there by private car – though for the most remote areas you will need a 4WD.

Among the highlights of this part of the country there are Valahnúkamöl Cliffs, close to the scenic Reykjnesviti Lighthouse; Seltún Geothermal Area; Strandarkirkja, a 12th century Lutheran Church in Selvogur; and Garður, home of the first lighthouse ever built in Iceland.

GOOD TO KNOW: If you have a 4X4 you can even go to Krysuvikurberg Cliffs. 

Drive along the Ring Road and hike volcano Grabrok

Iceland is known as the land of ice and fire. There are volcanoes everywhere and driving along the Ring Road is a great way to see them, scattered everywhere. Make sure 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 really is one of the coolest things to do in Iceland.

Make sure to check out this guided Ring Road tour here.

Westfjords
Wildlife in the Westfjords

Head to 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 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.

Or the East Fjords

This stunning part of Iceland is a great place to spot reindeer, puffins (best spotted in Borgarfjörður Eystri). There are some great hiking trails and waterfalls and the hot pools of Laugarfell should also not be missed. Visiting this part of the country is one of the best things to do in Iceland.

Diamond Beach
The stunning Diamond Beach

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 – which has granted it the name of Diamond Beach. How crazy is that? Needless to say, it’s one of the top things to do in Iceland.

GOOD TO KNOW: Not far from Jökusárlón you can also go to the lesser visited Fjalljökull Glacier Lagoon and Stokksnes Beach. Guided tours of Jökusárlón usually include a stop to the scenic Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon.

Visit Vatnajökull Glacier

This really is one of the best places to visit in Iceland. It’s the largest ice cap in the country, with a surface of almost 8000 square km and something like 30 glacier tongues. 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The best way to visit is on guided tours which include a number of activities such as an ice trek or visiting ice caves. For the best tour options, click here or here.

Go to Grundarfjordur

If you have a thing for small, sleepy fishing towns, you must visit Grundarfjordur. 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 one of the best places to visit in Iceland for 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. 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can visit the Snaefellsne Peninsula on guided tours from Reykjavik. For more information, click here.

Trip to Iceland
White peaked dolphins are endemic to Iceland and they can be admired throughout the year. It’s one of the nicest things to do in Iceland

Go whale watching 

If you love observing wildlife, you’ll be happy to know that this really is one of the best things to do in Iceland. The country is known to be a great place to observe whales and there are lots of whale watching tours from which to pick. 

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.

TIP: Make sure to pick tour operators that are responsible, and that in no way cause any danger to the animals, when whale watching. 

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.

For the best whale watching tours in Iceland departing from Reykjavik, click here. For tours departing from Husavik, click here.

GOOD TO KNOW: For more wildlife and for a taste of local life, you may want to visit Heimaey Island – it’s a great place to see puffins. You can get there from Reykjavik, but need to take a ferry so you will have to coordinate accordingly. 

Trip to Iceland
Whale watching done the responsible way during a trip to Iceland

Go to Myrdalsjokull Glacier Park

More volcanoes! Myrdalsjokull Glacier Park is one of the places to visit in 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, and seeing them is one of the best things to do.

Trip to Iceland
One of the best known attractions of Iceland are its geysers

Drive the 300 Km of the Golden Circle of Iceland

The Golden Circle of Iceland is the most popular tourist route in the country, 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. 

Make sure to check out this guided tour of the Golden Circle here.

Gullfoss Waterfall
Mesmerizing Gullfoss Waterfall

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 (much 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. This really is one of the most incredible places to visit in Iceland.

places to visit in Iceland
Skogafoss, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Iceland

And Skogafoss Waterfall

Two hours east of the airport, this is one of the most impressive places to visit in Iceland and it is completely free to visit. 

GOOD TO KNOW: At about 10 minutes drive from Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss is another great waterfall to spot. You can even walk behind it.

Discover an amazing lighthouse

If you have a thing for lighthouses there is a beautiful lighthouse on the south coast of Iceland that offers incredible views. It is also a fabulous place for bird watching. You really should not miss it.

Visit Hofn

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. 

TIP: Make sure to spend at least two days in Hofn.

Trip to Iceland
The Golden Circle is a must-see

Get a bit off the beaten path in Landmannalaugar

Getting off the beaten path is one of the best things to do in Iceland. Landmannalaugar is a real hidden gem, so make sure to include it in your itinerary. 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 see – and you can go there on a day trip such as this one.

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. Easily one of the best places to visit in Iceland.

Trip to Iceland
Driving along the Golden Circle is a must

Discover Vatnajokull National Park

Vatnajokull National Park is 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).

GOOD TO KNOW: Skatfaell National Park is a great place to visit too. It’s just off the Ring Road, home to many good hiking trail such as that to Svartifoss Waterfall.

Hike around Asbyrgi Canyon

Speaking of canyons, another place that should be visited Asbyrgi Canyon. Located in the north-east part of the country, it amazes visitors with its gorges and ridges. The edges run for more than 3 km and go up to 100 meters in height. It is hikers’ paradise! One of the highlights there is visiting Dettifoss Waterfall, known to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Roads 861 and 862 will take you to Asbyrgi and Dettifoss Waterfall respectively.  

Explore the Icelandic Highlands

You can only visit the Icelandic Highlands between mid June and mid September, really – but if that’s when your trip is taking place, you really should try to go. This is one of the most remote places to visit in Iceland, and you will need a good 4X4 vehicle and – preferably – a local guide. Some of the places you should not skip in the region include kerlingarfjöll, Háifoss Waterfall, and Landmannalaugar. You can visit on day trips departing from Reykjavik such as this one.

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 are your favorite things to do in Iceland?

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Discover the best things to do in Iceland - via @clautavani
Read about the best places to visit in Iceland - via @clautavani

3 thoughts on “The Best Things To Do In Iceland”

  1. I stumbled upon this post after reading a considerable amount of your interesting articles. I’m a volcano aficionado as well (love Stromboli!) – so naturally, I was blown away with Iceland when I first visited in 2006, having no idea what to expect… Did you end up going there in the meantime? If you want to know more about the Fimmvörðuháls walking route (the one across Eyjafjallajökull): I’ve done this walk in both directions.

    The fabled valley of Þórsmörk is truly out of this world, full of big mountains, glaciers with volcanoes underneath, huge river valleys and gorges. On the top of the pass you can see the giant lava flows and new craters from the 2010 eruption.

    As a fellow volcano geek, another place I really recommend is what has become kind of my second home: the island of Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar, just off the south coast. It’s an incredibly beautiful place. And home to Iceland’s youngest volcano, the Eldfell, born in 1973 when it suddenly arrived out of nowhere. It’s still warm in places on the top ridge. You can find several walking tracks on Vestmannaeyjar on my blog.

    And you can see northern lights any time from the end of August to the end of April – when it gets dark enough at night. I’ve actually seen the most amazing displays at the end of August and during Autumn 🙂

    Reply
  2. I went to Iceland with my family and we visited most of the best places in Iceland. I really enjoyed this trip. Thanks for this lovely post

    Reply

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