10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ICELAND
Our founder and CEO of ISLANDICA and viajesislandia.com arrived to Iceland for the first time in 1997 and immediately fell in love with the country, the people, its nature and its culture. Despite the fact that over these 20+ years there have been numerous changes within Iceland regarding tourism, her top 10 best things to do in Iceland remain the same.
This is due in large part to the fact that Iceland has maintained its magic through the years. Its beauty is so extraordinary that it is difficult to put into words sometimes. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but thousands of photos and videos do not do the country justice in showing the pure magnitude of this wondrous place. It is a destination that you have to see for yourself, not on Instagram or youtube or any other outlet. You need to feel the wind on your face, enjoy the purity of the water and experience the true force of nature. Only then will you appreciate the truth of the island of “Ice and Fire.”
See our CEO’s top 10 list below and then go see them for yourself and let us know if you agree!
- Top 10 Best Things to Do in Iceland:
1. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake with floating icebergs and Diamond Beach
2. Gullfoss Waterfall (Golden Waterfall) in the Golden Circle
3. Summer whale watching expedition in a classic wooden boat from Húsavík (northern Iceland)
4. Geysir geothermal zone with Strokkur Geyser
5. Blue Lagoon - geothermal heated pools with healing properties
6. Skógafoss Waterfall - with equally beautiful views from the foot of the falls, as from the top
7. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall - walk behind the curtain of water for the ultimate experience
8. Landmannalaugar Colored Mountains - walk amidst the massive and expansive range surrounded by colors
9. Vatnajökull Glacier - precious ice formations seen while walking upon the glacier
10. Western Fjords - among the most beautiful and out of the way places
1. Jokulsarlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
- When pressed to pick the number one best place to see in Iceland, it would have to be Jökulsarlón Glacier Lake. It is a truly unique and stunning view from the water’s edge as you gaze out on the lake in which the tips of icebergs dance across the surface while the mass cruises along just under the water. The lake is beautiful in itself, but in addition, it is positioned in front of Breiðamerkurjökull, a glacier tongue of the largest glacier in Europe, the Vatnajökull Glacier.
You can even hop aboard an amphibian boat and move from the shore to the water and glide around and among the icebergs. (But be sure to make a reservation ahead of time as this is a popular tour and fills up quickly.)
Just in front of the glacier lagoon there is a black beach which was in recent times named “Diamond Beach’ because of the natural spectacle in which the crystal ice of icebergs which have been washed up on the beach contrasts with the black volcanic sand on the beach, leaving the visitors absolutely dazzled. Whether or not the ice washes ashore each day is nature’s whim, adding to the mystic and supernatural feeling most get while taking in the views.
- 2. Gullfoss Waterfall (Golden Waterfall)
- There are so many beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, and our CEO did her best to not list them all here. But without a double, the one to top them all is Gullfoss or ‘Golden’ Waterfall. Found within the Golden Circle, these golden hued falls are a spectacular sight to behold for the scene that plays out in front of your eyes, the deafening roar of the water, the rainbow that arches across the sky, and the splendid canyon where the falling water comes to rest. A trip to Iceland would not be the same without a visit to this magnificent site.
When you arrive, you will see the path that brings you so close to the falls that you surely will need a waterproof jacket.
- 3. Whale Watching in Húsavík
- To be completely honest, you can see whales from so many places around the island, from Reykjavík, Akureyri, Hauganes...pretty much anywhere along the coast. So why, you might ask, have we chosen Húsavík, in the very north of Iceland? The answer is quite simple, because the whales have chosen this location.
Did you know that Húsavík is known as the ‘capital of the whales”? This beautiful fishing village in the north of Iceland has amazing luck in that there is a 97-99% chance of seeing the whales during the summer months. And in March and November, visitors have the chance to take the tour from within a traditional wooden boat. These old wooden fishing vessels have 2 to 3 masts and large sails that create a magical atmosphere once on board. There is also a wonderful combo tour that included whale sightings and a visit to an island full of puffins!
And since you’ll already be in Húsavík, you might as well take advantage of your time there and go see its beautiful church which was built in 1907, the traditional fishing port and enjoy the view from the city of the surrounding landscape, in which rolling green mountains stretch out in all directions.
- 4. Strokkur Geyser
- The amazing thing about Iceland is that in such a small area, you can experience and witness so many natural wonders, one of them being the Strokkur Geyser. Thanks so the geothermal activity underground, this geyser is guaranteed to erupt in spectacular form every 4-8 minutes and can reach heights of 30 meters!
Strokkur is found in the Haukadalur Valley, which is also home to the Great Geysir, which was the very first hot spring to be named by Europeans, taken from the Icelandic word meaning ‘to gush’. Since then, all other hot water that gushes from the earth’s center, have been named ‘geysers’ as well.
The Great Geyser is now inactive, but guests can still see the opening, only about 50 meters from its little brother, Strokkur. Walking through this steamy area gives visitors a sense of the awesome power that lies below our feet and down hundreds of meters. And it leaves no doubt as to why Iceland has earned the name, “Island of Ice and Fire" or why there are so many wonderful thermal spas in the area.
- 5. Geothermal spa at the Blue Lagoon
- Near the Keflavík International Airport and not so far from Reykjavík, one finds THE most popular and visited location on the island, and with good reason. These world-famous geothermal bathing pools might not be a work of Mother Nature per se, but they are nonetheless beautiful. The name was bestowed on the lagoon because of the crisp blue color that is due in part to the minerals and algae that are found in the water. These also give the Blue Lagoon its naturally healing properties and self-sterilizing ability.
And while the cost can be considered a bit on the high end, the experience is worth it. How often do you get to bath in the warm, curative waters of a world class lagoon among lava fields? In addition, the architecture of the surrounding bath house is of the minimalistic design and has won numerous international awards.
If you are leaving Iceland towards the end of the day, we highly recommend visiting the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport, as it is located between Reykjavík and KEF. It’s the perfect, relaxing way to end your time in Iceland.
- 6. Skógafoss Waterfall
- Another waterfall that you cannot miss is Skógafoss, which has one of the best views of all the waterfalls in Iceland. Found on the South Coast of Iceland, directly off the Ring Road (Highway 1), this is one of the ‘must-see’ spots in Iceland, without a doubt. The falls span 25 meters in width and 60 meters in height, allowing visitors to view it from afar and gain a truly spectacular respect for its magnitude, we suggest you get as close as possible to feel the power of this falls as you gaze upward at the plummeting waters. In addition, there is a staircase to the right of the falls that allow guests to ascend and have a magnificent view from above as well.
This is where some of the best and most famous hikes start that continue on to Fimmvörðuháls, between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull Glaciers, and further on to Landmannalaugar.
- 7. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
- Not far from Skógafoss (only 30 kilometers or 18 miles), you’ll find the spectacular Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. This is another highlight of any South Coast trip and for very good reason. The waterfall is another natural wonder which all must experience for themselves. The waterfall may appear as most waterfalls as one approaches it, however for those who have arrived prepared with waterproof clothing should definitely venture behind the waterfall and enter the cave that is found there. To stand behind a cascading fall and feel the mist that arises from it and gaze outward gives one the sensation that they are in paradise.
For those with some more time, they should absolutely continue the hike another 10 minutes or so to find a place that so many visitors do not know of, hence why it is called the Hidden Falls (Gljúfrafoss). This magical waterfall cannot be seen right away, as you have to enter through a small opening in the cliff, which only adds to the mystery and sacredness of this place. Everyone should walk carefully on these slippery rocks through this area, and after several meters, the view of the waterfall will leave each person without words.
- 8. Landmannalaugar
- Mountains of brilliant colors, natural springs ideal for bathing, remote landscapes that have not been altered by man…. Landmannalaugar, is a paradise that any hiker or nature lover will appreciate and immediately fall in love with. Situated in the interior of Iceland, it is difficult to access, meaning that there are far less tourists and visitors than in other sites found on the Ring Road. Only the most adventurous of travelers dare to enter this section of the Island, but those that do are rewarded heavily. The famous Laugavegur trek is listed within the top 20 hikes in the world by National Geographic. This hike requires a minimum of 4 days in order to complete the whole trek.
However, for those who do not have the time or desire to spend that much time are still able to enjoy part of the hike by taking a day hike or even a day bus trip from either Reykjavík or from the South Coast, or if you have access to a vehicle, you can arrive by yourself and complete part in one of the abbreviated tours in order to appreciate the beautiful interior that so few tourists take the time to see. Or try out the Super Jeep trip to add a whole new way of seeing this painted paradise.
It is possible to take a short 2-hour hike and take in the Laugahraun lava fields and Brenninsteinsalda Mountain; a 1-hour walk to Bláhnjúkur Mountain, or a 4-hour hike to Ljótipollur Crater. And do not hesitate or dare to miss the experience of taking a bath in one of the springs, which are found in pure, utter nature.
- 9. Vatnajökull Glacier
The Vatnajökull Glacier is the largest glacier in Europe and therefore cannot be missed. We already listed the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in our top 10, which is found within the Vatnajökull Glacier. However, for those who wish to venture a bit more from the outskirts of the glacier, Vatnajökull Glacier covers 8% of the entire surface of Iceland and 3 national parks. The fascinating ice-covered landscape covers the Hvannadalshnjúkur and Öræfajökull volcanoes, offering impressive ice formations, glacier lagoons, naturally formed ice caves and much more.
Skaftafell National Park has so many spectacular walks and hikes, including ones which direct you to Svartifoss Waterfall, which is famous for this hexagon-shaped basalt columns, which appear so perfect, as if they were carved by an artisan instead of having been formed naturally.
Also, one should not leave without taking a hiking tour on the glacier. You can walk upon the ice and explore the ends of the glacier. If you come between November and March, you should absolutely complete the experience with an ice cave excursion.
10. Western Fjords
The Western Fjords to not tend to be on most travelers’ lists itineraries due to the fact that they are quite far from much of the rest of the more popular attractions. It would be necessary to take one of the 14-day classic tours that covers the whole perimeter of the island, in order to see the Western Fjords Therefore, they are much less visited which makes them an even better stop to add to your schedule. While Iceland is by no means crowded, here there are even far less people on the roads and at the sites, that you truly get the sensation that you are in the middle of paradise and have a wonderful opportunity to feel that you have the whole island to yourself.
It is possible to travel there in a normal car, but we do recommend an all-terrain vehicle for your comfort, as the roads are not so wide and there are sections of gravel, as opposed to pavement.
In Isafjordur, you’ll find the ‘largest’ settlement with 2,000 inhabitants and from there you can find exciting tours such as kayak trips, visits to other fjords and natural wonders such as the Dynjandi Waterfall. If you want to experience something that so few travelers ever set eyes on, head to the Western Fjords and you will pity those who have missed out.
Note: TOP 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ICELAND - Code ID749.