7 best things to do in ICELAND
Iceland. A beautiful isolated country with a lot to offer to its tourists.
Active volcanoes, magical waterfalls, lava fields, geothermal pools, nature parks, stunning black sand beaches — Iceland’s scenery is mind-blowing. Thanks to cheap flights from many European cities Iceland has become one of the top travel destinations lately.
Surely there are many things to do in Iceland but it’s impossible to write about all of them, so we had to choose a few of our absolute favorites.
What to do in Iceland? Here’s our list of some of the best places to visit in Iceland.
7 best things to do in Iceland
1. Visit Reykjavik
Reykjavik is the capital of the country, and one of the best places to visit in Iceland. It’s a lovely city with colorful buildings, good nightlife, fine museums, and restaurants.
Reykjavik is the world’s most northerly capital. In our opinion, it is one of the most beautiful capitals in Europe. Little houses contrast with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, the ocean, and beautiful volcanic surroundings.
On clear winter nights with a good forecast, you have a good chance at spotting the Northern Lights. But during the summer the streets of the city are washed by 22 hours of daylight.
What to see in Reykjavik?
Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran parish church, is the most iconic building in the city. At 74.5 meters high, it is among the tallest structures in the country.
Golden-sanded geothermal beach at Nautholsvik is a little oasis in Reykjavik. It has a warm lagoon with a large steaming hot tub that attracts warmth seekers.
Reykjavik’s geothermal pools is another place you shouldn’t miss when traveling to Reykjavik. The jacuzzi-like pools are filled with volcanic water, and are just heavenly!
2. Swim in the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is a famous thermal pool nor far from Reykjavik. Bathing in the steaming blue waters of the Blue Lagoon is one of the best things to do in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon is set in a black lava field, just off the road between Keflavik and Grindavik.
The lagoon is man-made, and the water comes from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C.
The water’s milky blue shade is due to its high silica content. The water is also rich with algae and mineral salts which are good for your skin.
3. Travel along the Golden Circle Route
If you don’t have much time, consider taking the Golden Circle Route to see a few main sights.
The route is 250 km long, features a few great sights and is a perfect day trip option from Reykjavik.
The most popular places in the Golden Circle are:
- Thingvellir National Park — Iceland’s oldest national park and one of the most significant historical sites. Also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Geysir Geothermal Field — home to a regularly exploding geyser.
- Gullfoss — or the “Golden Falls”, is a majestic three-tiered set of falls.
4. See Puffins in Iceland
The puffin is a small species of seabird. A member of the auk family, to be precise.
These funny birds have bright-colored beaks and breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands. You can spot them in Iceland, and they are the country’s best-loved birds.
It is said that about 60% of the world’s population of puffins come to breed in Iceland in summer.
There are a few places around the country where you can see puffin colonies. Huge numbers of these cute and clumsy birds can be spotted in Latrabjarg, Lundey, and Vestmannaeyjar.
5. Witness the Northern Lights
An aurora, also known as the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon seen in the high-latitude regions (around the Arctic and Antarctic).
Auroras are the result of solar wind — a stream of charged particles released from the sun that collides with oxygen and hydrogen atoms in the upper atmosphere. The collisions produce the lights of the aurora as the magnetic field of the earth draws the solar wind towards the high-latitude regions.
Iceland is one of the places where one can witness the Northern Lights.
Some of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland are Dimmuborgir, Westfjords, Vík and Thingvellir National Park. However, these are not the only places where you can witness the Northern Lights. For instance, on clear nights, Aurora can be visible even in (and around) the capital!
Also, you can go on a guided tour, if you don’t want to drive on your own searching for the perfect spot.
Remember that the Northern Lights aren’t visible all year round, only during the period from September to mid-April.
Also, it depends on solar activity and cloud cover. It’s helpful to check the Northern lights forecast daily when you are traveling in Iceland. So, you don’t miss your chance of seeing them.
6. Drive around the Snæfellsnes peninsula
Snæfellsnes peninsula is one of the most dramatic places in Iceland. Volcanic peaks, lava fields, jutting sea cliffs, and lush fjords — all of it make this 100 km-long peninsula SO worth visiting!
The Berserkjahraun lava field in the east of the peninsula is one of the most extraordinary places in Iceland. It’s a unique place with sweeping fields of black volcanic rock and weirdly shaped lava towers covered in green moss.
In Stykkisholmur bright wooden houses cluster round a pretty little harbor.
Kirkjufellsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. Neighboring Kirkjufell Mountain is one of the most beautiful sights in Iceland. Have a good look at it from the Kirkjufell Viewpoint.
Further down the coast at Olafsvik a whale watching trip is a must.
Further down Skardsvik is a pretty bay of golden sand, hidden by black lava cliffs.
Snæfellsjökull National Park, located on the tip of the peninsula, is Island’s newest national park. It is home to the Snæfellsjökull glacier, a 700,000-year-old glacier-capped stratovolcano. With a height of 1446 m above sea level, it is a popular hiking destination in summer. The glacier is famous around the world thanks to Jules Verne, who used it as the setting for his book “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”.
Budakirkja, the iconic black church, also is located in Snæfellsnes peninsula.
7. Visit the waterfalls of Iceland
We’ve already mentioned Gullfoss and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall. But they are not the only waterfalls in Iceland.
There are many waterfalls in the country, and some of them are among the most beautiful in Europe.
Dettifoss, for instance, is considered the most popular waterfall in Europe and the largest waterfall in Europe by volume. This stunning waterfall is located in Vatnajökull National Park in Southeast Iceland.
Gljúfrafoss is another really breathtaking waterfall. It is located in a cave, and you have to slide through a narrow crack in the rock to get into the cave.
Godafoss is a spectacular waterfall plunging over a curved, 12m-high cliff face. It is located along the country’s main ring road, 35 km from Akureyri.
Skogafoss is situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland. With a height of 60 meters and a width of 25 meters, it’s one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss is another very popular waterfall in Iceland. With a drop of 63 meters, it’s a part of the Seljalands River that has its origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. The most amazing thing is — you can actually walk behind the torrents of this waterfall!
Iceland travel tips
- Iceland is a Schengen member country. A holder of a Uniform Schengen visa can travel to all 26 member countries of the Schengen Area, including Iceland. If you come from the EU, you don’t need a visa to travel to Iceland.
- The best time to go is during the summer, but it’s also the time when there are the most tourists, and everything is much more expensive than during the offseason.
- The cheapest time to travel is during the winter. Accommodation is way cheaper then. Also, there are fewer crowds. But the weather is hit or miss.
- The Northern Lights season is from September to late March (or even mid-April) when it is dark after 6 pm.
- A 4×4 vehicle can cost double what renting a two-wheel drive car costs. To save money, rent a two-wheel drive. You can get away with such a car in Iceland! Especially if you are traveling around Reykjavik and doing the Golden Circle route, or taking the main Ring Road. Roads in Iceland are in good condition, and the best places to see in Iceland are right off the main road. Yes, even in winter it will be OK with a 2×2 vehicle. Just remember to drive carefully in the dark and snowy winter nights.
- Stay in a guesthouse with a kitchen. So, you can cook your meals and save some money. Eating out is really expensive in Iceland. Surprisingly, groceries are not that expensive!
- They don’t use the Euro in Iceland. Iceland has its own currency called Icelandic króna (ISK).