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Iceland is a natural playground for children and adults alike. With adrenaline pumping adventure activities such as snowmobiling to healing hot springs hidden in serene vistas and everything in between, it can often feel hard choosing what to include in your bucket list. There is a lot to see and visit in Iceland!
To make sure you make the most of your trip to Iceland, we’ve rounded up a list of the Top 12 Things to Do in Iceland to help you plan your all-important itinerary. If you only have time to explore Reykjavik, you can read our Top Things to Do in Reykjavik article as well.
The Blue Lagoon is a famous geothermal spa that is rich in minerals such as silica and sulfur that are great for the skin. It’s also handily located just 20km from Keflavik International Airport, making it the perfect first stop on your Iceland adventure. The healing properties of the lagoon and it’s proximity to the airport have made it one of the most popular attractions in Iceland.
Other fantastic hot springs in Iceland include Landmannalaugar, found amongst the stark mountains of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Icelandic highlands. There’s also the Nauthhólsvík Geothermal Beach in Reykjavik. There you’ll find white-sand, hot tubs and geothermally heated sea water pools - now that truly sounds like an Icelandic beach day!
Insider tip: If you visit the Blue Lagoon on your way to or from the airport, they have a free luggage storage area in the parking lot where you can check your bags. The lockers in the changing rooms are small and can only store a small backpack or bag. Be sure to pack a separate backpack with your suit, flip flops, and toiletries to take in with you. — by Laura from Savored Journeys
There are a number of stunning waterfalls in Iceland. For example, the Fimmvorduhals trail alone has 26 small waterfalls along it. But please visit the best waterfalls, as some of them should not be missed. Gullfoss waterfall on the Hvita river in Southwest Iceland drops 32 meters down into a crevice that makes it look as though the river disappears into thin air. Dettifoss waterfall in Vatnajokull National Park is Europe’s most powerful waterfall and literally shakes the earth you walk on. The drop of 44 meters causes a cloud of spray to tickle your face as you take in the thunderous sight.
A trip to Iceland wouldn’t be complete without exploring the ice caves in Iceland. Carefully crafted by nature or moulded by man, Iceland has ice caves of all shapes and sizes, including a number of great Ice Cave tours. To see what mother nature can whip up in the middle of winter, head to Vatnajokull National Park for an ice cave experience that will take you into the blue underbelly of Vatnajokull glacier. To see how man can mould a glacier, head to the Langjokull glacier where you will arrive in a monster truck before diving down into the man-made ice cave that includes a wedding chapel!
Make sure to set aside some time for volcano tours in Iceland as well. The Thrihnukagigur volcano craters in Reykjavik offers a once in a lifetime experience of going inside the magma chamber of an extinct volcano. Travel up to 200m below the surface of the earth, the only such experience in the world! However, this isn’t the only great volcano, as there are many popular volcanos in Iceland that you ought to pay a visit.
For a volcanic experience steeped in Icelandic folklore, visit Hekla in Southwest Iceland. Previously one of Islands most active and destructive volcanoes, Hekla was known as ‘The Gateway to Hell.’
Of all the things to do in Iceland, seeing the Northern Lights is truly bucket-list worthy. Thingvellir National Park is an amazing place to witness the Aurora Borealis. Being in the Golden Circle, it’s close enough to Reykjavik to make a quick trip at night. For an overnight stay, consider staying at the Buubble accommodation close to Reykholt where you can sleep in a transparent bubble under the stars watching the night sky light up. Read our When and Where to see Northern Lights in Iceland article for more information.
Insider tip: There are apps that tell you when solar flares are at their highest, so even if you go to a place where Northern lights are seen and it's not "peak" you can still catch a glimpse! We did exactly that in this video at 7:09 while in Iceland. We used this app. One of the most incredible things our eyes have ever seen — it was like the earth's natural fireworks. — by Damon and Jo from Shut Up and Go
Standing on top of one of Iceland’s Glaciers gives you a whole new perspective of the world. One of the popular glaciers is the Sólheimajökull glacier tongue found in south Iceland which travels down from the Mýrdalsjökull glacier to the coast, where you’ll also find a glacier lagoon. The walls of ice, caves, crevasses and sculptures of the glacier make for some great sport including hiking and ice climbing. Langjokull glacier is also a popular glacier for adrenaline sports such as snowmobiling.
It’s almost impossible to visit Iceland without walking somewhere. Trekking is a huge part of Iceland’s tourist attractions and is one of the best ways to experience the ever-changing Icelandic landscape. The Laugavegur trek combined with the Fimmvorduhals trek is one of the best treks in Iceland (5 days / 4 nights) known for scenic vistas of multi-coloured mountains and hot springs. Another popular trek with geothermal activity is the Reykjadalur trek which starts at the geothermal town of Hveragerdi, just east of Reykjavik. Reykjadalur translates to ‘Smokey Valley’ which comes from the steaming river running through it.
Insider tip: There are a huge variety of hikes in Iceland, and many of them are located in quite remote areas. Make sure that you let others know about your hiking plans before you head out. Let them know when you plan to leave and offer an approximate time for your return. In the slim chance that you run into trouble, it's good to know that there is someone out there who has your back. — by Kevin Wagar from Wandering Wagars
Iceland’s top tourist attraction, the Golden Circle, is a no-brainer when looking for things to do in Iceland. The circle includes Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the geothermal area that includes the famous Geysir geyser. It’s approximately a 300 km round-trip and under 2 hours from Reykjavik to the nearest stop, making it possible to complete it in one day.
A full day hike is an accomplishment for any enthusiastic walker and Iceland has a lot to choose from. Two great hiking options of different lengths are the Fimmvorduhals day hike and Skaftafellsheidi day hike. Fimmvorduhals is a day hike that begins from Skogafoss waterfall and ends in Thorsmork and takes up to 12 hours depending on the hikers’ fitness levels. If you plan to visit Skaftafell National Park, the Skaftafellsheidi trek can be completed in 5-6 hours and will take you in a loop from the visitor’s centre including the areas of Sjónarsker, Kristínartindar and Gláma.
A road trip along Iceland’s Ring Road (which loops the entire island) is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland. This takes a minimum of 7 days, and can easily be stretched to 10 days. A road trip along the Ring Road will give you a chance to see every part of Iceland, from the black beaches of the south coast to the highlands in the east, whale watching in the north and the fjords of the west. If you can’t quite manage 7-10 days, a road trip around the southeast is a great shorter option that takes 4 – 5 days. Check out this 8 day Iceland itinerary to help you in planning an unforgettable road trip in Iceland. Do the Golden Circle, travel to picturesque Vik and see Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, travel from Vik to Hofn and see black beaches and Skaftafell National Park. Take some time to relax in Hofn before travelling back to Reykjavik, stopping at tourist favourites such as the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon on the way.
Insider tip: The best tip for driving around Iceland is you shouldn't feel compelled to book a 4x4 or SUV especially if you're mainly sticking to the Ring Road and the weather is clear. During the few times that we went off road to let's say go to Seljavallalaug Pool, the dips in the road were manageable as long as you drove slowly and took the potholes at an angle. — by Will from Going Awesome Places
Most Iceland travel experts will advise you to get out of Reykjavik as soon as possible and head out into the countryside. But Iceland’s capital shouldn’t be completely looked over. There are many things to do in Reykjavik that gives you a lesson in Icelandic architecture, history and overall culture. Check out the jaw-dropping Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral that seems to mirror the basalt columns so often found in Iceland’s nature. The Perlan restaurant is another great place to visit, offering fine-dining in a revolving glass dome. There are also a bunch of great museums including the National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavik Art Museum and the Maritime Museum just to name a few.
With annual festivals such as the Food and Fun festival, Iceland food is enjoying its heyday. The Food and Fun festival happens during February or March each year and sees world-renowned chefs temporarily take over some of Reykjavik’s most popular eateries in a clash of cuisines. If you’re not there for the festival, don’t worry. Iceland has everything to offer, even for fanatical foodies.
While many people have a fixed vision of what Iceland can offer them as a travel destination, in truth it is a vast and varied country. There are activities for every age and interest in Iceland, that will keep both backpackers, families, and adventure seekers happy. See some of the best Iceland Tours and Holidays for more information.
Travelling to Iceland? Chat with a local travel specialist in Iceland who can help organize your trip.
Adrien Heriaud Travel Expert in Iceland & Norway
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Lára Ósk Hafbergsdóttir Travel Expert in Iceland