Glaciers and snow-covered peaks, magma oozing volcanoes, steaming geysers and solfataras, majestic rivers and gushing waterfalls, whales frolicking just off the extensive coastline, reindeer and razorbills- Iceland has all of it and more.
This Land of Ice and Fire is the choice destination of the modern-day. Figure out the 11 best things to do in Iceland and plan your next trip.
11 Best Things To Do In Iceland- The Land of Ice and Fire
The oldest democracy globally, this Scandinavian island country of Iceland is affluent in culture, history, and myths. The capital city of Reykjavik is as vibrant and prosperous as the rest of the country. The country has seen a tourism boom in recent years due to the numerous natural wonders and artificial attractions.
The alternatives of experiences and activities are boundless in Iceland. This article will guide you to all that is to do in Iceland with this list of the 11 best things to do in Iceland.
1. Self Drive Tour – Best Things To Do In Iceland
The most promising way to explore Iceland on your own is to drive around the country. Driving around this island country is on top of the list of the best things to do in Iceland. The country is secure, and the residents are fun-loving and friendly towards tourists.
The pathways taken as options of self-driving routes are:
i) The Golden Circle Route
ii) The Ring Road Tour
The Golden Circle Route, about 300km in length, provides the lucrative opportunity to enjoy the best views and experiences on a day trip. It runs along the Gullfoss Waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and the Geysir Geothermal Area. Along the way, you can also visit places such as the ancient Icelandic Parliament, the Tectonic Plates, and the Kerid Crater Lake.
The Gullfoss waterfall, perched within the deep canyon of the Olfusa river, offers breathtaking vistas in the stunning backdrop of Snow-peaked mountains. It is formed by the river Hvítá plummeting into the canyon, forming three-step terraces and powerful torrent. This 32-meter high waterfall demonstrates the power of Iceland’s water system, cascading over two rocky tiers into a dramatic valley below.
The medieval Icelanders formed the world’s first democratically elected parliament in 930 AD in the Thingvellir National Park, making it an important site to the Icelandic people. Here, you can behold the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates emerging from the earth. One of the best snorkelling spots, the Silfra Fissure, is also found within the park. Exploring the myriad wildlife found here puts it high on the list of things to do in Iceland.
The Strokkur Geyser, erupting every few minutes, is also encompassed by this route. It lies in the Geysir Geothermal Area. The Geysir discharges as lofty as 70 meters and quickly vanishes into the ground. At this geothermal park, you can enjoy strolling along with the bubbling fields of steam while observing primitive plants, mud pots, steam vents, and warm streams. Witnessing these geysers is one of the top things to do in Iceland.
The Ring Road is a highway looping around the entire island country of Iceland. The road is roughly 1300km and can be entirely navigable in 10 days. The best time to self-drive along this route is in the summer months of May to September, as winters bring sleet, snowfall, and whiteouts. You can reach Mývatn via this route, making this list of the 11 best things to do in Iceland!
2. Hike In Iceland
True to its name, Iceland is defined by frozen landscapes with floating icebergs, sweeping glaciers, and dazzling blue ice caves. It is a land eternally entangled between twilight and shimmering ice. Most travellers are surprised to find the country temperate and mild during the warm days of the summer.
Entering a Saxe blue ice cave is the ultimate icy adventure, accessible exclusively in the winter months. Glacier hikes are, nonetheless open throughout the year. The finest choice to hike is in the Vatnajokull National Park.
You can opt to hike through the varied landscapes of Skaftafell Nature Reserve. It is the most engaging and accessible area of Vatnajokull National Park. You can see the Vatnajokull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. It is dotted with numerous spectacular ice caves with at least three active volcanoes. The Vatnajokull glacier feeds multiple rivers and lagoons. It was featured in the Games of Thrones series and two James Bond movies. You can also see the Dettifoss waterfall, located in Vatnajokull National Park, Europe’s second most powerful waterfall.
Skaftafell Ice Cave and Höfn are open for visitors year-round, while Skriðuklaustur and Jökulsárgljúfur are closed in winter. You can witness the magical view of the Skaftafell Ice Cave overflowing in dazzling indigo light when the sunlight falls at a required angle during winters. Good health and fitness are mandatory for a glacial trek with a professional guide.
You can set up camp in the birchwood forest beside a beautiful glacial stream. The camping spot is a quick hike from the haunting ebony sea beach and lava fields. There are several other famous European mountains that you can travel and hike.
Several additional hiking trails without snow are also available in Iceland. The route to Svartifoss waterfall is the most prominent, where the water flows over a cliff of black basalt columns. A hike here is one of the top things to do in Iceland.
3. Swim In The Blue Lagoon
A dip in the Blue Lagoon, a famous geothermal spa, is another one of the best things to do in Iceland. Located in a lava field in southwestern Iceland, the Blue Lagoon flaunts its warm, palliative water and healing silica mud. The heated turquoise blue seawater makes it a natural geothermal spa. The verdant hills in the backdrop and billowing steam stacks also furnish a charming surrounding.
A stay in one of the Blue Lagoon resorts with private rock pools is an excellent activity for your relaxation. These private pools offer you the privacy and tranquillity lacking in the public spa. Watching a sunrise over the Blue Lagoon in the winter months is indeed a magical affair.
The water in the lagoon is from underground several hot springs, at an optimum temperature of 37-39° centigrade. The mineral-rich water is said to be very beneficial to skin and health. The equally mineral-rich natural mud is available in tubs at the edges. You can directly massage it on your skin in the form of a mask for a soothing spa experience. In-water massages and natural treatments tailored for your skin using rare algae and minerals are also available.
Shops selling skincare products and spa treatments are lucrative attractions for tourists. Several swim-up bars, eateries, and diners have also sprung up around the lagoon, serving delicious food and drinks. Clinics and luxury spas have travellers flocking to them all year round.
Bus routes ply between the Blue Lagoon and the Icelandic capital city of Reykjavik. You can also book an ATV and drive to the Blue Lagoon through a path of lava rocks.
Other locations offering similar experiences are the Secret Lagoon near the Golden Circle and the Myvatn Nature Baths in North Iceland.
4. Explore Myvatn
Myvatn, a quaint town in the northern part of Iceland, is a must-visit. The Grjotagja Caves, used as one of the filming locations for the “Game of Thrones” series, lies here. You can likewise visit Hverir, a geothermal area, walk through a lava field, and hike to the top of a crater. Lake Myvatn, the fourth largest lake in Iceland, lies in this region.
Lake Myvatn is also known as the ‘Fly Lake’ for the buzzing insects whizzing around during the summers. ‘Myvatn’ literally translates to “midge-water,” referring to the copious bugs found here. However, the enchantment of the lake is enough motivation to bear with the insects. Do carry an insect repellent, put on a netted hat, and long sleeves for a summertime visit.
Lake Myvatn was created due to a large volcanic eruption, and the area still has some volcanic activities. You can spot several volcanoes in the surrounding vista. Strike up a conversation with the locals and listen to the dark myths and folklores about the lake. The hot springs are ample reasons for bathing in the Mývatn Nature Baths. Bird watching is also a favourite activity around this lake.
The Sigurgeir’s Bird Museum located in Mývatn is extraordinary, displaying over 180 species. There are more than 300 preserved bird specimens and an extensive collection of eggs. A visit to this strange museum is one of the best things to do in Iceland.
The Namaskard Pass is also a geothermally active region. Visit the Skutustadagigar pseudo-craters called Dimmuborgir, or ‘Dark Fortress’, famous for the strange but hauntingly beautiful volcanic rock formations. In the Dimmuborgir lava field, obscured in a cavern, is the famous Grjotagja hot spring, a must-see for fans of the Game of Thrones series. These caves were a shooting site for one of the franchise’s favourite scenes.
5. Explore Reykjavik
Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, draws in many travellers based on the plethora of experiences. The vibrant town has local delicacies such as puffin and boiled sheep heads, natural springs, and architectural wonders. A day exploring this capital city is definitely on the list of best things to do in Iceland.
Like most European Capital cities, Reykjavik has a distinct charm of its own. Downtown Reykjavik is awash with bars, cafes, eateries, and social events. You can try local dishes like Harðfiskur, a delicacy of dried fish, or Svið, a baked sheep head. Thriving with the locals and tourists, most establishments have a minimum of three hours of discounted food and drinks menu. Daytime is the best for exploring the city, while the nights are painted bright with parties and live music.
You can visit the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral for a bird’s eye view and the Harpa concert hall, home to the national opera and symphony.
The Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral, in the epicentre of Reykjavík, is a soaring white rocket-shaped concrete tower visible from virtually every location in the city. Named after the 17th-century poet Hallgrimur Petursson, it was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937. A basalt rock formation in Iceland, called the Black Falls, inspired this design. You can get a panoramic view of the city of Reykjavik from the top of the 73-meter steeple.
Located on the verdant Öskjuhlíð hill, Perlan is not only the massive thermal water tank of Reykjavik but also a landmark building. The Öskjuhlíð hill has several bicycle trails and footpaths zigzagging up and down. Besides the concerts and exhibitions held regularly in the Winter Garden, you can visit the exquisite revolving restaurants and souvenir shops. The observation deck and the planetarium providing a virtual trip to Iceland are other attractions.
Iceland has a rich history, culture, folklores and many fascinating museums. The National Museum of Iceland displays Icelandic history and settlement in Reykjavik, while the Saga Museum gives insight into the Viking heritage. The Punk Museum on the back street of Reykjavik delves into Iceland’s punk music background that arose in the 1970s. Several tours with guides take you around Reykjavik to help you explore and discover the history of Vikings and the myriad folklores of the region.
6. Witness The Midnight Sun
One of the top things to do in Iceland on the bucket list for the Icelandic itinerary is witnessing the northern lights or the aurora borealis, colloquially called the Midnight Sun. Earlier believed to be the glitter of Valkyries taking dead souls to the afterlife, the Auroras are correlated to the solar winds, a flow of ions radiating from the sun.
These fantastical natural light phenomena materializing only in the northernmost areas on earth are notoriously elusive. To witness them, circumstances must be essentially perfect – no cloud cover, flaring in the magnetosphere, and no light pollution. Due to lesser cloud cover in Iceland, Auroras are perceptible for almost 8 months. The peak visibility is in the winter months of December to February.
When they do emerge, there are no known methods of judging exactly when, where, or how long the mystical lights will persist. The guaranteed way to witness the northern lights is to take a guided tour from one of the major cities. Experienced guides are aware of the best locations for catching the Northern lights. Most hotel operators correspondingly provide nightly forecasts or add their customers to the overnight call list for the Northern Lights tours.
You can also pick a location away from light pollution, such as remote rural areas rather than cities and drive by yourself. The critical point to remember is that the more the darkness, the better you have to witness these magical lights prancing and swirling in the sky.
7. Snaefellsjokull Glacier
The Snaefellsnes peninsula is also known as Iceland in Miniature as you can observe the myriad terrains and features of Iceland with just a day trip. A visit to this celebrated area is one of the best things to do in Iceland. The twin-peaked Snaefellsjokull glacier, seated over a volcano on the peninsular end, is the area’s gem. Surrounded by irregular lava fields and dramatic coastlines on three sides, it has been proclaimed a National Park.
Multiple artists and authors have drawn inspiration from the Snaefellsjokull glacier, such as the novel, A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. Like Jules Verne’s character Otto Lidenbrock, you can ascend to the summit and appreciate the magnificent panoramic vistas.
You can notice the glacier from the hamlet of Budir, Londrangar sea stacks, and even from Reykjavik across Faxafloi Bay on a clear day. But the best viewpoint is undoubtedly up close. The glacier can be driven to and back within a day from Reykjavik; however, for the best experience, you should explore the region with a little more time. Several Snaefellsnes tours range from taking a snowcat ride on the glacier to caving in the Vatnshellir lava tube in the national park.
There is a lot more to do on the Snaefellsnes tour. Take a walk along the black sand beach of Djupalonssandur Beach, observe birds nesting at the Londranger cliffs, or watch the Svortuloft and Ondverdarnes lighthouses.
8. Discover A Black Sand Beach
The Southern Coastline of Iceland is exceptionally prevalent among travellers with its glacial flooded black sand beaches. The most famous black sand beach is Reynisfjara, its beauty originating from the naturally stark, haunting topography. Reynisfjara exudes astounding beauty- with a giant cave and black basalt columns in addition to rock stacks just off the shore. Another famous black sand beach is at Vik and Stokksnes in Iceland.
The glorious sea-arch of Dyrholaey is within walking distance of Reynisfjara. Separated from Dyrhólaey by a body of water, this black sand beach is an iconic volcanic landscape that is a must-see when in Iceland. You can visit here to catch incredible views of the surrounding area. In summers, nesting puffins cover the entirety of the beautiful arch.
It is, however, forbidden to swim at the black sand beaches. This is credited to the fact that the sea at a black sand coast is dangerous due to lower water temperatures and strong currents. Reynisfjara is particularly treacherous due to the sneaker waves surging unexpectedly. You have to stay at least 20 meters from the surf at all times and heed all safety instructions of these places.
You can also take some time to explore the Hálsanefshellir Cave perched on the east side of the Reynisfjara beach. Reynisdrangar, the uniquely-shaped basalt sea stacks, can be found in the sea.
9. Watch Whales And Seabirds
One of the best things to do in Iceland is undoubtedly whale watching. A plethora of mixed species of whales, porpoises, and dolphins reside in the coastal waters of Iceland. The sizes contrast from the world’s largest blue whales to the small harbour porpoises.
Several distinguishable species of whales as humpback whales, killer whales, and fin whales, can be seen larking along the coasts of Iceland. Apart from whales, you can also spot myriad seabirds such as guillemots, Arctic terns, skuas, and puffin.
Whale-watching tours mainly start from Reykjavik, Westfjords, Akureyri, and Husavik. Iceland’s whale-watching capital, Husavik, on the shores of the Skjalfandi Bay, sees the maximum influx of marine animals in the summers. Along the fjords of this city is the ideal place to spot white-beaked dolphins, humpback whales, harbour porpoises, Blue whales, fin whales, orcas, and even the rare Narwhal.
During the summer months, the warm shores of Iceland, abundant with fishes and krill, become feeding and mating ground for these majestic marine animals. Surrounded by verdant hills, Husavik also maintains the iconic Whale Museum.
You can go on a whale-watching trip on a tiny powerboat or a larger vessel with advanced tracking technology. These marine animals frequently surface near the boats, making it an unforgettable experience.
10. Behold The Jokulsarlon Glacier-Lagoon
A visit to the glacier-filled lake of Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is one of the best things to do in Iceland. You can watch the icebergs in action- thrusting and crunching against each other as they make their way from the Breidamerkurjokull glacier to the Atlantic Ocean.
The ever-increasing effects of climate change and global warming have caused the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon to increase substantially in size each year.
You can choose to partake in boat tours or sit on the shoreline and observe the seals frolicking and diving around the heaving chunks of ice. A quick walk from the lagoon, you will find Diamond Beach, a coast where Icebergs frequently wash ashore. The jet-black sand contrast with the glittering icebergs- resulting in one of Iceland’s most visually stunning natural landscapes.
11. Try Horseback Riding
Enjoyable by visitors of all ages, Horseback riding is one of the top things to do in Iceland. The Icelandic horse riding tour ensures an age-old and authentic manner of experiencing Iceland. Just head out on your horse, strutting into the untamed tundra in search of the fabled Islandic trolls.
The Icelandic horse is effortlessly recognizable by its definitive features of stunted stature, short legs, and muscular build. Icelandic horses are known for their amiable temperament and charm, apart from their reliability, resistance to harsh natural elements, and five gaits. The breeding of Icelandic horses with other horses is prohibited to maintain the unique genetics.
Acquainted and certified instructors lead horseback riding tours for both novices and proficient riders. Most horse riding tours in Iceland last for approximately one to four hours and can be further extended.
Iceland is a traveller’s utopia, offering the above possibilities of things to do in Iceland and many more additional scopes. Every visitor is bound to find something of interest in this country of Lava and Snow- The Land of Fire and Ice! So hurry up and plan your next vacation now.