Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s almost impossible to miss Iceland’s beauty. Its out of this world landscape and unique charm have been plastered all over social media.
Simply put, Iceland is always that pretty destination that doesn’t need to do much to convince you to book a trip. But just in case, you need a little bit of nudging, I present to you a list of some of the best things to do in Iceland.
Explore the Ring Road
You can view this as some sort of quick intro to Iceland. It is a short route that includes some of the most impressive Icelandic sights. By doing the golden circle route, you will knock three birds with one stone. Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gulfoss are all part of it. This one is very popular for people who are short on time or on a quick layover.
Thingvellir National Park
Some people might not want to do the whole Ring Road but instead pick a few spots based on their likings. Well, this park will definitely impress you and isn’t too far away from the capital.
This place was definitely made popular by the Game of Thrones TV series. Whether or not you are a fan, you will be in total awe with how majestic this lush canyon looks like.
Before going to Iceland, I’ve never seen a geyser before. It is a cool sight to visit. The smell is very poignant which only increases the experience even more.
The Small Town of Vik
You will absolutely fall in love with the town of Vik. It was one of my favorite places in Iceland. It is a small town with so much character.
Wander around, check out the little supermarket for local delicacies. There is also a store where you can stop by to buy some Icelandic coats and outwear called “Icewear”.
I bought a rain jacket there. The quality and price was amazing, even by Icelandic price metrics.
Reynisfjara Beach (Black Sand Beach in Vik)
After wondering around the town of Vik, head to the famous black beach.
Heads up, this place gets really popular so you will encounter some crowds there. The good thing is that is it really huge so there is still plenty of space to spread out. Most people stay close to the entrance. But I recommend you take the time to walk around.
Just don’t expect to be doing some swimming as the beach is not only cold but also has some massive strong undercurrents.
Check out the Puffin birds & Go Climb
Like I said, Vik is so much fun. If your mobility allows, go ahead and climb up the block structures. You will be able to get up-close to Iceland national bird, the puffin, all the way on top.
Don’t feel like climbing? No worries! The puffins can also be admired from the main beach.
Looking for one more thing to do in Vik?
You can always head to the main campground and pitch a tent there and stay the night. I did just that when I was in Iceland and it is one of my fondest memories.
One thing that you will quickly notice is that Iceland is very famous for its waterfalls. This one is located closer to Akureyri.
Each one of them is unique and has a different look so it might still be worth it trying to visit them all.
Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre
The capital of Iceland, Reykjavik, is relatively small. But it is so quirky. You should walk around and explore it on foot as much as possible. The concert hall is one of the first thing that will catch your attention.
Gunnuhver Hot Springs
When I first saw the name, I thought it was going to be a hot spring where I could pull out my swimsuit and relax a bit.
The thought of that makes me laugh now.
This is not a swimmable spot at all. Think of it as similar to a geyser. There will be a pathway where you will be able to walk along while visiting the site.
Another beautiful waterfall in Iceland where you can take a peaceful walk behind the water fall, absolute stunning scenery.
You can take the stairs and check the fall from the top.
Skogar museum is an open air museum that I really enjoyed and it’s located not too far from the Skogafoss.
There is also an indoor part showing different Viking artefacts and boats. The outside has a few tiny little houses showing you how they use to live before.
I found the place was really educational and makes a nice break from the waterfalls 🙂 In case you ever need a break, that is.
Church of Hallgrimskirkja
This quirky church in the capital is quite whimsical. The design is striking and you will find yourself drawn to it. The entrance is also free so I totally recommend checking it out.
That said, the true beauty is the exterior structure.
This waterfall is nice because of the sheer amount of water that is being push through but you don’t have to spend to long there. Just make a quick stop en route to your next destination.
You might have notice it by now but the word foss stands for waterfall in Icelandic. And yes, Iceland is filled to the brim with “foss”.
Oxararfoss was the first waterfall we’ve visited. It is absolutely beautiful, a little less dramatic than its counterparts but the whole setting is very unique and you can get really close to it.
This waterfall is located inside of the Pingvellir National Park which allows you to knock two birds with one stone.
Keep an eye for this volcano when you visit Iceland. It is still a geothermal active volcano. The last eruption was in 2010 and it lasted for a whole 39 days. The great thing is that there were no human fatalities reported.
Moreover, the volcano still being an active one means that it can always erupt any other time in the future.
Don’t worry, I’m not saying this to scare you. It’s a very interesting place to visit and there are so many tours being offered.
The absolute highlight of my trip.
This is a multi days hike that usually lasts 4 days but we were able to do it in 3. Do keep an eye out for my hiking and camping guide. Some people choose to do part of it but I swear that the whole hike is absolutely worth your time.
Camping during the Landmannalaugar Hike
The camping experience during the hike is very unique. Wild camping isn’t allowed in Iceland. One of the reason is that they look to preserve the delicate moss that is scattered all around Iceland. Due to that, people end up in camping grounds.
The cool thing is most of them are scenic and a whole experience entirely. I’ve camped next to a waterfall and amongst some of the most magical sceneries in Iceland.
I will be writing a camping guide for Iceland very soon. If you do the whole hike, there is even a nice little geothermal pool that you can reward yourself with either at the beginning or the end of your trip depending on the direction you choose to take.
This is part of the Landmannalaugar hike. But as some people simply don’t have the time to do the whole thing, you could technically drive to that area to check the outstanding landscape.
Get ready to see striking colors making it a very unique landscape all around you.
Snaefellsjokull National Park & Glacier
This is another national park which is absolutely stunning.
If you make it this far, you will be rewarded for your persistence as less people make it up there since it is way beyond the golden circle.
There is so much to do in this area, you could easily spend a couple of days or more exploring the region.
The infamous blue lagoon needs no introduction.
This must be the most popular site in Iceland. Even though it is popular, public transportation there is very spotty to nonexistent.
I would recommend either booking one of those airport transfer if you’re trying to visit during a layover or renting a car. Another option would be to hire a taxi or private roundtrip transfers.
Myvatn Nature Baths
This is an up and coming bath.
Not as famous as the Blue Lagoon but I feel like it is slowly getting there. The experience feels a little bit more authentic though and less Disneyesque.
Glacier Hiking in Skaftafell
Another highlight of my trip in Iceland.
Even if you never wanted to hike a glacier. I totally recommend you add this to your list asap. It will be one of your most cherished memories.
Also you might never get a chance to hike glaciers in the near future with the alarming rate at which climate change is happening around the world.
Glacier Lagoon ( Fellsfjara)
You can easily stop there en route to your next destination. It is by the main road.
Glacier lagoon looks like a beach cove. But what makes it unique is that you will find many huge ice blocks looking like massive diamonds and shinning in the water.
Check out the Sun Voyager Monument
Another quirky sculpture in Reykjavik.
Another big glacier located in the Southern part of Iceland. Just like the other glaciers, there are many tours and hiking offered for this one.
Seljalandsfoss ( Hella)
This must be one of Iceland’ s most popular waterfalls and rightfully so.
This also happens to be my favorite waterfall. It is the whole ambiance.
It is a special waterfall as you can walk behind the water curtain. Moreover, I also camped at the camping site nearby while having a killer view of the falls right by my tent.
There is also a path you can take where you can go hike and explore the wild area above the fall. I recommend visiting this waterfall at the beginning of your journey so you do it justice.
Street art & Quircky Laugavegur Street
The street art is Reykjavik is vert quirky but oh so colorful.
Go for a walk around Laugavegur street which is one of the main happening street of downtown and you are bound to find something interesting and artsy.
Hike the Kirkjufell Mountain
Another one of my favorite activities to do.
This hike is not a flat one at all. It is quite challenging and involves some climbing and some agility to get all the way to the top.
Another thing that was nice is that we were the only ones there along with one other tourist from Sweden.
He said it only took him 30min to hike to the top. Don’t know what he was talking about or how he did it since it took us closer to 2 hours.
This is another beautiful fall but there is no need to spend too much time there. Just stop there while heading to your next stop.
The viewing site is towards the side of the fall giving you a different view.
Svartifoss was a total surprise.
By that point in my trip, I think I might have been a little bit jadded and suffering from waterfall overdose.
But the beauty and uniqueness of Svartifoss quickly cured me and still managed to make me fall in love with it.
It is located inside of the Vatnajokull National Park.
Vatnajokull National Park
Which brings us to the next point.
Vatnajokull National Park could be a destination in itself. This park is MASSIVE.
What makes it unique is that there are so many day trails you can take. There is also a campground.
What surprised me was that they even had a couple of food trucks in a designated eating area within the park ( all walking distance from the campground). One truck was selling lobster rolls and other Icelandic delicacies. Talk about a post hiking treat. 🙂
At the reception area there is even a cafeteria and also another little office that belongs to a tourism company and offering glacier hiking. This is where we had to go when the time came to be briefed for our glacier tour. This is also where we boarded the bus to drive to the glacier nearby.
I only spent a night in this beautiful campground but I cannot wait to go back for more time.
All this to stay that if you are an outdoor enthusiast like I am, you can easily spend a week there and barely scratch the surface.
You pitch a tent in the beautiful park. Everyday you hit one or a couple amazing trails. One day , you even go check out beautiful Svartifoss Waterfall. After each daily hike, you come back to the camp and eat some amazing food, alternating between the cafeteria and the fancy lobster rolls with a glass of wine. Some days, you decide to cook your own trail food. But the most amazing thing? Knowing that you will be able to take a pipping hot shower in the shower area after a very long trail.
Yes! This is what I mean by saying that this place is a little gem and can be seen as a whole camping resort and destination by itself.
You’re welcome! 🙂
The Icelandic Punk Museum
Now back to the city for something a little bit different. I present to you the Icelandic Punk Museum.
This museum is super tiny but it is so quirky. It is located in front of the tourism office so might be worth quickly checking out.
By the way, if you ever look for a place to store your luggage on your last day or after or before dropping off your car rental, the tourist center offers just that. You just have to make sure to be back on time before closing time.
I really enjoyed this little gem. Didn’t even know it existed. This little museum is still walkable distance from the city center of Reykjavik but it is still tucked in the quiet outskirts. You’ll find it nested in the old harbor, overlooking the sea.
The only reason why we stumbled upon it and discovered it is because we went to drop the car rental in the area.
If you find the time, please do include it into your schedule. Half and hour to an hour is more than enough. It is an interactive history museum that covers the earliest Icelandic settlers. You can even dress up as a Viking and take pictures and act silly.
Go Hunt for Unique Icelandic Snacks at Bonus Supermarket
As a foodie, this was such a lowkey but fun every day thing to do.
Bonus is a supermarket that you will see all over Iceland and it is nice to go around and see what they carry and also checking out the snacks section.
If you’re also looking to cut cost during your trip, you’ll want to food shop in Bonus as Icelandic Restaurants are quite pricey and known to break the bank.
Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach ( with a mini pool)
Did you know there was a beach in Reykjavik?
Yes just as the name suggest, this is a geothermally heated beach in a small little neighborhood of the capital.
We did check it out in June and I don’t know why but when I went it was empty.
Perhaps you can test your own luck. On a normal day, you can take a dip in the ocean and also relax in the mini pool.
Grjotagja Cave ( John Snow & Ygritte Cave)
If you’ve watched the show, you will automatically recognize this lava cave.
Because of the way it was represented in the show, again, I was under the impression that one could swim there.
Yes, once again, I brought my swimming suite.
Actually, I was even wearing it under my rain jacket, ready to go. Well after all, in GOT, it is the place where John snow and Ygritte went for a swim.
However, the reality of this cave is very different.
Yes it still looks just as beautiful, however, when I went, swimming wasn’t allowed.
The water looked so warm and inviting but we were only able to go into the cave and take pictures.
I’m determined to try again during winter. I have a feeling the lack of swimming was due to the higher number of visitors during the summer month. The cave is small after all and could not sustain too many people.
Oh well! You win some and you lose some 🙂
Right accross Grjotagja cave is the Stokkur geyser.
It is a beautiful site with spectacular thermal action.
Crashed Plane Wreck
This is a very popular attraction of a USA plane that crashed back in 1973. The wreck was abandoned and has been a solid part of the Icelandic tourist trail ever since.
That said it still took us forever to find. But honestly once you get to the main location on the road and see a bunch of cars parked along the road, you should know you’ve arrived.
Just get ready to walk a good 15 to 30min to get to the actual crash site.
Hradastadir Horse Riding & Farm
There are a few places where you can go horse riding in Iceland. But this particular one is quite popular as you can combine a horse riding with a farm to table experience afterwards.
In case you were wondering, Icelandic horses look like pony in terms of height. But you’ve been warned!
Do not go calling them a pony. Even if they are small, they are seeing as fierce and mighty and you shall refer to them as Icelandic horses 🙂
Seljavallalaug Geothermal Pool
This pool is definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
Yes it is true that it has gained popularity but do not let this deter you from checking it out.
If you visit Iceland during summer, you can just show up early to beat the crowd. If you’re going in winter, no need to worry too much as most people seem to prefer going during summer.
It’s very fun to get there as there is a little hike and towards the end you’re rewarded with this beautiful relaxing pool time.
Just keep in mind that one side of the pool is deep and also there are no showers or amenities on site. There is just a big room where people change in a make shift corner and leave their stuff there, thus using the trust system that your stuff will be there when you come back.
If this makes you uncomfortable, you can lock your valuables in your hotel, or car and only bring the essentials with you such as a waterproof camera etc…
Oh, there is also a resident dog there which I’ve named Helgi. He surely loves the company and will go as far as leading the way, most likely in search for treats 🙂
Reykjavik Old Harbor ( Port of Hafnarfjordur)
This is a really nice place to go for a stroll. They even have a few portraits and expositions where you can read more about the history of the port while taking in some fresh breeze and seeing a different size of the city.
Attend the Pride Parade in Reykjavik
Did you know that there was a pride parade in Iceland every year?
Whether you care about these sort of things or not, it is still one of the events hosted by the country every year.
Well it was a total coincidence that our first time in Iceland, we landed right smack in the middle of the parade. If this is something that interests you, just check the date. It is guaranteed to be a colorful parade filled with locals enjoying their times and clowns blowing up balloons for kids.
Iceland strives to be a very tolerant, inclusive and equal society. You might be surprised to know that same-sex partnership have been legalized since 1996. This was very innovative for such a small country to be so ahead of its time as there was only three other countries that recognized it during this time period. And they’ve been hosting a Pride Parade ever since 1999.
Overall, it really felt like a nice family parade which is very different than let’s say a pride parade in Tel Aviv or even in my hometown, Montreal 🙂
Silfra Diving Site ( Diving between Two Continents)
Sadly I ran out of time, but this is one of the things I want to do on my next trip to Iceland.
The geology at Silfra is very unique. This activity is special because you can dive and snorkel right where two continents meet and drift apart each year for about 2cm. This is the only place in the world where you can have such an experience.
It is said that the water between those two tectonic plates is one of the clearest water on earth. I will have to test it for myself next time 🙂
Check Out The City of Akureyri
Most people tend to land and focus on Reykjavik but there are so many nice things to see and do in the northern town of Akureyri too.
If you have time, try carving a couple of days to explore this city as part of your itinerary.
The Northern Lights
A lot of people go to Iceland along with other Nordic countries in the hope of catching the northern lights. If this is you, you need to make sure to come during late August and mid April.
September and March would be even better as it gets darker after 6pm thus increasing your chances even more.
There are tons of companies offering northern lights tours.
The Midnight Sun
Still on the topic of natural occurring events, the midnight sun is another reason to come to Iceland.
This is a period of time where you can experience the sun for pretty much a whole 24hr nonstop. The peak of the midnight sun in Iceland is around the summer solstice which usually takes place on June 21st.
In fact, during the whole period of May to August, you can expect the sun to come down slightly before midnight thus giving you so many more daylight hours to explore.
Yes you might struggle to sleep. But who cares about sleeping when you’re vacationing in beautiful Iceland?
This was a huge list of things to do in Iceland. Of course there are so much more to do and see. I will keep adding to this list as I keep going back to Iceland.