From enthralling glacier hikes to mesmerizing northern light hunts and all in between, Iceland has truly everything you could possibly wish for. In fact, there are so many activities to do and sights to see that it’s sometimes a true challenge in deciding where to go first and what to skip.
In need of inspiration? Look no further! Below you’ll find a compilation of our thirteen favorite experiences worth trying out when visiting the land of ‘Fire and Ice’.
Stand behind a waterfall
The country’s waterfalls are not just beautiful to look at but are also exhilarating to experience from up close, we’re talking really close. The Seljalandsfoss waterfall found on Iceland’s South Coast not only offers visitors a picture-perfect photo opportunity, but a path leads you straight behind the waterfall itself! The views of the falls combined with the untouched natural landscape around are simply to die for! Please bear in mind that the path to the waterfalls might be muddy and slippery therefore appropriate footwear is a must. It goes without saying that bringing your waterproofs is a great idea as well!
Relax in a hot spring
With so much geothermal activity going on, it comes as no surprise that Iceland is the go-to spot when wanting to soak in some geothermal goodness. The country is dotted with natural hot springs, swimming pools, and hot pots, it’s just a matter of making up your mind on what exactly you’d like to experience. If you’re short on time, the Blue Lagoon found in between Keflavík International Airport and Reykjavík is the place to go. Its milky blue waters are one of a kind! However, if you’re opting for a more authentic experience we strongly recommend taking a detour from the Golden Circle to stop by Hrunalaug natural hot spring. Once used as a sheep cleaning station, this beautifully set on farmers’ land hot spring boasts three small hot spring areas suitable to bathe in as well as an old wooden house used as a changing facility. If you come in winter, you might even get a chance to see the Northern Lights from the comfort of the hot spring!
Explore an Ice Cave
Iceland is home to a plethora of glaciers, glacial lagoons, and ice caves. During the winter months, between October and April, a whole underworld of exploration possibilities unveils once the temperatures drop below zero degrees. The naturally occurring glacier ice caves are beyond doubt one of the most beautiful formations you’ll ever get to see. Their shape and size can truly change daily, depending on the quantity, intensity, and direction of meltwater, carving spectacular natural tunnels and structures along its way. If you’re heading towards Vatnajökull, then a visit to either the Crystal Ice Cave or the Blue Ice Cave is a must!
Hunt for the Northern Lights
No winter trip in Iceland is ever complete if you haven’t tried your luck at catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights! The Northern Lights, or as otherwise known Aurora Borealis, are a spectacle of their own worth freezing your hands off whilst waiting for them to appear! Although unfortunately there is no 100% fool-proof method guarantying you’ll see them a good rule of thumb is to drive out of the city anywhere after 9 pm, on a clear and cloudless night with a good aurora forecast prognosis. The further away you are from city light pollution; the better chances you have to catch them dancing above your very own self. If you’re not successful on the first try, there’s always a second and third try. After all, they call it the Northern Light hunt for a reason!
Dive in between two continents
If you’re an avid diver, you’ve surely heard about Silfra! Found in Þingvellir National park, a UNESCO heritage site, the Silfra fissure is one of its kind. It is the only place in the world where you can touch both the Euro-Asian and North Atlantic tectonic plates and dive in between them. The area is extremely rich in fauna and flora, and the crystal clear water allows you to see the glorious underworld for miles upon end. This year-round activity attracts numerous tourists year-round and if you do not have your diver’s license, you can always snorkel with a professional guide there as well!
Saddle up and go on a horse ride
Apart from being super cute and cuddly, the Icelandic horse is one of the only breeds of horses that has a fifth gate ‘tölt’ making them that extra bit special. With over 100.000 horses found on the island’s territory, you’ll be stumbling on these fascinating kind creatures all throughout your stay. If you want to try your hand at horse riding, there’s no better place to experience holding the reins for the first time, than in Iceland. The guided horse tours take you across rugged lava fields and magnificent natural landscapes, ensuring you have a spectacular time from the saddle.
Hike on a glacier
If you want to experience Iceland from up close, then you must join a glacier hike guided tour. There’s nothing better than strapping on your crampons, grabbing your ice ax, and heading out for an adventure-filled journey across the country’s finest glaciers. The best thing about this activity is that it runs year-round (although it is weather-dependent, like most things in Iceland) and is also suited for nearly all skill levels. The most popular glacier hiking spot is on Sólheimajökull, which is only an hour and a half away from Reykjavík and in Skaftafell National Park on the island’s southern coast.
Party like a local
Reykjavík’s party scene is quite a wild one, to say the least, and believe us when we say that Icelanders sure know how to party! This quiet peaceful town by day metamorphoses into a party hotspot by night with so many bars to choose from. What’s rather unusual about nightlife culture is that most bars open from quite early, some even serve morning pancakes with bacon! During the day they slowly transform into thrilling concert spots with live music and places to grab a beer /or five/. Icelanders like to go out late so don’t be surprised if there’s no one at 9 pm. The best area to barhop is on Laugavegur – Reykjavík’s main street. You’ll be sure to find an array of different bars and venues to suit your taste!
Meet a puffin
Iceland is by far one of the best hotspots for bird watching, especially if you want to see a puffin. With 60% of all Atlantic puffins roaming on its territory, if you come at the right time, you’ll nearly be certain to see a puffin or two. These beautifully decorated birds with colorful bills, duck-shaped legs, and small yet heavy bodies are a true sight to see. They flock to the island in early May and are there until early September. During the day they’re out fishing, so if you want to increase your chances of spotting them, it’s best to head out early evening. They often stick together so if you see one, you’ll definitely see a few hundred or thousand too.
If you are in Reykjavík, your best bet would be to head towards Akurey and Lundey island, just a few minutes boat ride from the capital, where you’re nearly 100% guaranteed to see these clumsy creatures. Another great hotspot is the Dyrhólaey cliffs, found near the village Vík on the South Coast. It’s worth mentioning that the cliffs are a nesting area so during breeding season access might be limited if not entirely off-limits.
Walk to the DC-3 Plane Wreck
The DC-3 Plane Wreck is the perfect add-on to any South Coast trip. This famous site attracts visitors all year round, as is a favorite photography spot for many. The decaying skeleton of the US Navy aircraft that crashed on the 21st of November 1973 on the black sand beach can still be seen up to this day. With regards to the cause of the crash, no one truly knows what exactly happened. Some say it was due to icing on the plane, others believe the thrusters weren’t working properly. Pilot error still isn’t out of the question. We’ll never really know what happened but one thing is for sure, this site is a must-visit if you’re in the area. The walk from the parking lot to the crash site itself takes a little over an hour, and although it’s quite an easy one, extreme caution must be exerted when visiting during winter.
Part of Vatnajökull National Park, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is the place to be! Its ever-so-changing landscape is due to climate change and more precisely global warming that ensures you’ll never see the same iceberg formations twice. Some melt in the lagoon whilst others is swept away in the Atlantic Ocean. If you want to see these stunning ice formations from up-close, you can opt to go on a boat ride of a lifetime! It’s worth mentioning that Jökulsárlón is also home to many playful seals that often greet the glacier lagoon’s guests and can be seen swimming nearby its shores.
Join a Whale Whale Watching Tour
It might come as a surprise, but Iceland is a superb place to go on a Whale Watching Tour. The country’s abundant summer daylight paired with a variety of ocean temperatures attract quite a number of different species of whales, 24 to be exact. Although the best time to go on such a tour is in between April and October, when the ocean is relatively calm, you have a good chance of spotting some whales, especially the mink whale all year round. Daily tours depart from the old harbor in Reykjavík whereas if you happen to find yourself in the North, then Húsavík is the place to go. Apart from the minke whale, you can also spot the humpback whale, the killer whale as well as the blue whale. Dolphins and seals are also known to roam around the country’s coastline and some of them can be spotted on the Whale Watching Tour as well!
See a volcano
With a total of 130 volcanoes shaping its territory, it’s safe to say that you’ll be running into a few of them on your travels along the island. Although Iceland’s most recent eruption, in late March 2021 on the Reykjanes Peninsula, is considered inactive at this very moment in time, it’s still worth hiking the couple kilometers to get a view of the extensive lava footprint it left behind. The hike to the best viewpoint takes around an hour and is over uneven, crumbly terrain with some up and downhills along the way. If you plan on hiking, make sure you bring the proper boots and winter apparel with you. If you’re not an avid hiker, then why not take a helicopter or plane tour from Reykjavík Airport that’ll lead you straight to the eruption site itself for some gloriously haunting yet beautifully structured natural sceneries.
Enjoy the midnight sun
If you happen to visit Iceland in June, chances are you’ll have near 24-hour daylight. Although it might seem daunting at first, imagine just how much more you’ll get to see in the space of 24 hours! The summer solstice is by far a surreal experience in all dimensions. In previous years, the Secret Solstice festival took place exactly on that day, and masses of people greeted the longest day of the year altogether, with a drink in hand whilst enjoying their favorite performers. If you’re in Reykjavík on that day, it’s best to head towards the oceanfront for a truly magical sight or contrasting pink colors reflecting in the water with Mt. Esja quietly sparkling in the distance.
Take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean
Iceland has such a rich bathing culture, which, unsurprisingly enough also extends to taking a quick dip in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Nauthólsvík beach in Reykjavík is the perfect spot if you’re a first-timer as its water is geothermally heated up to a certain extent and its man-made lagoon provides a safer experience so you do not get swept away in the ocean! In addition, this area is equipped with changing facilities, a steam bath, and even a hot tub allowing you to warm yourself up after enjoying the ocean’s waters.
Drive along the Golden Circle
Deemed as one of the busiest touristic routes – The Golden Circle is a must-see when visiting Iceland. You’ll pass by Þingvellir National Park, where Iceland’s first parliament Alþingi was established in 930. The park is also extremely rich in fauna and flora, with the Silfra fissure being deemed as one of the top diving spots in the world. You’ll also discover the glorious Strokkur geyser, shooting up steam and boiling hot water high into the skyline creating a truly surreal landscape. Last but not least, Gullfoss waterfall will welcome you with its striking beauty and powerful raging waters. On a sunny day, you’ll even get a chance to spot a rainbow from one edge of the falls all the way to the other.
Take a stroll on Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
There’s nothing better than taking a long walk on endless black sand beaches and Iceland is the best place to do it! With so many black sand beaches to choose from, you’ll definitely have plenty of difficulties choosing your top favorite! If it’s your first time exploring the country, then we recommend heading to Reynisfjara beach near Vík, on the Southern coastline. Notorious for its mesmerizing beauty and fierce waves, Reynisfjara has a lot to offer when it comes to natural landscapes. Just make sure to never turn your back on the waves, as they might sneak up on you by surprise.
Looking for an adventure but don’t know where to start? Why not take a look at our 6-Day Adventure Guided Tour!