Iceland offers some of the most unique and stunning landscapes on Earth. At first glance it might appear a harsh place with an unhospitable climate, but a closer look reveal endless possibilities for living exciting experiences in this wild and magical place.
Are you planning to visit Iceland? First check out this article: Things to know before visiting Iceland.
Here is a selection of top amazing things to do in Iceland (random order):
- explore nature for free (Ring Road / Golden Circle / Diamond Circle Routes → volcanoes, lava fields, waterfalls, glaciers, geothermal areas, black beaches, national parks, mountains, lakes, canyons, fjords)
- go on a guided tour to discover Iceland’s natural beauty (glacier hiking, ice/lava caving, inside a volcano, river rafting, boat tours, ice/rock climbing, paragliding)
- watch wildlife (birds – puffin, tern, plover, common gull, eider, oystercatcher, guillemot; mammals – whale, seal, Arctic fox, reindeer, sheep, Icelandic horse)
- have a bath in a geothermal pool/river
- go diving or snorkeling
- go horseback riding
- ride a bike
- ride a snowmobile/ATV
- try water sports (kayaking, canoeing, rafting, paragliding, surfing, boat tours)
- discover Icelandic culture (museums, exhibitions)
- visit neighboring islands (Grimsey – great chance to have a real Arctic experience, Hrisey – the island is known as the pearl of Eyjafjordur; take the popular guided tractor tour, Vigur – in the westfjord
- explore Iceland from above (scenic flights by airplane/helicopter)
- see the Northern Lights and stargaze
- try winter sports (dogsledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing, (heli)skiing
- play golf at midnight surrounded by lava fields
Explore nature for free
Iceland has a wide range of spectacular landscapes. Tourists can witness its stunning nature for free. From mighty waterfalls to black sand beaches, from majestic geysers to mystic Northern Lights, the breathtaking sceneries transforms a holiday into a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Iceland’s main ring road is called Route 1. One can drive around the island in about 15 hours, but it is recommended to spend at least 1 week to have enough time to explore all the attractions on the road. Before starting your trip, check the road conditions and weather forecast here.The Golden Circle is a popular route in Iceland which includes three main attractions: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. It is a 300 km/190 miles loop that starts from Reykjavík.
Diamond Circle is another sightseeing route, 260 km/160 miles long, the northern alternative to the Golden Circle route. The major sites on this route are: Húsavík Village, Ásbyrgi Canyon, Dettifoss Waterfall, and Lake Mývatn. However, there is a longer distance from the capital to this route.
Main attractions in the western part of Iceland include:
- Reykjavík City
- Blue Lagoon Spa
- Thingvellir National Park (diving at Silfra)
- Glymur Waterfall
- Deildartunguhver Hot Spring
- Hraunfossar & Barnafoss Waterfalls
- Glanni Waterfall
- Grábrók Volcano
- Snæfellsnes Peninsula (Arnarstapi Village, Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall, Kirkjufell Mountain)
- Eiriksstadir – Viking Longhouse
- Westfjords Region (Rauðisandur Beach, Látrabjarg Cliffs, Dynjandi Waterfall)
Main attractions in the northern part of Iceland include:
- Hvitserkur Cliff
- Akureyri City
- Goðafoss Waterfall
- Diamond Circle (Húsavík City, Ásbyrgi Canyon, Hljóðaklettar Rocks, Dettifoss Waterfall, Mývatn Lake)
- Hverfjall Crater
- Grjótagjá Cave
- Kvika Kaffi/Myvatn Natural Baths
- Námafjall Hverir Geothermal Area
Main attractions in the eastern part of Iceland include:
- Egilsstaðir City
- Seydisfjordur City
- Hengifoss Waterfall
- Stokksnes Peninsula (Vestrahorn Mountain)
- Höfn City
- Vatnajökull National Park (Hoffellsjökull & Fláajökull & Heinabergsjökull Glaciers)
Main attractions in the southern part of Iceland include:
- Vatnajökull National Park (Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon, Diamond Beach, Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon, Hvannadalshnúkur Mountain)
- Hof City
- Ingólfshöfði Cliff
- Skaftafell National Park (Svartifoss Waterfall, Kristínartindar Mountain, Skaftafellsjökull Glacier Tongue)
- Lómagnúpur Mountain
- Dverghamrar Rock Formations
- Foss a Sidu & Stjórnarfoss & Rauðárfoss Waterfalls
- Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
- Eldhraun Lava Field / Fire Lava
- Vik City (Reynisdrangar Rocks, Reynisfjara Beach)
- Dyrhólaey Peninsula (Kirkjufjara Beach)
- Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
- Sólheimajökull Glacier
- Kvernufoss & Skógafoss Waterfalls
- Skogar Museum
- Gljufrabui & Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls
- Nauthúsagil & Gluggafoss Waterfalls
- Secret Lagoon Hot Spring
- Golden Circle (Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area / Strokkur Geysir, Gullfoss Waterfall)
- Kerid Crater
- Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
Go on a guided tour to discover Iceland’s natural beauty
Whether you are looking to set your foot on ice, to descend into a volcano, to embark on a rafting adventure or to sail among the huge icebergs floating on the Fjallsarlon or Jökulsárlón lagoons, Iceland has something for everyone.
Check out the websites below to book a tour in Iceland:
In spite of being a vegetation free wilderness, in Iceland one can spot plenty of wildlife, especially birdlife and mammals. Birds nest especially on the Icelandic coastal cliffs. Most mammals live on land (reindeer which are most commonly found in the east, around Snæfell Mountain; Arctic fox; sheep; Icelandic horses), others like the seals live around the coast (Westfjords or Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon), but whales can be seen off the coast of Iceland, so one should book a tour (best season for whale watching is during the summer months).
Some of the most popular birds in Iceland are:
- Atlantic Puffin
- Arctic Tern
- Golden Plover
- Common Gull
- Common Eider
Iceland’s main whale watching ports are:
Check out the websites below to book a whale-watching tour:
Have a bath in a geothermal pool/river
The Blue Lagoon is a luxury spa with entry fees starting from 48 €/adult. It is said to be a tourist trap because it’s overpriced. So, if you are on a budget, choose a public geothermal pool. Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River is an alternative located 3 km away from the parking lot. The hike is not difficult and the scenery is very beautiful, with boiling hot pools and stream rising in the air. The river is long enough to offer plenty of space for everyone.
Go diving or snorkeling
Have you ever been curious about snorkeling or diving in Iceland? This sort of opportunity comes along once in a lifetime. There are several diving sites, but the most important is Silfra. As Iceland is located on the mid-Atlantic Ridge a.k.a. MAR (the boundary separating the Eurasian and North American plates in the North Atlantic called Silfra Fissure), you can dive among basalt columns in the crack between these two tectonic plates. The crack is filled with the clearest water on Earth where live only different types of algae and green “troll hair”.
Check out the websites below to book a diving tour:
Go horseback riding
The Icelandic horses are an isolated native breed, so an important part of the country’s identity. They were brought by the first settlers from Norway. Because of their appearance and unique gait, these beautiful creatures are sold abroad for dressage. The horse riding tours allow you to connect with these beautiful creatures, while discovering the Icelandic charming landscapes.
Check out the websites below to book a riding tour:
Ride the bike
There are many bike enthusiasts who cycle the Ring Road. Due to the distances between urban areas which are considerable, the hilly terrain and the unpredictable weather, such an experience requires you to be in good shape and to have appropriate equipment and good protective clothing. The paths into the highlands are more difficult, with bad gravel roads, which make them suitable only for experienced cyclists.
Ride a snowmobile/ATV
Gliding through the majestic Icelandic glaciers is an amazing adventure filled with adrenaline and remarkable landscapes. Iceland is also the perfect playground for riding an ATV thanks to its wild terrain and open fields.
Check out the websites below to book a snowmobiling tour:
Check out the websites below to book an ATV tour:
Try water sports
If you are an adventurous traveler who wants to get his/her adrenaline flowing while exploring Iceland’s wild outdoors, you can go canoeing/kayaking or sailing on the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, surfing under the Arctic Sky and witness the Northern Lights show, experiencing Icelandic nature from above during a tandem paragliding, rowing your boat down Iceland’s frothy water originating from glaciers or even speeding through narrow basalt canyons. Enjoy one of the most remarkable landscapes on the planet while creating unforgettable memories.
Check out the websites below to book a tour:
Boat Tours / Jet Boat Tours / Kayaking / Paragliding / Rafting / Surfing
Discover Icelandic culture
Despite having a small population (around 350.000 people) and being isolated, Iceland’s culture is diverse. Icelanders have preserved their customs, traditions, and the ancient language of the Vikings.
Check out here a brief review about arts in Iceland and here the list of Icelandic museums (art, natural history, botanical garden etc.).
Visit neighboring islands
Iceland consists of many smaller islands with abundant wildlife which are well worth a visit.
Here is a selection of some islands in Iceland:
- Drangey – an island that rises up from the ocean, with steep cliffs and hosting a diverse birdlife (puffin, guillemot, auk); it has a steep man-made path that climbs up to the top of a 180 m/590 mile cliff and has ropes, chains and a ladder to make the ascent easier; to get there take the boat from Sauðárkrókur;
- Flatey – a peaceful island with no cars, home to many well-preserved old houses in cheerful colors; to get there take the ferry from either Brjánslækur or Stykkishólmur;
- Grimsey – a rocky island with dramatic coastline which is crossed by the Arctic Circle; to get there take the ferry from Dalvik or book a flight from Reykjavík or Akureyri via domestic airlines;
- Hrisey – a small fishing village known as the pearl of Eyjafjordur, home to the popular guided tractor tour; to get there take the ferry from Árskógssandur;
- Vestmannaeyjar – an archipelago formed by underwater volcanic eruptions, home to the world’s largest population of nesting puffins in summer; to get there take the ferry from Landeyjahöfn or book a flight from Reykjavík;
- Videy – a small island which lies just beyond Reykjavík, home to bird sanctuaries; to get there take the ferry from Reykjavík;
- Vigur – an enchanting island known for its abundent birdlife, home to the only windmill in Iceland and the smallest post office in Europe; to get there take the boat from Isafjordur;
Explore Iceland from above
Having a scenic flight above the stunning Icelandic landscape is an awe-inspiring experience.
Check out the websites below to book a flight above Iceland:
See the Northern Lights and stargaze
Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are an impressive show that can be seen in North Iceland only in the winter months (September÷April) on clear nights. The dominant hues of those dancing veils of light are usually green and white, but they can vary in color creating an one of a kind celestial wonder.
Check out the websites below to book a tour:
Try winter sports
For those of you looking to ride from the mountain top directly to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, there are some ski resorts which operate from November to May. Put your goggles on and glide down the Icelandic slopes.
Check out the websites below to book a skiing tour:
Check out the websites below to book a snowmobiling tour:
Check out the websites below to book a dogsledding tour:
Or you can take a helicopter up to the mountain peaks and ski down the untouched slopes. This a probably one of the most luxurious and thrilling experience you can have in Iceland.
Check out the websites below to book a heli-skiing tour:
Play golf at midnight surrounded by lava fields
Iceland has one of the most enchanting golf courses thanks to its unique landscape. There you have for example the chance to play “midnight golf” on a course located on a lava field. According to the Icelandic Golf Association you can choose from more than 60 golf courses or you can participate to the Arctic Open Golf Tournament.
Keep on reading IDR’s articles to discover the amazing Iceland and many other incredible places on Earth.