The 12 most important things to do in Iceland
What are the 12 most important things you should definitely do during your stay in Iceland? What tours and excursions are the most popular with tourists? What are the must-sees and things to do if you don’t have a lot of time? Read this article to learn about the 12 most important things to do in Iceland.
- Check out Iceland’s largest collection of tours and excursions
- Soak up the beauty of Iceland on one of these exciting driving tours
- Find the right cottages in Iceland for your vacation at an affordable price
- Find out about the top 10 activities in Reykjavík
Considering that Iceland has so many tours and activities to offer, the process of making travel arrangements and choosing exactly the attractions you’ll have enough time – and, just as importantly, budget – to visit can be quite a hassle.
Fortunately, we know how to make your life easier. We’ve tested each of the tours or attractions we offer for you, both in the cultural-historical, outdoor and adventure tourism areas. We at Guide to Iceland are the experts to help you choose the best way to have a great time in this country.
So, for your convenience, we offer you a list of the 12 most important things you must do in Iceland.
We understand that this list can’t suit everyone. Whether it’s simply because these places and attractions are popular with all tourists, or because it helps you understand what Iceland is all about, or because we’ve heard from visitors from all over the world and know their preferences, we’re sure that you’ll find at least one, if not all 12, helpful things to do on this list.
12: Go on a whale safari, a whale-watching excursion
More than twenty species of cetaceans call Iceland’s coastal waters home, from the rather small-sized porpoises to the largest animals on our planet, whales. And how many people in the world can say they’ve seen a blue whale in the wild?
- Here you’ll find a variety of whale safaris
Small minke whales and humpback whales are the most common sightings at sea, although there is always a chance to see rarer animals such as the killer whale and the true minke whale, or fin whale. As with many other whale-watching excursions in Iceland, you can also see a variety of seabirds, including skuas, Arctic terns, guillemots and even the famous puffins with their bright red beaks.
Whale-watching trips start from three main locations: Reykjavik, Akureyri, and Husavik. The latter is called the “whale capital” of Iceland. The reason is the movement of large numbers of animals through the fjords of Husavik, which are attracted to the rich feeding grounds near the northern shores of Iceland.
- See also: Whale Watching in Iceland
Whale-watching excursions can be taken by larger boats or by small motorboats. Large boats are designed for large groups of tourists and are equipped with reliable whale-tracking equipment, virtually guaranteeing an encounter with whales. Small boats are designed for smaller groups and the environment is more chamber-like. Also, the helmsman of a motorboat is able to get closer to the whales because the motor of such a boat makes much less noise.
11. Riding Icelandic horses
Perhaps the Icelandic horse is the most famous four-legged inhabitant of Iceland. It is easily recognized for its short stature, short strong legs, and muscular croup. This native breed of horse is known for its reliability and safety for the rider, its ability to survive in harsh natural conditions, and the fact that it has five types of gaits (step, trot, gallop, stride and flying pacing).
- Book your horseback ride here
The Icelandic horse is essentially a unique breed of horse, as unique as a breed can be unique at all. External crossbreeding of this breed is prohibited in order to preserve its unique genotype; any animal that has left Icelandic territory cannot return to the country.
If visitors to Iceland decide to take part in a horseback ride, they are guaranteed a tried-and-true method of communicating with Icelandic nature. The said applies not only to our time: it has been so for centuries, as the original Norwegian breed has gradually evolved into the breed we know today.
- See also: Icelandic horse | A comprehensive guide
Icelandic horseback riding rides are available to beginners and experienced riders alike. These rides are led by experienced certified instructors. Most horse rides last 90 minutes (although it is possible to extend the duration of the ride). Those who are confident in the saddle will get a chance to trot.
10. Stop by the party in Reykjavik
This is definitely a favorite pastime of the locals, who won’t hesitate for a minute to jump at the chance for a few cold beers. And a few pints at least. Maybe it’s because beer was only legalized here in 1989, or maybe it’s because there comes an inevitable moment when Iceland is enveloped in “eternal darkness” – it’s impossible to say for sure.
- See also : Happy Hour | Reykjavik’s Cheapest Drinks
Downtown Reykjavík is full of bars, coffee shops and restaurants, and there are frequent parties, most of which are attended by Icelanders and visitors alike, which promises an evening full of interesting conversation.
To alleviate the stress associated with serious damage to the wallet (and a night out in Iceland, sadly, is very conducive to this stress), most establishments offer a “happy hour” that lasts at least three hours, during which there are discounts and other incentives that will make you continue drinking alcoholic beverages with a sense of deep satisfaction.
So take advantage of it to the fullest! As in many places around the world, the more you get up in the morning, the wilder the atmosphere gets in downtown Reykjavík.
Luckily, most hotels and mini-hotels are within walking distance of restaurants and bars, which means that getting to your place of lodging, even stumbling after your last drink, is no problem.
9. Go to Lake Mivatn in northern Iceland
There is a perception that there are no insects in Iceland. Most of the time this is true, but a summer trip to Lake Miwatn, which means “Lake of Flies,” makes you quickly change your mind on this matter.
After all, there are literally clouds of winged creepers buzzing through the air flying over the shoreline, so you can’t do without mosquito nets and long-sleeved clothing.
Winter quickly and radically solves this problem, but even in summer flies can not spoil the pleasure of the magnificent beauty of the lake and its surroundings. Tourists can admire the quasicraters of Skútustaðagígar, see the geothermal activity at Námaskarð Pass and even visit Dimmuborgir, which means “The Black Fortress”, a strange but also surprisingly beautiful lava formation that is said to be a gateway to the underworld.
8. Relax in the spa complex “Blue Lagoon
“The Blue Lagoon has a reputation as the most famous spa complex in Iceland – perhaps because of its proximity to the airport or because of the healing siliceous clay in the water, but also because of the warm, skin-softening thermal water, the beautiful surroundings and the steam swirling over the water.
If a visit to the Blue Lagoon does not fit your budget, you can go to other similar spas with similar services and features such as the Mystery Lagoon near the Golden Ring and the natural baths at Lake Miwatn in northern Iceland.
- See also : Blue Lagoon – detailed guide
7. See Dettifoss Falls in Northern Iceland
Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, is located in Vatnajökull National Park in the north-east of the island.
From a height of 44 meters, from where the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum (Jökulsá á Fjöllum) ends, the powerful waters of Dettifoss in a dense mist of splash fall with a deafening rumble into the canyon Jökulsárgljúfur, creating one of the most grandiose natural attractions in Iceland.
Dettifoss can be reached by road number 862, the waterfall is part of the tourist route called “Diamond Ring” – the northern counterpart of the more famous “Golden Ring” route. In addition to Dettifoss, tourists traveling along the Diamond Ring visit places like Húsavík, Ásbyrgi Canyon and Lake Mývatn.
6. Visit the Western Fjords
Similar to the eastern part of Iceland, the Westfjords is an area less often visited by tourists from abroad than the southwest and north. Known for their rich history and steeped in folklore, mysticism and magic, the Westfjords enchant not only with their beauty but also with the legacy of ancient Icelandic culture. From the high cliffs of Hornstrandir with their bird markets to the high falls of the Dynjandi waterfalls, the Western Fjords have something to offer everyone.
- Book a tour of the West Fjords here
The Western Fjords are famous for the Drangajökull, Iceland’s northernmost glacier, the picturesque Arnarfjörður Bay, the enormous Bolafjall Mountain and Flatey Island, home to numerous deadrats.
And for those who want to study the history and culture of the region, we recommend visiting the Polar Fox Center, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, the Museum of Cultural Heritage of the Western Fjords or the Museum of Icelandic Sea Monsters.
5. Visit the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
In a country that is a collection of countless natural attractions, at first glance it’s hard to pick just one place that surpasses all the others in beauty, which can be felt even on a subcortical level. And yet the glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón (Jökulsárlón) always ranks first among other travelers’ highlights.
- See also: Northern Lights over the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
Actually, it is a quiet lake decorated with a procession of slowly drifting and glistening icebergs colliding with each other with a noise resembling a moan or a heavy sigh on their way from Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier to the Atlantic Ocean.
Some tourists go on a boat tour around the lake, others are ready to just sit on the shore, watching the games of a colony of seals swimming among the heavy blocks of ice.
The size of the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon increases every year under the influence of climate change. It is believed that in a hundred years the lagoon will merge into an entirely new fjord. It seems unlikely now, but consider that Iceland’s glaciers are melting at an incredible rate.
- Find tours of Jokulsarlon Lagoon here
A 5-minute walk from the lagoon, tourists can see Diamond Beach, whose name very accurately conveys the picture before their eyes: chunks of icebergs tossed onto a pitch black sandy shore, glistening in the sun. The picture is surreal and incredibly beautiful. Probably one of the most beautiful places in Iceland.
4. bathe in a natural hot spring
Iceland is a young country geologically. In other words, most of its territory is in a zone of ongoing geothermal activity. Foreign tourists enjoy natural pools, smoking volcanic tubes and hot springs such as Strokkur, which they can visit as part of a tour of the Golden Ring.
- See also: The best hot springs in Iceland – a complete guide
Fortunately, not all of this kind of geological activity is dramatic. In fact, one of the byproducts of living in a country with high geothermal activity is the plethora of natural hot springs scattered throughout the country.
Hot spring tours are a fantastic short vacation and the number one way to get rid of a hangover or jet lag. At the same time, hot springs are a great place to catch a buzz with a can of beer in hand (assuming you clean up after yourself when you get out of the pool) while making friendly conversation with other bathers. And if you’re lucky, such a spring can also be a great spot to watch the aurora borealis dance in the sky.
3. Drive the Golden Ring in winter, with snowmobiling or snorkeling
The Golden Ring is the most popular tourist route in Iceland. It includes three main attractions: Tingvellir National Park (Þingvellir), Haukadalur Geothermal Valley (Haukadalur) and the fantastically beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall (Gullfoss).
- See also: Golden Ring of Iceland | Complete Guide
Many tourists enjoy an early morning tour of the Golden Ring, while others opt for a day trip that even includes exotics such as snorkeling and snowmobiling for extra fun.
Tingvellir is an important place for Icelanders for a number of reasons. And the least important of them is its natural beauty. In addition to being the birthplace of the nation (the world’s first democratically elected parliament was convened here in 930 AD), the park is home to the Silfra Fault, one of the 10 most popular snorkeling spots in the world, and the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates converge and come to the surface.
- See also: National Parks in Iceland.
Haukadalur is home to Geysir (or Big Geyser, Geysir) and Strokkur geysers. Strokkur erupts about every five minutes, throwing jets of hot water more than 20 meters high. In addition, there are many fumaroles (hot springs of volcanic origin with an intense emission of steam or high-sulfur gases) and gurgling mud pots.
Ten kilometers to the north is the third and last point on the Golden Ring trail, the Gudlfoss waterfall. This thirty-two-meter giant demonstrates all the power of the Icelandic water systems: it descends into the valley below in two rows of cascades. From here, many tourists take a snowmobile trip to Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull.
2. See the Northern Lights
One of the most attractive features of Iceland is its location on the Earth’s axis and the advantages it gives. We are talking about the northern lights, known as the “aurora” (Aurora Borealis). It can be observed only in winter and only at high latitudes. It is an incredibly beautiful phenomenon representing waves of purple and mauve, green and golden colors dancing gently high in the sky and is worth seeing.
The Northern Lights are elusive and frustrate thousands of observers with their short duration and periodic disappearance. Conditions for northern lights should be ideal: cloudless sky, high solar activity and its interaction with magnetosphere, absence of light pollution – aurora borealis is possible only in these conditions.
When the Aurora Borealis arises it is impossible to predict when and where it can be observed and how long it will last, but you can take certain actions to increase your chances of seeing it.
- Find aurora borealis viewing tours here
First, taking a tour with a tour guide who is an expert on the northern lights is one way to see Aurora in all its brilliance. Not only will these guides be able to suggest the best observation position in the darkest location, but they will also provide tour participants with scientific information that will add color to the observation experience. In addition, these guides will be able to give good technical advice when photographing this spectacular space show.
1. hike on a glacier and visit an ice cave
As the name of the island itself makes clear, Iceland, by definition, must be covered in ice. And if many believe that Iceland is not “frozen” enough to justify the name “ice land,” let us remind you that it is after all a land of floating icebergs, huge glaciers and dazzling ice caves of blue ice.
- Book excursions to Iceland’s ice caves here
Given the above, most people are surprised that the climate here, it turns out to be quite mild and temperate, at least during the warm summer days. However, it is in winter that Iceland fully earns its name. In winter nature finds itself in a perpetual trap – between darkness and shining white snow.
Fortunately, Iceland’s biggest attraction, its glaciers, are available all year round. And that’s good news for tourists who want to see these giants up close, but it’s even more satisfying for those who plan to wear spiked shoes and conquer the ice cap itself.
- Find glacier tours here
Did you like our selection of the 12 most important things to do in Iceland? Which of our list did you get to check out for yourself, or maybe we overlooked something important? Please share your thoughts with us and ask us any questions in the Comments section below.
What to see in Iceland
Iceland is a northern island nation located in one of the most volcanic regions in the world. It seems that the country, covered in snow and ice for most of the year, cannot be so fire-breathing. But the number of active volcanoes suggests otherwise.
Black sand beach in Iceland
Geothermal activity has spawned no few local resorts. Ancient pools are filled with hot mineral water heated by nature itself. Chronic fatigue, reduced immunity – all this is cured as if by magic.
If you like the noise of big cities, the capital of Iceland – Reykjavik, offers one of the most vibrant nightlife in Europe. However, the lovers of nature will have an incomparably richer choice: volcanoes, geothermal lakes, glaciers, underground caves, national parks, beautiful waterfalls and northern lights.
Waterfall in Iceland
As tourists travel through the country, they begin to believe in trolls, elves, giants and other mythical creatures, which only adds to Iceland’s charm.
What to see first in Iceland
Iceland is a land of smoking volcanoes and charming fishing towns, rushing canyons and majestic fjords, hot springs and fun bars. Below we take a look at a list of the best places in Iceland that should be on every traveler’s menu.
Iceland’s main church is located in the capital, Reykjavik. The architect was G. Samuelson. By design, a number of cascading columns are supposed to represent the island’s rugged basalt cliffs. Although some visitors see them not as a landscape, but as the body of a rocket rushing upward. Inside the Lutheran Church is a 15-meter organ by German master J. Claes. For 1000 Icelandic crowns you can climb up to the observation deck of the church, where you can enjoy a beautiful panorama of the whole of Reykjavik.
Tingvellir National Park
Tingvellir National Park
Seeing pristine nature in Iceland is easy. The oldest national park in the country is a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik. Through Tingvellir runs the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the place where the tectonic plates join. There are numerous lakes in the national park where you can go diving. The most popular place for this is the Silfra Rift. The water here is so transparent that the visibility is over a hundred meters and the depth exceeds sixty meters.
It is one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island and one of the noisiest. The roar of the water can be heard far beyond Dinyandi. The raging water falls down from a height of more than a hundred meters. On the ascent to the beginning of Dinyandi, tourists will encounter small waterfalls and streams on their way. There is a campsite at the foot of the falls, but it is not the most peaceful or quiet place to sleep.
Thermal Springs – Blue Lagoon.
This is perhaps Iceland’s most famous attraction. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal complex created by nature itself. Heated turquoise water has healing properties. It easily cures skin diseases, nervous exhaustion, diseases related to musculoskeletal apparatus. At the thermal complex operates a professional clinic.
What to see in Iceland in the spring
The best time to visit the country is summer. But if your goal is to see the Northern Lights in all their glory you should come to Iceland in spring (until April inclusive).
Northern Lights in Iceland
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see colorful flashes in the sky. Usually the color of the northern lights is green, but it can also be purple, pink, red and even orange. You can look at the dancing colored highlights from any city; you can even see it in Reykjavik. But it is better to go from the capital to the north, where there is less light pollution, such as Seltjadnarnes.
Viking World Museum
Viking World Museum – source www.vikingworld.is
Long before H. Columbus discovered America, these lands were known to the Vikings. About 1000 A.D., 500 years before the voyage of the Spanish explorer, the Icelandic Viking Leif Eriksson had visited the New World. The Viking World Museum contains an exact replica of the ancient ship on which the Icelanders sailed across the ocean. It was built to prove that such a vessel could cover more than 4,000 miles separating Iceland from North America. In 2000, the voyage took place and was successful. Today, visitors to the museum can tour the hull of the Viking ship and learn more about its history.
This is the oldest brewery in all of Iceland, opening in 1913. It is worth going there not only to get acquainted with the process of making beer, but also to taste the Icelandic beer. Besides beer they also offer you to taste honey wine, which was especially popular in the Viking Age. And for the stronger ones, you can try schnapps.
This is one of the most picturesque places in Iceland. Langökull Glacier is ideal for skiing and snowboarding. Be sure to try out the snow-covered slopes. If you’re far from skiing, there’s a snowmobile ride available. Fresh air, blue skies and vast expanses of Iceland await you!
Marine excursion “See whales”
Whale Watching Sea Tour
You may think that seeing whales is only possible far away from the coast in the dark waters of the ocean. But that’s not true! To see the giants it is enough to take an excursion from Reykjavik. Dolphins, seabirds and puffins can be found throughout the year. Winter and early spring are ideal for whale watching.
What to see in Iceland in summer
The ideal time to travel in Iceland is summer. In summer the temperature is comfortable, it is not as cold and windy as at other times of the year. In August the thermometer can reach 20 degrees, which is not insignificant for a northern Scandinavian country.
Valley of Geysers in Iceland.
This is a hiking route that begins and ends in Reykjavik. It is ideal for those who have little time to visit all the beauties of the island and want to see everything. Sites along the route include Tingvellir National Park, Gudlfoss Falls, the Valley of Geysers, and the Kerid Crater Lake.
This waterfall owes its fame in part to its accessibility. It is near the village of Skogar and only 5 km from the coast. By Icelandic standards the waterfall is not very powerful: only 61 meters high and less than 25 meters wide. The main highlight of Skogafoss waterfall is a rainbow that appears in sunny weather. If you are lucky, you will be able to capture a double rainbow. For the most energetic, there is a hiking route to the top of the waterfall.
Lake Miwatn claims to be the fourth largest lake in Iceland. It was formed by a volcanic eruption. There are many legends surrounding Miwatn. According to one, it is the place where Satan fell to earth when he was cast out of heaven. And from here he was driven out by the elves, who chose the dark lava formations as their home. The lake does not freeze even in winter, thanks to the volcanic heat. That’s why people swim here all year round. Interestingly, this is where the filming of season 5 of Game of Thrones took place.
This is a long lava cave that was formed several thousand years ago. In Icelandic, the name of the cave is translated as “The End of the Way”. The cave owes its colorful lava interiors, beautiful stalactites and rock formations to the volcano. The length of the route is 900 meters, which pass in the artificial light of lanterns.
The waterfall is part of the “Golden Circle” of Iceland. It starts at the Langjökull Glacier, then crosses the Höjkadalur Valley to plummet down from two escarpments with great force. It is worth visiting on its own, as it is only a 90-minute drive from Reykjavik. A few years ago the preservation of the falls was threatened by plans to build a hydroelectric power plant, fortunately this did not happen.
Atlantic Dead End
Atlantic Dead End – Birds on the Islands of Iceland
Iceland is loved by birdwatchers for the opportunity to observe the largest colony of the Atlantic stalemate. Entire colonies of these birds nest on the country’s islands. Anyone can take a boat and watch deadheads, cormorants, ducks and gulls. Observation during the courtship and nesting period of seabirds is of particular interest.
In the north-east of the country is Ausbirgi Canyon. The height of the steep walls of the canyon in some places reaches 100 meters. Its length is 3.5 km, and width is only a kilometer. In the center of the canyon towers a rock, which offers a beautiful panorama of the National Park Yokulsaurgluvur. The shape of the canyon resembles a horseshoe, which gave rise to many legends about the origin of Ausbirga. According to one of them, it is the imprint of Odin’s horse, Sleipnir.