Ultimate Iceland Bucketlist: 20 Best Things to Do in Iceland
Iceland seems to be in everyone’s plans nowadays and no wonder. It features iconic landscapes that will blow your mind away — including snow-capped mountains, beaches filled with glittering chunks of ice, and of course there’s also the Northern Lights. Here we’ve listed the best things to do in Iceland.
Use this guide to make the most of your trip and finally have that memorable experience that this Nordic island country promises.
- 1. See the Northern Lights
- 2. Take a dip in the Blue Lagoon
- 3. Marvel at the inside of ice caves
- 4. Walk behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall
- 5. See the amazing sights in the Golden Circle
- 6. Admire the FJaðrárgljúfur canyon
- 7. Take a boat tour in the Glacier Lagoon
- 8. Soothe your muscles in a thermal river hot spring
- 9. Book a food tour
- 10. Visit the Grotta Lighthouse
- 11. See the Skogafoss Waterfall
- 12. See the black sands of Reynisfjara Beach
- 13. Nature trek in Skaftafell Nature Reserve
- 14. Hike a glacier
- 15. Go off-the-beaten path at Westfjords
- 16. See puffins at Hafnarhólmi near Borgafjörður Eystri
- 17. Whale watching
- 18. Hike to a plane wreck
- 19. Go inside a dormant volcano
- 20. Enjoy the Midnight Sun in summer
1. See the Northern Lights
Who hasn’t dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights in person? The Northern Lights is an out-of-this-world spectacle, with lights dazzling and dancing across the night sky. To witness this phenomenon, you have to travel to the few countries located in the southern or northern hemisphere and even then cross your fingers for a clear sky for viewing.
Iceland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights because it offers visibility for 8 months in a year, from September to April. The best spots are a drive away from cities, where there is minimal to no light pollution.
You can go search for the Northern Lights on your own, although others prefer to join guided tours where there are guarantees of a do-over if the aurora is not seen on the tour date. If you’re a (budding or seasoned) photographer who wants to capture the Northern Lights, as well as see the best photographic landscapes in the country, you may opt to join one of the many photo tours in Iceland instead.
2. Take a dip in the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most famous attractions in Iceland. You can’t visit Iceland and not take an obligatory photo of yourself dipping in the mineral-rich water of this lagoon.
This iconic spot is located in Grindavík in the Reykjanes Peninsula and about half an hour’s drive from the airport. It’s actually one of the nearby places you can drive to after arrival in Iceland.
For those who find the Blue Lagoon too commercial or crowded, there are lesser-known hot pools that you can find scattered across Iceland, with some within the vicinity of Reykjavik as well. A lot of these pools are cheaper to access (some are even free) and also offer scenic backdrops.
3. Marvel at the inside of ice caves
By Mal of Bridges and Balloons
If you’re visiting Iceland in winter, don’t miss the incredible Iceland ice caves; one of Earth’s most impressive natural wonders. The caves are created when glacial rivers fall away and freeze during the winter, and they form in different shapes and locations every year. The blues are some of the most spectacular you’ll ever see.
Although the locations vary somewhat each year, some are steady, including the most popular cave, the Crystal Cave, in Vatnajökull National Park. It’s in southeast Iceland and its popularity is in part due to its accessibility: tour companies can drive right up to the entrance. Plus it’s also incredibly photogenic. If going to the Crystal Cave, combine it with a trip to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond Beach, which are both nearby.
There are many other ice caves in the country to choose from, including a man-made cave on Langjokull Glacier, which is a popular day trip from Reykjavik.
4. Walk behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall
By Claire of Zigzag on Earth
Watching the powerful Icelandic waterfalls is a must-do on any trip. One of the most popular is Seljalandsfoss, because you can walk behind it. Here, the water from the Eyjafjallajökull glacier drops 60m (around 200 ft) over an ancient sea cliff and into a pool.
From the front it definitely is not the prettiest. However, as soon as you walk behind, all your senses are triggered for an unforgettable experience: seeing through the water, hearing the loud crash into the pool, and feeling the droplets on your ski
You can also check out the second waterfall: Gljufrafoss. Walk for 5 min walk along the cliff and you will discover a hidden canyon, and inside a waterfall!
This is one of the South Coast falls. By car, it is less than 2 hours away from Reykjavik. It is a very popular Icelandic attraction, so you should visit early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds. And wear walking shoes as it gets slippery behind the falls!
5. See the amazing sights in the Golden Circle
By Helen on Her Holidays
Even if you’re only in Iceland for a day or two, seeing the sights on the Golden Circle is absolutely unmissable. The Golden Circle takes in some of the best sights within an easy drive of Reykjavik and is a great way of getting a taste of the awesomeness that Iceland has to offer.
There are three key sights on the Golden Circle, which can be visited in any order. The most sedate is the Þingvellir National Park, where you can see where the European and North American tectonic plates meet and walk in between the two continents. Þingvellir is also Iceland’s most historic site as it was where the island’s first parliament met. It’s the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Iceland.
The Haukadalur geothermal area, where you can see the Strokkur geyser erupt every 15 minutes or so is the most exciting sight on the Golden Circle. First the water creates a giant blue bubble on the ground, before a torrent of hot water shoots up to 10 metres into the air.
The most magnificent sight on the Golden Circle is the Gullfoss waterfall. You’ll approach the falls from above, which gives the impression that the wide, three-stage waterfall is plunging the Hvítá river straight into the depths of the earth. If you visit Iceland in winter, you might be lucky enough to see Gullfoss at least partly frozen.
Lots of tour companies in Iceland offer Golden Circle tours, or you can choose to drive yourself. To drive the entire route is around 150 miles and will take between 3 and 4 hours, excluding stops at the sights. As the name suggests, the route is circular, and on your way back to Reykjavik you can make an additional stop at the Kerið volcanic crater, which is now a stunning lake. Make sure you look out for adorable Icelandic horses along the way as well!
6. Admire the FJaðrárgljúfur canyon
By Deborah of Passport the World
Fjaðrárgljúfur! No foreigner knows how to pronounce this word but that doesn’t matter. FJaðrárgljúfur canyon is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Iceland. What used to be a hidden destination became world famous because it was featured in a Justin Bieber video. This impressive canyon is located 250 kilometers from Reykjavik in a rugged landscape. Fjaðrárgljúfur is 2 kilometers long and has steep walls up to 100 meter. There is a river than flows through the canyon and because of the difference in heights there are several waterfalls to observe.
It is possible to visit the canyon and enjoy amazing views from above. There is an easy hiking path, offering viewpoints along the trail. And you will notice that the view and light is different from every single corner.
It is recommended to visit the canyon in different seasons, if you have the time, as you will experience it completely different. The rocks are dark but in summer you will see a lot of greenery. In autumn the grass turns dark, wich gives it a moody vibe. And although the canyon might be difficult to access in winter, the ice and snow make it a spectacular sight.
7. Take a boat tour in the Glacier Lagoon
By Stephanie of The Unknown Enthusiast
Jökulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is one of the most iconic spots in Iceland! The lagoon is formed where the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier’s melt waters gather and chunks of the glacier break off, forming icebergs. These icebergs drift and float in the lagoon until they reach a short channel that goes to the sea.
And the effect is absolutely stunning! The icebergs themselves range from very small to quite large, and are a variety of colors! Some are white as snow (and sometimes, like snow, these icebergs have dirt streaks in them). Some are clear and shiny, almost like crystal. And some really special icebergs actually are blue!
There is a large parking lot at Jökulsarlon on the east side of the bridge that crosses the channel. This is your access point to many of the paid activities, but also serves as a spot where you can watch the icebergs. You can sit up at the top of a ridge, or go down closer to the water — both views are incredible and offer unique perspectives! You can choose to do a boat tour or a kayak tour of the lagoon, weaving in and out of the bergs and getting up close and personal with the ice.
Keep your eyes open for numerous types of birds, but especially for seals! They like to swim back and forth between the sea and the lagoon.
There are clean, 24 hour bathrooms available here, as well as a little cafe on site open during daytime hours.
Jökulsarlon is popular and can get busy, so if you want a more personal, secluded experience, consider coming first thing in the morning or later at night. But don’t let the thought of crowds scare you off; this is a must see location!
8. Soothe your muscles in a thermal river hot spring
By Jessica of Uprooted Traveler
For a unique experience in southwestern Iceland, add Reykjadalur hot springs to your bucketlist. “Reykjadalur” literally means “steam valley” if that tells you anything about what this gem offers — a cozy thermal river, tucked away in the rolling green hills of the Reykjadalur valley.
To reach these springs, you’ll need to hike 1.2 miles one-way into the mountains. The trailhead is located near the town of Hveragerði, approximately a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik and located en route to other popular stops on the Ring Road, like Vik.
The trailhead starts by Dalakaffi, a tiny coffee shop that’s perfect to grab a hot drink to warm up before your hike. From here, you’ll follow along a trail that climbs through Iceland’s rolling green fields — passing by towering waterfalls, pools of electric blue water (from natural silica), bubbling mudpots, and adorably weathered Icelandic sheep. In fact, the hike here is so stunning, it’s arguably better than your final destination — the hot springs!
You’ll know that you have reached the end of your hike when you see a wooden boardwalk and some privacy dividers built along the riverside, which has been constructed to aid visitors to get in and enjoy the hot springs. You can slip into your bathing suit here or alternatively, it’s fairly common to see visitors jump into the river in the nude. The further upstream you go, the hotter the river becomes, so you’ll need to wade around a bit to find a spot that’s just right for you. Once you do, sit back, enjoy the payoff from your hike, and soak in the incredible views surrounding you in the Land of Fire and Ice.
9. Book a food tour
By Katie and Ben of Two Wandering Soles
While in Reykjavik, there are plenty of opportunities to sample Icelandic food, but perhaps the best way to learn about the country’s cuisine and try a variety of authentic flavors is by taking a food tour. Wake Up Reykjavik has a walking food tour which brings guests all around the city and gives them the chance to try 8 different dishes and learn a bit about how they gained popularity. On this food tour, you’ll eat at a variety of different places — from chic establishments with modern twists on Icelandic cuisine to hole-in-the wall joints with classic comfort food dishes, you truly do get a variety of bites.
Taking a food tour is a great way to begin a trip to Iceland, as you’ll have a better understanding of what dishes to try during your stay. However, it can also be an incredible way to end your vacation, as it’s one of the best foodie experiences you can have in Iceland. No matter when you book your Reykjavik food tour, you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation of the country’s cuisine as well as a very full stomach!
10. Visit the Grotta Lighthouse
Vicky of Buddy The Traveling Monkey
One of the best things to do in Iceland is to visit the Grotta Lighthouse, just outside of Reykjavik. The lighthouse is located on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula. You can get there by car, bus, or you can walk or bike there. By car, it only takes about 10 minutes to get there from downtown Reykjavik.
Unfortunately, the lighthouse itself isn’t usually open to visitors, but you can walk out to it during low tide. The surrounding area is really nice as well, with cool rock formations, old anchors, and lots of birds. Speaking of birds, if you’re a birder, keep an eye out for placards that have pictures and descriptions of birds that are common to the area. Something to note, however, is that the islet is closed off during June while birds are nesting.
If you visit the lighthouse during winter time, it’s also a good place to try and see the northern lights since it’s outside the city.
11. See the Skogafoss Waterfall
By Mal from Raw Mal Roams
Iceland is one of the most beautiful destinations in Europe that is great to visit all year round. And one of the best things to do in Iceland is exploring its many fantastic waterfalls.
Skogafoss waterfall is one of the most spectacular, and a trip to Iceland would not be complete without paying a visit to this natural wonder! Skogafoss waterfall measures 60 meters in height and 25 meters in depth. It was formed by a glacier many years ago. The mighty waters of Skogafoss crush down from a cliff creating lots of spray. On a sunny day, the show is truly spectacular, and if you’re lucky, you may witness a beautiful rainbow created by the spray and the sun rays.
For a fabulous view of the waterfall and the surrounding landscape, climb the 500 steps to a viewpoint situated on the right side of the waterfall. The path is steep, but it only takes a few minutes to get up, and you won’t regret the climb!
Skogafoss is situated within 2 hours drive east of Reykjavik. The waterfall is great to visit any time of the day, but if you’re a photographer, I recommend visiting early in the morning when the sun lights the water with a golden glow.
12. See the black sands of Reynisfjara Beach
By Rasika or Bae Area & Beyond
Reynisfjara beach is one of the most interesting and beautiful places in Iceland that you need to see. Located on the southern coast of Iceland, it’s a popular black sand beach. The beach is around 2.5 hours away from the capital, Reykjavík, and is a smooth drive with stops along the way.
Admire the Reynisdrangar, which are basalt sea stacks that rise up out of the ocean. Adjacent to the ocean, the beach also features an amazing cliff of basalt columns resembling a rocky step pyramid. The column formation at Reynisfjara formed as a result of the basalt cave lava flowing from the fissure swells and hardened with sea water, meeting in a crevice and cooling rapidly. The columns have been shaped by the sea and wind over time into what we see today. While it’s a popular place for tourists to visit and watch the massive waves crash against the shore, be careful of sneaker waves and never turn your back from these massive waves.
13. Nature trek in Skaftafell Nature Reserve
By Deanne of Scenic and Savvy
Iceland’s Skaftafell nature reserve is a must-see destination in this country full of unique and diverse landscapes. Exploring the rugged terrain, you’ll find beautiful panoramas of valleys, glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, gorges, and craggy cliffs.
Located in southeast Iceland about 4 hours from Reykjavik, Skaftafell was established as its own national park in 1967, but then became part of the newly created Vatnajökull National Park in 2008.
On your visit, start at the Visitor’s Center to learn details about Skaftafell’s history and geology. From there you can choose from a variety of hiking trails to explore. If you’re not an avid hiker, that’s okay. There are some short and fairly easy trails that lead to phenomenal views of glaciers and waterfalls.
The hike to Svartifoss is less than a mile. This trail begins with an uphill climb at the beginning, but then you are rewarded with blanket views of this cascading 65-foot waterfall surrounded by unique basalt columns. More waterfalls and glacier views welcome you on your way through the park, making Skaftafell a worthwhile addition to your Iceland itinerary.
14. Hike a glacier
By Cynthia of Sharing the Wander
One of the most unique experiences you can have in Iceland is to go for a guided hike on a glacier! One of the best places to do this is on Sólheimajökull glacier in southern Iceland, close to the town of Vik. Depending on your tour operator, you may also have the option of climbing a section of the glacier with ropes and helmets, if you are feeling adventurous!
Your tour company will supply crampons for your boots and a snow axe so you can walk safely on the glacier. Your guides will make sure you know where it’s safe to step, as often ice fissures can be covered by snowfall.
You will experience the amazing vivid blue colors of the glacier, as well as possibly walk through an ice tunnel or into an ice cave. You will learn more about these natural wonders, which are slowly receding across the country. The glacier itself is sculptural — its shapes ranging from rolling sheets to deep crevasses, tunnels, and caves.
Glacier hikes are available October to March, when the ice is solid. The tours run about a half a day, with 2-3 hours spent actually on the ice. The basic glacier hike is not a difficult, strenuous or technical hike — it’s great for a variety of ages and athletic abilities. Many tours have a minimum age of 10 years old.
15. Go off-the-beaten path at Westfjords
By Greta of Greta’s Travels
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Iceland, you have to add the Westfjords to your bucket list. Also known as Iceland’s Best Kept Secret, the Westfjords are Iceland’s most rural and less touristy region.
Like most of Iceland, it’s a must-see especially for anyone who loves nature and being outdoors. The biggest town in the Westfjords is Isafjordur, with just over 2,500 inhabitants. You can base yourself here while exploring the Westfjords, or in the nearby town of Patreksfjordur, with around 650 inhabitants.
From both of these towns you can easily do day trips to the main landmarks of the Westfjords. Among these the most impressive are without a doubt Dynjandi Falls, Rauðasandur Beach, and Latrabjarg.
Latrabjarg is the most Western point in both Iceland and Europe. It’s a 14 km long promontory, with cliffs up to 440m high. Besides its stunning natural beauty, it’s famous also because it’s a nesting site for puffins, which you can often see perched on the side of the cliffs. The wind here is so strong that there are signs everywhere advising you to crawl to the edge on your stomach if you want to see the puffins, as standing close to the edge can be dangerous.
Dynjandi is a huge waterfall composed of seven smaller waterfalls. You can hike all the way up to the main waterfall, but be careful where you tread as the path can get very slippery! From here you will be able to enjoy the power of the waterfalls up close, as well as an epic view over the fjords and sea.
You can expect great things also from Rauðasandur, the famous Red Beach. Unlike the beaches in the south of Iceland that are black due to volcanic activity, this one is characterised by red sand. It’s a 10km stretch of red sand beach, where you can often find seals basking in the sun.
There are many other gorgeous sites in the Westfjords, but these are the most notable and impressive from a natural point of view. No trip to Iceland would be complete without a visit to these off the beaten path sights.
16. See puffins at Hafnarhólmi near Borgafjörður Eystri
By Suzanne of Meandering Wild
Puffins are one of the best known species of wildlife in Iceland and a must for many visitors. All over Iceland it is possible to see puffins, but the best place is an island of puffins in the far east of Iceland.
Borgafjörður Eystri is located in the East fjords region of Iceland and is reached following route 94 from Egilsstaðir. The drive is about 9 hours from Reykjavík, but there are so many things to see along the way it is a perfect stop from a ring road tour. Route 94 is a mix of dirt track and paved road and goes over a mountain pass. It is possible to drive it in most vehicles but you do need to check the weather and road conditions before setting off even in summer.
The puffins nest on the small island from April until early August and can be seen easily from boardwalks that go across the island. The puffins are not bothered by humans and will walk around you and come and go.
Look out for them arriving with beaks full of sand eels that they take down into their burrows. They will also collect nesting materials and spend time working on their burrows, making the entrances tidy. There are also arguments between puffins which are fun to watch.
Outside of the puffin nesting season the island is empty but the village of Borgafjörður Eystri has a pretty church and the ‘hairy house’ which is covered in turf.
17. Whale watching
By Yulia from MissTourist
Did you know that Iceland is home to the “whale-watching capital of Europe”? Yep, that’s right, Húsavík in the north of Iceland is said to be the best place to spot whales in Europe with tour operators boasting a 100% chance of spotting these incredible creatures during some seasons.
The best time of year to spot migratory whales is from April to September when up to 23 different whale species can be spotted including the huge Humpback and Sperm Whales. While you have a chance of spotting all 23 species in the North of Iceland, some whales can be spotted all year round from anywhere in Iceland, including Reykjavik. So why not rent a car in Iceland and take a whale-watching road trip!?
Minke Whales are the most common and can grow up to 9 meters in length, but if you are searching for the giant Humpbacks, your best bet is in the north. Orca whales, on the other hand, are most commonly seen in the East Fjords, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and along the southern coast which are rich in herring.
18. Hike to a plane wreck
By Victoria of Iceland Trippers
There are so many things to do in Iceland , but nothing beats visiting the famous Iceland Plane Crash! Luckily, nobody died in this crash in 1973, which makes visiting it and taking photos acceptable, and you shouldn’t miss it. There are a lot of rumors surrounding the plane crack, but people think it is because the pilot switched to the wrong fuel tank.
When visiting the wreck, park just off the Ring Road and then walk quite a distance across a flat black sand beach until you reach it. Once you are there, you shouldn’t climb on top of it as it isn’t structurally sound and the Icelandic people ask that you do not, in order to preserve it. You can walk inside of it, around it, and take as many photos of it as you want!
You should budget a decent amount of time as the walk is 2.5 miles one way. The hike is just boring and long, but it isn’t difficult as you are walking on flat ground. The end view of an airplane on a black sand beach is well worth it and you shouldn’t skip it.
19. Go inside a dormant volcano
By Raksha of Solo Passport
One of the most amazing and unique things to do in Iceland is going inside a volcano. There is a 4000-year-old dormant volcano called Thrihnukagigur where one can go inside to see the magma chamber of the volcano. Discovered in 1974, Thrihnukagigur literally translates into “Three Peaks Crater” and is the only volcano in the world where people are allowed to take an elevator into a magma chamber.
The activity of going inside the volcano is conducted by a tour called Inside the volcano and it usually takes around 5 to 6 hours.
The experience is divided into two parts. The first part is a short hike of 3 kilometers one way, and it is from the meeting point of the tour to the base of the volcano. The second part is taking an elevator into the magma chamber from the base. The descent into the volcano is about 120 meters into the volcano. You can see different layers of the magma chamber once inside the volcano and you can stay for around 30 minutes before ascending to the base.
20. Enjoy the Midnight Sun in summer
By Melissa of Parenthood and Passports
Iceland is one of the few places in the world where you can experience daylight in the middle of the night. Because Iceland sits north of the Arctic Circle, during winter time the sun doesn’t come up and in summer, it doesn’t set. This fun fact about Iceland makes the country one of the most interesting places to visit for science lovers.
June and July are the best months to travel to Iceland if you want to see the midnight sun. However, the sunlight is still visible at night as early as May and as late as August. One of the best aspects of the midnight sun is that it allows you to explore this fascinating country at all hours of the day or night. You can visit many of Iceland’s popular natural attractions late at night or early in the morning without worrying about the crowds or losing light while sightseeing.
However, if visiting Iceland in summer, you’ll want to make sure to book a hotel or campervan with blackout curtains to block the light while you sleep.
There are so many fascinating things to do in Iceland and it’s no wonder this country is receiving more tourists than ever. It’s recommended to stay at least 7-8 days in Iceland to see its major tourist attractions and more depending on what you want to do and where you want to go.
As some veteran travelers would advise, the best sights can be found when you venture out of the capital of Reykjavik, so you might want want to plan a long-enough trip.
Do you have other recommendations on things to do in Iceland? Let us know in the comments section below!
Katherine Cortes is a 30-something freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).
Danial (Dan On The Road)
Iceland is just simply a nature lovers’ paradise. I wouls definitely be take on the dormant volcano tour, it’s not always you can tour around the inside of a volcano!
Wonderful photos. You have an eye for great photography! And the inspiring story as well. Hopefully, someday I will get the chance to see the Northern Light myself too 😀