A guide to the must have experiences in Iceland
It wasn’t easy picking just 10 amazing things to do in Iceland. With more than its fair share of natural wonders, the Land of Ice and Fire is bursting with adventure potential – whether you’re set on driving the Ring Road, descending into a volcano, spotting a humpback whale or getting into hot water at one of the country’s enticing geothermal lagoons. Here we round up our top experiences to have when planning a trip so you can really get under the skin of this beautiful country.
1. Watching out for the Northern Lights
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. Lying within the Auroral Oval on the southern edge of the Arctic Circle, you have an extremely high chance of seeing the aurora every night. Whilst you can see the lights from Reykajvik if they are intense, we would recommend planning a short drive away from the light pollution of the city to improve your chances of seeing the phenomenon. We can recommend several fabulous hotels tucked away in the countryside. Many offer an aurora wake-up service, so you can go to sleep without fear of missing a display, as well as some spectacular facilities like outdoor hot tubs should you wish to contemplate the cosmos while gently poaching yourself.
Our guide: Where to see the Northern Lights in Iceland
Suggested Itinerary: Northern Lights Special
2. Whale Watching – Europe’s Cetacean Hotspot
Husavik, in North Iceland, is known as Europe’s Whale Watching Capital. Setting sail aboard a schooner or a beautiful old converted trawler into the glittering expanse of Skjalfandi Bay, you stand a good chance of spotting minke and humpback whales, along with white-beaked dolphins and clouds of seabirds. With luck, you may even encounter the mighty blue whale – a regular visitor during late spring and summer.
Whale watching trips are also possible from Reykjavik. Between January and March, orcas gather in the bays and fjords of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to gorge on overwintering shoals of herring. They sometimes come so close inshore that you can spot them from your hotel in Grundarfjordur.
Our Guide: Whale Watching in Iceland
Suggested Itinerary: Orcas and Aurora
3. Chill Out in a Geothermal Lagoon
Relax in the steaming, mineral-rich waters of this famous open-air bathing spot, conveniently located close to Keflavik airport. The award-winning Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s premier attractions. Steaming away in a field of black basalt lava, the temperature in this stunning milky-blue lagoon averages a blissful 35-40°C. A soak here is the perfect way to top or tail any of our holidays, whatever the time of year.
You’ll find geothermal pools all over the country, including the Secret Lagoon near Fludir on the Golden Circle route, and the Nature Baths near Lake Myvatn in North Iceland. There is even a natural warm-water waterfall hidden away in the Highlands of East Iceland. Our Travel Specialists have dipped their toes in most of them – ask them for their recommendations.
Suggested Itinerary: Reykjanes Explorer and Blue Lagoon Break
4. Explore Iceland’s Volcanic Landscapes
Iceland’s volcanic landscapes are mesmerising. Glance out of the window on your approach to Keflavik airport and you will spot immense lava fields, volcanic craters and steaming geothermal lagoons and fumaroles. Most of Iceland’s volcanic and geothermal features can be visited year round.
A good place to start is the trio of attractions that make up the Golden Circle. At Geysir, you can witness Strokkur eject scalding water some 20m into the air, while at Thingvellir National Park you can walk along a rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can also snorkel or dive between the continents in the crystal clear waters of Thingvellir’s Silfra fissure or descend inside the magma chamber of an extinct volcano at Thrinukagigur.
Our Guide: Exploring Iceland’s Volcanoes
Suggested Itinerary: National Parks & Natural Wonders
5. Get to Grips with a Glacier
Whether driving a snowmobile across the smooth dome of an icecap, donning crampons for a glacier hike or setting your sights (and an ice axe) on a wall of blue ice, exploring glaciers are one of the coolest things to do in Iceland.
Take your pick from Solheimajokull – an easily accessible glacier on the South Coast that’s ideal for a guided hike – to the remote ice caves of Kverkfjoll on the northern flank of the mighty Vatnajokull icecap, requiring a full day to reach by 4WD vehicle.
For an alternative perspective on Iceland’s glaciers, don’t miss Jokulsarlon where icebergs calve off the Breidamerkurjokull glacier into an exquisite iceberg lagoon, located to the east of Skaftafell. During summer, you can take a boat trip to see the blue-ice beauties up-close. Cross the road and you’ll find the delicate, crystalline remains of icebergs washed up on a black-sand beach.
Our Guide: Touring Iceland’s Glaciers
Suggested Itinerary: Essential Iceland
6. Lose Count of Waterfalls
Iceland has countless cascades, from shimmering bridal-veil falls that you can walk behind, to thundering cappuccino-coloured torrents bloated with glacial meltwater.
In North Iceland, Dettifoss – Europe’s most powerful waterfall – roars and froths. A drive along the South Coast, meanwhile, takes you past three of Iceland’s most beautiful falls – Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Svartifoss.
Other iconic Icelandic waterfalls include Gullfoss (a twin-tiered cascade on the Golden Circle), Dynjandi (a breathtaking series of falls in the West Fjords) and the picture-perfect Kirkjufellsfoss on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula with the triangular peak of Kirkjufell looming behind.
Our Guide: Exploring Iceland’s Waterfalls by car
Suggested Itinerary: Journey to the Centre of the Earth
7. Get Off the Beaten Track in a Superjeep
With so many incredible natural wonders so easy to see along the main roads of Iceland, you may not believe that there could be more amazing sights off-road. With raised suspension and gigantic tyres, a specially modified 4WD superjeep can take you to parts of Iceland other vehicles can’t reach.
They’re particularly at home in the Highlands, traversing lava flows, fording glacial rivers and climbing onto the fringes of icecaps. We would recommend exploring Lake Askja, the “moonscape” which helped train NASA astronauts before the Apollo 11 expedition.
With an expert driver-guide at the wheel, a superjeep safari can reveal the hidden gems of Iceland’s rugged and forbidding interior. Alternatively, you can hire a superjeep yourself for the ultimate Icelandic experience.
Our guide: Car Rental in Iceland
Suggested Itinerary: Superjeep Weekend Safari
8. Drive Route 1
The Ring Road is the nickname for Route 1 in Iceland, the country’s main highway. This highway goes around the most populated areas and popular sights in the country from the Dyrhólaey cliffs and the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
The refreshingly resilient yet friendly attitude of Icelanders has stood them well over the years, and as you drive around the island on the Ring Road you’ll meet it at every turn – from fishing villages and family-run guesthouses to city cafes.
We recommend taking excursions with local guides and staying in small country properties to experience the real Iceland. You can also gain an insight into local life by visiting some of the country’s quirkier attractions.
Suggested Itinerary: Around Iceland
9. Try Gourmet Food and World-famous Hotdogs
You will work up a healthy appetite exploring Iceland’s great outdoors. Fortunately, Icelandic food is hearty and delicious and has witnessed a huge surge in its local food scene over the last few years.
The freshest possible fish and sumptuous, herb-rich organic lamb headline menus across the country. Wild mushrooms and berries flavour many dishes, while local treats include cured salmon, lobster chowder and the famous skyr – a yoghurt-like dairy cream that tastes particularly good with a dollop of blueberry jam.
Outside the capital, you’ll find most restaurants located in hotels. Some, like Hotel Ranga in the rural Southwest, are renowned for their gourmet cuisine. In Reykjavik, you’ll find high-quality restaurants serving everything from sushi to steaks. Don’t forget to try the ubiquitous hotdogs at the ‘Baejarins beztu pylsur’ kiosk in downtown Reykjavik. A favourite with locals and visitors alike, they’ve even been praised by US Presidents. Ask for one with all the extras: crisp onions, raw onions, sweet mustard, ketchup and remoulade!
Our Guide: How much things cost in Iceland
Suggested Itinerary: Summer Nights at Ranga
10. Hike the Highlands
It’s time to lace up those boots – this country was made for walking. Iceland is a sensational destination for both serious hikers and casual walkers. The hiking trails are as numerous as they are diverse, shaped by the elements to form majestic, rugged scenery unlike anywhere else in the world. Get footloose and fancy-free in a toe-tingling landscape of glacier-wrapped volcanoes and chiselled headlands. Walk across lava fields and glaciers, delve into hidden fjords and make tracks across deserted black-sand beaches.
Linking Landmannalaugar with the valley of Thorsmork in south Iceland, the iconic 55 km Laugavegur route is one of the most popular walking trails in the country and is world-class. Voted among the most beautiful hikes in the world by National Geographic, this trail is not one for first-timers but offers one of the most amazing adventures. Speak to our travel specialist to see how you could incorporate the southwest Icelandic Highlands into your trip.
Our guide: Hiking in Iceland this summer
Suggested Itinerary: Laugavegur Highland Walking Trail
Search our holiday itineraries to find out what type of experience would be the right one for you. You simply call us or send an enquiry to discuss how you can explore Iceland to suit your budget and timescale, we like to get to know our clients and talk through the options available so we can tailor-make your ideal itinerary.