Top 10 Things to do 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. This list is really just a taster. For each of the 10 highlights, we’ve suggested an Iceland holiday idea (where you will no doubt be inspired by several more highlights). Don’t forget you can also contact our Iceland Travel Specialists to tailor make a holiday that has your very own ‘Top 10’.
1. Keep watch for the northern lights
Viewing the northern lights in Iceland is possible from September to April, but to make the most of your aurora adventure in Iceland, we have a few tips. Firstly, make sure you stay in an area with dark skies – although Iceland is well within the auroral oval (the sweetspot for northern lights), light pollution from cities like Reykavik can spoil your chances of witnessing the phenomenon. We can recommend several fabulous hotels tucked away in the countryside. Several offer an aurora wake-up service, so you can go to sleep without fear of missing a display. And some have outdoor hot tubs should you wish to contemplate the cosmos while gently poaching yourself.
Secondly, plan plenty of daytime activities. The northern lights can’t be guaranteed – but if you’re unlucky with the aurora, you can still have a great holiday in Iceland; filling your days with everything from whale watching and superjeep safaris to snowmobiling and horse riding.
Holiday idea: 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 over-wintering shoals of herring. They sometimes come so close inshore that you can spot them from your hotel in Grundarfjordur.
Holiday idea: 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.
Holiday idea: Blue Lagoon Spa 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 (assuming you’re sitting on the right-hand side) you will spot immense lava fields, volcanic craters and steaming geothermal lagoons and fumaroles. While live eruptions are a dramatic spectacle (which can be visited once classed as tourist friendly), 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 (see ‘Inside the volcano‘ excursion).
Holiday idea: 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, Iceland’s glaciers are too cool to be ignored. 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.
Holiday idea: Essential Iceland
6. Lose count of waterfalls
Iceland has countless cascades, from shimmering bridal-veil falls that you can walk behind, to thundering cappucino-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.
Holiday idea: Journey to the Centre of the Earth
7. Get off the beaten track in a Superjeep
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. 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 and get a feel for an Icelandic obsession.
Holiday idea: Superjeep Weekend Safari
8. Drive route 1 with your exclusive digital companion
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. A visit to the Laxa power station in the north, for example, reveals how Icelanders harness geothermal energy, while the award-winning Eyjafjallajokull museum on the South Coast will give you renewed respect for how locals cope in the aftermath of a major volcanic eruption.
You’ll also have iDiscover to help you navigate. Exclusive to Discover the World, our next generation app sets out your full itinerary in detail as well as allowing you to find over 700 places of interest to visit around Iceland including famous landmarks, hidden gems, hikes and walks, which can be added to your daily planner.
Holiday idea: 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! 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!
Holiday idea: Summer Nights at Ranga
10. Hike the Highlands
It’s time to lace up those boots – this country was made for walking. 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. Iceland is a sensational destination for both serious hikers and casual walkers. 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.
Holiday idea: Laugavegur Highland Walking Trail
Escorted or Fly Drive?
If you are comfortable with driving, then a self drive holiday is a fantastic way to see the island independently with freedom and flexibility. Alternatively, let someone else do the driving for you by joining an escorted tour with a small group of like-minded people. You’ll benefit from the expertise of a guide for the duration of your trip, with days packed full of great sightseeing which you can talk about later with your fellow travellers over a delicious evening meal. Also a great option if you are a solo traveller.
You can visit Iceland for just a few days, as it is so quick and easy to get there a long weekend is perfectly possible. If you are looking for a short break of a few days, to either relax in the blue lagoon on a spa break, explore the famous golden circle route or look out for the northern lights – we have these options too.
Feeling inspired and ready to start planning your trip?
Search all our holidays to find the right one for you, call us or send an enquiry now and we can help you choose, or tailor-make your ideal itinerary.