15 Best Things to Do in Iceland
Iceland is a small country that packs a big punch. Discover this country with our list of the best things to do in Iceland. From walks on black beaches to hikes on Europe’s largest glaciers, this is your ultimate Iceland checklist for 2020.
The arrival of a new year always comes with new travel trends. We’ve reviewed popular places, checked out what’s different, and updated our itineraries to include new opportunities. Here are our best picks for Iceland’s must-see and must-do things in 2020:
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1. Unplug from Modern Life in East Iceland
What is it? East Iceland is a region with so much still undiscovered by tourists. The area’s biggest attractions are the Eastfjords, quaint fishing villages, and roaring waterfalls.
Why go? Since tourists don’t often go to the East Coast, the land is peaceful and pristine. If you want to experience Iceland at its most authentic, venture eastward.
The East Coast is dotted with charming fishing villages that have populated the region for centuries. In villages such as Djúpivogur, you can sample traditional Icelandic seafood and appreciate the slow pace of life. Near Djúpivogur, be sure to see the quirky outdoor installation Eggin í Gleðivík (“The Eggs of Merry Bay”).
While in the East, make a stop at Hengifoss Waterfall. This natural wonder is one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland and is set in a dramatic basalt cliffside.
How to visit? The fastest way to reach East Iceland is to catch a flight from Reykjavik to Egilsstaðir, the capital of East Iceland. There are scheduled flights from Reykjavik to Egilsstaðir 3-4 times every day. Once there, join our exclusive 5-Day Authentic Iceland Tour.
Read more: Your Guide to The Eastfjords
2. Climb Vatnajökull, the Largest Glacier in Europe
What is it? The largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, covers 8% of Iceland’s total area and has over 30 outlet glaciers. Plus it’s now Iceland’s latest UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Why go? You can’t leave Iceland without spending time on the ice. Visitors to Vatnajökull can crawl through ice caves, take a boat ride in the lagoon below, or go snowmobiling. However, we believe the best way to appreciate this glacier is to hike it.
With the assistance of a hiking guide, almost anybody can trek up the slopes of Europe’s greatest ice caps. Reaching the summit of Vatnajökull’s outlet glaciers, you’ll feel like a true mountaineer.
How to visit? You’ll need a professional glacier hiking guide to conquer an ice cap. On our glacier hiking tours, an experienced guide will carefully lead you across the ice.
Read more: Vatnajokull Glacier & National Park
3. Explore Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
What is it? Jökulsárlón is the largest glacier lagoon in Iceland and is not far from Vatnajokull. The waters of Jökulsárlón glitter with blue and crystal icebergs. The cinematic lagoon has been featured in two James Bond movies, a Tomb Raider movie, and “Batman Begins.”
Why go? If you aren’t sure what to see in Iceland with kids, you can’t go wrong with visiting Jökulsárlón. You can choose to either explore the lagoon from the distance or take a boat ride among bobbing icebergs. Kids will love to spot the giant chunks of ice that fill the lagoon.
Jökulsárlón is well worth the visit in all seasons. In the summer, adorable seals flip in the water and sunbathe on the icebergs. In winter, snow transforms the lagoon into a frozen fantasyland. On especially dark nights, the Northern Lights reflect off the ice.
From Jökulsárlón you can easily walk to the famous Diamond Beach. This black sand beach sparkles with colorful icebergs that wash up on the beach as they flow from the lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean. Photographers agree that the Diamond Beach is one of the most photogenic places on Earth.
How to visit? Jökulsárlón is a 5-hour drive from Reykjavik. En route, you’ll pass amazing waterfalls and black sand beaches. If you’re not up for the drive, check out our guided Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon tours.
If you want to find out more about family vacations in Iceland, take a look at our list of Things to Do in Iceland With Kids.
Read more: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
4. Step Into the World’s Largest Man-Made Ice Cave
What is it? Iceland’s most ambitious project. The artificial cave is located in Langjokull Glacier, Iceland’s second-largest ice cap. The ice cave is also known as the Into the Glacier experience.
Why go? The Into the Glacier promises an adventure unlike any other you’ve experienced before! You’ll ride in a repurposed NATO missile launcher truck to reach the entrance of the cave, located close to the top of the glacier. Then you’ll explore a dim LED-lit tunnel that stretches 500-m (1,640 ft) deep into the ice cap.
This ice caving adventure is for everyone. “We have children as young as two months old, people up to 95, and everything in between,” Sigurður Skarphéðinsson, managing director of Into the Glacier, told Totally Iceland magazine.
How to visit? To visit the Langjokull ice cave, you need to join a guided tour. For the ultimate experience, check out our Golden Circle & Into the Glacier Ice Cave Tour.
Read more: The Into the Glacier Experience
5. Snorkel in Silfra Fissure
What is it? Silfra Fissure is the world’s top diving site. Snorkeling in Silfra was recently voted one of the top 10 things to do in the world by Trip Advisor’s 2019 Travelers’ Choice. Hands down, it’s the most awe-inspiring place to visit in Iceland.
Why go? Silfra is the only place in the world where you can literally swim between two tectonic plates. And this rugged gorge is filled with the clearest water on Earth. With visibility exceeding over 300 ft (90 m), Silfra is sure to blow your mind!
Once you venture underwater, be wowed by moonlight lava rocks and seaweed forests. The water temperature in Silfra is 35-37°F (2-4°C) year-round. Sounds like a cold experience? Not at all. You’ll wear a dry suit that will keep you warm throughout your snorkeling adventure.
How to visit? You can only float in Silfra with a qualified snorkeling guide. Browse our top snorkeling tours that operate year-round.
Read more: Silfra Fissure
6. Trek Landmannalaugar
What is it? Located in the Highlands, Landmannalaugar is perhaps the warmest place to see in Iceland in 2020. The area is best-loved for its colourful hills, hot springs, and hiking trails.
Why go? Landmannalaugar holds some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Iceland. The area is also a starting point for the Laugavegur Trail, an epic 4-day trek to Þórsmörk (“Valley of Thor”). The Laugavegur Trail was named one one of the world’s best hiking trails by National Geographic. And Fodor’s Travel just named this trail one of Europe’s most epic hiking trails.
After a day spent hiking, relax in natural hot springs with unbelievable views. These warm oases will be tough to leave!
The best time to visit Landmannalaugar is in summer, when the days are the longest and warmest. Besides, Iceland becomes the land of the Midnight Sun in summer. For more summer vacation ideas, check out our list of things to do in Iceland in summer.
How to visit? Landmannalaugar is just a 3 to 4 hours’ drive from Reykjavik. To reach Landmannalaugar, you’ll need a 4×4 vehicle or you can join a guided Landmannalaugar tour. While you can explore the area on a long day trip, many travelers choose an overnight stay at the Landmannalaugar huts.
Read more: Landmannalaugar Hiking Area
7. Go Whale Watching in North Iceland
What is it? North Iceland packs the best of Iceland minus the crowds. Expect to see waterfalls, glaciers, and whale-filled bays. Rated one of the best destinations in Europe by Lonely Planet, Iceland’s north is a great option for a week-long trip.
Why Go? To get inspired by marine wildlife. There’s no better place to spot the country’s most majestic creatures than Dalvík, the whale watching hub of Iceland. Whale watching tours from Dalvík offer a 99.5% chance of seeing a whale. The odds don’t get better than that!
The area around Dalvík is full of fascinating sights. Nearby lies the town of Akureyri, the cultural capital of the North. From there you can drive through the dramatic mountain scenery of Eyjafjörður and the stunning coastline of Tröllaskagi Peninsula. While you’re up north, be sure to grab a bite of the freshest fish you’ll ever taste.
How to visit? The best way to visit North Iceland is to take a self-drive tour or a guided tour. If you’re up for a road trip, check out the brand-new Arctic Coast Way self-drive tour. Alternatively, enjoy the company of expert guides on our Northeast Iceland tours.
If you want to find out more about Iceland’s magnificent north, take a look at our list of top things to do in North Iceland.
Read more: Whale Watching in Iceland
8. See The Magical West Iceland
What is it? West Iceland (Vesturland) collects the best of Iceland in one place and is a great place for those with an interest in Icelandic sagas.
Why go? No ultimate trip to Iceland is complete without the grand nature of the West. This is a land of giant craters, lava fields, strange rock formations, and snaking fjords. There you can also meet Icelandic horses up close and personal.
When in West Iceland, don’t miss the short hike up to Grábrók volcano crater. The view of the surrounding lava field and fjord from the top of the crater is nothing short of breathtaking. You can also hike around ghostly Barnafoss Waterfall (“The Children’s Falls”), an icy blue waterfall immersed in dark folklore and Hraunfossar Waterfall (“The Lava Falls”), where thousands of white rapids shoot out of a lava field.
Also nestled in West Iceland is Reykjavik, the capital city. Visitors can explore the mystical landscapes of West Iceland and still return to Reykjavik before nightfall.
How to visit? From Reykjavik, it’s a short drive to West Iceland. The best way to explore the area is on foot. You can also join our latest West Iceland Tour, with expert commentary en route.
9. Experience Reykjavik Nightlife
What is it? Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital. And its nightlife scene is legendary. With lots of craft-beer bars and funky cafes, the city barely sleeps at night.
Why go? No trip to Reykjaik would be complete without experiencing Reykjavik’s crazy nightlife. The city’s nightlife centers around a street called Laugavegur. The street is lined with high-end drinking places and trendy clubs. Most places are open until 2:00 a.m. during the week and won’t close until 5:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Wondering what to do in Reykjavik in Iceland? Now you know. Let’s party the night away.
How to visit? Reykjavik is a walkable city. With most popular bars located within a minute’s walk of one another, it’s super easy to explore Reykjavik on foot. If you want company, join our guided Reykjavik pub crawl and see how the locals like to party.
Read more: Reykjavik: The Capital of Iceland
10. Go Hiking in Skaftafell Nature Reserve
What is it? Skaftafell Nature Reserve is an idyllic oasis within Vatnajökull National Park. Skaftafell was its own park until it merged with Vatnajökull in 2008, forming the largest national park in Europe.
Why go? Skaftafell is filled with forests, glaciers, volcanoes, and mountains, all surrounded by black sand deserts. This incredible environmental diversity makes Skaftafell a hiker’s paradise. No matter your experience level, a walk through these emerald birch forests will transport you to a land before time. Keep an eye out for fluffy arctic foxes and minks.
How to visit? You can rent a car and hit the road straight to Skaftafell Visitor Center, which is located about 4 hours from Reykjavik. Alternatively, you can visit Skaftafell on our 2-Day South Coast Tour.
Read more: Skaftafell
11. Visit Lake Mývatn Geothermal Region
What is it? The Mývatn area is one of the most geologically active regions in Iceland. If you’re still looking for a reason why to go to Iceland, look no more.
Why go? The mystical Lake Mývatn looks like it’s from another planet. The area is spotted with volcano craters, lava islands, and electric hot springs. It’s no wonder two Star Wars movies were filmed on the moonlike location! Oh, and have we mentioned that it’s also home to the famous Mývatn Nature Baths?
The Mývatn Nature Baths are often referred to as the Blue Lagoon of the North. However, the baths have a big advantage over the Blue Lagoon. Fewer tourists come to Lake Mývatn, guaranteeing visitors a peaceful soak.
In the Nature Baths, the water shoots directly out of the ground. The geothermal water is rich with minerals that are great for your health and spirit.
How to visit? You’ll find Mývatn in North Iceland, about a 6-hour drive from Reykjavik. However, we don’t recommend doing the drive in one day since there is too much to see along the way. You can also join a guided tour from Reykjavik where expert guides will show all the best spots.
Read more: Lake Myvatn Geothermal Area
12. Take a Dip in the Blue Lagoon
What is it? The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most popular tourist attraction and one of the world’s most famous geothermal spas. It’s one of the must see places in Iceland, no matter the season.
Why go? For many visitors, a visit to the Blue Lagoon is a must do in Iceland. The lagoon’s milky blue waters surrounded by lunar-like landscapes is the biggest draw. The 100°F (38°C) water is ideal for soothing your muscles or relieving jet lag. A free cleansing Silica Mud Mask is a treat, too.
How to visit? The Blue Lagoon is located only 20 minutes from Keflavik Airport and 45 minutes from Reykjavik. Visit the spa before or after catching your flight. You can book your transfer directly from our page Blue Lagoon Transfer.
Note that to visit the Blue Lagoon, you need to book several days ahead.
Read more: Iceland’s Blue Lagoon
13. Cruise Along the Golden Circle
What is it? The Golden Circle is the name given to Iceland’s classic day trip. The route includes three popular attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.
Why go? If you have only one day in Iceland, the Golden Circle offers the most diverse scenery, plus it has a rich history. Find short descriptions of the Golden Circle stops below.
- Þingvellir National Park is incredibly important for Iceland’s history and geography. In 2014, UNESCO deemed the park a World Heritage Site because of its global significance. Iceland’s (and the world’s) first parliament was held here in 930 C.E. As far as birthplaces of democracy go, Þingvellir gives Athens a run for its money! Þingvellir is not only central to human history, but also geology. The Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet in the center of the park. This is one of the only places in the world where you can actually see the continents come together.
- Geysir Geothermal Area is home to the Great Geysir, the grandfather of all geysers. After all, the English word “geyser” derives from the name of this Icelandic hot spring. Geysir doesn’t erupt very often these days, though scientists suspect a comeback soon. Only 300 feet from the Great Geysir, Strokkur Hot Spring delights visitors with an outburst of water every 4-10 minutes. Many other spouting geysers populate the area, as well as bubbling mud pots and hot pools.
- Gullfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s most beautiful wonders. The name means “golden falls,” a reference to how the water shines like gold on sunny days. While this waterfall is not Iceland’s tallest, it’s one of its most impressive. The bubbling waters plummet down two drops and then disappear into Hvítá River Canyon.
How to visit? Located just 45 minutes from Reykjavik, the Golden Circle is easily doable in a day. If you want to avoid the hassle of planning a trip, check out our expert-led Golden Circle tours. BONUS: you can combine sightseeing with thrilling activities like snowmobiling or snorkeling.
Read more: Iceland’s Golden Circle
14. Spy the Northern Lights
What is it? The Northern Lights are a magical site on clear nights in Iceland from mid- September to mid-April. The lights are caused by charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and cause it to glow. These dancing lights are also known as aurora borealis.
Why go? Chasing the Northern Lights is one of the most thrilling winter activities in Iceland. Located just below the Arctic Circle, Iceland is a great place to see the lights. The aurora paints the sky in shades of green, yellow, and purple. For space lovers, witnessing this rare cosmic event is an adventure of a lifetime.
As the lights are best viewed on cold nights, winter months are the best to spy the aurora. Some say that February and March tend to have the clearest skies. So plan your trip accordingly.
How to visit? For the highest chances to see the aurora, you’ll need to get away from the city lights. The best way to do so would be to join a guided Northern Lights tour. On a guided tour, you’ll go to the remote countryside, away from the crowds and light pollution. Guides monitor the aurora and weather forecasts closely to increase your chances.
Read more: Northern Lights in Iceland
15. Drive The Ring Road
What is it? The Ring Road is the ultimate Icelandic road trip. The 830-mi (1330-km) long route circles the whole island and comprises Iceland’s greatest sites.
Why go? The incredible scenery along the way is to die for. The route follows ice-capped mountains, black sand beaches, volcanoes, hot springs, fjords, and waterfront towns. The Ring Road will take you to all the attractions on this list and much more, ensuring you make the most of your week in iceland.
Let’s be real: if you want to really see Iceland, you have to do the entire Ring Road. This route has more scenic highlights than it has cars. Even better? The route is accessible year-round.
How to visit? You can either rent a car and make your own Ring Road itinerary; or join our epic 6-Day Tour around the Ring Road. This guided journey was awarded Tour of the Year by Tourradar in 2017, 2018, and 2019, so it must be good.
Read more: The Ring Road: Route 1 Around Iceland
Stay updated. We constantly update our top recommendations for the best things to do in Iceland to keep you informed about the latest trends and hottest destinations.
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