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15 Best Things to Do in Iceland

Best Places to Visit and Top Attractions in Iceland

|July 5, 2023
Konstancija is a writer who enjoys long walks and hikes in nature, "hunts" for second-hand goods, and is a frequent guest in public libraries where she loves to read and roam around stacks of books.

Iceland is a small country that packs a big punch. On just one trip, you can walk on sparkling beaches, hike enormous glaciers, climb through lava caves, watch geysers erupt, explore primeval forests, and much more.


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 2023.

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 2023:

Best Activities to Do in Iceland

1. EXPLORE NATURE IN EASTFJORDS

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.

Eastfjords landscape of mountains in Iceland

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 on a dramatic basalt cliffside.

 

Eastern Iceland in 4K

 

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.

Read more: Your Guide to The Eastfjords

2. WATCH WILDLIFE IN HORNSTRANDIR NATURE RESERVE

What is it? Among places to go in Iceland is Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is known for its remoteness and beauty. Uninhabited since 1950 and located in Westfjords, the reserve is perfect for those who enjoy hiking and observing rare wildlife. Here you can meet an Arctic Fox and Atlantic puffins and see over 250 species of plants.

Hornstrandir cliff in Iceland

Why go? Although Hornstrandir is one of the most remote places in Iceland, it rewards its brave visitors with breathtaking landscapes. So there's no wonder why hikers and animal lovers find this place fascinating. 

How to visit? Because of its remoteness, the reserve can only be reached by boat and during a particular time of the year. Travelers are welcome from the end of May until September. It's best to book a guided tour for a memorable experience. Some of these include additional activities such as hiking or Arctic Fox watching in Hornstrandir. If you're up for a longer challenge, then a 3-day tour in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve should be up your alley as it invites you to explore the Westfjords. 

Read more: Hornstrandir in Iceland

3. HIKE IN SKAFTAFELL NATURE RESERVE

Walking around Skaftafell Nature Reserve in Vatnajökull National Park

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. You can also book an activity tour such as Glacier hike in Skaftafell or a more challenging ice caving and glacier hiking trip from Skaftafell.

Read more: Skaftafell

4. SNORKEL IN SILFRA FISSURE

Snorkeling 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.

 

Silfra Fissure - Snorkeling between continents in Iceland

 

How to visit? You can only float in Silfra with a qualified snorkeling guide. For this reason, it's best to book a Silfra Fissure snorkeling tour in Thingvellir National Park or browse for other top snorkeling tours that operate year-round.

Read more: Silfra Fissure

5. HIKE AND TREK IN LANDMANNALAUGAR

What is it? Located in the Highlands, Landmannalaugar is perhaps the warmest place to see in Iceland in 2023. The area is best loved for its colorful 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 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 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 the 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. During a 3-day stay at Landmannalaugar, you'll get to explore the highlands and experience living in a cabin.

Read more: Landmannalaugar Hiking Area

6. Go Whale Watching in North Iceland

Whale watching in Dalvik

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 an excellent 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!

So don't be surprised to see a RIB boat trip from Dalvik or a whale watching tour in Dalvik among popular things to do in Iceland.

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. 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

7. VISIT LAKE MÝVATN GEOTHERMAL REGION

Myvatn, Iceland in 4K (Ultra HD)

 

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 in a 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. Geothermal water is rich in 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. 

Read more: Lake Myvatn Geothermal Area

 

8. SIGHTSEE THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

The Strokkur Geyser erupting

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 route 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, Thingvellir National Park 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.

Tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park

  • 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 at sunset

  • Gullfoss Waterfall 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.

If you're more adventurous, you can spend a day on a Golden Circle tour and see its highlights in one fell swoop. And if you're looking for things to do in Iceland later in the day, why not try the Golden Circle Afternoon tour?

Read more: Iceland’s Golden Circle

9. CATCH 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. And one of the most awaited Iceland tourist attractions.

Why go? Chasing the Aurora Borealis 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.

 

Iceland Northern lights 28.10. 2019

 

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.

Who said you can't have a fun, adventurous, and comfortable chase of the Northern Lights? One of these happens during The Northern Lights minibus tour. Escape the city by hopping into a minibus and getting ready for an unforgettable spectacle in the night sky. For those who want the experience to be even more special, join The Northern Lights tour in a Super Jeep that will take you through off-beaten Icelandic paths to reach the exclusive spots for Northern Lights observation.

Wondering what else you can do in Iceland in winter? Check out our article Things to Do in Iceland in winter or take a look at our ultimate Iceland Winter Itinerary.

Read more: Northern Lights in Iceland

10. TRY ICE CAVING ON LANGJOKULL GLACIER

Man-made ice cave in Langjokull glacier

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.

Read more: The Into the Glacier Experience

11. EXPLORE THE SOUTH COAST OF ICELAND

Reynisfjara Black Sand beach in South Iceland

What is it? If you were wondering where to go in Iceland first, the South Coast is one of the main attractions among things to do in Iceland. This part of the country is quite easily accessible and is full of diverse and beautiful landscapes.

Why go? There are many great natural wonders in Iceland, and a number of them can be seen on the South Coast. Amazing waterfalls, black sand beaches, glacier lagoons, and volcanoes. Witness the magical Skogafoss waterfall known for its interesting legend and the sight of double rainbows, or see one from up close by walking behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Among things must see in Iceland is also the famous black sand beach of Reynisfjara, where the magnificent basalt sea stacks are located. Wish to know what more awaits you?

Skogafoss waterfall

How to visit? While the South Coast is pretty easily accessible thanks to the Ring Road, for an ultimate experience, join one of many different tours to the South Coast. A day of sightseeing at the South Coast and Glacier Hike tour will provide you with a memorable trip that includes a visit to Iceland's most iconic waterfalls, Solheimajokull glacier, and Hekla volcano. And if you're ready for a longer adventure, then spend a few days exploring South Coast and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, or go for an ultimate 3-day South Coast and Golden Circle tour to see the best of the land of fire and ice.

Read more: South Coast Iceland

12. VISIT SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA

Kirkjufell mountain

What is it? One of the breathtaking places in West Iceland, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula located a few hour drive from Reykjavik. This 90 kilometers long peninsula is mostly famous for being "Iceland within Iceland," meaning that here you can find a grand natural diversity.

Why go? Once you step into Snaefellsnes Peninsula, you're certain to see practically everything that Iceland has to offer. Located in the West of Iceland, the peninsula has it all: a volcano and lava fields, basalt cliffs, mountains, black sand beaches, and so much more. One of the examples of the grand jewels of the peninsula is Mount Kirkjufell (Church Mountain), famous for its eye-catching formation.

How to visit? The location can be reached by car and bus. But if you want to see the most in a short period of time, then one of the best ways to get the ultimate experience is by going on a day tour of the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Read More: Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

13. KAYAK IN JOKULSARLON GLACIER LAGOON

Couple in Kayak near Giant Iceberg

Kayaking in Jokulsarlon 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? 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 Diamond Beach is one of the most photogenic places on Earth. 

For those looking for an unforgettable experience, kayaking is among the many fun activities you can try in Jökulsárlón. It's a great way to explore the lagoon and really see and feel its intensity. If you're interested in exploring the lagoon on the water, you can join the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon kayaking tour suited for all types of paddlers.

 

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in South East Iceland

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in South East Iceland

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 to driving yourself, your way out is booking a day tour to South Coast and Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. This way, you'll get to sit back, relax, and prepare yourself for stunning Icelandic highlights. Another great way to explore the lagoon is by taking an Amphibian boat ride or Zodiac boat cruise. During the boat tour, you'll cruise on the lagoon, see its unique landscapes, and even spot some wildlife.

Being stuck for time and transport doesn't have to prevent you from heading on the open waters surrounding Iceland, book onto our kayaking tour, which takes you paddling along the shores of Hvalfjörður fjord. With pick up and drop offs from Reykjavik and a visit to a hot spring, you will feel like you've made the most of your time in Iceland.

Read more: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

14. EXPLORE REYKJANES PENINSULA

Lighthouse in Reykjanes Peninsula

What is it? Among what to see in Iceland is also Reykjanes Peninsula which is home to the Keflavík International Airport, the famous Blue Lagoon, and Fagradalsfjall volcano. The peninsula is located in South West of Iceland and is mainly known for its geothermal activity, lava fields, and volcanoes. In 2015, UNESCO made Reykjanes a Global Geopark. 

Why go? Not sure what to do in Iceland on your first day here? Take your time to explore Reykjanes, as it's conveniently located on your way to the capital. Reykjavik is recognized as a city with rich nightlife, great music festivals, many fun cafes, and delicious craft beer. 

For those who dream of starting their trip with a bang, Reykjanes peninsula provides you with an opportunity to go on a volcano hike. This volcano hike brings you to the quite recently erupted volcano site and opens up a view to the rarely seen side of nature. 

Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland. And it's a great way to freshen up after a flight or days spent getting to know Iceland. The biggest draw is the lagoon's milky blue waters surrounded by lunar-like landscapes. The 100°F (38°C) water and a free cleansing Silica Mud Mask seem to work wonders.

Woman Laying In Blue Lagoon Spa In Iceland

How to visit? It takes less than an hour to reach the peninsula from Reykjavik by car, and it's good to know many Reykjanes highlights are close to one another. For an ultimate experience, you can try out day tours with multiple attractions, such as a tour to the Meradalir volcano eruption site and Blue Lagoon or a day in Reykjanes peninsula and hot springs. So get ready for an eventful day out and proper rest at Blue Lagoon!

Read more: Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula

15. RECONNECT WITH NATURE IN WESTMAN ISLANDS

What is it? Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, is an archipelago of 15 islands with only one inhabited island called Heimaey. The archipelago is located on the South Coast of Iceland. 

Why go? The Westman Islands has the largest puffin colony in the world. Many bird lovers are welcome to spot these funny little creatures as well as learn about the island's fascinating volcanic history. Heimaey is where you'll find the Eldheimar Museum, which tells the story of a volcanic eruption in 1973. Once you learn all about this infamous event, make your way to Eldfell Volcano, the "product" of this unexpected eruption.

How to visit? It might seem that the islands are quite remote, but you will be pleasantly surprised to know that it takes less than 3 hours to reach them from the capital. Just note that the trip includes a ferry ride. If that still looks rather tricky, you can always book a day tour to the Westman Islands that already contains the whole itinerary with the island's main highlights. 

Read more: The Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar)

 

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.

Is your wanderlust calling? Looking for something in particular? Browse our Iceland excursions today to find your next adventure

 

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