Best things to do in Iceland
Find out more about those top places in Iceland
Perched at the end of Iceland’s longest fjord, the dramatic Eyjafjördur, and nestled beneath a towering snow-capped tabletop mountain, Akureyri is Iceland’s picture-perfect second city. However, with only 18 000 residents, do not expect the city to be a bustling metropolis. While Akureyri has a clutch of cool bars, artisanal coffee houses and contemporary art galleries, it has retained a small-town feel that makes it an ideal jumping off point to explore northern Iceland’s natural wonders. In the winter the nearby mountains provide opportunities for both on and off-piste skiing while the Eyjafjördur is accessible for hiking and boat trips in the summer months. What is more, in a country that sometimes feels like an endless expanse of tundra, the forest of Kjarnaskógur offers a welcome change of scenery.
Nestled in the volcanic landscape of northern Iceland, Lake Myvatn is rightly considered one of the country’s most jaw-dropping locations. Tours of the breathtaking lake encompass bubbling geothermal mud-pools, vast lava fields and seismic ravines in the earth’s surface. After all this, you will get the chance to relax at the Myvatn Nature Baths.
To satisfy your inner adrenaline junky, head for Iceland’s raging East Glacial River where you can ride over the heart pumping Screaming Lady and Jumping Rock rapids before admiring the awe-inspiring landscape from the tranquility of the confluence of the East and West rivers.
With a host of impressive vintage airplanes, the Aviation Museum is the best place in Iceland to get to grips with the country’s fascinating history of flight.
To witness the raw power of nature there is no better place to go than the breathtaking Dettifoss Waterfall, which is thought to be Europe’s largest. Every second a massive 400 cubic meters of water plunge over the craggy precipice sending spray into the air that forms spectacular double rainbows in summer.
The Lofthellir Ice Cave is one of Iceland’s most mystical attractions. Dating back nearly four millennia, the cave was formed as a result of explosive volcanic eruptions and today is filled with a phantasmagoria of stalactites and stalagmites all made from ice. For the best experience guided tours are available that reveal the caves many geological secrets.
Reykjavik is a mere town in comparison to most other national capitals. However, what the northern most capital city in the world lacks in metropolitan scale it more than made up for with world-class museums and art galleries, buzzing nightlife and proximity to Iceland’s natural wonders. While the city is no longer Europe’s hidden gem, it remains a charming base for exploration of the Icelandic interior. Since Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1944, Reykjavik has expanded from the size of a large village to a lovable city comprised of brightly colored timbered houses that cluster together for protection against North Atlantic storms and the towering Hallgrímskirkja, which dominates the skyline from all angles. Just beyond the city limits, the vast Icelandic wilderness lets visitors immerse themselves in unspoiled nature and marvel at the country’s spectacular geology.
Looping from Reykjavik through the immense wilderness of southern Iceland, the Golden Circle is host to a number of the country’s most spectacular sites. Starting in the Icelandic capital, tours of the circle take you tectonic ravines of Thingvellir National Park, the thermal fountain of Geysir (after which all other geysers are named), and the iconic Gulfoss waterfall.
Perched nearly the Arctic Circle and thankfully missing the light pollution that affects countries across the globe, the Icelandic winter is the ideal place and time to watch nature’s greatest light show: the Aurora Borealis. Setting out from Reykjavik, Northern Light tours take you deep into the country’s snow blanketed interior to see this unforgettable spectacle.
Nestled beneath dramatic fjords leading out to the North Atlantic Ocean, Reykjavik is one of the world’s best places to spot a majestic array of whales, dolphins and porpoises that inhabit the rich waters. Sailing from the capital city’s Old Harbor, tours of the area’s breathtaking fjords and craggy bays are done from the luxury of a yacht with panoramic observation decks.
Trace the history of Iceland at the country’s National Museum, where you can learn about the uninhabited island’s colonization by Vikings and its eventual declaration of independence from Denmark in 1944.
During Iceland’s breathtaking summer months one of the best ways to explore the country’s rich landscapes is horse riding. Tours are offered for different levels of experience ranging from beginner to expert.
Nestled between the Hallmundarhraun lava field and Kjölur, Langjökull Glacier is one of Iceland’s most iconic landscapes. Covering a vast 950 square kilometers, the glacier is western Iceland’s premier attraction – especially as you can now go inside it. While a number of glaciers across Iceland can be accessed via specialized vehicles that take visitors on top of them, only at Langjökull can visitors tour the ice field’s interior. A series of tunnels allow visitors to walk through nearly a kilometer of glacier and at its deepest point have around 30 meters of snow and ice above and 300 meters below. While the glacier can also be viewed from nearby country roads that skirt its edges, only by touring the tunnels can visitors get a sense of its immense scale.
The vast scale of Langjökull Glacier means thrilling snowmobile tours are the best way to see the area’s many natural wonders. Expert glacier tour guides help you get to grips with riding a snowmobile before you set off to explore ice-filled volcanic craters, imposing volcanoes and catch breathtaking glimpses of the nearby mountains of Eiriksjökull and Kerlingafjöll.
To get inside the Langjökull Glacier, head to the ice cave where Iceland’s top engineers and geophysicists have bored a tunnel deep inside the immense body of ice. Surrounded by ice that once fell as snow many thousands of years ago, you will learn about the scientific uses of the tunnels and the harrowing effects climate breakdown is having on Iceland’s environment.
Running off the mighty Langjökull Glacier is the raging Hvitá River, which is one of Iceland’s premier destinations for river rafting. Blending the awe-inspiring beauty of the Icelandic landscape with adrenaline pumping fun, the river rafting experience is guaranteed to be a thrilling experience.
Hùsavík is Iceland’s whale watching capital. For most visitors, the charming clapperboard town is the best place to catch a boat ride into the churning North Atlantic Ocean for a glimpse of minke whales, dolphins and porpoise while the lucky few will also get to see the much larger humpback whales breaching – their spectacular habit of leaping out of the water. Beyond the whales, which are best seen between April and August, Húsavík has a clutch of fascinating Arctic museums, including the Whale Museum, which recalls a time when the region’s awe-inspiring sea life was under threat from hunting, and the Exploration Museum, which tells the fascinating story of Arctic explorers who sailed from the town into the great unknown.
Hop on board a traditional oak-hulled Icelandic boat to tour the plunging fjords and the volcanic crags of Skjalfandi Bay searching for an array of marine wildlife, including vast pods of whales that inhabit the waters around Húsavík.
To learn the history of how the fishermen of Húsavík transformed their town from the world’s whale hunting capital into Europe’s whale watching and conservation capital, head to the Whale Museum, which was established in 1997 as a non-profit community-led organization.
With Húsavík located just north of the Arctic Circle there is no better place for a museum to explore the storied history of the exploration of the North Pole. At the Exploration Museum guided tours will offer fascinating insights into the role played by the town in the history of Arctic exploration.
Jutting out of Iceland’s western coast into the perpetually churning waters of the North Atlantic, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is one of the country’s remote hidden gems. The peninsula is divided down the middle by a rugged spine of mountains, between which snakes the Snæfellsjökull Glacier. The picturesque clapperboard village of Stykkishólmur is undoubtedly the best base for exploring the peninsula, as from there local buses can whiz you around the peninsula to the start point of any number of hikes. For the more adventurous, snowmobile tours of the glacier can be arranged that provide spectacular views of the peninsula’s otherworldly coastline.
As one of Iceland’s most remote and beautiful regions, there is no better way to explore Snaefellsnes than as part of a small guided scenery tour. Starting at the tiny clapperboard village of Arnarstapi you will make your way through a landscape of spectacular rock formations, towering glacial carved mountains and plunging waterfalls before sampling some of the area’s finest produce.
The Snaefellsnes National Park is often described as ‘Iceland in miniature’. Dominated by the towering Snaefellsjökull Volcano and peppered with volcanic beaches, plunging ravines and unique rock formations, the park is one of the country’s star attractions and makes an ideal day tour from Reykjavik. Make sure to test your strength with the historic ‘lifting stones’ at Djúpalónssandur.
To immerse yourself in Snaefellsnes’ wildlife, take a kayaking tour around the peninsula’s rugged coastline where you will get the chance to paddle close to thronging seal colonies, sea stacks covered by cacophonous gulls and marvel at the mountains of the interior.
Set amongst a bleak landscape of lava-blackened rocks, the brilliantly turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon are Iceland’s premier geothermal attraction. Bubbling at a pleasant 38 degrees Celsius, the waters of the Blue Lagoon are an ideal temperature even in the depths of winter when wet hair can freeze solid in a matter of minutes. Icelanders claim the water has rejuvenating qualities while the silt that forms at the bottom of the pool can be bought in the gift shop as beauty treatments. Whatever its medicinal benefits, a trip to the Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most unforgettable experiences.
Iceland is a country packed with magical attractions but none are as mesmerizing as taking a swim in the turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon. Located near Reykjavik, taking a dip in the thermal pools is the perfect way to end an awe-inspiring tour of the Golden Circle.
The blackened lava field of the Reykjanes Peninsula that surrounds the Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most eerie landscapes. To explore this strange lunar land, guided tours allow you to cave inside a lava tube, witness the moment where the bubbling North Atlantic fault line emerges from the ocean, and visit boiling geothermal pools.