From Glaciers to Geysers: 16 Best Things To Do in Iceland

Hiking above the Skogafoss waterfall.

Iceland, also known as the land of ice and fire, is filled with stunning natural beauty. From glaciers and volcanoes to waterfalls and hot springs, there’s something to see around every corner. No matter your interests, it’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of incredible things to do in Iceland. 

Iceland is one of my favorite countries, and I can’t wait to visit again — there is so much to see!

1. Explore Reykjavik

Rainbow Street in Iceland

Walking down Rainbow Street in Reykjavik.

No list of the best things to do in Iceland would be complete without recommending some time in Reykjavik. After all, the vast majority of visitors will find themselves in Iceland’s capital city at one point or another (because that is where the airport is). So why not spend a day or two exploring?

There are a few must-sees in Reykjavik, including the Hallgrimskirkja Church, the Harpa Concert Hall, and the Sun Voyager sculpture. But one of the best things to do is simply wander around the city center and Laugavegur and see what you stumble across.

After seeing Iceland’s iconic Rainbow Street on social media, my friend and I had to see it for ourselves. We headed down Laugavegur and over to Skólavörðustígur (street) to see the Rainbow Street Art area. Check out all the charming cafes, adorable boutique shops, and tasty restaurants. I highly recommend Rossopomodoro — they have gluten-free pizza.

Also, don’t plan on buying alcohol in Iceland because it is very expensive.

2. See the Northern Lights

Skogafoss area

Above the Skogafoss waterfall (South Coast).

Thanks to its high latitude, Iceland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the world, particularly in the winter. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, this natural, colorful dance of light across the night sky is a particularly magical experience.

I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights from the airplane as we flew into Reykjavik. It was magical. When we got to the Storm Hotel, where we stayed in downtown Reykjavik one night, everyone was talking about seeing them — there was so much excitement!

As for where to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, aside from Reykjavik, you’ve got a few different options, including Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Thingvellir National Park, and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Hofn. For your best bet, reserve yourself a tour with Reykjavik Excursions or Arctic Adventures. They will take you to places with less light pollution where you’ll have a better chance of seeing them.

Check with your hotel when you check in as well. Some hotels will wake you up at night if the Northern Lights appear.

3. Visit the LAVA Centre

Lava Centre in Iceland

Lava Centre (South Coast).

If you’re road-tripping along the South Coast, I recommend swinging into the LAVA Centre. Here, you have the chance to learn about how Iceland was formed along with all the volcanoes. There are 32 active volcanoes!

We started our trip touring this place, and it helped set the tone for the island’s landscape and geological features. We even felt a few tremors during our trip, and it was nice to know ahead of time that it was fairly normal.

4. Soak up the Warmth of the Blue Lagoon

Enjoying a blue slushy drink at the Blue Lagoon

Enjoying a blue slushy drink at the Blue Lagoon.

Located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, about an hour from Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon is arguably Iceland’s most well-known attraction. This brightly colored lagoon is known for its naturally warm waters and rejuvenating qualities. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy.

Be sure to try the mud mask (don’t get it in your eyes) and grab a blue slushy drink at the swim-up bar. Towels and lockers are provided.

Make reservations in advance.

Travel note: the Blue Lagoon is currently closed due to volcanic activity in the area. We hope it opens again soon. Watch their website for updates.

Though the Blue Lagoon is the most famous hot spring in Iceland, this volcanic country has quite a few more, including Sky Lagoon, Seljavallalaug, Hrunalaug, and the Myvatn Nature Baths, all of which are great places to enjoy a bit of refreshing down time.

5. Pop by the Geysir Geothermal Area

Geysir Geothermal Area is home to the Great Geysir and Strokkur Geysir

The Great Geysir, Strokkur Geysir, and me eating ice cream.

All of that volcanic action doesn’t just make for erupting volcanoes and bubbling hot springs – it also makes for explosive geysers, like the one at the Geysir Geothermal Area.

Located on the famed Golden Circle, the Geysir Geothermal Area is home to the Great Geysir and Strokkur Geysir, two of the most famous geysers in the world. All you have to do is watch the water shoot up into the air – and maybe snap a few well-timed photos while you’re at it.

Don’t skip visiting the Efsti-dalur Farm for ice cream. It’s about 15 minutes from the Great Geysir Geothermal area. Seriously, it is the best ice cream I have ever had in my life.

6. Road Trip Along the Famed Golden Circle Tour

Iceland Golden Circle Tour

Iceland Golden Circle Tour

Since so much of Iceland is absolutely stunning, one of the best things to do on your first trip is to do a scenic drive or road trip along the Golden Circle.

Depending on where you start from, it’s easy enough to do the entire drive and all of its stops in one day. The four main highlights include:

  • Thingvellir National Park,
  • Geysir Geothermal Area,
  • Kerid Crater and
  • Gullfoss Waterfall.

All of these attractions are absolutely stunning.

If you like, you can add a few detours to your Golden Circle Tour and make it a multi-day adventure. Soak in the warmth of the Fontana Geothermal Baths, go snowmobiling on Langjokull Glacier, or pay a visit to Helgufoss Waterfall.

Driving in Iceland is easier than I thought it would be. We visited during mid-September. The roads were well maintained, traffic signs were easy to follow, and we used the GPS map for our rental car, which also came with satellite WiFi. 

7. Walk Between Two Tectonic Plates

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park.

There are only seven major tectonic plates in the entire world, and two of them connect in Iceland: the North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates.

While there are a few different places to see these interlinked tectonic plates in Iceland, Thingvellir National Park is the most popular spot. There, you can actually swim between the continental tectonic plates, which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you’d prefer to stay dry, like we did, you can see the rift along a trail. Thingvellir National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a great stop while touring the Golden Circle.

8. Take a Tour of Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is, without a doubt, one of the coolest things to do on Iceland’s South Coast. Many years ago, this landmark was a full-on glacier, but with rising temperatures, it melted to become the country’s largest lake.

The best way to experience Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is on a boat tour. Sail through hidden twists, pass by frozen icebergs, and get an up-close view of this stunning landscape.

You can also park off the highway and take a short hike to the lagoon (that is what we did). It was my first time seeing icebergs, and I was totally blown away even though it was freezing cold and pouring rain (do not forget rain gear).

Some of the glacier chunks find their way onto the glittering black sand beach, Diamond Beach, giving the shoreline its gemstone-inspired name. The little glacier chunks are called “bergy bites” or “bergies.”

9. Check Out the Black Sand Beaches

Reynisdrangar Black Sand Beach

Reynisdrangar Black Sand Beach

Given all of the volcanic activity, it makes sense that Iceland is home to its fair share of beautiful black sand beaches. One of the most famous black sand beaches in Iceland, Diamond Beach, is right across the street from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, which we just shared.

In addition to Diamond Beach, Iceland is home to many other stunning black sand beaches, including Reynisdrangar Black Sand Beach (Reynisfjara), Solheimasandur Black Sand Beach, and Vikurfjara Black Sand Beach, just to name a few.

My favorite was the Reynisdrangar Beach near Vik. This is where you’ll see the famous basalt stacks. Many iconic images of Iceland are taken here.

10. Go Waterfall Chasing

Skogafoss waterfall

Skogafoss waterfall.

So far, on this list of the best things to do in Iceland, we’ve included glaciers and geysers, hot springs, and black sand beaches. But we haven’t gotten into details about one of Iceland’s best (and most ubiquitous) natural features: waterfalls.

While there isn’t an official count, it’s estimated that there are over 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland! So, although you can’t see them all, you can certainly cover the highlights. Seljalandsfoss, Gullfoss, and Skogafoss are arguably the three most popular waterfalls in the country (also my three favorite that are easy to access).

Svartifoss (South Coast) has eye-catching basalt columns framing it and you have to hike to it. Dynjandi Waterfall (Westfjords) has an almost lacy-like appearance that sets it apart from the rest of the beautiful Iceland waterfalls. 

11. Spend a Day or Two on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall area

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall area (South Coast).

Of all of the peninsulas in Iceland, Snaefellsnes Peninsula may be the most famous of them all. You can easily spend a day trip – or a weekend trip – exploring this one little slice of west Iceland’s natural wonderland.

The most famous site on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is, without a doubt, the Kirkjufell Mountain and the accompanying Kirkjufellsfoss. You can easily spend hours just wandering around and capturing pictures of this jaw-dropping site.

Other than Kirkjufell, there are quite a few other things that you’ll want to add to your Snaefellsnes Peninsula itinerary. Check out the volcano at Snaefellsjökull National Park, take a few pictures of Svortuloft Lighthouse, and walk on the beautiful black sand of Djúpalónssandur Beach.

12. Do a Little Whale Watching in Husavik

Iceland's South Coast, Diamond Beach

Watching for Icelandic seals at Diamond Beach (South Coast).

Also known as the Whale Capital of Iceland, Husavik is the place to go for whale watching, especially in the summer. For the best glimpse of these massive marine mammals, you’ll want to take a whale watching tour, like one from Gentle Giants or Husavik Adventures.

You can occasionally see whales from the shore as well, like from the Geosea Spa in Husavik. Just keep an eye out for their spouts – that’s the best way to spot them.

13. Keep an Eye Out for Wildlife at the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon near the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur (South Coast).

If you’re looking for Iceland’s coolest creatures, head to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve on the northwest part of the island. This protected land area is home to a whole host of animals, the most famous ones being the cute puffins and camouflaged arctic foxes.

As for how to see them, the best thing to do is simply plop yourself somewhere along the shoreline at Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and keep an eye out!

Seeing puffins is definitely on my bucket list the next time I visit Iceland.

14. Search for Reindeer

Hiking across the tundra above Skogafoss waterfall.

Hiking across the tundra above Skogafoss waterfall (South Iceland).

While the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is great for spotting arctic foxes and puffins galore, the Eastfjords is where you’ll want to go to see wild reindeer. While reindeer aren’t native to Iceland, it’s still a magical experience to see these enchanting creatures wander through Iceland’s winter wonderland of a landscape.

For your best chance of seeing reindeer in Iceland, consider booking a tour with Guide to Iceland.

15. Explore the Largest Glacier in Europe

Vatnajokull Glacier

Vatnajokull Glacier in the distance.

Did you know that Iceland is home to the largest glacier in all of Europe? Officially known as Vatnajokull Glacier, this massive glacier covers over 3,127 square miles. That’s about eight percent of the entire country!

As for what you can do at Vatnajokull Glacier, you have a few different options. You can hike, boat, ice cave, or snowmobile your way around this beautiful natural landmark. For all of these options, you’ll want to take a guided tour for the best experience possible.

16. Circle Around Iceland’s Ring Road

Driving the Ring Road in Iceland

View of a glacier along Iceland’s Ring Road, Route 1.

We’ve covered that road trips, and scenic drives are a great way to see all of Iceland’s natural beauty. But Iceland’s Ring Road, Route 1, is the mother of all Icelandic road trips.

Essentially, Iceland’s Ring Road circles around ALL of Iceland (with the exception of the Westfjords, but you can add that in, too, if you have the time). Hop your way from the city sites in Reykjavik to the glaciers in the East to the whales in the North.

Since this is an 820-mile loop, you’ll need at least one week – ideally two – to cover everything you’ll want to see on this epic drive. But trust us on this: it’ll be more than worth the PTO to experience this once-in-a-lifetime drive.

Best Things To Do in Iceland: Chasing Waterfalls, Northern Lights, and More

Sheep grazing in Iceland.

Sheep grazing in Iceland.

It’s safe to say that there are countless incredible things to do in Iceland. From glaciers and volcanoes to waterfalls, you can easily spend weeks outside exploring all of the country’s incredible natural sites.

Since there is so much to see and do, try visiting the South Coast your the first time. Then do the Ring Road the next time. 

I personally can’t wait to go back. Have fun visiting.

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Ashlee Fechino and Sarah Etinas