Iceland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and for good reason. There are so many things to do in Iceland year-round, not just in the summer months.
Iceland’s dramatic landscape and location hold everything from geothermal lakes to ice caves and a few of the most amazing waterfalls I’ve ever seen.
Because there are so many amazing things to do in Iceland, the country is seeing a record number of tourists. Tourism numbers to Iceland have sharply increased in the last decade. Now is the time to go!
- The Top 17 Things To Do In Iceland
- Chasing Waterfalls
- Explore Ice Caves
- Witness the Northern Lights For Yourself
- Book a Whale Watching Trip
- Check out this guide covering all the best things to do in Reykjavik!
- Visit The Glacial Lagoon
- Snorkel the Silfra Fissure
- Road Trip The Golden Circle
- Witness a Geyser Eruption In Person
- Go On a Glacial Trek
- Try the Unique Food
- Experience Truly Epic Hiking
- Try Your Hand at Puffin Spotting
- Visit Hallgrímskirkja
- Plan a Beach Day on Rauðasandur Beach
- Relax in Lake Myvatn Geothermal Area
- Explore the Leidarendi Lava Caves
- Go Hiking on Mount Esja
- If you enjoyed this post please consider pinning it using the image found below
- Which of these things to do in Iceland looked best to you? Let me know in the comments section below!
The Top 17 Things To Do In Iceland
I was amazed by Iceland’s many waterfalls. They’re literally everywhere! I can’t count the number of times we founded a corner while driving on the highway only to find a massive, breathtaking waterfall just waiting to be photographed!
Almost everyone knows about Skógafoss and Gullfoss, the country’s most popular falls, but if you choose to travel Iceland on a road trip like we did, you’ll find there’s no shortage of stunning falls.
Explore Ice Caves
The number one reason I would choose to book a winter trip to Iceland is the ice caves (also sometimes referred to as crystal caves).
You can only visit these caves from mid-November to mid-March. The caves are unnamed, as they are temporary and constantly changing.
If you’d like to visit the caves, you’ll want to be sure you book a guide. Visiting on your own can be dangerous and is definitely not advised. Definitely one of the best things to do in Iceland.
Witness the Northern Lights For Yourself
Best seen from September to mid-April, the northern lights are another top reason to visit Iceland outside of the summer months.
Many visit Thingvellir to view this natural phenomenon, but Threngsli is rumored to be a less touristic option with a view that’s just as great.
Book a Whale Watching Trip
Iceland is one of the world’s best places for whale watching, rivaled only by the Azores.
The best time to visit Iceland for whale watching is from April to October, with peak season from June, July and August. You can find tour companies that lead whale watching tours all over Iceland, including several from Reykjavik.
Check out this guide covering all the best things to do in Reykjavik!
Visit The Glacial Lagoon
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon that connects to the Atlantic Ocean.
Here you can watch as fragments of icebergs from surrounding glaciers eerily float by. You’ll also get a treat if you visit during the winters — the lagoon is filled with hundreds of seals hunting in the fish-filled water.
Snorkel the Silfra Fissure
The Silfra fissure is one of the world’s most unique places to dive or snorkel. A gap between two tectonic plates, when you dive at Silfra you’re swimming in the gap between Europe and North America!
You also don’t need any type of license to snorkel in Thingvellir national park. It’s perfect for beginners, as the water is some of the clearest water in the world.
Road Trip The Golden Circle
Exploring the Golden Circle is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland. The Golden Circle consists of three main sites: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and the Gullfoss waterfall.
When you rent a car or opt for an organized tour of the Golden Circle, you’ll see these three attractions, Iceland’s most popular, in one trip. You can see them all in one day, or if you have more time, you may even consider adding on detours to lesser-known attractions. You can even combine the Golden Circle tour with an above-mentioned Silfra snorkeling trip.
Not want to be dependent on bus services? Rent a car in Iceland and make it easier to visit all 13 of these sights! Make sure you book your car in advance to ensure you get the best car. You can pick your car up at the airport of your choosing which means it’s waiting for you to start your adventure as soon as you step off the plane!
Although the Blue Lagoon is the most famous lagoon in Iceland (the number one tourist attraction in the country, actually!) there are many other lagoons found throughout the country.
I recommend you seek out and explore Iceland’s other lagoons if your plans allow, as the Blue Lagoon can become quite crowded.
Witness a Geyser Eruption In Person
Did you know all the geysers in the world take their name from this Icelandic geyser? As the first known geyser written about in modern history, it lent its name (“geysir”, which is Icelandic for churn) to all other geysers to come.
Strokkur geyser, the most famous in the country, erupts every five to ten minutes, shooting boiling hot water up to 130 feet (40 meters) in the air!
Go On a Glacial Trek
Iceland is one of the few places in the world where you can trek on actual ice caps!
As if this wasn’t exciting enough — you can even arrange a glacial trek under the Northern Lights!
Try the Unique Food
Before I visited the country everyone told me not to expect much from the food. But I was happy to discover there’s a lot of great food in Iceland, especially if you’re a fan of seafood!
We found so many great local dishes made with freshly caught seafood. Be on the lookout for the lobster rolls, as they were some of the best we’ve ever tried.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, be sure to try some of the unique specialty dishes of Iceland, like a fermented shark or boiled sheep’s head!
You also can’t leave without trying a shot of brennivin, known as “black death”. This potent drink is traditionally made from potatoes and contains strong notes of caraway. Many locals enjoy it with the fermented shark I just mentioned!
Looking for the best Reykjavik restaurants? Click here to check out my post detailing the best places to eat in Iceland’s capital city.
Experience Truly Epic Hiking
With such incredible and varied landscapes, it’s no surprise that some of the world’s best hiking can be found in Iceland.
You can trek through mountains, over streams, next to lakes, and even along with active volcanoes!
Try Your Hand at Puffin Spotting
Iceland is home to one of the world’s largest puffin communities, estimated to be somewhere between eight and ten million birds.
Puffins are notoriously shy and skittish, so you have to sneak up on them for photos.
The best place to see puffins is on Vestmannaeyjar (on our trip, we actually began calling this place “puffin island”). You can find puffins nesting in Iceland from early April to September.
Hallgrímstorg 1 // +3545101000
A stunning example of modern architecture, Hallgrímskirkja Church is situated right in Reykjavik’s center. Located on top of a hill, the church offers spectacular views of the city.
There is an elevator that will take you to the top of the hill where the church is. Icelandic culture is showcased in the church’s museum-style exhibit, which you will definitely want to see.
Hallgrímskirkja is also known as “The church of the bird droppings,” or “The church that was built for the resting travelers.” The unique design of this church mirrors the snowy surroundings with a white exterior. This was done to help travelers feel at home in Iceland even before exploring any of its landmarks.
Hallgrímskirkja Church is among Iceland’s most distinctive landmarks and a popular tourist destination.
Rauðasandur Beach is situated on the east coast of Iceland, not far from the town of Egilsstaðir, renowned for its seafood. Pink and red sand surround this windswept beach, which is adjacent to Látrabjarg Peninsula. Taking the time to enjoy this deserted area’s crashing waves and turquoise lagoon is a great experience.
While hiking here, you’re likely to see puffins and other feathered friends since this terrain is dotted with beautiful bird cliffs.
So, take a walk along the shore, enjoy the beach, go horseback riding or skiing if that is what you are into. Some guests have stated that they are undecided about what to do here. However, I think that is the beauty of Rauðasandur beach; there are so many activities to choose from.
Lake Myvatn, located in the northwest of Iceland, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. It is thought that the lake was formed by a large volcanic eruption over 200 years ago, which led to underwater lava tubes appearing beneath the surface.
Dimmuborgir, a unique lava field surrounding this area, is considered a geothermal wonderland. A hot spring lies within the lake’s boundaries, in addition to several geothermal pools and geysers.
There is also a rich variety of wildlife attracted to the crystal clear waters, making it an ideal location for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. A true gem of the north, Lake Myvatn also offers some of the most spectacular scenery!
A layover in Reykjavik offers the opportunity to visit one of Iceland’s most popular day tours, the Leidarendi Lava Caves. It is 15 km outside of the city, and the caves offer fascinating views of volcanic activity and the country’s geology.
They are part of a lava flow that was formed by a volcanic eruption in 2011. The caves extend for about 1,300 meters, so metal walkways allow visitors to descend into the hollow dry caves and marvel at the rock formations lining the walls.
While there, you will be able to see swirls, holes, and cracks created by shifting magma and hot lava. As you travel further, you’ll pass through volcanic layers dating back several centuries.
The Leidarendi Cave is known as The End of the Journey in Icelandic because it is so close to the once central Viking harbor town of Faxa Bay. These caves were once used as burial grounds during those voyages.
“The End of the Journey” is something you should check out if you enjoy exploring natural wonders.
Just a stone’s throw away from the capital city of Reykjavik, Mount Esja commands a special place in the heart of locals, offering panoramic views over the town while presenting a whole world of its own. The mountain is steeped in folklore and is often referred to by locals as “Esjan.”
Mount Esja offers dramatic scenery and unique geology, allowing for fantastic hiking opportunities. The 914-meter-high mountain provides spectacular views of Reykjavik and many trails that lead up to the peak. Experienced climbers can also find steeper pathways.
Observing its unique volcanic features, epic waterfalls, and vibrant green landscape from the top is a truly breathtaking experience. A trip away from the city can be rejuvenating. It is a must-see sight while you’re staying in Iceland!
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Which of these things to do in Iceland looked best to you? Let me know in the comments section below!
Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.