Iceland is a country of contrasts: green volcanic mountains and rivers meander alongside arid plains and glaciers. The capital city of Reykjavik is a bustling hub of activity, while the isolation of some of the more remote locations is such that they feel almost otherworldly. Icelandic nature has so much to offer to the traveler: geothermal hot springs, black sand beaches, glacier walks, and Northern Lights. Here we have compiled a list of the best places to visit in Iceland.
- 1. Whale Watching, Reykjavik
- 2. Visit in the Blue Lagoon, Grindavík
- 3. The Great Geysir
- 4. The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
- 5. Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve
- 6. Maelifell Volcano
- 7. Myrdalsjökull Glacier Park
- 8. Explore the Skaftafell Ice Cave, Vatnajökull National Park
- 9. Askja Caldera
- 10. Dettifoss Waterfall
- 11. Kirkjufell Mountain, Grundarfjördur
- 12. Gullfoss Waterfall
- 13. Hiking at Mount Esja
- 14. The Pearl Observatory
- 15. Glacial Lagoon
- 16. The Silfra Dive Tour
- 17. Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
- 18. Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel
- 19. Visit Lake Myvatn in North Iceland
- 20. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
- 21. Hallgrímskirkja Church
1. Whale Watching, Reykjavik
Whale watching is a popular attraction in Iceland, offering visitors the chance to see whales, dolphins, and other marine wildlife. Whale watching tours can be booked through travel agencies and online, or you can simply go out on your own and watch as a whale watcher from one of the many boats sailing along the coast. While whale watching is an interesting way to spend time in Iceland, it’s important to keep in mind that these animals live in the ocean and aren’t suited for human contact. If you want to get closer to some of these beautiful creatures, consider booking an experience with Blue Planet Diving or Sea Hunter.
2. Visit in the Blue Lagoon, Grindavík
The blue lagoon in Iceland is one of the most popular destinations for travelers to the country. It is a picturesque, naturally occurring pool that is situated by a geothermal hot spring. First built in 1964, the lagoon was originally used for recreational purposes. However, it has since become a tourist attraction due to its natural beauty and tranquil atmosphere. The water in the lagoon is colorless because of the minerals from the surrounding area. It is estimated that there are around 200 natural pools like this in Iceland.
The easiest way to reach the lagoon is by taking a tour with a local operator. There are also rental options available so you can bring your own boat or kayak to get there. The lagoon is located around an hour’s drive from Reykjavik center and takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour to reach depending on your route and time of day.
3. The Great Geysir
The Great Geysir is the world’s largest hot spring. Located in the Haukadalur valley of southwestern Iceland, it has been erupting for nearly two thousand years. The cone-shaped geyser is located 35 meters (115 feet) underground and has a diameter of 32 meters (105 feet). It spews water as high as 18 meters (60 feet) into the air every 10 minutes, shooting hot water up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The eruption lasts around 20 minutes, during which time it can reach temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). The water is so hot that it attracts large crowds who come to see the show. In 2017, the eruptions were stronger than usual; in particular, they lasted longer and reached higher temperatures.
4. The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon that occurs when charged particles from the Sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere, creating an electrical field that causes charged particles to align and glow. The first time that humans witnessed the Aurora Borealis they thought they were seeing gods’ glowing handiwork.
There are two types of aurorae: the Aurora Borealis, which is caused by solar wind and is visible in the northern hemisphere, and the Aurora Australis, which is sun-induced and visible in the southern hemisphere.
The Northern Lights may be seen year-round, but peak activity occurs during summer between September and April. In some years, you can even catch them during winter. They are best viewed from higher altitudes because they appear closer to the horizon at low altitudes.
No special equipment is needed to view the Northern Lights—just your eyes!
5. Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve
The Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve is a nature reserve in South Iceland. It is located south of Vík, on the southern slopes of Þórsmörk and Þórsmörkjarðarhelgi, and west of the Langjökull National Park. The reserve is part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
The area was first settled around 2000 B.C. when the first farmers arrived from western Europe. It remained sparsely populated until the mid-19th century when it was discovered by British explorers. It was soon developed for cattle farming and continues to be a popular grazing area for Icelandic horses.
The landscape consists mainly of lava fields and low hills covered with grasses, mosses, and dwarf shrubs. Several hot springs occur near the reserve’s edges, providing thermal relief to visitors. The large mud pots of Laugarvatn and Langjökull are also nearby.
Due to its close proximity to the Ring Road, it is often used as a shortcut by drivers heading between Reykjavík and Akureyri. However, due to its remote location, there are few accommodations available in or around the reserve itself.
It is also a popular hiking destination for those who wish to experience some solitude in Iceland’s southwest corner without having to travel far into the interior of the country.
6. Maelifell Volcano
Maelifell is a shield volcano located on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland. The area has been known for its geothermal activity since the period of settlement and has been the site of many volcanic eruptions over its history. The most recent eruption was recorded in 1875, although there have been smaller eruptions throughout the years. Since 1875, the area has been monitored for monitoring and research purposes.
While Maelifell is not considered to be an active volcano, it still makes for a fascinating destination. It sits on top of a ridge that separates two basins, one of which contains hot springs as well as a geothermal power plant run by Geodynamics International. The trail leading to the top of the ridge offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and is a great place to enjoy nature. In addition to a visit to Maelifell, you can also hike along the nearby Blue Trail that extends south from Þingvellir National Park along the coast.
7. Myrdalsjökull Glacier Park
Myrdalsjökull is a glacier park in Iceland located in the Myrdalsjön valley. It is situated west of Mývatn and Skógar, and east of Vatnajokull National Park. The glacier park features hiking trails and a children’s playground, as well as a restaurant, gift shop, and café. The large ice cave, which was formed during one of the many eruptions of the Mýrdalsjökull volcano, can be found near the waterfall Svínafellsjökull.
A popular hiking trail is the four-kilometer round-trip hike to the Svínafellsjökull waterfall (1,400 meters above sea level), which can be reached by either walking along a boardwalk or descending down a slope into the water. The waterfall is part of the glacial river that flows from the Myrdalsjökull glacier. Another trail leads along the Myrdalsjökull glacier itself to an observation point at the top of the ice cap.
Myrdalsjökull is known for its crystal clear ice and blue coloration caused by glacial flour, which forms on its surface when snow grains settle after falling through air holes in the ice layer. In early summer, it can be reached by boat (there are two passenger ferry services per day operated by Svínafellsferðin) or on foot in less than an hour
8. Explore the Skaftafell Ice Cave, Vatnajökull National Park
Skaftafell Ice Cave is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland. This natural cave was formed by the melting glacier which covered the area during the Ice Age. The ice has carved out a series of caves, tunnels, and chambers that can be explored via a guided tour.
The ice caves are located on the northern side of Skaftafell Mountain, approximately 45 minutes from Hvolsvöllur city. They are accessible by car or guided tour from June to mid-October.
There are several tours available: an hourly tour around the cave (20 minutes), a two-hour tour (30 minutes), and a two-hour night tour (45 minutes). The day tours cost ISK 495 and the night tours cost ISK 650.
The cave is open all year round but access is limited during winter due to extreme weather conditions and low visibility.
9. Askja Caldera
Askja Caldera is a caldera that can be found in the Dyngjufjoll Mountains, which are situated on the northern side of Vatnajokull National Park. Askja is a subsidence cauldron that spans 50 square kilometers and was created when a lava chamber just below the surface of the earth emptied during a volcanic eruption, causing the roof above it to collapse, resulting in the cauldron’s formation. In point of fact, Askja is made up of three cauldrons that are connected to one another, which is what makes it the most impressive example of a subsidence cauldron in Iceland.
You’ll find the Oskjuvatn Lake there; it’s the largest lake in the country, covering 11 square kilometers, and it has a depth of 217 meters, making it the deepest lake in Iceland. In addition, you will have the opportunity to admire the magnificent Vti volcano, which is home to a geothermal lake with a depth of sixty meters and water that is twenty-two degrees Celsius in temperature. It’s almost like a surreal, natural Blue Lagoon inside a volcano.
10. Dettifoss Waterfall
Dettifoss waterfall is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. It is located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is a part of western Iceland. Dettifoss waterfall can be found near the village of Selfoss. In fact, it is just a short drive away from the town. It is also only a few kilometers from the Ring Road. Therefore, it is easy to get to and visit this beautiful waterfall.
The main reason why people come to Dettifoss waterfall is because of its size. The waterfall is quite huge and has over 50 meters of drop height. This makes it one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland. Because of its size and beauty, many people come here to take pictures or simply enjoy its natural beauty.
Because of its location, Dettifoss waterfall can be visited during all seasons in Iceland. However, it usually gets the most visitors during the summer and autumn months because of its close proximity to Reykjavik and other areas that tourists typically visit during these seasons.
11. Kirkjufell Mountain, Grundarfjördur
Kirkjufell Mountain is located in the center of Iceland and is a popular hiking destination. The mountain has a series of symmetrical peaks, with the tallest peak rising to an impressive height of 622 meters above sea level. Kirkjufell Mountain can be seen from many different locations around Iceland and is a great place for tourists to take scenic pictures.
People often hike up to Kirkjufell Mountain in order to see the dramatic views that it provides. The mountain can also be climbed via two different trails: the Kirkjugólf Trail, which is located on the eastern side of the mountain; and the Gígjökulháticill Trail, which is located on the western side of the mountain. Both of these trails are fairly easy hiking trails, and they both lead to the same viewpoint at the top of Kirkjufell Mountain.
12. Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss is a waterfall located on the Hvita river in Iceland. It is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, with a crowd of visitors every day. Gullfoss is Iceland’s most powerful waterfall, with a height of 60 meters (197 feet). The waterfall can be seen from many different viewpoints, including the Laxarí road. The waterfall is very popular in July when it is possible to see more than 1000 people at the same time. In addition to its beauty, Gullfoss offers many other activities. Visitors can walk along the path that leads to the top of the waterfall. They can also climb up to the top of the cliff and look at the falls from above. Another popular activity is to walk across the bridge that connects two rocks that are close to each other. This allows visitors to get an even better view of the falls.
13. Hiking at Mount Esja
A trip to Iceland is many people’s dream vacation. The country has a unique culture and scenery that draws visitors from around the world. It is also known for its natural beauty, so it is easy to see why people choose to visit. If you want to take in the sights and experience Iceland’s culture, then a trip to the summit of Mount Esja is an ideal choice. When you climb up the peak, you will be greeted by panoramic views of the surrounding area. You can even see the ocean and the surrounding glaciers from up there. Mount Esja is also one of the most accessible mountains in the country. There are numerous hiking trails leading up to its summit, making it easy for anyone to enjoy the breathtaking views at any time of day or night. Plus, the weather can be unpredictable at any time of year, so you never know what kind of conditions you might get when you visit. So be sure to pack a rain jacket and warm clothing if you plan on climbing Mount Esja during the winter months. But even if it doesn’t rain on your climb, Mount Esja still offers plenty to see and do no matter when you go there.
14. The Pearl Observatory
The Pearl Observatory is a research observatory located in Reykjavík, Iceland. The observatory is operated by the University of Iceland. It was built in 1937 and was the first location in Iceland to have a telescope dedicated to public use. The observatory is now part of the Institute of Cosmology at the university, where students conduct research into cosmic acceleration, dark matter, and other cosmological topics. The observatory also houses several other telescopes used for research purposes by faculty members.
The observatory has a number of facilities that are available for visitors to explore. These include a planetarium, a planetarium dome with a 40-inch (1 meter) dome-lens telescope that can be viewed through the transparent roof of the dome, two optical telescopes (one with a fixed lens, one with an adjustable lens), four seismographs, and an observation deck on top of the building where visitors can view the city from above. There is also an extensive library with books about astronomy and the cosmos in general.
15. Glacial Lagoon
Iceland is home to three of the world’s largest glacier lagoon systems, covering a combined surface area of over 1,000 km² (386 mi²). The largest of these is the Langjökull ice cap, which covers an estimated area of around 850 km² (340 mi²). The next largest is the Vatnajökull ice cap, which covers an estimated area of around 230 km² (90 mi²). And finally, there is Öskjuhöfn, a glacial lake located in the Hvalfjordur district. These three ice caps are separated from each other by more than 50 km (31 mi). These glacial lagoons are composed of meltwater from the surrounding ice caps, as well as snow and rain runoff from the surrounding countryside. In addition to all of this water, some parts of these glaciers have also been known to host microbial life. While these glacial lakes may look like frozen tundra due to their location at high altitudes, they are actually home to thriving ecosystems.
16. The Silfra Dive Tour
Silfra is a gorgeous canyon in the heart of Iceland where divers can experience the incredible natural beauty and even see seals and whales. It’s a must-do for those who want to experience the fascinating landscape of this country, no matter what their level of experience.
There are two main sites to visit when looking to book your Silfra snorkeling tour: Nýidalur and Silfra Fissure. The former is a popular site for tourists who want to jump in and swim around, while the latter is recommended if you’d like to explore the bottom of the canyon. Both sites provide breathtaking views that will make you want to keep coming back for more.
The water in Silfra is crystal clear, so you’ll be able to see all kinds of critters swimming around from above. You may also see seals, which are very rare in other parts of Iceland. There are also a number of different species of fish here, so you’ll have plenty to look at when you’re not taking in the stunning scenery.
Many people choose to do Silfra diving as well, although it does require a bit more expertise than snorkeling and can be strenuous (especially if it’s cold outside!) If you’re up for the challenge, though, there’s no better way to spend your time in this country.
17. Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Reynisfjara is a black beach located on the South Coast of Iceland. It’s one of the country’s most iconic black beaches, and it’s a must-see for tourists who want to see what all the hype is about. The Reynisfjara beach has become a symbol of Iceland as well as one of the country’s top tourist attractions. There are lots of reasons why people love this place. First, it’s gorgeous. Second, it’s incredibly unique. And third, it’s got awesome photo opportunities. If you want to see what all the hype is about, you can’t miss it!
18. Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel
The Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel is a unique lava tube located in the Westman Islands, Iceland. It was created by a volcanic eruption in 1783 and is the world’s second-largest lava tube after Lövhússtangi Lava Tube. It stretches for about 30 meters and is about 1.5 meters high and wide in most parts. Inside, it is dark and narrow, with temperatures ranging from 10-40 Celsius. One can see formations of your hand and foot along with certain parts of the tunnel. It gets fewer frequent visitors due to its remote location, but it is still open to tourists all year long.
19. Visit Lake Myvatn in North Iceland
The largest volcanic area in Iceland and one of the most geologically impressive regions in the country, the Myvatn district spans the eastern half of the country. The region is named for its main lake, Myvatn as well as an area of karst topography common in the area. The area also includes a number of small volcanic craters and lava fields that have formed over time as a result of intense volcanic activity.
A large variety of endemic plants and animals can be found in the area including seabirds, mosses, and lichens. Among these are many species of birds that nest at Goðafoss (a waterfall) including Arctic Terns, Little Terns, and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Wildfires may occasionally occur in this region; during the summer months, they pose a threat to both cultural heritage sites and vegetation.
In addition to its geological significance, Myvatn is also known for its diverse geyser activity and hot springs which are often visited by tourists on guided tours through the area.
20. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
The Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is the largest glacier lagoon in Iceland and is located on top of the Jokulsarlon glacier. The lagoon is actually a small section of the glacier that has separated off from the main glacier and is now floating in a small bay. The lagoon was formed when a large iceberg broke off from the glacier in 1868 and melted into the sea, leaving behind an ice field with a long thin hole. This hole then filled with water, creating a lagoon that has since grown to cover almost 10 square kilometers (3.9 square miles). The lagoon is divided into two parts by a break in the middle where the two sides of the lagoon join together. The northern side is called Kollafjörður and has quite shallow waters and no icebergs. The southern side of the lagoon is called Fjallabak and it has deep waters and contains several icebergs floating in it. One of these icebergs, named Búrfell, is particularly interesting as it seems to have been brought there by ocean currents hundreds of years ago which left a circular groove on its surface.
21. Hallgrímskirkja Church
The Church of Hallgrímskirkja is a cruciform church in Reykjavík, Iceland. It was built in 1870–1872. The church is named after the Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson (1813–1874).
Both the church and its tower are included on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an example of Gothic Revival architecture.
The church’s bell tower and spire were added in 1887. They were designed by Guðjón Sveinsson, an Icelandic architect who became one of the country’s most prominent figures of his generation.
The construction of the original church began in 1870 and was finished in 1872. The current structure was completed with a new addition to the southwest tower in 1887.
Southern Iceland is home to a variety of natural wonders. The vast lava fields of Þjórsárdalur and Öskuhverir are just a small part of the incredible landscapes that can be found. There are also a few hot springs in the region, most notably Mývatn, which is one of the few places in the country where you can see the famous hofsós.
The area is also home to several glaciers, including Öskjuvatn, Herðubreið, and Þórsárdalur. The presence of glaciers is fairly common in southern Iceland, given the cooler temperatures, but their presence is particularly notable here because they are much smaller than the glaciers found farther north and tend to last much shorter.