Iceland is shaped by fire & ice and is packed with an enormous number of natural attractions. To see them all in one trip, especially a small one is almost impossible! Follow this list of top 10 things to do in Iceland and you will have seen the best the island has to offer.
1. Explore the Geysir Area
Iceland’s Geysir, also known as the Great Geysir is one of the most famous geysers in the world. In fact, the word geyser itself is believed to have come from this particular hot water spout in the southwestern part of the island.
Situated in Iceland’s Haukadalur Valley, the Great Geysir is known to shoot up to a height of 30-50 meters into the air. There are times that it has risen up to a good 70 meters as well. However, the geyser is also known to go dormant every now and then. But tectonic activity seems to revive it every few years.
In case you only get to see the calm & quiet pool of the geyser, know that the area is home to other geysers and a lot of geothermal activity, too. You could make your way to Strokkur, the most active geyser in the area. This one erupts more and the water is thrown up to 30 meters.
You might also want to further explore the area and see Smiður and Litli-Strokkur, Blesi Twin Pools, & the fumaroles in the valley.
2. Sip a cocktail and relax in Blue Lagoon
Another famous place there should be no missing is the Blue Lagoon — the most popular hot pool in Iceland. This manmade lake is known for its unique blue water, which is actually seawater heated by a geothermal plant nearby.
This blue water is rich in minerals known to be good for your skin. The lagoon is surrounded by black lava rock and is a great place to watch winter sunsets.
Remember that this is one of the most popular attractions on the Island so go prepared for some crowds. If you’d like to avoid the crowds, you could try to get there early in the morning or late in the evening. Enjoy the warm water with some cocktails in hand. You could even book your tickets in advance.
3. Look around the national capital
Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik is a town to see! It’s made of a large collection of wooden buildings all painted in bright, contrasting colors. And sticking out of the landscape is a tall building that gives you sweeping views of the small but attractive city.
The rocket-shaped building that towers over the city is Iceland’s tallest church, Hallgrímskirkja. Built in Expressionist Neo-Gothic style and open to the public, the church itself is a structure you’ll want to take a good look at. The inside of the church is characterized by its tall ceiling and pristine atmosphere. The construction symbolizes the mountains and the wings of the building are inspired by the basaltic columns of the land.
When you’re in the capital city, you could also go check out the pubs & clubs of Reykjavik. If you’re looking for entertainment, you could also visit Harpa Concert Hall, which acts as the venue for the National Opera & Symphony.
4. Thingvellir National Park
When in Iceland, visiting the island’s national parks is a must. Thingvellir National Park, the oldest of them, is just around 45 minutes away from Reykjavik. It must be visited for its geographical and well as historical importance.
Thingvellir National Park is set up around a rift that was formed by the movement of the North American & European Plates. The tectonic activity here has left the place rich with features like waterfalls & lakes, not to mention the rocky landscape. When you’re here, look for Oxararfoss waterfall, Iceland’s largest lake Pingvallavatn & Drekkingarhylur Pool.
As for the historical significance, this place used to be Iceland’s first parliamentary-meeting venue. This was where chiefs from different parts of the island came together to discuss issues of the island, solve conflicts, & share regional news. As such, this national park in the southwest is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
5. Go feel the spray from the mighty Gullfoss
Next on the list of the best things to do in Iceland is what might be the most famous of Iceland’s waterfalls. Gullfoss means ‘golden falls’ and the cascade gets its name from the shimmer in the water when the sun falls on it. The color and the name of the waterfall are attributed to the sediments in the water.
Gullfoss, which is on the Hvita River, is made up of two falls— the first one falls down a 32-meter drop and the lower one falls 70 metres into a canyon, which is believed to have been carved by glacial activity.
Skogafoss is another much-visited waterfall here. This one is in the southern part of the island. It’s a fall of the Skoga River. Fed by water from the Eyjafjallajokull & Myrdalsjokull glaciers, Skogafoss is a picture-perfect sight. Spread over a width of 25 meters, the waterfall drops down a good 60 meters. The rocks over which it falls used to be the former southern coastline of the island.
Apart from the fact that the waterfall is a beautiful sight, it’s also known for almost always having rainbows arching over the spray. Often there are double rainbows here.
The water and its voluminous spray can be seen and photographed from the top or the bottom of the waterfall.
Also associated with Skogafoss is a local myth that a Viking hid a chest of treasures behind this waterfall.
7. Vatnajökull National Park
If you’d like to see the largest national park in the country and also get to see the largest glacier in Europe, the place to go is Vatnajökull National Park. Spread over an area of close to 5,500 square miles Vatnajökull occupies the south, southeastern, & eastern parts of the island.
Vatnajökull National Park has glacial landscapes, waterfalls, mountains valleys, & volcanoes to show you. While you’re here you might want to climb the Vatnajökull glacier, visit Detifoss, enjoy the landscapes of , & look out for Öræfajökull volcano and Hvannadalshnjúkur, the highest peak of Iceland.
8. Black Beach
Towards the southernmost parts of Iceland, there are a few black sand beaches. However, the beach that is well-known for its black sand and is the most-visited is Reynisfjara Beach.
The reason Reynisfjara Beach is the place in Iceland to go see black sand is that it has more than black sand to show visitors to the area. There are craggy cliffs, black pebbles, lots of sea stacks, and even some basaltic columns.
9. Jökulsárlón Lagoon
Another big attraction you don’t want to miss is the glacier lagoon of Jökulsárlón. Jökulsárlón means ‘Glacier’s River Lagoon’ and was born out of the melting of the Breidamerkurjokull glacier.
Go here and you witness a lake of flowing icebergs and maybe even big pieces of icebergs breaking off and crashing into the water. The best way to experience what is the deepest lake here is to get into a tour boat and get onto the water to see the icebergs better. You can also hope to see seals as well as native birds.
10. Snæfellsjökull National Park
Snæfellsjökull National Park is the place to go if you’d like to see almost all of the island nation’s natural landforms in one place. A 3-hour drive from Reykjavík, this national park is situated on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on the western part of the island.
The park gets its name from the volcano & glacier of the same name. However, you can see everything from lava fields & lava tubes to beaches, columnar basalt, and native plants & animals. To see the wonders of Snæfellsjökull National Park, you can drive through the park and do some hikes. This is also the place for super-jeep tours.