Looking for the best things to do in Iceland on your next trip? We countless awesome Iceland activities, sights, and things to do while exploring the Island of Fire and Ice. There is hardly a country in the world that packs as many jaw-dropping landscapes in such a short amount of time.
Beauty attracts you, but diversity makes you never want to leave. In a place as engrossing as the country is, it can be tough to narrow down what to do in Iceland. Here’s our ultimate Iceland bucket list to help you plan!
Where is Iceland?
Before we dig into the best things to do in Iceland let’s discuss where exactly Iceland is.
Iceland is a mountainous island nation located between Europe and North America in the middle of the North Atlantic. It’s part of Europe, though it’s not connected to the mainland. It’s known as the land of “Fire and Ice” for it’s extreme beauty. Although Iceland is called “Iceland” it’s surprinsly not that cold and no – it’s not all ice. Some areas have a very mild climate, but winters can be harsh.
The Best Things to do in Iceland
Drive Iceland’s Ring Road
Driving the Iceland Ring Road is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland. Route 1 or the “Ring Road” circumnavigates the entire island nation and hits several great sights along the journey. What makes the trip so popular is that it allows visitors to see the diverse landscape of Iceland and presents many detours throughout the country.
The first thing we did in Iceland was pick up our campervan and hit the road for a 12-day adventure. You can drive the ring road all year round, but we found it to be one of the best things to do in Iceland in September and October. We’ve discussed our full Ring Road itinerary and share tips here!
Rent a Camper
Speaking of campervans, we found one of the best ways to experience Iceland was with our own set of wheels. It should be no surprise that accommodation is expensive in Iceland. A campervan can minimize your accommodation expenses; it paid off big time for our trip. Our campervan came with a mini kitchen, so we didn’t have to worry about dining out in the world’s most expensive country.
We loved the freedom we had with the campervan. For a good rental company, try Happy Campers. They are family-run, have excellent reviews, and great customer service. You can easily book using this link, but make sure to book well in advance during high season.
Snap a Photo at Kirkjufellsfoss
Still wondering what to do in Iceland? You need to visit Kirkjufellsfoss. This Iceland waterfall may be the smallest on this list, but it’s the location near Mount Kirkjufell that sets it apart from the rest. Kirkjufellsfoss is a great point of interest in Iceland. It’s a hotspot for photographers as they can capture the waterfall with the iconic mountain in the background.
To get this iconic photo, you’ll have to battle other visitors for a sacred parking spot nearby. Yes, this place is no secret, and many people come here every day to photograph Kirkjufellsfoss with Mount Kirkjufell in the background. This truly is a must-see in Iceland.
So you’re wondering what is there to do in Iceland and want some off-the-beaten-path ideas? These are some of our favorite waterfalls in Iceland, and we were lucky enough to catch them as the birch trees turned orange during October. If you have ever been to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, we felt Hraunfossar was very similar, just on a smaller scale.
Stand Under Skogafoss
If you could picture a waterfall in your head, it would be Skogafoss. The classic shape of this Icelandic waterfall, along with its convenient location and accessibility, makes this waterfall a hit for everyone. Visiting here is one of the best free things to do in Iceland. It was easily one of our favorites on our Ring Road trip around Iceland.
If you want to feel humbled, just stand near the base of the waterfall. If you’re feeling adventurous and up for getting wet, you are definitely able to stand just meters away from the misty base of the waterfall. There’s also a staircase to the side of Skogafoss leading to the top, where you can overlook the area.
There are waterfalls all over Iceland, so that’s why we made a list of some of the more popular ones. It’s almost impossible to get an approximate number as glaciers melt and form small waterfalls that feed rivers and streams. If you love chasing waterfalls, then one of the best things for you to do in Iceland is grab a camera and stop at everyone you see to snap a photo.
Goðafoss is one of most famous waterfalls in Iceland, but in my opinion, it certainly is not its most impressive. The waterfall in the Northeast is still spectacular nonetheless as it’s 30m wide and 12m high. What makes the waterfall significant is its historical importance. In the year 1100, the law speaker chose to convert from the Old Norse religion and to Christianity. In doing so he cast his old deities into the waterfall giving the waterfall its new name – Goðafoss or “Waterfall of the Gods.”
Háifoss is the fourth highest waterfall in Iceland. It’s an awe-inspiring sight as the water rolls off the 122-meter sheer cliff to the Fossa River below. If you look in the photo above, you’ll see the waterfall “Granni” to the right of Háifoss.
I don’t want to show you the whole thing so you can be surprised when you get there. If you suffer from vertigo, you won’t want to get too close to the edge here – it’s a long way down. It is possible to hike down if you know the way.
Dettifoss is said to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. The waterfall is monstrous and one of the most impressive natural landscapes in Iceland. You can hike right up to either side of the waterfall and you’ll feel the ground tremble beneath your feet.
Its remote location in the North of Iceland makes for fewer visitors than waterfalls on the South Coast of Iceland, but it’s worth venturing to!
Gullfoss is the most popular waterfall in Iceland, and it’s also one of the largest. The waterfall is a stop on the Golden Circle route along with Geysir Hot Spring and Þingvellir National Park.
You can easily access the falls from a large parking lot with a pathway and steps that allow visitors to walk along the edge of the mighty waterfall. There’s also a cafe, gift shop, and restroom nearby. Chances are you’ll be joined here with a few tour bus groups, so try to avoid midday if you want to avoid the crowds.
Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, and for a good reason. The massive 65-meter high waterfall gives you the chance to hike behind the falls for a unique perspective.
You’ll want to bring a packable rain jacket or a good hiking jacket if you decide to stand behind Seljalandsfoss, or you will get soaked. It’s also important to note that the path behind the waterfall may close in the winter times due to slippery and uneven surfaces.
Seljalandsfoss is located just off the Ring Road on the South Coast before the town of Vik. It’s a stopping point for just about every tour and can easily be combined with a visit to Skogafoss.
Tour Around the Golden Circle
One of our top Iceland travel tips would be to drive the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle in Iceland is the most popular day trip in Iceland from the capital of Reykjavik. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Iceland if you’re short on time. It’s a 230km route that features some of Iceland’s most stunning natural landmarks, all on a day’s drive.
Most people opt for a bus tour, but we suggest picking up a vehicle and driving the Golden Circle yourself! The route covers the three main stops of Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss. You can read our guide on how to drive the Golden Circle.
Catch Sunset at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
This lagoon in Southeastern Iceland is a highlight of any trip to Iceland and definitely one of the best things to do in Iceland. The lagoon has formed over time from the massive glacier above; as the glacier melts, cool glacier water and icebergs mix with the ocean.
It’s easily one of the most beautiful places on earth! Head here around sunset or during the midnight sun for an unreal scene as the sun glistens off the ice. You may even get lucky and spot a seal! (We saw two!)
Lick an Ice Cube at Diamond Beach
Seeing this beach is one of those fun things to do in Iceland you can’t miss. Right across the street from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is Diamond Beach, so be sure not to miss it. On Diamond Beach, you can watch the giant ice pieces crash into the ocean waves. It doesn’t take long to understand the beach’s name, as large chunks of glacial ice are strung along the beach, glistening like diamonds.
Steep in the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is one of those Iceland tourist spots. You either love or hate The Blue Lagoon. It is a tourist trap and overpriced. However, for many, the chance to take their vacation photos and lounge around the gorgeous pool is too much of a draw to care.
If you’re on a budget I would give the Blue Lagoon a skip and head to one of Iceland’s many public geothermal pools. If you want a transfer from the airport as you are short on time here’s a good tour, it does make for a cool layover.
Hang with Locals at the Pool
Most towns in Iceland have a public swimming pool as it’s considered a public necessity. Over the last century, they have become an important part of Icelandic culture. It is a place where Icelanders get active, relax, and socialize. They aren’t just for locals, though; foreigners are welcome too. We made an effort to go to as many swimming pools as possible when camping on the ring road. If you are camping, a pool will also allow you to shower and relax the back.
Swimming pools entrance fees run between 600-1000 Icelandic Kroner, which is a fraction of a Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon ticket price. They all will have at least one main pool for swimming and two different hot tubs for relaxing. Some pools even have saunas, ice tubs, water slides, and steam rooms! Public pools are fed by geothermic water and have minimal treatment with few chemicals. Due to the few chemicals, it’s public law that you must shower nude before entering the pool; showers are divided by sex.
Enjoy the Black Sand Beaches
Black beaches aren’t something seen every day unless you’re touring around Iceland. There are a few spots to see the dramatic black sand beaches. Reynisfjara, near Vik, is probably the most well-known and visited the black sand beach in Iceland, and it is easily accessible from Reykjavik.
Climb a Glacier
While you’re at Jökulsárlón, you may as well conquer the biggest glacier in Europe (Vatnajökull glacier) nearby! This challenging experience is one of Iceland’s most memorable. We suggest any active traveler strap on some crampons and prepare to climb a massive glacier with mesmerizing views.
It’s not the expansive landscape that will steal your breath away, but when you enter the ice caves within the glacier. What’s better than telling your friends back home you went ice climbing in Iceland?
Go Horseback Riding
Horses are an integral facet of Icelandic culture, and it’s a great activity to explore Iceland’s landscape. Icelandic horses are small compared to other horses you may be used to, but they have a very distinctive gait style that makes riding them exceptionally smooth to ride.
The “Tölt” is one of the five gaits of an Icelandic horse and makes this breed so different from any other on earth. The horses are known for being well natured and strong horses, and not to mention beautiful. Check here for tour options.
Watch the Northern Lights
One of the best things to see in Iceland the northern lights! We consider the Northern Lights one of the greatest spectacles on earth, and Iceland may be the best place in the world to witness them. This is one of the best things to do in Iceland in the winter months when the night sky is dark (October – April is the best time to see the Aurora in Iceland). Keep in mind they are never guaranteed, and you’ll need to be in a remote location away from city lights to see them.
Generally, the lights are active once a week, but you’ll need a clear night sky to see them. Those staying in Reykjavik offer boat tours from the harbor that take you out to sea and away from city lights. If you want to photograph the Northern Lights, you will 100% need a tripod on stable ground (not a rocking boat).
All visitors should explore the fascinating landscape of Landmannalaugar, it’s certainly one of the top things to do in Iceland. The rugged area feels like another planet and requires a tough 4×4 vehicle to access. You’ll find the wild rhyolite mountains, lava fields, hot springs, and the notorious Hekla volcano. It all feels like another planet and makes for amazing landscape photography opportunities.
Scuba Between Tectonic Plates
Many people don’t know that you can go scuba diving between two continents. In the Silfra fissure, it’s possible to dive into freshwater between the North American and Eurasian titanic plates. While it may be a bit chilly, the glacier water has been filtered through the lava field and is so clear that the visibility is about 100 meters! Diving here is only available with a tour.
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to spot puffins. If you love wildlife, then this has to be at the top of your Iceland bucket list. There are plenty of places around the country to see puffins. Most notably in Vestmannaeyjar, Látrabjarg, Vigur Island, Papey.
If you have a car you can get to these places yourself, or you can hop on a tour and sail just outside of the capital to see them in Akurey, Engey or Lundey. Puffin sightings are only possible in the summer due to their migration patterns. Puffin watching is one of the best things you can do in Iceland in July!
Go to the Top of Hallgrímskirkja Church
Going to the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church is the best thing to do in Reykjavik, Iceland. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937, this church is an iconic piece of architecture in Reykjavik that any visitor should take the time to see.
It’s fun to see the beautiful church from the outside, but once inside you’ll hear chords from the gargantuan pipe organ. For a great view of the city to venture to the top of the tower inside for 1000 ISK and see the amazing views over Reykjavik.
Admire the Beauty of the Diamond Circle
Another one of the best things to do in Iceland is hit up the Diamond Circle. The Diamond Circle route is in northern Iceland with four popular stops. Lake Mývatn, Húsavík, Ásbyrgi Canyon, and Dettifoss Waterfall are the main stops, but you can also add on Goðafoss Waterfall, Dark Castles, and Eider Falls to the route.
If you don’t have time to do the full Ring Road, the Diamond Circle is a good alternative that shows you some of the best of Iceland.
Smell the Hverir Geothermal Area
When wondering what to do in Iceland, consider this must do. Visit the Hverir geothermal area! It’s truly like walking on another planet! Get ready for the smell of sulfur, steam vents, and plenty of geothermal pools here. The geothermal area is easily accessible as it’s right off the ring road by Lake Mývatn.
There is a viewing platform to take in the whole landscape, but it’s also possible to walk around and have fun around the vents.
Have a Date Night in Reykjavik
Iceland is one of the most expensive countries globally, and the high costs are reflected in food and alcohol. However, when you are in one of the hippest capital cities in the world, you should have at least one or two nights out in Reykjavik.
There is a large nightlife scene that’s vibrant on weekends and summer months, making bar life one of the best things to do in Iceland in the summer. The best food we had in Reykjavik was at Matarkjallarinn, which serves modern Icelandic cuisine. They have live music or a pianist playing every night, and on weekends the cocktail bar here is packed with patrons.
Keep in mind that the sun never sets during the Icelandic summer so when you walk out of the bar at 2 am you may be a little bit confused.
Descend into a Volcano
What better activity to check off your Iceland bucket list than volcano spelunking? Inside Þríhnúkagígur you will descend 120 meters into a gigantic chamber, only to be overcome by shimmering hues of pink, blues, and oranges. This is definitely one of the best things to see in Iceland.
The colors inside Þríhnúkagígur are sure enough to dazzle any visitor. The dormant volcano is accessible only accessible with a guided tour.
Day Hike from Reykjavik
Looking for a quick break from city life while staying in Reykjavik? There is plenty of challenging yet magnificent hikes to stretch your legs. The best part is you don’t have to travel far to get to them! Esjan, Glymur, Hveragerði, Gjáin, Seljavallalaug are all located within an hour of Reykjavik and are accessible by public transport (and of course, two feet).
These hikes are well worth a day, in my opinion; however, the climb up Esjan is a favorite. Once at the top, you are rewarded with a stunning view of Reykjavik. It’s not just around the capital, though. There are great spots around the whole country to get out and hike!
Cozy Up in a Hot Spring
Iceland may be short of McDonald’s, palm trees, and Starbucks, but it does certainly not fall short in the hot spring category. All over Iceland are natural hot springs and geysers can be found and they are idealistic spots to take a warm (or incredibly hot) dip in (and I’m not referring to the Blue Lagoon). Don’t forget some local beer and a swimsuit!
Hit the Slopes
In the wintertime, Iceland becomes a ski or snowboarding fanatics playground. Iceland has a few different ski resorts around the country, but they’re mostly reserved for locals. Expert skiers will rejoice at the ski tour possibilities.
We personally love snowboarding, but we weren’t there at the right time of year. On our next trip, it’s one of our first things in Iceland, but we’ll have to come in the winter for that! For those that visit January through April check out the epic ski conditions.
Hop on a Snowmobile
Zoom across the top of a glacier for an adventurous thing to do in Iceland. Snowmobile tours are top-rated and make a great way to get out of the car. If you aren’t up for hiking in Iceland along the glacier, this is an exciting experience that gets you up close and personal to the incredible glaciers.
Go Whale Watching
Still wondering what to see in Iceland? Whale watching is a popular thing to do in Iceland. Many visitors will venture right out from Reykjavik, but one of the best places to spot whales is off the coast of Northern Iceland.
The capital of the North and second-largest city, Akureyri, makes for a great base to explore the Northern Coastline. The best time to spot whales is from May to September.
Take a Quick Dip in Seljavallalaug
Another Iceland must-see is Seljavallalaug. Seljavallalaug is the oldest pool in Iceland and it’s set in a gorgeous valley. To reach the pool you need to take a short drive down a bad gravel road and then hike 20 minutes.
The pool isn’t much for swimming with abandoned changing facilities, chilly water, and poor water circulation. Since it’s a bit cold in the winter, this is actually one of the best things to do in Iceland in July. Bring your camera with you – it’s very picturesque.
Interesting Things to do in Iceland Map
Helpful Iceland Travel Tips
- Icelanders speak Icelandic, but every single person I came across spoke English.
- The local currency is the Icelandic króna (ISK). ATM’s are found throughout the country
- Have I mentioned Iceland is expensive? Well, it is! Save money by eating in and cooking for yourself. Check out our Iceland grocery store guide for all the tips!
- Iceland is one of the safest countries globally; however, it’s always important to use common sense when walking alone at night.
- Tipping is not customary in Iceland.
- Iceland has a strong internet infrastructure, and you should be able to stay connected easily.
Best Places to Eat in Iceland
Most of the best restaurants in Iceland are located in the capital city. Suppose you want some amazing Iceland cuisine, head to Reykjavik for a great date night out. There are, however, some hidden gems located around the country, and eating at one is one of the best things to do in Iceland.
- Grillmarkaðurinn: Fantastic Icelandic cuisine and tantalizing cocktails in an upscale environment in Reykjavik.
- Vogafjós Farm Resort: Located in Myvatn, Iceland this guesthouse is family-run and dishes up amazing fish meals and even better chocolate cake!
- Tjöruhúsið: At the tip of the West Fjords is this gem of a seafood restaurant. It’s even been hailed as one of the best restaurants in the world!