The land of fire and ice makes it on a lot of travel bucket lists. Whether you visit Iceland in summer for the summer solstice or in winter to chase the Northern Lights, the country is sure to leave you blown away. It’s honestly one of the few hyped destinations that I felt actually lived up to its hype. But what is there to see in Iceland? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are all the top things to see and do in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon might just be Iceland’s most famous attraction. This world-famous geothermal spa is conveniently located near Iceland’s main airport. So it’s a popular place to either start or end your Iceland itinerary on a relaxing note.
I was initially worried the Blue Lagoon would end up being just another manmade Instagram attraction. But between the relaxing waters, to the facial masks, to the complimentary alcoholic drink or fruit smoothie, to the stunning architecture, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit!
Entry to the Blue Lagoon is between $44 and $100. This depends on how far in advance you book, the time slot you select, and which day of the week you go. I recommend you book tickets as soon as you know your vacation dates. The popular time slots do fill up in advance.
The most basic-level entrance ticket includes a facial mask while in the water and a one drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic options both available) from the water bar. There are showers, complete with body wash, shampoo, and lotion. You also get a locker to store your valuables and a towel. Once you enter the Blue Lagoon, you can stay until closing!
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and largest city. And while Iceland is known best for its nature, Reykjavik absolutely does deserve some time in your itinerary. The quirky city center is relatively small and therefore easily walkable by foot. You’ll absolutely want to stop by Hallgrímskirkja Church, Reykjavik’s most iconic tourist attraction. Entrance to the church is free, but it costs around $9 to climb to the top. From there, you can view the city’s famous colored rooftops from above.
Before arriving in Reykjavik, know that it is a bit expensive! So expect to pay a minimum of $20 for low-budget meals. The city offers lots of traditional Icelandic soups, seafood, and lamb dishes, as well as more gastronomically modern restaurants. Expect to pay $30 – $40 per person for meals like these.
Kirkjufell Mountain & Waterfall
You’ve no doubt seen photographs of Kirkjufell Mountain and Kirkjufell Waterfall, as the waterfall is the most photographed waterfall in all of Iceland. And that’s really saying something, because Iceland has a lot of waterfalls and they lure a lot of photographers. Kirkjufell is the biggest draw in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in northwest Iceland.
Thingvellir National Park
This is definitely one of the largest attractions in Iceland. Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the place of Iceland’s first parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries.
While in Thingvellir, make sure to check out the following:
- Flosagja Canyon
- Oxararfoss Waterfall
- Drekkingarhylur Pond
- Silfra Fissure
Silfra Fissure is the continental rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. A lot of travel sites and bloggers will recommend you absolutely snorkel the Silfra Fissure. But I’ve been there, done that, and am here to recommend you don’t. The concept of swimming between two continents is obviously cool. But in actuality you are simply looking at rocks through extremely clear water as you float from the top. Oh – and hoping you don’t freeze to death. Just my two cents!
Geysir & Strokkur
Geysir may seem like a strange name for a geyser, but this was actually the geyser after which all others were named. It was the first geyser known to modern Europeans. While Geysir is cool, the real star of the show in the area is nearby Strokkur. Unlike Geysir, Strokkur regularly shoots up every several minutes.
Gullfoss means “golden falls” and is one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls. If you visit while it’s sunny, you’re sure to spot a rainbow from the sun rays on the mist generated from the powerful falls. There are two lookout points for Gullfoss; a lower observation deck, and a higher one. Be sure to stop by both!
Kerid Crater Lake
Kerid is one of the few natural Iceland attractions requiring an entrance fee, but the fee is just a few dollars and entirely worth it. It is almost two sites in one; first the turquoise lake in the center of the crater, and second the stunningly red volcanic crater itself. Visitors can walk the outer crater rim as a loop, which I highly recommend you do. Then, take the steps down to get a closer look at the lake. You are not allowed to walk the rim of the lake, but people break the rules and do in winter, when the lake is frozen.
Jökulsárlón Lagoon is a large glacial lake in south Iceland. Here, you can watch icebergs that have broken off the glacier float out to sea. The lagoon serves as backdrop in famous films like James Bonds ‘Die Another Day’ and ‘A View to a Kill’, as well as ‘Tomb Raider.’ You can observe the iceberg-studded lagoon from shore for free, or join a boating excursion to get a more memorable experience. If you’re lucky, you might spot some seals!
Just across the road from Jökulsárlón Lagoon is Diamond Beach. At this beach with black sand, broken iceberg fragments from the lagoon wash up onto shore, where they give the impression of (rather large) diamonds.
Bruarfoss Waterfall is in my opinion the coolest thing on the entire Golden Circle. But it’s luckily not even a part of the actually Golden Circle route! That means you’ll leave the day-tourist crowds behind for a bit while making the short detour to locate this gem of a waterfall. No exaggerations – this was my favorite waterfall in all of Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss is another of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls. It is known for the walkable path behind the waterfall, which allows for that postcard-perfect view you’ve likely seen before. If you plan to walk behind the waterfall – which I absolutely recommend you do – plan to get wet! Wear a waterproof outer layer and protect your electronics.
This simply has to be Iceland’s most famous beach. This is the one with the large, black lava sea stacks that tourists climb in brightly colored dresses to snap that Instagram-worthy shot. Unfortunately, that makes this black sand beach extremely crowded during most of the day. But it is absolutely still worth the visit. Just try to ignore all the selfie sticks!
This iconic arc is located nearby the city of Vik. In order to view it, you need to drive up a steep and zigzagged road, meant for only 4×4 vehicles. You can alternatively park at the base of the road and walk up. From the observation area, you also get the iconic aerial view of Reynisfjara black sand beach.
This otherworldly canyon was made famous by Justin Bieber’s “I’ll Show You” music video. So famous, that Iceland had to temporarily close it off to visitors due to environmental damage. If you visit, especially during winter like I did, please obey all signs about which areas are closed off due to melting snow. Disobeying is punishable by law.
The Gerðuberg Cliffs are a lot less Instagram-famous than the basalt columns of Reynisfjara Beach, but they are pretty cool nevertheless. They are a little hard to notice from the road, but they are conveniently just off the road to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and make for some fun exploring and photo-taking.
This arc-shaped rock formation in the sea is the postcard image for the village of Arnarstapi. You’ll find this arc by walking left along the cliffs after passing the Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss Statue. I recommend walking right as well, because this whole little park-like area boasts beautiful views.
This unassuming little black church is actually quite the hot commodity when it comes to weddings. And who can blame people! The calm, tiny, monochromatic church contrasted against the anything-but calm, tiny, and monochromatic Icelandic scenery makes quite the vantage point. This church and a hotel are the only things in the village of Budir, which is an easy stop when exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Djúpalónssandur was one of my favorite stops on my Iceland road trip. It’s Black Lava Pearl Beach is a lot less popular than that of Reynisfjara in the south of Iceland, but that luckily made it a lot less crowded. Unlike at Reynisfjara, I was able to enjoy and take in the unique nature in a calm, practically human-less environment.
This waterfall is located in northwest Iceland. So it is not one of the most popular for those with only a couple days in Iceland. But if you are doing a road trip and heading to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Hraunfossar Waterfall is a can’t-miss stop on the way.
Just a little walk up the way from the gentle cascades of Hraunfossar, you’ll find the mighty waters of Barnafossar Waterfall. Don’t forget to walk onto the bridge over the rushing waters to really get the full experience.
There are a few places to glacier hike in Iceland. But Vatnajökull National Park is probably the most convenient for most Iceland itineraries. It is one of three national parks in Iceland, and it’s in between and nearby several south Iceland points of interest.
Vatnajökull National Park is also a great place to explore ice caves. This is only an option in winter, which is one of the reasons I think winter is the best time to visit Iceland! You can go on a tour entirely dedicated to ice caves (there are several photography-geared tours). Or you can combine a glacier hike and exploring an ice cave into a single excursion. This is what I did on my visit.
Svartifoss Waterfall combines two of Iceland’s beloved natural occurrences; waterfalls and lava columns. This waterfall takes a bit more effort to reach as compared to other popular ones. It requires a 20 – t30 minute walk from the parking lot. But I assure you the trek is worth it, especially if you arrive early enough to beat out the crowds.
This is a lesser-known lagoon in Iceland. It is overshadowed by nearby Jökulsárlón Lagoon, which is what I think makes it perfect! Unlike at Jökulsárlón Lagoon, you can actually get up close and personal with the icebergs at Fjallsárlón Lagoon.
DC3 Airplane Crash Site
An American Navy plane crashed at this site in south Iceland back in 1973, after running out of fuel. Luckily, everyone apparently survived. But the crash site has since become a popular tourist attraction. So popular, that driving straight up to the crash site is no longer allowed. Thus, you’ll have to make a trek, which takes 30 – 45 min each way. Budget extra time (and prepare extra patience!) in order to snap that perfect pic.
Skógafoss is another of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls to visit. You can view the waterfall from the base as well as from the top, which requires a walk up stairs.
Deildartunguhver Thermal Spring
If you’re not amused by cool photo opportunity destinations, you can probably skip a stop at Deildartunguhver. But for the rest of you, it’s an easy stop to make if heading to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It is the most powerful hot spring in Europe, and the steam it exudes is fun to make creative videos and photos out of.
Right by the Deildartunguhver hot spring is a natural pool spa called Krauma. I did not enter, but it looked really relaxing from outside!
One of the main reasons to visit Iceland in winter is for a chance at viewing the Northern Lights. There is absolutely zero guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights on your trip. So how do up your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland? You’ll want:
- Dark skies: get further away from city or village centers
- Clear skies: thick clouds will block the Northern Lights from view
- Strong aurora activity: you can check the 48-hour forecast here
My own encounter with the Northern Lights in Iceland was too brief to get a good picture, which is why I don’t have one to share. Next time!
What Do You Think of Iceland?
Is Iceland on your bucket list? Have you already visited Iceland? Let me know what things I should make sure to see on my next visit! I want to get to the east half of the country!