It’s not called the land of fire and ice for nothing and after visiting Iceland for the first time, we can well and truly attest that this is one AMAZING COUNTRY that everyone has to experience. Once you have visited, trust me…you will want to keep going back! From breathtaking natural attractions such as active volcanoes and geysers to the relaxing solitude of coastal towns along the south coast, there are numerous places to visit in Iceland to keep you entertained.
Regardless of where you are visiting from, Iceland’s myriad of natural wonders is like nowhere else in the world. Whether you want to relax in the Blue Lagoon or perhaps be a little more adventurous and experience one of the infamous glacier walks, Iceland has it all. And we haven’t even mentioned the capital city of Reykjavik yet or the “Yule Lads” that have helped shape Icelandic folklore!!
We hope that this handy guide will give you a taste of the experiences you can expect when you arrive in Iceland and if you haven’t already planned a trip, well I’m convinced after reading this you will be raring to go.
Tourism in Iceland
Iceland is undoubtedly a beautiful country but when you think about the most popular spots around the world, it is not at the top of this list. Why? That’s a great question because after exploring Iceland, you will be wondering the exact same thing!
Perhaps the harsh winter climates are what discourages many or even the location which unless you are flying across the Atlantic from North America and want a convenient stop-off (more on that later!), Iceland is not ideally situated to attract the large numbers of tourists like some of their European counterparts.
Tourism in Iceland is clearly an integral part of the economy just like any other country. But tourism has a flip-side and can actually hurt a country. When you read articles that suggest how much vandalism and disrespect many tourists cause, it’s not difficult to see why a country is a little apprehensive about encouraging more outsiders to come in.
The reality is that the minority of individuals that cause such problems have a domino effect with other tourists who actually want to explore and portray the country the way it should be. Iceland is spectacular. Iceland is beautiful. Iceland is a country we should all experience but most importantly, Iceland is a country we should respect!
Top Places to Visit in Iceland
For those of you wondering why Iceland is such a special place to visit, here are some of our top reasons for exploring this beautiful nation. Words and pictures will never do each of these locations justice but hopefully, we can inspire you to visit these for yourselves in the near future.
ICELAND WAS CREATED FOR THE EXTREME EXPERIENCE (Visit Iceland)
As you can see from the above quote taken directly from the nation’s tourism board, Iceland is all about having an extreme experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go ice caving (though by all accounts Iceland is an epic place to do this) or skydiving, instead it’s what I like to call an “ultimate experience where sleeping is never on your mind”
Of course, if you visit in the middle of summer the lack of darkness (the sun sets for only about 3 hours from May to August) will certainly give you ample time to explore everything this nation has to offer. A visit in winter will offer the exact opposite as you only have 3 or 4 hours of daylight but the beauty of Iceland is that you can appreciate it at any time of the year.
Here are the areas we are going to focus on:
- Reykjavik – It’s the capital city and certainly a trip to Iceland wouldn’t be the same without exploring the heart and soul of the nation!
- South Coast – A journey around the Icelandic Ring Road from Reykjavik takes you along the stunning black sand beaches of the south coast.
- Vik – The most southerly point in Iceland.
- Waterfalls – Thousands of gorgeous waterfalls make this a natural feature you will want to explore around Iceland.
- Golden Circle – An iconic tour that takes in a variety of natural phenomena.
- East Fjords – Explore the untouched panoramic landscapes throughout the east coast region of Iceland.
Let’s start with the capital city. Take a stroll along the main shopping street known as Laugavegur and experience all of the local souvenir shops, boutique establishments and a plethora of fine restaurants that have located here. It’s the heart of Reykjavik but don’t let this fool you because there are plenty of other attractions in and around the city.
Known as the “church on top of the hill”, Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church that is one of the most iconic churches across Europe because of it’s quirky yet spectacular design.
Take a trip to the top and experience the stunning panoramic landscapes across the city and beyond.
Music is a huge part of Icelandic culture so be sure to head down to the waterfront and experience Harpa, a modern concert hall that is a true reflection of modern architectural design.
Be sure to check out Icelandic Fish and Chips (that’s the name of the restaurant) and sample some of the finest seafood in Reykjavik (our opinion of course).
When you think about all of the amazing natural phenomena around Iceland, beaches are probably not at the top of many people’s lists. However, when you head along Iceland’s south coast, you are rewarded with the stunning sight of beautiful beaches, albeit with black sand. But it’s this black sand that makes experiencing the south coast a must visit when exploring Iceland.
Tours are frequently available to this part of the island but is there anything better than renting your own vehicle and exploring the Icelandic ring road? Don’t worry, the journey gets even better as you continue around the island but take some time to check out the basalt sea stacks located at Reynisdrangar.
As you drive along the south coast, consider taking some time to head inland and hike one of the many glaciers in Iceland. Alternatively, be ready with your camera to capture an infamous shot of the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights.
We were incredibly fortunate to capture some awesome memories (and pictures) of the Northern Lights though you always need to have a little help from Mother Nature.
Another reason to take this drive is passing by the historic volcano known as Eyjafjallajokull. Here’s your first challenge…try to say that! When the historic eruption started in 2010, this quickly became one of the most infamously named volcanoes around the world.
One of the most popular spots for visitors to stay overnight or at least grab a bite to eat is the quaint town of Vik. Located in a valley on the south slopes of Reynisfjall, Vik is the south point of Iceland and offers awe-inspiring views across the Atlantic.
Vik is located about 110 miles from Reykjavik so if driving the full ring road is not feasible, why not add this as a viable day trip from the Icelandic capital and experience some other amazing natural features along this scenic drive.
Take a wander over to Vik Church perched on the hilltop overlooking the city. Not only is this an iconic spot given its location on higher ground, but the views across the Atlantic are worth the short hike.
Iceland has so many amazing natural features but in my opinion, none of them match the spectacular array of waterfalls that are scattered throughout the island. I am a huge waterfall aficionado, so having the opportunity to explore Iceland’s finest waterfalls was at the top of my bucket list.
Although this is not a single location like many other top places to visit in Iceland, the geography of the nations waterfalls is such that we couldn’t help but include this in our Iceland guide.
We had the opportunity to explore Gullfoss which is the most famous of all Iceland’s waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss are two other iconic waterfalls that we were fortunate enough to explore during our south coast road trip. Regardless of which waterfalls you want to visit, when you hear comments that waterfalls outnumber people in Iceland, you know you are visiting a pretty special place.
Take the Golden Circle to explore Gullfoss but we strongly encourage you to arrive early to beat the hordes of tourists and also perhaps capture a perfect ‘Golden Hour’ picture of the water falling into the abyss of the Hvítá river (White River).
Iceland and geothermal activity go hand in hand. If you decide to take the famous Golden Circle tour (guided or self-guided), you will appreciate why this is true.
The geothermal park of Geysir is the most popular spot on this route with a variety of active geysers ready to erupt at any given time. Although Geysir is no longer an active geyser, there are plenty of others to provide entertainment.
The active Strokkur geyser erupts every 4-7 minutes and is certainly an experience you will cherish and depending on how much time you spend here, you will likely see Strokkur erupting along with other smaller geysers multiple times.
You will certainly know you are in an area of geothermal activity with the pungent smell that you will quickly become accustomed to.
As we already mentioned, Gullfoss is another of the iconic landmarks on the Golden Circle tour. But there are plenty of other waterfalls including the Faxi (or Vatnsleysufoss) waterfall which is smaller but equally breathtaking.
The final stop on the tour of the Golden Circle leads you to Thingvellir National Park, site of Iceland’s first parliament and today more commonly renowned as the location where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge sits. The lakes around this national park are a popular spot for scuba diving and fishing, while others simply enjoy hiking this eerily beautiful wilderness.
Head inside the Geysir Visitor Center to grab a Golden Circle souvenir or two and sample some of the fine Kjötsúpa (lamb soup) which is a delicious local dish that you can enjoy all year round.
Iceland’s east coast is sometimes a forgotten part of the country but as you head along the Ring Road and approach the East Fjords region, it is certainly a beautiful area to explore. If you’re looking for a hiking paradise then Borgarfjordur is a perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing landscape and breathe in the coveted Icelandic air.
Meanwhile, the Icelandic puffin can be found on the island of Papey, also known locally as the “island of puffins”. For those that are more interested in improving their art skills, the town of Seydisfjordur is the place to be. The colorful facades of the wooden houses around this community help create a picturesque landscape and an artists dream.
The prime time for seeing puffins on the island of Papey is from Spring to mid-Summer so be sure to plan this into your itinerary if you want to see some of the finest wildlife Iceland has to offer.
Iceland is a breathtaking country of natural landscapes, spectacular geological formations, and much more. Regardless of your planned itinerary, the moment you arrive at Keflavik Airport you will know you have arrived in a pretty special place. Iceland is unlike any other place in the world, so take some time to appreciate everything this nation has to offer.
As you can see from our experiences, we were incredibly fortunate to explore a large amount of Iceland. However, the reality is that we have so much more to experience and we can’t wait to head back sooner rather than later!
Have you visited Iceland? What are your favorite landmarks and landscapes around the island?