When you travel as much as we do, there are always going to be destinations that immediately spring to mind in terms of creating memorable experiences. For us, there is one place that stands head and shoulders above everywhere else – Iceland! Driving around the Iceland ring road is undoubtedly the best way to experience this country but regardless of how much time you choose to spend there, you can be assured you won’t be short of amazing encounters. Visiting in summer or winter, the list of amazing things to do in Iceland is endless.
Whether you are intrigued by the best waterfalls in Iceland or perhaps the intriguing prospect of seeing the incredible Northern Lights, Iceland is a nation that truly has it all. We have been incredibly fortunate to visit this beautiful country on two occasions, once in the heart of summer and the other time in the freezing depths of winter. In our opinion, to fully appreciate the Icelandic experience, you have to visit during both seasons because it’s so unique at either end of the spectrum.
It’s true if you haven’t visited the “Land of Fire and Ice”, you have no idea what you are missing. Are you ready to book a trip and see what all the fuss is about? Let’s take a look at how to make the most of your next Iceland adventure. Of course, road tripping gives you a little more flexibility but regardless of your chosen method to explore Iceland, we are 100% convinced that you will have an amazing adventure!
Driving the Iceland Ring Road
During our recent visit, we enjoyed an amazing Iceland road trip where we focused our attention on exploring not only the iconic waterfalls that everyone will fall in love with but also some lesser-known gems that we think should be on your radar. Here’s our top tip…grab a rental car or campervan and hit the open road!
The total distance around the Ring Road is 830 miles (1336 km) and “technically” could be driven is a little as around 17 hours. However, this is NOT feasible and NOT something that we recommend. Why? Because you will miss out on the true Icelandic experience!
Our adventure last 7 days and nights and to be honest, it was an incredibly fast-paced adventure (to be fair, that’s how we travel). Realistically, you can accomplish this in as few as 7 days but I think 10-14 days is probably the optimal number if you are trying to experience a lot of what Iceland has to offer.
Best Things to Do in Iceland
Ok…so you are now ready to start exploring but again, that can be an extremely daunting prospect with so many resources out there and a myriad of things to see and experience in Iceland. Let’s take a look at our top 10 recommendations and perhaps if you have visited recently, you can share a few of your top spots in the comments below.
Our 10 recommended spots are scattered far and wide across Iceland. We want to give you an idea of the best things to do in all corners of the Icelandic nation. All too frequently we hear folks sticking to the Reykjavik area and taking day trips around the Golden Circle but we encourage you to head further afield and explore everything else this beautiful country has to offer!
- Explore Reykjavik
- Kerið Volcanic Crater Lake
- The Golden Circle
- South Iceland’s Waterfalls
- Vik and Reynisfjara
- Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
- North Iceland’s Waterfalls
Below is an overview of where you can find each of the above attractions.
Reykjavik may be the capital of Iceland but it’s frequently overlooked when you think about the best things to explore. It’s a city full of modern arts and culture with a hint of rich history thrown in there to create a perfectly diverse metropolis that every visitor will enjoy.
From the variety of authentic, local restaurants to the gorgeous “Harpa” concert hall overlooking the old harbor, Reykjavik is undoubtedly a great place to visit to start your Icelandic adventure. Head to the tourist information center to gain a variety of brochures highlighting some of the best spots worth experiencing around the island…or alternatively, keep reading this post for our ideas!
One of Europe’s iconic churches can be found in Reykjavik, at least in terms of the architectural design and location. Renowned as the “church on top of the hill,” Hallgrimskirkja is one of those attractions you cannot afford to miss, not to mention the breathtaking panoramic views you can admire from the summit of this architectural beauty.
Kerið Volcanic Crater Lake
Driving the Golden Circle is unsurprisingly one of the best attractions around Iceland and certainly with good reason. However, moments after leaving the Ring Road before you start the iconic Golden Circle route, there is an attraction that is yet again frequently missed because visitors are so concerned with reaching the likes of Geysir and Gullfoss. Kerið is a volcanic crater lake that epitomizes much of Iceland’s stereotypical natural beauty.
Dating back approximately 3,000 years, Kerið is a natural attraction that deserves to be on your Icelandic itinerary. For a small admission fee, visitors can hike around the perimeter of this volcanic crater before heading down to the banks of the lake to enjoy the relaxing environment surrounding this attraction.
The Golden Circle
Perhaps the most popular drive in Iceland is the amazing “Golden Circle” where visitors can enjoy a variety of amazing natural attractions. Geysir is the first stop on the Golden Circle drive and although this geyser rarely erupts, it is part of a larger geothermal area full of other active geysers. Strokkur, for example, erupts on a pretty regular schedule and visitors will likely experience this multiple times while exploring this area.
A short drive from Geysir leads visitors to Iceland’s iconic waterfall, Gullfoss. Translated as “Golden Falls,” this waterfall is an incredible sight and with various viewing platforms that provide aerial and close-up encounters with Gullfoss, it’s no surprise that this is one of Iceland’s popular tourist attractions.
Thingvellir National Park has a geological and historical significance around the Golden Circle. Iceland is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where a series of tectonic activity takes place and this ridge can be seen inside Thingvellir. In addition to this geological phenomenon, Thingvellir was once the home of the Icelandic national parliament.
South Iceland Waterfalls
Iceland’s south coast is scattered with amazing waterfalls but there are two that stand out from the rest. Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss are spectacular for a variety of reasons and each one offers a unique opportunity to experience the waterfall from different angles.
Skogafoss is almost 200 feet in height and is frequently accompanied by a rainbow to provide the perfect photogenic landscape. Visitors that wish to gain the full experience at Skogafoss can enjoy the campground directly in front of the waterfall alongside the Skógá River.
Why not take a hike to the summit of Skogafoss by challenging yourself to climb the 370+ staircase that climbs the mountain? It’s worth the effort because the views are beyond breathtaking.
A short drive along the Ring Road will lead you to Seljalandsfoss where visitors can enjoy a trail that leads them behind the waterfall. Be prepared to scramble a little on the second half of the hike because of the immense spray that is released but regardless of how wet you get, it’s an unforgettable experience! These are just a couple of examples of the best things to do in South Iceland…but don’t worry, there are more!
Vik and Reynisfjara
Heading to the beach may not be your first thought when considering what to do in Iceland but there is something quite magical about the black sandy beaches along the south coast. Reynisfjara is a perfect example and along with the basalt stacks that can be seen along the coastline, it is definitely an iconic reflection of the beauty present throughout Iceland.
The town of Vik is a popular spot for visitors who want to find somewhere to stay along the southern Icelandic coast. You never quite know what you will stumble across in Vik, including the opportunity to mingle with stereotypical Icelandic horses that are grazing in the fields just outside the town.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
When it comes to immense beauty across the Icelandic landscape, there are not many spots that can compare with Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. This amazing natural landmark epitomizes everything there is to love about Iceland. Large chunks of glacial ice can be seen floating around this lagoon before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean and frequently washing up on the nearby “Diamond Beach.”
Visitors to Jokulsarlon should consider taking one of the seasonal tours onboard either the zodiac or amphibian boat. This is a great way to learn more about the Vatnajökull Glacier, in addition to admiring the gorgeous lagoon. For those that want a more secluded environment, perhaps the nearby Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon would be a more appropriate spot to visit as this is equally spectacular.
Renowned as “a place of singing waterfalls and peculiar characters,” Seydisfjordur is a charming town in East Iceland that is perfect for visitors to relax and interact with locals while contemplating potential day trips or hikes around the East Fjords region. A collection of vibrant, multi-colored wooden houses can be found scattered around Seydisfjordur but it’s the snowcapped mountains and surrounding beauty that makes this town such a gorgeous place to visit.
As you drop down into Seydisfjordur, you immediately realize you are entering a unique part of Iceland. Perhaps because it’s from this location where you can hop on a ferry and head across the North Atlantic Ocean to mainland Europe or simply because this is the best place to visit in the East Fjords region. Either way, it’s an eclectic blend of architectural beauty combined with gorgeous natural landscapes.
Gufufoss is perhaps the highlight waterfall in this area of Iceland and is an unmistakable attraction as you drop down into the valley heading toward Seydisfjordur.
North Iceland Waterfalls
As your adventure around Iceland continues, you may be forgiven for thinking that the number of amazing waterfalls would only diminish. However, this thought couldn’t be further from the truth as you begin to explore North Iceland.
Waterfalls including Godafoss and Europe’s most powerful, Dettifoss can be found in the stretch of the Ring Road between Seydisfjordur and Akureyri.
The northern town of Husavik is renowned as one of the best locations in the world to experience whale watching. Heading out into the open waters from Husavik to have the opportunity to see not only various whale species but also puffins and other wildlife is certainly something that should be on your radar.
If whale watching is something that intrigues you, Husavik has the highest percentage of seeing whales than any other Icelandic location.
After an afternoon out at sea, head back into the town of Husavik to experience fine dining and also the Husavik Whale Museum to learn all about the firsthand encounters you had earlier in the day.
Akureyri is frequently referred to as the capital of North Iceland. This charming city at the base of a fjord is packed full of things to do and a variety of amazing restaurants (plus the BEST ice cream in Iceland!).
The Church of Akureyri is a gorgeous Lutheran church overlooking the city while museum lovers will enjoy the collection available throughout this part of North Iceland. After sampling some of Iceland’s finest fish and chips, head over to Brnja to sample that infamous ice cream! Trust us…it’s delicious.
Don’t forget to explore all of the other amazing things to do in Akureyri before you continue your epic road trip around Iceland.
Disclaimer – This post is sponsored by Travelade.