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. Be sure to check out this guide on travel tips for Iceland after you take the plunge and book a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice!
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?
Wow! I am so keen to go – in fact, I am hoping to hear next week that I won a trip there (I am incredibly mature). If not, it’s on the cards for 2018…
Good luck with the contest! We are excited also about heading back hopefully in the near future, possibly summer 2017 if we can get it scheduled!
Iceland is on our list! I know we will visit more than once, winter and summer offer so many different opportunities. Great photos!
Thanks so much Cathy! Iceland is definitely at the very top of our favorite countries around the world. Despite visiting in the heart of winter when it was freezing, snowing and very little daylight, it was AMAZING! We can’t wait to go back, hopefully in summer 2017 to explore more when it’s the reverse and we get almost 24 hours of daylight 🙂
You have convinced me! I am ready to book the flights, today. I just have to convince David.
Once he has seen the pictures, he won’t need much more convincing 🙂
Amazing! What month did you go? It looks cold. Did you stock up on on special winter clothes? 😉 The reason I ask is that we’ve booked Iceland for a week before Christmas with another couple this year. We’ve booked four nights at Hotel Ranga near Hella because we really wanted the full Northern Light experience. Not sure how to plan our 3 open days, plus sidetrips from Hella during the day. Your post at least gives us some good inspiration!
Definitely on my bucket list. Seems to becoming a very popular place to visit. Love all your pics and looks like another great adventure!
Thanks Lisa! It’s definitely a place that we will always look forward to going back to visit. Whether you love relaxing yet spectacular scenery or just want to enjoy the attractions, history and culture in Reykjavik, Iceland really does have an eclectic mix of everything (at least in our opinion anyway!)
We absolutely loved Iceland when we went and can’t wait to return. I would like to see it during the summer months just to experience a time when the sun never sets but I think Paul would prefer to return when the snow is on the ground just because we seem to lack that now in the UK. You mentioned the Lamb soup – did you ever try the Lobster soup from Sægreifinn in Reykjavík? When they say it is the best you will ever try they are certain telling the truth.
Hey Tam, no we didn’t try the lobster soup but definitely will the next time we visit Iceland! I agree with you that visiting during the summer months would be awesome but honestly, I wouldn’t mind going back at any time of the year…it’s that beautiful!
Sometimes I think that this country is just a fairytale – it just looks so magical. Great photos and great advice – I really do need to head there soon!
Thanks so much for your kind comments! Iceland is the stereotypical example of a fairytale with the untouched, gorgeous landscapes just waiting to be admired. We LOVE Iceland and can’t wait to go back! Hopefully you will have the opportunity to visit sometime in the near future 🙂
Wonderful post. Chris you’ve convinced me to add Iceland to our ever growing list of places we must see. Problem is the list is growing faster than our bank account can handle. Thank you so much for sharing and enticing me.
Thanks as always Lyn for your kind words!! We can certainly resonate with your comments about travel plans vs bank account balance 🙂 It’s never in an even equilibrium…always seems to be going the wrong way. Ah well, the joys of managing your finances versus traveling everywhere. It’s all fun though right 🙂 My philosophy is that you can’t take money with you in your next life, so just enjoy life as much as you can (within reason of course).
Beautiful photos and great write up of my favourite country! Particularly loved the south coast with the waterfalls, rock formations at Reynisdrangar and the black beach. Looks like you were then in the peak of winter, it looks far chillier than when I was there in April a few years ago.
Cheers David! Yeah, we visited in the heart of the freezing cold winter but that’s part of the experience when visiting Iceland right 🙂 We would definitely love to go back in the summer months when everything is green but we were fortunate to have some really good days with weather, especially when we headed down to the South Coast to explore Vik and a couple of those awesome waterfalls.
What a gorgeous post, guys! We have not been to Iceland, but we’ve read half a dozen posts about it recently. It’s almost like someone is trying to tell us something! 😉 As always, great pictures. Thanks for sharing!
Cheers guys! It sounds like a trip is on the cards to Iceland sooner rather than later for you. Trust me, you won’t regret it as you can clearly see from all the amazing landscapes around Iceland. The tough part is actually leaving because you just can’t see it all in one trip….oh well, you’ll just have to go back again and again 🙂
Thank you for hosting another great linkup! I love Iceland, aren’t puffins the cutest animals, ever?
Adorable springs to mind Esther 🙂 Thanks so much for linking-up for Weekend Wanderlust…do we need any more inspiration to visit Iceland 🙂 We don’t!
This was a great post! After reading and seeing your images, we really do need to make time to visit.
Thanks so much Arnie!! Hope you get to visit Iceland soon 🙂
This is definitely on my list of places to visit! Looks stunning.
It certainly is stunning Lizette! If you have the opportunity to visit and need any more tips, let us know!
Great post and fantastic tips! We absolutely LOVE Iceland and have done many of things you suggested, brought back lots of happy memories, including Icelandic Fish and Chips! loved that place! thanks for sharing
Cheers Garth! We LOVE Iceland too so it looks like you are in good company 🙂 It feels like it has been way too long already since we were there but I think those Icelandic Fish & Chips along with other delicious cuisine available there is calling our names.
So much amazing beauty on this country! I haven’t been but I am eager to visit. I am all about natural landscapes, so , I am sure I will really enjoy the country.
If you love breathtaking natural scenery Ruth, Iceland is the place for you! No questions, it is beyond spectacular. Pictures will never do the landscapes justice, you just have to see it for yourselves to fully appreciate how stunning it really is.
The only reason Iceland is not on my map, because having lived in Sweden for seven years, I had enough of cold for a good while…
I can completely understand that Andrea…BTW, Sweden is pretty awesome too and we only spent a couple of days exploring Stockholm 🙂 But Iceland really is something else and for those that don’t like the cold, summer time is definitely the best time to go and explore.
Oh I just love Iceland and can wax lyrical about it all day long if people will listen! We visited for Christmas so had to cram everything into a few short hours and saw pretty much everything you have written here, except for the puffins 🙁 We posted our blog on Iceland a couple of months ago and it’s wonderful to see some of your photos could actually be ours – I love it! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and for it to take me right back there again and I totally agree, that this is a country that everyone MUST visit!! We will return .. next time it will be in the summer for longer days!
Definitely agree with you Angie about heading back in the summer to maximize the daylight! 24 hours exploring Iceland each day…I think we will need to catch up on our sleep both before and after the trip because it will be all out, action-packed adventure while in Iceland 🙂 But could you imagine it any other way 🙂
Hi Chris and Heather! My name is Erin, and I’m linking up for the first time this week! Just wanted to introduce myself! SO happy to have found the link-up – I love meeting and reading new travel bloggers. Thank you, and I hope to be back much more in the future!
Thanks so much for linking up with us for Weekend Wanderlust Erin! It’s always nice to connect with our readers. Have a great week 🙂
I’ve been hoping to get to Iceland to see the Northern Lights for a few years now, but still not made it! I’d been thinking recently of perhaps heading to Norway or Finland to see them but now you’ve swayed me back to Iceland again! Plus Hallgrímskirkja church looks so epic!
We were incredibly lucky to see the Northern Lights in Iceland! It’s one of those ‘bucket list’ type attractions that we wanted to check off and now we can say that we have done it 🙂 It would be cool to experience them in some of the Scandinavian countries like Finland and Norway, but for now I am pretty excited that we got to see them in what I deem to be the best place of them all 🙂 If you love unique architecture also, Reykjavik has some pretty cool structures including the church you mentioned!
Wow, love your pictures!! After being to the arctic circle I am not scared of cold climates anymore so Iceland now is firmly and high up on my list on where to go. Will definitely book mark this for once I book my flights 🙂
Thanks so much for your kind comments Annika! Hope you find it useful and you are able to experience all of this plus much more when you have the opportunity to explore Iceland 🙂
Great write up. I must admit Iceland has never been on my radar.. Much too cold, but this makes me want to at least consider it. It looks amazing 🙂
I have not been jealous in a long time on seeing a blog since I myself travel a lot. Iceland has long been on mind and you make it look even better. So lucky of you to see Northern Lights. I wish I could see that at least once in my lifetime. Great post!
Ah Iceland has been on my bucket list for the LONGEST time! Hoping I can finally make it happen this year – bookmarking this post for research 🙂
How fun! The more I read about Iceland the more I want to go. Plus I had no clue that there were Puffins there and I’ve always wanted to see them in person (well and not in a Zoo). Thanks for sharing a really helpful guide.
Actually Iceland is one of my favorite holiday destinations and I am happy to read the things you have explained here. I really enjoyed this wonderful piece of information and I hope you people will keep updating things again in this blog.
Thanks so much! We LOVE Iceland and I am responding right now from Keflavik International Airport in Iceland after we just spent an amazing week road tripping around this beautiful nation.
[…] been fortunate to experience some amazing geothermal locations around the world, in particular, Geysir Thermal Park in Iceland and of course, Yellowstone National Park’s very own Old Faithful and accompanying geysers. […]