Iceland Top 10: Best Places To Visit & Things To Do In Iceland
Iceland has become an extremely popular place for tourists to visit from all around the world. One of the most often used words to describe this country is “magical”. Iceland has so many things to offer people, so no matter what your personal idea of fun is, chances are that Iceland will be able to fulfil your dreams. So let’s explore many of the things to do in Iceland
And to make things even more spectacular is the way the scenery changes depending on the season you go visit. Ever wanted to view the Northern lights in Iceland? Or how about driving around Iceland’s famous ring road? Also, arguably the first destination many people visit on arrival in Iceland is the famous Blue Lagoon. And finally another question many people have about Iceland is: winter driving in Iceland, should I do it?
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond Beach
Visiting the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond Beach is really easy to do together, as they are right across the road from each other! The lagoon is filled with icebergs calving off from the Vatnajökull Glacier, the largest glacier in Iceland. As they are constantly on the move, no visit/picture is the same as another, as each time the icebergs are in a different position. The icebergs float out to the Atlantic Ocean via the lagoon, and in certain weather conditions they wash up on to the black sand beach. The so-called Diamond Beach just across the road from Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is spectacular in winter, when the beach is dotted with a variety of ice creations sparkling in the sun against the black sand background. If you are visiting Iceland don’t miss this nature’s wonderland!
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is situated in the South-East of Iceland, and is characterised by stunning waterfalls and rock formations. The most famous is the Kirjufellsfoss waterfall, with its iconic mountain in the background, which make it one of Iceland’s most photographed and recognisable spots. (Any Game of Thrones fans recognise it??) It’s a lot busier than the Westfjords due to its accessibility, but still not as touristy as the Golden Circle, which makes it a great part of Iceland to explore.
Kirkjufell, or ‘Church Mountain’, is a distinctly shaped peak found on the north shore of Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula, only a short distance away from the town of Grundarfjörður. It is often called ‘the most photographed mountain in Iceland’, due to its dramatic formation and perfect coastal location.
Kirkjufell takes its name from its resemblance to a church steeple, sharpened at the top with long curved sides. From other angles, the mountain has been compared to a witch’s hat or even a freshly scooped ice cream.
The Ice Caves
If you are visiting Iceland in the winter, I would recommend you visit the The Ice Caves. (Unfortunately, you can’t visit the caves in the summer as they are full of water.) It is such a magical experience being inside a glacier: the light filters through the curved ice, making it look like you are inside a blue crystal!
The location for The Ice Caves is in the Vatnajokull National Park, which means the only way to access the ice caves is with a guide as part of a tour. The guides provide helmets and spikes for your shoes so you won’t slip on the ice. You need to bring your own warm clothing and of course a camera! The ice caves are located a 5 hour drive from Reykjavik near Jokulsarlon, the glacier lagoon, so it’s best to stay overnight in the area before your tour (plus that way you have lots of time to check out the glacier lagoon).
Often referred to as Iceland’s Best Kept Secret, The Westfjords is the remotest and most rural area of Iceland. With approximately 7000 people living in an approximate area of 22 000 square km. You could literally spend days driving around this region, enjoying mother nature’s raw beauty.
There are some spectacular views in Látrabjarg, where there are kilometres of coastline that you can walk along, accompanied by the seagulls and puffins, visit some of the inhabited areas such as Isafjordur.
Another extraordinary highlight of the Westfjords is Rauðasandur, the Red Beach. It’s a 10 km long beach, surrounded by the steep cliffs of the fjords. Visiting there you might find that you are the only people there, that adds to the beauty of the place. Try walking along part of the beach, in an attempt to spot the seals that they say often enjoy the sun here.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is one of the most visited areas in Iceland, since in just one day you can see geysers, waterfalls and beautiful landscapes. The main attractions are Gullfoss waterfall, the geothermal area Haukadalur and the Thingvellir National Park.
Gullfoss is a huge waterfall divided in three layers, and there is a long walkway all around the canyon so that you can see it from different angles.
The main attraction at the Haukadalur geothermal area is the Strokkur geyser, which regularly erupts every 5 / 10 minutes. This is situated at the Geysir visitor’s centre, with the famous Geysir and Strokkur geysirs. Read about our wonderful self-catering cottage in Iceland we booked for our stay in December 2017.
East Iceland – Hengifoss
Hengifoss is one of the most popular sights in East Iceland. It is the second highest waterfall in the country. There is a path leading from the parking lot which takes you to the waterfall. Depending on weather conditions, it is not that difficult to negotiate. It follows along a spectacular gorge and half way up there is a smaller waterfall called Litlanesfoss, which is framed by basalt columns. Hiking further along you will reach Hengifoss. Do be warned though, the hike is approximately a 5 km round trip. But the views and the opportunity to see two waterfalls close up make it worth while. Also, due to the fact that not many tourists make the trip to the eastern parts of Iceland, the views are often unspoilt and not that many tourists around.
Horse riding on the Vik black sand beach
From one of the local stables’ website:
If you are looking for a special experience while in Iceland, than you should definitely join this horseback riding tour from Vik, giving you the chance to ride an Icelandic horse on the famous black sand beach!
HB-06: HORSE RIDING VIK
Horseback riding from Vik. The tour is suitable for both beginners as well as more experienced riders. Meet with your guide at the stables in Vik and prepare for a unique adventure that includes crossing a little stream on your way to the famous black sand beach, the highlight of your tour. You will have the chance to see the Reynisdrangar basalt collumns and make a photo stop at the beach. Your guide can take a nice photo of you on the horse. Ride along the entire beach to mountain Reynisfjall where there is a wide variety of bird life.
In the summer (end of May to September), you will have the chance to see puffins flying all around and over your heads. From the beach, you will ride back to the stables after what we hope was a great experience with the wonderful Icelandic horses and unique landscape.
If you love horse riding, and think this would be awesome to do some horse riding in Iceland, I would suggest you have a look at various tour companies that offer this. This would be my all time favourite of things to do in Iceland. Let me know in the comments if you have done this!
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir is a favourite stop among travellers along the Golden Circle route. It has been a National Park in Iceland since 1930 and was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2004. When Viking settlers arrived in the 10th century it was the site they chose as the meeting place of Althingi, the world’s oldest parliament.
The location may seem a bit out of the way, but the unique geology created a natural amphitheater perfect for public speaking including the high rock wall of Logberg (Law Rock). Here the laws of the land would be recited from memory. The parliament’s members, godar, discussed and decided new laws and passed on judgments in Althing.
Aside from its historic interest, Thingvellir holds a special appeal for nature lovers. It is the visible site of the mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The plates are being pulled apart at a rate of 2 centimetres (nearly an inch) per year, creating the Thingvellir Rift Valley. The geology here is not only interesting to learn about but also spectacular to behold. You can literally walk between two continents.
For Game of Throne fans, this is one of the filming locations as well. There is an excellent blog written by Fangirl Quest about Thingvellir National Park and some of the locations used in filming Game of Thrones.
Dynjandi is actually composed of seven waterfalls, with Dynjandi Fall being the first and biggest waterfall. The other six are smaller and flow down to the sea. There is a path along the waterfalls that you can walk up to that gets right under Dynjandi.
Simply enthralling; The Westfjords’ favourite attraction for decades, and is never short of breathtaking. The biggest and widest part of the waterfall is the one that gets all the attention and the photos, even though there are impressive, albeit smaller, waterfalls further down the river.
To enjoy, follow this simple step-by-step manual. 1. Stop your car at the parking lot. 2. Walk all the way up to the biggest part of the waterfall, it takes about 15 minutes. 3. Take a deep breath and enjoy 4. Whenever ready, go back down to the car.
This is a tour I would specifically recommend as one of my bucket list things to do in Iceland, as the waters around Iceland make for excellent whale watching opportunities. Some of their unique characteristics make the Icelandic waters especially rich feeding grounds and easy for the whales to survive in. Most of the whale species feed on zooplankton, krill and small fish which flourish in cold water in the polar regions.
The warm and cold currents; the tectonic fissures which allow heat to escape from deep in the ocean floor; the long summer daylight in which zooplankton flourish attracts whales of many kinds.
Around 23 cetacean species frequent the waters off Iceland, 8 of which are seen quite often on whale watching tours. You are most likely to see:
- Humpback whales
- Blue whales
- Minke whales
- White-beaked dolphins
- Harbor porpoises
The best time for spotting whales around Iceland is the summer: June, July, and August months. Whale watching tours are often combined with sea angling and puffin watching.
The high season for whale watching starts in April and lasts until mid-October. However, many whales stay in the Icelandic waters throughout the year. The success rate of the summer tours is over 95%, in the north, this is even higher at 98%.
Herring and other small fish are abundant in the waters in the winter. Many toothed species, for example, dolphins and orcas stay around Iceland throughout the year, but sightings of humpbacks and minke whales are certainly not uncommon either. The success rates in winter are still quite high, around 90%.
So as you can see, there are so many things to do in Iceland. Please leave me a comment below if you have visited any of these places, or if you have any other suggestions you would like to see in a follow up post in the future.