Iceland is the land of fire and ice! The island was formed by volcanoes and the icy weather conditions. During your trip you can explore the unique landscapes with countless waterfalls and hot springs. Even today Iceland still has around 30 active volcano systems and 80-90% of the island are made of basalt of volcanic origin.
In this post I will share with you the best things to do in Iceland to make your visit an unforgettable experience!
At the end of this post you will find a map with the location of all the best things to do in Iceland!
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO ICELAND?
This question doesn’t have a clear answer! Iceland has something special to offer throughout the whole year!
- Winter: The winter months have very short days and long nights plus it’s not possible to drive up to the highlands due to the snow and ice. But therefore it is the best time to see the unique polar lights!
- Summer: In the summer months the sun will only set around midnight (or not at all up in the north). You will also have a great chance to see whales around the island. Starting from mid June until mid August the landscape around the coast line of Iceland is covered in thick meadows of lupines. These blue violet flowers make a wonderful contrast to the dark cliffs and mountains.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I PLAN FOR ICELAND?
Iceland has so many amazing landscapes and attractions. Even after staying for a month it wouldn’t be possible to see all of it!
For our road trip on the Ring Road and to experience the best things to do in Iceland we planned 10 days and have seen a lot during this time! Depending on how intense you want you daily schedule to be I would suggest you 10-14 days for a complete trip around the island.
What is the best Rental Car for Iceland?
If you’re planning to drive around Iceland on the famous Ring Road you have to book a rental car. We’ve seen many camper vans on the road but we decided to get a regular car and to sleep in hotels. This is how we could make sure to charge all our electronic gear every night.
We didn’t book a 4×4 vehicle since they are a lot more pricey and even on the gravel roads you can easily drive with a regular SUV. Only for our last full day we changed to a 4×4 rental car to drive to the highlands of Iceland. These so called F-Roads are only allowed to enter with a proper 4×4 vehicle.
WHICH BUDGET SHOULD I PLAN FOR A TRIP TO ICELAND ?
This is a list of the approx. prices you should plan:
- hotels: around 100 – 150 EUR per night
- rental car: around 70 – 100 EUR per day (a minimum of 100 EUR for a 4×4 vehicle)
- meals: around 20 – 50 EUR per day & person
WHAT YOU SHOULDN’T FORGET TO PACK FOR YOUR ICELAND TRIP:
- Even so you’re traveling to Iceland in the summertime you should definitely pack a hat! I forgot mine and missed it many times at cold windy places.
- A rain jacket is essential not only to stay safe from some heavy rain showers but also from the spray of the waterfalls which can be very intense.
- Make sure to pack many thin clothes you can layer. I’ve been putting my jackets and sweaters on and off in an interval of minutes since the weather and temperature can change quickly.
- Always have some dry socks, trousers and shoes with you! We got completely soaked almost every day after visiting waterfalls and it was life saving to change into something dry in the car.
- At least one pair of proper hiking shoes is probably the most important thing to stay safe on the steep and slippery trails.
- Iceland has some of the purest tap water in the world which got filtered by several layers of volcanic rocks over many hundred years. That’s why it’s not necessary to buy bottled water. The best is to bring your own refillable bottle to Iceland to reduce plastic trash.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN ICELAND – FROM REYKJAVIK TO THE SOUTH COAST:
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is on the list of almost every single tourist visiting Iceland – even if they only plan to stay a few days. The 300km round trip is ideal for a day trip starting and ending in Reykjavik and one of the best things to do in Iceland.
The best things to do in Iceland along the Golden Circle:
Thingvellir National Park
The Thingvellir National Park is an UNESCO heritage side and especially known for lying between two tectonic plates. The North American and the Eurasian plate are drifting away from each other around 2cm each year. Over many decades they created the incredible scenery of the Thingvellir National Park.
A highlight is to dive or snorkel in a gap between these two tectonic plates – called Silfra. The water only has a temperature of 2°C but you will get a wet suit, a hood and gloves to protect your body from the direct contact with the icy water.The water is known to be one of the clearest in the world – you can see up to 130 m under water!
The waterfall Öxarárfoss is a famous spot in the National Park which you can easily reach by walking a few minutes from one of the different parking lots. Almost all of them are fee-based – only the small and unknown parking space P3 (see map) is free of charge!
Important note: Keep in mind that flying drones if forbidden in ALL National Parks in Iceland.
Bruarfoss is a very special waterfall along the Golden Circle! It doesn’t have a huge scale but it’s very wide. Several turquoise blue streams make a wonderful photo scene.
From the parking lot you have to walk around 3 km which will probably take you 45 mins. Due to this fact the waterfall is not as highly frequented as others.
First you will walk through thicket until you reach the stream which you have to follow. On the way to Bruarfoss you will even pass two other waterfalls which are also worth a stop!
If you reach Bruarfoss you will spot a wooden bridge which gives you a great perspective to take a picture of the waterfall.
The most active geyser in Iceland is located in the Geysir geothermal area along the Golden Circle. Many different bacterias, algae and minerals giving the many hot pots different shades of intense colors.
Geysers normally erupt very sporadic or only after earth quakes but Strokkur is very reliable. It erupts every 8-10 minutes with a 15-20m high jet of hot water and steam.
Only a short drive away from Strokkur is the “golden waterfall” Gullfoss located. It’s scale is immense and river is crashing into a canyon on two levels. Gullfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls and therefore highly frequented.
Other Highlights along the Golden Circle
Kerid Crater Lake
Kerid is a red stone crater which is partly covered with grass. These different colors make a wonderful contrast with the blue water in the crater lake.
Secret Lagoon Gamla Laugin
Gamla Laugin is the oldest bath in Iceland. The water has a natural origin from a hot spring with a temperature around 40°C. It’s a nice place to relax after a day of exploring.
The best things to do in Iceland -The South
The South coast of Iceland has been my favorite area in Iceland we visited during our road trip around the island! The landscape is truly one of a kind with hundreds of waterfalls crashing down the mountains which you can see right from your car during the whole drive.
All together there are around 10.000 waterfalls in Iceland which makes it impossible to see them all! But in the South we found some of the most beautiful ones you shouldn’t miss:
If someone would ask me about my favorite place in Iceland, it would be hard for me to give an answer to this question but Seljalandsfoss is definitely one of the best things to do in Iceland.
From the parking lot you can already see the incredible beauty of this waterfall and it’s only a few steps until reach it. What makes this place so special is that you can walk around Seljalandsfoss behind the water stream through a cave. I would highly recommend to wear a rain jacket plus proper hiking boots since the spray is very intense and creates a slippery floor.
Seljalandsfoss is a very wonderful spot if you wanna experience the midnight sunset. The sun will set right behind the waterfall and if you are lucky, the sky will turn into the most intense hues of orange and pink.
After visiting Seljalandsfoss you shouldn’t miss to walk along the cliffs. A cave is located at the end of the path with a hidden waterfall inside! It can only be spotted if you walk a few steps in the gap between the crags.
Skógafoss is another waterfall in the South which is worth a visit! Due to it’s incredible size and its powerful amount of water, it creates a strong spray around it which almost looks like fog.
Right next to the waterfall you will spot a staircase leading to a platform at the top from where you can see the river Skóga falling 60 m down into the deep. If you follow the path a little further you will spot another small waterfall called Hestavaðsfoss.
Skógafoss View Point
Hestavaðsfoss along the trail
To reach Kvernufoss you have to park you car at the Skóga museum and walk a short hike. This waterfall is one of the lesser known ones since it’s a little hidden. But it’s definitely worth the short hike since Kvernufoss is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen!
The path leads through a private property so make sure not to leave it. First you have to climb over a fence and walk through a field until the path will lead you in the mountains. You will see the most magical landscape around you which reminds a lot of a Lord of the Rings movie set!
Heavy spray and the sunshine create a magical rainbow right in front of the waterfall which made it look even more fantastic.
You can follow the path behind the waterfall which offers an amazing perspective for photos. But be careful – it will be very wet!
DC-3 Plane Wreckage
Of course the South of Iceland has more to offer than just waterfalls! A very different sight is the DC-3 plane wreckage.
It is located in the middle of a lava rock field and you have to walk around 45 Minutes per direction on a path through the middle of nowhere.
The plane crashed to Sólheimasandur at the 21st of November 1973 but the reason for it is still unclear. There have been seven crew members onboard but luckily no one got injured!
Visiting the wreckage in the wintertime comes with a high risk since the weather conditions are very string and can change within minutes. Only last winter the dead bodies of a couple have been found on the way…
Sólheimajökull is the first glacier I’ve ever seen with my own eyes! From the parking lot you can walk to the glacier lagoon in just a few minutes. Many ice bergs are swimming in the water – they are big bricks of ice which fell off the glacier and are slowly melting in the water. The climate change had a drastic impact to Sólheimajökull! In only ten years the glacier have been shrinking around one kilometer.
Many tours offer glacier walks, snow mobile drives or even canoe tours in the glacier lagoon but unfortunately we didn’t had time for it.
Reynisfjara Black Beach
The black lava beach Reynisfjara has been listed among the worlds most beautiful beaches many times already – but it also counts as the most dangerous beach! The reason for it is that the waves can get a enormous power and sometimes even flood the whole beach. It often happens that tourist get knocked down by the sneaker waves and get completely soaked with the cold water.
Luckily we had very nice weather and the sea was really calm when we visited the black beach. For that reason we could not only see the famous basalt columns at the beginning of the beach but also the „petrifies trolls“ at the end of it. These are bizarre rock formations in the ocean which make the characteristic background of the beach.
Where to sleep in the South?
We booked two nights in the Black Beach Suites and can’t recommend this place high enough. One suite fits for up to four person with a luxurious bathroom, a corridor and the living- & sleeping area. It has a small but well equipped kitchen which allows you to prepare you own meals.
Only a few minutes away by car you will find the small villas Vik where you can buy groceries and petrol. The Reynisfjara Black Beach is only a few minutes away too!
Best things to do in Iceland – From the South to the East
Skaftafell National Park
While driving along the South coast all the way to the East we made a stop at the Skaftafell National Park. Skaftafell is the name of the extinct volcano, but there are many more places to see in the park. With a size of 4.800 km² it’s one of the biggest protected area in Europe with a high variety of landscapes and views to the Vatnajökull glacier.
On many hikes you can explore the natural variety. We decided for the hike to Svartifoss – the „black waterfall“. The name comes from the black basalt columns which are surrounding Svartifoss. The have been naturally formed when the lava slowly cooled down many decades ago.
From the parking lot you need around 30 minutes to this unique waterfall.
Diamond Beach (Jökulsárlón Beach)
The name of this black beach comes from the many small and shiny ice blocks which can be found in the sand.
When big ice bricks fall off the nearby Breiðamerkurjökul glacier, they land as swimming ice bergs in the glacier lagoon until they reach the ocean as smaller bricks where the waves wash them on land. For this reason you can not only find these icy diamonds on this particular beach in the wintertime but even in the warmer summer months.
Die Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Right behind the Diamond Beach you can find the Jökulsárlón lagoon of the Breiðamerkurjökul glacier, which is, like already mentioned above- the source of the ice diamonds. The lagoon is not only worth a visit to spot the many different ice bergs but also for a high chance to see seals. They swim in the ice cold water or relax on ice bricks.
P.S. Please never walk on any of the swimming ice bricks even if they come very close to the shore. The reason for that is that they can drift away very fast or even tip over. We saw a big ice bricks falling off an ice berg and suddenly it started to move until it found its new balance. A really powerful natural spectacle!
The headland Stokksnes offers many beautiful photo opportunities. First you will reach a little cafe where you have to pay an entrance fee of 800 IKR (around 5 Euro) per person to drive through the barrier with a QR-code. The first stop is a vikings village which got rebuilt 2011 in an original way for the series „vikings“. If you walk through the gates of the village you feel like stepping back in time. The wooden houses with the dramatic mountains in the background and some wild horses running around makes a beautiful setting.
With the car you can drive a little further to the black dunes which offer a great view to the beach and the characteristic Vestrahorn mountain behind it.
A very famous photo motive is capturing the reflection of the mountain in the wet black beach. Unfortunately a thick layer of clouds where covering the view when we’ve been there so our pictures didn’t turn out very well.
A little further east we are leaving the ring road the first time to take a little shortcut along the 939 which is leading up to the mountains. Only by mistake we have been spotting the Folaldafoss along the street and simply had to make a stop. The blue water makes a very impressive contrast to the black basalt stones.
After that the street leads into a thick fog. We had to drive very slow because we could barely see what was in front of us when we suddenly spotted a group of reindeers crossing the street.
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and the enormous amount of water falling down into the the tiny gap is spreading an impressive energy.
You reach the east side Dettifoss after driving on the gravel road 864 for around 30km. It’s also possible to reach the waterfall from the west side but the east side is more ideal to take pictures.
Yellow wooden pegs will show you the way to another waterfall behind Dettifoss. It’s called Sellfoss and pretty wonderful too but not as impressive as Dettifoss.
This impressive cannon with the characteristic basalt columns and the blue water (it only has this wonderful color in the summertime) just recently turned into a popular spot among landscape photographers.
You can appreciate the beauty of Stuðlagil canyon via two banks. The most convient way to reach it is the west side. The parking lot is located very close to the canyon and all you have to do is walking down a short (but very steep!) way while holding to some ropes. But it’s only possible to see the canyon from above at this side.
If you wanna go down to the water you have to hike around 5km per direction at the east side. You can find an excellent description about how to find the path HERE.
Best things to do in Iceland – The North:
Myvatn Geothermal Area
Myvatn is a blue volcano lake which is surrounded by an impressive volcanic active area with hot pots. Especially the geothermal area with mud pots and steam vents really impressed us. The steam which is rich in sulfur is coming straight from the ground and is the reason for the strong smell which you already recognize from far away.
Make sure that you never leave the marked ways since this the ground can be loose and very dangerous.
On the route to the north we passed the „waterfall of gods“ Goðafoss which is definitely worth a stop. Goðafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland – not because of its scale but the waterfall is rushing down a 30 meters long cliff with the shape of a horseshoe. It really makes a wonderful photography motive.
Húsavík – Whale Watching
The small Fishermans village Húsavik is nowadays the whale watching center in Iceland. The waters around Iceland are home of countless whales during the summer months – 10,000 of them alone are humpback whales. The animals migrate to the cold and nutritious waters to feed until they swim back to the warmer tropical waters to give birth or mate during the winter months.
The first stop during our tour with Gentle Giants Whale Watching is an island which is populated by many thousands of puffins during the summertime. These birds are excellent swimmers and divers but while flying above our heads they look a bit clumsy with their tiny wings.
After this stop we continue to drive into the deep waters. A few minutes later we already spot the first humpback whale while feeding. Every whale has a unique fluke which makes it easy to distinguish between different animals – the same like the unique fingerprints of us humans.
Altogether we spot two different humpback whales and even a group of dolphins! Additionally the view from the ocean to the north coast of Iceland is pretty impressive too.
Siglufjördur is the most northers city of Iceland and we loved it so much that we even decided to extend our stay in the small city for a second night.
It once used to be the stronghold of the fishing for herring in Europe. Today a very uniquely museum takes you back to this era. After the fishing had to be stopped due to overfishing the city turned into a quiet Fishermans village which got very attractive for visitors in the last couple of years.
We spent our time visiting the museum, the best fish & chips store and the local brewery „Segull 67“ which is offering a beer tasting for visitors.
The Herring Museum
Brewery Segull 67
In the evening you can follow the Ring Road a little further through the next tunnel behind the city to find an amazing spot to watch the midnight sunset. Since we have been only some kilometers away from the Arctic Circle the sunset and sunrise have actually been the same!
The iconic Siglo Hotel
The most popular accommodation in Siglufjördur is the beautiful Silo Hotel at the harbor. The rooms and the lobby are furnished in a cozy country house style and the hot thermal bath in the outdoor area invites you to relax.
The best things to do in Iceland – the West
During the ride from the north coast back to the west we pass some amazing spots which definitely belong to the best things to do in Iceland.
The mountain Kirkjufell is famous for its unique shape of a sugarloaf which makes a wonderful background for the Kirkjufell waterfall in front of it. That’s why it turned into one of the most famous photo spots throughout the whole year. Luckily we had this spot almost to ourselves during our visit in July 2020 since there have been barely any other tourists in Iceland.
The deep orange lighthouse Svörtuloft is located at the most western point of Iceland and is a great photo scene in front of the landscape of Iceland. During a stop I would suggest to walk a little further down from the lighthouse to reach the cliffs where you can watch many seabirds nesting during the summer months.
The Saxholl Crater
If you always wanted to take a look into an extinct volcano crater you should put the Saxholl crater to your list. You can easily reach the crater rim via a staircase. But to be honest the view you will get is not as impressive as you may expect it – but it’s still great to overlook the landscape with numerous other volcano craters.
Unique Lava Rock Formations
Along the west coast you can find two impressive lava rock formations. The first one is the rock needle Lóndrangar which makes a great contrast to the strong waves of the ocean.
Gatklettur is also a famous stop for tourists. It is a rock bridge in the ocean which looks so beautiful that it’s hard to imagine that this formation has been naturally shaped.
Die Blue Lagoon
After completing the Ring Road we arrived back to Reykjavik. For our second last day in Iceland we decided to relax a bit. And which place would be better for it than the famous Blue Lagoon which is not far away from the capital of Iceland.
Other than many expect, the Blue Lagoon has no natural origin. A nearby power plant, Svartsengi, is producing power and hot water thanks to geothermal energy. The blue water which is a „left over“ of the power production the get’s collected in the lagoon.
The intense color of the water comes from the rich concentration of Silica which has several health benefits for the skin. Even so the thermal bath is popular among tourists and locals, it never get’s really crowded since the area is very huge. We always found a quiet place to relax.
Directly in the lagoon is a bar for drinks and another one for face masks. Some tickets include all four different mask, while the basic entrance covers only the Silica mask.
You should avoid the direct hair contact with the water, since they will get very stiff and dry from it. But no worries – in case you hair get’s wet it doesn’t really get broken. The reason why it feels so dry comes from the mineral buildup on the surface of you hair which will be removed after several washes and hair masks afterwards.
The best things to do in Iceland – The Highlands
As already mentioned above we decided to change our SUV rental car to a 4×4 vehicle for our last day to explore the highlands of Iceland. These so called F-Roads only open up from June due to the heavy ice and snow during the winter months. Unfortunately we didn’t made it to all the spots we had planned since it’s only possible to drive very slowly on these rocky gravel roads.
The impressive mountain range Kerlingarfjöll is located in the highlands of Iceland. The parking spot is located very close to the Hveradalir geothermal area with the snowy mountain peaks behind it. Several sulfur steam vents and mud pots bringing up different minerals from under the surface which gives the landscape many different color shades from orange to blue and purple.
During a hike through this surreal landscape you will feel like being on another planet.
The third highest waterfall in Iceland is Háifoss and is a unique sight – especially during sunset. The sun will set down directly behind the water stream and the sky turns into some intense orange and pink colors.
The parking lot is located very close to the impressive gorge on the opposite side of the waterfalls which offers an amazing view to Háifoss from the lookout.
We actually planned to visit Landmannalaugar aswell which is also located in the highlands. Unfortunately we had to change our schedule for the last day and didn’t make it. But anyway this place belongs on the list of the best things to do in Iceland. The landscape Landmannalaugar is known for the many different and bright colors of the hills in contrast to the lava fields.
Unfortunately it was time to say goodbye to Iceland after visiting the Highlands…
We’ve barely seen an island which such a huge variety of landscapes during our travels. We will definitely plan another trip to Iceland in the future to experience its beauty during the wintertime and to see the Northern lights.