Nordic countries always have a special place in a traveler's heart, but Iceland is almost too surreal to be a part of this world. That's perhaps why fantasy movies and series like Game Of Thrones select it as a filming location. If you notice any scene with unpredictable geyser explosions, beaches covered in black sand, vast glaciers, lava fields, and other extraterrestrial formations, that movie took place in Iceland without a doubt.
A trip to Iceland is not a regular one, where you visit museums, restaurants, and take photos in front of buildings. Every inch of this Nordic country tells a different tale about the power of Mother Nature. Witnessing the natural phenomena taking place, you will bow down to the integrity and harmony of this dramatic landscape.
To balance out the aggressiveness of nature, Icelandic people are peaceful and easygoing, living in perfect harmony and making Iceland one of the most peaceful countries on earth.
If you have grabbed a pen and paper, here are the top ten activities in Iceland.
- 1. Blue Lagoon
- 2. Vatnajokull Ice Caves
- 3. Golden Circle
- 4. Chase The Northern Lights
- 5. Whale Watching Tours
- 6. Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve
- 7. Askja Caldera
- 8. Reynisfjara Beach
- 9. Visit Northern Iceland
- 10. Spend Time in Reykjavik, the Iceland Capital City
- ✈️ Traveling to Iceland - General Tips
- 🇮🇸 Iceland - Summary
1. Blue Lagoon
The flight to Iceland can be exhausting, so your first activity should aim to revitalize your body. In a place with abundant geothermal activities, finding thermal springs is like finding fish in the sea. Interestingly enough, the most famous thermal bath called Blue Lagoon is not a natural spring. The water supply comes from a nearby geothermal power station, meaning it is still therapeutic and rich in minerals. Jumping into the boiling and milky-blue water while the outside temperature is below -10 is the best treatment you can ever give your body. On top of that, it is unbelievably close to Keflavik Airport. You can hop off the plane and arrive there in less than 30 minutes.
2. Vatnajokull Ice Caves
Let’s move on to Iceland’s hard-to-pronounce and harder-to-forget activities. The first on our list would have to be a visit to Europe’s largest glacier outside the Arctic Circle. There is a great variety of landscapes in Vatnajokull National Park, from a highland plateau and glacial rivers to magnificent waterfalls and ice-capped volcanoes. Perhaps the most remarkable experience is a glacier hike up to the natural ice caves, for which you need to join a guided tour. No matter how strenuous the hike is, reaching the extraterrestrial Icelandic Caves is quite rewarding. The most famous cave is the Crystal Cave, with luminous blue tunnels spiraling into infinity.
3. Golden Circle
Even if you have limited time in Iceland, you can still uncover the country in a nutshell through the Golden Circle. Iceland’s Golden Circle is a 300 km-long route in the south that contains some of the most popular tourist spots of the country. You can have plenty of stops, but here are our top recommendations. Thingvellir National Park is an essential stop, as it contains the enormous crest between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, as well as the country's largest lake. Your second stop should be the mystical Gulfoss Waterfall. Perhaps, the most thrilling sight on your trip would be the Geysir, famous for the sudden and loud sprouts of its hot springs. Because these three sites are somewhat close to each other, you can even explore them in less than a day.
4. Chase The Northern Lights
For some people, visiting Iceland means sleepless nights. Despite the flesh-cutting cold outside, nighttime is the best time of the day to be out, to chase the Northern Lights. Because of the high latitude of Iceland, Aurora borealis presents itself in maximum crispness and color range. All you have to do to catch a glimpse is to drive outside the city at night, which can be intricate. You can also join tours, where the guides are knowledgeable about the best spots and times, not to mention the camera techniques to capture the light display.
5. Whale Watching Tours
One can never get enough of Iceland's landscape, but you shouldn't skip the hidden gems off the coast. Whales visit the coastline regularly, and all year round, so whale watching should go on your Iceland bucket list. It is quite easy to participate since the tours depart from Reykjavik's Old Harbor. As you soak in the city views, the giant mammals of the sea will accompany you. A bonus of these tours is a savory meal with drinks on board. While it is possible to spot whales most of the year, your chances will peak in summer.
6. Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve
Volcanic activities can shape up the landscape like a painter, forming abstract color patterns. Iceland’s Landmannalaguar Nature Reserve is one of the most noteworthy examples. Throughout centuries, Hekla Volcano gave rise to rhyolite mountains with stripes of brown shades that resemble a slice of marble cake. Situated only 180 km from Reykjavik, the nature reserve is easily accessible. You can go on hikes, mountain cycling, or even horse riding to look at the landscape from different angles. There are also mountain lodges for those wanting to stay over.
7. Askja Caldera
While Blue Lagoon is a spectacular spa center, you shouldn't miss out on the actual geothermal pools of Iceland, especially if it's a crater lake of an active volcano. Askja caldera is a natural lake with a 50 km diameter up on Dyngjufjoll Mountains. Through vigorous volcanic eruptions, the top of the mountain eventually imploded to create the lakebed. Today, it is one of the largest natural pools in the country, with 30 degrees Celcius water temperature. Its proximity to Vatnajokull National Park will make Askja Caldera an ideal day trip destination.
8. Reynisfjara Beach
Who would've thought one of the top attractions in Iceland would be a beach excursion! Though, Reynisfjara is not your regular tropical beach. When you initially arrive here, you might feel off because of the black-obsidian sand and the wild Atlantic waves. Don't worry; this type of sand stems from the erosion of black volcanic rocks, such as basalt. You can notice the results of basalt erosion on the massive pointy stacks or the famous Reynisdrangar Columns. We can guarantee that you will gain the inspiration to write your version of the LOTR after visiting this foggy and mystical beach.
9. Visit Northern Iceland
By now, it is clear that a lot of popular Iceland attractions congregate in the south. If you want to extend your itinerary off the beaten path, you should head for the north to meet the real Iceland. Even the largest city, Akureyri, is barely large enough to be a town in European standards. Nevertheless, it offers a lot of activities for every traveler. The city is home to authentic shops and seafood markets, as well as the informative Akureyri Museum. In the countryside, you will find the Aviation Museum at Akureyri Airport. Drive further east, and you will arrive in Myvatn Nature Reserve, boasting a rich flora and diverse Icelandic wildlife.
10. Spend Time in Reykjavik, the Iceland Capital City
We often associate Iceland with a unique landscape, but that leaves the capital Reykjavik underrated. Spending a few days in Reykjavik and observing daily life will help you understand why it is one of the most peaceful cities in the world. The city has a mostly modest silhouette, which accentuates its few iconic buildings. Perhaps the most recognizable structure is the Hallgrimskirkja Church inspired by yet another basalt rock formation in the country. Emerging 73-meters-high, the church is visible from everywhere in Reykjavik. Don't forget to visit other sights, such as the Sun Voyager sculpture on the coast, and the opera house Harpa. Last but not least, get lost on the tranquil streets between bright-colored houses, cozy coffee-shops, and friendly people.
✈️ Traveling to Iceland - General Tips
Visiting Iceland for the first time can feel overwhelming, so we have gathered a few useful tips to help you adapt much faster.
- Your best option to capture crisp images of the Northern Lights is a DSLR/mirrorless camera with long exposure times. You should also bring a tripod to stabilize your camera.
- Weather: As you can expect, it can be unusually cold most of the time. You should always dress in layers and bring thermal leggings, ski gloves, thermal socks, and hiking boots with rubber soles.
- Credit cards: Contrary to many countries, Iceland is more credit card oriented. You should keep in mind that some places might only accept credit cards, such as grocery stores and gas stations.
- We are not going to lie; visiting Iceland can be draining for the wallet, but you can still save up money. The country's tap water is probably the purest and tastiest in the world, so bring a reusable water bottle.
- Iceland is a road-trip-country. If you have an international driver's license, you can rent a car and self-drive around the country's well-maintained roads. Keep in mind that you will need a 4x4 to drive to some regions, particularly the uplands. Alternatively, you can join the guided tours. There are many tour agency offices in Reykjavik, and you can book any trip without hesitation.
- When planning your itinerary, you should keep in mind that you will spend at least 1-2 hours in each place and that there will be long drives between the attractions. You will feel exhausted if you squeeze too many attractions in one day. The ideal is to fit 1-2 activities per day and try to group the attractions that are near each other. For example, Dettifoss Waterfall is in the north of Vatnajokull National Park, so you can try to fit the ice cave hike and the waterfall visit into one day. You should also remember that daylight will be between 10 am – 4 pm in winter and plan accordingly.
- Iceland is a member of the Schengen Area. Passport holders of the Schengen countries, the UK, the US, and Canada are exempt from visa for up to 90 days. You can check the updated list of countries needing a visa here.
🇮🇸 Iceland - Summary
Iceland was not called the land of ice and fire for nothing. There is no other country, where you can find glaciers and molten lava in one place. With so many extraordinary sights to see, it feels like this small island fell off space from another planet. It can be expensive compared to other European (especially Eastern European) countries, but it is impossible to put a price tag on the experiences you will have in Iceland.
It can be a mission to calculate your expenses in Icelandic Krona, the Iceland currency. Using MixCoin, you can instantly convert between Icelandic currency and that of your home country, like the US dollar, Euro, Polish Zloty, or Norwegian Krone (check the full list of supported currencies).