Iceland. It leaves you spellbound as you wander from place to place, your eyes feasting on the majestic vistas. “How could such a tiny island have such a diverse and beautiful landscape?” you think to yourself. It is the land of sheep, northern lights, volcanoes with unpronounceable names (try Eyjafjallajökull), and high prices. It quickly became one of my favorite countries in the world after my first visit. It’s such a beautiful country filled with warm and welcoming people (who are also beautiful). The landscape here is like nothing else in the world. It’s magic! Everyone told me Iceland would blow my mind. It did, and I can tell you it will do the same for you too. And with this travel guide, you can learn how it won’t blow your wallet in the process!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Iceland
1. Visit the Mývatn Nature Baths
2. Watch the Northern Lights
3. Spend some time in Reykjavik
4. Check out the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
5. See the waterfalls
Other Things to See and Do
(Click the title to expand the text)
1. Soak in the Blue Lagoon
While I found the Mývatn baths to be a more relaxing and less expensive option, you cannot deny that Iceland’s most famous geothermal pool is the country’s top tourist attraction. It might be crowded and expensive, but there’s nothing like it in the world. This huge, milky-blue spa is fed by mineral-rich heated seawater from the nearby geothermal plant. Add the silvery towers of the plant, rolling clouds of steam, and people covered in white mud, and you’ll think you’re in the twilight zone – in a good way! Admission starts at 5,200 ISK during the low season and 6,400 ISK during the peak season.
2. Take a Game of Thrones tour
The harsh climate north of the wall in HBO’s hit series was predominantly filmed in Iceland. Explore the film locations on a guided tour, with both single- and multi-day options available. If you’re a die-hard fan of the series this tour is for you!
3. Thingvellir National Park
This national park and UNESCO World Heritage site is interesting for two reasons: it’s the original site of the longest-running parliament in the world, and it’s also where the North American and European continental shelf plates are being torn apart. Pretty cool, huh?
4. Maelifell Volcano
Found in Myrdalsjökull Glacier Park, Maelifell’s perfect cone makes it a classic looking volcano. During the warm season, snow uncovers a lavish green surface, covered with moss. There is plenty to do and see in the park, full of volcanoes, hot springs, and other beautiful sites. During the winter, a lot of the roads in the park will close, so the summer season is the best time to go if you want to see the volcano.
5. Check out the geysers
Due to the volcanic activities underneath the surface, a lot of geysers, underground springs, and thermal pools are scattered all around the country. To see a powerful hot stream shooting from the ground is definitely exciting. Strokkur, in the southwest of Iceland, beside the Hvítá River, is a popular fountain geyser. Many geysers are found in Haukadalur in the south of the country.
6. Hike the Golden Circle Tourist Trail
During the summer months, hiking in the highlands of Iceland becomes a popular pastime. If you want a truly breathtaking experience, stand at the rift zone on the edge of the North American Plate and look towards the rift at the Eurasian Plate in the distance – talk about a riveting experience! Other stops include Kerið volcano crater, Hveragerði greenhouse village, Skálholt church, and the Nesjavellir or Hellisheiði geothermal power plant.
7. Head out on the Laugavegur trail
This 55km trail that runs between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk is as popular a destination for locals as it is for foreign visitors, and remains one of the most extraordinary walking trails in the world. It offers a great variety of landscapes, mountains in various colors, hot springs and glaciers, rivers and lakes. Its well-worn treads, cozy huts, a steady stream of trekkers, and frequent wood marking posts make it a relatively safe and logistically easy venture. You can stay in huts for about 4,600 ISK per night, or camp in the designated areas outside the huts for a mere 1,200 ISK per night.
8. Hike the Fimmvörðuháls Trail
If 55km is too much, try your hand at the shorter (but equally as stunning) Fimmvorduhals trail. Stretching between Þórsmörk and Skógar, this trail can be done in a day or broken up into a two-day adventure. You can either camp or book one of the mountain huts located along the route. Just be aware: the huts sell out fast!
9. Go fishing
Everybody knows that Iceland is famous for its fish. With tons of salmon and trout fishing rivers and lakes, there are many options to check out if this floats your boat. The water is teeming with life, and tours are increasingly popular – especially in the Westfjords region, in the city of Suðureyri. You can join an actual fishing crew for the day.
10. Skaftafell Ice Cave
Aptly named the land of ice, this country is literally covered in ice and snow. The overwhelmingly beautiful ice caves in Vatnajökull National Park attract adventurers from around the globe. The travel agencies organize trips to the glaciers, from where the caves can be visited. Be sure to visit in winter, when the ice doesn’t melt and it is safe to enter.
11. Go whale watching
While this isn’t the most budget-friendly activity, it is definitely an amazing to experience! Around Iceland, there are more than 20 different species of whales that frequent the waters, and you will often see dolphins and harbor porpoises on the trip as well. You can find a myriad of tours available, and most of them last about 3 hours. The prime whale-watching season is from April to September, with most tours leaving from the south (Reykjavik) or north (Akureyri).
12. Go to Landmannalaugar
The multicolored rhyolite mountains, lava fields, and the Hekla volcano make it a popular tourist destination. The striking landscapes look like a different planet. Hiking and horseback riding are among the most popular activities here. You can visit here anytime, although summer might be the best time to go.
13. See Kirkjufell Mountain
Near a small town of Grundarfjörður in western Iceland, the mountain beautifully sticks out in a plain landscape. Surrounding this striking mountain you can find a bunch of smaller waterfalls, and hopefully catch the Northern lights if you are lucky.
14. Hike the Snaefellsnes peninsula
Stretching out from the west coast, this peninsula is topped by a large national park. It’s a great place to take a hike or a stroll along the windy and winding coast. There are numerous hills and mountains to climb, including Snæfellsjökull. If you’re feeling adventurous (and have the money!) book a glacier walking tour.
15. Search for puffins
Puffins can be spotted nesting all over Iceland between mid-April and mid-August. The larger populations can be found on the Westman Islands and in the West Fjords, as well as in certain parts of the East Fjords. While you can try and spot some yourself (ask locals for help!) you can also book a tour to see them up close.
16. Take a culinary tour
If you aren’t up for making your own food, get a taste of the cuisine by taking a culinary tour in Reykjavik. Take your taste buds on a journey and try different kinds of Icelandic dishes, washing them down with local micro-brews.
17. National Museum of Iceland
This museum in Reykjavik contains informative exhibits about the first settlers, Christianity in Iceland, the island under both Norwegian and Danish rule, and the independence movement. While not terribly large (you can probably get through it in a couple of hours at the most) it’s a great visit if you are interested in knowing more about the history and culture of the people. General admission is 1,500 ISK.
18. Take a course at the Icelandic Elf School
While not many people actually claim to believe in elves, trolls, and hidden people, there are similarly few people in Iceland who categorically do not believe in them. The Icelandic Elf School is a school in Iceland that teaches students and visitors about Icelandic folklore. The school teaches about the hidden people and the 13 different kinds of elves that the school believes inhabit the country of Iceland. This is probably one of the strangest things to check out while in Reykjavik, which makes it one of the best. While the 6,450 ISK cost might be a little high, you also get a meal of pancakes and jam, teas, and chocolates to go along with the 3-4 hour lecture!