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20 Best Things to Do in Iceland & Places to Visit

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I was hooked from the first time I set foot in the Land of Fire and Ice. And chances are if you’re reading this article, you are too. Characterized by its otherworldly landscapes, dramatic cliffs, ice-blue glacial rivers, hot springs, and active volcanoes, the natural beauty of Iceland is second to none.

It’s one of the most fascinating countries in the world, and it’s no surprise Iceland has grown in popularity over the years. Whether you’ve been to Iceland several times or are currently planning your first visit, this article is going to highlight some of the best things to do in Iceland, as well as some of my favorite places to visit.

The time of year you visit Iceland will pretty much plan your experience for you. During the summer, Iceland experiences the Midnight Sun phenomenon, with 24 hours of daylight in June.

On the flip side, the winter months bring much shorter days, but the payoff is the opportunity to see the Northern Lights. No matter what time of year you’re visiting Iceland, you’re in for the time of your life.

Most of these activities and attractions are offered year-round, but I’ll let you know if a particular spot is seasonal, like watching puffins or the Northern Lights.


Category Recommendation
Most significant landmark Kirkjufell
Best park Thingvellir National Park
Best free activity Hiking trails
Activity for kids Whale watching
Activity for adults Blue Lagoon
Best food Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Place to stay Ekra Glacier Lagoon

Things to Do in Iceland

1. Explore Reykjavik

Aerial photo of Reykjavik Iceland city scape from the top with Hallgrimskirkja church.
Fly_Dragonfly / Adobe Stock

As Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik is the starting point of many an Icelandic traveler. Since the majority of all the other cities and towns in Iceland are very small, Reykjavik is your chance to experience the “city life.”

The city is easy to navigate on foot, but when the weather changes (and it will) you can always hop on the public transportation system to get you where you want to go. Public transportation in Reykjavik (called Strætó in Icelandic) is very reliable and easy to figure out, and makes it easy to figure it out.

You can also get the Reykjavik City Card, which gives you unlimited travel on buses within the city center as well as several museums in Reykjavik. There’s no shortage of incredible restaurants in Reykjavik, either. A guided food tour is a great place to start, especially at the beginning of your stay.

This way, you can sample some of Iceland’s most popular dishes and then you have a great idea of what you like for the rest of your vacation. Be sure to swing by Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur and try one of Iceland’s famous hot dogs.

While you’re walking around Reykjavik, check out some of the most popular spots. Along the water, the Sun Voyager sculpture has become an iconic part of Reykjavik, and the views looking out are just phenomenal.

Another iconic must-see is the Hallgrimskirkja, a church that was built in 1986 and is one of the country’s tallest man-made landmarks. Rainbow Road leads directly up to this historic church, and this colorful street is chock full of art galleries, restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops.

Many travelers visiting Iceland choose to stay in Reykjavik and take day trips from the city. We’ve got all the best day trips from Reykjavik covered in a previous article, so be sure to check it out.

2. Perlan Museum

Aerial View of Perlan Museum in Iceland
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 105 Reykjavík, Iceland

While you’re exploring Reykjavik, make sure you pay a visit to the Perlan Museum. This popular museum in Reykjavik gives you an immersive experience of what you can expect when you step away from the city center and explore the rest of the country. 

You’ll learn all about Icelandic history and nature through interactive exhibits sprawled across five floors. The main attractions at the Perlan Museum are the Northern Lights show in the planetarium, a lava film, and an actual ice cave that you can explore. 

The ice cave is 100 meters long and was built using more than 350 tons of ice, snow, and ash from the Blue Mountains. It’s the world’s first indoor ice cave and great for families with kids of all ages (just be sure to bundle up). 

On the fifth floor, you’ll find the gift shop, Perlan’s restaurant and cafe, and an ice cream shop all under a massive glass dome. This is one of the best places to soak in the views of Reykjavik!

See Related: ​​Best Museums in Europe to Visit

3. Golden Circle

Gullfoss waterfall at sunset in Iceland during winter
Oliver Taylor / Adobe Stock

The Golden Circle is a 186-mile route near Reykjavik that takes you to some of the most famous attractions in Iceland. If you’re renting a car in Iceland, it’s easily doable as a day trip from Reykjavik, but there are plenty of Golden Circle tours for folks who’d rather have someone else drive.

Tours typically last anywhere from 3-4 hours, but I’d recommend taking the all-day tour, including a few extra hidden gems. 

The three main attractions along the Golden Circle route are the Geysir Geothermal Area, Thingvellir National Park, and Gullfoss Waterfall, which is how the Golden Circle earned its name.

Gullfoss translates to “Golden Falls” and is now one of Iceland’s most visited waterfalls. The Golden Circle encompasses many other attractions, including hidden gems.

Other honorable mentions along the way are the Kerid Crater and Friðheimar, a country-style family-run restaurant known for its onsite greenhouse and tomato-inspired dishes. I highly recommend carving out some time to eat here, the Bloody Marys are some of the best I’ve ever had!

The Golden Circle is a year-round attraction, but remember that winters in Iceland can make for road closures and unsafe driving conditions.

I drove the Golden Circle route in early February during a crazy winter storm and still thought it was one of the most magical things I had ever seen. And in a country known for its waterfalls, that’s saying something!

See Related: Best Multi-Day Tours of Iceland

4. Thingvellir National Park

Slfra Snorkeling at thinvellir national park in iceland
Antje / TripAdvisor

Address: 806 Selfoss, Iceland

We just covered Thingvellir National Park in the Golden Circle route, but this national park deserves its segment. Since it’s less than 30 miles from Reykjavik, it’s one of the best places to visit in Iceland.

If you’re taking a Golden Circle tour, you’ll stop here, but only briefly (we’re talking 20-30 minutes), and if you really want to do this national park justice, you’ll want to spend a few hours here. 

There are numerous hiking trails that extend all throughout the park, and many of them will not only take you on a scenic journey but a historic one as well. Thingvellir National Park was the site of the annual parliament of Iceland from 930-1798, one of the many reasons it was added as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2004. 

One of the most popular things to do here is walk between the two major tectonic plates. If you’ve ever heard people talking about how Iceland is slowly ripping into two pieces, this is what they’re talking about! The mid-Atlantic ridge runs right through Iceland, and if walking along the plates doesn’t do it for you, how about swimming through them?

Diving is permitted in two submerged rifts within the park, Silfra and Davíðsgjá. Most people chose Silfra for its crystal clear waters and unique positioning between the North American and Eurasian Plates. 

5. Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Bhushan / Adobe Stock

Address: Norðurljósavegur 9, 240 Grindavík, Iceland

If you ever flicked through Instagram and saw people swimming in mesmerizing blue water, chances are they were at the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa on the Reykjanes Peninsula that’s easily accessible from Reykjavik. Many travelers choose to visit the Blue Lagoon either right when they arrive or just as they leave, since it’s close to the airport. 

While the lagoon is man-made, the water is a byproduct of the geothermal power plant nearby. The water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity, and then the water is fed into the lagoon.

The silica reflecting the sunlight gives the seawater its hypnotic blue color, and it has been proven to have healing, and rejuvenating abilities. The water maintains a temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, and overall the water is a mix of about 70 percent seawater and 30 percent fresh water. 

There’s also a hotel at the Blue Lagoon if you’d like to spend a few nights here, but you’ll find plenty of tours that will pick you up from Reykjavik and take you straight to the lagoon, which is about a 45-minute ride. 

As someone who has visited the Blue Lagoon, one pro tip is to walk along the hiking trails surrounding the lagoon. They are stunning! I went on a tour from Reykjavik and didn’t even know about the paths until I got there! I could do a speed walk, but I would have loved to have had the time to wander around.

While you’re in the area, you may want to check out Fagradalsfjall, the most recent volcanic eruption in Iceland. It’s also on the Reykjanes peninsula, about 8 miles from the Blue Lagoon.

This is one of the many active volcanoes in Iceland, and after a series of earthquakes in June, the volcano erupted on July 10, 2023, and is still erupting as I type this (on July 21, 2023).

The area keeps opening and closing to hikers, so you’ll want to check for any updates to the Fagradalsfjall Volcano before you begin your hike. If you don’t want to hike, this helicopter tour over the volcano is a great alternative.

See Related: Most Beautiful Places in the World to Visit ​​

6. Whale Watching

A humpback whale tale off the shores of Iceland during sunset.
Rui / Adobe Stock

Whale watching is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland, and it’s one of the best family-friendly activities that’s great for all ages.

There are as many as 12 different types of whales that you can see in Iceland, though some are more common than others. Humpback whales tend to be the acrobats of the bunch and love to breech through the water with a massive belly flop.

Narwhals, on the other hand, are far more camera-shy and much more rare. Same with sperm whales and beluga whales, but we know a spot you can see beluga whales that we’ll get to in just a minute. 

The best time to go whale watching in Iceland is from April to early October, with June through August being the season’s peak. Humpbacks are the most popular sighting, but minke, blue, and fin whales are likely to live their best lives in Icelandic waters during the summer months.

There are whale-watching tours from Reykjavik, but if you really want to increase your odds, take a road trip to North Iceland. Located on Skjálfandi Bay, Húsavik has earned quite a reputation across Europe for being the go-to place for whale watching (and for a certain Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams movie). Its frigid waters make it one of the few places that offers year-round whale-watching tours

If you’re traveling to Iceland’s west coast, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is a particularly scenic spot for whale watching. Whales, orcas, and dolphins can be seen here year-round, especially during winter.

This is because herring, a favorite whale snack, likes to breed around the Breidafjordur Fjord throughout the winter. Orcas love herring, so you stand a really good chance of spotting one of these danger dolphins on the Snæfellsnes peninsula during winter. 

Although it’s not as magical as seeing them in the wild, you can always head over to the Beluga Whale Sanctuary on Heimaey Island, one of the Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland. This sanctuary is home to a couple of beautiful beluga whales, and they can be visited between April and October. 

7. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Diamond Beach in Iceland
Eva M. / Adobe Stock

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is one of the top attractions along the southeastern coast of Iceland. It’s an especially popular stopping point along the famous Ring Road, and once you see it, you’ll see why. Diamond Beach is one of the most popular black sand beaches in Iceland, known for the fragments of icebergs that drift onto the shore and resemble diamonds glistening in the sun.

I’d recommend giving yourself 2-4 hours to fully explore the lagoon and nearby Vatnajökull National Park and do a little wildlife watching. This is a favorite hang-out for seals, who love to relax on top of the icebergs. Birds love this spot too, especially arctic terns, but if you’re hunting for puffins, you’ll have to look elsewhere. 

Boat tours are a great way to see this area, and there are plenty to choose from. There are tours from Reykjavik, but if you really want to give yourself the gift of time, rent a car and drive down yourself.

If you want to stay along the southern coast, Ekra Glacier Lagoon is less than 10 miles away. It’s about a 5-hour drive from Reykjavik, so you’d be looking at a 10-hour car ride if you tried to make it a day trip!

This is an explorer’s playground, and there are so many fun things to do in this part of Iceland. How about a crystal ice cave tour where you can hike inside an ice cave? Or if you’d prefer to stay above ground, you can hike across the Vatnajökull glacier and marvel at the dramatic wilderness of Skaftafell National Park. 

8. Northern Iceland

Beautiful vintage buildings in downtown Akureyri city, Iceland
f11photo / Adobe Stock

Northern Iceland doesn’t get nearly as much love as the south coast, and I’m making it my mission to get more travelers to explore this side of Iceland. 

Part of the reason it’s skipped over is that it can be tricky to get here during the winter months, and Iceland has a reputation for spontaneous snowstorms and massive gusts of winds that make traveling to this part of Iceland tricky. 

But you’re in for a treat for those traveling to North Iceland. Active volcanos, lava fields, majestic fjords, cascading waterfalls, and luxurious hot springs are just a few of the attractions that await you.

It’s worth your while to spend a night or two in Akureyri while exploring Northern Iceland. Nicknamed the “Capital of the North,” Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland (Reykjavik is the largest). In a country that doesn’t have very many large cities, you may find the sights and sounds of Akureyri welcoming after a period of dramatic landscapes and very few people. 

Speaking of very few people… Another popular village to stay in is Húsavík. Húsavík is located further north than Akureyri along the shores of Skjálfandi Bay. 

This tiny village of less than 2,500 people is one of the best places to go whale watching, and there are some beautiful hotels in Húsavík with dreamy views of the bay, such as the Fosshotel

If you’re considering taking a Diamond Circle tour, you can work Húsavík into the route pretty easily.

9. Diamond Circle

Sunset at the powerful Dettifoss waterfall
Thomas Schnitzler / Adobe Stock

North Iceland is also where you’ll find the Diamond Circle, the big brother of the Golden Circle. The Diamond Circle is another circular route that takes you to some of the most popular attractions in North Iceland, including Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe and the largest waterfall in Iceland. 

There are Diamond Circle tours from Akureyri, but if you’ve made it this far, you probably have your transportation. Similar to the Golden Circle, the Diamond Circle can be driven on your own, make sure to check the road conditions if you’re traveling in the colder months.

There are four must-see destinations along the Diamond Circle, including Dettifoss. The other three are Godafoss (another majestic waterfall with a fascinating history), Lake Mývatn (the fourth largest lake in Iceland), and Asbyrgi Canyon (a forested horseshoe-shaped canyon within the Vatnajökull National Park).

10. Mývatn Nature Baths

Myvatn Nature Baths in Iceland
Ari1900 / TripAdvisor

Address: Jarðbaðshólar, 660 Mývatn, Iceland

Northern Iceland is also where you’ll find the popular Mývatn nature baths, another geothermal spa similar to the Blue Lagoon. Lake Mývatn and the Mývatn nature baths are close to each other, soaking in these hot springs is one of the best places to visit after a long day of hiking trails and driving.

Similar to the Blue Lagoon, the Myvatn Nature Baths are a man-made construction. The national power company’s borehole supplies the water in nearby Bjarnarflag and then flows into the man-made lagoon. 

The silica-rich waters have many health benefits, but this lagoon has a higher sulfur content than its eastern twin, so be sure to remove any jewelry before relaxing in these rejuvenating waters. After you’ve soaked up all the beautiful views, visitors can enjoy a steam bath and then fuel up in the lagoon’s cafe

Eldá Guesthouse is one of the closest places to stay, and this lovely accommodation is just steps away from Lake Myvatn, and less than a 10-minute drive from the nature baths.

See Related: Destination Wedding Ideas in Europe

11. Cross over the Arctic Circle

Orange lighthouse at seashore of Grimsey Island in Iceland
neurobite / Adobe Stock

99 percent of Iceland is just under the Arctic Circle, but if crossing this border is on your bucket list, you can take a ferry to Grimsey Island. Grimsey Island is located about 25 miles off the coast of Iceland and straddles the Arctic Circle. In fact, the Arctic Circle cuts right across it!

The island is home to a handful of fishermen, but there might be more birds than people who live here. Because of its remote location, fewer than 100 brave souls live on the island, most fishermen who make their living off these Arctic waters. The last record from 2018 reported 61 people living on the island.

They may live in a remote spot, but they have all the basics: a grocery store, a school, swimming pools (common in Icelandic towns), and even an airport. If you don’t want to take the three-hour ferry, you can fly to the island from Aykureyri, which makes three flights a week.

It’s a popular spot to view puffins and other seabirds during the summertime, and you can take a three-hour ferry from Dalvík to see these iconic flying potatoes for yourself. Since the island doesn’t have any foxes or minks, there really aren’t any predators for the birds, so it’s no wonder they love the island so much!

In between birdwatching, visitors to this Arctic island can walk around and see the only village on the island, Sandvik, as well as the Grimsey Lighthouse. The ferry is available year-round and makes longer stops (about four hours) during the summer.

12. Highland

Valley National Park Landmannalaugar
vitaliymateha / Adobe Stock

The Highland is the literal heart of Iceland. This massive stretch across the country’s center sprawls out for over 25,000 square miles, full of some of the most dramatic landscapes you’ll ever see.

Most of the Icelandic Highlands area is uninhabitable, as the terrain in this part of Iceland is mostly volcanic ash, basalt mountains, and lava fields. These unforgivable landscapes are reserved for the most adventurous of travelers.

Snow covers most of the Icelandic Highlands range from October until June, so you’ve only got a narrow window to see this slice of Arctic paradise, and you’ll want to take a tour of the Highland rather than driving alone.

Have you ever wondered why the Ring Road goes all the way around Iceland instead of across it? Welcome to the Highland. The land of F-Roads. These unpaved roads require an all-wheel drive or an all-terrain vehicle, and this is one area where you’ll want to leave the driving to the professionals.

What the Highland lacks in paved roads, it makes up for in hiking trails. There are several hiking trails in the Highland, many crossing glaciers and rivers and some of the most rugged terrain you’ve ever hiked. 

The Highland is also where you’ll find some of Iceland’s most notable glaciers, including Vatnajökull, Langjökull, Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Hofsjökull. Langjökull is the second largest glacier in Iceland, and you can take a thrilling snowmobile tour for a one-of-a-kind adventure.

13. Snæfellsjökull National Park

Kirkjufell Iceland
Standret / Adobe Stock

Located at the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, no visit to Iceland is complete without paying a visit to Snæfellsjökull National Park. Named after the sub-glacial volcano Snæfellsjökull, this iconic attraction in Iceland has a long history of inspiring artists and writers. 

Did you know this was the setting for Jules Verne’s novel “A Journey to the Centre of the Earth?” That’s exactly what you’ll feel like visiting this otherworldly destination. In addition to seeing the volcano, other must-see attractions in this neck of the woods are the Buðahraun lava field, which surrounds the glacier, as well as the iconic Kirkjufell, the most photographed mountain in Iceland. 

Kirkjufell might just be the most recognizable landmark in Iceland; Game of Thrones fans surely will recognize it from seasons 6 and season 7 as the “Arrowhead Mountain.” Also known as “Church Mountain,” it’s only a short distance from Grundarfjörður, and while you’re here you may want to check out the nearby waterfall, Kirkjufellsfoss, or “Church Mountain Falls.” 

You can easily get the waterfall and the mountain in the same shot, so it’s no wonder it has become such a popular area for photography. You can take a day tour from Reykjavik, but remember that you’re looking at about a 10-11 hour day.

We’d recommend spending a night in one of the nearby towns like Grundarfjörður so you’re not restricted to a specific schedule and can explore at your own pace. 

14. Hit the Trails

Hiking in Iceland
Bjornsson / Adobe Stock

Most visitors to Iceland want to hit the hiking trails, and Iceland has a hiking trail for every skill level. Here are some of the best hikes in Iceland:

  • Reykjadalur Hot Springs Trail: This trail in the Hengill Area is easy to get to from Reykjavik, and it’s widely considered one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland. The five-mile out-and-back trail features hot springs, bubbling mud pools, and waterfalls. Be sure to stay on the path, because these mud pools are boiling and severely injure you. This is why it’s nicknamed “Smoky Valley.” Further up the trail is a hot spring that’s a popular bathing spot. The trail is considered moderate, and easy enough for anyone with a reasonable fitness level. 
  • Glymyur Waterfall: This 4.5-mile trail will take you to the Glymur Waterfall, the second-tallest waterfall in Iceland. You can only see this waterfall by hiking this trail, and you’re in for an impressive journey through a cave and across two rivers before climbing up the edge of the cliffs to view the waterfall. What a view! This is an easy trail to tackle if you’re staying in Reykjavik, as it’s only about a 45-minute drive from the city center.
  • Blahnúkúr Brennisteinsalda Loop: This one is for experienced hikers only. The six-mile trail leads you through lava fields and summits two mountains, Mt. Blahnúkúr (Blue Peak) and then Mt. Brennisteinsalda (Sulphur Wave). From the top of Mt. Brennisteinsalda, you’ll have a remarkable view of the Laugahraun lava field and the famous Laugavegur Trail.
  • Laugavegur Trail: This epic, multi-day trail is considered one of the most beautiful trails in the world! The trail can take 4-6 days to complete, and we’d recommend you go with a tour. This hike is reserved for the most experienced outdoor explorers and will challenge you physically and mentally. Still, the payoff is getting to see some of the most pristine, untouched parts of this beautiful country.

See Related: Best Hiking Trails in the World

15. Take Ring Road down to the Southern Coast

Sunset view of Seljalandsfoss in Iceland
TTStudio / Adobe Stock

The southern coast of Iceland is one of the most visited places in Iceland. It’s easy to reach from Reykjavik, and though winter storms can close the roads down, typically the southern part of Iceland can be navigated much more easily than its northern counterpart. The road trip along Route 1 is incredibly scenic and really highlights the beauty that southern Iceland is known for. 

You’ll lose track of how many cascading waterfalls you’ll see along the way but do make sure you stop off at these two stunning waterfalls: Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Both are easily accessible (no hiking required, just a short walk from the parking lot) and boy oh boy, are they beauties!

Seljalandsfoss is the famous waterfall that you can walk behind during the summer months. If you plan on walking behind the waterfall, make sure you’ve got some solid waterproof gear! This waterfall cascades down 200 feet, so you can bet you’ll get wet.

16. Vík

View of basalt stacks Reynisdrangar, black sand beach near Vik, Iceland
neurobite / Adobe Stock

Vík is one of the main towns in southern Iceland, and even though the town’s population hovers around 300 residents, it’s one of the most visited villages on the south coast of Iceland. This is where you’ll find Reynisfjara, one of Iceland’s famous black-sand beaches. Many visitors stay in Vík and explore the many major attractions in the area, especially this beach.

Be extraordinarily careful when visiting Reynisfjara because it’s known to have “sneaker waves.” These are huge waves that can strike without notice and drag unsuspecting tourists out to see. There are no emergency services nearby, and the odds of you making it back to shore before hypothermia sets in are slim. 

Because it’s right next to Mýrdalsjökull glacier and the Katla volcano, Vík is full of adrenaline-pumping activities, like zip lining, glacier hiking, and ice cave exploring. There are many places to stay in Vík, but Hótel Kría might just be our favorite. Just look at those views!

17. Wander Vatnajökull National Park

Inside a blue glacial ice cave in Breioarmerkurjokull, part of the Vatnajokull glacier in southeast Iceland.
Rixie / Adobe Stock

Address: Klapparstígur 25, 101 27, Iceland

If you plan on visiting Jökulsárlón, then you’ll already be in this national park. One of three national parks in Iceland, Vatnajökull National Park was actually formed in 2008 when they merged two other national parks to make this one. Vatnajökull National Park clocks in at 5,460 square miles and is the second-largest national park in Europe!

It takes up 14 percent of the country’s total area, which gives you an idea of how long it would take you to fully explore this beautiful park.

The crown jewel here is the Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe, as well as plenty of waterfalls, including Dettifoss. Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe! This beautiful waterfall is framed by two other waterfalls, Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss.

An ice cave tour is one of the most memorable things you can do in Vatnajökull National Park, and it’s surprisingly beginner friendly. You’re given a helmet and crampons, and a safety briefing before exploring a naturally formed ice cave. These caves melt every summer and reform during the winter, so it’s always a new experience. 

Jökulsárlón is located within the park but since Diamond Beach is such a major attraction on its own, it deserved its own spot on the list.

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18. Take a trip to Egilsstaðir

Vok Baths in Iceland
Management / TripAdvisor

If you’re making your way around Ring Road, then you’ll pass through this little town in eastern Iceland. I say little, but it’s actually the largest town in eastern Iceland!

Egilsstaðir is a scenic town along the Lagarfljót River, home to about 2,200 people, and this is a great town to stay in while you explore the Eastfjords. Nearby, you’ll find Hallormsstaðaskógur, Iceland’s largest forest as well as Lagarfjlót, a beautiful lake with a mysterious legend surrounding it that’s similar to Scotland’s Loch Ness monster. 

Just like we have the geothermal pools in the north and the west, east Iceland also has a geothermal spa worth checking out: the Vök Baths. Located right on Urriðavatn Lake, the Vök Baths are the only floating infinity pools in Iceland! Just when you think you’ve experienced all of the geothermal spas, eastern Iceland takes it to a whole new level. 

19. Summer: Peep the Puffins

Puffin on rocky coast of Iceland.
Unique Vison / Adobe Stock

Puffins. People travel from all across the globe to watch these curious creatures in Iceland. If seeing puffins in Iceland is on your bucket list, then you’ll need to know a few things first. 

First and foremost, they arrive in late April and stick around until the end of August. So if you want to see puffins, visit Iceland during the summer. 

Furthermore, you’ll need to know where to go. We covered Grimsey Island earlier, and while that’s an excellent spot to watch these flying potatoes, that’s not the only place you can spot them. 

To the south, you’ve got the Westman Islands. On the east, Borgarfjörður Eystri is a great area, and in the Westfjords, the Látrabjarg cliffs are a puffin’s preferred hang-out. 

The Westman Islands is home to the largest puffin colony in Iceland, and it’s almost a guarantee you’ll see some puffins in this area. Puffins spend most of their lives out at sea and return to shore once a year to build a nest, called a burrow, along the rocky cliffs and lay a single egg. They’ll return to the same spot every year (with the same partner) to the same burrow! 

Also, while I’m on a roll about puffins facts, here’s another one: puffins may lack grace in the air, but they are extremely strong divers and can reach depths of 60 meters. Pretty impressive for a bird!

Though you won’t see any puffins in Reykjavik, you don’t have to travel far from the city center to see them. Akurey and Lundey, also known as the Puffin Islands, are about a half-mile away from the city center, and many puffin tours are offered during the summer.  

Since puffin season overlaps with whale watching season, you can do a combo boat tour and see both! Here’s one puffin and whale-watching tour from Reykjavik, or you can take a combo tour from Husavik.

20. Winter: Northern Lights

Northern lights in Vik, Iceland
federicocappon / Adobe Stock

The Northern Lights are one of the world’s most incredible natural phenomena, and if you’re lucky, you can see the northern lights in Iceland. The lights are visible all throughout Iceland from September to April, and all you need is a little luck and some clear skies to see them. 

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Iceland twice during peak Aurora season and did not see them for 10 days driving around the Ring Road during October, but I saw them 5 out of 7 nights in February right from my hotel in Reykjavik. You just never know.

A northern lights tour can definitely increase your odds of seeing them. These small-group tours will watch the cloud cover and monitor the KP index (the level of geomagnetic activity) and head out to remote areas in the hope that the Green Lady will make an appearance. 

If you really want to kick it up a notch, stay a few nights in these awesome domes near Reykjavik. You’ll have a perfect view of the night sky right from the comfort of your bed!

There are multiple Aurora apps that you can download to see the KP index for yourself, but if you don’t have your own transportation, then you’re at the mercy of whatever cloud cover is going on. The benefit of a tour is being able to move around and find new locations. It may be cloudy in Reykjavik but clear skies 30 minutes north. 

Also, driving in Iceland during the winter isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly not for me! Road conditions can get pretty bad, which is just one more reason to leave it to the professionals and take a Northern Lights tour. 

Another benefit of going on a tour is that many of these tours will take photographs for you, and some will even help you adjust your camera to the right settings. No two auroras are the same. Some move super quickly, and some are slow…you just never know what you’re going to get, so having a professional nearby to capture the moment for you is priceless. 

Oh, and if you’re flying into Iceland (and not arriving via a cruise ship) do yourself a favor and select a window seat facing north. If you’re coming from the United States, you’ll want to pick the “driver side” coming to Iceland, and the “passenger side” of the plane leaving Iceland. I used this hack and saw the northern lights from the plane both arriving and leaving Iceland!

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to visit Iceland?

June, July, and August are the most popular times to visit Iceland. The summer months bring much longer days so travelers have endless hours of daylight to explore under the Midnight Sun. If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, the best time to visit Iceland is between September and March.

What are the most popular attractions in Iceland?

Most travelers to Iceland explore the south coast, where you’ll find popular attractions like the famous black-sand beach, Reynisfjara. Closer to Reykjavik, the Golden Circle is a popular attraction, and this circular route will take you to Gullfoss, Thingvellir National Park, and the Geyser Geothermal Area. 

What are some off-the-beaten things do to in Iceland?

Reykjavik has many popular museums, like the Perlan Museum, but if you want to explore the hidden gems of Iceland, consider paying a visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which is also located in Reykjavik. If you’re traveling down to the south coast, another hidden gem is Selfoss, a small town in Iceland that was the home of the famous chess grandmaster, Bobby Fischer. 

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