Iceland is known to many as a far away place filled with both fire (volcanoes) and ice. If you love the outdoors and adventure. Although Iceland is a small island country, it packs a punch with things to do. There are so many things to do in Iceland. We have put this list of our top 22 things to do to help you narrow it down. Some of the activities are seasonal so plan your trip accordingly. There aren’t many AirBnb choices on the ring road so we based out of the Hotel Ork. As you can see from our map at the bottom of this post, basing out of the southern central region is a logical choice.
1. Road Trip On Ring Road
This is one of the top things to do in Iceland. A road trip on Ring Road will take you to all of the following destinations. Be sure to rent your car at the airport and do not forget to get the full coverage on your rental car. The weather in Iceland can turn on a dime and can damage a car easily. The Ring Road trip will take you about a week, depending on what you do along the way.
You will find Gulfoss (Golden Falls) on the Golden Circle. It is an easy day trip from Reykjavic. It is free to visit this waterfall. The visitors center houses a restaurant and lots of great Icelandic items to purchase and take home. Gulfoss is in the Hvita river canyon in Southwest Iceland. This waterfall is very impressive and very popular. There are two stages, the first one is 36ft. and the second one is 69ft.
3. Strokkur Geyser
The word Strokkur means “churn” in Icelandic. This fountain type geyser is located near the Hvita River just down the road from Gulfoss. It typically erupts every 6-10 min. and goes up to a height of about 49-66ft. although it has been known to erupt up to 130ft. The geyser is not far from the parking area, so this will be a quick visit.
4. Kerid Crater
This volcanic crater lake is located in the Grimsnes area. There are several crater lakes in this area but this one is the most well known. It is located on private property so you will need to pay an entrance fee (400 ISK) to visit. The area is kept well, with trails and steps easily marked. This lush moss along the steep walls make for an amazing view against the blue waters of the lake.
5. Hunt For Northern Lights
The northern lights are the number one attraction in Iceland. It can be a surreal experience to see them but it can also be incredible disappointing if you don’t get to see them. From September to April the lights can be seen dancing across the sky. Be sure to do your homework before you go. It is best to just chase them yourself instead of doing a tour. Auroras are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by solar wind. This event happens predominantly in high latitude regions.
6. View And Hike Skogafoss
Skogafoss is one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland. You really get a good sense of it’s massiveness when you stand right next to it. This waterfall is located on Ring Road and is a short walk from the parking lot. But the hidden gem lies above the waterfall. You can see the staircase in the distance. The stairs lead to one of the most magical hikes in Iceland, Fimmvorduhals. It’s a long hike at 15.5 miles and is very challenging if you are not prepared. We just did a short jaunt of this hike but would love to come back and do more.
If you’ve see photographs depicting Iceland you have likely see a photograph of a swirling mountain with a waterfall in the foreground, this is Kirkjufell. It is certainly the most photographed mountain in the country. The scene is surreal, from the swirling, arrowhead shaped mountain to the series of waterfalls around it. You will not be disappointed in a visit to Kirkjufell.
8. Blue Lagoon
The most “tourist” thing to do in Iceland is to visit the Blue Lagoon. I would say it is overrated but it is not. The experience is amazing and they make it peaceful and magical for you. The Blue Lagoon is located near the airport so it’s best to visit on your way in or on your way out of the country. We decided to stop here on our way in. It was our first stop after picking up our rental car. It was so nice to relax here after our flight. I was expecting it to be crowded but it was not. We had a very enjoyable experience here. Don’t forget to explore the surrounding property too.
9. Explore An Ice Cave
When you think of Iceland you think of ice caves. The best time to vist the ice caves are in the winter time to ensure safety inside the caves. This is an activity that requires a guide, you can not go in the ice caves on your own. It’s a fun experience and well worth the tour to see the beautiful blue ice along the walls.
Reykjavik is known for it’s eclectic feel. From the iconic cathedral that is the largest church in Iceland to the rainbow colored streets and street art. There is something for everyone in Reykjavik. The capital city is where many base from for their trip to Iceland but is not necessary.
11. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
We will always have a special place in our hearts for this glacier lagoon. We got to see the northern lights here for the very first time. We arrived in the early evening and got a chance to see the wildlife in the lagoon. We enjoyed see the big chunks of the glacier floating in the water as the sea lions lazed around and the birds dive bombed for fish. As evening came, we set up for what was expected to be a long night. The clouds cleared and we were treated to a surreal etheral moment as the lights began to appear in the dark sky.
12. Diamond Beach
Not far from glacier lagoon is Diamond Beach. We came over for a vist while we were waiting for nightfall at glacier lagoon. The black sand beach is aptly named for the ice that washes up on the shore. The glacier ice goes from the lagoon to the ocean an is spit out onto the shoreline looking like diamonds. It’s fun to walk up and down the beach and try to match the shapes to objects.
Before you think this is just another waterfall in Iceland, you must know that you can walk behind this epic waterfall. We found it was an incredible experience at sunset as the sun set directly in front of the waterfall. You can also hunt for the other waterfall in this area, Glufrabui. You’ll get a bit wet but it’s certainly worth the effort to see these two waterfalls. There is a parking fee of (700 ISK) but there is no entrance fee. There are restrooms in this lot.
14. Mount Hekla
Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. It’s had over 20 eruptions with the most recent one in 2000. You can drive right past the volcano and have a look but it is not recommended to hike. Geologists are predicting another eruption in the near future. It is certainly a site to see on your way around the island.
15. Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is not a just another park to see, it is the only place where you can dive between to submerged rifts. You actually dive between two tectonic plates, Eurasia and North America. They span the Mid Atlantic Ridge. This is certainly a unique experience. The park is located on the Golden Circle near Reykjavik.
16. Reynisfjara Beach
This is not just another black sand beach. The large basalt columns and giant cave make this beach a unique photographic spot. You will also spot the black stacks of rock offshore that give this beach a different landscape. But be very aware when visiting this beach. The waves can creep up on you a pull you out to see. This has been a a serious issue at this beach, so please stay alert while taking photos here.
17. Waterfall Searching
We have mentioned many waterfalls on this list but I promise, you will not tire of them. We took a day to just drive around and spot all the unnamed waterfall along the way. There are so many beautiful waterfalls that you will just see as you make around the island. Be sure to stop and take those in too but be careful not to trespass as some are on private property.
18. Reykjanes Peninsula
You will be in Rekjanes Peninsula when you visit the Blue Lagoon. On your way out of the lagoon, stop and explore the area. The moss covered lava is an incredible unique experience. There is another geothermal area here as well as Harnaberg Cliffs and a lake with a bridge between two continents.
19. Plane Crash Site
I know, it doesn’t sound like someplace one would wan to visit but it’s certainly worth the small effort to stop and see it. In 1973, a US Navy DC plane crashed the black sand beach of Solheimasandur. It had been a bit of a secret location until Justin Beiber filmed a music video at the wreckage site. It has been incredibly popular since then. There is even a parking lot, it’s a 2 mile hike on flat ground to go see it. As with many “Instagram famous” spots like this, you will see many people doing things they are not suppose to do to get the best shot. Be mindful and do not climb on the plane.
20. Eldhraun Lava Fields
The Eldhraun lava fields look like something out of Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit. It was created when in one of the greatest volcanic eruptions in recorded history and is the largest of its kind in the world. You will also see the Lakagigar craters which were also created during this eruption. The moss covered lava is enticing and ethereal.
21. Whale Watching
Between the months of April and October you will get a chance to see the worlds largest creature in the wild. You will have an excellent chance to see the minke and humpback whales as well as some possible blue whales, if you’re lucky. It is a worth while expense to take the time to go out and see these gentle giants of the sea. Its an experience like no other when you see them breach before your eyes.
22. Eat An Icelandic Hot Dog
So many people do not thing about Iceland when they think of hot dogs. But hot dogs are ubiquitous and beloved in Iceland. They are practically the national dish. You see, sheep outnumber the people of Iceland nearly two to one. They are a plentiful food source and the Icelanders are quick to take advantage of this. Turning the sheep into hot dogs was a great way to preserve the meat before modern food storage was available. Naturally it became a symbol of the food in Iceland. Be sure to try one at the local hot dog stand or even when you stop to pump some very expensive gas in your rental car.