13 Awesome Things to Do in Iceland
In Iceland, you can explore volcanic landscapes, hunt for the Northern Lights, and try local delicacies you won’t find anywhere else. The possibilities are endless.
So endless, in fact, you probably won’t have time to do everything in one trip. This means you won’t want to miss these ideas for awesome road trips, outdoor activities, and cultural experiences.
Here, we narrow down the field and share the top things to do in Iceland. It’s time to get your travel wish list out and start planning your dream trip to the Land of Fire and Ice.
- Get inspired by these Iceland vacation packages.
1. Chase the Northern Lights
Did you know Iceland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights? This is thanks to the country’s northern latitude and long nights from October through March.
While you can get a sneak peek of the Northern Lights in late fall or early spring, winter’s the best time to see them. So if you’re visiting Iceland in winter, you won’t want to miss out on a chance to hunt down the Aurora Borealis.
When the skies are clear, you could see these colorful curtains of light dancing above you. This epic display is caused by particles from the sun colliding with Earth’s atmosphere.
Take a trip into the countryside, where there’s less light pollution, to see the show at its most vivid. Plus, with a scenic backdrop and fewer lights around, your photos will be even better.
- Boost your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis with a Northern Lights tour in Iceland.
- Related: Best time to hunt for the Northern Lights in Iceland.
2. Check out the local wildlife
If you love nature, seeing whales in the wild is likely something that’s already on your bucket list. With over 12 species found in the seas around Iceland, this is a perfect place to fulfill that dream.
Heading out on a whale watching tour is one of the best ways to witness these majestic creatures. In winter, you could spot orcas, minke, and beluga whales. On the other hand, visit in the summer months for the chance to glimpse fin, sei, or even blue whales.
Icelandic wildlife isn’t just about the whales though. You can also spy seals and dolphins in the water. And back on land, look out for the elusive Arctic fox. Their coats change from gray-brown to white, depending on the season.
Keep your eyes on the sky for Icelandic birdlife too, such as Arctic terns and gyrfalcons. And come summer, puffins arrive to breed and raise their pufflings in burrows at the top of sea cliffs. Some of the best places to see puffins in Iceland are the Westfjords and Westman Islands.
3. Visit Reykjavík
Your trip to Iceland wouldn’t be complete without exploring the country’s buzzing capital city. You’ll find downtown Reykavík is packed with cozy cafés and cool shops, as well as museums and art galleries. Plus, the city is known for its fun nightlife and thriving foodie culture.
By day, you could stroll along colorful streets and check out iconic landmarks, like the Hallgrímskirkja church. By night, it’s time to party with the locals at one of the many bars and clubs on Laugavegur, the city’s main street.
Iceland’s capital is also a hub for winter celebrations. If you’re here in the lead-up to Christmas, make the most of the festive vibes by joining in with the local traditions. You might also want to stick around for New Year’s Eve in Reykjavík – the city puts on a show-stopping fireworks display.
4. Learn about Viking history
You might already know that the Vikings were the first to permanently settle Iceland. Traveling on boats from Scandinavia in the 9th century, these Norse warriors faced the tough task of making this rugged landscape their home.
Of course, they succeeded – the country you see today is their legacy. So, if you’re a history buff, diving into Viking history is also a must-do in Iceland.
You could begin by exploring Þingvellir National Park where you’ll be able to visit the site of Iceland’s first parliament (and one of the earliest parliaments in the world!). At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll find out how Viking settlers gathered to establish laws.
If you have time, stop by the Viking World Museum in Keflavík, too. It houses an extraordinary replica of a Viking ship.
5. Marvel at epic waterfalls
Iceland is home to countless stunning waterfalls. Whatever you’re doing on your trip, adding a few to your itinerary is a must.
But where to start? You’ll find some of the most iconic waterfalls close to Reykjavík.
For instance, there’s Gullfoss waterfall where you’ll see a river raging through a tight canyon. And Seljalandsfoss, where you can follow a trail that leads you behind the curtain of water. This is sure to be a stand-out experience!
There are many more to see, including hidden Gljúfrafoss, remote Dynjandi, and mighty Dettifoss, one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls.
6. Discover a world of ice
For obvious reasons, you might expect Iceland to be a cold and snowy place. And during wintertime, this is definitely true. Come November, the temperatures drop and the country becomes a frosted wonderland in places – ideal if you want to add wintry activities to your itinerary.
What’s more, glaciers and ice caps cover over a tenth of Iceland’s land surface. This means you don’t need to visit in winter to enjoy snowy excursions.
No matter the time of year, you can enjoy jaw-dropping Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. You can also explore glaciers, such as Langjökull, on guided snowmobile or hiking tours.
Otherwise, try an expert-led ice-caving excursion and venture into the mysterious spaces within the glacier. It’s an awe-inspiring way to explore this magical blue world.
We couldn’t talk about ice caps without mentioning Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Here, meltwater from the Vatnajökull glacier collects to form a gigantic lake. Come to this mind-blowing spot and you’ll see icebergs floating in the lagoon’s striking blue water.
7. Camp under the midnight sun
In winter, Iceland’s night sky is lit up by the Northern Lights. But summer in Iceland offers something just as special – the midnight sun.
This natural phenomenon is when the sun doesn’t drop below the horizon, letting you make the most of 24 hours of daylight. It’s an energizing time to be discovering Iceland.
Camping is a favorite summer pastime with Icelanders, and it’s something you might want to experience on your trip too. Pitch up in one of the many campsites across the country and soak up the scenery around the clock.
For the ultimate place to unplug, look no further than the wild Westfjords. It’s one of Iceland’s most remote and beautiful spots.
8. Experience volcanic landscapes
Geologically speaking, Iceland is one of the youngest countries in the world. In fact, each time lava erupts from a volcano, the country grows a little.
There are over 30 active volcanoes in Iceland, which have created striking landscapes. One of the places you can see them for yourself is the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark. Here you’ll find volcanic craters, steam vents, lava fields, and plenty more geological wonders.
The Reykjanes peninsula is also where eruptions have been taking place at Fagradalsfjall over the last few years. For up-to-date information, check out our volcano eruption page and the Safetravel Iceland website.
If you miss the latest eruption, you’ll likely have other opportunities in the future. Typically, a volcano in Iceland erupts on average every 5 years – and if the next one’s safe to visit, it’ll be a must-see phenomenon.
Don't forget to explore Iceland's Þingvellir National Park either. This is the only place where you can see the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on land.
It marks the boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, which are moving apart slowly but surely. Where else on the planet can you walk, or snorkel, between two continents?
- Get your thrills on an Iceland adventure package.
- Related: Iceland volcano eruption: Your guide to Fagradalsfjall.
9. Unwind in spas and geothermal pools
You have more than just breathtaking views to thank Iceland’s volcanoes for. And it’s this geothermal energy that heats the country’s hot springs and pools.
Out of the many spas in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is the most famous. It’s renowned for its mineral-rich waters, so why not treat yourself to some well-deserved R&R? And at just a 45-minute drive from Reykjavík, it's easy to get to. Plus, you can stop here on your way to or from Keflavík Airport.
Another spa close to the capital is Sky Lagoon. At this relaxing retreat, you can soak in a geothermal pool overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean. You could also treat yourself to the spa’s 7-Step Ritual, which features an invigorating plunge pool, sauna, salt scrub and steam room. Or, if you’re in North Iceland, check out the Mývatn Nature Baths.
For an even more tranquil experience, why not venture to one of Iceland’s natural hot springs? For example, visit Reykjadalur to bathe in a warm river, or Landmannalaugar to unwind in the heart of the Icelandic highlands.
10. Explore hiking trails in the highlands
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, a trip into Iceland’s remote highlands will deliver. The country’s remote and rugged interior feels truly wild. But it's covered in snow throughout winter, so you'll want to visit during the summer months.
In fact, few places in Iceland are more stunning or otherworldly. Here you can roam multicolored mountains tinted by the volcanic rocks they’re made of. And slip into naturally warmed hot springs with nobody else around.
Plus, the highlands are crisscrossed with lots of hiking trails, so you can set out on day-long walks or multi-day treks. Whichever you choose, this is one of the best ways to see this jaw-dropping region up close.
11. Dive into Iceland’s food scene
With unusual dishes and strong flavors, Iceland’s cuisine is not like anything you’ll find elsewhere. Giving it a try, and delving into the country’s thriving contemporary foodie scene, is one of the essential things to do in Iceland.
For instance, you may have heard of delicacies such as kæstur hákarl (fermented shark) and svið (boiled sheep’s head). It’s fair to say they’re an acquired taste! But if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try a bite.
Otherwise, we recommend taking the time to sample the best restaurants and food halls in Reykjavík. Expect modern twists on traditional Icelandic flavors, cuisine from around the world, and comforting street food.
For example, pylsa is Iceland’s popular take on the hot dog and they’re readily available wherever you go. Similarly, kleinur are crispy twisted donuts that you’ll find at most local bakeries.
You could also tap into Iceland’s craft beer scene. Once banned, the locals are making up for it now with plenty of brews for you to choose from.
Einstök is a good one to start with. This Icelandic beer brand even has its own bar in downtown Reykjavík. And for something stronger, give Brennivín a taste – it’s the national spirit.
12. Road trip around the coast
Iceland might be most recognized for its volcanoes and glaciers – the ‘Fire and Ice’ – but its coastline is just as attention-grabbing. Think soaring cliffs, jagged sea stacks, and black sand beaches.
One way to get around Iceland is by renting a car and hitting the road. And the Ring Road (or Route 1) is one of the country’s most rewarding road trip itineraries. Drawing a loop around Iceland, it’ll take you to many top coastal spots.
Reynisfjara is just one of the unmissable spots you’ll see along the way. It’s a black sand beach near the fishing village of Vík. Imagine stretching your legs with a walk along the shore and watching waves crash against the basalt cliffs.
Meanwhile, head north to explore the remote fjords around Akureyri. As well as being one of Iceland's best towns, it’s a great place to glimpse whales from the shore.
13. Take part in a festival
With a population of less than 400,000 people, it might come as a surprise that Iceland packs a powerful cultural punch.
There’s live music to hear and museums dotted around the country. Another unforgettable way to experience authentic Icelandic culture is at a festival.
Take a look at Reykjavík’s cultural calendar and you’ll see there are plenty to choose from. For example, you could attend the Iceland Airwaves music festival, go to an international film festival event, or take part in Reykjavík Pride.
Alternatively, head out of the city to experience seasonal traditions for yourself. For instance, in the fall, locals and visitors help farmers with Réttir, the rounding up of livestock before winter.
Whatever you decide to do, attending a local event will make your trip extra special.
How to experience the best things to do in Iceland
Now that you know what to do in Iceland, it’s time to start planning your trip. At Iceland Tours, we make that easy.
Book a vacation package with us and we’ll take care of the details, booking your local transport and accommodation for you. Plus, our Reykjavík-based travel experts will give you recommendations for things to see and do along the way.
How you decide to discover Iceland is up to you. For the freedom to go at your own pace, choose a self-drive tour of Iceland. Or, leave the driving to an experienced guide when you opt for a group trip with like-minded travelers.
Alternatively, if you’d rather sleep in one place during your vacation, pick a multi-day tour from Reykjavík. This way, you’ll have a base in the city and take day trips to Iceland’s top sights.
You can also customize all of our tours when you book online. So, there’s no problem if you want to add an extra night or specific activity to your itinerary.
Get ready to discover the Land of Fire and Ice with Iceland Tours. All you need to secure your booking is a 5% deposit.
About the author
Catherine became fascinated by Iceland when she studied geology at university. And while there’s plenty to captivate a self-confessed geology geek, there’s so much more to discover here. The wild landscapes, epic bathing spots, and laid-back culture are just some of her favorite things about Iceland. When she’s not writing about travel, you’ll probably find her rock climbing or planning her next adventure.View more posts by Catherine
You’ll find plenty to do a stone’s throw from the Icelandic capital.Read more