Best Things to Do in Iceland

Iceland might not be your typical fun-in-the-sun island holiday, that’s for sure. Yet, there are plenty of unique things to do in Iceland that might put those white sandy beach and cocktail vacations to shame.


Iceland is infamous for its majestic landscapes, natural wonders, and unique experiences. You’ll be surprised to learn how many things this little island really has to offer visitors. There are many things to do in Iceland, so here are some of the must-have things on your trip itinerary:


Best Things to do in Iceland Guide

Horse Riding


As a country that can boast about its very own breed of horse, you can find horse riding tours all over Iceland. The Icelandic horse remains one of the most interesting things to see in Iceland. It has been bred to not only be an animal that has a great nature, but also hardy enough for the harsh Icelandic elements. And as an added perk, the Icelandic horse possesses an extra gait called tölt.


So having the opportunity to go horse riding or on a pony trekking tour in Iceland is quite the experience and exploring the island and visiting some of the island’s attractions via horseback is something you’ll never forget.


what to do in Iceland

Hot Springs


Iceland has natural hot springs all over and taking a dip is one of the best things to do in Iceland. This is because of the volcanic activity on the island heating the underground water supply. Some of these hot springs can still be found in their natural states. While some others have been utilized for public pools and some of the best spas in Iceland. Some of the most popular hot springs to visit include:


Things to see in Iceland: Hot Springs

Skiing


Even though the island only has a few skiing resorts, the snow sport is alive and well and is one of the best things to do in Iceland. Just remember that (quite ironically) Iceland doesn’t have snowfall all year-round. So, skiing down the scenic mountains in Iceland is only an option during the winter months of November to March.


Best things to do in Iceland: skiing

Snowmobiling


Snowmobiling is one of the best things to do in Iceland and one of the best ways to explore the island’s icy exterior. Gliding over glaciers and through ice tunnels on your snowmobile is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Must do in Iceland: snowmobiling

Whale Watching


23 whale species call the Icelandic waters their home, although many of these are migratory. Whale watching in Iceland is a very popular activity and tours can be found across the island. Most of the tours being around Reykjavík and what is known as the whale capital of Iceland: Husavik. Some whales you might be lucky to catch a glimpse of include:

  • Orcas

  • Blue Whale

  • Humpback Whale

  • Minke Whale

  • Pilot Whale


What to see in Iceland: whales

Puffin Watching


Another favorite when it comes to things to see in Iceland in terms of wildlife is the odd little Atlantic Puffin bird. Iceland boasts more than 60% of the world’s Atlantic Puffin population. But these cute little birds, who are nicknamed the “clowns of the sea”, are migratory.


The Puffins of Iceland only make their way to the island during the breeding season. That’s why you’ll need to plan your trip during the summer months of May to August. But if you ever manage to catch them in season, Puffin spotting is an absolute must-do in Iceland.


Things to see in Iceland: puffins

The Northern Lights


The Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) are one of the most beautiful things to see in Iceland. This natural phenomenon of lights playing across the sky is breathtaking. For obvious reasons, you will need darkness to be able to see this magnificent light display.

So, if this is on your Icelandic bucket list, you’ll need to ensure that you visit during the winter months (October to March) since that is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland - when the nights are darker for longer. You will also want to steer clear of the bright city lights if you want to experience the full effect of the Northern Lights.


Northern Lights in Iceland

Fishing


For many, Iceland and fishing are synonymous, so it should not come as a surprise that it's viewed as an absolute must-do in Iceland. Of this, the old fishing villages can attest to. Today, Iceland is still considered one of the best places in the world to do freshwater fishing.


With so many untouched rivers and lakes, the waters are teeming with fish such as salmon and trout. Just remember that you do need a fishing license before you can start casting your line. Some of the best spots to go and try your luck are:

  • Galtalaekur River

  • Korpa River

  • Laxa River

  • Svarta River

  • Varma River


Things to do in Iceland: fishing

Reykjavík Food Walk


If you are a foodie and wondering what to do in Iceland, you need to book your spot on the next Reykjavík Food Walk. This is probably the tastiest way of experiencing true Icelandic culture. Whilst walking the streets of the capital, learning about the history and meeting some of the people you’ll have the opportunity to taste real Icelandic food such as lamb, fish, meat, cheese and the legendary homemade ice cream and hot dogs.


Reykjavik food walk

Shopping in Reykjavík


One of the things to do in Iceland when it rains is to shop ‘till you drop, and the capital does not disappoint. When it comes to shopping in Iceland, it’s astounding that a city that’s considered to be so small in comparison to other capitals around the world, can be such a shopper’s paradise. That’s especially true for Laugavegur Street, which is an Iceland must-see.


From beautiful clothes and souvenirs to jewelry, cosmetics, and much more; you’ll need to remind yourself that flights have weight limits on luggage. A few popular shops in Reykjavík are:



Bike Tours


If you’re not one for walking, another way to discover the country is via Iceland’s guided bike tours. And if you’re on the adventurous side, you can book a spot on a mountain biking trip (as a day outing or a multi-day excursion) where you get to experience the Icelandic landscape with every push of a pedal.


What to do in Iceland: bike tour

Museums


A country with such a rich history as Iceland is bound to have a museum or two. And whether you’re looking for things to do in Iceland when it rains, you’re a history buff or are just intrigued by the bizarre – you will find the museum that’s the right fit for you. Some of the must-see museums in Iceland include:

  • Viking World in Keflavik where you get to learn about all things Viking.

  • The Phallological Museum in Reykjavík remains one of the top things to see in Iceland. This is where you get to see the penises of most creatures walking the island (including humans).

  • Aurora in Reykjavík, where those who are unable to experience the Northern Lights for themselves can have a simulated experience as well as learn about the phenomenon.

  • The Reykjavík Maritime museum is for all the boat enthusiasts out there.

  • The Museum of Icelandic Witchcraft and Sorcery in the Westfjords will take you back to more magical times on the island and delves into intriguing folklore and old beliefs.

  • The Saga Museum in Reykjavík is for those who enjoy history in a story-telling format. These life-sized statues and scenes teleport you through the island’s history and most dramatic events.


Museums in Iceland to visit

Glacier Tours


One of the unique and must-do activities on the island is going on an Iceland glacier tour. Whilst you can cruise the icy surface with a snowmobile as mentioned earlier, there are also glacier hikes. As you can imagine, these tours come with highly experienced and certified guides to ensure your safety, and some will take you to your starting location in an Iceland Super Jeep.


These tours will usually depart from the city, or you can meet on location. Glacier adventures can take anything from a couple of hours to a full day and due to safety concerns (ice melt, after all), some tours may be out of bounds during the summer months so remember to double-check before getting your hopes dashed. Some of the most popular glacier tours include:

  • Skaftafell Ice Cave

  • Sólheimajökull Glacier

  • Vatnajökull National Park


Iceland must see glaciers

Hiking


Hiking often ticks off a few boxes of what to see in Iceland as well, since many of the trails include famous attractions on the route. But hiking in Iceland is yet another activity that can be seasonal and heavily impacted by the weather. For example, trails in the highlands will definitely not be available to walk on during the winter months and places such as Latrabjarg Cliffs are not somewhere you want to be when the infamous Icelandic winds are at their worst.


But if you’re blessed with good weather, there are many trails ranging from different skill levels to lengths that you can try all over the island. These are some of the most enjoyable hikes:

  • Mount Esja Hike, 3 hours, Challenging hike

  • Reykjadalur Hot Spring Hike, 2 hours, Moderate hike

  • Geldingadalir/Fagradallsfjall Volcano hike, 1-2 hours, Moderate to challenging hike

  • Snæfellsjökull Glacier, 7-10 hours, Challenging hike

  • Glymur Waterfall, 3-4 hours, Moderate hike



Dog Sledding


Most of the dog sledding companies can be found in and around Reykjavík. Dog sledding is one of the most memorable things to do in Iceland. Flying over the seemingly endless white expanse with these strong, loyal Huskies at the helm is quite the experience.


Dog sledding in Iceland is also something that, despite logic, is open all year round. Whilst gliding over the icy snow in winter, the sleds are equipped with wheels during the summer months to help speed things along – literally.


Dog sledding in Iceland

Reykjavík Walking Tours


We highly recommend that this is one of the first things you do in Iceland once you’ve arrived. Not only because these walking tours include many of the Iceland city must-sees the city offers, but because it’s the quickest way to get to know the capital and know you’re way around it.


And not all of the Reykjavík city walking tours are just about the town and its history. If you’re in the mood for a little something different, then you can opt for one of the Reykjavík ghost or elves tours. Whilst some of the walking tours are offered free of charge, it’s considered good etiquette to at least tip the guide, so please keep this in mind before just waving goodbye at the end of the walk.


Must do in Iceland: Reykjavik

Festivals & Events


It honestly doesn’t matter when you book your Iceland trip, the Icelanders are a jolly bunch and always up for a good time. This is abundantly clear if you take a look at the island’s festivals and events calendar.


Even though music is often the main category in the many Iceland music festivals, Iceland sports many types of festivals. Winter or summer, music, art, or food – the island will have a festival that’s right up your alley. Some of the most famous festivals and events in Iceland include:

Must do in Iceland: Reykjavik festivals

All Things Viking


Icelanders are the descendants of these legendary warriors, so it would be pretty odd if there were no mention of them. The Icelanders have a deep appreciation for history and a deep love for folklore, so it comes as no surprise that the entire island is filled with all things Viking.


And we couldn’t be happier. Many of the Viking activities and Viking villages in Iceland will make you feel like a kid again. Take a look at a few of the ones that come highly recommended to see what we mean:


Viking museums in Iceland

Road Tripping


We believe road tripping is the best and most affordable way to explore the island – especially if you plan on doing it in a campervan or by camping along the way to keep those accommodation costs down. Just remember that certain roads are only accessible via 4x4, so be sure to discuss your planned route with the rental car agency. We would also recommend that road trips be planned for the summer.


This is because many routes are closed during the winter months and the Iceland weather can make the roads quite treacherous and unpleasant. You will also be limited in what to see in Iceland during the winter months since you’ll be too late for wildlife such as the Puffins, you won’t get to experience the midnight sun and places such as the Westfjords will be almost completely out of bounds.


Not to mention that a campervan or camping adventure can get especially chilly during the winter months. If you plan on only staying in the major Iceland cities, then winter can be an option if you choose the right car.

To truly experience everything Iceland has to offer, be sure to tick off these popular road trip routes:


What to do in Iceland: road trip

Lighthouses


Being an island in the middle of the ocean means that plenty of lighthouses are needed. Lighthouses are often found in extreme places like small islands in stormy waters or at the very end of any peninsula.


Depending on how adventurous you feel like being, you can go to either a far-off lighthouse in a remote area or simply check out the Iceland lighthouses that are close to the main roads. Popular and pretty lighthouses in Iceland include:

  • Reykjanesviti

  • Akranesviti

  • Grotta

  • Thridrangaviti

  • Dalatangaviti

  • Knarraros

  • Dyrholaeyjarviti


Iceland must see lighthouses

Waterfalls


When it comes to things to do in Iceland, catching waterfalls is high on the list. Iceland claims to have roughly 10,000 waterfalls, give or take a few depending on the season, rainfall, and current geological events. See, Iceland has an abundance of glaciers that can feed massive waterfalls. Sadly, this is often the result of receding glaciers.


The island also has high annual rainfall, further filling up these mighty rivers. Apart from that, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are constantly changing the shape of this country, which affects the shapes of water streams and river connections. Our top 10 waterfalls are:

  • Dettifoss (Iceland’s most powerful waterfall)

  • Gullfoss (The golden waterfall)

  • Skogafoss (One of the most popular waterfalls)

  • Hjalparfoss (Two conjoined waterfalls)

  • Öxararfoss (Man-induced waterfall in Thingvellir)

  • Seljalandsfoss (The waterfall you can view from behind)

  • Kvernufoss (A hidden gem off the beaten path in Iceland and a personal favorite)

  • Hraunfossar (A large and wide system of waterfalls)

  • Godafoss (Where Iceland officially became Christian)

  • Morsarfoss (Iceland’s tallest and maybe newest waterfall)


What to see in Iceland: waterfalls

Volcanoes


The Land of Fire and Ice contains a lot of fire. Iceland is one of the areas in the world with the most volcanic activity, but you don’t need to be afraid of it, since most of the volcanoes here are literally cracks in the ground with lava slowly pouring out. We’re not talking about massive explosive volcanoes that blow up the island on the regular.


Why volcanoes are one of the things to do in Iceland is because they are so calm and controlled that people are literally going to them to have a look and take some nice photos. This is an unreal experience that you will have to do! As of now, there are a few active and/or recent eruptions you can check out:

  • Hekla (Erupted 2000)

  • Grimsvötn (Erupted 2004 and 2011)

  • Eyjafjallajökull (2010)

  • Holhraun (Erupted 2014)

  • Fagradalsfjall (Erupted 2021 and 2022)


What to see in Iceland: volcanoes

Camping


The camping scene in Iceland is out of this world. Culturally, Iceland has a strong connection to camping and has been excited to show it off to any visitors to the country.


Laws regarding camping became unsustainable when the tourism boom happened. Yet, instead of limiting the camping options, Iceland made sure that proper camping sites were marked up. That way, anyone can go camping without causing harm to nature or anyone’s private land. See below for a list of larger camping sites you can visit in the different regions of Iceland:


Must do in Iceland: camping

Black Sand Beaches


The volcanic activity in Iceland has subsequently created some of the most amazing beaches ever. Visiting the black sand beaches is on the list of things to do in Iceland, and you won’t regret it at all when you experience this otherworldly scene for yourself. These places make for awesome photos, and some of them have interesting stories and modern artifacts on them. Some of the most popular black sand beaches in Iceland are:

  • Reynisfjara (the most popular one)

  • Solheimasandur (has a large, crashed aircraft on it)

  • Diamond Beach (filled with large diamond-like ice blocks)

  • Dyrholaey (amazing views and cool rock formations)


Black sand beaches in Iceland

Snorkeling


Even though this isn’t a tropical paradise, it is an amazing country to go snorkeling in. The captivating geology of Iceland gives us amazing spots to both dive and snorkel in. However, since you’re often required to have the proper diving certificate to go diving, snorkeling is a good option for those who are not in the diving community.


The one thing you need to make peace with before heading out is the fact that the water will be cold in 9/10 places you visit. There are one or two exceptions, but for the most part, you will need a dry suit to keep a decent body temperature. Snorkeling is one of the seemingly odd things to do in Iceland, but you’ll understand why it’s popular when you get in the water.


What to see in Iceland: Silfra

Plan Your Own Itinerary


Iceland is a cornucopia of amazing things to do and places to visit. To get the most out of your visit, we suggest that you rent a car in Reykjavík and make your own itinerary to do the things you want to do and visit the places you want to see without feeling crunched for time.

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