Are you going to Iceland and wondering what you can experience in Iceland? The answer is that this country really offers a lot and the biggest obstacle for your vacation will be only budget and time. And that’s why it’s important to think carefully about which places and experiences are a priority for you and plan your trips accordingly.
As they say, Iceland is the land of Fire and Ice, and it really is. In a relatively small area, you can find exploding volcanoes as well as huge glaciers. After all, it was not for nothing that the exciting Game of Thrones and films like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the cosmic Interstellar were filmed there. The country is therefore truly exceptional and visiting it is one of the experiences of a lifetime. But how to plan a trip and what places are worth visiting? You will find out in this blog full of tips on accommodation and transport and more. First of all, here you will find a list of 16 places and experiences that you should not miss in Iceland.
Staying in Iceland is one of the logistically rather demanding aspects of the trip. Why? First of all, Iceland is a small country with only 300,000 inhabitants and more than 60% of the population is concentrated in the capital Reykjavík. This is also reflected in the accommodation, so while it is very easy to find accommodation in Reykjavík (a number of hotels and airbnb), it is more difficult to find accommodation outside the capital. This is especially true for the summer season. Predsalen, however, there are accommodations in Iceland, and although they are mostly in the west, a few can also be found in the east.
So how can you make sure you choose the hotel you want? First of all, it is essential to book the hotel well in advance. I repeat, especially when you go to Iceland in the summer. Otherwise, it may happen that the hotels will be occupied and the free ones will be offered for big money. Iceland is otherwise the 9th most expensive country in the world, so I really recommend avoiding unnecessarily high accommodation fees.
You can choose your accommodation on booking.com, which will search for a wide range of available accommodation, or contact airbnb. I went through airbnb and stayed in the center of Reykjavík, where I stayed for my entire stay. Of course, the location of your accommodation depends on another factor and that is how you want to move around the island.
Do you want to know what is the best way to get around Iceland? The answer is simple. Definitely rent a car. Iceland does not have a very busy infrastructure, so public transport is definitely out of the question here. You can rent a car directly at the airport in Keflavík or in the capital city of Reykjavík, and it will greatly facilitate your transportation on the island. Another option is to rent a camping car. However, if you wanted to camp anywhere, you would pay a pretty hefty fine. So you have to see where the camping spots are and park there. However, since campsites are charged and renting a caravan is significantly more expensive than a car, this option of transport is an experience, but more financially demanding.
Even if you don’t have a driver’s license or are afraid of driving in a foreign country, there is still a way. You can go on optional trips, the price of which depends mainly on the distance. In such a case, it is easiest to stay in Reykjavík, since it is from here that the optional trips are organized. I also went on an optional trip, since I was in Reykjavík and wanted to get to the lagoon 370 km away, I decided to go on an optional trip by bus instead of driving. The disadvantage of such a trip is that you cannot moderate how long you want to stay in the places and your freedom is limited during the trip.
In the article I will link to several affiliate links for optional trips from Reykjavík via Viator. I am really satisfied with Viator for several reasons. Viator has good customer service and you can contact them quickly if you have a problem. In Iceland, I ordered a whale and puffin tour through them, and unfortunately the travel agency canceled the tour. I was afraid that they would not refund my money as it was canceled by a third party. But they sent the money within a few days and I was really satisfied.
Now you know how transport and accommodation work in Iceland, so let’s see what places are worth visiting here and what you must experience on this island. Here’s a list of 16 experiences in Iceland that will make you feel like you’re on another planet!
Have you ever wondered where the name Geysir came from? You’re thinking right, it was in Iceland. Geysir is a famous geothermal site in Haukadalur Valley. It is one of the stops on the so-called Golden circle. If you haven’t heard of it yet, the Golden circle is a circuit that can easily be done by car in one day and you will see several natural attractions along it, including this geyser. The frequency of geyser eruption varies and also depends on the current tectonic activity in Iceland. When I was there, there were a lot of earthquakes in Iceland and a geyser erupted about every 5 minutes. If there is less tectonic activity, you may have to wait up to 30 minutes for the geyser to erupt.
But believe me, the experience is worth the wait. There are also several nice thermal springs in this geothermal area. But be careful, you can’t swim in them, the water there can be 80 degrees!
2. Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is one of the top attractions in Iceland. The lagoon with light blue milky water is a unique experience. This place is not only an attractive place for tourists but also for Spa lovers. It has been confirmed that the Blue Lagoon has healing effects against several diseases. The price will also include mud face masks. The temperature of the water in the lagoon is around 38 degrees, so you don’t have to worry that you won’t be able to see the Blue Lagoon even if you come to the island in winter. However, you must book your tickets in advance on their official website bluelagoon.com, as entry is limited to a certain number of people per day. Alternatively, if you go with an optional tour, travel tickets usually guarantee availability on the day of the reservation.
3. Fagradsfjall- Vulcano hike
Seeing the volcano with your own eyes is simply the dream of every traveler. Iceland is one of the few countries where this dream can come true. On average, volcanoes here erupt once every 5 years. However, recent research has shown that the frequency of explosions will increase in the near future. Even if you did not see an erupting volcano, you still have the opportunity to see an inactive volcano with dried lava. I was incredibly lucky to go on this climb on August 3, 2022, when the Fagradsfjall volcano erupted. What a coincidence of such timing. Although the volcano 22.8. 2022 has gone out and you will not see the current lava there, there is always the possibility of a re-eruption. If you are wondering how to get to the volcano, read Fagradsfjall – How to get to Iceland’s active volcano.
4. Gullfoss Waterfall
Right after the Swiss Rhine Falls, Dettifoss is the second most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is located in Vatnajökull National Park and is part of the Golden Circle. Gullfoss is a massive waterfall that offers beautiful scenery and wonderful views from every angle. Another advantage of this waterfall is that you can visit it at any time of the year. It is definitely one of the places you must not miss in Iceland.
5. Jokulsarlon Glacial lagoon
The Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is one of the most beautiful wonders in Iceland. It is located on the southern coast and is also Iceland’s deepest lake with a depth of 248 meters. Jokulsarlon is Europe’s largest glacier and its broken pieces end up in this lagoon. The whole scenery is beautiful. Glaciers create an optical illusion and appear to you to be blue, when in fact they are translucent. In the lagoon, you can go on an amphibious boat cruise and see the glaciers up close. But even if you decide not to go on the boat, you can walk around the lagoon and the experience will be just as great. And to make matters worse, over 200 seals live in the lagoon, which are protected from killer whales.
6. Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is also part of the Golden Circle and is only a 40-minute drive from Reykjavík. This park is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland for one important reason. This place is the interface of two tectonic plates. It is the border of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and also the reason why there are so many earthquakes in Iceland. You can see the crack that represents this very border after a stretch of several kilometers and it’s a really great experience. Not to worry, Game of Thrones fans will also get their money’s worth here. Thingvellir is the location of several scenes from this fantasy series.
7. Diamond beach
The diamond beach is located right next to the Jokulsarlon lagoon and is one of the highlights of Iceland! As the name suggests, diamonds are found on the beach. But don’t get your hopes up. So they are not real diamonds. Instead, there are broken pieces of ice that create the real illusion of diamonds. You will see seals swimming around again and the black sand of the beach will also impress you.
8. Kerid crater
Kerid volcanic crater is one of the other stops on the Golden circle. The truth is, however, that many tour guides miss this important place when organizing a trip to the Golden Circle. If you want to see the crater, it is, therefore, better to find out which tours Kerid adds to their itinerary or go to the crater by car. The crater is also interesting due to its azure water contrasting with the red volcanic rocks. So for photographers, this place is truly a must-go.
9. Seljalandsfoss watarfall
Seljalandsfoss is a completely unique place. But what makes this waterfall different from others? You can literally see Seljalandsfoss from all 360 degrees. In practice, this means that you are walking behind a waterfall! Such an unusual natural phenomenon is found in only two places in Europe. One of the two waterfalls is Iceland’s Seljalandsfoss and the other is Peričnik waterfall in Slovenia. (link to an article about Slovenia coming soon). However, the waterfall is really massive and I recommend taking a raincoat with you if you want to walk behind the falls. I even saw tourists there who brought waterproof boots and put them on in front of the waterfall. However, whether you decide to get wet behind the waterfall or not, Seljalandsfoss is a place that you will remember for the rest of your life.
Reykjavík is a small capital city. But that does not mean that there is nothing to see there. One of the most popular attractions in Reykjavík is the Hallgrimskirkja church, which regularly ranks among the most beautiful churches in the world. In addition to the church, you can also visit the Perlan Icelandic Museum or the famous statue of the Viking ship The Sun Voyager.
Kirkjufell mountain is one of the 10 most beautiful mountains in the world. You may even recognize it as “Arrow Head Mountain” from the series Game of Thrones. It is certainly not surprising that the creators of the series chose Kirkjufell. Even with the waterfall there, it creates beautiful scenery, and therefore this mountain should definitely not be missing from your list of places to visit in Iceland.
12. Ytri Tunga- watching seals
There are several seal-watching locations in Iceland. They also go to Diamond beach on the south coast. However, the more famous location is Ytri Tunga beach. There are several types of seals that can be seen in the water or when they are resting on the rocks. Ytri Tunga is located on the Snæfellsjökull peninsula, and in addition to watching seals, you can go to the cliffs or the Kirkjufell mountain.
13. Watching puffins
Puffin is a colorful, truly golden bird, and seeing it with your own eyes is an experience for nature lovers. However, they can only be seen in two places in the world, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. However, even that is not possible at every time of the year. Puffins are found in Iceland from late April to late August, sometimes into September. During this period, they lay eggs on these two islands and tourists can observe them in their natural habitat. There are two ways to see puffins. The first is to go personally looking for them on the cliffs, where you can see them really close. The problem is that in this way you disturb their territory and thus expose the puffins to stress.
The second option is to go on a trip by boat, which will take you to the places where they live and you will see them from a few meters away. Even this is not ideal, because the boat will not allow you to get very close to the puffins, but they will provide you with binoculars. In both cases, there are some disadvantages, but at least the boat trip is less stressful for the puffins. For example, I decided to go to the puffins by boat.
It is also necessary to mention that puffins are served in some restaurants in Iceland. Therefore, I would like to point out that it is good to find out in advance which restaurants they are, so that you do not support this yourself. This will send a signal to the government that you want to see puffins alive and not on a plate.
Iceland is one of the few countries where tourists can see whales with their own eyes. Whales can most often be seen near the towns of Husavik and Akureyri. Therefore, even if you go on a whale-watching trip from Reykjavík, you will probably be taken by boat to one of these two places. If the weather is good, the chance to see a whale after purchasing a tour is almost certain. However, if the weather is not good, the tour companies usually cancel the tour, since you probably wouldn’t see the whale.
Unfortunately, this also happened to me, I had purchased a tour through Viator and the travel agent wrote to me the day before the tour that the tour would be canceled due to bad weather. I had the choice to either change the date or get a full refund. However, since it was my last day in Iceland, I, unfortunately, had to cancel the whale-watching trip and Viator sent me the money. At least I have a reason to go to Iceland again. As with puffins, it is legal to hunt whales in Iceland. Many restaurants offer whale meat to tourists. By finding out which restaurants serve whale meat, you can help prevent the hunting of these beautiful and rare mammals and send a signal to the government that you do not support whaling.
Vík is a picturesque town on the southern coast with massive rocky cliffs and a small romantic church. Although the town is small with just over 300 inhabitants, it has a romantic, beautiful atmosphere. In addition to the town itself, there is also a black beach here, and you can also see puffins on the cliffs there in the summer months.
16. Hellnar viewpoint
The Snaefellsnes peninsula offers, so to speak, a concentration of everything you can experience in Iceland. There are volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, and beautiful cliffs. The ideal way to enjoy the cliffs there is to go on a hike from the village of Hellnar to Arnarstapi, where you will walk along this natural phenomenon. But even if you don’t want to go on a hike, you can go directly to Hellnar by car and simply park in front of the lookout point.