Best Places To Visit In Iceland
Iceland is a majestic country that is famous for its distinctive beauty. It is home to over four thousand mountains and twenty-plus lakes. In addition to the icy landscapes and towering cliffs, there are over 266 museums for you to explore. The popular city of Reykjavik, Iceland’s main hub, draws over 700,000 people every year for its nightlife alone! There is truly so much to explore here, so where do you start?
We are breaking down the best places to visit in Iceland, to make your road trip planning a little bit easier. Keep reading to pick out your favorite spots and then add them to your Iceland Itinerary.
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
Located in the majestic Westfjords area of Iceland is the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. The area is in a very isolated and remote part of Iceland. But, the incredible landscape makes the trip well worth it. The nature reserve was first established in 1975 starting from fjords Hrafnfjörður and Furufjörður and then completing itself at Skorarheiði moor. The nature area has over 260 types of flowers, plants, and ferns. An ideal reserve for both nature and plant lovers. Hornstrandir is also the home to Iceland’s only native mammal, the rare arctic fox. Due to the foxes' hunting habits of birds, it is common for them to live on the cliffs.
Hornstrandir is ideal for hikers and campers. As there are also no roads throughout the park so exploration by foot will be needed to access most places. For those looking for adventure, bring your tent. Since the sought-after cliffs cannot be accessed by roads. Check an item off your bucket list and spend your night under the Hornstrandir Nature Preserves stars. The remoteness of the nature reserve makes it one of the best places to visit in Iceland.
The Golden Circle Route
Chances are that if you have heard of Iceland you have probably heard of the Golden Circle. It is one of the most sought-after travel routes when exploring Iceland. The road is 230 kilometers or 140 miles. You can travel the route in one day since its driveable time is a total of three hours, without stops. But, stopping along the route is the best part!
There are three main stops on the Golden Circle. Thingvellir National Park, The Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Fall. Each one of these places will bring something special to your journey. Thingvellir National Park is the only place in the whole world where you can walk between two tectonic plates. It also is home to the largest lake in Iceland, Thingvallavatn. You can hike in the park or just simply enjoy the stunning views.
The Geysir Geothermal Area is a spouting hot spring that is easily rated one of the best places to visit in Iceland. The Geysir shoots all the way up to 20 meters or 65 feet up to 40 meters or 130 feet high. It is truly a must-see when driving the Golden Circle. It is known to erupt every five to ten minutes too. So viewing the spout for yourself is a quick and easy stop.
Finally, make your way over to Gullfoss Falls. This two-level waterfall is a combination of falls. The first part has a 36 feet drop and then a 69-foot drop. In total, the canyon on both sides of the waterfall reaches 230 feet. You can enjoy the short and beautiful hike to the top of the falls. Feel the mist of the falls on your face before getting back out to the open road of the Golden Circle. If you aren’t comfortable driving yourself, you can also take a tour. Wake Up Reykjavik offers a Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon Tour which will bring you to these hot spots and a hidden lagoon along the way, which we will get to later.
Visit the Northern Iceland town of Húsavík. It is located next to Skjálfandi Bay which is northeast of Akureyri. Húsavík is the oldest settlement in Iceland and is also known as the “Bay of the Houses”. Rumor has it that an old sailor lost his track out on the sea and ended up in Húsavík. He then built a house and spent the winter there all the way back in 864.
Today, you can enjoy some special activities in this old coastal town. The top attraction is whale watching. Since Húsavík is known for being the Whale Watching Capital Of Iceland, you have a great chance of spotting one. As of right now, there is a 97% average success rate of sighting a whale within the last three decades. Your best bet is to book a tour with one of the local companies in the area. They will bring you out on the open sea to the best spots to find one of the 24 species of different whales. Húsavík is one of the best places to visit in Iceland for whale watching.
The Blue Lagoon
One of the most iconic tourist spots in Iceland is The Blue Lagoon. This geothermal seawater spa is located just 45 minutes southeast of Reykjavik. A short and convenient drive from the city. Your experience at the lagoon starts out with a quick shower at the facility. It is required that you do this before entering the thermal water. After, you will be able to start your journey throughout the spa.
Swim out into the steamy turquoise blue waters that are heated between 98 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body will enter a state of relaxation while soaking in this special seawater. You can then swim up to the mud mask bar. The basic package includes a Silica Mud Mask, which will deep-cleanse and strengthen your skin. You can float around the lagoon with your face mask on for twenty minutes and even grab a drink at the lagoon bar.
Enjoy the beautiful 360 views of Iceland that will surround you. After, take advantage of the cafe and restaurant that is located by the entrance. The Blue Lagoon also offers a hotel for those looking to stay overnight. As well as more luxurious packages.
If you are looking for the best hot springs in Iceland we recommend reading our article: 11 Best Hot Springs in Iceland
Sitting in Reykjavik is the largest church in all of Iceland. Hallgrímskirkja towers at 74.5 meters or 244 feet tall. It is actually known to be the tallest structure in the entire country. The church is quite stunning due to its unique architecture. The columns are known to represent volcanic basalt. Architect Guðjón Samúelsson used Scandinavian Modernism to bring out Icelandic nature to the building.
If you want to truly marvel at something then Hallgrímskirkja is one of the best places to visit in Iceland. The church is free to wander and explore. But, if you want to visit the exclusive tower, you will need to purchase an admission ticket. Be sure to check out their calendar as they do host Winter and Spring musical events throughout the year. The church is worth a visit any time of the year.
Add the remote town of Borgarnes to your Iceland bucket list. The town may not be on the typical travelers' top five list, but it very well should be. Located northwest of Reykjavik is this quaint and historic village. It was discovered in the early days of Iceland by fishermen who then lived there. It then quickly became the gateway to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and North Iceland.
Now the town attracts visitors to the still remote area. You can explore one of their museums. Safnahús Borgarfjarðar explains the history of Iceland through children and families dating back to the 1900s. The Old Cars Transportation Museum will let you see mature cars and automobile models. The Settlement Center teaches you the history of Borgarnes and the early days of Iceland. An important place you must visit to learn about the Icelandic people throughout history. There are also restaurants and art galleries you can stop by in town. Visiting the smaller towns of Iceland can sometimes be more exciting than visiting the larger attractions.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
It is too bizarre and unique to not add to the best places to visit in Iceland. The Icelandic Phallological Museum is home to the world's largest display of penises and penile parts. With over two hundred and fifteen pieces, you will not be bored of things to learn. The museum is the only place in the world that showcases different types of mammals’ phallic specimens from every single country.
Don’t worry, it is not as risque as it sounds. The museum is actually very educational since it does teach you all about the different mammals and animals. The specimens range from polar bears to whales, to so many more. Stop by the gift shop on your way out. So you purchase a funny souvenir to bring back to your friends and families
The photo was taken by JasonParis
The black sand beaches of Iceland are most commonly known. But did you know there are also Red Sand beaches? Rauðasandur, which is located in the remote area of the Westfjords is home to them. The beach stretches over 6 miles long too, providing tons of sand for you to enjoy.
The unique sand gets its vibrant colors from the crushed scallop shells of the sea. The best part about visiting the beach is that the color of the sand will depend on the day you visit. This is due to the weather and cloud coverage. Colors can vary from a dark and muddy color to a bright and vibrant red. The best time to visit is during sunnier days, which will make the red really pop. Either way, visiting the beach is recommended regardless of the weather. Admire the water, sand, and roaming livestock that fills the area.
One of the most well-known places in Iceland is also one of the best places to visit, Reykjavik. Iceland’s major city and hub for all major airlines. Most people start and end their trip to Iceland in Reykjavik. While others stay in the city the whole time. There is so much to do here, from fine dining to lively bars. This is in addition to the endless art galleries and museums.
The city has so much to offer and can seem overwhelming on where to start. That is why joining a tour can be beneficial. Wake Up Reykjavik can help you experience the city like a local and is one of the funniest tour operators in the country. You can join their Food Tour, which lets you taste the country’s grass-fed, free-roaming Icelandic Lamb & fresh Icelandic Fish. Then you will even get to try homemade Icelandic ice cream from a secret family recipe. Yum!
The food scene is not the only amazing part of the city. You should also try their cocktail bars. One of the most famous ones is Jungle Cocktail Lounge. Wake Up Reykjavik also offers a Cocktail Experience where they bring you to the lounge. Enjoy three famous Icelandic cocktails while listening to the stories of how they got there. A unique experience to enjoy in one of the best cities in the world.
Vatnajokull National Park
South Iceland is home to the stunning Vatnajökull National Park. The National Park includes Skaftafell, Jökulsárgljúfur, Vatnajökull, and many other areas. So it is no wonder that the famous national park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List back in 2019. The park is known for its extensive hiking trails and variety of landscapes.
You can take a hike to waterfall Svartifoss to cool off or, visit glacier Skaftafellsjökull. Both are rated under moderate. If you want a challenge, you can venture further out to the Morsárdalur valley and Kristínartindar mountain peaks. A challenging hike that is sought after by extreme travelers. If hiking alone is not your jam, you can join a guided hike. Vatnajökull National Park is a must-see for all nature and outdoor lovers.
If seeing 10,000 Puffins is on your bucket list, then get ready to visit Hafnarhólmi. Which is a small rock island in Iceland off the harbor of Borgarfjörður. The puffins make the small island their home during the summer months every year. They enjoy sitting on the rock of Hafnarhólmi, which is located directly behind the fishing harbor.
It is easy to get to this unique area too. You can make your way over to Borgarfjörður first. The drive is very scenic and brings you along a gravel mountain pass. The pass is easy to drive in the summer months and provides views of the sea. Once you arrive in the village of Borgarfjörður, you will simply just park your car by the harbor. You can take the short walk on the boardwalk to Hafnarhólmi. Enjoy the views of the adorable puffins, up close and personal. When you are done exploring the fishing harbor, indulge in some fresh seafood nearby.
Calling all Loch Ness Monster fans, this one's for you! Lagarfljót is located in eastern Iceland. It is a narrow lake that is known for its fishing and mythology. The lake is rumored to be the home to the Loch Ness Monster’s cousin, Lagarfljót Wyrm. The tale dates back to 1345 and still holds the legend until this day.
Videos and pictures of the monster are still surfacing today. Some people analyzing the photos are saying that the monster is not real and is instead a floating log or ice cap. But others say that is simply not possible and Lagarfljót Wyrm is the real star of the lake. Whether you believe the legend or not, you should visit Lagarfljót regardless. It is conventionally located next to the Capital of the East which is Egilsstaðir. Enjoy exploring the city and even take advantage of one of the lakefront hotels. That way you have a chance to snag a view of Lagarfljót Wyrm, right from your hotel room window.
The biggest waterfall in the Westfjords of Iceland is the Dynjandi Waterfall. The most unique part of the falls is that it has a variety of different ones. With a width of 98 feet, the top of the falls widens out to 196 feet to the bottom falls. The scenery is similar to a bridal veil, which is what locals and visitors also call the Dynjandi Waterfall.
You can even see this beauty up close by taking a short hike to it. The hike is an out and back trail and it is only one mile long. It takes an average of thirty-seven minutes to complete, keeping it short and sweet. You will pass other smaller waterfalls during the hike, along with vibrant green scenery surrounding you. The Dynjandi Waterfall is one of the best places to visit in Iceland, especially in the Westfjords area.
If you are looking for more waterfalls to explore in Iceland we recommend reading our article: Top 10 Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Iceland
Spend your day relaxing in the largest national forest in Iceland. Hallormsstaðaskógur is a hidden gem because Iceland does not have a large number of trees. It did at one point, but the series of volcanic eruptions ruined a lot of the landscape. Luckily the reforestation service of Iceland made it their goal to rebuild some of this. Hallormsstaðaskógur was their biggest win and now has 286 square miles of lush forest.
If you are visiting Iceland in June you can attend “Forest Day” at Hallormsstaðaskógur. It is a celebratory event that has music and competitive events. Local food is sourced and sold by the farmers in the area and local artists present their work. This is a fun summer event you must attend.
If you are not visiting in June that is fine too. There are plenty of hiking trails for you to explore. The most popular one is the main 7.2-mile hike which brings you through most of the forest. It takes an average of three and a half hours, making it the perfect day hike.
Located in Northern Iceland is the peninsula of Tröllaskagi. This area is known for its humongous and breathtaking mountains. One of the highest peaks here is Mount Kerling, which sits at 1,500 meters or 4921 feet tall. There are also plenty of waterfalls and rivers, due to the ice age carvings. Tröllaskagi is so beautiful and just walking around the area is enough when visiting here.
You have to stop and visit the large population of Icelandic horses that roam the area. Take advantage of the guided horseback riding tours. Enjoy the scenic two-hour ride through the Skagafjörður valley. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience in the middle of some of the best nature in Iceland.
Askja Lava Fields
In 1875 there was a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland. This caused the area around Askja to be completely destroyed by volcanic ash. Farms and homes were lost, causing most Icelendars to leave Iceland. Another eruption occurred in 1961, which caused the area to sink even lower in elevation. Today you can visit the historic site that is surprisingly still active. It has mild eruptions and is even used as a training center for Apollo astronauts. How cool is that?
The lava field is unique because it does have a lake situated at the bottom of it, Lake Askja. It is actually the second deepest lake in all of Iceland. There is also a Viti, which is a warm lake in the center of the crater. It was formed at the end of the eruption back in 1875. The temperature of the Viti sits at an average of 86° Fahrenheit or 30° Celsius. It has become a popular spot to soak your body at since its warm temperatures resemble a hot spring. If soaking in a volcano is on your must-do in Iceland list, then you have to visit Askja Lava Fields. For its history alone, It is truly one of the best places to visit in Iceland.
Myrdalsjokull Glacier Park
Being the fourth largest ice cap in Iceland, Myrdalsjokull Glacier Park earns a spot on the list. You can find the Glacier Park in the southern part of the Icelandic Highlands. The ice cap cascades over 232 square miles. It is infamous for being located on top of Katla, an explosive Iceland volcano.
Katla is one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland. Since 930 AD, it has been known to erupt once every fifty years. The issue with the eruptions has been the enormous ash cloud that comes along with them. Since it is located below a glacier, the ash cloud is created and causes disruption to the surrounding areas. This includes livestock being poisoned by the ash and crops being completely ruined.
You can take a tour to view Myrdalsjokull Glacier Park. Some tours offer snowmobiling on the glacier or even exploring the ice caves beneath it. Visiting the glacier and volcano is a perfect stop for all thrill-seekers. An absolute must-see on your Iceland adventure!
Spend some time exploring the beautiful Icelandic countryside. Hella Iceland, is a small town with an estimated 780 people. Its history dates all the way back to the first days of Iceland. It was a source of fresh fish and water due to its location on the Ytri-Ranga River. The town was officially established in 1927 when storefronts began to be built.
Hella is not normally on many lists due to its farmland location but it really should be. The area is so remote and beautiful that it is the perfect place to spot the northern lights. With minimal to no light pollution you can nestle yourself in the Icelandic countryside. Consider staying at the hotel of Stracta, which has hot tubs and a sauna. The perfect place to watch the colors dance across the sky during the viewing months. There are also some delicious restaurants nearby, which offer local and fresh cuisine.
Located about forty minutes north of Hella, Iceland is the Secret Lagoon. Which is a manmade hot spring with geothermal warm waters from Hverahólmi. It is the oldest lagoon in Iceland, which attracts visitors from all over, as well as locals. Locals are even known to call it 'the old pool' or 'Gamla Laugin'.
The Secret Lagoon was constructed in 1891. In the 1900s swimming lessons began and it was one of the main ways Icelanders learned how to swim. It is a very historic and popular swimming area and is a favorite among the locals today. While the Blue Lagoon attracts most tourists in Iceland, the Secret Lagoon seems to be more of a crowd favorite. You do still need to book reservations in advance during the summer months, despite it being “Secret”.
The photo was taken by: hey tiffany!
Also known as the “Shelter Of The Gods' is the horseshoe-shaped Asbyrgi Canyon. Viking settlers gave that name as they thought the horse hoof shape to be formed by Sleipnir. Which is an eight-legged flying horse depicted in Norse mythology. However, geologists believe that the canyon was formed from Jokulsa glacial river’s deadly flood instead.
You can visit the canyon which is located inside Vatnajokull National Park. The cliffs of the canyon are 330 feet high. For the adventures out there, you can climb the Canyon. You can also go where the canyon is divided by Eyjan, which is a distinctive rock formation. This spot is known to have the most spectacular views for visitors. If you want to see the stars shining above the canyon, you can camp overnight. There is a small camping fee to reserve your spot but the adventure is oh so worth it.
Ring Road, also known as Route 1, is the epitome of road trip goals. This is a circular route that mimics, you guessed it, a ring around the whole country. The route can take anywhere from 6 days in summer and 12 days in winter to complete. It brings you throughout Iceland and showcases some of the most beautiful spots. It is the most ideal way to really explore and see everything during your time in Iceland.
So what are some of the spots you will pass along this famous route? Some popular areas are the waterfalls of Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. You will get your glacier fix at Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull. Then walk the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara at Vik. Explore the largest forest in Iceland when stopping by Hallormsstaðaskógur. In the North, you will stop by the gorgeous Lake Mývatn and Goðafoss waterfall. Ring Road has a stop for every traveler which is why it is so popular. Ring Road brings you the best places to visit in Iceland. A road that practically plans your Iceland vacation for you.
Spend some time in the small seaside town of Hofn. It is located in the southeastern part of Iceland and provides breathtaking views of Vatnajöku. Hofn is popular for its fine dining options on the east side of town. This means if you are a foodie, you need to add Hofn to your list. Fresh dishes such as fresh lobster rolls, delicious duck, and warming seafood stews are showcased here.
Since the town is located on a peninsula it is popular at all times of the year. It is great for ocean lovers too since the three sides of the town are surrounded by water. The summer months are absolutely beautiful. Winter months are still manageable and sometimes the water can even freeze. No matter what time of the year it is, Hofn is a great place to mentally check out and relax for a few days. Especially after spending the evening dining at one of their top-rated restaurants.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Only an hour west of Hofn is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This is one of the most surreal places in all of Iceland. The Glacier Lagoon is filled with chunks of ice that break off from the glaciers. They then fill the bay and the white chunks of ice bob around the turquoise blue water. The lagoon is a hot spot for photographers who want to capture some unique Icelandic pictures.
The popular glacier lagoon is also known as Diamond Beach. Which comes as no surprise when you see it in person. The icebergs do resemble shining diamonds that float throughout the water. If you want to get out in the water, you totally can. A few local boat tours offer to bring you out into the open seas.
The area of Diamond Beach is also known for its celebrity presence. Famous movies and films such as Batman Begins, Tomb Raider, and Game of Thrones filmed some scenes here. Justin Bieber was also controversially spotted here taking a polar plunge into the water during his music video for “I’ll Show You”. While it is not illegal to swim here, it is not recommended.
The temperature of the lagoon sits at an average of 3 degrees Celsius, or 37 degrees Fahrenheit. While the cold is one problem, hitting an iceberg under the water could kill you with too much force. So the tourism board recommends viewing the Glacier Lagoon from the shore instead. Whether you want to spend a few hours or a few days at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, it is a must-stop on your next Iceland road trip.
Vestmannaeyjar, also known as the Westman Islands, is one of Iceland's hidden gems. The Westman Islands are made up of fifteen different islands. They were all created from volcanic eruptions that took place below the sea. The largest of the islands in Iceland is Heimaey and is the only inhabited island of the bunch. Six of the other islands do have remote hunting cabins, but that is it.
Take advantage of sailing around the islands to spot some wildlife. You may be lucky enough to see a whale jump or a seal lounging on one of the many rocks. Taking a boat tour around the island is a fun way to learn all about the history of the area. This includes the historic volcanic eruption in Eldfell, which happened back in 1973. Over four hundred homes and buildings were destroyed in the eruption gaining the nickname “Pompeii of the North”. Today, the area has two volcanoes total, Helgafell and Eldfell. If you want to learn more about the eruption, you should visit the Eldheimar Museum. The museum provides a self-guided audio tour and displays of the evacuated areas.
If exploring by island by land sounds more like your style, rent a bike. You can bike ride all over the island while enjoying your own self-guided tour. Renting bikes can be by the hour or day, depending on your time limit. After you work up an appetite, try out the Westman Islands dining scene. Popular restaurants such as Gott have gained popularity among locals and tourists. Try one of their mouthwatering meals, such as their Truffle Burger. Vestmannaeyjar has so much to offer and is a relaxing escape, right off the coast of Iceland.
On March 19, 2021, the eruption of Fagradalsfjall was heard throughout Iceland. It was a series of earthquakes that were on the Reykjanes peninsula. After the shaking stopped there was a brief calm before the eruption-and then a glowing light appeared in the sky. This indicated there was a minor eruption that did take place. Luckily it was not large enough to disturb the Icelandic people and their homes.
Now the Volcano is one of Iceland's top tourist attractions. This is mostly because you have a rare opportunity to see the freshly made lava and new volcanic crater. It is a rare sight that some may never get to experience. Luckily, you still can at Fagradalsfjall. For those wanting even more of a thrill, you can hike to the volcano. There are a few different paths on the property that range from one to three miles. Due to the once-in-a-lifetime chance of seeing something this unique, Fagradalsfjall is hands down one of the best places to visit in Iceland.
The Photo was taken by: Guillaume Baviere
Did you know that Iceland has an area known for its ski resorts? That’s right, Akureyri also known as the “Capital of the North” is the place to be. During the winter, the town turns into a winter wonderland for ski bums. With Hlíðarfjall located west of Akureyri, the resort is rated as one of the best ski resorts in the entire country.
If you're interested in skiing in Iceland we recommend reading our article: Two Weeks of Skiing in Iceland
Akureyri is the second largest town in Iceland and offers many other activities. Marvel at “God's Waterfall” which is also known as Godafoss. It is just a quick car ride away from the downtown area. If you are an art lover, visit the Akureyri Art Museum. The museum showcases modern Icelandic art and has rotating exhibitions.
Akureyri also has a vast food scene. Try local Icelandic dishes such as homemade lamb soup or traditional seafood cuisines. There is even the Mr. Akureyri pizza at Bryggjan. The pizza is slathered in bearnaise sauce and French fries. I couldn’t think of a more delicious way to explore the town of Akureyri.
The list ends with one of the most beautiful ravines in the world, Stuðlagil. The ravine is located in the Jökuldalur glacier valley in East Iceland. What makes the ravine so special? Well, first the gorgeous look of it. The green and blue glacial waters will take your breath away. The rocky sides have the largest number of basalt rock columns in Iceland. They are very dark in color and are the same ones that the Reynisfjara Black Sand beach has. The contrast of the bright blue and rustic dark gray creates an unusual yet alluring visual.
The best part of Stuðlagil is how unknown it is. Most people drive right by it since there are no signs or tourism targeted towards it. Once you do find the ravine, you can enjoy one of the many hiking trails in the area. Do remember, this is one of the most isolated spots in Iceland. Be safe and cautious when hiking around the ravine. But, also be sure to take it all in and snap a few memorable photographs while you are visiting. Stuðlagil is a rare beauty and is the perfect way to end the list of the best places to visit in Iceland!
The article was written by: Leah BIlquist.