It's almost impossible to whittle down a list of things to do in Iceland to the very best. The country has so much to offer in terms of geological wonders, unique tour experiences, and truly intriguing hotels. Whether you have two weeks or just a long weekend, there's plenty to keep you busy any time of the year.
Iceland's natural attractions are surely the main motivation for booking a plane ticket, but the tours local companies have created around these highlights are done in such a thoughtful way, from paragliding over southern Iceland's waterfalls to exploring Vatnajökull's icy blue Crystal Caves.
Visit the Black Sand Beaches
Reynisfjara is a must-see for a couple of reasons: its black sand beach is unlike any other beach in the world, when you pair it with the intense wave patterns and moody weather. Make sure and take note of the incoming tides, as the sneaker waves on this beach are incredibly dangerous.
While you’re there, don’t miss Reynisdrangar — the basalt rock columns lining the east side of the beach. There are also a number of caverns that are accessible during low tide.
Sleep in a Transparent Bubble Hotel
The Five Million Star Hotel is not only the most accurately named hotel in Iceland, but it’s also one of the most unique. Located on a farmer’s private property, this hotel consists of a handful of transparent bubble rooms and a community kitchen and bathroom. Unlike other areas in Iceland, this property is covered in trees, providing just enough privacy.
If you visit during the wintertime, you may get lucky and catch the Northern Lights in the middle of the night.
Explore the Abandoned DC-3 Airplane
There are a number of airplanes that have made crash landings along Iceland’s coastline, but the DC-3 may be one of the most famous ones. Located on private property, it’ll take a bit of hiking to find it (but there are signs that will point you the right way, as well as the never-ending line of visitors walking to and from the plane). There’s a parking lot off the road for those looking for the plane.
No one knows exactly why this airplane crashed, but all seven crew members escaped safely and the wreckage has been there ever since. It’s a very popular spot for photographers, given the black sand beach surrounding the plane.
Soak in a Hot Spring at the Secret Lagoon
Iceland is full of hot springs — both public and remote — and The Secret Lagoon, or Gamla Laugin as it’s locally known, is a popular spot for locals. Located a 90-minute drive from Reykjavik near Fludir, this lagoon has a locker room, refreshments, and parking.
There are small geysers lining the hot spring, as well as the original changing house.
Get an In-Water Massage at Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is crowded, so there’s no avoiding that, but the ethereal blue waters and incredible spa offerings are great incentive for weary travelers looking to relax before or after their flights. (The Blue Lagoon is located a short drive from the airport, making it a convenient first or last stop.)
The spa services range, but the in-water massages are a favorite for a reason. If you’re staying at The Retreat hotel, you can even opt for a massage in your own private lagoon.
Drive Through Snaefellsnes Peninsula
South of the Westfjords, you’ll find Snaefellsness Peninsula. This region is a haven for road-trippers. In the span of a day, you can see the famous Budirkirkja, walk on top of a volcanic crater, descend into an inactive lava tube, and take a walk into an ancient root cellar.
On top of all of that, the actual drive itself brings you through fields of rocks covered in moss. It doesn’t get much more scenic than that.
Snorkel Silfra Fissure
Silfra Fissure is a curious location within Thingvellir National Park where two tectonic plates (the North American and Eurasian plates) meet and are slowly moving away from each other at the rate of 2 centimeters per year. You can snorkel or scuba dive this narrow passage, with help from local tour guides like Iceland Adventure Tours.
The water stays a chilly 36-degrees Fahrenheit all year round, meaning you need a dry suit to explore this comfortably. Given the cold, there’s no real wildlife or plant life that grows in this area, meaning you’ll get a peek at an eerie bit of history. The rocks lining the fissure are thousands of years old and the water is some of the clearest in the world, thanks to the volcanic rock filtering it.
Watch the Sunset at Diamond Beach
Diamond Beach is one of the most beautiful places to watch the sunset in Iceland. Located just across the street from the the Glacier Lagoon, this is an area where hundreds of ice formations wash ashore every day. Catching the setting light through the shards of ice is something that's not to be missed.
Take a Cooking Class at Salt Eldhús
The daily cooking classes at Salt Eldhús in Reykjavik are just as focused on cooking as they are eating. They offer lunch or dinner Cook and Dine classes focused on Icelandic cuisine. The four-hour courses are a deep dive into specific ingredients like Arctic char, lamb, skyr, wolffish, and more.
At the end of the class, you’ll leave with print-outs of the recipes so you can recreate them at home.
Hike to Glymur Waterfall
Iceland’s second-highest waterfall is well-worth the half-day hike it takes the get there. In fact, the hike to Glymur is not just about the waterfall—you’ll also see caves, rivers, and fjords along the way. The beginning of the hike is about an hour drive from Reykjavik. Here you’ll find a parking lot and signs breaking down the attractions you’ll see along the way.
Bring your hiking shoes, hiking poles (if you have them), and plenty of water. The views are worth it, but this waterfall is not nearly as easy to see as some of the other notable falls (Seljalandsfoss and Gulfoss, for example).
Tour the Crystal Caves
This is one of those experiences you need to book with a tour group. The Crystal Caves — located in Vatnajökull and named for their intense blue color — are constantly changing due to ice melt and you have to enter with someone constantly tracking the changing tunnels.
Your guide will take you on a hike on the glacier and into the ice caves. The glacier is located on the east side of the country, about a five-hour drive from Reykjavik. Because the caves are so temperature-sensitive, these tours are generally only offered between November and March.
Go On a Horseback Ride at Eldhestar
Icelandic horses are more than just cute, they also have a special fifth gait called trolting. This is a pace when one of the horse’s hooves is always in contact with the ground. There are plenty of stables offering rides around the country, but Eldhestar —about a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik — offers an Elfin Tour, which will give you a bit of local folklore with your ride.
Their tours are offered year-round and also feature hotel pick-up in Reykjavik.
Take an ATV Tour on the Black Sand Beaches
Sure, you could drive yourself to the black sand beaches, deal with the crowds, and walk along the beach. Or you could take an ATV ride across the beach with Arcanum. This tour will have you driving across small rivers, bouncing across beach dunes, and visiting the abandoned airplane — all within a small group of less than 10 people.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to stop for a break at a bubbling stream, where you’re invited to try the super-fresh water coming down from the glacier. This tour is offered daily, year-round.
Bake Bread Underground at Fontana Spa
Icelanders are incredibly resourceful, and that doesn’t stop when it comes to baking. Fontana Spa, located on the Golden Circle near Thingvallavatn, still practices the art of baking bread underground with geothermal heat. Every day, they offer tours bringing curious guests down to the water’s edge to gather the day’s bounty by digging it out from its hole in the ground.
After you learn all about the baking process, guests are invited to try the bread — a dense, sweet version of rye bread — with a pat of butter.
Hike to the Abandoned Farms in Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park was once the site of the country’s parliament, spanning the 10th through 18th centuries. Today, it’s a wealth of attractions, from waterfalls to geysers. The entire park is a beautiful hike, but focus on the area’s abandoned farms if you’re looking to get off the beaten path. There are eight total you can explore, each varying in decay (some are just walls you can see, others still have visible roadways leading up to where the farm used to stand.
You can read more about how to find these ruins on Nordic Adventure Travel.
Visit Seljavallalaug Hot Spring
Be warned: This “hot” spring isn’t as warm as you may think. Built in 1923, this is one of the oldest swimming pools in the country. The 25-meter pool is located near Seljavellir but will require a relatively quick hike to get there.
Originally, this was a pool where children learned how to swim. Today, you’ll find locals and visitors relaxing around the pool. There is no admission fee, but note that the pool is only cleaned once a year and is often covered in slippery algae.
Paraglide Over a Waterfall
Paragliding Iceland offers year-round tandem flights in the Reykjavik area. If you want to get out a bit further, visit between April and October when you can take the paragliding day tour. You’ll see the black sand beaches, glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes, and lava fields on your flight.
No matter which tour you choose, you’ll be getting a completely unique view of the country.
Hike Through Þórsmörk
This nature reserve in Southern Iceland spans the mountain ranges and valleys between three rivers: Krossá, Þröngá, and Markarfljót. What this means: It’s an incredible hiking destination for serious walkers. While there are hundreds of trails winding through this region, there are two that have become the most popular: Fimmvörðuháls and the Laugavegur. The former will bring you into the hills underneath Eyjafjallajökull, and the latter will take you to the Landmannalaugar hot springs.
These routes are best for experienced hikers, but there are tours that will bring you through the area, as well.
Kayak Through the Glacier Lagoon
Seeing the glacier lagoon is incredible in itself, but Arctic Adventures’ kayak tour will get you offshore and closer to the glaciers. Between June and September, you can hop in a kayak and glide through the mirror-like waters and if you’re lucky, you might meet one of the locals (the lagoon doubles as a seal habitat).
Take a Northern Lights Boat Tour
There's a good chance you'll catch the Northern Lights without booking a tour if you visit during the dark, winter months. But if you're a fan of boats and want to take in Iceland at night over a beer, check out Special Tours' Northern Lights Boat Tour. You'll depart from Reykjavik and your guide will entertain you with information about the Northern Lights and other folklore tales while you wait for the aurora borealis.
Spot Whales on a Boat Tour
If you want to meet some whales while visiting Iceland, make sure and take your trip during the summer months. More than 20 species of whales — from Orcas to Minke — make their way around the island in the warmer months. There are plenty of tour companies offering expeditions off the coast of Reykjavik, but you can also take boat tours from Akureyi, Husavik, Olafsvik, and Hauganes.
Guide to Iceland has an extensive list of companies offering whale sightseeing tours.
Go Puffin-Watching at the Látrabjarg Cliffs
Not only is this the most westerly point of Iceland (and Europe), but it's also home to millions of seabirds who nest among the cliffs during the summertime. Among these birds are tiny, somewhat-clumsy puffins.
There are trails leading you pretty close tot he cliffs' edge, with signs pointing out just how close you can get without damaging the birds' nests. You may also spot locals foraging for eggs and feathers along the cliffs, an activity that is highly regulated.