From its pocket-sized capital to the vast landscapes of its interior, Iceland overflows with inspiring spots. The only real trouble is narrowing down what you want to do. Head out to sea to scour the grey waters for whales? Scramble over slick rocks to marvel at a waterfall? Or soak up the rays on a volcanic beach? To help make your choice easier, here are our best picks for things to do in Iceland.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Iceland, your essential guide for visiting Iceland.
The rúntur – which translates to “round tour” – is a weekly pub crawl, in which locals head from one spot to the next, drinking at every stop. Booze doesn’t come cheap in Iceland though. Head to a vínbúðin to pick up your pre-drinks, an integral part of the night for Icelanders and broke travellers alike.
The long days and light nights of the summer months make rúntur even more fun in summer when you can stay in denial about how late it is for a few more hours.
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In summer, it’s the perfect place to enjoy the warmer weather with a seaside stroll; in winter, curl up with a thermos of hot chocolate and watch the sunset fill the sky.
The ducks are the real draw, with all of Iceland’s species coming here to rear their young. Look out for the pop-art plumage of the harlequin duck, the chic all-black scoter, and the striking monochrome Barrow’s goldeneye, the star of the show – this is the only place where it nests in Europe.
For sheer power, though, Dettifoss can’t be matched this is the most powerful waterfall in the whole of Europe. You can get here by car, but hiking through the wilds of Jökulsárgljúfur National Park is much more rewarding. On foot, you’ll be able to appreciate the roar of the falls growing ever louder as you approach, until finally upon them, staring into the canyon below – a sight and sound you’ll never forget.
Whether the story’s true is beside the point – as you lie in the steaming water, Tindastóll looming to one side and the sea stretching out to the other, the invigorating effect will make you feel as strong as a Viking. Stay until nightfall for the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights from the hot spring.
One of the most awe-striking things to do in Iceland is a bracing walk west along the south coast of Dyrólaey which features towering basalt columns. This natural beauty inspired the design of the stunning modern Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík.
The trip gives you a remarkable insight into how glaciers function, but it would be worth it just for the visuals – the ice looks perfectly clear in places, cloudy white in others, and in others still startlingly blue, and has to rank among the best things to do in Iceland. Strap on your crampons, head into the ice, and marvel at the power of the glacier.
You can go on a whale-watching trip from Reykjavík too, of course, but only from Húsavík can you see blue whales. They’re not the only cetaceans you might spot, either – with orcas, minke whales, fin whales, sperm whales, and humpbacks in these waters, too, you’re almost guaranteed a sighting.
Icelanders think of it as a rural idyll, and visitors too can enjoy coming here and enjoying many things to do- such as stroll through the fields of buttercups, admire the scenery, perhaps take a leisurely boat trip – and not worry about anything else.
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It’s a fun, friendly affair, led by the kids of the town – and if you can look at a happy child tenderly scooping up a lost puffling without cracking a smile, your heart must be stonier than Heimaey’s coastline.
Planning to travel to Iceland in the summer? Check out our list of the best Icelandic places to visit in the summertime.
In particular, the Blue Lagoon is famous for its silvery-grey slit- a silica mud that is known to cleanse and tighten skin, as well as treat many skin conditions.
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Explore the area with a guided coach tour, create a self-guided tour by renting a car, or stay the night along the Golden Circle to spend more time exploring this iconic area. Let us help with the details! Our tailor-made travel service offers fully customisable trips to the Golden Circle planned by a local expert.
Thanks to Hornstrandir’s exposed location on the edge of the Greenland Sea, the weather is especially unpredictable, and hiking here needs plenty of careful planning. Deep snow often lies on the ground until July and snow showers are not uncommon even in July and August.
The land northeast of Reykjavík is scarred by one of the world’s great geological boundaries, the rift valley of Thingvellir (Þingvellir) marks where the North American and Eurasian continental plates are physically tearing apart. Although this rift stretches right across Iceland, nowhere else is it so expansively evident.
Skaftafell’s blend of highland plateau, summer meadows and ice-blue glaciers are best explored by hiking, biking or climbing.
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Top image: Vik beach © kovop58/Shutterstock