Best travel experiences in Iceland

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 10.01.2024

Thanks to its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is one of the most volcanically active landscapes on Earth. As a result, it plays host to heaps of hot springs, bubbling pools and brooding lava fields. Also a top spot to see the Northern Lights and incredible wildlife, few places offer such a richness of experiences for adventurers, nature-lovers and off-the-beaten-trackers. To help plan your trip, read on to discover things you won't want to miss when visiting Iceland. As always, check ahead before visiting natural attractions —  that's especially important given Iceland's volatile volcanic nature.

1. Blue Lagoon bathing

A dip in the waters of the Blue Lagoon is a quintessentially Icelandic experience. 

Fed by geothermal water and set in the middle of a lavafield, the waters of this famous open-air pool are, quite simply, sublime. They're also blissfully warm, with temperatures averaging 37–39 °C (99–102 °F) — perfect for easing aching muscles post-hike.

Beyond the Blue Lagoon, Iceland has plenty of amazing bathing spots, as revealed in our run-down of favourite hot pools in Iceland.


Planning to travel to Iceland? The Blue Lagoon tops many travellers' wish lists © Arsenie Krasnevsky/Shutterstock

2. Landmannalaugar's lava fields

Located in the Highlands, within Iceland's Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Landmannalaugar lies right on the edge of the Laugahraun lava field. 

Renowned for its bubbling hot springs, and distinctively coloured hills — striking hues of red, blue, pink, green and yellow — the field was formed by a volcnic eruption some 500 years ago.

Today, the rugged hiking trails that traverse the valley have world-class status.

Planning to drive here yourself? Bear in mind it's only accessible in summer, which — happily — is also when the hills will be at their most colourful best. 

If you want to travel to Iceland in winter and don't want to miss out on visiting Landmannalaugar, book a guided tour. 

Thinking of visiting Iceland? You'll find tonnes of inspiration in our customisable Iceland itineraries.


Hot springs in Landmannalaugar © Ovchinnikova Irina/Shutterstock

3. Hornstrandir hikes

The total remoteness and majestic landscape make isolated Hornstrandir a fantastic destination for dedicated hikers.

Come mid-June through to mid-August, a Friday and Saturday ferry sails from the harbour in Norðurfjörður to Reykjarfjörður and Látravík, providing access to the remote east coast of Hornstrandir. 

Both destinations offer access to hike west to connect with boats that sail across to Ísafjörður.

A recommended hike can be enjoyed from Læknishúsið guesthouse in Hesteyri. Here a good path follows the course of a river up the hill.

At the summit, the trail traverses a huge rockfield, which is usually covered in snow — even in July.

Intrigued by the sound of the east of Iceland? Explore our Magic of Eastern Iceland itinerary.

waterfall-greeen-hills-trekking- hornstrandir-iceland-shutterstock_1174584331

Hornstrandir, Iceland © Kristyna Henkeova/Shutterstock

4. Askja's crater

One of the best places to visit in Iceland in summer, Askja is an 8km-wide volcanic depression located in Iceland's interior.

Formed from a collapsed subterranean magma chamber, a 217m-deep lake, Öskuvatn, sits at its heart.

As a result of a destructive eruption at Viti in 1875, and a big lava outflow in the 1960s, you can hike to the caldera’s rim.

Next, scramble down the stark sides of the volcanic crater to take a quick dip in the lukewarm geothermal lake, Víti.

Editor's tip: while you can easily book a guided tour to Askja, it's perfecly possible to travel here independently. But, thanks to several water crossings and rough terrain in some areas, it's best to hire a 4x4.


Askja's brooding volcanic crater © Shutterstock

5.  Rúnturs

To sample Iceland’s legendary nightlife, take a pub crawl around Reykjavík’s bars. AKA the rúntur, which translates to “round tour”.

It usually takes place in the capital every other weekend and sees Icelanders who typically turn in early compress a month's worth of partying into 48 hours.

The action tends to kick off from 11pm, with most bar-hopping activity happening on Laugavegur Street.

Concerned about the costs of drinking in Iceland (and about other expenses, for that matter)? Discover the answer to that all-important question —  is Iceland expensive


Reykjavik house © Mikhail Varentsov/Shutterstock

6. The Sagas

For a very different cultural experience from that offered by a rúntur, the Arnastofnun Manuscript Institute holds some of Europe’s oldest and finest medieval manuscripts. Namely, the Sagas.

The Arnamagnaean Manuscript collection here has UNESCO status (it's included in the Memory of the World Register ), with its earliest documents dating from the 12th century.

Travelling with kids? Head to the Saga Museum for interactive recreations of history.


© Anneka/Shutterstock

7. Akureyri

Iceland's second town Akureyri offers a slice of urban sophistication, with great bars and restaurants and some decent museums.

Add to that a splendid botanical garden and access to the forest of Kjarnaskógur — easily reached on foot from the town centre — and Akureyri is well worth spending a few days in.

It's also an excellent base from which to explore nearby Lake Mývatn, Húsavík, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, and tours to the Interior.

Akureyri winter, Iceland © Shutterstock

Akureyri in winter © Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

8. Lake Mývatn

Around 100km east of Akureyri on the Ringroad, Mývatn’s placid, shallow spread of water is a haven for wildfowl.

Visit in summer and you'll see why it was so named (Mývatn’s means “Midge Lake”). At this time, swarms of tiny black flies descend, providing an abundant food source for fish and the hundreds of thousands of wildfowl that head here each year to raise their young.

Bird-lovers, note that all Iceland’s duck species breed either here or on the Laxá, Mývatn’s fast-flowing, salmon-rich outlet. One of them – Barrow’s goldeneye – nests nowhere else in Europe.

In addition, the lake’s surrounds abound in epic volcanic formations, both extinct and highly active.

Myvatn Naturebaths, Iceland ©  Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock

Myvatn Naturebaths, Iceland © Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock

9.  Thorsmork National Park

Given that Thorsmork is named after Thor, Norse god of thunder, it’ll come as no surprise that this nature reserve in the southern Icelandic highlands is a dramatic spot.

It’s also one of Iceland’s most popular hiking destinations, and beloved by nature aficionados and photographers.

Tucked between gigantic glaciers, trekking Thorsmork National Park offers jaw-dropping panoramic views, with hidden waterfalls, rushing rivers and a bona fide sense that you’ve truly veered off the beaten track. 


© Mat1ss/Shutterstock

10. Breiðavík beach

This sweeping stretch of golden sand and turquoise water is Iceland’s most beautiful beach.

Located in the West Fjords, Breiðavík is especially sublime on a sunny day, when the sun glints on the sand.

Meanwhile, idyllic Breiðavík bay has open views westwards over white sand to the aquamarine waters of the Atlantic. 

Interested in exploring the West Fjords? You'll find inspiration in our Wild, Wild West Self-drive itinerary.


Breiðavík, Iceland © Lab Photo/Shutterstock

11. Geysir

Part of the Golden Circle, and located in Haukadalur Valley, Geysir is the reason all (ahem) geysers are so-named.

The area boasts a series of hot springs and geysers that deliver a spectacle of nature. Strokkur, the stronger geyser, shoots an impressive jet of boiling water 20 metres into the air every 5 - 10 minutes. 

Once you've witnessed this, more spectacular sights await. For example, from the hot springs area, well-worn tracks lead to the summit of Bjarnarfell (727m) for views down on Geysir’s surrounds.

Alternatively, follow the signposted 3km gravel vehicle track from Geysir up to a forestry reserve and church at Haukadalur. 

Want to take in the glory of the Golden Circle (and more)? Browse our customisable Ring Road Express with the Golden Circle itinerary.

Strokkur geyser, Iceland © ZinaidaSopina/Shutterstock

Strokkur geyser, Iceland © ZinaidaSopina/Shutterstock

12. Þingvellir National Park

Thanks to its unique geology that see two tectonic plates meet — the North American plate and the Eurasian — Þingvellir has UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Pulling apart a few centimetres per year, the plates are the main reason for Iceland's volcanoes and spectacular landscapes. 

Hikers will want to tackle the easy, yet rewarding, 10km circuit of Þingvellir and the rift valley. Start at the National Park Information Centre and follow the marked trails.

Epic scenery aside, Þingvellir was the dramatic site of Iceland’s first parliament.

Editor's tip: for a truly surreal experience, dive between the plates in Silfra.


Northern Lights over Þingvellir National Park © Shutterstock

13. Phallological Museum, Reykjavík

Featured in our round-up of the world's weirdest museums, Reykjavík's Phallological Museum plays to host to over 200 penises and penile parts.

It was founded by former teacher Sigurður Hjartarson, whose interest in phallological matters began when he was a child in rural Iceland, where pizzles (bulls’ penises) are used as cattle whips.

Exhibits include penis specimens from polar bears, seals, foxes and reindeers, with the pinnacle being a 1m-long blue whale penis  — a whopper that was once was used as an oar.

Things not to miss: Dried bull penis.

This is what dried bull penis looks like, in case you were wondering © Dmitriev Mikhail/Shutterstock

14. Whale-watching

Without question, whale-watching is one of the most memorable activities you can enjoy on a trip to Iceland, with peak sightings possible between April and September.

At this time, several species of cetaceans — whales, dolphins and porpoises — are frequently spotted. Dolphin, porpoise and minke whale sightings are most common, followed by huge humpbacks.

Get lucky, and you could see fin whales, with blue whales, orca and square-headed sperm whales coming out as the rarest.

Humpback whale tail in Hawaii

Humpback whale © Shutterstock

15. Skaftafell National Park

Covering 1700 square kilometres, Skaftafell’s blend of highland plateau, summer meadows and ice-blue glaciers are best explored by hiking, biking or climbing.

The two major sights here are Svartifoss waterfall and the icy tongue of Skaftafellsjökull.

As for the park's trails, these range from gentle hour-long strolls to challenging full-day treks for hardcore hikers.

Things not to miss: Wooden footpath in Skaftafell National Park, Iceland.

Skaftafell National Park, Iceland © naten/Shutterstock

16. Hallgrimskirkja

Reykjavík’s best-known landmark, the striking Hallgrímskirkja offers unsurpassed views of the capital from its tower.

While work on the distinctive concrete structure began immediately after World War II, it only was only completed in relatively recent years.

Named after the renowned seventeenth-century religious poet, Hallgrímur Pétursson, the church's enormous 15m tall organ boasts over five thousand pipes. The sound it produces is quite something.

Staying in the capital and love your grub? Read up on the best restaurants in Reykjavik


 Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavík © Kalamurzing/Shutterstock

17. Dettifoss waterfall

Venture deep into Jökulsárgljúfur National Park to encounter raw nature at Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Namely, Dettifoss.

While you can reach it by car, hiking through the wilds of Jökulsárgljúfur National Park is much more rewarding. 

You'll be overwhelmed by the roar of the falls escalating as you approach. On arrival, the sight and sound of them crashing into the canyon below is an experience you’ll never forget.

Dettifoss waterfall, Iceland © Shutterstock

 Dettifoss waterfall, Iceland © Thanapol Tontinikorn/Shutterstock

Thinking of visiting Iceland? Get The Rough Guide to Iceland to start planning your adventure. 

Or, if the thought of planning leaves you ice-cold, check out our customisable Iceland itineraries or talk to a local expert to take the hassle out of planning and booking.

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 10.01.2024

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ready to travel and discover

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍