From its pocket-sized capital to the huge landscapes of its inside, Iceland overflows with inspirational spots. The only real problem is narrowing down what you want to do. Scramble over slick rocks to marvel in a waterfall? To make your choice easier, here are our picks for the best things to do in Iceland.
Join the runtur in Reykjavik:
Reykjavík may resemble a magical backwater, its comfy wooden houses painted in vivid colors, but do not let its appearance fool you. This is a capital town, after all, and it has a nightlife to match.
The rúntur — which translates to”round trip” — is a weekly bar crawl, in which sailors go from 1 spot to the next, drinking at every stop. Booze does not come cheap in Iceland however; head to a vínbúðin to pick up your pre-drinks, an essential part of the nighttime for Icelanders and broke travellers alike.
The long days and light nights of summer create rúntur even more fun in summer, when you’re able to stay in denial about how late it is for a couple more hours.
Hit the beach at Breiqavik:
Looming black deserts, a sinuous stretch of gold sand and one single, red-roofed church: Breioavik is the Icelandic coast at its greatest. Better still, the bay’s remote location in the West Fjords implies that, as often as not, you’ll have this idyllic bay mostly to yourself.
In summer, it is the ideal place to enjoy the warmer weather with a beachfront stroll; at the winter, curl up with a thermos of hot chocolate and watch the sunset fill the sky.
Go birdwatching at Lake Myvatn:
Stop by Mývatn in the summer, and you may end up briefly annoyed as you siphoned off all the small black flies lingering in the air (the name means”midge lake”). But it’s this cloud of pests which brings the wildlife you are actually here to view: tens of thousands of birds. For even the most casual of twitchers, it’s a memorable sight.
The ducks are the real attraction, with all of Iceland’s species coming to rear their own young. Look out for the pop-art plumage of the harlequin duck, the posh all-black cover, and the stunning monochrome Barrow’s goldeneye, the star of this show — this is the only location where it nests in Europe.
Iceland is packed full of iconic waterfalls: magnificent, rugged Gullfoss; Skogafoss, thundering over picture-perfect green cliffs; and Seljalandsfoss, perfectly framed when you walk from the falls. There are lesser-knowns gems, also, like Gljufrabui, peeking coyly within a moss-covered gorge, and Svartifoss, tumbling over black basalt columns.
For absolute power, however, Dettifoss can’t be matched — in fact, this is the most powerful waterfall in the whole of Europe. You can get here by car, however hiking through the wilds of Jökulsárgljúfur National Park is much more rewarding. On foot, you will have the ability to enjoy the roar of the drops growing louder as you approach, before eventually upon them, staring into the canyon below — a sight and sound you will not ever overlook.
Wipe Grettislaug Related attributes:
Of the numerous hot springs in Iceland, Grettislaug might have the very best backstory. After swimming 7.5 kilometers during cold waters, and attracting some ridicule from some regional girls for the effects on his extremities, outlaw hero Grettir reputedly jumped to this sexy pool to heat up again.
Whether the story’s true is beside the point — as you lie in the steaming water, then Tindastóll looming to one side and the sea extending to the other, the invigorating effect will make you feel as powerful as a Viking.
Wander the sunken sands at Vik:
Down at the southern tip of Iceland is the tiny coastal village of Vík, house to a jumble of buildings along with a sweeping, black-sand shore — a reminder (in case you needed one) of the island’s volcanic center. It’s also a fantastic foundation if you fancy spotting some puffins without having to a boat, or want somewhere welcoming to come back to after striking out to the bleak deserts of southeastern Iceland.
Head in the glacier in Langjokull:
The second-largest glacier in Iceland, Langjökull boasts some thing its larger rival (Vatnajökull) does not: tunnels chiselled from the icecap itself, providing people a completely different perspective of the gradually flowing bulk of ice hockey. Visiting the glacier is actually among the greatest things to do in Iceland.
The trip give provides a remarkable insight into how glaciers function, but it would be worth it only for the visuals — that the ice appears perfectly clear in places, cloudy white in others, and in others still startlingly blue, also has to rank among the finest things to see from Iceland. Strap on your crampons, head to the ice, and marvel at the ability of this glacier.
Dodge icebergs at Jokulsarlon:
The enormous Vatnajökull — Europe’s biggest glacier — creaks and groans towards the ocean, just to split apart into icebergs once it reaches water. It’s possible to view these up close by taking a trip out on the lagoon in Jokulsarlon, or only by strolling along the black shore, where icebergs are washed up onto the sand like broken glass.
Watch whales off the coast at Husavik:
Way up at the north of Iceland is the friendly town of Husavik, clustered around its harbour in the shadow of towering Húsavíkurfjall. It’s a likeable spot, particularly in summer once the mountain is green and the clear waters signify the colourful wooden homes and sailing ships, but most men and women come here for just one reason: whales.
You are able to go on a whale-watching trip from Reykjavik also, naturally, but just by Husavik will you see blue whales.
Iceland’s natural scenery is rugged, bleak, otherworldly… but rustic? The small farming island of Flatey is a peaceful getaway, with meadows strewn with delicate flowers and magnificent views across to the more dramatic landscape of the West Fjords. Icelanders think of it as a rural idyll, and visitors too can enjoy coming to drift through the fields of buttercups, admire the scenery, perhaps have a leisurely boat trip — and not worry about anything else.
Save the pufflings in Heimaey:
Around this time, the adult puffins fly out to sea and their girls leave their nests to follow along, in search of food. But many become confused and dive into Heimaey city, where the regional residents charitably accumulate the fluffy young birds and release them someplace safer.
It is an enjoyable, friendly affair, led from the kids of this town — and if you’re able to look in a happy kid tenderly scooping a missing puffling without cracking a smile, your heart has to be stonier than Heimaey’s coastline.