When people think of Iceland, many things come to mind. People associate the island with cold weather, which is a fair assumption to make. Another is that’s it’s a really cool, amazing place to visit. This is also true. Our small, Nordic nation is famous for its natural beauty and plethora of outdoor activities. But what many may not know is exactly what there is to see and do in Iceland. Besides “nature in general”, we’ve got some of the world’s most stunning and impressive waterfalls, colossal ice caps and massive national parks with icy glaciers, fiery volcanos, turquoise blue crater lakes, scorched geothermal fields filled with bubbling, colorful mud, volcanic rock formations, black sand beaches, plus lava caves, ice caves, glacier caves, and so much more. So let’s take a quick spin around Iceland on a map and discover what awaits in the Land of Fire and Ice.
Going counterclockwise around the island, here are the main sights. As you will see, there is plenty to explore. Either take your pick of destinations and create a short 5-day or 7-day itinerary or stay for longer. Some travelers create 10-day or 14-day itineraries. Others who come camping in Iceland take advantage of the Iceland Campingcard and spend a whole month exploring the island. Check out all of Iceland’s spectacular attractions and see what best fits your budget and schedule. And remember, these are just the sights. There are also activities like hunting for the Northern Lights, whale watching, glacier hikes, trekking, sea kayaking, and taking a dip in geothermal pools and hot pots. If anything strikes your fancy, feel free to search on our blog for more articles and in-depth information. Just click on the magnifying glass icon on the top right and start typing your search term.
This one is pretty simple. It’s the country’s capital and all international flights fly into the nearby Keflavik International Airport. Stop by Reykjavik to do some sightseeing, dine on some of Iceland’s finest cuisine, go shopping and enjoy the nightlife on the famous Laugavegur street, and get acquainted with the character of the country by meeting some locals. Reykjavik makes a great base for either day trips or the beginning a trip around Iceland’s Ring Road.
The Golden Circle
This famous tourist route takes you to three of the country’s most popular attractions. Start at Thingvellir National Park and see the earth literally coming apart at the seams. The North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet here and the result is a spectacular gash in the earth. Adventure enthusiasts can strap on their scuba gear and dive in. Next up are the geysers of Geysir and Strokkur. Impressive fountain-like columns of boiling water shoot high into the air at regular intervals. Head to Strokkur if you want a guaranteed show. Lastly, Gullfoss waterfall is a must-see. Its double drop is an unusual feature and the cascade freezes in the winter.
The Blue Lagoon
Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon is probably its most visited attraction. The man-made geothermal pool and spa was made for a day of relaxation. Soak in its healing, silica-infused waters at the end of your trip and maybe even get a massage or other treatment. Just remember your bathing etiquette!
Often touted as Iceland’s most beautiful waterfall, you’ll quickly see what makes Seljalandsfoss so special. There is a small cave behind the waterfall, known as “The Beauty” that allows unique vistas and the ideal location to capture your postcard-perfect pic of Iceland.
While not as famous as Seljalandsfoss, this waterfall is still gorgeous. It’s powerful spray often produces a double rainbow on sunny days. You can also walk right up to it or climb to the lookout point at the top.
Wrecked DC-3 Plane on Sólheimasandur Black Sand Beach
This haunting crash site is a favorite of visitors to Iceland. Thankfully everyone walked away unscathed from this air disaster. All that remains of the Douglas DC-3 aircraft is the plane’s fuselage.
The Town of Vik
Iceland is famous for its volcanic, midnight black beaches. Some of the most beautiful ones are here, along with the Reynisfjara’s hexagonal basalt columns made of volcanic rock. You’ll see some of Iceland’s most dramatic scenery here in South Iceland. The town of Vik itself is also a quaint fishing village that warrants your time and attention. Just be careful of the waves when visiting. Accidents have happened in the past and you can never be too cautious.
Hiking enthusiasts flock to this area for its picturesque scenery and the multitude of hiking trails available. Trek the routes from Landmannalaugar to Thórsmörk valley along the Laugavegur trail. The rhyolite mountains provide a colorful backdrop to races, marathons, and regular hikers in this special territory.
Vatnajökull National Park
Europe’s largest national park is probably most famous for its glaciers. Skaftafell glacier and Vatnajökull glacier are among the country’s most sought after for outdoor activities. Explore ice caves and glacier caves in addition to glacier hikes and snowmobile expeditions. Svartifoss (black falls) waterfall, with its unique basalt column cliff face, is here as well.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Flowing out towards the sea are the small icebergs that reside in the glacier lagoon. Take a boat ride to see the icy ghosts up close. Pieces of ice that have broken off glaciers and icebergs litter the shores of the Diamond Beach. They aren’t real diamonds but are still quite the sight to see. Some chunks of ice are as large as an SUV!
The East Fjords
Iceland has spectacular fjords in both the western and eastern parts of the country. The east fjords are less well known and therefore less visited than their western counterparts. Route 1 (Iceland’s Ring Road) and a few other secondary roads take you along a 75-mile (120 km) stretch of coastline. You’ll see the fjords jutting out into the sea all the way from Berufjörður in the south to Borgarfjörður Eystri in the north. There are lots of cute fishing villages and other places to stop along the way.
The Diamond Circle
The sights in Diamond Circle route could each have their own dedicated post (and many of them do). This circuit consists of a dozen or so diverse natural attractions and places that all feature something different and unique. So where to start? Going down the list of the main attractions on the Diamond Circle you’ll the whale watching town of Húsavík, Iceland’s “waterfall of the gods” Godafoss, the volcanic cerulean Lake Mývatn and its close by Nature Baths, Game of Thrones fan favorite Grjótagjá cave and thermal pool, the “dark castles” of the Dimmuborgir lava fields, the bubbling blue mud and scorched, red earth of the Hverir geothermal area, the thundering and powerful Dettifoss waterfall, the strange and intriguing rocks in Vesturdalur Valley, the horseshoe-shaped Asbyrgi canyon, the fossil cliffs at Tjörnes peninsula.
While it takes around 4 hours to drive the roughly 190 mile (310 km) route, I suggest giving yourself at least 10-12. You’ll be stopping often and getting out of your car to take pictures and explore. Many people set aside three or four days on their Iceland itinerary to explore this deserving area.
Akureyri, Dalvik, and North Iceland
North Iceland, in general, gets less tourist traffic than the South. This is usually due to time constraints of travelers and the fact that they just can’t squeeze everything in. But those who do make it up north are in for a special treat. From the infinity pool hot pot at Hofsós to Dalvík, the skiing and snowboarding capital of Iceland, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy in the north. Not to mention Iceland’s second largest city, Akureyri, is found here.
Iceland’s Westfjords provide some of the country’s most striking and dramatic landscapes. These deep, elongated inlets were formed by glacial activity during the Ice Age. The result is a U-shaped valley filled with water that leads out to the sea. Like the rest of the country, there are spectacular natural wonders like the Dynjandi (“thunderous”) waterfalls, the pink sand beaches of Rauðasandur, and Látrabjarg birdwatching cliffs, where you can get up close and personal with Iceland’s mascot and favorite bird, the North Atlantic puffin.
This very special part of the island is known as Iceland in miniature. It features all of the things Iceland is so well known for in one compact zone. Snaefellsjökull glacier and national park, Iceland’s famous Kirkjufell mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, the Eldborg crater, the hidden Landbrotalaug hot pot…the list of spots for adventure goes on. And the peninsula’s close location to the capital makes it the perfect day trip or 2-day excursion from Reykjavik.
Iceland Tourism Guide: What Is There To See And Do?
As you can see, there are plenty of attractions and activities in Iceland. Did you know that the country had so many things to see and do? Even writing them all down makes me feel quite proud that such a small island has so much to offer. Renting a car or motorhome is best way to explore. And in addition to the beauty and diversity of its landscapes, Iceland also has a fascinating history, rich culture, and friendly inhabitants. Come to discover all there the sights tucked away on this small island in the North Atlantic.