ICELAND What to See and Do

ICELAND What to See and Do – Guide 2024

Things to see in Iceland offer incredible places to visit and things to do in this wonderful Nordic nation. The Republic of Iceland, in the Scandinavian Region , is famous for being the Land of Ice and Fire , due to its geothermal and volcanic activity . Between marvelous glaciers, uncontaminated landscapes, waterfalls , beaches and immense plains, there are many things to visit in Iceland; beyond the Northern Lights ! So let’s find out in our guide the best things to do and see here, thus discovering the country during a wonderful trip to Iceland!

Iceland, Why Visit It

Visiting Iceland is a unique experience that will remain in your heart forever. The Republic of Iceland is an island nation in the Scandinavian region , located in Northern Europe and the Atlantic Ocean, between the island of Great Britain and Greenland . Iceland offers travelers who wish to visit its wonders many things to do and see, in uncontaminated nature. Among glaciers , volcanoes, geysers and impressive waterfalls . Thanks to its geothermal activity here there are also numerous natural spas where you can relax.

Among the things to do, don’t miss swimming here, such as whale watching in the north, seal watching in the fjords of the west and discovering the country’s history in Thingvellir National Park , where you can walk between tectonic plates and in museums of the lively capital, Reykjavík , where you can also enjoy typical Icelandic cuisine. Among the things to do in Iceland, one of the best ways to discover the island is certainly thanks to a road trip , traveling along the Hringvegur, or Ring Road . Walk on its beaches , whether black or diamond , bathe under the waterfalls – never forgetting the appropriate clothing ! – and let yourself be surprised by these wonderful places.

So let’s go and discover the 10 things to see in Iceland !

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What to See Iceland – 10 Things to See

After the introductions, let’s go and see together what to see in Iceland during our trip . In this Scandinavian island, in fact, we will find many things to see and do.

In this article Iceland what to visit , you will find the map of the country, with the most significant places highlighted, thus discovering what to see in the country during your trip. Subsequently, we will analyze them in detail in our guide on Things to Visit in Iceland .

1. Reykjavik

Among the first things to see in Iceland, there must be the capital , Reykjavik. Visiting the political and cultural heart of Iceland is a lively experience. Here you will find museums , restaurants and much more. Historically, it was the island’s first settlement , by Ingólfur Arnarson, in 870 AD . Among things to do in Iceland’s capital, sample Baejarins bestu hot dogs , Bill Clinton ‘s favorite , visit Hallgrimskirkja Church and climb the bell tower to observe the city from above. Furthermore, the streets of the historic center are the ideal place for shopping and buying your souvenirs. Instead, on weekends, go and discover Icelandic craftsmanship at the Kolaportid flea market .

Stroll through the Old Port to immerse yourself in authentic maritime life and make a stop at Lake Tjornin , in the center of the capital. Here you will find Hljómskálagarður park and the Town Hall , as well as numerous water birds. To discover the history of the city, but also of the island, the best place is the National Museum , where you can observe the exhibition The making of a Nation . Walking along the seafront, observe the Solfar : a steel sculpture from 1986 representing a Viking ship, symbol of the city. Finally, among the things to visit in the capital of Iceland, you cannot miss the Perlan Museum with its unique architecture. A large glass dome and geothermal heating system housing the ice cave and the Árora Planetarium , about the Northern Lights.

Hallgrímskirkja church and Leif Erikson statue - iceland what to see - what to see in iceland - what to see iceland
The church of Hallgrímskirkja and the statue of the explorer Leif Erikson, in Reykjavik

2. Kirkjufell

Dream of photographers from all over the world and film location of numerous films and series set in Iceland, among the things to see in Iceland during your trip and one of the most famous attractions in the world. Located on the Snæfellsne s peninsula, Kirkjufell mountain is among the must-see things in Iceland for its uniqueness and the beauty of the surrounding landscape near the sea. With a unique conical shape and the height of 463 m , it is also called the Church Mountain and is among the most photographed landscapes . Below it we find the small Kirkjufellfoss waterfall and you will surely have already seen this place if you are a fan of the Game of Thrones TV series , as it has been the location of many episodes.

Its unique shape is due to the action of the melting glaciers , which have eroded the walls over the centuries. In the past, this probably had to have an icy summit. Furthermore, the appearance of this place changes according to the various seasons , always offering a different spectacle. Kirkjufell is located near the town of Grundarfjörður , about 2 hours from Reykjavik and there is also a car park here. Furthermore, you can go trekking on the mountain, accompanied by an expert guide and with the appropriate equipment , as the terrain is very slippery.

mount kirkjufell - what to visit in iceland - things to visit in iceland - iceland what to visit - places to visit in iceland - iceland places to visit - what you can visit in iceland
Il Monte Kirkjufell

3. Trial beach

Also known as Black Beach , Reynisfjara Beach is among the most evocative places to see in Iceland during your trip. Located in the southern area of ​​the island, near the town of Vík í Mýrdal , it is among the most popular beaches not only for the black sand, caused by the volcanic action of the island, but also for its black basalt columns which they rise in the sea in front. Formed due to the rapid cooling of lava in contact with water, there are also many ancient Icelandic legends around them . In fact, according to popular tales, these stacks are two trolls , surprised by the rising of dawn and petrified forever.

Between Viking legends and unique landscapes, on this beach we can also admire walls with particular rock formations in the shape of an organ and the basalt arch called Hálsanefshellir . Before visiting this beautiful beach in Iceland, however, it is important to also know its dangers . In fact, here the Atlantic waves are unpredictable, dragging people out to sea several times and therefore taking the name sneaker waves . Thanks to a system of zones and traffic lights , however, there will be nothing to fear during the visit, visiting only in optimal conditions. Furthermore, this place is also a refuge for many animals , such as puffins and seals. A wonderful place to see in Iceland, where nature shows itself in its grandeur.

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The black beach of Reynisfjara

4. Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss

Among the things to see in Iceland during your trip, waterfalls will definitely not be missing ! One of the most popular is that of Skógafoss , to the south, near Skógar and created by the Skógaá River from the Eyjafjallajökull glacier . Among the most beautiful waterfalls on the island, also due to the fact that rainbows are frequently created here , giving unique photos. With a fall of 60 m and a width of 25 m , the spectacle that will unfold before our eyes is impressive, allowing us to observe it even from above thanks to a staircase with over 400 steps , arriving at the beginning of the jump . This place too is cloaked in legends which say that behind this waterfall, in the cave , the first Viking hid his treasure .

When a boy found the chest , however, it sank during recovery and he managed to recover only one handle : a ring with runic engravings later used on the door of the Skógar church , today in its museum. Another of the most popular waterfalls is Seljalandsfoss , where we could also walk behind it, observing a unique perspective. Not far from its sister Skógafoss, this falls 65 m , generated by the Seljalandsá River and is located along the Ring Road . The path that leads behind this waterfall is simple and safe, but it is necessary to wear waterproof clothing so as not to get completely wet from the splashes. A unique experience to have in Iceland!

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Skógafoss waterfall

5. Vik

In the district of Myrdalur , near the black beach, we find the small fishing village of Vík í Mýrda , simply called Vik. Among the places you absolutely must see during your trip to Iceland, to the south, this is bordered by the Katla volcano , the Myrdalur cliffs , Reynisfjara beach and Reynisfjall Tuff mountain . Here we can find mainly farms, as well as all its natural attractions nearby, but it is a destination to add to your itinerary for a particular place. In fact, in this unique panorama, the Reyniskirkja church is located . Not only one of the most photographed buildings on the island and a classic example of an Icelandic church, with a red roof and wooden structure.

This place, in fact, built in the 20th century , is located on a hill overlooking the community of Vik and is considered the only place that could survive in the event of a volcanic eruption , thus calling it the miracle church . In fact, Vik is located under the glacier that covers an active volcano , Katla. Experts therefore fear that the eruption could also cause glacial melting, thus submerging the country. Furthermore, in 2010 , after the eruption of the Eyjafjöll volcano , it was completely covered in volcanic ash . Vik is also worth a visit because it is the southernmost city in Iceland, an essential stop for your trip.

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Vik and the church of Reyniskirkja

6. Thingvellir National Park

Iceland is a place of surprising nature , which we can observe especially in its numerous national parks and reserves. Among those to absolutely visit in Iceland not only to discover its nature, but also its history , we find the Thingvellir National Park. In this iconic place, in fact, we can discover important facts from the island’s past , but also geological events unique in the world. Here lies the Silfra fault , the point where the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America divide. Among the fundamental stages of the Golden Circle in Iceland, the first parliament in the world was founded here in 930 AD at the Rock of Law , where today we see the flag hoisted.

Among other historical events emblematic of the place, in Thingvellir in the year 1000 Christianity was adopted as a religion and, in 1944 , the Republic of Iceland was proclaimed . Not only a walk therefore in a unique flora and fauna, observing the lake of Thingvallavatn , but also to be in one of the fundamental historical sites of the country. In addition to observing and walking between its faults, which separate by 1 cm every year , among the things to see in this national park in Iceland observe its enormous natural walls through an easy trek . Here too there is a waterfall, that of Öxarárfoss , and we can also visit the first church in the town, Thingvallakirkja.

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The meeting of tectonic plates at Thingvellir National Park

7. Dettifoss

Arriving in Northern Iceland, here among the things to see is the largest European waterfall : Dettifoss. To reach it, you come from the Dettifossvegur road , where the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river splits, falling in numerous waterfalls into the enormous Jökulsárgljúfur canyon . Also called the Ruining Water waterfall due to the impressive force with which the water rushes from the gorge, giving a natural spectacle that leaves you breathless with its power. Furthermore, this leap was created by a violent earthquake following an eruption that diverted the river, creating a very deep opening within the basaltic plain . With a height of 44 m and 100 m wide , it has a capacity of over 200 tons of water which is thrown into the chasm every second; also increasing based on weather conditions.

The sprays of water, falling with this force, are visible for 1 km , creating unique rainbows with the sun’s rays and a noise that can be heard even from afar. Furthermore, due to this activity, the underlying soil is continuously dug up . The best point to observe the canyon and the waterfall is certainly from above , thus seeing all its magnificence. Furthermore, in the past many thought of using Dettifoss for energy – as with many other waterfalls – but the conformation made the project impossible, making it forever a free and wild place , as only Icelandic nature can be.

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The Dettifoss waterfall, the largest in Europe

8. Geysers

Among the numerous natural spectacles to see that Iceland offers us, the incredible geysers cannot be missed among the stops on our journey. In the Haukadalur valley , along the Golden Circle , where we can find one of the largest geothermal activities on the island, also called Geysir : a huge geyser. This is inactive today due to some failures in its internal tunnels and also due to vandalism caused by visitors in the past. Today, however, the largest geyser is popular is Strokkur , in the vicinity of Geysir. Strokkur erupts approximately every 10 minutes , and is always quite punctual, allowing you to prepare in the best possible way to immortalize its majestic jet of even over 30 m , while Geysir even reached 80 m .

In the past, locals tried to reactivate Geysir by throwing soap into its crater. For a short time this worked, attracting tourists, but the soap ruined the limestone inside, blocking the phenomenon. Today, Geysir blows only once a month, and not always, with less intensity and smoking, mostly. In its valley, beyond Strokkur, we also find miniature geysers that spray water a few centimeters high. Definitely less scenic, but be careful, because the water that comes out of here is always very hot .

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Il geyser Cylinder

9. Jökulsárlón

Among the things to visit in Iceland, including geysers and volcanoes, to make it the Land of Ice and Fire , glaciers certainly cannot be missing . One of the most popular places on the island is Jökulsárlón, a huge lake of glacial origin between Skaftafell park and the resort of Höfn , near the Vatnajökull glacier . Today, due to climate warming, it has reached about 18 km² and is the deepest lake in Iceland, reaching 260 m . Here we can admire many icebergs , coming from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier . Furthermore, icebergs have wonderful colors from blue to turquoise , reaching the yellow given by volcanic sulphide and the black of ash .

This lake is very popular, especially because it offers one of the most popular activities in Iceland, going among the icebergs with amphibious boats since 1985. Furthermore, near this glacial lagoon there is another black sand beach which, due to the numerous icebergs deposited here, is called Diamond Beach , absolutely one of the things to see in Iceland. Furthermore, here we can also observe seals . Many excursions also depart from the lagoon to Vatnajökull National Park , where you can walk on the Svínafellsjökull glacier and explore the ice caves from Jökulsárlón, famous for their blue ice !

La laguna glaciale di Jökulsárlón

10. Riserva di Skaftafell

Finally, among the must-see stops in Iceland during your trip, we find the Skaftafell nature reserve, which includes the Vatnajökull park . Among large glaciers, such as that of Svínafellsjökull and Skaftafellsjökull , here we also find trekking paths that lead to the Svartifoss waterfall , called the Black Waterfall, with its wonderful black basaltic columns , and Mount Kristínartindar . Skaftafell is not only the largest nature park on the island, but in Europe , and is located between the village of Klaustur and the port village of Höfn , in the south of Iceland. Born in 1967 , it has a volcanic landscape , designed by glacial rivers and sediments from past eruptions.

An uninhabited area with wild beauty , it is also possible to set off from here for an excursion on the ice or a climb , making it a popular destination for sportsmen. Even when visiting this reserve, therefore, we always recommend wearing the appropriate technical clothing and, in winter, having grappling hooks for your shoes with you, thus avoiding slipping. An obligatory stop for nature lovers and the best way to discover it is with a guided tour , thus observing its main landmarks. Finally, in its vicinity is the Landmannalaugar area . An uncontaminated volcanic expanse loved by hikers from which to observe the Helka volcano , also called the Gate of Hell .

Vatnajokull Glacier Skaftafell National Park
The Vatnajokull Glacier, in Skaftafell National Park

What to do in Iceland, the 5 experiences not to be missed

During your stay in Iceland, in addition to visiting the main attractions and places described previously in our guide , we also want to point out the activities to do in the country, thus making your trip truly unique. Between culture , adventure , tradition , history and local cuisine, an experience in Iceland will certainly be able to unite the desires of all travellers.

So let’s not waste time and discover together the 5 experiences not to be missed in Iceland !

1. Observe the Northern Lights

Among the first things to do in Iceland during your trip, as well as being one of the reasons why many travelers come to the island every year, we find the Northern Lights. The extraordinary spectacle of lights in shades from green to blue that suddenly illuminate the night sky, leaving everyone speechless. But not everyone knows what the Northern Lights are . In fact, this is nothing more than a visual effect of solar particles entering the Earth’s magnetic field, in the atmosphere . By ionizing , they thus take on the typical colors of the Northern Lights, which can also be red, purple and orange . Furthermore, the aurora only occurs near the Earth’s magnetic poles , above 60° latitude, or below 60, dividing into polar or southern aurora .

In fact, Iceland is the perfect place to observe the Northern Lights, being 65° north and being sparsely populated; thus avoiding the light pollution of large cities. The Northern Lights here are visible for many months of the year, including from September to April , but they appear at any time. Obviously, the darker the day and the clearer the sky , the more the chances of observing it will increase. Furthermore, there are many apps to monitor the locations and activity of the Northern Lights, thus also searching for them !

aurora borealis Faro di Gardur
Aurora Borealis of Faro di Gardur

2. Spot whales

Not just postcard landscapes, among the things to do in Iceland don’t miss its incredible wildlife and the chance to observe it in its natural habitat . In fact, Iceland is among the best places to see whales off its coast. In fact, in the surrounding waters, there are over 23 species of this enormous mammal and many come to the area between spring and summer to feed. The most sighted one is the minke whale , present every month, like the porpoises . The best place for sightings is the north of the island, where beluga whales , narwhals and blue whales are also present .

Also, a curiosity is that the orca that stars in 1993’s Free Willy , comes from the Reyðarfjörður fjord , returning in 2002 to wild life. The best period for sightings is from April to September, especially in summer when more organized tours take place . The main locations start from Akureyri , in the north, and Reykjavík . The behaviors of whales, also based on the species, are varied. Among the most frequent we can admire breaching , when they go out of the water, blowing from the blowhole, spyhopping , when they put their head out, and the pec slap , the slap to the water with the fin.

whale watching akureyri
Whale watching in Akureyri

3. Relax at the natural thermal pools

After numerous visits , walks and trekking to reach the main destinations to see in Iceland, a moment of relaxation is deserved. For this reason there is nothing better than spending a few hours at the Blue Lagoon , one of the most visited thermal pools in Iceland located in a geothermal area on the Reykjanes peninsula . This spa is open all year round and it is always highly recommended to book well in advance due to its popularity. The water temperature is around 40°C and it has been open since 1976 with the construction of the nearby geothermal power plant . This water is rich in properties and minerals such as silica , which is very good for the skin especially in case of psoriasis .

Among the other hot springs in Iceland to visit during your trip, we find the Secret Lagoon , born from the Básahver and Vaðmálahver geysers, with healing properties, as well as being surrounded by a wonderful landscape. The Myvatn hot springs are also noteworthy, near the lake of the same name and at the Hverir geothermal area in the north. The Pollurinn Hot Springs complex , however, is free and is located in the village of Tálknafjörður , on the Westfjords. In short, don’t forget to pack your swimsuit !

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The thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon

4. Travel the Golden Circle

Among the things to do in Iceland, one of the most famous routes to do on the island is the Golden Circle. 300 km that touch the major points of interest to see in Iceland, starting from Reykjavik . Traveling along road 36, in fact, we will encounter the Thingvellir National Park , a UNESCO Heritage site between the tectonic plates. Ideal for a road trip even for a day, with clear signs and safe roads even in winter, being very touristy. Continuing on road 365 we arrive at Laugarvatn and Apavatn , two thermal lakes .

Following road 37 we encounter the Bruarfoss waterfall , the bluest in Iceland, and continuing we arrive in the geothermal area of ​​Haukaladur to see the geysers. Following the path, the Golden Circle takes us to the Golden Waterfall, Gullfoss . To reach the Secret Lagoon , follow route 30, or continue on 35 to get to the Kerid crater . Furthermore, this route is also a much loved destination for hikers who go to Iceland especially in the summer for trekking . The favorite is definitely the Laugavegur trail , also known as the hot springs trail.

5. Horseback riding

Finally, among the activities to do in Iceland, don’t miss an excursion with the wonderful Icelandic horses . This equine breed born and developed in Iceland is very small in size and is therefore often compared to a pony , but in reality it is a real horse . It also represents the only native breed of the island and is a real pride for its inhabitants, it is a very resistant type of horse that rarely gets sick, protected by local law which prohibits the importation of other horses or bringing them back to Iceland those that are exported.

Probably successor to the Scandinavian ponies, there is the first evidence of its appearance in the 12th century . Today they are fundamental to Icelandic life, still used in races and events, as well as by farmers or for riding. Exploring Iceland on the back of these beautiful horses is an exciting experience for adults and children , immersing yourself in unique natural wonders and the breathtaking landscapes of the Icelandic countryside on horseback. There are also numerous horseback excursions , to meet any level of preparation and place you wish to visit.

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