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Top Iceland Experiences

Hiking among incredible natural landscapes and feeling like your on another planet

Observing the incredible Northern Lights over a beautiful snowscape

Relaxing in the Blue Lagoon - Tip! This is a highly recommended activity before or after flights, ease that muscle and airport tension!

Taking a day to explore downtown Reykjavik, with its many bars, restaurants, and art galleries

Visiting filming locations for Game of Thrones

Snorkeling at Þingvellir (pronounced thing-vel-lir) National Park, where  you can touch the North American and European continents at the same time

Standing next to the Gullfoss waterfall. This unique “staircase” waterfall may get you a little wet, but it’s well worth it!

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Top Iceland Attractions

Blue Lagoon

Þingvellir National Park

Northern Lights

Reykjavik

Gullfoss Waterfall

Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Lake Myvatn

Akureyri

Hraunfossar Waterfalls

Skaftafell National Park 

 

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Iceland Attractions And Landmarks Guide


Iceland may sound foreboding, but it's one of the world's most fascinating countries -- and, warmed by the Gulf Stream, not nearly as cold as you may think. It's a land of volcanoes, hot springs, fjords, and waterfalls that lies just below the Arctic Circle. An adventure traveler's dream, as soon as you go, you're sure to warm up to Iceland.

Iceland is known as the land of Fire and Ice, which sounds more like a fantasy novel than a real location. But it is just that sense of fantasy that draws so many travelers to Iceland’s shores. From storied viking history and legends to the real belief in elves, Iceland is a land of tremendous folklore, interwoven with a stunning natural landscape.

This natural landscape includes hundreds of volcanos and waterfalls, against dramatic backdrops of ice, snow, glaciers, bright green mountains and cliffs, ravines, and dark rocky shoreline. The best Iceland tours are active and outdoors; your guide will focus on nature, wildlife, eco and geo science.

The people of Iceland, and the government care deeply about protecting their landscape and limiting human harm as much as possible. They are a world leader in sustainable energy, and harness their natural resources to keep Iceland as pristine as possible.

Though Iceland is small, it packs a punch - around every bend in the road, a new dazzling view and photo op awaits. You’ll want plenty of time to explore the incredible beauty of Iceland.

What to Pack for Iceland

Bring sturdy, broken in hiking boots. And lots and lots of layers. The weather can change dramatically during one day and Iceland can be oddly temperate on some winter days or oddly cold on some summer days. Also if you’re hiking around Iceland’s many waterfalls it’s suggested to bring a lightweight waterproof jacket.

Most vacation packages to Iceland spend a lot of time outdoors among the elements. For Iceland travel you’ll want to pack things you don’t care about getting dirty and sweaty, and that hold up well in wind, water, mud, and rain.  

Photography enthusiasts can refer to our Iceland Photography Tours page for more details on what to pack. You’ll definitely want to bring a tripod, and waterproof casing for your camera - especially if you’re getting up close and personal with one of Iceland’s many waterfalls!

Visiting Iceland in Summer

Iceland in Summer is very popular, but that can be the downside. Summer is a popular travel time for tourists, and Iceland’s increasing popularity means the crowds will be heavy. It doesn’t get incredibly warm, highs on average hover around 65 degrees F.

Summer in Iceland experiences 24 hour sunlight, around the time of the Summer Solstice. This natural event draws visitors by the thousands, all over the world in fact, for festivals celebrating the longest day of the year.

In Iceland the most popular way Summer Solstice is celebrated is with the “Secret Solstice” festival, which lasts for three days. Music, food, drink, and fun to be had.

Visiting Iceland in Winter

Iceland in winter can be spectacular, however some attractions will be off limits due to harsh weather conditions (snow, ice on the road, wind). That said, this is the best time to visit to see the famous Northern Lights. Going on a tour is heavily advised. Your guide will know the best viewing areas and will be privy to extended information on forecasts.

In winter, Iceland experiences very dark days, and sometimes only 3 to 4 hours of sunlight. This is what makes the season perfect viewing for the Northern Lights, but pretty dreary otherwise.  

While the Northern Lights is the key attraction, only available to see in winter in Iceland, it’s not the only one! You should also check out the Ice Caves, which entrance visitors with their bright blue frozen formations. Snow and ice photographers take note! This one’s for you. This year there's still plenty of time to book for Northern Lights viewing: Iceland tours 2017.

Transportation in Iceland

While Iceland is a traditionally “adventurous” destination, geared toward millennials seeking thrills such as glacier walking, polar plunging, extreme waterfall hikes, and walking over lava fields near active volcanoes, that doesn’t mean you can’t find more comfortable ways to travel through this incredible country.

Older travelers, or those simply more interested in a slower, less adrenaline pumping kind of a trip can still find Iceland travel packages with plenty to see and do, that don't involve traveling in a 4x4 over rough terrain.

This is not to say that all of Iceland’s attractions are troublesome to get to. In response to increased tourism, Iceland has made many updates to their roads, especially in areas of high concentration, such as the Golden Circle. So you’re sure to encounter a smooth ride to see Iceland’s major sites. If you want to go farther afield, to see the Northern Lights or experience the Ring Road, there might be some portions on this journey that are less well maintained.

The best tip would be to travel Iceland guided with a tour company that caters to senior travelers. On a tour with companies such as Road Scholar or ElderTreks, these things will be taken into consideration and every effort will be made to minimize discomfort as you explore Iceland.

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a classic way to see some of Iceland’s top sights. Many Iceland day tours depart from Reykjavik to see the Golden Circle, which can take anywhere from 3-4 hours to 6-8 hours depending on how many stops you make and how long you spend in each stop. You may be surprised how long you need to process the majesty of Gullfoss waterfall. Or you may want longer than an hour or two to explore the incredible Þingvellir National Park.

A classic tour of The Golden Circle usually hits the “big three” Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss, with variations and additions depending on who you travel with. If you have only a short time in Iceland, these are the places you’ll want to see.

Iceland’s Ring Road

While the Golden Circle is a long one day or comfortable two day venture around southwest Iceland’s most famous landmarks, the Ring Road is a through road adventure around the entire island, about 800 miles.

Avoid traveling the Ring Road in winter. Ice can be treacherous on the roads, and as it’s a tourist activity, some drivers may be unfamiliar with driving on slick, icy roads.

One thing to be cautious of is the food options along the way. You won’t find a lot of gourmet choices, let alone choices in general. Plan ahead and buy a lot of substantial non-perishable snacks ahead of time.

Because Iceland is so small, this trip could potentially be completed in 24 hours, but you will one hundred percent want to plan way more time than that. The minimum recommended is one week. The views that appear around every single bend in the road will make you want to stop constantly and whip out your camera.

Some top highlights along the Ring Road include:

Southwest

Seljalandsfoss - This waterfall is 200 feet high and viewable from the Ring Road, even though you need to take a small drive off the road to get there. Notable for the cave directly behind which allows you to walk a full 360 degrees around the falling streams of water.

Skógafoss - Another brilliant waterfall, Skogafoss is a beautiful sight, falling 200 feet, surrounded by greenery and emptying into a small idyllic river.

Vik - A lovely small town to visit, near one of Iceland’s strange yet beautiful black beaches.

North Iceland

Dimmuborgur-  Strange and haunting rock formations that seem to “grow” out of the dark waters in this area, and surrounding hidden caves, make it’s nickname the “gateway to Hell” really make sense.

East Iceland

Höfn - If you happen to be driving the Ring Road between June and July, you have to try and be in Höfn for the lobster festival. Nowhere will you taste fresher, more delicious lobster, and Iceland is known to put on a good festival.

Reindeer in the East - Eastern Iceland is the only place where wild reindeer are found in Iceland. You’ll see them by the hundreds! Though the animal is not indigenous to the country, they certainly look like they belong and have thrived for many years.

Hallormsstadur Forest - One thing you will notice almost immediately in Iceland is the lack of trees. So to explore a full fledged forest is quite unique in Iceland. This is a natural halfway point along the Ring Road, approximately 8 hours from Reykjavik.

Southeast Iceland

Kirkjubæjarklaustur - This tiny town has a very interesting history, as well as several nearby sights and hikes, easily accessed on foot.

Skaftafell - This waterfall has an otherworldly look as it falls among basalt columns, neatly arranged on either side, in a strange but alluring pattern.

Caving in Iceland

Overshadowed perhaps by the two opposing pillars of Iceland’s attractions (volcanos and waterfalls; Fire and Ice), Iceland has a whole other world to explore underground. This is a seasonal activity, due to safety reasons, so be sure you check and make sure the cave you want to explore is open to tour.

Gjábakkahellir Cave - Near Þingvellir National Park, this cave which formed after an eruption 9000 years ago, brings surreal to a whole new level. It is a lava tube cave which is unique in that it’s open on two ends, and you can walk through completely.

Leiðarendi Cave - Enter a world of lava and icicles in this unique lava tube cave. Narrow and dark in some parts, Leiðarendi is not for the faint of heart. This tour will involve some crawling through tight spaces and a lot of crouching, so make sure your back is ok and you’re open to getting down and dirty.

Þríhnúkagígur Volcano - A dormant volcano, which erupted 4000 years ago, and is one of the few places in the world where you can enter a magma chamber. 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik, Þrihnukagigur volcano is then accessed by an hour hike to get to the mouth. It’s the perfect day excursion from Reykjavik.

Food in Iceland

Iceland may not spring to mind as a food centric destination. But increased tourism has led to a bit of a food renaissance in the country. And it should come as no surprise that Iceland is all about the fish! The Atlantic waters are chock full of salmon, cod, herring, monkfish, lobster, and more. Be sure to try fish soup when you see it on the menu.

In fact, Iceland is a bit of a hidden secret for truly fresh fish. Unlike other places like Alaska, where the prime catch of the day is exported to grocery stores around the country, the majority of Iceland’s catch stays local.

Locally sourced everything is something you’ll start to notice in Iceland. From produce including fruits and vegetables, and meats, to grain products, the majority of meals you’ll enjoy in Iceland will be made from local ingredients. Be sure to sample the locally made breads!

Lamb is one of the most popular meats, other than fish that you’ll find. Lamb dishes are very popular - you could almost mistake it for New Zealand! This is also the unique ingredient in the special Icelandic hot dogs you’ll hear about from locals.

Most Icelanders will refer you to Baejarins Beztu Pylsur for hot dogs, where such celebrities as Bill Clinton sampled this delight (though he was much made fun of for his plain order - if you don’t want to be mocked, don’t order it “Clinton Style” which means, just mustard and nothing else).

Another local food to definitely try is Skyr. This is a yogurt like item in taste and consistency (though in actuality it's a soft type of cheese). It’s used in several ways, from sweet to savory, to even drink form. Skyr is very popular among Icelanders, who eat it daily.

And yes, you can eat puffin and whale quite easily and freely in Iceland.

One thing you will notice is the lack of internationally recognized brands in Iceland, particularly for sodas and snack foods. And if you try to buy bottled water in Iceland - you will be maligned because the tap water in Iceland is some of the freshest around, and for a eco-conscious nation, buying plastic when it’s unnecessary will be looked down upon.

If you’d like to have a drink, local beers and vodkas are a staple in Iceland, but do be warned that the alcohol prices in Iceland are very, very high. Food prices are high also, but you should try and eat out at least once or twice.

Photography Tours in Iceland

Iceland is endlessly photographable. If photography is one of your main interests, there are several tours to Iceland that focus specifically on photography, where you can learn tips, and get the most spectacular shots.

While Iceland’s many varied and dramatic landscapes are one of the best parts about raising your camera, there is so much wildlife here as well! Arctic foxes, reindeer, whales, and of course the famous wild Icelandic horses all add to the magic of this place. Bring an extra SD card!

While seeking the perfect shot do be careful about where you step and stand. Iceland’s natural attractions are sometimes not well marked, and tourists have been known to get hurt when not using common sense about the elements and mother nature. Be wary of cliff sides, icy conditions, wind, and waves.

Must See Iceland Attractions

1. Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Many tour companies offer transportation between the airport and the Blue Lagoon. This is a very popular destination for just before your departing flight.

The geothermal spa is a great way relax and pamper yourself after a trip outdoors, exploring Iceland’s many incredible natural phenomena. Be sure to book ahead of time - this attraction gets very crowded.

Staff comes around with the various spa masks for you to try on and the in-lagoon bar offers both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink options. You can easily spend the day between wading in the lagoon, having lunch at their restaurant Lava, and getting an in-water massage treatment. If you are looking for a more local experience, there are also public thermal swimming pools in the area.

2. Dettifoss Waterfall

Dettifoss Waterfall in Iceland

Enormous Dettifoss Waterfall is the largest in Iceland, and reputed to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. It plummets 330 ft. There are a few hiking trails you can use to take in the massive and thundering falls.

3. Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

Gullfoss (meaning “Golden Waterfall) is one of Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls. At 105 feet and going over two major drops, the thundering tons of water are a sight to behold.

Stunning in every season, there are several ways to view the falls. Including from out the window of the official Gullfoss restaurant. Serving up traditional Icelandic fare, the restaurant is more than a bit touristy, given its location, but still has a local feel. It’s the perfect place to stop and have lunch before you continue on your way.

Paths at the Gullfoss waterfalls allow you to get right down to the falls, as well as up high for a different vantage point. Rainbows are consistent, especially in summer, with the combination of so much water and intermittent sunlight.

4. Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

Don’t try to rush when you visit Þingvellir National Park. This beautiful area is historical as well as naturally fascinating. Activities include the normal hikes and nature walks to take in Iceland’s famous natural beauty and wildlife. But this park also holds the distinction of being one of only two places in the world where you can swim between two tectonic plates.

Snorkeling is an adequate way to have this incredible experience, though more advanced diving options are available as well. Most tours will provide equipment for snorkeling or diving, so don’t forget to bring a swimsuit - (the water will be chilly, so you’ll want a wetsuit as well). If you’re not traveling on a tour, these items can easily be rented in Reykjavik.

Definitely rent or purchase an underwater camera! The water is intensely clear, with visibility up to 100 yards, with intense colors. The one major downside to these incredible conditions is that it will be crowded with multiple tour groups and travelers anxious to experience one of Iceland’s more accessible and stunning tourist activities.

Þingvellir is also is the site of the establishment of the first Icelandic parliament (also the oldest still existing official parliament in world - established in 930 AD). This coincides with the founding of Iceland for most historians.

5. Northern Lights

Northern lights in Iceland

Tours to see the Northern Lights in Iceland are one of the biggest draws for tourists visiting the Land of Fire and Ice. Guided tours from Reykjavik generally leave around 8/9pm returning around midnight. Between September and March is the best time, with the optimal months being December and January. Also called Aurora Borealis, the lights resemble green clouds in the sky to the naked eye, and can really come to life through the camera.

Though it doesn’t seem so, Iceland is actually one of the southernmost countries for viewing Aurora Borealis. Other popular viewing spots in Russia, Canada, and Greenland are further north. This means that on prime viewing nights, it could get crowded, but this also creates a sense of comradery as you stand or sit shoulder to shoulder, gazing into the heavens waiting for this most incredible light show.

It is always hit or miss whether the elusive lights will show. But going on a tour will help increase your chances. Your guide will know the best viewing areas, and whether or not they are likely to show.

Iceland is just a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, making the lights occasionally less vibrant, but the further north you venture, the clearer they’ll be. Check out our Iceland Northern Lights guide for more information on the best viewing areas.

6. Skaftafell Ice Cave

Tourist exploring Skaftafell Ice Cave in Iceland

One of the most beautiful caves in the world, this remarkable ice cave is also called the “Crystal Cave” and is best experienced in wintertime (between October and May). Located on top of the Vatnajökull glacier, the cave is best enjoyed by those who enjoy a bit of an outdoor challenge as the opportunities for ice climbing and rock climbing are many. It’s also not recommended for those with claustrophobia!

7. Geysir

Geysir in Iceland

“The Great Geysir” as it’s also known by, is situated in south west Iceland, and rounds out the three most classic stops along the Golden Circle route.

Even though this kind of attraction may raise an eyebrow as to how exciting it could possibly be, trust us - this is a natural phenomenon worth checking out. Those with sensitive noses, beware - the entire surrounding area will smell like sulpher - not unlike rotten eggs, but if you can bear it, don’t miss seeing Geysir.

The main geysir was previously dormant and today does not spout by clockwork as many geysirs do. The very patient may be treated with a spectacular show, but there are several other geysers in the area as well. These include Strokkur, Blesi, and Fata.

8. Reykjavik

Town of Reykjavik aerial view Iceland

The capital of Iceland, Reykjavik has grown rapidly in popularity among travelers. Many Iceland tours stop or start here on their way to explore Iceland's wild and beautiful lands. However a growing foodie scene of modern and traditional Nordic cuisine, shopping, nightlife, and the nearby Blue Lagoon make Reykjavik somewhere you don't just want to "pass through".

Roughly one third of Iceland’s total population lives in Reykjavik, and this is also the main tourist hub for visitors right off the plane, or getting ready to return home. Centrally located there is easy access to multiple popular day trips, several of which can be arranged through hostels in town.

Venturing around the city is something that can be done with or without a tour. There are walking tours offered to take you through the streets of the city. Located right on the water, the city offers harbor views, great shopping and personality. The Hallgrímskirkja church is the city’s main landmark and offers an outstanding view of the entire landscape from its bell tower.

If you want something more substantial, most multi day tours of Iceland spend at least a day or two In Reykjavik before heading out to explore the natural sights of this incredible country.

9. Jökulsárlón

Jokulsarlon lagoon in Iceland

This lagoon in Southeastern Iceland is one of the more surreal landscapes to be found in Iceland. It features a field of small icebergs that have broken off the nearby glacier is a sight to behold. This is also one of the most popular places to see the Northern Lights, especially for the dramatic photographs created by the shapes and frozen formations silhouetted against the glowing sky.

10. Vik Black Sand beaches

Vik black sand beach Iceland

The black sand beaches of Vik are a very popular attraction on the shores of Reynisfjara at the southern tip of Iceland. People have been known to get injured by the especially strong waves and currents of these ocean waters, so be extremely cautious as you marvel at the alluring black sands and stunning views!

Iceland Tour Reviews - Summary

4.8 out of 5

100%

recommend

276 Reviews

Excellent 183 Great 47 Average 4 Disappointing 1 Terrible 1

Rating Details

Value
4.8 Guide
4.8 Activities
4.8 Lodging
4.8 Transportation
4.8 Meals
4.8

The trip was very comprehensive, our tour

Iceland Discovery

5.0 September 2015 Intrepid Travel Recommend: Yes The trip was very comprehensive, our tour guide was very informative and fun and the tour group was a small group of 12 people.

I was very happy with the itinerary

Iceland Discovery

5.0 September 2015 Intrepid Travel Recommend: Yes I was very happy with the itinerary, standard of accommodation and tour leader.t

Structured tours are not everyone's bag, but

Iceland Discovery

5.0 September 2015 Intrepid Travel Recommend: Yes Structured tours are not everyone's bag, but I would rave about Iceland and speak highly of my experience on the tour.

Iceland was amazing. The trip leader was

Iceland Discovery

5.0 September 2015 Intrepid Travel Recommend: Yes Iceland was amazing. The trip leader was terrific. Travelling the ring road gave a perspective of the whole country and included all the major sights.

I enjoyed every aspect of this trip

Iceland Discovery

5.0 September 2015 Intrepid Travel Recommend: Yes I enjoyed every aspect of this trip ie the itinerary; the driver/guide, Harpa; the accommodation; the food; the included/non-included activities; the ease of booking; the clarity of the online information etc. This is the best holiday I've ever been on! Read more
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Things To Know Before You Go

Before you go

When packing for Iceland, layers are key. It never gets incredibly warm, even during 24 hours of sunlight in the summer. Temperatures will be comfortable but not hot. In winter, you’ll get snow and rain, and it will be chilly.

Iceland is expensive. No if, ands, or buts about it. Prepare to pay higher prices when eating and drinking out.

Visas

You do not need a visa to travel to Iceland if you are planning to stay less than 90 days. Your passport must be valid for up to 3 months after your intended travel date.

Iceland is a part of the Schengen cooperation, so if you have a Schengen visa, this is valid for Iceland as well, and you don’t need additional documentation.

Safety

Iceland is one of the safest countries to visit. People are generally friendly, and although tourism has rapidly increased over recent years, they are welcoming to people keen to explore their country.

The increase in tourism has led to busier roads, especially the famous Ring Road that circles the country. With more travelers renting cars these days, be sure to practice caution when crossing streets and when walking around the popular natural attractions. Be very careful driving in icy conditions, and avoid it if possible. Ice is difficult to see and can cause spinouts without warning.

Also be mindful of Iceland’s lack of safety signage. Hiking up around waterfalls, and in windy conditions, or around ocean shores with riptides, Iceland can be dangerous. Especially if you’re distracted with your camera out and not looking at your footing. 

Useful Links

Visa Information

  Visa Needed? Link
US  N (< 90 days)  Visas to Iceland for United States Citizens
UK  N (< 90 days)  Visas to Iceland for United Kingdom Citizens
CA  N (< 90 days)  Visas to Iceland for Canadian Citizens
AU  N (< 90 days)  Visas to Iceland for Australian Citizens
NZ  N (< 90 days)  Visas to Iceland for New Zealand Citizens
IN  Y  Visas to Iceland for Indian Citizens

 


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