Are you planning to visit Iceland for just a few days or for a bit longer? Are you planning to go on a tour or to simply wander across the country? Iceland is a wonderland full of beautiful places and scenery. The most popular activities are watching the Northern Lights, glacier hiking, and visiting the capital, Reykjavík. Whether you prefer day tours, guided tours, or self-driven tours, we have a long list of activities for you to do in Iceland. If you like active holidays, check out our selection of the best things to do and see so that you can plan the best trip of your life!
What to Do & See in Iceland
Thanks to its amazingly fortunate location and natural assets, Iceland is a very compact travel destination. A few short days spent in the capital area can easily give you the opportunity to cross off some major bucket list items.
Here are our recommendations for the ultimate Icelandic bucket list with the top eight activities you can do from Reykjavík. In order to help you plan your vacation, we have arranged our recommendations in order of awesomeness, with number one being the ultimate must-do activity in Iceland.
8. Explore Reykjavík - the northernmost capital of the world!
Reykjavík numbers among the world’s cleanest, greenest, and safest cities. Its vibrant culture, street art, and music scene attract artists and art lovers from all over the world.
The city is filled with fantastic restaurants, cafés with ambiance, and breweries that offer quality, delicious, and traditional local foods, drinks, and craft beers.
Walking among the colorful, Nordic-style houses of the old city feels like being in a fairy tale. Also, the very best tours in Iceland all depart from Reykjavík with a range of activities that is simply incredible. Make sure to start your tour of Iceland by exploring the city of Reykjavík!
7. Observe the unique wildlife in Iceland with Whale watching Tours!
The special characteristics of the Icelandic waters attract marine mammals of many kinds. These gentle giants love Iceland and they seem to be incredibly happy here. They are playful and curious, often approaching the whale watching boats, rolling over, splashing with their fins, and sometimes even leaping out of the water!
In the summertime, some the whale watching tours from Reykjavik are combined with puffin watching. These cute, funny-looking birds are iconic to Iceland. The country is home to more than 60 percent of the world’s entire Atlantic puffin population!
With two of its very own puffin islands where approximately 20,000 pairs of birds build their nests every summer, Reykjavík is the puffin-watching capital of the world. Do not miss out on your opportunity to meet these fantastic animals!
6. Relax in a natural hot spring or in a luxurious geothermal spa.
Iceland is a hot destination - in every sense. Thanks to the intense volcanic activity underground, countless hot springs are waiting here to amaze you. Some of these natural gems do not have any facilities around while others are nicely constructed and offer various services to their visitors.
There are 15 communal geothermal pools and a handful of stunning geothermal spas in the vicinity of Reykjavík. The most famous and most luxurious spa is the epic Blue Lagoon, located in the middle of a rugged lava field near the international airport. This site itself attracts tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world, including celebrities and superstars.
Whether you would like to take a relaxing dip in a hot spring in the middle of nowhere or enjoy a luxurious treat in one of the famous geothermal spas, one of the best activities in Iceland is definitely exotic bathing. Make sure to include this on your Icelandic bucket list!
5. Tour the ultimate Golden Circle Route
Be stunned by spouting geysers, wander along the gap in between the continental plates, and feel the spray of an enormous waterfall on your face. You can do all of these things in just one short day trip!
This is the famous Golden Circle, a route that circumnavigates Iceland’s most sought-after tourist destinations. It starts in Reykjavík and forms a 300-kilometer (190 miles) loop through the center of the country and back. It has been the best selling tour in Iceland since tourism began - and it deserves it!
The Golden Circle gives you the opportunity to explore rare geological features that cannot be seen elsewhere lying so close to each other. And the region offers so much more than just three spots!
There is a great variety of Golden Circle tours. Express trips are offered for those who have a tight time frame while extended, whole day versions with countless stops are offered for those who want to see and know everything. You can even combine your Golden Circle trip with exotic bathing or other exciting activities. This route is definitely one of the most amazing of all Iceland tours.
4. Snorkel between the tectonic plates
It may sound crazy, but Iceland is an incredibly popular destination for divers and snorkelers. Why? Because of a place called Silfra Fissure where you can swim along the crack between the continental plates!
Moreover, this fissure is filled with the clearest natural freshwater on the planet, offering incredible underwater visibility that exceeds 100 meters (328 feet). As a comparison, the next best diving and snorkeling sites in the world offer less than half of this, with only 30 to 45 meters (98 to 147 feet) of underwater visibility!
Do not worry about the temperature of the water! There is a gentle current which ensures that the fissure never freezes and can be swum in all year round. A special waterproof dry suit will keep you dry and warm during your snorkeling tour in Silfra. As it is filled with air, it keeps you on the surface of the water. Basically, you will gently float over the thrilling fissure beneath you in what is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
What makes Silfra even more popular is its location. You can find it about 40 minutes from Reykjavík on the Golden Circle route. Snorkeling in Silfra is undoubtedly one of the best things you can do in Iceland!
3. Climb up or step into a volcano
A third of the total global lava output over the past 500 years was produced by the 30 active volcanic systems that are underground in Iceland. A volcano erupts in Iceland every four to five years. At the time of writing, the last eruption took place in 2015, meaning that there are quite a few volcanoes overdue to erupt today.
Even if there are no eruptions happening at the moment, there are countless volcanoes showing signs of activity. Climbing up to a crater, walking on the freshly solidified lava, and looking over the volcanic landscape is an unforgettable experience.
There is an amazing selection of volcano tours in Iceland. Hiking tours take you to climb a volcano and underground lava tube cave explorations show you the most interesting lava formations. Unique in the world, there is one site in Iceland where you can literally descend into the chamber of a volcano! There is no other place in the world where you could do the same safely. Iceland is the land of fire and ice - make sure that you do not skip the fire part!
2. Explore the world of blue ice with glacier hiking and ice caves
With 11 percent of its total land area covered by ice, Iceland is a glacier paradise! Glaciers form from fresh snow over centuries, reaching hundreds or thousands of meters of thickness. They are full of thrilling cracks and crevasses. Sometimes, natural ice caves even form inside of them.
As glacial ice is formed by compression, the air bubbles are pushed out of the ice and this causes us to see them as blue. Inside an ice cave, this bluish hue is especially notable. When the light conditions are favorable, you are able to see very deep into the crystal-clear body of the ice. This is why we call them crystal blue ice caves.
Stepping onto glacial terrain feels like entering an alien world which does not resemble any other landscape on Earth. The beauty of this icy wonderworld is enormous, fragile, and we do not know how long it will last. Climate change has had a major effect on Icelandic glaciers which, unfortunately, means that they will disappear much sooner than we may think.
A nice variety of activities are offered on Iceland’s many glaciers covering all levels of difficulty. These activities range from short and easy glacier hikes for beginners to longer explorations, ice climbing, snowmobiling tours, and ice caving excursions. Exploring Iceland’s glaciers and going on an ice cave tour is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Do not miss it while you are in Iceland!
1. Witness the magical Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights are an extraordinary natural phenomenon which enchants everyone. Even locals do not get tired of it! For some people, seeing the Aurora is a major bucket list item and a life goal. In many cultures and legends, the Northern Lights bring blessings and eternal luck.
When active, the surreal occurrence dances across the sky, forming all kinds of shapes and taking on dreamlike colors. It is not surprising that seeing the Aurora is the main attraction for many who travel to Iceland.
Luckily, Iceland is the best Aurora watching location on Earth. It is perfectly positioned in the auroral zone, offering the chance to see the lights 7 to 8 months per year. What makes it even more special is that out of the many countries where the Northern Lights are visible, Iceland is by far the least cold during the winter. The warm Gulf Stream keeps the temperatures quite friendly, remaining between -5 to 5°C (23-41°F) around Reykjavík.
The good thing is that you do not even have to leave Reykjavík to be able to see the lights. There are a great variety of Northern Lights tours offered from the capital, such as classic bus and minibus tours, boat tours, Superjeep tours, and private tours where experienced locals will use their knowledge and wisdom to help you maximize your chances for success.
We could continue this list of the best tours in Iceland forever. But, out of all of these awesome activities, seeing the Northern Lights is probably the most memorable and the most wonderful experience!
AN EXTRA TIP
If you get goosebumps every time you see a stunning drone photo from Iceland and feel overwhelming curiosity about what it is like to land on top of a glacier or a volcano in the middle of nowhere, a helicopter tour is something you should definitely add to your list.
In just one short tour, you will be able to see natural wonders that rarely occur in one single area anywhere else in the world! Glaciers, steaming geothermal fields, black sand beaches, rugged lava fields, and so much more await you! This could easily be the highlight of your trip to Iceland. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so go for it!
What would you add to the list of the best tours in Iceland?
This list, of course, is highly subjective. This is what we locals recommend as the best tours and must-try activities. Some visitors find the midnight sun more magical than the Northern Lights and the many prefer hiking and backpacking tours to touring the frequented Golden Circle. Let us know what you like the most by sharing your opinion with us in the comment section!