These last few years have been a bit quieter on the tourism side in Iceland, but nature and the locals have been busy! Over the past couple of years, Iceland has welcomed new nature gems to the scene, added several geothermal spas to relax in, and built-up infrastructure to make visiting our favorite locations even easier.
If you haven’t been planning a visit to Iceland for this year yet this is your sign to start doing so!
With plenty of nature to enjoy, Iceland is a great place to get back into your travel lifestyle in a safe and comfortable way. To get you started on your trip planning we have rounded up some of the top things to do and see in Iceland.
If you are looking for an adventure-packed experience in Iceland, and are a hiking enthusiast, the Highlands are the place for you. Located in the heart of Iceland, the Highlands are home to some of Iceland’s most unique landscapes. Fun fact, the Highlands is one of Europe’s least unpopulated areas, which means the nature here is as raw and unspoiled as it comes.
The journey back to the Highlands can be a long and bumpy one, but the reward for when you arrive will be worth it. To reach the Highlands you will have to take F-roads, for which you will need to have a 4x4 car. There are plenty of tour options to take you back to this area which is a great option if you are a bit unsure about driving long gravel roads, and potentially crossing a river or two (yes it's a thing on these roads!).
Once you do reach the Icelandic wonderland of the Highlands the adventure opportunities are plentiful with lava fields, hot springs, canyons and mountain ridges, glaciers, and more to explore. Visitors can take a day trip, or spend a few days in the Highlands, there are even some cozy accommodations back in this desolate area of Iceland so you can take your time exploring!
With so much ground to cover it can be overwhelming to figure out what to do in the Highlands. To give you some ideas here are a couple of our favorite locations:
1. Landmannalaugar - if you are looking for the best place to get in day hikes this is the place for you. Famous for its many hiking trails and stunning colorful rhyolite mountains, visitors can choose from short or long hiking trails making it accessible to all levels of hikers. One of the best parts of this area, there are hot springs down at the base of the hiking trails just waiting for you to come and relax after a day of hiking!
2. Þórsmörk - tucked between glaciers you will find this nature-rich valley packed full of diverse landscapes. The lush trees and vegetation contrasting against volcanic ash mountains and lava fields are a sight to be seen. Þórsmörk, whose name translates to “valley of Thor”, is another great option for those interested in hiking in the Highlands with a variety of hiking trails to explore. We recommend trying the Valahnukur Hiking trail to get some epic 360 views over the valley.
3. Hveradalir Geothermal Valley - one of the largest geothermal areas in Iceland, Hveradalir, which translates to the “valley of the hot springs”, is a sight to behold! Located in the multi-colored mountain range of Kerlingarfjöl the mix of colors and steam in the area is truly captivating. Be sure to bring your bathing suit and enjoy this unique landscape while soaking in the hot spring in this area.
*Note, there is only one hot spring that is suitable for bathing. Please do not try and touch the water elsewhere as it is not safe. Be a responsible traveler and follow the directions to the geothermal pool surrounded by stones.
Found in East Iceland in the upper part of Jökuldalur Valley, Stuðlagil was truly a hidden gem until recently as the canyon used to be completely submerged by the Jökla river. Once it was discovered it didn’t take long to gain popularity becoming one of the hottest places for locals to visit.
With the stunning combination of towering basalt columns and turquoise blue water, Stuðlagil Canyon will have you in awe of the beauty nature creates. The river water turns a clear turquoise blue when the water levels are low in the summer months, so don’t be surprised if you are visiting at other times of the year and find a more murky gray/brown color, either way, the area is beautiful.
There are a few different ways to view Stuðlagil Canyon so you can choose the best option for you. The easiest way to access the area is on the West side of the river. Here you will have an easy 5-minute walk from the parking lot down to newly built metal stairs that provide a view over the canyon. If you are looking for more of an adventure and an up-close experience of the area head to the east side of the river where you will have around a 45-minute hike down to Stuðlagil. Please don’t try to cross the river from either side, it is very dangerous to do so, just make the drive to the other side of the river.
One of the top “must-see” areas on many lists is the wondrous Westfjords and for good reason. With the relatively untouched nature and lower number of visitors, it is the go-to region for those looking for an Icelandic adventure that takes them off the beaten path and up close with some of Iceland’s most special natural wonders.
A road trip around the Westfjords will take you past magical landscapes and have you driving up and down mountain roads as you weave in and out of the fjords. Good luck trying to not stop for every waterfall you will find along the way. And we can’t mention this part of Iceland without reminding you to pack your bathing suits, some of Iceland’s best hot springs can be found here!
You can easily spend a few days in the Westfjords alone, there is so much to do and see in this nature-rich region. To give you an idea of the wide range of nature you can enjoy in the Westfjords, here are a few of our favorite places:
1. Hellulaug hot spring - located right by the beach, enjoy soaking in this hot spring while you take in the view of the ocean and Vatnsfjörður fjord.
2. Látrabjarg - the westernmost point in Europe, this large seaside cliff is home to millions of birds. If you are hoping to see puffins in Iceland this is the place to go.
3. Dynjandi Waterfall - the largest waterfall in the Westfjords, Dynjandi is truly a sight to be seen. Not only is there the impressive Dynjandi waterfall, but there are also smaller waterfalls surrounding the area which make for quite the spectacular view.
Plan for extra time while driving in this region, both for the roads you will be driving which at times are quite steep or even gravel, but also for all the extra stops you are bound to make along the way. With hot springs, waterfalls, and fjord views, it's impossible to visit the Westfjords and not fall for this gorgeous region!
Do you have “see a volcano in Iceland” on your bucket list? Lucky for all you visitors there is a new volcano on the scene that is very close to the international airport making a visit to a volcano easily accessible by all.
Some quick backstory of Iceland’s newest volcano…
In March 2021, after several weeks of thousands of earthquakes rumbling in the Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland welcomed a new volcano, Fagradalsfjall. This rare event of nature occurred only 32 kilometers from Reykjavik, some evenings the glowing red from the lava could be seen from the city! Fagradalsfjall continued to erupt for over 6 months making it one of the longest eruptions in Iceland.
Sadly the eruption did come to an end last fall, but the vast amount of lava Fagradalsfjall brought is here to stay and the newly created lava fields are a sight to be seen! If you are interested in hiking back to Iceland’s newest natural attraction check out this post for our tips.
Explore Iceland’s Glaciers
A core part of Iceland is its beloved glaciers, in fact, they cover over 11% of the country. Being such a key piece of Icelandic nature we think everyone should have some type of interaction with glaciers while in Iceland. And what better way to learn about the importance of glaciers than with an up-close experience with one?
With the high amount of glaciers in Iceland, this provides plenty of opportunities to visit one during your visit. For those staying in Reykjavik head to Pearlan to explore the glacier exhibition. If you are a thrill-seeker, ice climbing and a glacier hike will be sure to get your adrenaline going. And for the photographers, you won’t want to miss the beauty of an ice cave, the vibrant blue colors, and the one-of-a-kind environment that will make for some stunning photos.
Interested in more ways you can explore Iceland’s glaciers? Check out this page and find the right glacier activity for you. Please use caution when visiting the glaciers in Iceland and use a professional guide.
Visit a Geothermal Spa
The geothermal spas in Iceland have made quite a name for themselves worldwide, and we get it, Icelanders have been enjoying the luxurious geothermal water for centuries. You may have already heard of the wondrous Blue Lagoon, and for many years this was one of the main geothermal spas to enjoy in Iceland. However, in recent years there has been quite a boom in new geothermal spas all across the country and we aren’t complaining! All the geothermal spas bring a unique environment to enjoy, just the more reason to visit all of them.
There are several great options to choose from when it comes to geothermal spas in Iceland, here are just a few ideas of some of the newer locations to check out.
1. Sky Lagoon - this newly opened oceanside spa is located right in Reykjavik, but you won’t feel like you are in the city as you soak in the warm waters taking in the breathtaking views over the sea. Be sure to try the seven-step spa ritual for a unique and relaxing experience.
2. Vök Baths - opened in 2019 in the north of Iceland, here you will find the country’s only floating infinity pool and a variety of other pool options making it a great stop for the whole family.
3. Forest Lagoon - opening this year, the Forest Lagoon will have an element most other geothermal spas don’t, trees surrounding the area. Wooded areas are rare in Iceland making this experience even more memorable as you enjoy Iceland’s only forest geothermal spa.
The East Fjords
One of the least explored regions in Iceland, the Eastfjords is still a somewhat undiscovered gem of the country, so get over there before everyone else finds out! Another secret we will let you all in on, this part of Iceland tends to get the most sunshine and warmer temps during the summer months. Are you ready to plan your trip to this must-visit region?
Exploring the Eastfjords will take you along jagged coastlines, into fjords with charming fishing towns and impressive mountains towering above, to the largest forest in Iceland, and maybe even pass from herds of reindeer. Sounds impressive right? As we said, this part of the country is full of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered!
To get you started on planning your Eastfjords adventure here are a few locations to be sure to include on your list.
1. Hengifoss Waterfall - the third highest waterfall in Iceland, what sets this one apart from the crowd is the basalt columns layered with red clay that surround Hengifoss.
2. Seyðisfjörður - often referred to as one of Iceland’s most picturesque towns, you won’t want to miss seeing this charming village known for its iconic blue church.
3. Hallormsstaðaskógur - one of the largest forests in Iceland, enjoy a picnic and stroll through this wooded area.
4. Borgarfjörður Eystri - we had to add this spot on here for all the fellow puffin lovers! If you are hoping to see some of these adorable animals Borgarfjörður Eystri is one of the best locations to do so in Iceland.
Have a Foodie Experience
If you are a fellow foodie there are several new restaurants and experiences to enjoy in Iceland. From food halls to touring a chocolate factory, dining on a farm, and making bread in a geyser you will be surprised by the range of tasty possibilities!
A few foodie experiences to check out are:
Food halls have been popping up all over the place in Iceland these past few years and Mjólkurbúið Mathöll is a welcomed new addition. Located in the town of Selfoss in south Iceland this food hall is a great stop on your way back to Reykjavik from a day of exploring the gems of the south coast. Mjólkurbúið Mathöll has an added bonus of a cozy wine and cocktail bar in the upstairs of the food hall. What an ideal way to end a day of enjoying Iceland’s nature, some tasty food, and drinks in a vibrant environment.
Dine as the Vikings did inside a longhouse, drink from a horn, and enjoy a menu of traditional dishes the Viking would have enjoyed with a modern twist. This meal will be more than some good food, it will be a memorable experience packed full of Iceland culture!
Visit a Brewery
All the craft beer fanatics, you will be pleasantly surprised that Iceland has quite the scene of breweries to visit! If you are in North Iceland visit Segull 67, a brewery in an old fish factory. For those that visit the Westman Islands make a stop at the Brothers Brewery. And for those staying in the capital city, check out Ölgerðin Brewery, the country’s oldest brewery.
What experience do you have on your list for your Iceland adventure? Add some, or all, of the above locations and activities to your list, and you will be guaranteed an unforgettable experience in Iceland! Be sure to tag us on social at #heyiceland so we can see all the epic adventures this year brings!