With a world full of incredible places to see, why visit Iceland? Well, simply put, Iceland will blow you away! It is a land like no other and is host to a variety of things to do that can literally be done nowhere else on Earth.
Don’t believe us? Pack your Nomatic travel bag and find out for yourself what things to do in Iceland and what you’ve been missing out on (and then thank us with tear-filled eyes later)!
One-of-a-Kind Water Experiences
Since Iceland is an island, there is water everywhere. Whether it’s washing up on a black sand beach, sneaking its way through tectonic plates, winding its way across the highlands, shooting up high into the sky, or falling down to the depths below, water is the main feature here.
Snorkel or SCUBA Dive in the Silfra Fissure
Seriously?! Snorkel or SCUBA dive between two tectonic plates? Talk about a bucket list item you never knew you had but now must check off immediately! The Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park is the only place in the world where you can touch both North America and Europe at the same time. It promises to be an awesome (yet chilly) memory that you will never forget.
Raft the Rapids of Hvítá River
Another extreme adventure includes paddling your way down the Class I and Class II rapids of the popular Hvítá river, which leads you straight to the great Gullfoss waterfall. Watching the incredible Iceland scenery pass slowly by as you work your way through the beautifully carved canyons in the area is a major perk of any rafting tour.
Take a Nature Bath
Everyone knows about the otherworldly Blue Lagoon, but there is plenty of other geothermal hot spring action located around the island. Take a few minutes to research Lake Myvatn, Seljavallalaug, Laugarvatn Fontana, and Viti (which is inside a volcano caldera . . . wait, what?!) to find the special soak experience your body craves.
Behold the Best Beaches
Being surrounded by the sea, Iceland has no shortage of beaches. Which are the best and worth your limited vacation time?
Reynisfjara Beach with its black sand and basalt columns makes it easy for you to fall in love with this bit of coastline. Further along but immediately recognizable from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Batman Begins, Jokulsarlon Beach (Diamond Beach) have black sand littered with dazzling, glowing icebergs. Trust us, you’ll be wowed.
Load Up on Waterfalls and Geysers
Watching wide-eyed at the water that falls down into the earth and water that shoots up out of it is a constant in this country. Hiking to one (or many) of the waterfalls and geysers of Iceland is always a delight.
Some of the best waterfalls include Seljalandsfoss (take a quick hike behind it), Skogafoss (it has an almost-constant rainbow), Svartifoss (with its surrounding black basalt columns), and Godafoss (a grand spectacle for even for the Gods). As far as geysers go, The Great Geysir and Strokkur are definitely top choices.
What to pack for a trip to Iceland’s water activities:
- 1-2 swimsuits and a towel
- Hair tie and “clarifying” shampoo
- Sunscreen and sunglasses (the sun’s reflection here can be intense)
- Waterproof Parka
- Slip-resistant shoes
- Waterproof camera and a dry case for your phone
Volcanoes, Inside and Out
In addition to water, Iceland’s got fire. There are 130 active and inactive volcanoes in total across the island, and you’ll find yourself being drawn to their depths and admiring the signs of their fury.
Heat Up Your Lunch
Eyjafjallajӧkull last erupted in 2010 but if you hike to the top and dig down a bit, the ground is still warm enough to heat your lunch! Or, you can just take a “super jeep” tour around the rim of this mighty volcano.
View a Volcanic Valley
Another idea is to hike through Thorsmork Valley where you’ll enjoy incredible views of the rocky craters and cooling lava fields of Fimmvorduhals.
Make Your Way Inside a Phenomenal Magma Chamber
If you want to adventure deeper, go inside Thríhnúkagígur’s magma chamber (considered one of the “most remarkable natural phenomenon on Earth”) and explore its colossal lava tubes.
What to pack for a trip to Iceland’s volcanoes:
- Good hiking boots
- Warm clothing
- Small waist pack
- Small first-aid kit
- Water bottle
More Things to Do in Iceland: Just Add Ice
Even though Greenland has more ice overall, Iceland still has its own fair share. In fact, 11% of the country is covered with a permanent ice cap. For you travelers, that means glaciers galore!
Glimpse Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
One glimpse of this desolate blue wonderland and you’ll never want to leave. The crystal clear water is part of the deepest lake in Iceland, which is getting deeper every year thanks to the warming planet. You can even get up close and personal with the floating glaciers (and taste the 1,000-year-old ice) on an amphibian boat tour.
Go Glacier Hiking
Yet another must-do activity, hiking the Arctic ice caps with its frozen rivers, ice cliffs, and deep crevices will make you feel alive. Definitely, don’t do this adventure on your own. Hire a glacier mountain guide instead. If hiking isn’t your thing, try taking a spin on a snowmobile instead!
What to pack for a trip to Iceland’s glaciers:
- Wool hiking socks with above-ankle boots
- Long underwear and thin, quick-drying and flexible pants
- Waterproof shell
- High-energy snacks
- Crampons and ice ax (included in tours)
Very Special Animal Viewings
If you’re a lover of all things fauna, Iceland’s local animal residents have you covered.
Set Sail for Humpback, Orca, and Minke Whale Watching
Step foot on a traditional oak fishing boat and sail into humpback and minke whale territory where you can behold these magnificent creatures. You may spot harbor porpoises and white-beaked dolphins as well. While whale-watching tours leave from a variety of ports around the island, a Faxaflói Bay cruise out of Reykjavík is the most economical and convenient. However, if you’ve come this far, you may as well head northeast to Húsavík, one of the best places in Europe to scout out the whales.
Go on a Puffin Excursion
These gorgeous and hilarious-to-behold birds are on the island from May to August. Vestmannaeyjar, a cluster of 15 islands just south of Iceland, just happens to be the largest puffin colony in the world! The “Clown of the Sea” colonies can be visited via a boat tour. Or, if you’d rather stay on solid ground, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is where you want to head.
Ride Wild Icelandic Horses
These thick-coated local beauties have been kept in complete isolation from outside breeds since 982 AD. Iceland horses are notably curious, intelligent, and independent. You will probably luck out and drive by them on The Ring Road. Or, book a horse riding tour . . . a joy with their unique smooth-as-silk tölt (trot).
What to pack for a trip to Iceland’s animal sightings:
- Wool base layer and fleece (whale-watching tours provide thermal coveralls)
- Hat and gloves
- Dramamine or Sea Bands
- Plants and Animals of Iceland guide
Cool Culture and Unique Cuisine
When you’ve had enough Iceland landscape, head back to the city for some fun things to do in Iceland when it comes to culture and amazing cuisine.
Worship at Hallgrímskirkja Church
One of the most recognizable churches in the world, Hallgrímskirkja is a working neighborhood parish, a national sanctuary, and also a tourist pilgrim site. Parish members welcome visitors to worship with them, attend an organ concert, and take in the lovely view from the observation tower.
Savor Shark at the Bjarnarhӧfn Shark Museum
Go to the Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum and Farmstead, a leading producer of traditional hárkarl (fermented shark meat). You can watch a video, wander the sometimes smelly exhibits, and try to swallow a bite of the delicacy. If you’re still hungry after your snack, you may find an Iceland Hot Dog a bit more appetizing.
Attend a Geothermal Bread Bake Off
Thunder bread is a traditional take on bread which has been baked for 24 hours underground in a thermal spring. This steamed dark rye bread is sweetened with a bit of molasses to give each dense morsel a slight caramel flavor. At Laugarvatn Fontana, you can learn how to bake it yourself!
Visit the Museum of Vikings and Then Drink Like One
Viking World is a stunning piece of architecture and houses an exact replica Viking ship that was excavated from an ancient burial mound in 1882. After you peruse each of the museum’s fascinating exhibits, head to the local drinking hole and request a taste of the best Icelandic Ale.
What to pack for a trip to Iceland when experiencing their culture and cuisine:
- Fashionable boots (Ladies, leave the heels home!)
- Heavy-duty lip balm, face moisturizer, and hand cream
- Slim profile wallet with plenty of small bills
- Reusable water bottle (water here is pure and tastes wonderful)
- Travel adapters
- Sleep mask if you’re here in the summer
Chasing the Northern Lights
Finally, the pièce de résistance (well, one of them anyway) is a wide open view of the Northern Lights. Unpredictable, sometimes elusive, but well worth the effort, Iceland has an unbeatable front-row seat to the aurora borealis. Go on a guided tour for the greatest chance of seeing the glowing green dancing lights.
What to pack for a trip to Iceland’s Northern Lights:
- Chullo or trapper’s hat and balaclava
- Boots rated for at least -30 degrees Fahrenheit
- Gloves with separated fingers for taking pictures
- Moisture-wicking shirt topped with a Gore-Tex parka
Road Trip Routes
If you’re all about hitting the road and exploring on your own, you’ll find yourself in awe at every turn. Tiny towns and windswept cliffs abound, make every pit stop a full on a photo opportunity. If you’re on a stopover to or from Europe, two days is enough to drive around and see a few highlights. Or, if you want the ultimate experience and are shooting to do all these things to do in Iceland, stay and play for up to three weeks.
See the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Sometimes called “Iceland in Miniature,” this quick trip takes you two hours north from Reykjavik to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. In only two days, you will see to the Settlement Center (exhibits for history lovers), the Gerduberg Basalt Columns, Ytri Tunga beach (seal watching), a few sweet fishing villages, and plenty of volcanoes.
Journey Around The Golden Circle
Some of the country’s most beloved and renowned sites are located on what is lovingly called The Golden Circle. You’ll first reach Thingvellir National Park for swimming between the North American and European tectonic plates. Then you’ll come across geysers and waterfalls on your way down south. Next you’ll see volcanoes, more waterfalls, and the Sólheimajökull glacier. Stunning beaches (including Diamond Beach) and beach villages dot the coast on the way to the Skaftafell Nature Reserve and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. Finally, you’ll reach the Highlands, full of mountains, rivers, and hot springs.
Lose Yourself on The Ring Road
Are you ready for the ultimate Iceland road trip? Getting lost on Iceland’s Ring Road (which is actually nearly impossible to get lost on) is what you need. You’ll see everything included around the Golden Circle route but then you’ll venture further on the road less traveled through thoroughly majestic landscapes. An 800-mile loop without detours, plan about 30 hours of driving (1-2 weeks) to account for major sites and scenic detours.
What to pack for an Iceland road trip:
- Passport and driver’s license (can’t rent a car without them)
- Printed maps from the Iceland Tourist Board
- Car-ready electronic chargers and cables
- Camera and equipment
So . . . why visit Iceland? Can we even count the reasons? With these incredible things to do in Iceland and all the raw, natural beauty this island has to offer, you will find that your eyes will widen and your breath will really, truly be taken away at every bend in the road.
As far as weather goes, Iceland experiences both mild and freezing temperatures (33° F to 54° F). It also features both warm gulf stream breezes and frigid north arctic winds throughout the year, sometimes changing every few minutes! Additionally, the landscape is quite rugged. You’ll be leaping over boulders, walking on top of lava fields, sitting in the spray of waterfalls, stepping through black sand, and soaking in the steam of geothermal baths.
It can be a little tricky to know what to bring to Iceland in order to keep yourself comfortable. However, knowing what to bring to Iceland and packing it well will go a long way in helping you have the best time possible. Follow our Nomatic advice for what to pack for a trip to Iceland and keep it all organized and convenient so you can enjoy every moment of your grand getaway.
Now, all you have to do is buy a Nomatic travel bag today and then you can get on your way!