Iceland, a land where fire and ice co-exist, home to the best free education, the best life expectancy and the world’s biggest hot tub. An under-populated island marooned near the top of the globe that offers awe-inspiring landscapes, creative locals and breathtaking natural phenomenons. It is hard to imagine living though a lifetime without experiencing this magical place and from geothermal hot pools to soak in, to powerful waterfalls to a rainbow of colorful mountains, one must simply travel here to believe it. There is an abundance of epic experiences in Iceland to have, and here are just 10 things we think you should see and do, whether it’s your first trip or your 50th.
10. Experience the Northern Lights
Getting to see the Northern Lights is one of the biggest draws for travelers coming to Iceland and certainly one of the most unforgettable experiences a person can have in their lifetime. The best time to view the Northern Lights in Iceland is from September-April as those are the months with full dark nights. Unfortunately, weather can play a huge role in whether or not you can see the lights and its actually recommended you stay for at least 7 nights in Iceland to have the best shot in seeing them. Make sure to get out of the city and into the countryside for the best viewing, where there is no light pollution. There are many country cottages and hotels to book where you can see the lights from your front porch, or join a guided tour whether by land or even by boat. Remember to bundle up, bring your camera and prepare for an unbelievable light show.
9. Go Cold Water Snorkeling
It is one of the most extreme things you can do in Iceland, snorkeling or diving Silfra, also known as The Rift. It is home to astonishingly clear waters, fed by glaciers with an average temperature of 2 degrees C. Silfra is the rift between the American and Eurasia tectonic plates, meaning you can literally snorkel right between America and Europe. What you won’t find here are any fish, they tend to stay put in Thingvellir Lake, instead you will be treated to a dazzling display of color. Different types of algae provide a color-scope unlike anything you have seen before, ranging from all shades of blues to purples to oranges and yellow. Outfitted in thermal clothes plus a dry suit, snorkelers will not feel the icy water nor will you have to swim, as the dry suit’s buoyancy keeps you afloat. Discover the world’s clearest waters in Iceland.
8. Go Whale Watching in Husavik
Whale watching is extremely popular in Iceland and there is no better place to experience this adventure than in Husavik. It is internationally recognized as one of the best locations in the world to see whales, and there is a higher chance of seeing whales here than any other place in Iceland. Although there are 23 species of whales that have been recorded in these waters, the most typical visitors are Humpbacks, Minke and Blue. Visitors are privy to the playful nature of the Humpbacks as they jump out of the water and slap their fins against the water. There are four companies to choose from when it comes to whale watching in this area and all of them offer something different. Choose from a wooden boat, speed boats or singing tours. Bundle up, remember your camera and take to the sea on an incredible adventure.
7. Take a Dip in Askja
It wouldn’t be a complete trip to Iceland without experiencing Askja Caldera where you can take a dip in the volcanic crater, but getting there is far from easy. The uninhabited interior of Iceland is only accessible for a few short weeks during the summer and making your way to this crater involves a long drive over some serious bumpy roadways. Viti is actually the name of the warm geothermal lake that is formed at the bottom of one of Askja’s craters, and it is here where you can swim in the stunning blue waters. Make sure to pack your hiking boots as it’s a trek to Viti through the Askja caldera, across black sand dunes. The water is warm, somewhat bubbly and slimy all at the same time, and certainly one of the most unforgettable experiences you will have.
6. Join a Runtur
The residents of Reykjavik like to party, every weekend, until the sun comes up and when in Iceland visitors should make it a point to join them at least once. Essentially the runtur is the weekend pub crawl when parties make their way around town and drink at multiple bars and clubs, but be prepared, the Icelanders know how to drink. In summer they drink to celebrate the long sunny days, in winter they drink to make it through the cold dark days. Warning: it’s not cheap to drink in Iceland so we suggest stocking up at the duty free store in the airport, you’ll thank us later. The runtur is a dressy affair so dress to impress and don’t dare step foot into the bars until after 9pm. Most activity takes place around Laugaveguy Street where quiet restaurants have been transformed into clubs and bars. 5am is when the bars start to empty and its now when you can indulge in one of the much loved street hot dogs and join in with your new friends in the main square until the sun comes up.
5. Explore Snæfellsjökull National Park
It is known as the jewel of West Iceland and it is one of the most visited parks in Iceland, home to Snaefellsjokull Volcano, the most famous volcano in Iceland. Visitors to the park will want to explore by driving or hiking, depending how much time you can spend here. Other options include joining a tour that will take you to the top of the glacier, a place said to be one of the seven great energy centers of the earth. We recommend staying at Hotel Budir, located on the edge of the peninsula overlooking the sea, mountains and waterfalls. Walk along the coast, stop at one of the many cafes, take in the spectacular colors and understand why this place is simply magical.
4. Explore Landmannalaugar
This remote encampment is a popular destination in the summer when it is accessible due to its incredible hiking opportunities and the steaming hot springs. It also happens to be the starting point of Laugavegurinn, a 2-4 day hike that is thought to be one of the best hikes in the world. Huts and campsites are on-route but require advance reservations. The hot spring here runs right past the campsite and bathing in the geothermal pool is a favorite activity. If you aren’t wanting to camp or spend a few days hiking, join a tour which will bring you here for the day where you can still enjoy the rainbow-colored mountains and hot springs.
3. Visit Gullfoss Waterfall
It translates to Golden Waterfall and it is certainly the busiest and most famous of all the waterfalls here in Iceland. The waterfall is actually two separate waterfalls, the upper one has a drop of 11 meters while the lower one has a drop of 21 meters. On a sunny day there are tons of shimmering rainbows that hang over the water and the water can actually turn golden. You can hear the falls before you can see them as the wild water tumbles into the dramatic deep crevice. Visitors can stand at the top or walk down the path to the bottom. This natural wonder was almost lost when there were talks of harnessing the power of the river but luckily local land owner Sigridur Tomasdottir stopped those thoughts and is credited with actually saving the falls.
2. Explore Reykjavik
The world’s northernmost capital deserves to be explored, whether you only spend one night here or a whole week. Start off by going on a free walking tour that is accessible for everyone and takes about two hours, leading you around the center of Reykjavik. The best view of the city comes from the top of Hallgrimskirkja on Skolavorduhaed hill which can be reached by taking the elevator. If you happen to be in the city on a weekend, check out the flea market where you can buy yourself a hand knitted wool sweater, dine on local delicacies and mingle with the locals. End your night off at one of the local pubs, always teeming with hospitality and awesome live music.
1. Swim in the Blue Lagoon
It is hailed as one of the 25 wonders of the world and a trip to Iceland wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Blue Lagoon. Open every day of the year, reservations are required in advance to experience these geothermal waters. The warm waters are rich in minerals and bathing in them is reported to help people suffering from skin diseases. The lagoon is actually man-made, fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal plant and bathers are required to shower before getting in. Along with soaking in these healing waters, there are a variety of spa treatments available to guests including in-water massages, steam rooms, waterfalls and mud masks to try. Stunningly blue in color, healing in nature, you’ll never feel better after leaving this lagoon.