Last updated on November 14th, 2022 at 08:19 pm
To me, the mere mention of Iceland has always evoked images of the raw and powerful beauty of nature. Yet, my imagination was not as breathtaking as what we witnessed. Although the island is quite small, there are so many best and competing things to see and do in Iceland. Subsequently, we were able to distill our favorites to these 15 best things to see and do in Iceland.
15. Hiking Skaftafell Nature Reserve
The Skaftafell Nature Reserve is easily found in the south east of Iceland, just 319 km east of Reykjavik. Because of it’s size and beauty, there is so much to see and do here! Our favorites were the hikes to the Svartifoss Waterfall and then to the small village called Sel. Because of these amazing options, we spent 3 hours hiking around these sights. Although one can spend days treking this area, reaching ice caves and walking on glaciers.
In summary, the variety of best things to see and do in this nature preserve make this our 15 not to be missed place in Iceland.
14. Kolugljúfur Canyon
Kolugljufur Canyon is located just south of the Ring Road in the north west of the island. Overall, it is a very colorful 1 km long gorge that has 8 different waterfalls. The trail can be easily hiked in 30 – 45 minutes. Due to the vibrant colors of this area and its many waterfalls, it made our 14th best things to see and do in Iceland.
13. Blue Lagoon
For many people, the Blue Lagoon is synonymous with Iceland. The geothermal spa (which is located in the middle of a lava field) is very close to the main airport. Consequently, it is a great way to start or end an adventure here, making it our 13 best thing to see and do in Iceland.
12. Trollaskagi Peninsula
The peninsula of the troll is located in the north west and has the second highest mountains in Iceland (after the Highlands). First of all we fell in love with the roaming Icelandic horses. Secondly, the bright Lighthouse on the northern tip was a gorgeous landscape. Thirdly, the open beautiful roads reaching up to the glaciers provided stunning vistas for hours on end. Lastly, the fishing town of Siglufjordur was one of our favorite places on the island (more on this later). In conclusion, this was easily one of our 10th best things to see and do in Iceland.
11. Northern Lights
I never get tired of seeing the Northern Lights. They are ethereal and always unique. We have been lucky to see them in other parts of the world with latitudes between 60 and 75 degrees. Yet in Iceland they seemed to be somehow extra special. On our last night, we were rewarded with the most majestic green dancing and morphing lights.
10. Skogafoss Hike
Skogafoss is a pretty waterfall and can be found right off the Ring Road in the south of the island. However, we recommend to continue hiking up above these falls. There is an 8 km trail which passes through lush canyons and along 25 more waterfalls! In conclusion, the vistas are truly stunning and worth the trek.
9. Bruarfoss River Hike
Bruarfoss falls is a horseshoe waterfall at the end of a 3.5 km river hike. Although the falls may be quite small their ultra blue color and the trek to get there is what makes this hike extra special. Be prepared for a 2-3 hour (7 km) round trip walk. In addition, in the summer one can swim in the eddies of the refreshing river.
8. Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss is the most iconic waterfall of Iceland. It’s sheer size and power create endless rainbows above it. It is located along the Golden Circle route and is an easy stop along the way. In addition, there is a large gift shop at the entrance (which has unusual and interesting items – so worth a browse).
7. Hengifoss Hike
The Hengifoss Waterfall is a very steep yet rewarding hike. Located 2 km from the parking lot, the gravel trail starts climbing very quickly. There are 2 sides of the canyon that you can walk. We chose to go up on the southern side and return on the northern one. Additional falls are located along the way. Furthermore, the canyon is picturesque and colorful easily making it into one of the best things to see and do in Iceland.
6. Forest Lagoon
Iceland is known for it’s many geothermal baths. The Blue Lagoon is the most popular of them all. However our favorite was the Forest Lagoon. Why? First, this location was just recently opened. Second, it is a much cheaper option. Thirdly, the wooded surroundings give it an intimate setting. In addition, the pools overlook the city of Akureyri and it’s inlet. There is also a cold plunge pool here, which is not offered at the Blue Lagoon.
5. Selfoss Hike
Getting to the Selfoss Waterfall is an investment in time. However it is well worth it. In order to get here, you will need to take a gravel road number 864 from the Ring Road in the direction of Dettifoss. Don’t worry it is not an F road. So a regular 2 wheel drive car will make it. When we drove it, the road was quite rough so we questioned our sanity a few times along the way. There is a perfectly good sealed road (862) just west of this one, however it will not give you the full view of the magical Selfoss.
After about an hour of driving and cursing you will arrive at the gravel parking lot of Dettifoss. These are nice falls, but the real beauty is about a 1.4 km walk south. Why? Because, here you will be standing on the majestic horseshoe falls of Selfoss with its raging power below your feet. The folks on the other side of the falls (the ones who took the sealed easy road) are not rewarded with this view. For Jonea, this was her #1 best thing to see and do in Iceland!
The fishing village of Siglufjordur is incredibly charming and colorful. It is a place that we strolled, grabbed an amazing lunch and went for coffee. In addition, there is a lovely hike in the hills above, which takes you on a 3 km loop through the village and hills. The town is located on the north eastern side of the Trollaskagi Peninsula. Therefore, this underscores that this area is one of the best and must see and do places in Iceland.
3. Diamond BeacH
Diamond beach is one of the most dramatic places we have been to! The volcanic sand underscores the brilliance of the iceberg pieces floating in the waves. In addition, other fragments dazzle and sparkle on the beach. Furthermore, each chunk of ice has it’s own unique shape. I swear I saw swans and giant rings littered on this coast. Their intensity and radiance are mesmerizing.
PRO TIP: Make sure to look up beyond the “diamonds” to see if you can spot some seals and orca whales that frequent these waters.
2. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
The Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is across the street (Ring Road) from Diamond Beach. We stood for hours in the rain looking at the changing landscape. It never looked the same twice. Glaciers kept moving and morphing as seals played in the turquoise waters. Hence, this place truly blew our minds and was easily the second of the 15 best things to see and do in Iceland. Boat tours are also available.
1. Glymur Falls
Iceland is a country of waterfalls. Yet, getting to the Glymur Falls was the most fun and rewarding hike of our visit. Be aware that the trek has some challenging parts. Firstly, there is at least one river crossing (2 if you want to return on the other side). Secondly, you will be pulling yourself up with ropes during some of the very steep sections of the trail. Thirdly, this is a steep and technical trail. However, at the top, you are rewarded with stunning views of the falls as well as the valley. In summary, the return trip is 7,5 hours and takes anywhere from 3-5 hours to complete.
PRO TIP: Bring some water shoes to cross the river at the top of the hike. Because this will allow you to return a different and less technical way, taking in additional and varied vistas.
It was not an easy task to choose 15 of the best things to see and do in Iceland. Why? Because, this country is a treasure trove of gems. In some ways Iceland reminds us of parts of British Columbia. Do you see a resemblance?
Have you visited this magical island? What was your favorite and best thing to see and do? Because we would love to add it to this list.
In addition, a big thank you to Jonea Mounsey, a dear friend who joined us for this Icelandic adventure!