Iceland attractions encourage thousands of tourists every year to visit this volcanic island. They all want to see spectacular landscapes the country has to offer.
If you plan your first Iceland holidays, use the below travel plan. You will fall in love with Icelandic nature and – just like me, you’ll dream to go back there as soon as possible 🙂
Iceland – attractions for the first trip
Table of Contents
- Iceland – attractions for the first trip
- Day by day plan in a shortcut
- Golden Circle, Iceland
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
- Eyjafjallajökull glacier and volcano
- Skogafoss waterfall
- Dyrholaey promontory
- Reynisfjara Beach
- Trekking on Skaftafellsjökull glacier and seeing ice cave
- Glacier bays Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón
- Diamond Beach
- Things to do in Iceland in winter: Northern Lights
- Iceland attractions – other
- Where to stay in Iceland?
Day by day plan in a shortcut
Day 1: Golden Circle
Accommodation: Thor Guesthouse, Reykiavik
Day 2: Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Eyjafjallajökull volcano and glacier, Skogafoss waterfall, Dyrholaey (puffins in the season), black beach Reynisfjara
Accommodation: The Holiday Houses, Kirkjubaejarklaustur
Day 3: Trekking on Skaftafellsjökull glacier (with an ice cave in the season)
Accommodation: Laekjarhus Farm Holidays
Day 4: Diamond Beach, glacier bays Jökulsárlón, Fjallsárlón, hot tubs in Hofn
Accommodation: Laekjarhus Farm Holidays
Day 5: way back to Reykiavik – thermal river or plane wreck on the way. Tasting local dishes in Loki Cafe.
To travel around Iceland you either will need to book organized tours or rent a car. You can book your rental car here:
Golden Circle, Iceland
When you search for the things to do in Iceland, many of them will be waterfalls. The most famous is Gullfoss, which can be translated to the Golden Waterfall.
It consists of two impressive cascades and every second, 400 cubic meters of water (!) flow through it. For that reason, there was a plan to build a hydro power plant there. Icelanders did not agree though, they wanted to save the beauty of this place.
And they were right – Gullfoss is one of the most beautiful waterfalls you will see and walking there is one of the best things to do in Iceland.
Geysir is the most famous Icelandic geyser. The geothermal area around it is included in the Golden Circle. “Geysa” in Icelandic means “to gush, to explode”. This is where the name comes from – as well as the word for such springs in many languages of the world.
If you think what to do in Iceland, seeing the exploding geyser Strokkur will be one of your highlights. Strokkur explodes regularly every few minutes which makes it a favorite for tourists 🙂 I walked around the area for 20 minutes and Strokkur exploded at least 4 times in the meantime.
The name Þingvellir comes from two Icelandic words. Þing – parliament and vellir – field. The first meeting of the Icelandic parliament, Althing took place here. It happened in 930 which makes Althing one of the oldest parliaments in the world. But it is not the only reason why this place is attractive.
Things to see in Iceland in Thingvellir National Park include the meeting point of two tectonic plates – Eurasian and North American. You can notice it in numerous cracks – the largest one is Almannagja canyon. Interestingly, the plates drift away from each other around 2 centimeters every year.
Planning your list of top things to do in Iceland make sure to include this unique place.
Volcanic lake Kerið (Kerid)
While doing the Golden Circle, you can also stop near Kerið lake, located in the crater of extinct volcano. The lake is beautiful but above all, if you walk around it you can admire the nature and landscapes – and this is a must do in Iceland.
60 meters high waterfall famous for the fact that you can enter the cave behind it. In winter everything is covered with ice and visiting the cave isn’t possible – but regardless, the fall is stunning! In the summer, you can reach the cave.
If you visit Seljalandsfoss, it is worth walking a few hundred meters to the next one, Gljufrafoss hidden between the rocks. Many guides to Iceland skip this place but I think they are wrong! Again, in winter access to it is difficult (even though there were some brave Chinese tourists 😉 ), in the summer it should be easy to get in the cave and see it.
Eyjafjallajökull glacier and volcano
Eyjafjallajökull volcano became famous after it exploded in 2010 and paralyzed the aviation in the whole Europe. Now, it is one of Iceland tourist attractions.
You can see it from road number 1, there is a parking place with a great view. You can’t see the volcano crater. It is covered with Eyjafjallajökull glacier.
The best places to visit in Iceland include another 60-meters high waterfall. Skogafoss is even more impressive than the previous one because it is 15 meters wide. Due to the amount of water, you can often see a single or double rainbow near the waterfall – and the rainbow is also among Iceland attractions.
You can see Skogafoss both from the bottom and the top. You can take steep stairs to the top. Mind the wind though – the gusts are particularly strong on top and Iceland sightseeing without a good wind-stopping jacket can be painful!
It used to be the southernmost point of Iceland, however after the eruption of Katla volcano in 1918 it lost this title to Kötlutanga – a point created after the eruption. Despite that, impressive, 120 meters cliffs are stunning and you should include this spot while researching what to see in Iceland. You can also see black beach Reynisfjara from there.
It is also one of the best places to watch sea birds – puffins included. Plan your Iceland sightseeing in the right time of the year if you want to see them. Dyrholaey is closed for breeding period (from 1st May till 25th June) and the best time to birdwatch is July.
Places to see in Iceland mostly include volcanic landscapes. Reynisfjara beach with its black sand is no exception. Surreal, beautiful place especially when it contrasts with while snow in winter. Except for the beach itself, you can also admire other Iceland attractions from there – interesting rock formations and big pillars growing from water.
Trekking on Skaftafellsjökull glacier and seeing ice cave
Iceland top attractions include glaciers which cover around 10% of the whole country. Due to the climate changes, the glaciers melt and shrink by 40 square kilometers every year. The biggest glacier in Iceland is Vatnajökull – one of the biggest in Europe.
We booked a trekking on one of Vatnajökull’s ice tongues called Skaftafellsjökull. In the summer, you can do a trekking around the glacier on your own – check trails description here.
In winter, many longer and more interesting trails are closed, unavailable or dangerous. That’s why we chose a glacier trekking with an ice cave with a guide. The tour was expensive, 13990 ISK per person, which is over 100 EUR. Was it worth it?
YES. Without a doubt, trekking on a glacier is Iceland’s top attraction and I would say it was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life. While walking on the blue ice, surrounded by mountains I was seriously thinking if I’ll ever see anything more beautiful than that.
The ice cave wasn’t as stunning as the hike itself. The ice was dusty, the cave was small. If you consider buying such trip, make sure it includes trekking, not a cave only. In the summer, caves aren’t available but a glacier hike is still an option I HIGHLY recommend. You can choose a three hour or five hour option
Glacier bays Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón
Visiting Jökulsárlón glacier bay is one of top 10 things to do in Iceland. In the bay, you will see numerous ice blocks. They are results of ice calving – breaking of ice chunks from the edge of the glacier. The bay is getting bigger as Vatnajökull glacier is melting.
Except for the most famous Jökulsárlón bay, it is worth visiting another one – Fjallsárlón. It is equally beautiful but less popular and less crowded.
Places to go in Iceland include Diamond Beach located next to Jökulsárlón Bay. The name comes from huge blocks of ice lying on black sand. The contract between the sand and blue-transparent ice gives an impression that an ocean washed some diamonds ashore.
Things to do in Iceland in winter: Northern Lights
I wrote a separate article about seeing northern lights in Iceland, you can check it here:
You will learn where to visit in Iceland to see the aurora, how is it created, when can you see it and how to photograph it. You can also take an organized tour for hunting the northern lights from Reykiavik:
Iceland attractions – other
Hot springs – natural and not only
During our trip we haven’t visited any natural hot spring, even though we planned it. It is one of the fun things to do in Iceland after all! The weather didn’t let us reach the thermal river – which I recommend you to check out here because it looks amazing!
We visited thermal pools in Höfn – Sundlaug Hornafjarðar (mostly because of awful weather that day). Visiting a non-touristic Icelandic pool was an interesting experience. First of all, before you can visit the pools, you need to take a shower naked. On the walls you will see detailed instructions where exactly you need to wash yourself 😉
Icelanders have a very relaxed approach to showing their body. Even though a shower in one big room with strangers may seem weird for me, it is perfectly normal for them and it is best to adjust.
The place with pools was small – two small pools for sitting and enjoying warm water (35-40 degrees Celsius), one pool for swimming (23-24 degrees Celsius), one pool for kids. And a small pool with cold water (2 degrees Celsius) for the brave 🙂 All of that is outside so I recommend it to you especially on the days when it is windy and snow falls horizontally. Switching pools is great then 😉
We paid 950 ISK (around 7 EUR). To compare, Blue Lagoon complex costs at least 6990 ISK outside of the season and over 10000 ISK (75 EUR) in the high season. And even though the pool in Höfn is nothing compared to the luxury of the Blue Lagoon – you get a taste of Icelandic every day life instead. For them, seeing friends and spending time in hot tubs is like going out for a beer for other nations.
DC3 plane wreck
Another famous Iceland tourist spot is US Navy plane wreck which ran out of fuel and crashed on the black sand of Solheimasandur.
We didn’t go to the famous plane wreck for two reasons.
One, I’ve read that it may be dangerous to walk to the plane in winter. The weather changes rapidly and it is easy to lose orientation in the fog or a snowstorm. And two – I’ve heard from other travelers that it is not worth the effort.
You need to walk 4 kilometers through an uninteresting terrain (for Iceland 😉 ) and when you reach it, all you see is “a piece of photogenic steel”. You’ll be better off using that time to see more interesting places on the island. Do you want to see the plane wreck – you need to decide by yourself. Check this article which may help you make up your mind.
Fauna of Iceland
Some of the best things to see in Iceland are the animals living there. The most popular birds are puffins. These interesting animals spend the majority of their lives out at sea far from land. They come to Iceland only to breed from May till August. You will need to choose – a chance of seeing puffins or a chance for Northern Lights… 🙂
We didn’t have a chance to see puffins but if you’re there in the summer – keep your eyes open! From the places mentioned above, you can see them the easiest on Dyrhólaey. For more tips, check this article.
Among top ten things to do in Iceland is also caressing the Icelandic horses. Remember – even though they are small, they are not ponies! They are extremely friendly animals ready to live in harsh, Icelandic conditions. You will see many of them while visiting stunning Iceland destinations.
You can also see wild reindeers in Iceland. We met a lot of them and what is more, they were running dangerously close to the road. They were transported here from Norway. Icelanders wanted to keep them as farm animals but they turned out to be too difficult to maintain. Farmers let them go and today they are fully wild.
Iceland has a lot more to offer. The list of above Iceland attractions is what you should see during your first, few days trip to Iceland. If you plan to go there for a longer time (over a week), consider also the island’s interior and trekking colorful mountains Landmannalaugar. You can also visit western fiords and wilder, less crowded north of the island.
Where to stay in Iceland?
Durnig our trip around Iceland attractions we stayed in awesome places which I can’t wait to recommend! I would even say that The Holiday Houses were the best accommodation I’ve ever found in my travel career 🙂
Thor Guesthouse, Reykiavik – recommended by fellow Polish bloggers who worked and still work there 🙂 A great guesthouse in the very center of Reykiavik with such a stunning view from the balcony! Just see below…
The Holiday Houses, Kirkjubaejarklaustur – the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed at. A few little houses in the middle of nowhere, in a perfect location for the first night after starting your trip in southern Iceland from Reykiavik – behind Reynisfjara beach and Vik town. The houses offer stunning views at the sunset, stars – and in winter, the northern lights. I can’t tell enough, how beautiful it was 🙂
Laekjarhus Farm Holidays – great accommodation close to Jokulsarlon glacier bay. Except for comfortable room, you can also see and spend time with Icelandic horses and other farm animals. When I was walking around and taking pictures of the horses, the owner showed me around the property and the barn with cows and sheep 🙂 Beautiful place and friendly people. You can also arrange a horse ride there.
I hope you are ready to see all the best Iceland attractions for your first visit in this stunning country 🙂 If you’re planning a trip in winter, make sure to check this post out:
Except for this, I encourage you to read articles about other destinations, not only northern ones 🙂