Over the last few years, Iceland has slowly been gaining popularity as one of the hottest tourist destinations. Between its lush natural landscape, insanely scenic roads, and of course, the promise to see the Northern Lights, it is no wonder that people flock here year after year. Those that do go come back with nothing but praises for the pristine ruggedness of this beautiful country. As most people land in Reykjavik, the South of Iceland is an ideal place to start your trip. However, with so many things to see and do around, it’s hard to stay put in one place. So if you’re like me whose endlessly dreaming about Iceland, here is a complete bucket list of epic things to do and see to make sure you don’t miss out on anything.
Drive the Golden Circle
It only seems apt to start off this bucket list by naming THE most popular thing to do in Iceland. The Golden Circle is a popular driving route taking you through Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and the famous Gullfoss waterfall. You can generally drive around the area for 3-4 hours but if you want to make the most our of your day, you can extend this for as long as 8-10 hours. There are plenty of Iceland Road Trip Itineraries which you can use to help you plan your trip. While there are many tours offering trips here, our advice is to rent a car and do it yourself, that way, you can take all the time to explore and make the most out of the area. While there are many variations of this trip, take the time to research what you want to see and do to help you plan an optimal route! Along the Golden Circle route, you can also stop to do the following:
- Drive from Nesjavalllaleið back to Reykjavík (only if you do it in reversed order)
- Hellisheidavirkjun geothermal power plant
- Visit the crater Kerið
- Stokkur Geiser
- Laugarvatn Geothermal Area
- Thingvellir National Park and Öxarárfoss waterfall
- Faxi Waterfalls
Dive (or Snorkle) in Silfra Fissure
Apart from seeing the Northern Lights, diving through the Silfra Fissure is one of the things that I personally am dying to do! With a visibility of over 100m, the water here is the clearest in the world due to constant filtering by lava rocks. It is so clear and clean, you can actually drink the water there. However, what makes this place really cool is it’s the only place in the world where you can swim through two tectonic plates, the North American and Eurasian continental plates. Swim between two continents…how’s that for a bucket list!
The Blue Lagoon
Naturally, no trip to Iceland without stopping by in the famous Blue Lagoon. Although now becoming more and more touristy, this geothermal spa located in the lava field in Grindavík is one of Iceland’s most visited tourist destinations. While advance booking is needed, when you’re there, take it for what it is and soak up the ethereal like atmosphere of the place. If touristy isn’t your thing, here are a few alternatives that you can visit located in the South:
- Reykjadalur Hot Stream
- Landmannalaugar Hot Stream
- Pools by Laugarsdalslaug
Naturally, our bucket list has to have something adventurous and what better way to get your adrenaline fix than by doing something extreme. In Iceland, you can go glacier snowmobiling, white water rafting, ride on a jet boat, or even tour on an ATV. Just think how amazing it would be to be exploring the vast wildnerness using snowmobiles and ATVs! When we do make it to Iceland, you will know where to find us!
Go on a Northern Lights Tour
While there are definitely places which you can drive to so you can see the Northern Lights yourself, I suggest to make the most out of your time there by booking a tour instead. Through a tour, they will know exactly where to take you to witness this beautiful site and will know alternative spots when the weather isn’t cooperating. Available from August to late April, this natural phenomenon is truly a site to see. Generally speaking, here are a few of the best spots where you can see the Northern Lights:
Visit the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Located in Western Iceland, even locals refer to this place as being magical as it is full of many incredible natural landscapes and features. The highlight of the area being the Snæfellsjökull glacier which even inspired Jules Verne’s popular book, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Popular spots to visit while in the area are Gerðuberg, the golden beaches of Langaholt, Bjarnarfoss waterfall, and Rauðfeldsgjá gorge. While I could go on and on about the many spots to visit here, the bottom line is if you have time, go to this part of Iceland!
Tour a Few Ice Caves
Found only in the Winter time when temperatures in the glaciers drop below zero, ice caves are formed every year. While it may seem cool to drive off on your own in search of these spectacular wonders, ice caving is best explored with proper guides who know the area. Places like Vatnajökull, Skaftafell, and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon are just a few of the popular spots where you can wander at these incredible formations.
Experience the Midnight Sun
If you plan your trip to Iceland from May to late August, you may very well experience Iceland’s Midnight Sun where you basically have sunlight all throughout the day! While not isolated in just Iceland, it is still a pretty incredible thing to witness. Summer Solstice happens around the 21st of June and is noted to have the sunset right after midnight and rising again by around 3 am. Alternatively, during the shortest day of the year (Winter Solstice), you can expect the sun to rise at 11:30 am and set by 3:00 pm. You can make the most out of the long hours of the day by spending more of your time exploring. Whether it’s exploring the South Coast of Iceland or just driving around, make the most of their long hours.
Go Waterfall Hunting
Popular for its many jaw-dropping waterfalls, making the time to see them is not a bad idea. While visiting every single one is ambitious, a few of the must-see waterfalls in Iceland are Seljalandafoss, Kirkjufellsfoss, Háifoss, Bruarfoss, Skógarfoss, Dynjandi, Goðafoss, and Svartifoss Waterfall. Whew, what a mouthful! Trust me, visiting these hot spots are worth it!
Try Out Some Peculiar Icelandic Cuisine
While Icelandic cuisine is not particularly popular around the world, while in the country, put on a brave face and try all the peculiar dishes that you can. From Minke whale (eating this is entirely up to you), horse, reindeer steak, sheep’s head, and fermented shark (a dish famous chef Anthony Bourdain hailed as the worse thing he’s ever eaten). While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, you can always stick to seafood, lamb dishes, and good old Skyr.
Marvel at the Architecture
While the natural beauty of Iceland is the main star, the architecture which you can find in big cities are also pretty remarkable. Places like the Harpa concert hall, Hallgrimskirka church, the Imagine Peace Tower in Viðey Island, and sites in Akureyri, Iceland’s second-largest city are still worth exploring and visiting.
If you’re wandering around the main city, you also might want to check out this guide on free things to do in Reykjavik.
While I could literally go on and on about the many bucket list items around Iceland, the ones I listed above is a good place to start your trip! While planning can get a bit overwhelming (there is just so much to see and do!!), take it step by step and highlight the things that really interest you the most. Happy exploring!
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