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43 Best things to see & do in Iceland

  • Iceland

Last updated: 19 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Oliver Berry
  • Reykjavik, Iceland

Exterior photo of a wooden pathway leading to the steaming lagoon

Bucket List Experience

Blue Lagoon

Iceland’s most popular – and photogenic – geothermal pool is surrounded by black lava fields and framed by the steaming towers of the Svartsengi geothermal plant. It’s an otherworldly place that looks like something out of a science-fiction movie – and an essential experience to tick off your Icelandic bucket list.

Averaging 37–39°C, the steaming pools are actually a by-product from the power plant, but don’t let that deter you. The waters are rich in minerals and silica, absorbed from the volcanic bedrock, a tonic for skin inflammation.

The psychedelic, blue-green water comes from naturally occurring algae which thrive in the balmy water.

Adult price: £35

Min age 2

Good for age: 4+

Around Iceland road trip on Route 1

  • Iceland

Giant snowy mountain behind a road on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Bucket List Experience

Circumnavigate Iceland on the spectacular Route 1, which links all of the country’s top bucket list experiences together. In our expert’s 13-day itinerary (some days optional), you’ll snowmobile and/or hike on glaciers, delve into ice caves and lava tunnels, ride Icelandic horses, goggle at gargantuan waterfalls, relax in steaming geothermal baths, soak up incredible scenery, and, if you’re lucky, see the dazzling Northern Lights.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 10 days

  • Iceland

Iceland, being in the so-called ‘Aurora Belt’, is one of the world’s top places to see the Aurora Borealis, the multi-coloured meteorological phenomenon more commonly known as the Northern Lights.

These shimmering, shifting, ethereal displays of light are caused by charged ions striking the earth’s upper atmosphere. They can be many different colours: commonly green, but sometimes pink, blue, red or yellow. Seeing them dancing over Iceland’s volcanic topography is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a bucket list must-see that’s up there with the best.

There’s no specific best place to see them – they can appear anywhere where there are dark, clear skies and low levels of light pollution. You can even see them around Reykjavik, although the further you travel from the towns, the more intense the light show is likely to be.

For guaranteed sightings, it’s worth taking an organised tour with a professional aurora-hunting company, as they have access to detailed aurora forecasts, know the best spots and sometimes offer a second trip if you don’t manage to see the lights.

With a bit of luck, though, you may see the aurora as an unexpected bonus while you’re off on another Icelandic adventure – perhaps while exploring remote areas like Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the Westfjords or cruising on the Jokulsarlon lagoon. Hotel Ranga has a special in-house observatory. See the links in our recommendations below.

Good for age: 4+

Duration: -

When: Nov-Feb

Freq: Selected dates

  • Iceland

Glaciers – vast sheets of permanently frozen ice – are remnants of the last Ice Age which have never melted – at least not yet. Sadly, due to climate change, many of them are now retreating at an alarming rate.

With more than 11% of its land surface covered, and over 269 named glaciers, Iceland is probably the best destination in the world to explore these wonders of nature. They are relatively easy to access here too, and served by plentiful, well-run tours for adventure enthusiasts.

Exploring glaciers

There are many different ways to explore the ice: on a glacier walk, by snowmobile or via a scenic flight.

Hiking on a glacier is the best way to see the ice up close: using crampons and ice-poles, you’ll trek out onto the glacier in the company of an experienced guide to see crevasses, seracs, ice caves and other formations.

Snowmobiling is a much more high-octane activity: wrapped up in polar-style suits, you’ll race over the ice at surprisingly fast speeds. It takes time to master, but it’s hugely thrilling fun.

Ice cave tours

Iceland is also one of the best places to see ice caves. These magical subterranean spaces glint and dazzle with polar colours, while strange ice sculptures adorn the walls, floor and ceiling. Little wonder they’re often featured in Icelandic myths as the homes of trolls, elves and other creatures.

Some of them are actually rock caves that are coated with ice, but there are also pure ice caves (usually located inside glaciers). Some are semi-permanent, while others only exist for short spaces of time before the ice swallows them up again.

These can usually only be reached on a guided glacier hike; many glacier tours include a tour of one or more along the way.

Good for age: 18+

  • Iceland

Like many Nordic nations, Icelanders are obsessed with bathing in the great outdoors – only here, they have the advantage that many of their favourite swimming spots are as warm as a bath.

Iceland is littered with natural hot springs, or ‘hotpots’, a by-product of the violent volcanic activity that’s continually roiling just beneath the island’s rocky crust. Some, like the Blue Lagoon and Myvatn Nature Baths, are very well-known – but there are hundreds more ‘hot pots’ hidden away deep in the countryside or along the coast which are known only to locals.

Bathing in the hot, mineral-rich waters is said to be good for the body and the mind. The naturally warm waters are especially rich in sulphur and silicate minerals – believed to be beneficial to skin conditions like psoriasis.

Good for age: 8+

Duration: -

  • Iceland

View down a long lava tunnel

Bucket List Experience

Caving in lava tunnels

Volcanoes aren’t just about the craters: sometimes, there’s even more to see underground.

Iceland is one of the few places on the planet where it’s possible to venture down into ‘lava tubes’. These tunnels of volcanic rock are formed around molten lava flows, usually close to eruption points. As the flows peter out, the rock surrounding them cools, leaving behind hollow tubes that can be 15m wide and hundreds of metres long.

Hiking into these subterranean structures is a seriously spooky experience: dark, cold and lined with peculiar rock formations, it feels like venturing into the lair of some gigantic, monstrous worm.

Most lava tubes can only be visited on a guided tour. Access is variable: some of the more accessible caves have walkways built into them, while others involve scrambling, sliding and uneven footing.

Adult price: £40

Min age 3

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 2+ hours

  • Iceland

tourists on the front of a whale watching boat watch a whale on the surface

Bucket List Experience

Whale-watching in Iceland

Iceland’s pristine waters are among the best places in the world to spot wild whales. Tour boats take you out into the North Atlantic to see these gentle giants as they pass Iceland on their annual north–south migration, especially the main feeding and breeding season from May to November.

Humpback and minke are the most commonly sighted, but with luck you might also see sei, fin and, very occasionally, blue whales. Humpbacks – the most curious and playful of all the whales, so the best for whale watching – congregate in the far northern fjord of Eyjafjord.

The town of Husavik is the main base for whale watching, although it’s also possible to take tours from nearby Akureyri. Tours from Reykjavik head to wildlife-filled Faxafloi Bay, where dolphins, porpoises and puffins are also regularly sighted.

The tours guarantee sightings (or you get a free trip) and it’s common to see the whales up close. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be treated to a breach – an unforgettable display of whale acrobatics, in which the animals leap from the water before smashing back down in an explosion of spray.

Adult price: £70

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 3-4 hours

  • Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

beautiful landscape of the Thingvellir National Park

Bucket List Experience

Thingvellir National Park

40km from Reykjavik, this landscape of lake, lava and rock is a geological wonder. It sits astride the divide between the North American and European tectonic plates, and in many places you’ll be able to see the geological stress at work in the form of steaming fissures, hot water spouts and cracks. If you feel up to it, you can even snorkel or dive down into the Silfra divide.

It also provided the backdrop for one of Iceland’s most important historical events. A thousand years ago, Icelanders gathered here to found the Althingi, the world’s first democratically elected parliament. You can still see the Logberg (Law Rock), where the parliament gathered and the lawspeaker recounted the agreed rules.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 1 night

Freq: monthly

  • Hafnarfjordur, Iceland

A once-in-a-lifetime experience: the chance to travel down inside a dormant volcano, the only place in the world that it’s possible to do so.

It combines a 3km hike (around 45 mins each way) and a cave tour: the volcano is accessed via an elevator that descends into the volcano’s underground chambers. If you’re feeling flush, you can skip the hiking part with a helicopter trip.

The volcano hasn’t erupted in the last 4,000 years, but it’s still an unnerving experience as you descend on the elevator into its inky depths, like descending into the Icelandic underworld. The main chamber is just over 120m deep: the molten magma that once filled it is thought to have drained away, leaving behind a cavernous, cathedral-like space.

Adult price: £260

Min age 8

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 4-5 hours

  • Iceland

national park welcome sign with glaciers behind

Bucket List Experience

Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Reaching out into the icy ocean from Iceland’s west coast, this rocky, remote 100km peninsula offers a wealth of wilderness adventures.

It’s only a few hours’ drive from Reykjavik, but you’ll feel like you’ve reached the end of the earth here: with its deserted beaches, sheer cliffs, volcanic mountains and frozen lava flows, it offers an unforgettable snapshot of Iceland’s wild side.

It’s also topped by the shining expanse of Snaefellsjokull, a great ice cap which Jules Verne namechecked in Journey to the Centre of the Earth. And if you’ve always wanted to do a glacier walk, this is a fine location to do it.

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 1 night

Freq: monthly