Picture your dream vacation… If it includes adrenaline-pumping adventures in otherworldly landscapes with glaciers, geysers, and blue lagoons, then it’s time to book a flight to Iceland. This unique travel destination is an adventure junkie’s paradise, but it’s also quickly topping the bucket lists of every kind of traveler. So even if you’d rather lounge in a natural spa than hike an icy terrain, there are so many things to do in Iceland.
Bundle up for a Nordic winter in this subarctic country covered in volcanoes and black-sand beaches for an unforgettable experience. Most travelers flock to Reykjavík, but any insider knows that the best place to stay is just an hour’s drive outside the city. Unsure where to begin planning your trip? Consider this your ultimate guide to Iceland travel. Here’s everything you’ll want to see and do in the winter wonderland.
If you’re looking for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, Iceland is the place to be. Unforgettable sights and activities await.
Snorkeling: Adventurous travelers can dive through the Silfra fissure (aka the crack between the North American and Eurasian continental plates). The glacial water may be freezing, but it’s incredibly clear, and because it’s filtered through underground lava, it’s safe to drink. Take a day tour for the experience of a lifetime.
Whale Watching: You can take a whale-watching tour out of Reykjavík’s Old Harbour year-round. See humpback whales, orcas, blue whales, and dolphins swimming in their natural habitat for a truly magical experience.
Horseback Riding: Ride horseback along the beaches of Iceland. You can take day tours along the volcanic beach, riverbanks, and islands of the Ölfusá river delta. There’s no better way to experience the landscape (so long as you’re comfortable on horseback).
Time to Relax
Iceland may be known for its adventurous outdoor activities, but it’s also home to some of the most spectacular natural spas and relaxation oases. Sit back and relax.
The Blue Lagoon: This retreat from real life is truly blissful. The hotel and geothermic spa are surrounded by a volcanic landscape, giving the attraction the appearance of a literal oasis. Enjoy traditional spa amenities, or experience ultimate relaxation with an in-water massage as you float atop geothermal seawater.
ION Adventure Hotel: Stay at ION Adventure Hotel for the most lavish Icelandic experience. It’s not too far from the capital, and it boasts an impressive spa with healing treatments inspired by nature.
The Secret Lagoon: This natural hot spring rivals those of the more well-known Blue Lagoon. It’s a geothermal pool complete with an active geyser, a bar, and eateries in the small village of Flúðir. If you’re looking for under-the-radar relaxation, this is the place to go.
Hit the Beach
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Iceland is home to a variety of gorgeous beaches unlike any you’ve seen before. Check these coastal destinations off your bucket list.
Reynisfjara: Make a trip out to the south coast village of Vík í Mýrdal to take in this natural phenomenon just a two-and-a-half–hour drive from Reykjavík. Rocky basalt columns stand just off the shore of the black-sand beach, and local Icelandic folklore says these sea stacks were once trolls who were turned into stone.
Nauthólsvík: Surprisingly, if you visit this beach, you’ll be delighted to find warm water washing ashore. That’s because thermal waters have been engineered to flow into the bay. Feel free to take a dip and enjoy the seawater, or spend time in some of the freshwater pools and hot tubs situated near the beach.
Álftanes: This sandy beach is one of the few white-sand beaches you’ll find in Iceland. It’s located in the greater Reykjavík area, so if you’re in town, make it a point to enjoy this sandy spot enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.
Immerse Yourself In Nature
There’s no way to explore Iceland without braving the elements and visiting these unforgettable natural sites. Experience crashing waterfalls and natural phenomenon.
Gullfoss: This iconic waterfall is a beautiful feature located in south Iceland on the Hvítá river. The spectacular falls come from Iceland’s second biggest glacier, Langjökull. It’s not uncommon for a rainbow to peak out over the waterfall on a sunny day, and you’ll have a perfect view from the edge of the canyon walls.
The Northern Lights: The northern lights are visible eight months out of the year in Iceland, making it a prime location to take in the wondrous sight. The best time to see natural phenomenon is from early September to late April. Apparently the Seltjarnarnes peninsula near the Grotta lighthouse is the best place to wait and watch.
Skaftafell Park: Located in Vatnajökull National Park, this is one of the best places to hike and explore in Iceland. The terrain looks like something out of a science-fiction film due to the erosion caused by fire and water. For the best view, hike to Svartifoss, a waterfall that flows over black basalt cliffs.
Experience the Culture
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When you’re not out exploring all that Iceland’s natural landscape has to offer, explore the culture of the Icelandic people by experiencing their music, cuisine, and art.
Harpa: Take in the gorgeous architecture of this concert hall in the heart of Reykjavík. The modern building designed by Danish architects held its opening concert is 2011 and has since become one of the city’s greatest landmarks. Take a sightseeing tour of the concert hall or see a show from performers like the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the Icelandic Opera, or one of the many visiting artists.
Matur og Drykkur: Dining at this Icelandic restaurant is a must for any visiting foodie. Enjoy local dishes like roasted mussels and lamb flakes prepared by a chef all the way from Brooklyn. It’s classic Icelandic cuisine with a modern twist.
The National Gallery of Iceland: To get your art fix, you’ll want to pay a visit to the National Gallery of Iceland. The art museum was founded back in 1884, and now it’s home to some of the most unique, thought-provoking modern and contemporary work made by Icelandic and international artists alike.
Prepare for your next adventure with these jet-setting essentials for the budget traveler.