8 Best Things to Do in Iceland
Published on: September 18th, 2017
Last modified: July 28th, 2023
Known as the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’, Iceland is truly unlike any other place on earth. Located right on the edge of the Arctic Circle, this island abounds with jaw-dropping sights that you won’t soon forget. From vast lava fields of the Icelandic Highlands and steaming hot springs to the Blue Lagoon staggering glaciers in Southern Iceland and thundering waterfalls in the Golden Circle and Snaefellsnes Peninsula, there’s no shortage of natural wonders to discover.
Beyond its remote and rugged beauty, Iceland is also known for its impressive commitment to sustainability. Nearly 100% of its energy comes from renewable sources, and geothermal power is used to heat 90% of its homes. As a visitor, you can see what it’s like to exist in total harmony with nature at eco-friendly and luxurious lodges and retreats.
1. See the Legendary Northern Lights
Iceland is one of the few places in the world where you can see the aurora borealis – or northern lights – a spectacular natural phenomenon that illuminates the sky with shimmering waves of colour. The best time to see them is from November to April, and the best place is the northern part of the country.
Northern Iceland is an exceptionally enchanting destination, full of volcanoes, villages, waterfalls and even whales. When you’re not gazing upward for a glimpse of the greenish glow, you can explore the otherworldly landscapes and relax in geothermal pools. Deplar Farm provides the perfect home base for a trip to this incredibly scenic region.
2. Explore the Spectacular Golden Circle
If there’s one essential thing to do in Iceland, it’s the Golden Circle: a stunning route that takes you from Reykjavik into central Iceland and back. Along the way you’ll find three outstanding attractions. Thingvellir National Park is nestled into a rift valley between the North American and European tectonic plates – you can even snorkel through a narrow canyon that separates the two continents.
Next up are the breathtaking Gullfoss Falls and Haukadalur Valley, which is home to the Geysir and Strokkur geysers. You can see all three of these spots from above on an exhilarating helicopter ride, go snowmobiling or hike through the glaciers. We suggest settling in at Torfhús Retreat, one of the world’s best sustainable lodges.
3. Relax Among Volcanic Landscapes in the Reykjanes Peninsula
The Reykjanes Peninsula is a land of striking contrasts. It’s made up of vast lava fields and volcanoes that were dormant for centuries – until the dramatic eruption of Fagradalsfjall in 2021. The area’s geothermal properties also result in earthquakes, hot springs and crater lakes. This natural energy is put to good use at the iconic Blue Lagoon spa, where you can soak in geothermal seawater amid an astonishing landscape.
The best way to fully enjoy this region is to stay at the Blue Lagoon Retreat, one of the top sustainable hotels in the world. Here you can sink into the steaming waters and healing environment of a one-of-a-kind space, set in the centre of an 800-year-old lava flow. Every detail has been chosen with sustainability in mind, from geothermal power to pathways that allow you to explore the retreat’s surroundings without disturbing the local ecosystem.
4. Enjoy the Beaches and Peaks of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
For a different sort of scenery, head west to the gorgeous Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It’s divided by a towering mountain range with the glacial stratovolcano of Snaefellsnes at its heart. Another iconic spot is the pointy peak of Kirkjufell, which you might recognise from Game of Thrones. It also happens to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland.
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula features a fascinating coastline, complete with windswept beaches and lovely fishing villages. You can visit a local farm for an authentic cooking class, or go on an excursion to the picturesque Hraunfossar waterfall. This region is often called ‘Iceland in miniature’ – a nickname that perfectly represents its wide variety of experiences.
5. Discover Glaciers, Volcanoes and Vikings in Southern Iceland
Southern Iceland offers the perfect combination of natural attractions and cultural charm. Here you can hike among active volcanoes and geysers, and take in the majesty of the massive Vatnajökull glacier and the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. There are also beautiful black sand beaches and rushing waterfalls like Skógafoss, which is nothing short of spectacular.
This part of the country also has a rich cultural legacy and agricultural history. It’s full of traditional farms where you can get to know the locals, many of whom supply produce for the region’s world-class restaurants. You can also dive into the fascinating world of the Vikings at local museums, or even go whale-watching off the coast.
6. Visit the Vibrant Capital City of Reykjavik
There’s no doubt that Reykjavik is the perfect place to start and end your tour of Iceland – but it’s so much more than just a stopover. This is the world’s most northerly capital, a relatively small city that combines urban energy with the cosy atmosphere of a local village. Its colourful streets are packed with things to do, from museums and churches to nightlife and restaurants.
Reykjavik serves up some of the country’s best cuisine at its many chic dining spots. This is the ideal place to get acquainted with Icelandic flavours, whether by taking a food tour or just popping into any of its inviting restaurants. In between meals, you can stroll the shores of Tjörnin Lake and take in the city’s postcard-worthy surroundings.
7. Uncover Your Inner Adventurer in the Icelandic Highlands
For a true taste of Iceland’s exhilarating wilderness, head toward its interior… and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. The Icelandic Highlands have the kind of raw and untouched beauty that’s increasingly hard to find. This region is almost entirely uninhabited, allowing nature to flourish – from glacial rivers and ice caps to black lava fields and green oases.
Due to the region’s lack of roads and bridges, you’ll journey through it on 4×4 vehicles, snowmobiles, snow scooters and Jeeps. The Highlands are a great destination for adventurous families and active explorers. But don’t worry; you’ll also have the chance to rest and recharge in its geothermal hot springs.
8. Visit Villages and Spot Puffins in the Eastern Fjords
Iceland’s east coast isn’t the most popular destination for travellers – but if you ask us, that makes it all the more charming. This relatively quiet region retains a rare feeling of peace and exclusivity, which is complemented by its unusually sunny weather. Here you’ll find quaint fishing villages tucked into harbours, jagged fjords, immense forests and secret waterfalls.
The town of Egilsstadir is a great starting point for exploring the Eastern Fjords, providing easy access to the area’s main attractions. You can visit the little island of Papey and spot wild puffins, or take a tour of the unique local architecture; Borgarfjordur Eystri is known for its turf houses, while Seydisfjordur features emblematic wooden buildings.
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon IcelandLocated in the heart of an 800-year-old, moss-covered lava flow, the Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland brings a new level of immersion and luxury to the iconic landmark. 62 suites are wonderful architectural creations, with cool, modern interiors and vast glass walls revealing the dramatic volcanic landscape outside and terraces surrounded by the steaming waters. An astonishing underground spa journey mixes dry heat, steam heat, massage, fire and a cold air well, culminating with the Blue Lagoon Ritual where you experience the geothermal seawater’s revitalizing mineral salt, silica and algae. Rounding out the wellness experience, Moss Restaurant has a menu that moves between Iceland’s mountains, farmlands and sea to show of the best of the island’s cuisine. The restaurant also features a chef’s table, a lounge, and a wine cellar deep in the centuries-old lava.
Torfhús RetreatThe remoteness of this snug hideaway is a most attractive feature to those looking to flee from the flurry of city life. Set in close proximity to Iceland’s Golden Circle, within driving distance of the Great Gullfoss waterfall and the Great Geysir, Torfhús Retreat encompasses 25 inky-black cabins, lined with turf. Interiors are accentuated by alpine wooden ceilings, panels and furniture, merged with leather seating, soft rugs and warm lighting. A cosy lounge area allows guests to unwind in the comfort of their cabin, or if they’re wanting to relax while taking in the rugged scenery, they can make use of the basalt hot tub outside. A homely communal area calls for board games in between sips of mulled wine, and the on-site restaurant offers an ever-changing menu, inspired by local produce and the catch of the day. A classic Icelandic breakfast is served every morning, and hearty soups and fresh bread are available during the day, ensuring ample sustenance for adventuring in the wilderness. If guests can pull themselves away from the salubrious waters of the tub, various day excursions are available, such as horse riding, helicopter sightseeing, fishing, mountain hikes and glacier tours.
Hotel BudirFound beside the Snæfellsjökull glacier and a vast, windswept beach, within a lava field on the dramatic peninsula, Hotel Budir is surrounded by an array of surreal scenery and indeed, a true wilderness retreat. Settle into your room here and look out to these incredible views of mountains and inlets from your room’s cushioned window-seat. Then, relax from your day of glacier hiking with a soak in your rolltop bath. Further cosy, scenic spots can be found throughout the property. The common room is filled with leather sofas sitting by roaring fires and large picture windows, while the bar offers a telescope and floor-to-ceiling views of seals playing in the bay. There is also a sense of both tradition and romance here, from the sepia photos to the framed memorabilia that adorn the walls and the restaurant’s candle-lit tables which create a lovely gourmet setting.
Deplar FarmIn a remote valley in the middle of the Troll Peninsula, Deplar Farm is perhaps the most unique place to stay in Iceland. Once a working sheep farm, this sprawling property with its grass roof may look traditionally Icelandic on first glimpse, but its luxurious transformation into an opulent lodge soon becomes apparent. There are 13 en suite rooms that accommodate up to 28 guests, including cosy family options. The rest of the farm is home to a fabulous indoor-outdoor salt water pool and bar, a sauna, gym, dining area, spa, lounge area and more. How you experience this incredible landscape depends on the time of year you visit. During the winter, opt for the heli-ski package to fly up onto the surrounding peaks then slalom down virgin runs to the ocean accompanied by expert guides. You can also go cat skiing, hot spring hopping, snowmobiling, whale watching and even surfing (for the brave). End the day back at the lodge, under the glow of the Northern Lights with a little luck. Long summer days bring fabulous fly fishing on exclusive beats and the chance to join a local captain at sea, returning to Deplar to eat your catch. Hiking guides can lead you on trails along endless valleys and dramatic cliffs dotted with waterfalls or perhaps kayak down dramatic rivers and out at sea. Other activities include horse riding, mountain biking and day trips out to nearby islands.
Sigló HótelRight on the waterfront of Siglufjörður’s small harbour in a long fjord of the same name, the Sigló Hótel is a wonderful place from which to explore northern Iceland. All 65 rooms enjoy views over the water to the front or mountains to the rear, spacious, warm and modern, and decorated with pieces reminiscent of the fishing village’s history. There are also three spacious suites with private balconies overlooking the marina. Sigló Hótel offers three restaurants. Restaurant Sunna, one of the most ambitious restaurant in north Iceland, is located within the hotel along with the bar and is open all year round serving freshly caught fish. In two brightly coloured neighbouring buildings, the cosy Hannes Boy is open during the summer months. Kaffi Rauðka is also open all year round and offers a broad international menu. Get to know Siglufjörður on foot and learn about its history as the ‘Herring capital of the world’ at the award-winning museum. All guests also have access to the hotel’s outdoor spas and sauna.
Hotel HusafellThe modern Hotel Husafell sits amidst the dramatic landscape of west Iceland, offering 36 rooms that are each beautifully decorated with paintings from Husafell’s own world-renowned artist, Pall Gudmundssson. The hotel is powered by the electricity generated on-site from small hydroelectric power stations which are driven by the river. Additionally, the hot water which heats up the hotel and its geothermal baths comes from the nearby mountains. Two restaurants on-site offer Nordic dishes and international cuisine made from high quality and seasonal locally grown produce, enhance by wonderful views around the dining areas. Hotel Husafell is located in an area rich in history and extraordinary natural wonders, with a range of activities on offer that cater to all groups of people, from those seeking to unwind relax in beautiful surroundings, have an action-packed adventure or spend time with the family outdoors.