Planning a trip to Iceland, especially if it is your first time visiting our beautiful country, can be overwhelming. There are so many things to see in Iceland! And most often – not enough time. Here are ten things I would recommend including in your trip plan if you asked me. The best part is you can do all of them, even on a short trip!
1. Visit a pool or a hot spring
I understand if, at first glimpse, it doesn’t look like you need to pack a swimsuit for your trip to Iceland. We do not have warm seas, and the days in the summer don’t get as hot as in mainland Europe. However, make sure to have a swimsuit with you. Thanks to cheap geothermal energy, the bathing culture is an essential part of life in Iceland. No matter the weather – locals love hanging around in hot tubs. Of course, you probably have heard of popular spots like Blue Lagoon, Myvatn Nature Baths, or Sky Lagoon. However, even the smallest towns gave top-notch local pools, often with the best views. Lastly, there are also natural hot springs. I would highly recommend visiting Reyjadalur Hot Spring valley. So, pack your swimsuit and visit at least one pool or hot spring.
2. Try Icelandic food
Trying out local cuisine is on a must-to-do list in any country. Iceland is no exception. Meat soup, lamb, fish jerky, known as hardfiskur, traditional fish stew plokkfiskur… Those are just a few popular dishes. Don’t know where to start? Book Reykjavik Food Walk and try it all. Of course, you can book a dinner in a fancy restaurant, but there are many more options. Signature street food here is a hotdog. Hot dog stands are all over the country and easy to find. Another suggestion is to pick up Icelandic groceries at the store and create your own Icelandic dinner party. I must say, traditional foods often contain meat or fish. However, nowadays, most places have vegetarian or vegan options as well.
3. Go hiking
Pick a mountain and climb on top of it. Take a nice long walk along the black sand beach. You don’t need to be a hardcore hiker and commit to a multi-day hike through the wilderness. Anywhere you go, there will be paths to walk around. Even if you are just staying in Reykjavik – climb mount Esja or Úlfarsfell. Just get out of the car and go into nature – the best thing Iceland offers.
4. See glaciers
Glaciers are one of the defining features of Iceland. Glaciers cover more than 10% of Iceland and seeing at least one of them should be on your list of things to do in Iceland. If you are like me and fascinated by glaciers, I would highly recommend booking a glacier tour (do not attempt to climb glaciers without an experienced guide). However, you can also marvel at them from a safe distance. My favorite spots are Sólheimajökull, Svinajökull, and, of course, the Glacial Lagoon.
5. Chase waterfalls
I loooooove waterfalls in Iceland (I mean, who doesn’t?). Iceland is famous for its waterfalls, and there are so many of them! If you’re looking for a way to spend an afternoon, just find one and watch it flow over rocks into pools below. You’ll be amazed by how much beauty nature can create with just water and gravity. I can’t even tell how many times I visited the mighty Skogafoss. I stop by every single time I drive by it. Even if it is just for a short break to stretch out my legs and appreciate this force of nature. There are thousands of waterfalls here – some are small, and others are massive. It is impossible to see all of them, but try to see as many as possible. The best time is spring/early summer when they are all gushing due to melting snow and ice from the Highlands.
6. Visit a museum
Go to a museum! Iceland has some of the most incredible museums in the world. From somewhat traditional ones like the National Gallery or National History Museum to some really original and strange ones. For example, the Phallological Museum, The Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery, and the largest whale exhibition at Whales of Iceland. Pick what suits your interests most. Yes, most people come for nature but don’t miss out on a chance to learn more about Icelandic culture and history.
7. See wildlife
I am not going to lie – we do not have the richest wildlife, at least on the island itself. However, you might be lucky to spot some reindeer in the East or some seals chilling on a beach. Other popular activities include whale and bird watching (with puffins being fan-favorite). At the very least, you will probably encounter our domesticated best friends – free-roaming sheep and majestic Icelandic horse. It may not be much, but it is pretty cool.
8. Get ice cream
I know I already mentioned food, and, technically, ice cream is also a food category. However, an Ice cream lover like me has to put it in a separate category. Especially when you are in Reykjavik, do yourself a favor and get a cone of ice cream. Thank me later. Some of my favorite spots are Valdís, Gaeta Gelato and Skúbb.
9. Enjoy the Midnight sun (or hunt the Northern Lights)
Whether you come in summer or winter – get ready to stay up late to enjoy some colorful light shows. If you’re traveling to Iceland during the summer, you have a chance to enjoy the Midnight Sun. If you’re visiting in winter, you can try your hand at hunting for the Northern Lights instead. Either way, get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
10. Go camping
I can assure you even though you might plan every minute of your trip – there will be beautiful spots that you will want to stop, and you never know how long you will want to spend at each destination. That’s why camping is the best way to explore Iceland. You don’t need to worry about booking hotel rooms and rushing to reach them at the end of the day. Having the flexibility to choose where to spend the night is a stress-free way to travel. Of course, in winter, you might be lucky to find rooms available last minute, and you could probably book them on the same day. However, most rooms, especially the affordable ones, are booked 6-8 months ahead of time in the summertime, and last-minute prices can be costly. So why not pack a tent or rent a campervan, save money and enjoy the freedom of exploring.
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