FFrom volcanic landscapes, glaciers and geothermal pools to wildlife, birdlife and Rekjavík’s cutting-edge nightlife, there are countless reasons why Iceland is a favourite with travellers. Here are 10 of the top experiences in the country…

Why not also check out our Iceland Destination Guide?

Contact us for a free travel consultation on Iceland.

1: Cross Vatnajökull by Snowmobile

Snowmobiling with Curious Travel

Snowmobiling – Image by Taras Hipp

Europe’s largest icecap (by volume) dominates Iceland’s central south-east. Vatnajökull spans 8,100 square kilometres and is up to 1,000m thick. You may recognise it from cameos on Game of Thrones and a couple of Bond films, but nothing prepares for the awe that an up-close encounter inspires.

There are various ways to explore: ski the slopes in winter; hike to its offspring glaciers in Skaftafell National Park; kayak among icebergs on Jökulsárlón lagoon; or, most exhilarating, join a snowmobile tour atop the icecap.

2: Journey to the Centre of the Earth at Snæfellsnes

Kirkjufell waterfall and mountain in winter, Iceland

Kirkjufell waterfall and mountain in winter – Image by Lucas Gojda

Snæfellsnes peninsula, north-west of Reykjavík, is Iceland in a microcosm, with Viking heritage, fjords, glaciers and volcanoes, marine wildlife and charming ancient villages, seafood, soaring basalt cliffs and sandy beaches.

It was also the inspiration for Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and a visit to the jagged crater of Snæfell, in the national park at the peninsula’s tip, reveals why.

Roam the historic settlements of Stykisshólmur and Flatey, spot puffins and other seabirds on the fjords, and snap and Instagram the isolated fin of Kirkjufell mountain, reputedly Iceland’s most photographed peak.

3: Watch Puffins on Westmann Islands

Watching Puffins in Iceland with Curious Travel

Puffins in Iceland – Image by Pim Leijin

The stripy-beaked seabird is captivating as much for its behaviour as its appearance – ungainly in the air, positively catastrophic when landing. Reputedly, it can’t take off unless it can see the sea.

Despite falling puffin populations, hundreds of thousands (possibly even millions) of the comical birds come to breed on the Westmann Islands between mid-April and mid-August, when a visit to one of the huge colonies is a delight.

Base yourself on the only inhabited island, Heimay, to explore the archipelago.

If you are curious about travel to Iceland do contact us for more information.

4: Hike the Laugavegur Trail

Laugavegur Trail, Iceland with Curious Travel

Laugavegur Trail – Image by David Varga

For a satisfying slice of volcanic wilderness, tackle the 55km trail between Landmannalaugar and the lovely valley of Þórsmörk (‘Thor’s Wood). Though the distance isn’t vast, unpredictable weather and challenging terrain make this three- to five-day route best for moderately experienced trekkers.

The rewards are luminous: the candy-striped ridges of Landmannalaugar, studded with sulphurous vents and geothermal pools; the craters and lava expanses of Fjallabak Nature Reserve; and the meandering gorges, wildflowers and weird rock formations of Þórsmörk.

5: Tour the Golden Circle

Gulfoss Waterfall in the Gorlden Circle, Iceland with Curious Travel

Gulfoss Waterfall in the Golden Circle – Image by Puripat Lertpunyaroj

This deservedly popular 100km circuit, usually tackled as a one-day tour from Reykjavík (but eminently self-drivable), visits a trio of historic and natural sites. There’s Gulfoss (Golden Waterfall), a two-stage cascade roaring 32m into a yawning canyon; Geysir, after which other spouting hot springs are named, and Þingvellir, the original site of the Alþingi – Iceland’s parliament, dating from the 10th century. The latter sits in an eponymous national park where, at Silfra lake, you can snorkel between continents, the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet here. For scuba divers too, the high visibility waters and underwater landscapes make for one of the world’s most surreal and beautiful dives.

6: Get Involved in Rekjavík’s Nightlife

Hallgrimskirkja Church, Rekjavik, Iceland with Curious Travel

Hallgrimskirkja Church, Rekjavik – Image by F11 Photo

Iceland’s capital is legendary for its hedonistic runtur, infamous early hours Friday and Saturday bar crawls. But there are plenty of stylish, chilled bars to enjoy instead. For classy cocktails, head to sleek Slippbarinn, Snaps or Jacobsen Loftið.

Beer’s the drink of choice, though, a fierce loyalty that is perhaps unsurprising, as it was banned until 1989. Try hip Kex in a former biscuit factory, Micro Bar or Kaldi which has its own microbrewery.

If you are curious about travel to Iceland do contact us for more information.

7: Sail and Hike the Westfjords

Hiking in Hornstrandir National Park by Curious Travel

Hiking in Hornstrandir National Park – Image by 1tomm

The soaring, seabird-bustling cliffs, wildflower-covered hillsides and limpid fjords of Iceland’s north-westernmost region draw relatively few visitors, which is astonishing. The Westfjords boast abundant wildlife (puffins, whales, seals, arctic foxes…), as well as fabulous kayaking and hiking possibilities amid spectacular landscapes.

Hornstrandir nature reserve is the heart of the region. With no year-round inhabitants, it’s a glorious place to escape modern life.

Join a sailing tour to roam its inlets, forage for arctic char, wild rocket and mussels, and clamber to clifftop eyries. For info on the area, see HERE 

8: Explore a Mighty Volcano

Viti crater in Krafla volcanic area, Iceland with Curious Travel

Viti Crater in Krafla volcanic area – Image by Milan Tesar

Iceland’s volcanoes are a diverse bunch: some snoozing, others grumbling, some approachable, others distinctly forbidding.

There’s a correspondingly wide range of opportunities for experiencing them. You can swim in the milky waters of Viti lake in mighty Askja caldera, Iceland’s ‘belly button’. You can super jeep across the glacier atop Eyjafjallajökull, the unpronounceable volcano whose 2010 eruption caused mass disruption to flights. Alternatively, you can plunge deep into the empty magma chamber of dormant Thrihnukagigur on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

However you experience them, volcanoes are a big part of any visit to Iceland, likely to excite young family travellers with their explosive possibilities and the wild landscapes they’ve created.

9: Take a soak in a Thermal Pool

Seljavallalaug thermal pool in Iceland with Curious Travel

Seljavallalaug Thermal Pool – Image by Kovop58

There are dozens of geothermal springs scattered across the island of different styles. Depending on what you are looking for choose from a more rustic variety like the (not so) Secret Lagoon to the commercialised Blue Lagoon. One of the oldest swimming pools is the unique Seljavallalaug thermal pool built in 1927.

Though not actually a natural hot spring (its pools are fed by outflows from a nearby geothermal power plant), the Blue Lagoon complex is set amid black lava flows and has the classic milky blue waters, as well as massages and mineral treatments available. The extras (bar, restaurant, hotel) make it ideal for spa-lovers. It’s also handily located for Keflavík Airport.

If you are curious about travel to Iceland do contact us for more information.

10: Spot an Incredible array of Birdlife on Lake Myvátn

Pseudo craters by the lake Myvatn in Iceland

Pseudo Craters at Lake Myvatn – Image by Veronika Hanzlikova

You might not think you’re a birdwatcher. But wait until you’ve witnessed the incredible display of thousands of vividly coloured wildfowl and other species on the north-west shore of Myvátn in north-east Iceland.

Here, you can find harlequins, goldeneye, mergansers, pintails, eiders, teals, shovelers… and that’s just the ducks. Add whooper swans, gyrfalcons, snipe and dozens more, and you have a Twitchers’ paradise.

Attractive local villages, volcanic craters and striking lava formations, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles all add to the area’s charm.

Why not also check out our Iceland Destination Guide?

For more ideas on things to do in Iceland contact us for further information and a free travel consultation.

Explore our other “Top 10 Things to do in…” articles:

Canada – Cuba – Italy – Mexico – Morocco – New Zealand – Portugal –  ThailandVietnam

Paul Bloomfield is a travel writer and photographer for the likes of Lonely Planet, Wanderlust, The Telegraph, The Times and the BBC, specialising in hiking, active adventures and wildlife-watching.

Follow him on Twitter @paulbtravel

 

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