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Top 10 Things to Do in Iceland on a First Visit

Iceland enthrals visitors at every turn with its otherworldly landscapes, shimmering Aurora lights, rich cultural traditions, and awesome hot dogs. Tick off these ten top things to do in this remote North Atlantic island nation.
Ten top things to do in Iceland
Ten top things to do in Iceland: Get to know Reykjavik.

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Far flung Iceland is famous for some fairly odd things, including a belief in elves, having handball as a national sport, a 20th century beer ban, a lack of surnames, and yes, being the home of Björk.

However, it’s the sheer beauty of the island’s natural landscapes that leave most visitors dumbfounded. And while it may be tricky to get to, and pricey to visit, the effort and cost are well worth it.

Here’s a checklist of our top ten things to do in Iceland on a first visit.


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Iceland Tours, Activities & Attractions


1. Explore Reykjavik

Iceland has just over 350,000 inhabitants and more than a third of them reside in the capital Reykjavik. However, the relatively small population doesn’t prevent the capital from being a dynamic and cultured city. Boasting a sublime arts, literary, music and bar scene, Reykjavik offers something for everyone. The legendary runtur — the round tour of the town’s pubs and bars — runs on weekends, so be sure to put on your Icelandic sweater and prepare yourself for an unforgettable night out.

2. Bathe in the Blue Lagoon

It is ironic that one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland is actually a man-made creation, generated from the run-off of the geothermal plant located next door. As beautiful as any natural wonder, the Blue Lagoon is heated to 38 degrees and contains a combination of silica, algae and minerals — all of which are said to have beneficial effects on your skin. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself whittling away several hours here, lathered in white silica mud with an obligatory cocktail in hand. This is one of the most relaxing of our ten top things to do in Iceland!

Ten top things to do in Iceland
Ten top things to do in Iceland: Blue Lagoon

3. Complete the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a circuit comprised of three natural attractions — Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss — and is highly popular with tourists given its close proximity to Reykjavik. Hike through the dramatic canyon formed between two tectonic plates in Þingvellir National Park; wait in anticipation for the next jet spray of water to spout from the active Strokkur geyser; and be amazed by the mighty power of the Gullfoss waterfall — all in a few short hours.

4. Go chasing waterfalls

Iceland has more waterfalls than you can poke a selfie stick at. Put on your waterproof jacket and walk behind the impressive Seljalandsfoss waterfall, search for rainbows under the heavy mist at the base of Skógafoss and admire the moody Svartifoss waterfall that is surrounded by striking dark lava columns. Chasing waterfalls has never been so much fun.

Ten top things to do in Iceland
Ten top things to do in Iceland: Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Image: Bigstock

5. Circumnavigate the island

If you have the time, make sure you hire a car and go exploring beyond the capital. It’s impossible to get lost as there is only one major highway in Iceland — the Ring Road — which loops its way around the island. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re on another planet, as you pass lava-covered plains and rocky, crater-filled terrain that stretches for as far as the eye can see. The best thing about driving here is having the freedom to pull over and pat the Icelandic horses clustered by the side of the road or to snap pictures of the charming pastel-coloured houses tucked away in the crevices of the formidable mountains and rolling hills. There’s no other road trip quite like it!

Ten top things to do in Iceland
Icelandic horses. Image: Bigstock

6. Cruise Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon

Jökulsárlón in the south east of Iceland is a spectacular lagoon made up of icebergs that are continually breaking off from the Vatnajökull glacier. Take an amphibious or zodiac boat tour out on the lagoon to appreciate these magnificent blocks of milky blue ice up close, where you can be assured of a surreal experience like no other. If you’re lucky, you might spot seals frolicking amongst the pieces of floating ice.


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7. See the black beaches of Vik

Head to Vik — the southernmost village in Iceland (and the wettest), where you will find the famous black beaches. Like something out of a 19th century gothic novel, the black sand stretches for miles with jagged basalt rocks jutting out into the wild sea, making for a truly atmospheric experience. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the elusive puffins.

Ten top things to do in Iceland
Soak up the dramatic beauty of the black beaches of Vik.

8. Go snowmobiling on a glacier

Pick a glacier (any glacier), then book a snowmobiling tour. It’s an exhilarating experience, and is likely to be the highlight of your holiday!

Ten top things to do in Iceland
Ten top things to do in Iceland: Go snowmobiling. Image: Camha Pham

9. Conquer Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar — which lies in the highlands of Iceland — is a spectacular region that will leave you hypnotised by its colourful mountain range and never-ending lava fields. To get there, you’ll need to navigate some hazardously bumpy gravel roads and traverse a couple of rivers — but hey, that’s all part of the fun.

Ten top things to do in Iceland
Ten top things to do in Iceland: Explore Landmannalaugar. Image: Bigstock

10. Tuck in to an Icelandic hot dog

Ask any Icelander what local dish you should try and they may very well point you to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur — a hot dog stand franchise, the name of which literally translates to ‘best hot dogs in town’. The sausage — a combination of lamb, pork and beef — is encased in a bun topped with both raw and crispy fried onion, ketchup, and remoulade. Bill Clinton famously had one while he was in town — which is quite a recommendation!

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For more travel inspiration, visit www.visiticeland.com.

Browse our range of Iceland day tours and experiences here.

Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of top things to do in Iceland on a first visit? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Camha Pham

About the writer

Camha Pham is a freelance writer and editor who has recently swapped the cosmopolitan laneways of Melbourne for the sunny beaches of Perth. Struck with the wanderlust bug from an early age, she has travelled extensively through Asia, Europe, and parts of North America. When she isn’t travelling, Camha is planning her next adventure and loves nothing more than the thrill of exploring new destinations and learning about other cultures. Travel highlights to date include chasing waterfalls in enchanting Iceland, hot-air ballooning over the lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia, and accepting a surprise marriage proposal at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto!

 

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  1. I am really curious to go Iceland with my family this upcoming winter. After reading your blog I got to know about the new side of Iceland. Thanks a lot for this blog!

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