14 breathtaking experiences to enjoy in Iceland
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more magical place than Iceland. This vast volcanic island is teeming with sparkling glaciers, majestic waterfalls, picturesque mountain peaks and miles of rolling cliffs. It’s straight out of a fairy tale.
Whether you choose to visit Iceland in summer or winter, you’re guaranteed to see a ton of jaw-droppingly beautiful natural attractions you won’t find anywhere else on Earth. So, check out our list of things you absolutely have to do, then book your flight to Iceland for an unforgettable trip to the land of fire and ice.
1. Drop into a volcano
Ever wondered what a volcano looks like inside? Well, you can find out at Thrihnukagigur volcano in Iceland. If you’re brave enough, you can take a tour from Rekyavik to the Bláfjöll mountains, where you’ll hike across a lava field and descend through the top of the crater to Thrihnukagigur’s magma chamber. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
And no, the volcano isn’t active. You’ll be perfectly safe.
2. Explore an ice cave
From fire to ice. As well as volcanoes, Iceland is a hotbed for glaciers (no pun intended). They cover around 11% of the country.
Get up close and personal by donning some crampons and hiking a glacier, ice climbing, or exploring an ice cave. Vatnajökull, Eyjafjallajökull and Sólheimajökull are all worth a visit.
Tip: Hotel Skogar in southern Iceland sits at the foot of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, making it a great base from which to explore the chillier side of the island. The hotel has a fabulous outdoor sauna and hot tub to warm you up after your day out on the ice.
3. Marvel at the black sands of Reynisfjara
You may not think of Iceland as a beach destination, but it has some stunning stretches of sand. Unusually, some of them are black, as they’re made of lava which cooled as it hit the sea.
With its huge basalt stacks and stunning panoramas, Reynisfjara Beach on the south coast of Iceland is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful black beaches in the country.
But Diamond Beach gives it a run for its money. It’s called Diamond Beach as glacial ice breaks off the Breiðamerkurjökull glacial tongue into the famous Jökulsárlón lagoon, from where the ice makes its way out to sea.
The process breaks up chunks of glacial ice into thousands of blocks that are spat back up onto the jet-black sand of Diamond Beach. The contrast between the ice ‘diamonds’ and black sand makes for a breathtaking sight.
You see both these beaches and the best of southern Iceland on this full-day tour.
4. Bathe in the Blue Lagoon
One of Iceland’s best-known attractions is the Blue Lagoon. This huge, milky-blue spa is fed by mineral-rich heated seawater from a nearby geothermal plant. It’s fabulous for the skin. Organic facial anyone?
Whether you’re travelling to Iceland with your other half, taking a family break or going on a girls’ trip, this is one attraction you can’t miss. Between the therapeutic waters, exquisite restaurant and optional spa treatments, you can easily spend half a day of your Iceland adventure here. But it’s a popular spot, so pre-booking is essential.
Hotel tip: If you love the lagoon and want to stay for longer, stay at ‘Retreat’. Set in an other-worldly landscape of moss-covered lava and bright blue geothermal waters, it lives up to its name, offering a luxurious escape from Iceland’s wild landscapes.
If you’d prefer to bathe somewhere off the beaten path, check out the Secret Lagoon. A short detour from the famous Golden Circle route, it’s the oldest pool in Iceland and has a more ‘back-to-nature’ feel to it than the Blue Lagoon.
5. Snorkel between tectonic plates
As well as being home to the White Walkers in Game of Thrones, Þingvellir National Park (often anglicised as Thingvellir) is the only place in the world where you can snorkel between two tectonic plates, (the Eurasian and American). The water is some of the purest in the world.
Be sure to don a drysuit and take a proper tour of the Silfra Lava Fissure, though. Don’t just go diving in there, as temperatures can reach a chilly 2-4°C. Although it’s too cold for much marine life, you’ll be swimming between continents. Not many people can say they’ve done that.
6. Discover the Icelandic landscape on horseback
The Icelandic Horse is the country’s most famous four-legged resident. Instantly recognisable for its diminutive stature, short legs and muscular build, this beautiful breed is famed for its reliability, resistance to the harsh natural elements and its five gaits (walk, trot, canter, tölt and flying pace).
Exploring Iceland on the back of these gentle beings is nothing short of amazing.
7. Peek at a puffin
The official bird of Iceland is the gyrfalcon. But the unofficial national bird is undoubtedly the puffin. With the largest puffin population in the world, Iceland is the place to see these fascinating birds in their natural habitat.
Puffins are also known as the ‘clowns of the sea’ because of their brightly-coloured beaks, although these vibrant tones are reserved just for summer. In the winter, their beaks and feet fade to a greyish colour.
Puffin spotting is a summer activity, and one of the top spots to see them is the Westman Islands.
8. Tour the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a quintessential Icelandic excursion. It’s a 300 km route, taking you from Reykjavik to the southern uplands and back again. It takes in the magnificent sights of Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir geyser (the natural wonder from which all other geysers take their name) and Thingvellir National Park in southern Iceland, plus a few other sights here and there.
If you want a break from driving, see these spectacular Icelandic sights in style on a Golden Circle guided tour.
9. Watch the Northern Lights dance
If you find yourself in Iceland in winter, look up. If you’re lucky, you might get a glimpse of the magical Northern Lights. Also known as the Arora Borealis, they make for the most amazing light show and a truly memorable night.
The best time of year to see them is between November and March, although, of course, there are no guarantees.
Whether you decide to go on a tour or look for them yourself, the experience of seeing the lights dancing above your head will stay with you forever.
Reward tip: Why not stay somewhere with an outdoor hot tub, so you can scour the night sky in comfort? The ION Adventure Hotel is just the ticket. This unique hotel is just the trick for catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights in style.
10. Go whale watching
Iceland is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. The waters surrounding the island are home to over 20 species of whales and dolphins. At least eight species are frequently spotted, so there’s a good chance you’ll have a close encounter.
One of the best places to catch them is Húsavík. Book a wale watching tour and see the majesty of these magnificent creatures.
11. Try some traditional Icelandic cuisine
Traditional Icelandic cuisine is little known outside of Iceland, which is a shame as it’s delicious.
Be sure to try some Kjötsupa (traditional meat soup), Harðfiskur (dried fish jerky), or, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, chow down on some Svið, (baked sheep’s head) or Hákarl (fermented shark). Yum.
Like the sound of this? Take a look at these 10 weird Nordic dishes you’ve probably never heard of.
12. Enjoy a festival
Icelanders love their festivals. During winter, there’s the Winter Lights Festival and the Iceland Winter Games, while summer brings Secret Solstice (an international music festival that takes place under the midnight sun) and The Great Fish Day; a family festival in Dalvik, where the community comes together to enjoy a delicious free sea food buffet. If you’re a fan of fish, don’t miss it.
13. Taste some delicious volcano bread
An hour’s drive east of Reykjavik is a place called Laugarvatn. This quiet town is famous for two things: its scenic spa and its tasty volcano bread.
Every day, the staff at Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths make the sweet, dense rye bread, and bake it underground in hot geothermal springs for 24 hours. It comes out cooked to perfection. If you have time, be sure to try some.
14. Get to know Iceland your own way
There’s something for everyone in Iceland, and then some. Whether you make it your summer holiday destination or your winter getaway, these are just a few of the many things to see and do in this enchanting country. If it’s not on your bucket list, it should be.
To make the most of your time, why not hire a car through Norwegian Reward? You’ll earn CashPoints for your Norwegian piggy bank. But be careful, though. The roads can be treacherous in winter, with many vehicles being blown off the roads due to the high winds. Unless you’re a very, very experienced driver, stick to organised tours.