Few places in the world leave you longing for more. Iceland is one of those places. It is clean, quiet & otherworldly. Iceland is equal parts arctic tundra & lush wilderness. The capital is a bustling hub but also a charming small town. With everything to experience, here’s a list of the ten things you must do in Iceland.
Dearest D-RAVEL Followers, my name is Alex Dudich (@alex.dudich) and here are ten things you must do in Iceland the first time you visit.
Soak in the Blue Lagoon
I put this at the top of the list because everyone should experience a geothermal spa at least once in their life. It was an incredible feat of nature. Cerulean blue waters meet black lava rock shores. I was speechless. And my skin has never felt so good. I hardly wore any makeup the whole trip because I didn’t want to lose how great my skin felt after the lagoon. The Blue Lagoon also features a spa, restaurants, and a luxury hotel. Your tickets will even get you a complimentary drink in the lagoon!
Rent a Car and Hit the Only Road
Iceland is super easy to navigate. Route 1 will take you around the entire circumference of the island. I can’t emphasize this enough – if you have the time, explore the country. You’ll find landscapes you didn’t know existed! However, if you don’t have enough time to travel the whole island, try the Golden Circle. It’s a series of beautiful stops about an hour & a half from Reykjavik and a very doable day trip. Driving a rental car gives you the ability to explore what you want leisurely. Plus, no one wants to be stuck on a bus or with a tour group! And you won’t have to worry about getting lost, because more rental companies ask if you’d like a GPS with your car.
Take to the Ocean & Go Whale Watching
Iceland is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Seeing a humpback breach the water was scary & intimidating but so fascinating! And I will never forget that as long as I live. The summer is the best time to catch the world’s largest animal. My family booked our excursion with Ambassador Whale Watching in Akureyri, the “capital in the north.” Our guide was a marine biologist who taught us everything about the local ecosystem. But whales aren’t the only animal you’ll find – we saw puffins on our trip too!
Glaciers cover more than 10% of Iceland & while that doesn’t seem like a lot, Iceland is home to the largest icecap (by volume) in Europe, Vatnajokull. It covers over 3,000 square miles, or almost 2 million acres. If you’re willing to head off the beaten path (which is often in Iceland), you can get up close to the glacier to hear it move and shift ever so slowly. Stick around long enough, and ice sheets will break off and drift out to sea. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, they shot some scenes at Vatnajokull (unfortunately, Jon Snow was nowhere to be found.)
Eat Local Cuisine
To get a taste of the country (yes, pun intended), you need to experience the cuisine. My favorite thing to eat was Skyr, which is honestly a bit of an enigma – is it a yogurt? A dessert? A cheese? I didn’t know & I didn’t care! All I know is it’s eaten for breakfast, lunch & dinner & I loved it. Iceland is known for its fresh fish and free-range, grass-fed lamb (which has ‘roamed free since 874’). My bolder brothers ventured to try whale & shark, and I think they could go their whole life without eating it again. Disclaimer: not for the faint of hearts (or taste buds).
Iceland is the land of waterfalls, at more than 10,000 scatterings the countryside. We must have visited at least 25 throughout our trip, continually pulling over to bask in the greatness of nature. Gullfoss is on the ring road & is truly herculean in size. You can get up close to this one and feel the mist from the falls. Godafoss is a breathtaking waterfall in the northern part of the country. Local legend says that after Christianity was made the official religion of Iceland, a lawmaker threw Norse statues into the waterfall, dubbing it the gods’ waterfall. If you want to really get up close and personal, visit Seljalandsfoss because you can walk right behind the falls to experience all its glory. the 200-foot waterfall has mainly become famous thanks to Justin Biebers’ music video, “I’ll show you.” (But please be a responsible tourist & respect the environment.)
Because it’s an island in the middle of the northern Atlantic Ocean & the Arctic Ocean, it’s not easy to import materials & supplies. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of goods. It’s actually quite the opposite. Iceland is the king of sustainability! You’ll find handcrafted, homemade & artisan goods that have the finest quality & authenticity. Even though it can get a little pricey, invest in a nice wool sweater. Icelandic wool makes some of the warmest clothes I’ve ever worn. There’re quaint storefronts in every alleyway in every city. In Reykjavik, I found really cool earrings made from the black sand beaches that dot the southern coast. Can’t find that stuff in a Walmart!
Enjoy Black Sand Beaches
Speaking of black sand beaches, you must check one out if you want to see something truly magical. These beaches are remnants of basalt lava that used to cover the land. Diamond Beach is well known because chunks of ice litter the black sand and resemble diamonds sparkling on the shore. It’s also just pretty strange to be on a beach in a winter jacket!
Say a Prayer at Hallgrímskirkja
I don’t know what it is about churches, but my family always ends up finding the oldest & most beautiful churches on our travels. There’s just something comforting about walking into a solemn church. Hallgrímskirkja, standing proud in the center of Reykjavik, is the largest church in Iceland + one of the largest buildings in the country. There’s a statue of Leif Erikson in front of the church that was given to Iceland by the U.S. to celebrate the country’s 1,000 year anniversary of the first parliament.
Take a Hike
You’ll be in for a workout. Iceland’s terrain is no joke. One second you could be hiking around a dormant volcano (I recommend) & the next, you could be walking out in the middle of nowhere to see an abandoned plane wreck (also recommend). Make sure to bring a water bottle (or two) for the hike to the airplane; it’ll take you two hours! You can’t even see the plane until you’re about a thousand feet away! You won’t regret exploring the wreck.
One thing I didn’t mention is the northern lights. My family didn’t experience this phenomenon because we missed peak season (September – March because the nights are so long). If we would’ve gotten to see them, they would most certainly made the top 10!
10 Things You Must Do In Iceland
For more information and help booking your trip, I highly recommend visiting Iceland’s official tourism website Inspired by Iceland. Safe travels!