“Iceland is beautiful, sometimes it is hard to imagine living anywhere else.” Just a few words by Baltasar Kormakur are sufficient to summarize the beauty of Iceland. If you are a traveler visiting Iceland, you must trust the words of the acclaimed native actor and director. From diamond-shaped icebergs to the sky-reaching mountains, the natural wealth of Iceland never ceases to amaze. Take Silfra fissure, for example, a rare phenomenon that can truly take you by surprise. Not just the locations, there are other aspects like Northern Lights, and many interesting activities that make Iceland a paradise for enthusiastic travelers who want to spend each day doing something new. Icelandic people have high regard for their land and its natural wealth.
Every traveler comes across this challenge – what places to choose when in Iceland. There are so many breathtaking locations in the country that you may get confused while picking the best ones. We have compiled a list of the top 10 Iceland locations for you, including all the details that you need during your trip to Iceland. In this article you will get to know everything about the Iceland must see places. Just pack your bags and get ready for your trip.
Gullfoss waterfall is a stunning sight to witness, and is always packed with enthusiastic tourists. There are many reasons for its fame, along with its picturesque beauty. The waterfall is one of the most popular attractions in the most popular traveling route in Iceland, Golden Circle Route. Gullfoss translates to ‘Golden Falls’ and is located in the Hvítá River Canyon in Southwest Iceland. The meltwater from Langjökull glacier flows in copious amounts, especially during the summer. The Hvita River rises to an average of 140 cubic meters per second around this time. Authorities measured 2,000 cubic meters per second as the highest ever flood flow rate here.
Gullfoss Waterfall has two stages – two separate features that beautifully complement each other. The fall has a unique look and formation that seems breathtaking. The shorter first cascade is 11 meters (36 feet) long, while the second fall is 21 meters (69 feet) long. The canyon walls on either side of the waterfall reach heights of up to 70 meters (230 feet), making their way into the great Gullfossgjúfur canyon. Geologists base their theory that glacial outbursts at the beginning of the last age are responsible for the formation of this canyon.
In the summer, approximately 140 cubic meters (459 cubic feet) of water surges down the waterfall every second, whilst in winter that number drops to around 109 cubic meters (358 cubic feet). With such energy, visitors should not be surprised to find themselves drenched by the waterfall’s mighty spray should they get too close.
About 140 cubic meters (459 cubic feet) of water rushes down the waterfall per second during the summer. The quantity lowers to around 109 cubic meters (358 cubic feet) in the winter. You are not supposed to be shocked if the tremendous spray of waterfall showers you when you go close. Some visitors enjoy the thrill of the activity without realizing that it could be dangerous to go too close to the waterfall.
It is easy to visit Gullfoss waterfall. We recommend that you either rent a car and drive there on your own, or join one of the guided Golden Circle tours that will take you to Gullfoss and some other interesting locations in the Golden Circle. A self-driving tour is perfect if you want to explore the waterfall at your pace, and visit some other locations on your way. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can find variety of great Golden Circle tours that departure from Reykjavik. Gullfoss is one of the three attractions the Golden Circle is famous for. The other two attractions are actually also listed in the top 10 Iceland locations, so you will be up for a treat on this day of your trip.
When going on a Golden Circle tour you can choose between a regular tour that will take you on a minibus to all the most popular sites, or you can add some activity and adventures to your tour, like snorkeling, hot springs, glacier exploration or snowmobiling.
Seljalandsfoss carries the beauty of the divine era of gods. The ecstatic waterfall is popular because of a distinguishing feature – tourists can fully encircle it. Yes, it may sound astonishing at first, but you can complete a full round around this beautiful waterfall. Seljalandsfoss is located on the South Coast of Iceland with an enormous drop of 60 meters (200 feet). Seljalandsfoss waterfall is part of the beautiful River Seljalandsá. However, its origins lie underneath the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. The cascade of the falls is narrow as compared to other famous waterfalls in the country.
The waterfall consists of impressive natural features and is easy to access, considering its proximity to the Ring Road. These are among many reasons why it is one of the country’s most famous and visited waterfalls.
When visiting Seljalandsfoss, it is both easy to rent a car and drive there on your own or join one of the guided tours that will take you to Seljalandsfoss. Most tours that will take you to the South Coast of Iceland will make a stop at Seljalandsfoss since it is the top attraction in South Iceland. The tours are well planned and you can choose between variety of activities to add to your day. Does something like ice caves, snowmobiling or glacier hiking sound interesting to you? Then check out the day tours that will take you to Seljalandsfoss.
When going on a self-driving tours you will however get complete independence to see the places at your pace. Many visitors have a lot of places of their interest in the area around Seljalandsfoss and for them it might be better to rent a car and drive there on their own. Seljalandsfoss is located around 2 hours from the capital city, Reykjavik.
The pathway that surrounds Seljalandsfoss is its most distinguishing feature. It seems amazing the way the entire formation looks. The cliffs behind the waterfalls have a broad cavern, and rocks & paths allow guests to fully encircle the waterfall. The continuous mist of the falls adds to the aura of Seljalandsfoss. The tourists are often dampened due to this perpetual mist, which feels mesmerizing but it also makes the rocks of the pathway slippery. There are floodlights set up on both sides of the waterfall that charmingly illuminate the scene during the night when the midnight sun is not out. Authorities felt the need to install the lights in 2001 due to the rising fame of the falls among the tourists. During winter, the path might be slippery and sometimes even closed due to snow.
Most visitors like to continue north to the waterfall Gljúfrabúi after they visit Seljalandsfoss. It is located only 1 minute drive from Seljalandsfoss. A rock face partially covers the Gljúfrabúi waterfall, but it cannot hamper its beauty. Gljúfrabúi is a hidden gem in the area that people often do not notice because of the popularity of Seljalandsfoss. You must take some time out to visit the area. Tourists can plan a combined trip to Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi, and Skógafoss waterfall (see below). Skogafoss falls from the same height as Seljalandsfoss. It is a more powerful waterfall, and one of the top attractions in Iceland as well.
It is impossible to not talk about Skógafoss, when the top 10 Iceland muse see places are mentioned. It is one of the country’s biggest and most stunning waterfalls with an astonishing width of 25 meters (82 feet) and a fall of 60 meters (197 feet).
The mighty waterfall is part of the Skógá River, clearly visible from Road 1. Skógafoss is a must visit when traveling along the South Coast of Iceland. The river beneath Skógafoss holds a large char and salmon population, the favorite spot of fishermen during the summer. The amount of spray that the cascade produces leads to the rainbow formation. At least one rainbow is present at any time the sun emerges from behind the clouds, and often you can even see two rainbows.
The land below the waterfall is flat, allowing tourists to walk right up to the wall of water. This part gets you drenched, which is fulfilling on a summer day. It is simply an amazing experience to be able to get so close to the waterfall. You must avoid going too deep in winters as the water is harsh cold. You can also view the Skógafoss from the top as a steep staircase way guides you to an observational platform above the waterfall. You can see many nesting seabirds on the route up.
Interesting folklore surrounds the waterfall. You can know more about it when you visit the Skógasafn folk museum, an open-air museum with both ancient wooden houses and turf houses. You can also see a regional museum with multiple artifacts from this area. The Skógasafn museum also has a café and a museum shop, where you can enjoy local snacks. You can find both a hotel and a restaurant in the village of Skógar.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is based in Southeast Iceland – a place where you find a glacier lagoon filled with icebergs. The glacier lagoon has become one of Iceland’s most well-known and loved attractions due to its breathtaking beauty. Jökulsárlón Lagoon translates to ‘Glacier’s-River-Lagoon.’
Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake of Iceland with a maximum depth of 248 meters. The surface area of Jökulsárlón measures 18 kilometers square. Jökulsárlón features a natural palette that consists of precious natural wealth, leading to its world fame. The icebergs in Jökulsárlón are composed of ice that is over a thousand years old. The lagoon connects with the ocean and is therefore composed of a sea & freshwater mixture leading to its unique color. You can see seals in Jökulsárlón throughout the year, but they travel in groups to the mouth of the lagoon to catch fish in the winter.
The formation at the core is not a recent phenomenon but, you must keep in mind that every decade or so this place keeps changing. It is because of the location of Iceland. The formation of Jökulsárlón started around 1934, when Breiðamerkurjökull glacier began to retreat, leaving the lagoon in its path. The lagoon has significantly increased in size since the early 1970s.
Boat tours are popular in the lagoon. During the season, there are 30-40 boat trips a day, filled with people that want to see the icebergs up close and personal. You can also visit th emost popular natural ice cave in Iceland when visiting Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. The Crystal Blue Ice Cave is only accessible during winter (from November – April), but if you are traveling at that time of the year, this is a must do.
During winter, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is also the perfect spot to watch the Northern Lights. During summer, it is magical to visit this place when the midnight sun in shining.
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is located around 5 hour drive from Reykjavik. When visiting Jokulsarlon you can either rent a car and drive there on your own, or you can join a guided tour that will take you to this site. There are a couple of good hotels to find in the area, but our favorite one is Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon and Adventure Hotel Hof.
Since Jokulsarlon is located so far away from Reykjavik, we recommend that you take at least 2 days for the adventure if you are driving on your own.
You can find one day tours that will take you to Jokulsarlon, but note that they include a lot of driving. We would rather recommend a 2 or 3 day tour that will take you to Jokulsarlon. Those tours also include some great activities like ice caving and sightseeing of all the best places on the south coast.
Lake Mývatn is a breathtaking spot that becomes an absolute favorite of travelers, right at the first glance. Lake Myvatn is located in North Iceland and is a gem worth visiting. With an area of 36.5 square kilometers, Mývatn is the fourth-largest body of water in Iceland. The size of the lake is just one of the attractive qualities that draw visitors to this place throughout the year. Some incredible geological features, a wealth of flora and fauna, and some unbelievable sites in close proximity are other attractions at Mývatn.
Mývatn is part of the Diamond Circle, a popular travel route in the north of Iceland. There are so many interesting sites around Lake Myvatn that we recommend that you check out. Our favorite places include Dimmuborgir lava fields, Myvatn Nature Baths, Grjótagjá Cave (from Game of Thrones), Skútustaðagígar Craters, Hverir geothermal area, and Hverfjall Crater.
There are multiple cafés, restaurants, and guest houses scattered along the banks of the lake and by some of the main attractions. The hotels that we recommend around Lake Myvatn are Vogar Travel Service, Fosshotel Mývatn and Icelandair Hotel Myvatn. You can also find two good campsites in the area.
It takes about six to seven hours to reach Myvatn from Reykjavik, but only around 1 hour from Akureyri, the largest town in North Iceland. The Ring Road of Iceland will take you to Myvatn. Myvatn is an ideal place to spend a full day if you are traveling the Ring Road of Iceland. We recommend that you visit most of the places listed above when visiting Lake Myvatn.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is the ultimate buzz of Iceland. The charming milky-blue water is unmatched by anything else found on the planet, and therefor the Blue Lagoon has often been named one of the wonders of the world. It makes a solid contrast with the surrounding black lava fields and gray-colored moss. The water stays at a stable temperature of 102°F all year round, making it an ideal bathing temperature.
The excellent location of the lagoon and rich skin-nourishing, soothing waters make it a favorite of tourists. The location is the most visited attraction of Iceland, along with the Golden Circle tour of Iceland. The entry fee begins from 5990 ISK for adults (14+). There are options to choose between comfort level, premium entry, or the retreat spa. The spa experience is rejuvenating, because of the other combined facilities like food and drinks. The minimum age to enter the Blue Lagoon is two years, without any entry fee for two to 13-year-olds. Likely, the place is fully booked at any given time, and therefor you must pre-book at least a few weeks in advance. People debate on the best time to visit the Blue Lagoon. Some people think it is wonerful to start the day with a trip to a spa, while others like to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights or enjoy the midnight sun in the evenings. The Blue Lagoon is not natural, but a created water body with the help of a power plant that is drilling for steam and hot water. Its formation dates back to 1976. The warm seawater of the lagoon is rich with minerals like silica that do wonders for your skin. It also offers Psoriasis treatments. The water in the Blue Lagoon changes or renews itself completely every 48 hours.
The lagoon is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula in Southwest Iceland, an area known for its barren landscapes and conical volcanoes. It takes only 15 minutes to drive from the Keflavík International Airport. If you drive from the capital, it takes about 40 minutes to reach the lagoon. Tourists often either make it their first destination or last because of it’s location near the airport. It is possible to book a bus from the airport to the Blue Lagoon, and after your visit to the Blue Lagoon, you can take the bus from the lagoon to Reykjavik and start your holiday in Iceland. If you are on a stopover in Iceland, it is also an ideal place to spend your time. Take the bus from the airport, spend some quality time in the Blue Lagoon. Afterwards you can take the bus back to the airport and keep on going with your traveling.
Geysir / Strokkur
Geysir is a well-known hot spring in the geothermal area of Haukadalur Valley, found in southwest Iceland. It is one of the three well-recognized tourist destinations on the Golden Circle Route. Though Geysir itself shows rare signs of activity these days, Haukadalur Valley features a plethora of hot springs and geysers. The list includes the powerful Strokkur, Smiður, and Litli-Strokkur. Whenever it is likely to get active, the Geysir water can shoot up in the air as high as 70 meters (230 feet). The natural force is abundant and so powerful around the area, that it seems miraculous after a point.
Strokkur is undoubtedly Iceland’s most popular geyser, shooting massive jets of boiling water from 20 meters up to 40 meters high. I may sound unbelievable to you, but Iceland has many unbelievable places lined up for you! It is a surety to catch the mesmerizing spectacle of nature, as Strokkur erupts every five to ten minutes. You need to make sure that your camera is ready.
Geysir is less than a two-hour drive from the capital, making it convenient to reach for many tourists joining a Golden Circle day tour or those who rent a car.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park is the oldest national park in Iceland, with rich historical associations. Þingvellir National Park is considered a marvel located on the Golden Circle sightseeing route. UNESCO recognizes it as a World Heritage Site, the sole park in the country to have this privilege. The special status was bestowed upon the park because of its unique geology and historical & cultural significance in 2004. The first parliament of Iceland or first National Assembly – Alþingi took place in the park. The park is 45 kilometers away from the capital city Reykjavík, which means that you can access it in almost an hour’s drive. Along with the Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir geothermal area, Þingvellir National Park is one among the three popular places on the Golden Circle Route.
Þingvellir National Park is a vast and mesmerizing arena where you can discover many natural gems. You can begin with the majestic waterfall, Öxarárfoss. The waterfall starts flowing from the river Öxará. It eventually tumbles down over the side of the Almannagjá Gorge. ‘Axe Falls’ is another name and English translation of Öxarárfoss. The origins of the axe being used in the name of the waterfall are not clear. Some historians claim that the name is the result of the multiple executions that happened earlier in this place. There is a path constructed along the Almannagjá with clear indications. You can find information signs all over the park that will tell you about the incredible history of the area. They even guide you towards particular interesting spots. There is the Law Rock or Lögberg and Drekkingarhylur, also called the Deep Drowning Pool. Drekkingarhylur dates back to the 17th-century Icelandic judicial system.
Magnificent glacial spring Silfra Fissure also belongs to Þingvellir. The fissure is one of the top ten scuba diving and snorkeling sites of the globe. You can join a snorkeling tour when visiting Þingvellir. Most travelers that try it out say that it is one of the best experience from their trip to Iceland. Crystal-like water visibility and rejuvenating natural scenes are within the reach everywhere. Thingvellir Church and Prime Minister Summerhouse can also be found in the park.
Hallgrimskirkja Church has its base at the top of Skolavordustigur Street, the central art and design shopping street in Reykjavik. The incredible building is 74.5 meters (240 ft) high, and a visit to the top rewards you with awe-inspiring views of the capital. You can even see the Snaefellsjokull glacier on a bright day. Visitors can enter the church tower and enjoy the majestic view for a reasonable fee, only to enter the tower not to view the church. Adults pay an entrance fee of 900 ISK, and children between the ages of 7 – 14 pay 100 ISK. Hallgrimskirkja Church is open to visitors every day from 9 am to 9 pm from May to September, and 9 am to 5 pm from October to April. The church tower, from where you get a good view over Reykjavik and nearby areas, closes half an hour before the general closing time. The tower is not open on Sundays during mass.
Completed in 1986, the concrete structure took over four decades to build. Authorities renovated the tower in 2009, elevating its look. The design of the modernist church was inspired by the basalt lava flows found in Iceland‘s natural landscape, specifically the basalt columns around the Svartifoss waterfall in South Iceland.
When you reach some destinations, it feels like an expert VFX artist has designed them. Kirkjufell is one of those places. Do you know that it featured in the blockbuster Game of Thrones as “Arrowhead Mountain”? Photographers love the place beyond measure for its unique formation. Kirkjufell is one of the most photogenic places in Iceland, especially on a bright summer day.
The conical mountain stands 463-meters or 1519 feet above sea level on the Snæfellsnesnes peninsula in West Iceland. The small fishing town of Grundarfjörður is beneath the mesmerizing mountain. The waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss, or ‘Church Mountain Falls’ is within walking distance from Kirkjufell. A serene waterfall is an excellent object for photographers who can frame the mountain as a backdrop. The three steps of Kirkjufellsfoss and a gentle flow make it as impressive as some larger waterfalls of Iceland, despite its relatively short height.
Visitors can also see a lake at the base of the mountain on calm and clear days. This lake reflects a perfect mirror image of Kirkjufell, giving another notable subject to the photographers, only adding to the fascinating photo opportunities around this area.
The colors of Kirkjufell change with the passing seasons. This is why the crowd of photographers surrounds it all year. The summer sees it as bright green, full of vibrancy. The face of the mount gets a mask of barren brown and white during the winter months. Of course, it looks highly impressive under the midnight sun in the weeks nearing June equinox, and under the northern lights during winter.
Things to Note before the Visit
The guided tours include a guide who smoothly sails the journey with the travelers. Secondly, planned tours have a time limit, and some take care of multiple things like tickets to a particular place. If you do not want to go through the booking hassles, reserve a tour like that. When booking a tour in Iceland, it is always good to be on the safer side and do the bookings well in advance.
When traveling around Iceland, we recommend renting a car and exploring on your own, or join guided pre planned tours. When you go on a self driving trip in Iceland you will have more freedom to explore whatever you want, but note that the driving circumstances might be different in Iceland than in your country. Some roads are gravel and require only 4×4 vehicles. A check on weather conditions is also important because sometimes authorities close routes due to snowstorms.
Read the article about Self Driving in Iceland before renting a car.
Please be particular with the weather information and plan accordingly. Even car bookings should be made according to weather if you go for a self-driving tour. Some roads are gravel and require only 4×4 vehicles. A check on weather conditions is also important because sometimes authorities close routes due to snowstorms.
If you want to participate in any special activity, ensure you have the required certificates. Some activity providers supply the gear on rent, and for some activities, you have to carry the needed gear. It is always better to keep a sturdy jacket, snacks, and a bottle of water in your backpack.
Have a memorable stay in Iceland!
If you are looking for more locations to explore in Iceland, don’t forget to check out our blog post about Top 103 places to visit in Iceland.