The Best Places to Visit in Iceland

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Why is Iceland consistently ranked as one of the world's top travel destinations? Plan a trip to this Nordic island nation and discover firsthand what makes Iceland such a popular place to visit.

With dramatic volcanic landscapes and a rich cultural heritage especially from the Viking Age, Iceland is one of my favourite places to visit on a trip from Norway.

Volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Volcanic eruption in Iceland.

From the bustling streets of Reykjavik, renowned for its lively arts scene and stunning architecture, to the remote, untamed wilderness of the Highlands, Iceland offers a multitude of unforgettable experiences.

Visitors can immerse themselves in the contemporary charm of urban centres, relax in geothermal hot springs under star-studded skies, or wander through picturesque villages steeped in tradition.

Why Visit Iceland?

Iceland caters to a wide array of interests, making it a versatile destination. There’s no single best time to visit Iceland, as each season offers its own attractions.

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Adventure seekers can find thrills in outdoor activities like hiking, glacier trekking, and whale watching across Iceland’s diverse landscapes.

Nature enthusiasts can connect with the pristine environment in the country’s numerous national parks and majestic fjords.

Those in search of relaxation will find solace in the abundant geothermal pools and the tranquil ambiance of the countryside.

Smoky landscape in Iceland. Photo: David Nikel.
Smoky landscape in Iceland. Photo: David Nikel.

Each region of Iceland promises unique experiences that reveal why this island nation is celebrated for its breathtaking beauty and friendly inhabitants.

From the vibrant cultural scene and innovative public spaces of Reykjavik to the serene, unspoiled beauty of the Westfjords, every corner of Iceland invites you to uncover the secret to its enchanting charm.

Visit Reykjavik

Iceland’s compact yet vibrant capital city is the perfect starting point for those seeking a city break in Iceland. Visiting Reykjavik offers a unique blend of modern design, rich history, and natural beauty.

The city is renowned for its commitment to sustainability and innovative design, reflected in its numerous novel public spaces and landmarks.

One of the city's architectural highlights is Harpa Concert Hall, a modern marvel with a striking glass façade that mirrors the dynamic beauty of the surrounding landscape. This venue hosts various concerts and events, making it a cultural hub in the heart of Reykjavik.

Another must-visit site is Hallgrimskirkja Church, an iconic structure with a unique design inspired by Iceland's basalt lava flows. Its towering spire offers panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains.

Hallgrímskirkja church and Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Landmarks in Reykjavik: Hallgrímskirkja church and Sun Voyager sculpture.

Located in the center of the city, the National Museum of Iceland offers insights into the country’s history and culture, showcasing artifacts from the Viking era to the present day.

The city's proximity to the sea adds to its charm, offering a maritime ambiance and a variety of outdoor activities. Visitors can explore the picturesque Old Harbour, take a whale watching tour, or enjoy a leisurely stroll along the scenic waterfront.

The city’s vibrant streets, parks, and public spaces provide ample opportunities for relaxation and recreation, making Reykjavik a standout destination in Iceland.

Easy Day Trips From Reykjavik

Short on time? Reykjavik offers several day trip opportunities for those with limited time but who are still keen to explore Iceland's rich landscapes and cultural heritage.

The Golden Circle

A popular tourist route, the Golden Circle includes three major attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.

Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is significant for its historical and geological importance. Visitors can walk between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia and explore the site of Iceland's first parliament.

The Geysir Geothermal Area is home to Strokkur, a geyser that erupts every few minutes, sending a column of hot water into the air. Gullfoss, or “Golden Falls,” is a magnificent waterfall that offers stunning views and photographic opportunities.

The Blue Lagoon

Located a short drive from Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon is a world-famous geothermal spa. The milky-blue waters, rich in minerals, are believed to have healing properties.

Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, Iceland.
Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, Iceland.

Visitors can soak in the warm waters, enjoy spa treatments, and dine at the on-site restaurant.

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Recent volcanic activity in the area has seen the Blue Lagoon closed at short notice, so do check in advance before you travel. There are many geothermal spas available in Iceland, so it's a good idea to research some alternatives, just in case.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Known as “Iceland in Miniature,” the Snæfellsnes Peninsula offers a diverse range of landscapes, from lava fields and volcanic craters to scenic coastlines and charming fishing villages.

The area is dominated by the Snæfellsjökull glacier, which is said to have inspired Jules Verne's “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Highlights include the picturesque town of Stykkisholmur, the dramatic cliffs of Arnarstapi, and the black church of Budir.

Iceland’s Westfjords

The Westfjords region, a remote and less-visited part of Iceland, offers stunning natural beauty and abundant wildlife. The dramatic fjords, towering cliffs, and secluded coves create a sense of awe and tranquility.

One of the highlights of the Westfjords is Dynjandi, a series of waterfalls that cascade down a steep mountainside. The largest of these waterfalls, also called Dynjandi, is a majestic sight to behold.

The shoreline of the Arnarfjörður in Iceland's westfjords. Photo: David Nikel.

The region is also home to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, a remote wilderness area that is perfect for hiking and wildlife watching. Visitors can encounter Arctic foxes, seals, and a variety of bird species in their natural habitat.

The town of Isafjordur serves as a gateway to the Westfjords and offers cultural experiences, including museums, art galleries, and local cuisine.

Iceland’s Highlands

The Highlands of Iceland, a vast and uninhabited region, offer a stark and surreal landscape of lava fields, volcanic craters, and glaciers. This area is accessible only during the summer months due to harsh weather conditions.

Highlights of the Highlands include Landmannalaugar, known for its colorful rhyolite mountains and geothermal hot springs, and Askja, a volcanic caldera with a striking blue crater lake.

Hiking, camping, and 4×4 tours are popular activities in this remote region, offering a true sense of adventure and exploration.

Iceland’s Eastfjords

The Eastfjords region offers a tranquil and scenic escape, with its rugged coastline, charming fishing villages, and abundant wildlife. The fjords themselves are a highlight, with their steep cliffs and deep blue waters.

One of the key attractions in the Eastfjords is the town of Seydisfjordur, known for its vibrant arts scene and colourful wooden houses.

Seydisfjordur in Iceland.
Seydisfjordur in Iceland.

The town is also a gateway to the stunning Skalanes Nature Reserve, which offers hiking and wildlife watching opportunities.

South Coast

A day trip along Iceland’s South Coast offers dramatic landscapes, including black sand beaches, towering waterfalls, and rugged cliffs.

Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss are two iconic waterfalls that are easily accessible from the main road. Reynisfjara, with its striking basalt columns and black sand, is a must-visit beach. The nearby village of Vik offers picturesque views and charming local culture.

Westman Islands

The Westman Islands, located off the south coast of Iceland, offer a unique blend of natural beauty, history, and wildlife.

Heimaey, the largest island, is known for its volcanic landscapes and the historic Eldfell eruption of 1973. Visitors can explore the Eldheimar Museum, which tells the story of the eruption and its impact on the local community.

The islands are also a prime spot for puffin watching, with large colonies of these charming birds nesting on the cliffs during the summer months.

Arctic Adventures

Iceland's northern regions offer a range of Arctic adventures, from whale watching in Husavik to exploring the remote wilderness of the Arctic Circle.

Husavik, often called the “Whale Watching Capital of Europe,” offers boat tours to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The town also features the Husavik Whale Museum, which provides insights into the marine life of the area.

For those seeking a more remote adventure, the Arctic Circle area offers opportunities for hiking, wildlife watching, and experiencing the midnight sun during the summer months.

Lake Myvatn

Located in North Iceland, Lake Myvatn and surrounding region are known for their geothermal features, abundant birdlife, and striking landscapes.

Geothermal area in Lake Myvatn region in Northern Iceland.
Geothermal area in Lake Myvatn region in Northern Iceland.

Highlights of the area include the Myvatn Nature Baths, a geothermal spa with milky-blue waters, and the Hverir geothermal area, known for its bubbling mud pots and steam vents.

The nearby Dimmuborgir lava fields offer surreal landscapes of twisted lava formations, while the Krafla volcanic area features a dramatic crater lake and volcanic vents.

The Northern Lights

One of Iceland's most famous natural phenomena is the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. This dazzling display of lights can be seen from various locations across the country, particularly during the winter months.

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Popular spots for viewing the Northern Lights include Thingvellir National Park, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the remote areas of the Westfjords and Highlands.

For a more comfortable experience, consider staying in a glass igloo or a remote cabin with large windows, allowing you to watch the lights from the warmth of your accommodation.

Which are your favourite places to visit in Iceland? Or perhaps you haven't yet been but have been inspired to plan a trip? I'd love to hear your thoughts down in the comments.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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