Randy & Rachel’s road trip guide explores all the things to do in Iceland, including glaciers, waterfalls, hot springs, volcanoes, and geysers!
Things TO Do
The Blue Lagoon
Relaxing in a giant heated pool, at the Blue Lagoon, was a great way to spend some time after a seven-hour plane ride. It’s one of the more unique things to do in Iceland. While it’s not a naturally occurring pool, the silica-rich water and silica mud masks do really make your skin feel great. Make sure to wander all around in the water, as there are distinctly warmer spots, and you can find your perfect temperature somewhere. Overall, the temperature is slightly cooler than most hot tubs, at between 99 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit. They also have a small sauna, steam room, cold water spray, and waterfall for more vigorous relaxation. It’s one of the popular things to do in Iceland.
Gunnuhver Hot Springs
Gunnuhver Hot Springs offered our first glimpse of the raw, primal nature of Iceland. The landscape in the area consists of lava rocks covered in a thin layer of moss, in some places looking like a different planet. When you arrive at Gunnuhver, you notice a distinctly sulfurous note in the air. Then you walk a short way to find geothermally-heated steam billowing continuously out of a hole in the ground several feet in diameter. Sulfur and other mineral deposits in the area turn the ground a myriad of colors.
Bridge Between Continents
Bridge Between Continents is one of several places in Iceland where you can stand between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The plates sliding apart from each other (at about 3/4” per year) are part of the cause of Iceland’s extreme volcanic nature.
We rented a car from Orange Car Rental for the entire week. You really need a car to experience all the things to do in Iceland. Their shuttle was a little slow arriving at the airport to pick us up, but they offered the best price overall. Make sure to bring a credit card with you if you choose them, as we neglected to, and they had to take the deposit out of our bank account, and it was held up for several days after we returned the car due to international banking stuff.
things to Do
Reykjavík is Iceland’s biggest city, though at only 120,000 people, it’s still quite small overall. Most of the buildings are small (2-3 stories) and simply styled. Many have brightly colored walls or roofs to brighten the long cold winters. Overall it feels uncomplicated and relaxing. There are lots of cool shops and restaurants with all sorts of food. Spending time in Reykjavík is one of the most common things to do in Iceland.
Hallgrímskirkja is Reykjavík’s most striking and beautiful building, and this is a must-see. Make sure to go up into the spire for excellent 360° views of downtown.
Inside the Volcano
Going inside the volcano was by far our favorite part of all the things to do in Iceland! It’s the only place in the world you can go inside a volcano magma chamber. You can either get picked up in Reykjavik or drive yourself to the meeting point. Once the whole group is there, you head out on an approximately 45 minute hike across the beautiful Icelandic landscape. When you get to the base camp building at the bottom of the volcano, you get separated into groups of six, since the elevator into the volcano is quite small. You’re then given hardhats and harnesses and then you take a small hike up to the top of the volcano. After a 10 minute trip down in the elevator, you are free to walk around inside the paths of the volcano for about 30 minutes. Once you’re back at base camp you are provided with delicious lamb or vegetarian soup to prepare you for return journey.
The Perlan Museum was a very cool museum, and we only wished we could have spent more time here. There’s an exhibit on glaciers, a man-made replica of an ice cave that you get to tour through, and a very interesting exhibit on climate change and its effects on glaciers. Included in the ticket price is access to the walkway that wraps all the way around the building and gives gorgeous views of Reykjavík. It’s a brand-new place, and they’re planning on adding other things to do, such as a planetarium and exhibits on the ocean and the aurora.
The Lebowski Bar
Don’t be fooled into thinking The Lebowski Bar is a lame restaurant cashing in on their theme. Our burgers and fries here were some of the best food we had this trip!
In Reykjavík we stayed at Siggi’s Airbnb and loved it. It was close to downtown, but in a quiet neighborhood. Very nicely priced as well. Airbnb is great option to find rentals when traveling, and most of the places on Airbnb are a far better value for your money than traditional hotels. Though our favorite part about it is you really feel like a local when staying in a new city! Sign up here to get $40 off your first visit!
The Southern Coast
things to Do
We spent 2 days exploring all sights on the Southern Coast – well worth putting on your list of things to do in Iceland!
Visiting all the gorgeous waterfalls is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland. When visiting Seljalandsfoss, you can walk around behind this beautiful waterfall. Then you can also follow a path along the base of the cliff to see another five waterfalls in the space of half a mile. The last waterfall, Gljúfrabúi, is mostly hidden behind a rock, but there’s enough of a path to scramble up to the top and get an unobstructed view.
Skógafoss is a majestic, huge waterfall that we both loved. It’s definitely worth it to climb all 861,215,236 stairs to get to the top and see the river that leads up to the falls.
After traversing an excitingly steep and rocky road, you end up on a large rocky outcropping that is home to a lighthouse, a huge natural rock arch, large bird population, and amazing views in all directions.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach was one of the few actual beaches we saw. There’s also an amazing basalt rock formation and cave in the cliff face. Watch out for the dangerous sneaker waves!
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon was smaller and much less visited than Jökulsárlón. We opted to take an iceberg boat tour here on the advice of one of the employees at our hotel the previous night. Definitely add this to your list of things to do in Iceland. They took us out into the midst of the icebergs, where we got to see one roll over and even hold a mini-iceberg. Then we drove up along the face of the glacier and sat in the peaceful silence that was broken only by the occasional thunder-like rumblings of the glacier.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was way busier than Fjallsárlón, with several tour buses and a full parking lot. We didn’t enjoy it as much due to the crowds, but it’s still definitely worth visiting, since the glacier feeding this lagoon is much larger and therefore creates bigger icebergs. You also get a better view of the lagoon and icebergs. (This is the header image above!)
We stayed at the Farmhouse Lodge in Skeidflotur for the third night of our trip, which was nice but definitely overpriced for an unremarkable room. Breakfast was good, at least.
We stayed at Fosshotel Núpar in Kalfafell for our fourth night. It was just alright. We didn’t have any problems with anything, but didn’t love anything either. Breakfast was quite good though.
The Golden Circle
things to DO
Gullfoss is a big beautiful waterfall with one short fall preceding the larger one that disappears into a narrow valley full of spray and mist.
Visit the namesake of all geysers! It’s almost entirely dormant these days, but the adjacent Strokkur erupts every few minutes.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park provided another opportunity to walk between the tectonic plates, but on a much larger scale. Besides beautiful pristine nature all around, this is also the original home of the Alþingi, Iceland’s first parliament, which started in 930.
Kerið is just a small park where you can walk around the rim of a crater lake, then descend down inside the crater to walk around the shore of the striking aquamarine lake. Immediately adjacent are two other craters, formed as the tectonic plate moved over a magma hotspot. A very cool place overall.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
things to DO
This waterfall, with its namesake mountain in the background, is one of the most iconic in Iceland. The pictures don’t do it justice though, as the mountain was much closer and more imposing than we expected.
Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum
The Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum itself consists mostly of a bunch of old household items and tools, with some shark-hunting related things, so don’t expect much in that department. The star of the show, though, is the narrated video explaining exactly how to make hákarl, an Icelandic delicacy made from rotten/fermented/putrefied Greenland shark, and the subsequent taste test. There’s not much of a flavor at all for the first few seconds, but as you keep chewing, it just gets worse and worse and worse. The best option is to have a contest with your travel partner to see who can chew the longest. It’s one of the most unique of the things to do in Iceland!
For the fifth night we stayed at Einar and Thora’s Airbnb in Gríes- og Grafningshreppur and loved it to death. They’re an adorable old couple that live in a house right next to the cabin you stay in, and are very enthusiastic about making sure you have a great time. Einar was full of stories and suggestions of things to do in Iceland. They even offer homecooked meals which we were unfortunately unable to take advantage of.
For our last night we stayed at Sveinn’s Airbnb in the country, near Borgarnes. It was nicely appointed and very quiet. I’m sure it would have been a great place to watch the aurora, if there hadn’t been so many clouds in the way. Still got a nice sunset view over the shore.
Airbnb is great option to find rentals when traveling, and most of the places on Airbnb are a far better value for your money than traditional hotels. Though our favorite part about it is you really feel like a local when staying in a new city! Sign up here to get $40 off your first visit!
Iceland Travel Tips:
Best time to visit – We visited at the end of August/early September. Though our trip was nice for being after the main tourist season, we missed the puffins. It was also the very beginning of the northern lights season, but it happened to be cloudy every night, so we never got a chance to see the aurora. If you go, make sure to get an aurora alert app that can notify you if there’s a good chance of seeing it.
Weather – Highs were in the low to mid 50s, with lows in the 40s (Fahrenheit). We wore windproof/waterproof hooded rain jackets over our fleece jackets and were always comfortable.
Language – Every native we met spoke English, and their Icelandic accents were adorable.
Water – They’re very proud of how clean their water is. We both liked the tap water and found bottled water completely unnecessary.
Voltage – They use 240 volt electricity and a different style of plug, so you’ll need a plug adapter, and possibly a voltage converter. Our phone and camera battery chargers could all handle 240 volt input, so we just needed some adapters.
Wireless – Our roaming data plan was really expensive, so we got a Trawire 4G Wi-Fi modem. It worked flawlessly and was cheaper than getting the same thing from the rental car places. It also enabled us to use our phones for GPS, which we never had any trouble with.
Snack foods – We found lots of paprika flavored chips and Funyun-like snacks in the grocery stores. We loved all of them that we tried. They also really like licorice and putting marzipan in things, including licorice and chocolate bars.
Other Travel Guides You Might Like:
London, England – The Ultimate 5 Day London Itinerary
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA – Beaches and Lobsters: Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Northern California, USA – Road Trip Guide to the Northern California Coast
North & South Islands, New Zealand – The Ultimate New Zealand Itinerary
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