Iceland is the most naturally beautiful place I have ever been. You have volcanoes, black sand beaches, fjords, geysers, and glaciers. You have the opportunity to experience the Northern Lights or Midnight Sun. If you are reading this post, I really hope you have already booked or are at least considering a trip to Iceland soon!
One of the biggest discussion around Iceland is how much time you can spend in Iceland and see what you need to see. I spent about 5 days there and that was enough. With those 5 days, I want to share with you the top 10 things to do and see that I recommend based on personal experience.
1. Visit Seljalandfoss Waterfall
This was my favorite place in Iceland as it is something you would only think is from a fairy tale. The water falls so perfectly and being able to walk behind it makes this waterfall the best one in my opinion (it is actually one of the best rated waterfalls in Iceland). Not to mention it is right off of route one which makes it super convenient.
The magic does not stop here! Make sure once you are done walking behind the waterfall that you walk ALL the way to the end before returning to your car. There is a hidden waterfall in a cave which you can access by walking through the cave opening and jumping from rock to rock in a stream. You may get a little wet (especially if you miss a rock like I did) so make sure to wear proper footwear for this visit!
2. Visit Vik & surrounding areas
Vik is cute little town at the southernmost point in the country. It is great location to stop overnight while still being a part of civilization. I recommend staying somewhere you can cook or already have food prepared because there isn’t much to choose from. We made the mistake of not having anything for breakfast and the food store was not open until 10am.
Just down the road you can visit Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach). The beach has so many sights to offer which is hard to believe considering its not that big. First of all, you have the black sand which is really neat by itself.
You then have the basalt columns which are so cool! (I know I sound like a complete child right now but it really was awesome).
In addition to the sand and the columns, you also have the rocks jutting out of the water. I sat there for a minimum of 10 minutes watching the waves crash against them while also watching the birds come and go from the rock formations. Just a quiet and peaceful experience.
Drive just a little bit further and you will find yourself above the black sand beach where you can take pictures from a different angle. The best part about this spot is the crashing waves you get to experience. It was such an adrenaline rush being in the presence of something so powerful.
3. Snorkel or Dive in Silfra Fissure
Who can turn down the opportunity to swim in the water that connects two continents? I most certainly could not. Silfra is known to have some of the most pure and clear water in the world due to the type of water that runs into this area of Þingvellir National Park. Let me also mention that this will be some of the coldest water you will ever swim in. Silfra is the rift between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates that started out attached and over time has moved further and further apart. The earth is literally ripping apart. Every year, the plates move 9mm apart, creating a larger gap.
I will say that while snorkeling sounds normal, doing it here is far from it. We used Dive.is as the tour/gear provider and they were so great. You can tell the employees really enjoy their jobs and for such an incredible experience, it cost 17900 ISK per person ($155 USD). You have to get geared up in so much equipment due to the super cold waters. You have a sleeping bag/snowsuit thing that you put on over your thermals (no regular clothes allowed) and then you put on on a dry suit to ensure your body does not get wet. You have special cloves, headgear, boots and goggles too! Even with all of this, your hands, feet, and face become so cold you think you wont have them when you get out of the water.
The cold and the pain are totally worth it as you get to see things like this…
Since you are physically not able to take great pictures, your guide will give you the option to buy all the pictures they took from your tour for about $30 USD and they e-mail you a Dropbox account. TOTALLY WORTH IT. Just a friendly reminder, make sure you download those pictures ASAP as they are deleted after one month!
Another thing to keep in mind is the tour takes about 3 hours not including transit time.
4. Go on a Glacial Hike on Vatnajökull Glacier
Vatnajökull Glacier is the largest glacier in Iceland. It take up about 14% of the country and is the biggest in Europe. It costs 10900 ISK per person ($95 USD) per person and lasts about 2.5 hours. Anyone can do this as long as you can learn to pick your feet up so you don’t trip on your crampons.
Such a great experience being a part of something that is so massive.
I recommend bringing your own lunch with you as they do not have much to purchase in the store and you will be hungry after the drive. The drive alone makes going on this glacier hike even better. You get to see Southern Iceland which is beautiful in early May. You have green mountains and little lambs while driving along the coast.
5. Drive the Golden Circle
Yes, everybody does it but its because its so incredible! We drove counterclockwise by starting in Þingvellir National Park and ending at Gullfoss Falls.
This is an easy drive from Reykjavik and depending on how much time you want to take, its an easy day trip. You could technically do it in 3.5 hours and that is if you spend a little time here and there. I recommend just making a day trip out of it so you can explore each of the stops as well as take in the beauty of Iceland and the pull-off stops to take pictures.
The drive is one of the prettiest and you literally stop every 2-10 minutes to take a picture. Here are just a few at “picture” stops:
Þingvellir National Park was our first stop. This park is something you cannot miss if you take a trip to Iceland. It is a great way to really get a feel for what the country has to offer. Crystal clear blue waters, rolling hills, and snow capped mountains. Not to mention if you are a Game of Thrones fan, you may notice this place looks a little familiar.
Geysir is the second stop on the way in which you need to see Stokkur. The geyser erupts every 10-15 minutes and shoots up about 10-20 meters each time. It is worth watching once or twice as it is the most active geyser in Iceland.
While you are there, you can also see The Great Geysir which is currently “inactive” and is believed to remain that way until something like an earthquake wakes this massive geysir from its sleep.
The last and final stop on the Golden Circle is Gulfoss Falls which generates more energy than Niagara Falls in Canada/USA. It’s bursting with rainbows and well…gushing falls. This was probably my favorite stop on the day trip as it is something so simple that is so beautiful.
6. Spend at least half a day exploring Reykjavik
Reykjavik is this chill, artsy, small city that you can easily explore without public transportation. There are a variety of different places to eat and a few great things to see and do. The best part about Reykjavik is just being there. You don’t have to visit every museum or take every tour there is. It is one of those cities that is what it is.
For food, I highly recommend you have at least one good Icelandic Hot Dog. I am not sure what is different about the hot dogs there versus the USA but they are not the same.
Another recommendation is to spend a decent amount of money and go to Apotek. We did the Icelandic Tasting Menu (6 courses) and it was so good. It was also very filling.Not to mention the restaurant has a great staff and has an awesome environment.
7. Go to the top of Hallgrimskirkja
Hallgrimskirkja is the landmark for all of Reykjavik as its one of the tallest buildings in the city. It is also the largest church in Iceland. Architecturally this church is incredible and something to see while visiting the incredible city.
You MUST buy a ticket to head to the top of the tower for some amazing views and incredible pictures. We did this one the first day of our trip to get some sightseeing in while being incredibly tired since none of us slept on the flight.
8. Pet an Icelandic Horse
So this may or may not something that will make you jump up and down about Iceland but I can tell you that these horses are the friendliest most down to earth creatures. Not to mention the fact they are super majestic. Just be careful, one did not care for my boyfriend and tried to bite him!
9. Experience Reykjavik at sunset
We did not really get a chance to see Reykjavik at all parts of the day until our last night in Reykjavik. It was absolutely stunning. The color of the sky seemed to be so perfectly placed that it was really special. We visited Harpa (the concert hall) which has one of the most fascinating glass walls ever. They change color at night and are meant to reflect the Northern Lights. It never officially got dark when we were there so that was disappointing but still very cool.
You also have the Sun Voyager statue there which creates the perfect picture when taken at the right time.
We found a geocache during our evening walk (9PM to be exact) hidden under a metal box while walking. Keep your eyes open. This is just another example of the hidden treasures Reykjavik offers.
10. Go to Blue Lagoon on your way home
After an beautiful, fun filled getaway, the perfect ending was the time spent at Blue Lagoon. It is like being in a giant hot tub without the bubbles with bars that you can swim up to. You also have the option to apply face masks which were really nice.
As an American, DO NOT get freaked out by having to shower naked as most of the showers have frosted glass doors. Let’s face it, we are stuck in the days of people not accepting those for who and what they are. No one cares what you look like regardless. Just shower off and go have fun at Blue Lagoon.
Also, I recommend upgrading to the Premium Package if you have time to eat at LAVA, the restaurant at Blue Lagoon this package will help you get a reservation. You get a bathrobe and flip flops which is also super nice and just enhanced the experience.
I hope these tips help you plan your trip to Iceland and more posts will follow this. If you have any questions in the meantime, please leave me a comment!