Iceland, located between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, is a gorgeous place to find yourself regardless of the season. This country is a site of frequent geysers and volcanic eruptions due to its location between tectonic plates, with spectacular lava fields, mountains, glaciers, and glacial rivers. With such a beautiful country, how can you decide what to do? Luckily, we’ve created this pocket-friendly travel guide for Iceland, showing you just want things to see, things to do, places to eat, and places to stay. There are so many beautiful things to do in Iceland to keep yourself, your partner(s), and your family entertained. Don’t stop at this list—keep looking for more things to do, because Iceland truly has it all, from great cuisine, to amazing hotels, to fun activities for children and adults alike.
Things to See
If you’re visiting Reykjavik, here are some things to see while you’re there.
This historic art piece was designed by the Icelandic artist Ólöf Nordal, who wanted to create a place of meditation and quiet in the midst of the bustling city. It’s located by Reykjavik harbor in the Grandi area. The word “þúfa” translates to tussock, or it can also mean a small mountain or a hummock. On the top of the hill, a fish factory—HB Grandi—commissioned a shed for drying fish in 2013. This is a man-made, 8-meter (roughly 26 feet) grass-grown mound, which can be walked up via the specially-made steps.
Lesser known than its higher sister Esja, Mt. Úlfarsfell is closer to central Reykjavik and offers just as impressive a view over the city itself. It suits dedicated hikers along with casual hikers, with a variety of marked trails leading to the top ranging in difficulty. While you may encounter locals, it’s lesser known by visitors and tourists, so climb off the beaten path and onto Mt. Úlfarsfell.
There are gorgeous sights to see even outside of the capitol city.
If you want to learn, then museums are a great place to start, especially with The Herring Era Museum located in Siglufjörður. Expect to pay admissions—adults for 2.200 kr and seniors for 1.200 kr. However, the exhibitions are gorgeous, featuring The Old Slipway, salting exhibitions, The Boathouse, and more. You can also engage in learning there, about herrings, and look along the story of a herring fjord.
This is a museum dedicated to remembrance of a volcanic eruption in 1973, which forced an entire population of over 5,000 people to evacuate at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night. If natural disasters, and learning more about them, are your thing, then this is the place for you. Adults are 2.900 kr, families are 6.200 kr, seniors are 2.500 kr, ages 10-18 enter for 1.500 kr, and under 10 year olds enter free. Groups of 15 people and above are 2.300 kr. Please note that this also covers the Surtsey eruption, which is an island that emerged from the ocean south of Heimaey in 1963.
The Skogar Museum, located in southern Island, is a cultural heritage collection of 18,000 regional artifacts, which are exhibited in 6 historical buildings and 3 museums. This includes the Folk Museum, Open Air Museum, Technical Museum, and several buildings. There’s also the Freya Cafe on-site, perfect for a bite to eat and a quick beverage as you explore. Adults are 2500 ISK, students and seniors are 1800 ISK, children 12-17 years are 1500 ISK, and family tickets are 6.000 ISK, which covers two adults and children 17 and younger. Children under twelve, when accompanied by an adult, have free admission. You can call or email them for a group reservation or a guided tour as well.
If you want to look at art, look no further than Gerdarsafn, which is located only 15 minutes away from central Reykjavik by drive. There are a variety of shows depending on the time of year, but all of their past shows are available online for you to see what kind of things they have. The entrance fee is 1200 ISK, while it’s only 600 ISK for the elderly and students. It’s free for children under 18, the disabled and members of SIM, ICOM, and FISOS with the presentation of a certificate. You can also get an annual pass - adults for 2800 ISK and students and elderly for 1800 ISK.
Things to Do
Spot Northern Lights
Of course, the first thing on our “to-do” list is looking for the Northern Lights. Please note that it’s best to find an area without much light pollution—some travelers go 30-45 minutes from a central city like Reykjavik in order to see the lights clearly. When the lights are really strong, you might luck out and see them regardless of the small amounts of light pollution from towns. The months around March and September are the most highly recommended if you want to see the legendary lights.
Go Whale Watching
There are several places in Iceland where you can go whale watching, and guided tours often last up to three hours, so come prepared. The best times for watching whales in Iceland in the year varies depending on the type of whale you’re looking for. Overall, however, general consensus is June, July, and August. The high season starts in April and lasts until mid-October. It’s not just whales that you’ll spot on these tours, either—there are other forms of marine life that you’ll get to bear witness to. Grab your camera and a waterproof phone case and hop aboard the boat as it floats on icy waters.
Watch the Sunset
The sunsets in Iceland are legendary, especially if you’re visiting Vik í Myrdal, or just Vik. This place only has around 300 residents, but it’s very popular for tourists as it’s along a popular sightseeing, scenic route along the south coast of Iceland. It’s only a ten-minute drive from the famous Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, and it’s also the starting point for the Katla ice cave tour, so if you’re interested in going to the Black Sand Beach or going on an ice cave tour, this is a great place to start.
If you’re traveling from Reykjavik, it takes about two and a half hours to reach Vik, and along the way, you can stop and see the Skógafoss waterfall and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. Skógafoss has plenty of power, while Seljalandsfoss is fully encircled and you can view it from any angle.
Keep in mind, sunsets in Iceland are gorgeous no matter where you are, so keep your eyes on the sky. Low light pollution also means a better view of the stars, so grab a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate and sit outside at night to witness the glory of our galaxy.
Visit the Blue Lagoon
The ever-famous, constantly-popular Blue Lagoon in Iceland is on the top list of places to visit and things to do, simply because of its ability to give you something to do and somewhere to stay all in one go.
You can certainly engage in day visits to the Blue Lagoon, with the comfort package starting at $67 (USD), the premium package starting at $86 (USD), and the luxury retreat spa package starting at $589 (USD). The Retreat Spa Package includes access to the retreat spa, the Blue Lagoon itself, the retreat lagoon, a private changing room, and engagement in the Blue Lagoon Ritual. You also get skincare amenities, a drink of your choice, access to the Spa Restaurant, and access to eight different subterranean spaces, so it seems quite worth the money. You can also choose to stay at the Silica Hotel or the Retreat Hotel. The Silica hotel has a variety of accommodation options, starting as low as $663 (USD). The Retreat Hotel starts at $1,624 (USD), so be sure to look over all the accommodation plans to see what works best for you.
While we’re on the topic of lagoons, if you don’t want to visit the Blue Lagoon, you can always opt to visit the Glacier Lagoon instead, located in Laki, Iceland. There are two options, the Amphibian Boat Tour, with adults (13+) costing 6300 ISK, children (6-12) costing 3000 ISK, children 0-5 going free, and groups of 12+ people costing 6100 ISK. You can also go on the Zodiac Tour, which has adults (13+) at 13900 ISK and children (10-12) costing 6900 ISK. You can also go on ice cave tours, exploring the natural wonders of Vatnajökull glacier.
Places to Eat
Much of these recommendations will be in Reykjavik. However, there are some located outside of the capital city.
Located in Reykjavik, just two minutes away from Hallgrímskirkja, Cafe Loki is a great place to pop in for a quick cup of coffee and a small snack before visiting the cathedral, or for a wind-down discussion afterwards. Their menu includes Icelandic cuisine in smaller portions, perfect for sampling and sharing. They’re open from 8am to 10pm, making it a great spot to visit for a morning coffee or an evening book reading while tasting local cuisine.
Matarkjallarinn, or The Food Cellar, is also located in Reykjavik. A note of caution, they strongly advise making reservations, as it’s a very popular spot to eat. The lunch menu includes starters like beef carpaccio and tiger prawns (nobashi), with main courses like fish of the day, beef ribeye, basement beef burger, and pan-fried arctic char. There are also set menus and desserts. Dinner includes food like glazed lamb filets, beef-pepper steaks, and pan-fried cod.
Our first restaurant outside of Reykjavik, Strikið is located in Akureyri. They have brunch, lunch, and take-away, perfect for people who want to dine-in and for those who want to take food back to the hotel or their other lodgings. There’s a three-course offer, including appetizers, main courses, and desserts, along with snacks, sushi stuff, small dishes, main dishes, and more desserts.
Also located outside of Reykjavik, Fjoruborodid is located in Stokkseyri. It’s fairly popular and well-known for its amazing seafood, so make sure to snag reservations. Their menu includes things like the langoustine in magical soup, a three-course menu, langoustine tails, and other delicacies. They also have a phenomenal cocktail menu, wine menu, and other drinks including beer, cognacs, and whiskey.
If you’re visiting the Blue Lagoon, this is a must-stop. Located only ten minutes away, Bryggjan Grindavik is a great place to stop on your way to the Blue Lagoon. They do recommend reservations, so be aware of that prior to visiting. The cafe is open daily from 11am to 7pm, serving a variety of coffee drinks and other beverages. This is also the home of the famous Bryggjan lobster soup. Their new location, the Netagerðin restaurant, has food like fish and chips, Icelandic trout, and their Bryggjan-style hamburger.
Places to Stay
This is a gorgeous hotel located in downtown Reykjavik, perfect for travelers who have just arrived there and are planning on staying in the city to visit and look around. This is a self-check hotel, meaning there is no front desk or concierge service on-site. There is access to the virtual reception 24/7, and receive a key code and check-in instructions via email two days prior to arrival and check-in. There is a bar and restaurant located on-site, open from 12pm to 10pm. There’s light bites offered, like burgers, pastas, and kid-friendly offerings. There’s also continental breakfast served between 7am-10am. You can also book tours and activities by using the virtual Tour Desk. Rooms include single rooms, economy double rooms, economy twin rooms, and superior double/twin for 1-2 people; for 3-4 people, they offer triple rooms, triple rooms with a kitchenette, and rooms with bunk beds. For small groups and family travels, they offer a family room with bunk beds and a kitchenette, and a family room with sofa bed and kitchenette. There are truly options for everyone.
A small, family-owned and operated inn, the Northern Light Inn is located very close to the Blue Lagoon. This inn has its own wellness spa on-site, including options like aurora floating, massage therapy, and vacation fitness. They also are a great place for viewing the northern lights—hence the inn’s name—and offer exploration services as well. There is, of course, an on-site restaurant. Rooms come in deluxe, superior, double, twin, triple, and family, making it a great place for travelers of any flavor.
Hotel Geysir, situated right near the Geysir Geothermal Area, is perfect for those visiting Iceland’s iconic Golden Circle. They have rooms varying in size from standard, deluxe, junior, and even their Geysir Suites. They also have an on-site restaurant called the Geysir Restaurant. This hotel is another great place for those wanting to see the northern lights as well.
If you’re staying in Akureyri, why wouldn’t you want to stay in Hotel Akureyri? They offer small double rooms or superior doubles with ocean views. You can also choose to stay in Hotel Akureyri Skjaldborg, which is one of the most dignified buildings in this hotel’s collection, offering a double room or a double room with an ocean view. There’s also the Hotel Akureyri Residence, which includes apartments for up to eleven people, or you can rent the whole house which can host up to seventeen people in nine bedrooms. You can eat and drink at the hotel as well, with food perfectly crafted by Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason.
Hótel Skógafoss is located near the iconic Skogafoss Waterfall and has its own bistro and bar. All in all, there are nineteen rooms in this hotel: two family rooms, four double rooms, and twelve twin rooms that can be changed into double rooms. All the rooms feature WiFi and are equipped with an electronic room key system, along with floor heating and fully-equipped bathrooms. Their restaurant is open every day, all year round, from 11am to 9pm.
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