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Iceland: Must-See Places

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Iceland, home of fishermen and poets. There’s something otherworldly and mystical about this small but gorgeous country—and we’re not just talking about the Huldufólk. See incredible waterfalls and geysers, experience natural hot springs, and explore stunning terrain you’ll find nowhere else in the world. It’s truly a magical country.

Reykjavík, Iceland. Photo by Pedro Netto from Unsplash.

1. Reykjavík

Reykjavík, Iceland

Iceland’s capital, you’ll no doubt find yourself at least spending a night or two here before and/or after the rest of your Iceland excursions. And while it’s the capital, it actually feels like a lovely village. To learn more about this wonderful country, head to the Perlan , a museum offering stunning views that will help you get to know the natural wonders of Iceland. If you want more lookout points, the most iconic building for this is arguably Hallgrimskirkja , the massive church tower. Walk up to the top to get a great view of Reykjavík. Another beautiful structure in this town is the Sun Voyager sculpture, a perfect place to catch a sunset. There’s great seafood all over town, one of our favorites being Fish Market . While things tend to be pricey in Iceland, hot dogs are all over and always a great deal. Find an awesome dog at the harbor at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur . Look for the big red food stand and order yours with everything on it. For nightlife, a lot of the cafes will turn into bars and there are plenty of options to find these around Laugavegur. Kaffibarinn is a fun and favorite spot for locals and tourists alike. Also, coffee or “kaffi” is super popular in Iceland! You’ll find a popular chain called Kaffitár all over the country. Reykjavík has a great cafe that resembles your granny’s living room called Café Babalú that also has a deck to sit outdoors when the weather permits.

Gullfoss. Photo by Sarah Thz from Unsplash.

2. Golden Circle

Austurströnd, Seltjarnarnes, Iceland

We think it’s worth renting a car to get all over Iceland and the Golden Circle is a big reason why. This lovely circle route you can take from Reykjavík features many of Iceland’s highlights: national parks, geysers, waterfalls, and incredible landscape. It’s incredibly popular, so start this three-hour drive early and go clockwise. You’ll start at Þingvellir or Thingvellir National Park , a UNESCO World Heritage Site and location of the Mid Atlantic Ridge continental divide, which gives you stunning geological sites; keep an eye out for volcanic activity. Next up is Geysir , yes, named for being the geyser of all geysers! While it’s not very active, the nearby Strokkur geyser erupts every 5-10 minutes with water shooting as high as 40 meters. Walk around and see more bubbling hot springs and geysers. The third and final stop on the Golden Circle is Gullfoss Falls , a stunning waterfall. You can also see the Langjökull ice sheet from here, which looks strange against so much greenery. If you can’t rent a car or hire one to move at your own pace, there are plenty of tour companies that set up buses, Grayline being a popular option.

Blue Lagoon
Photo by Frank Denney from Unsplash.

3. Blue Lagoon

Grindavík 240

The Blue Lagoon is in between Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavík, so it’s a good thing to do either right after you land or right before you depart. While it’s incredibly popular because it’s so well-known, there’s a reason for it: it’s worth it. It's in the middle of a lava field, juxtaposed against the gorgeous turquoise pools, and it really feels like you’re on another planet. It’s a great experience too: they have lockers for your items and handy wristbands to pay for things while you’re there. Enjoy one of their fancy spa services like a massage or mud mask (which you can book upon arrival) or enjoy a refreshment at one of the swim-up bars. Definitely plan to spend a few hours there to explore the pools, saunas, and even grab a bite at the restaurant.

Vatnajökull National Park. Photo by Alf Igel, licensed under CC2.0.

4. Vatnajökull National Park

Klapparstígur 25-27, Iceland

You can catch impressive views of Vatnajökull Glacier , the biggest one in Iceland, at Vatnajökull National Park , a massive national park in the east of Iceland! Book a glacier tour with Arctic Adventures to get on the ice or explore the ice caves. If you’re interested in more traditional hiking, the nearby Skaftafell / Vatnajökull National Park has great trails for all ages. When you’re there, do not miss Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon —it’s truly breathtaking.

Ring Road. Photo by Mark Kuiper from Unsplash.

5. Ring Road

Þjóðvegur 1

If you really want to see all of Iceland, Ring Road is the main roadway that circles all of Iceland. While a lot of visitors see a lot of the great sites around Reykjavík and to the south, the north is not to be missed! Take Ring Road North from Reykjavík (counter clockwise around Iceland) and if you want to drive along fjords with incredible views, take a detour toward Ísafjarðarbær . When you reach the small village of Ísafjarðarbær, give yourself a break from driving and enjoy their baked goods, which some say are the best on the island (we love Kaffihús Bakarans ). Come back down off the fjords and back onto River Road and head to Akureyri , “the capital of the north.” You’ll find an impressive church, art museum, and botanical garden, and in the summer, concerts and festivals. It also makes for an ideal spot for whale watching and northern lights viewing. Keep heading clockwise on River Road to the beautiful volcanic lake Mývatn and enjoy some of the nearby hot springs before ending your northern adventure at Dettifoss , a massive and powerful waterfall.

Skógafoss Waterfalls. Photo by Samuel Won from Unsplash.

6. The South: Vik and Seljalandsfoss & Skógafoss Waterfalls

The black sand beaches of Vik in the south are famous worldwide! Expect dramatic cliffs set against a picturesque seaside village. Get up close to the cliffs at Reynisfjara Beach and keep an eye out for puffins. Also, look for Hálsanefshellir Cave —a huge and impressive sea cave. While in the area, you’ll want to visit Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls. Less than 30 minutes apart and two of the country’s most impressive waterfalls, Skógafoss is a breathtaking, massive cliffside waterfall while Seljalandsfoss is a singular waterfall surrounded by a lovely and large valley—both are incredibly picturesque.