Iceland has become a number one destination for many people. It was on my bucket list for a while before I decided – let’s do it! During my ten-day trip, I saw and did as much as I could. Here are twelve things to do in Iceland to make your next trip there unforgettable.
Diving in Silfra
Snorkelling in Silfra was an unbelievably amazing adventure in the Golden Circle, a loop that has everything from thermal springs to waterfalls. The Golden Circle is on many people’s top things to do in Iceland list and Silfra is part of that area.
Silfra is an underwater fissure in Thingvellir National Park. The unbelievable clear water of Thingvallavatn gives you fantastic visibility of the underwater world.
What is so neat about Silfra is that it sits on the tectonic plates being pulled apart. One side is the North American plate, and the other is the European plate. At Silfra, you can either dive or snorkel this fissure and touch either side of the tectonic plates.
But, daaaaamn it’s cold. The water is around 2 to 4 degrees Celsius – aka, just above freezing. That means you have to suit up with a dry suit before heading into the water.
To keep warm, just stay as still as possible. The gentle current will do most of the work, the less you move your hands and face, the warmer you will be. That’s because your body heat will warm the water trapped in your neoprene gloves and hood. If you move, that water will filter out, and cold water will rush in. So keep still and use your feet, which are protected, to steer.
Yes, it’s cold, but the underwater views were worth it. So take a chance and jump in!
Riding an Icelandic pony
Horseback riding was on my top things to do in Iceland bucket list. I didn’t want to leave without doing it. I believe that the best souvenir is a memory made, and riding an Icelandic horse while vacationing in Iceland was the best souvenir I could think of.
Our four-hour tour, with Alhestar, led us along the sandy, grassy dunes that run along the southern shore of the Reykjanesta peninsula.
The wind whipped at our faces, the waves crashed along the coast, and we all had massive smiles pasted to our faces.
It was unforgettable.
Walking behind a waterfall
What’s a trip to Iceland without a stop at one of its magnificent waterfalls? The Seljalandsfoss is a great first stop on Iceland’s south shore. This 60-metre tall waterfall isn’t Iceland’s most powerful, but the ability to walk behind it, gives this one a star on the map.
Don’t forget to pack a raincoat and rain pants, because you’ll need it for this stop. As you get closer to the falls, you’ll see the wall open up behind it, giving you a unique opportunity to get soaked and up close to Seljalandsfoss.
Exploring Thingvellir National Park
We waited until our second last day in Iceland before setting off into the Golden Circle. With all the buzz about it (especially being one of the top things to do in Iceland), I almost felt like I knew what to expect from the loop. It turns out, like Jon Snow, I knew nothing.
Thingvellir was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and it has such a fascinating history.
Way back in 930AD, the Vikings who populated Iceland threw away the idea of kings and lords. Instead, they set up the world’s first democratic parliament. They held annual assemblies here, basically ruling that way until conflict and strife tore it apart.
If that doesn’t spike your interest, the place also has such rich natural history. The entire rift valley is splitting apart at a rate of almost two centimetres a year. This causes fractures and fissures that can be explored. Thingvellir was labelled a UNESCO world heritage site in 2004.
There are a couple of key spots to explore within the park, but the first stop you should make is right off the main road at the cliff top visitor centre. While it doesn’t look like much from the road, as you get closer to the cliffside, the landscape opens up to such stunning views of the valley. From here you can follow the path that runs along the rift and walk down to the valley floor.
Related: Iceland’s Golden Circle explained
Waiting for Geysir to burst
What’s more fun than watching water spurt out of the ground because of science?! Nothing, I tell you. Strokkur is one of many geysers within this area, an active geothermal area because Iceland is sitting on top of tectonic plates, causing friction and pressure build up underneath the surface, resulting in volcanoes, earthquakes and geysers.
Geysir – the namesake of the area – is no longer active after an earthquake essentially plugged the hole.
But don’t fret, in the area, you can see Strokkur, the constantly-erupting geyser. You won’t have to wait long for this one, every 8 to 10 minutes, you can watch the water explode up from the ground. Not only does Strokkur erupt more often, but you can get pretty close to it. It’s entertaining to watch. It’s like the water gets sucked back into the earth before exploding 15 to 30 metres above you.
Visit the Blue Lagoon
Topping the things to do in Iceland bucket list is Blue Lagoon. Yes, it’s popular. Yes, It can get crowded. And yes, it’s expensive. But it is so relaxing and warm. The bathing area is large enough that people are well spread out and it feels like you could soak here for hours.
Actually, I was in the Blue Lagoon for over four hours. Add some mineral water for your skin, an algae mask and some drinks at the bar, and I could have stayed here all week. If you have long hair, it’s hard not to get it wet. My method was to put my hair up, wet it in the showers and coat it in the provided conditioner, which acted like a mask. After leaving the thermal pools, I washed my hair vigorously and coated it with conditioner.
Eating an Icelandic hotdog
It may not taste like a normal hot dog (it’s made mostly with lamb), but it was definitely an experience. Made famous by an American president, hot dogs are all the rage for tourist in Iceland. Get it with everything, meaning raw and fried onions and three sauces. I only just found out what they were: ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep and remoulade (a sauce made from mayo, capers, mustard and herbs). It was quite tasty!
You can pick one up at one of many hot dog stands in Reykjavik. And speaking of Reykjavik …
Exploring Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland is a must. This charming and comfortable city has so much to offer.
If there is any place that someone should go, no matter what age they are, it’s Iceland. We spent our first few days in Reykjavik, the capital city.
The colours, the food, the people, the sights. Everything and anything we saw and did here was perfect. The main sights to hit are the Whale Museum, the harbour, the Sun Voyager statue, and, of course, the main streets where you’ll find shopping and restaurants galore.
Some of the best views of the city can be found atop the Hallgrímskirkja right in the heart of the town. It is not to be missed.
Visit Iceland and taste the saga
So I’m not a beer person, but for my friend’s birthday, we surprised her with Taste the Saga – a tour of Ölgerðin brewery. It. Was. Amazing. It’s a very unique addition to the top things to do in Iceland.
First of all our host was incredible. She had to be a stand-up comedian because she had us laughing our heads off as she told us the story of alcohol in Iceland.
What a tale it is. I won’t give it all away, but beer was only allowed back in Iceland in 1989, which gave way to some pretty creative means around the prohibition.
Spot the northern lights
We didn’t have a whole lot of luck spotting the Northern Lights, as it was cloudy 90 per cent of the time. However, one particular cold, windy and clear night we were able to spot them for a while.
It was so cool to see. Almost like you could reach out and touch them.
If you’re going just for the lights, I suggest going in winter where it is dark for most of the day, and there’s a higher chance to see them.
Alternatively, you can also check out the Aurora Borealis exhibit in Reykjavik to see some fantastic photographs of the lights.
Walk on the black beach
Iceland is well known for its volcanoes. During the drive along Iceland’s south shore, you’ll spot the infamous Eyjafjallajökull as well as fields of lava rocks. But what happens when the ocean continuously beats the shore of volcanic rock? Sand as black as night.
Black sand beaches stretch along much of Iceland’s south shore. One of the best examples of this is the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach near Vik.
Here you can also spot the beautiful geometric basalt columns that are found in numerous places around the world.
Beware of the “dangerous sneaker waves.” Seriously. There are many stories in the news about tourists being swept into the sea here.
Hold a piece of a glacier on Diamond Beach
Have you ever wanted to hold a diamond larger than your head? Okay, it’s not a real diamond, but the icebergs from the nearby Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon that have floated out to sea wash back up to shore rubbed smooth and clear as glass.
It’s a neat sight to see them scattered along the pitch-black beach, sparkling in the sunlight.
What Iceland activity is on your bucket list?
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