19 Best Things to Do in Iceland: It’s Not All About Waterfalls
When you think of Iceland, you will likely picture spectacular thundering waterfalls surrounded by rustic countryside beauty. We’ll still share what waterfalls are worth checking out, but there’s more to Iceland than just waterfalls. Some of the best things to do in Iceland actually require your stomach and not your legs. Let me guide you through our top foodie and outdoor Icelandic experiences you will not want to miss.
In This Guide
01- View the Glistening “Diamonds” on a Black Volcanic Beach
The “diamonds” on the beach are actually huge chunks of ice that break off from the glacier and drift onto the beach. These pieces of polished ice glisten on the black sand beach like diamonds. They range in color from white, completely translucent, to blue.
This spectacular beach is known as Diamond Beach, but the actual Icelandic name is called Breiðamerkursandur. Some of these glacier ice pieces are massive! Even the small little chunks that break off are incredibly heavy.
Holding up a piece of heavy glacier ice at Diamond Beach
It is certainly one of the more unique beaches we have visited on our travels and is worth a stop on your road trip visiting Iceland’s southern coast. On your way to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, turn right into the parking lot right before you cross the bridge.
Use common sense while taking those amazing photos. Do not climb on the ice. Those waves are no joke and can be quite powerful.
It is important to understand Diamond Beach is always changing. You may see lots of “diamonds” or just a handful. Nature is unpredictable. When we went in July, there were not a lot of “ice diamonds,” but it was still an enjoyable experience.
02- Have Lunch in a Greenhouse on a Tomato Farm
Fridheimar tomato farm in Iceland
One of my favorite things to eat is a fresh tomato straight from the garden. Well, in Iceland, there is a restaurant that celebrates everything tomato. Fridheimar harnesses the power of geothermal energy for its greenhouses, so that means you can consume these lovely tomatoes all year round.
Fridheimar farm produces about 18% of all of Iceland’s tomatoes. No pesticides are used. The humidity, heat, and carbon dioxide are all controlled by a computer.
Surrounded by tomato vines, my husband and I enjoyed a delicious bowl of all-you-can-eat tomato soup and some freshly baked bread. The table comes with a pot of basil that you can use to jazz up your soup. You can also order a tomato-based drink (alcoholic or nonalcoholic) to wash down all that tomato soup.
Eating all-you-can-eat tomato soup at Fridheimar in Iceland
If you want to stick around after lunch, Fridheimar also puts on horse shows in the summer featuring their famous Icelandic horses.
03- Walk Behind One of Iceland’s Most Spectacular Waterfalls
Water, water everywhere. Everywhere you turn in Iceland there is some form of water … waterfalls, rivers, glaciers, hot springs, and lakes. The waterfalls in particular are absolutely stunning. One of the most popular ones on everyone’s list of “best things to do in Iceland” is Seljalandsfoss.
What makes Slejalandsfoss unique is you can actually walk behind it. Prepared to get wet. I brought a rain jacket, trail runners, and my GoPro, which came in handy as I navigated the muddy pathway behind this powerful waterfall.
How do you get there? It is super easy. Seljalandsfoss is located on the southern side of the island, right off the main highway, Route 1. You can’t miss it!
PRO TIP: Do not miss the second hidden waterfall, Gljufrafoss. This often-overlooked waterfall can be reached by an easy 5-minute walk PAST Seljalandsfoss. We slipped through the crack in the cliff walls. After walking across some stones in a stream, we came face to face with this beautiful mystical waterfall that was enveloped in a mossy cave. Gljufrafoss is truly a hidden gem!
Slipping through the crack in the cliff walls to discover Gljufrafoss Waterfall
Staring up at Gljufrafoss Waterfall
04- Chow Down on Lobster Bisque while Enjoying a Glacier View
Standing in front of the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Big chunks of ice break off from the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and then hang out in the lagoon until they are swept down the river out to the Atlantic Ocean. Some chunks of ice wash up on shore, creating the famous Diamond Beach.
For movie buffs, you may find it interesting to know Tom Raider and James Bond Die Another Day and A View to Kill were filmed on the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Some people opt to get up close and personal to these stunning icebergs. To get this closer view, you need to book an amphibian or zodiac boat tour during the summertime.
What is the perfect way to end your time at the lagoon? Warming up with a delicious bowl of hot creamy lobster bisque. You must try this signature dish at the local food trunk, Heimahumar. They are also known for their mouthwatering lobster rolls according to many happy customer reviews on TripAdvisor. You cannot miss them. They are located right in the parking lot for Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Eating lobster bisque at Heimahumar food truck at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Mmmm … Enjoying a cup of creamy lobster bisque
Heimahumar Menu at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
05- Step Into Another World at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
This unique winding moss-covered canyon was made so famous by Justin Bieber’s music video I’ll Show You that it now has to close down periodically to allow nature to recover from the massive crowds. Always check conditions before you go.
Luckily, when we went, it was open and there were not too many tourists. Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon truly is stunning and almost does not seem real. There is a well-marked 1.2-mile path to follow which eventually leads to an observation deck to soak in that spectacular view. Alternately, you can hike along the canyon floor if you are willing to get wet as you wade through the river in certain sections.
Located about 6 minutes right off Ring Road, this must-visit destination is easy to reach and makes for a great stop on your road trip of Iceland’s south coast. Definitely put this on your list of the best things to do in Iceland.
06- Get Your Instagram Ready at the Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks
My best attempt at striking an Instagram pose at Reynisdrangar sea stacks
The pictures speak for themselves. Reynisdrangar Beach is truly stunning with its black volcanic sand, gigantic basalt sea stacks, and crashing ocean waves. This unique attraction is easy to access and is located right off Ring Road, about 2.5 hours from Reykjavik.
Get there early or a little later in the day. Otherwise, you will be fighting with many other tourists trying to take their photos standing amongst the sea stacks. We went during the Midnight Sun in the summer and were the only ones there at 11:50 pm at night. Yes, it was light as day that late at night!
Reynisdrangar sea stacks
Cave at Reynisdrangar sea stacks in Iceland
Be respectful of the sneaker waves, which are known to knock down unsuspecting tourists and can drag some out to sea. People have drowned. No photo is worth your life. Enjoy the rustic beauty of this special site, but respect nature.
Warning sign of sneaker waves at Reynisdrangar sea stacks
07- Taste Some of the Best Fish & Chips at a Food Truck
Fish & Chips Vagninn food truck in Reykjavik’s main harbor
Where do you go for some of the best fish & chips in Iceland? Fish & Chips Vagninn! This food truck is owned by the company Fiskkaup Ltd, which operates two fishing vessels. When you are served that beautifully prepared cod, know that it was swimming in those cold Icelandic waters only hours ago! Talk about fresh!
We found this little gem right in Reykjavik’s main harbor. There are several picnic benches to sit on to enjoy your meal and soak in that fresh sea air. We of course ordered the fish & chips, some mushy peas (they were ok, I’m not a big pea fan), and several sauces (tartar, remoulade) to accompany the fish. Expectations were met and surpassed! The batter was light and crispy, and the made-to-order fish was incredibly fresh and came out piping hot.
Eating fish & chips at Fish & Chips Vagninn in Reykjavik’s main harbor
08- Relax at the Most Iconic Icelandic Site, the Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon in Iceland
Yes, there are a lot of tourists. No, it is not as romantic and luxurious as what the promotional pictures make it out to be. However, the experience was still well worth it!
The Blue Lagoon is like a massive hot tub with silica-rich, milky blue, geothermal seawater. It is nice and toasty at 102 degrees Fahrenheit. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Although there can be quite a few tourists, you can usually find your own space to relax.
We took advantage of several of their amenities including the mask bar, where you apply a mix of silica + algae on your face for “younger-looking skin.” Although it did not make me look 10 years younger, it did make my skin softer and was a fun thing to try.
In-water bar? Yes, please! It gets hot in the lagoon, so what better way to refresh than with a creamy smoothie made with their local yogurt (Skyr) or a crisp glass of Prosecco. We had both because we like to try “all the things.”
Enjoying a Skyr strawberry smoothie at Blue Lagoon
I love spa experiences, so I made sure to sign up for their in-water massage, which is located in a private area of the lagoon. While traveling around the world, I have had my share of massages including $5 Thai massages (yes, $5!), Balinese traditional massage in the Maldives, and a 4 hands massage in Cambodia (where 2 massage therapists work on you at the same time).
Having a masseuse work on your tired muscles while being partially submerged in the warm waters of the lagoon was incredible. It was definitely one of my more unique massage experiences. Book in advance!
Enjoying an in-water massage on a raft at Blue Lagoon in Iceland
09- Hike to the “Black Waterfall”
Hike to the Svartifoss Waterfall in Iceland
Alright, so the water is not black. The Svartifoss Waterfall translates to “Black Waterfall” because of the incredible contrast between the black basalt columns and the water.
Located in Skaftafell National Park, Svartifoss requires about a 60-minute roundtrip hike + add another 20-30 minutes to take photos. The total hiking distance is 3.4 miles. Notice the sharp contrast between this incredibly unique waterfall and the towering black columnar basalt formations.
Svartifoss Waterfall in Iceland
When you are in Reykjavik, you will notice the design of the iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church was inspired by the Svartifoss Waterfall. You can quickly see the similarities.
Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik, Iceland
If you have time while you are in Skaftafell National Park, consider doing the easy 2.3 miles roundtrip hike to the edge of the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier. It will take about 30 minutes each way, not including photo stops.
Although we ran out of time to do this hike, the photos look incredible. How many places in the world allow you to walk right up to a glacier? You can also walk on the glacier, but I strongly advise going on an official tour if that is your goal. Those crevasses can be deadly if you do not know what you are doing.
10- Eat an Icelandic Hot Dog, Which Isn’t Just Any Hot Dog
Eating a famous Icelandic hot dog at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
If I asked you what is one of Iceland’s signature dishes, I’m sure the hot dog would not be on the top of your list. Known in Iceland as the pylsur, one of the best places to experience this nostalgic comfort food is at the small 2-person food stand started in 1937, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. Even Bill Clinton has tried one of their famous hot dogs.
No mystery meat here. What distinguishes the Icelandic hot dog? Lamb, and Iceland is known for having some of the best lamb in the world (maybe after New Zealand)! This is not just any lamb … this is organic, free-range, grass-fed, happy local lamb. The meat is a mix of mostly lamb + some beef and pork, and it is delicious!
There are a lot of options to jazz up your hot dog including ketchup, mustard, crispy onions, raw onions, and remoulade (mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish). The locals recommend ordering “one with everything.” When you take that first bite, you will feel a little snap due to the natural casing of the hot dog.
Expect a line, but it will move quickly!
11- Road Trip Around the Golden Circle to Hit All the Highlights
Map of the Golden Circle highlights
If you have done any planning for your Icelandic adventure, you will quickly find everyone recommends seeing the sites along what is known as the Golden Circle. The three attractions that make up the Golden Circle are Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal area, and Gulfoss Waterfall.
Thingvellir National Park
The first stop is at the first national park to be established in Iceland. What is incredible about this park is you can actually see the valley (known as the Mid Atlantic Ridge) created from the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
One of the best places to see where the earth continues to slowly pull apart is Almannagjá Gorge. We actually walked through part of it until we reached Oxarafoss Waterfall. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, Arya Stark and the Hound take this same walk in Season 4 – Episode 8.
Öxaráfoss Waterfall in Thingvellir National Park
Geyser Geothermal Area
As you continue to drive clockwise, the next stop is the Geyser Geothermal Area. The two famous geysers are the Great Geysir and Strokkur. The Great Geysir rarely erupts, but Strokkur Geysir erupts every 10 minutes (give or take) to a height up to 65 feet. Pretty reliable, huh? And well worth a visit.
Strokkur Geysir on the Golden Circle route
The last stop on the Golden Circle is Gulfoss Waterfall. This beautiful 2-tier waterfall is incredibly powerful. You can actually feel the spray when you navigate the walkway right up to the edge of the waterfall.
12- Visit the mighty Skógafoss Waterfall
Wow, this incredibly majestic waterfall almost does not seem real as you view it from the road. Skógafoss Waterfall is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland, and you can feel its incredible power as you walk closer to it. You will get soaked if you get too close!
You can climb up a bunch of steps to view the waterfall from the top, but I think the best photos are achieved from the bottom of the falls. It has an incredible 197-foot drop and is 82 feet wide. Access is super easy. You park and walk right up to it.
13- Lick Delicious Ice Cream Next to the Cow Who Provided It
Ice cream choices at Efstidalur II farm in Iceland
If you are making the road trip around the Golden Circle, you must stop by this adorable dairy farm. Efstidalur II has been run by multiple generations of the same family. Who better to make homemade ice cream than local dairy farmers!
Made from cow’s milk right on property, this organic homemade ice cream is incredible and is offered in many tempting flavors. The farm also has a restaurant and a hotel and even offers horseback riding tours.
Hanging out with real cows while eating ice cream at Efstidalur II farm
14- Hang Out With an Icelandic Horse
You will see these beautiful, friendly horses all over Iceland. The Icelandic horse is known as one of the purest breeds in the world since no other horse breeds are allowed to be imported. They are incredibly sturdy animals, able to withstand the harsh Icelandic weather conditions.
These independent, particularly intelligent animals are known for their 5 gaits compared to other horse breeds’ 3 gaits. Before you ride an Icelandic horse, it is important to know its name according to locals. The name of the Icelandic horse is a pretty big deal; the horse is actually named by its own naming committee.
15- Get Your Foodie Fix at Hllemmur Food Hall
Hlemmur Food Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland
My husband and I love eating at these open “food hall” experiences. Some of our favorites while traveling have been the Odprta kuhna (Open Kitchen) in Slovenia and the Old Biscuit Mill in South Africa (#6 on the list of Top Things to Do in Cape Town).
We could only choose one restaurant due to our limited time in Iceland, so we chose to check out Skal! (which translates to Cheers!). Its focus is creating modern experimental small dishes based on local Icelandic food and foraged ingredients. Due to its high-quality food and good value, it was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand award in 2019. Well deserved!
Skal! at Hlemmur Food Hall in Iceland
The menu continues to change. We had three mouthwatering dishes including the beef tartar, the braised lamb ribs, and the beef skirt steak. We washed all that down with their signature cocktail, the Reykjavik Mule, which is made of vodka, the local spirit brennivin, ginger lemonade, & lovage.
Beef tartar, cream cheese, beetroots, sorrel, and fennel seeds
Braised lamb ribs, rhubarb BBQ, smoked buttermilk and celeriac
Beef skirt steak, herb butter, potatoes, and pickled celery
16- Try the Award-Winning Cocktail, the Dillagin
The Dillagin cocktail at Apotek in Reykjavik, Iceland
We seek out some of the best cocktail bars when we travel to a new city. Some of our favorites have been the Mori Martini at the Mori Bar in Tokyo, the Pho cocktail at Ne Cocktail Bar in Hanoi, and the Clear Bloody Mary at Old Man Bar in Hong Kong. The Dillagin at the Apotek Bar in Iceland joins that legendary list.
I was very skeptical at first. Dill in a drink? I’m not a huge fan of dill in general but decided to give it a try. Made of dill-infused Beefeater gin, mango, lime, and sugar, it was surprisingly good! The dill flavor was a nice accent and did not overpower the drink.
The bartenders were very friendly and incredibly helpful in finding a drink suited to our tastes. Any cocktail connoisseur should have Apotek on their list of “best things to do in Iceland.”
17- Experience the Midnight Sun
That is 11:20 PM not AM! Midnight sun in Reykjavik
There are pros and cons to coming to Iceland in the summer. No, you will not see the aurora borealis, but you will have plenty of daylight hours to pack in a ton of activities to maximize your Icelandic experience.
When to go to experience this phenomenon? Mid-May to mid-August. The sun will “set” around midnight, but the sky never really gets completely dark.
I loved this experience because I could pack quite a few sights into one day. According to my iPhone timestamp, my husband and I were actually enjoying the Reynisdrangar sea stacks at 11:50 pm at night!
How do you sleep? Luckily, the accommodations we stayed at had great blackout curtains. The light gives you crazy energy to keep exploring, but at some point I had to force myself to crawl into bed.
18- Satisfy Your Carb Craving with an Icelandic Cinnamon Roll
Baked goods at Braud & Co at Reykjavik
Known as kanilsnúðar, these baked treats are kinda like a cinnamon bun but flatter and wider. The best place to try them out is at the artisanal bakery, Braud & Co.
This cute, graffiti-decorated storefront only uses organic ingredients. The flour comes from Denmark, Manitoba, and Italy, and the butter and sea salt is strictly Icelandic. You can watch them make these delicious treats right out in the open in their store.
Graffiti storefront of Braud & Co in Reykjavik
I am a sucker for any “dough or cake-like treat” especially when paired with coffee or tea. These pastries were good but not blow-my-mind good. It is certainly worth trying if you are wandering around Reykjavik.
19- Try to Find the Adorable Little Puffins
Courtesy of Getty Images: Icelandic puffin
Awe, the puffin. Even the name sounds cute. These adorable birds have faces that look like clowns. The nice clowns though, not the scary ones. Interesting fact – Iceland is home to 60% of the entire world’s Atlantic puffins.
You cannot always find the puffin in Iceland because they are out at sea most of the year; however, they come home during the summer to breed with their same partner year after year. If seeing a puffin is on your bucket list, target your trip sometime between May – August.
We went in July and saw a few puffins from afar at Dyrhólaey on the south coast, which is near the Reynisdrangar sea stacks. They were hanging out high on the rocky cliffs.
The photo seen below was my best attempt at photographing a puffin from far away. Due to the poor picture quality, I have also included what a puffin looks like up close in the photo above (courtesy of Getty Images). I would have loved to see them up close! Maybe next time.
Puffin at Dyrhólaey on Iceland’s south coast
Supposedly, one of the better places to see puffins up close is at Borgarfjörður Eystri. You can navigate along wooden platforms to safely witness these cute little guys face-to-face.
FYI, you may find your cute little friend on the menu as an appetizer in one of Iceland’s restaurants. The puffin is actually in danger of being extinct, yet Iceland still allows puffin hunting during certain parts of the year. I am all about trying local cuisine. We ate guinea pig in Peru (ok, it was just a few bites, but that still counts). However, I could NOT bring myself to consume that adorable little face.
Iceland is an incredible country to explore. My top 19 things to do only scratches the surface of what this country has to offer. The natural beauty is spellbinding, and you will want to stop often to soak in all of the scenery. In addition, Iceland’s culinary contributions are not to be missed.
Love this list? Find out how to incorporate it all by checking out my 4-day itinerary.
What were your favorite things to do in Iceland?
Let me know in the comments below!