Where to visit in Iceland

Thingvellir is Iceland’s most historic national park © Smallredgirl, Dreamstime

Highlights

National parks and nature reserves   

Iceland has four official national parks: Thingvellir is the most historic and nothing at all like the frozen volcano of Snæfellsjökull, the dramatic gorges of Jökulsárgljúfur and the great glaciers of Skaftafell. Of Iceland’s many nature reserves, Mývatn offers pure serenity and Askja the volcanic wilderness, Ingólfshöfði is steeped in historical meaning and a gorgeous bit of seashore, Hornstrandir is Iceland at its most extreme, and the lakes and rivers of Vatnsfjörður are stunning.

Islands 

Westmann Islands, Iceland, Visit South Iceland

Each of Iceland’s islands is a unique gem © Visit South Iceland

Every one of Iceland’s offshore islands is a unique gem. To strand yourself on some poetic isle, consider the volcanic Westmann Islands, the windswept cliffs of Grímsey, or the history of tiny Flatey. For romantic day trips, visit the homestead on Vigur, the grassy hills of Papey, easy-access Hrísey or hard-to-get-to Drangey.

Fjords 

Hvalfjörður, Iceland by Visit West Iceland

Hvalfjörður is one of Iceland’s most underrated fjords © Visit West Iceland

Picking fjords is like picking perfume – it’s very personal. A few favourites include the now-forgotten Hvalfjörður, the secluded channel of Arnarfjörður, and Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður.   

Geothermal spots   

Strokkur, Iceland by Wojtek Chmielewski, Shutterstock

Iceland is home to many geothermal spots © Wojtek Chmielewski, Shutterstock

Besides the well-known Geysir, visit the scorched-earth landscape of Námaskarð, the hot pools and natural steam jets of Hveravellir, ‘smoky’ Reykjanes, and the largest springs in Iceland at Deildartunguhver.

Towns 

Reykjavík, Iceland, Visit Iceland

Reykjavík is the vibrant, must-see capital © Visit Iceland

Obviously Reykjavík is the must-see capital and the most vibrant urban space in Iceland. The other ‘big city’ of Akureyri is artistic and quirky, and isolated Ísafjörður is an architectural treasure chest. For obscure Icelandic fishing villages with that something special, visit GrundarfjörðurSiglufjörðurEskifjörðurDjúpivogur, or Suðureyri

Hiking   

Fimmvorduhals, Iceland by Felix Nendzig, shutterstock

Iceland’s landscapes offer prime trekking © Felix Nendzig, Shutterstock

The most touted trails for their volcanic/glacial terrain include Landmannalaugar and Thórsmörk, and both deserve the fame. All the national parks offer prime trekking, especially Skaftafell and SnæfellsjökullTröllaskagi in the north is fantastic climbing country. For wanderings with less mountain and more mystique, walk the under-appreciated lava fields of Reykjanes, or the landscapes around Mývatn. To really step off the beaten track, venture into Í FjörðumBorgarfjörður eystri, and Lönsöræfi. Though it’s not easy, the hiking in Hornstrandir is in a league of its own.

Wildlife 

Puffins, Iceland by Visit Iceland

Spotting a puffin is a definite highlight of any trip to Iceland © Visit Iceland 

For seals, visit Hvammstangi, for whales, visit Húsavík or Ólafsvík, for reindeer, visit Snæfell, and for Arctic fox, try Hornstrandir or Skaftafell. The birds are everywhere, but for mind-blowing birdwatching, you must visit the cliffs at Látrabjarg.   

Suggested itineraries

Iceland is a great place for either independent or pre-planned itineraries, but it’s not wise to have a really tight schedule or be fixated on a single plan. Unexpected fog can erase the view that you hoped to see on Day 3 and a sudden storm might force you indoors. As long as you’re flexible, everything will be fine. The suggested itineraries are simply guidelines that might help you think about what you want to see and do. 

One week

Town and country: Westmann Islands (2 nights)–Thjórsárdalur (2 nights)–Reykjavík (2 nights)

The west: Reykjavík–Borg–Reykholt/Húsafell–Stykkishólmur–Grundarfjörður–Snæfellsnes

Classic trekking: Laugavegurinn (Landmannalaugar–Thórsmörk) (5 nights + 1 night recovery in Reykjavík)

Ten days

Classic ring road: Reykjavík–Borgarnes–Skagafjörður–Akureyri–Mývatn–Egilsstaðir–Höfn (Vatnajökull)–Skógar–Golden Circle–Reykjavík

Two weeks

National parks of Iceland (by bus or car, camping or guesthouses): Reykjavík (1 night), Snæfellsjökull (2 nights), Akureyri (travel) (1 night), Mývatn (2 nights), Jökulsárgljúfur (2 nights), East Fjords (travel) (1 night), Skaftafell (2 nights), Thingvellir (1 night), Reykjavík (1 night)

From the ferry (a fair amount of driving in parts): Möðrudalur (1 night) via Seyðisfjörður and Egilsstaðir, Mývatn (2 nights) (via Dettifoss), Akureyri (1 night), Varmahlíð (1 night), Stykkishólmur (1 night), Snæfellsjökull (1 night), Reykjavík (2 nights), south coast (Vík, Skógar, or Kirkjubæjarklaustur) (1 night), Skaftafell (1 night), Djúpivogur (1 night), Seyðisfjörður (1 night)

Go west: Reykjavík (1 night), Borg (1 night), Snæfellsjökull (2 nights), Stykkishólmur (take Breiðafjörður ferry) (1 night), Flatey (1 night), Flókalundur (1 night), Látrabjarg (1 night), Thingeyri (1 night), Ísafjörður (2 nights), Hólmavík (1 night), Brú (1 night), return via Reykjavík

Three weeks

Week 1: Reykjavík–Golden Circle–south–Skaftafell–East Fjords 

Week 2: Mývatn/Jökulsárgljúfur–Akureyri–Grímsey–Hólar/Sauðárkrókur

Week 3: Hvamsstangi–west Iceland–Reykjavík

One month grand tour: 

Week 1: Reykjavík–Borgarnes–Snæfellsnes Peninsula–Breiðafjörður–West Fjords

Week 2: Látrabjarg–Ísafjörður–Hólmavík–Skagafjörður–Siglufjörður–Akureyri

Week 3: Húsavík–Mývatn–Jökulsárgljúfur–Melrakkaslétta–Vopnafjörður

Week 4: East Fjords–Vatnajökull–Westmann Islands–Golden Circle–Reykjavík

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