There are countless magnificent places to visit in Iceland. Why do most visitors only see the area around Reykjavik? Discover the coolest places to visit in Iceland.
In the past ten years, the north-Atlantic island nation of Iceland has skyrocketed to the top of the world’s most popular destinations. With a vast landscape filled with explosive volcanoes, epic glaciers, and cascading waterfalls, it’s easy to understand why. Iceland is epic year-round. Yet, the vast majority of those exploring the best places to visit in Iceland only give themselves between 3 and 5 days to explore the country. For a destination where summer has nearly 24 hours of sunlight and winters feature frozen waterfalls and skies dancing with the northern lights, that kind of timeline only offers a taste of the best things to do in Iceland. So I’m unashamedly asking, no, begging you to devote more time to see these incredible Iceland attractions. I promise that you won’t regret it.
During my family’s first visit to Iceland, we spent two weeks driving around Iceland. You can check that trip out in our 14-day Iceland itinerary. And after it was done, we wanted more, more, more! Iceland is bursting with some of the most magical landscapes that I have ever experienced. From places where the earth seems to have been torn asunder to fields of wildflowers as far as the eye can see. Iceland is safe, peaceful, and kid-friendly. Every small town offers community pools, and playgrounds are plentiful. Icelandair even offers free stop-overs in Iceland when you are traveling to and from Europe and North America.
So strap on your hikers and hold tight. Because these places to visit in Iceland will take you off the beaten track and away from the tiny part of the country that most people visit, prepare to be introduced to the most awe-inspiring locations in Iceland.
Our Favorite Places To Visit In Iceland
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There are places in Iceland that almost everyone knows about. Most of them are easy day trips from Reykjavik. Places like the Golden Circle offer a brilliant taste of Icelandic wonder. But it’s just a small taste, marketed towards those who only have a few days in Iceland. But if you’re willing to explore some more, you’ll end up with stories to take home that most of your most well-traveled friends will gape at. So sit back and enjoy these awe-inspiring places to visit in Iceland.
Visit The Bardur Of Arnarpstapi In Hellnar
Icelandic culture is ripe with myths and fairy tales. Throughout Iceland, I stumbled upon statues and sculptures celebrating some of these key mythological figures. One of the most mesmerizing was the statue of the half-troll, half-man Bardur, the protector of Snaefellsnes. The story of the giant is that he came to Iceland in the 9th century and gave the peninsula its name, Snjofellsnes peninsula. He and his nine brothers spent years exploring the island, even discovering the beautiful Songhellir singing cave and giving it its name. You can read more about the Songhellir cave here.
The statue of Bardur now guards the path between Arnapstapi to Hellnar as well as the spectacular cliffs along the way. It makes for an easy trip from Reykjavik, but you’re almost guaranteed to be among a few lucky people on the trail. If the story of Bardur the Giant entices you, you can read more of his saga here.
Looking for great places to stay near Hellnar, Iceland? You can check out their rates and availability here. If you’re looking for more things to do on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, you can also explore from the water on a stand-up paddleboard adventure.
Meet The Puffins On The Epic Cliffs Of Latrabjarg In The West Fjords
Very few visitors to Iceland make it out to the Westfjords. But those who do will experience the wonders of rural Icelandic life. There are quaint towns, rolling hills, and some of the best opportunities to see the adorable local puffin population. And in Latrabjarg, the puffin experience is on a level not seen anywhere else in the world.
The towering cliffs at Latrabjarg stretch for 8 miles along the coast and tower at heights up to 1447 ft. These dizzying cliffs are absolutely stocked with birds between May and August. And because the location is so remote, you won’t need to jostle with tourists to get that perfect puffin photo.
Make a night of the experience with a stay at the Latrabjarg Hotel. This cozy spot is just a short distance from the cliffs. It’s also one of the only hotels in the area. You can check out our complete guide to the best places to see puffins in Iceland here. Can’t make it out to Latrabjarg in the Westfjords? You can take a whale and puffin tour right from Reykjavik on this local tour.
Puffin and Puffin eggs even make it onto some of the tables in Iceland. Personally, we weren’t ready to dine on these cute birds while we were in the country. But I did lay out some of my family’s favorite Icelandic recipes for when we wanted to walk down memory lane at home.
Walk On The Dark Side At The Museum Of Witchcraft And Sorcery In Holmavik
In the pretty little town of Holmavik in Iceland’s Westfjords sits one of the most unique museums in the country. Strandagaldur, also known as the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, is dedicated to the folklore of Icelandic magic. This small but fascinating museum contains a mix of permanent and special exhibitions on the genealogy of witches. One of the most unique displays at the museum is the Nabrok, or “Necropants,” A pair of pants made from human skin. To prepare you in advance, the pants are “anatomically correct.”
Stroll The Ever-Changing Landscapes Of Lake Myvatn
Up in northern Iceland sits the beautiful region that surrounds Lake Myvatn. If you’re looking for one of the hands-down prettiest places to visit in Iceland, this should be on your list. The landscape of the Lake Myvatn, I think, can best be described as fluid. Grass-covered calderas of dormant volcanoes tower over mirror-calm waters. Rolling fields of mossy pockets cover vast fields while Icelandic horses graze among jagged towers of lava rock.
Lake Myvatn is gorgeous. But it’s also remote. It takes about 6-7 hours to make the trip from Reykjavik. The closest town is Reykjahlíð, which has basic services such as food and gas available. If you’re looking for a great hotel to visit in Lake Myvatn, check out Hotel Laxa. It’s just a mile from Lake Myvatn and offers easy access to the Myvatn Nature Baths and the spectacular Godafoss waterfall. You can check out their rates and availability here. The Myvatn area is part of Iceland’s northern Diamond Circle that is usually explored from Akureyri. If you don’t feel like doing the driving yourself, you can join an awesome Diamond Circle tour here.
Dodge The Boiling Mudpits Of The Namaskard Pass
A huge portion of Iceland sits atop geothermal hotspots. In fact, geothermal energy is so abundant in the country that it’s one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have to rely on other forms of energy to power its electrical grid. Because of all of this geothermal activity, there are incredible hotspots that can be found throughout the country. And some of these make for the coolest things to see in Iceland.
Namaskard Pass, which is just a short distance from Lake Myvatn, is an area of heavy geothermal activity. Because of this, you’ll find fumaroles baked with brightly colored clay and bubbling mud. It’s a stark and beautiful tribute to the power of the earth’s magma. Be prepared for the sour smell of sulfur in the hour as you listen to the gurgling and bursting sounds of the earth at work.
Wander The Dark Castles Of Dimmuborgir
Dimmuborgir is one of the places to visit in Iceland that left me completely speechless. Often called the Dark Fortress or Dark Castles, this region is filled with dramatic lava rock formations. The region is just east of Lake Myvatn, another reason why the Myvatn area is one of my favorite areas of Iceland. The rock formations at Dimmuborgir rise like castle walls. The formations are filled with caves and walls that rise like battlements against the lush grass fields surrounding them.
There are well-laid out walking paths that snake through the Dark Castles. And it’s easy to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours wandering through the dramatic and foreboding landscape. Just beware: Some Icelandic stories have even referred to Dimmuborgir as the gateway to hell.
Peer Into The Twisted Abyss Of The Echo Rocks
Hljodaklettar, or the Echo Rocks in Vesturdalur, are a true tribute to the power of the earth. The landscape here is completely surreal. In places, it seems as though the very earth has lifted and twisted upon itself. From mind-blowing repeated patterns to mind-bending twists and folds, the Echo Rocks have dazzled and confused geologists for years.
But this fascinating structure of the earth isn’t the only thing that makes Hljodaklettar one of the coolest places to visit in Iceland. The unique formations of the rocks and caves create a riveting acoustic effect that makes it impossible to locate the roaring river that sits just a short distance away.
You can check out our guide to Hljodaklettar right here.
Tuck Yourself Into The Shelter Of The Gods, Asbyrgi Canyon
Viking settlers believed that Asbyrgi Canyon was a hoof print formed by Odin’s eight-legged flying horse Sleipnir. Surrounded by cliffs that tower up to 300 ft in height, the horseshoe-shaped Asbyrgi Canyon is filled with many tree species, making it one of the few unique forested areas of Iceland. It’s an easy drive through the canyon, and watching them climb to impressive heights as you make your way towards the base is truly humbling. One of the most impressive sites is where the canyon makes a dramatic divide as it splits into a monolithic rock up the middle.
If you’re visiting the Shelter of the Gods, consider staying in the northern town of Husavik. The Fosshotel Husavik is one of the closest hotels to Asbyrgi Canyon. You can check out their prices and availability here. While there, why not combine your stay with one of the epic schooner whale watching experiences with North Sailing.
Hike To The Dramatic Curtains Of Selfoss
In northern Iceland sits the incredible pair of waterfalls, Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Iceland, and it’s smaller, but much more dramatic sister, Selfoss. Both waterfalls are part of the Jokulsa a Fjollum glacial river. Although Selfoss is often overlooked in favor of the much larger Dettifoss, the ribboned curtain formation of Selfoss makes it unique among its peers. To get the best views of Selfoss, hike up the west side of the river for about a little over half a mile.
While a visit to Selfoss and Dettifoss can be combined with the Myvatn Area, if you want to explore a little deeper, consider staying at the highly rated Nordic Natura on the edge of Asbyrgi National Park. This wonderful destination offers bicycle rentals and horseback riding experiences. You can check out their prices and availability here. If you can’t make it out to see Dettifoss and Selfoss, you can still see some of the greatest waterfalls in Iceland on this tour from Reykjavik.
Swim In The Milky Blue Waters Of The Askja Caldera
The Askja Caldera in the Dyngjufjoll Mountains within the Icelandic Highlands offers one of the most unique opportunities for swimming in Iceland. The crater was formed during the last ice age when a magma chamber collapsed. A second eruption in 1875 created another small caldera within it called the Viti Crater. Over the years this smaller crater filled with glacial meltwater. As it mixed with the ash sediment, the water took on an opaque milky blue hue.
The surrounding snow-covered mountains and deep black sand create striking contrasts in the landscape. But what makes Viti Crater in the Askja Caldera so fascinating is that it’s still heated by geothermal energy. This makes the mountain top lake, surrounded by snowy fields, a popular swimming spot for those hiking this mountain range. Be warned though that the climb down is steep. And the volcanic sand makes the climb back up a challenge. If you aren’t able to make it out to Viti Crater, another memorable experience is glacier hiking. You can even do it from Reykjavik on this tour.
Watch The Sunset Set Over The Basalt Walls Of Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park
Svartifoss, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of Iceland. A short but steep 1-mile hike takes you to this basalt-backed wonder in Skaftafell, part of Vatnajökull National park. This oasis of green amid the stark black landscape of the Skeidararsandur glacial wash near Hof. To call Svartifoss “elegant” is an understatement. This 20-meter-tall waterfall streams over a curtained wall of geometric basalt columns. It was the basalt walls of Svartifoss that inspired the architecture of Reykjavik’s beautiful Hallgrímskirkja church. Recently, fencing was added that blocks visitors from getting as close to Svartifoss as before, but the views are still stunning and worth the visit.
If you’re visiting Svartifoss and are looking for a great place to stay, consider the quaint and quirky Skaftafell accommodation “The Potato Storage.” This renovated produce warehouse has been beautifully renovated with modern fittings and it’s just a short distance from the falls. You can check out their prices and availability here.
Witness The Power Of Geology In The Craters Of Laki
Lakagigar or the Craters of Laki lays bare one of the most history-changing events in Icelandic history. Although remote and a challenge to get to, Laki is at the top of my favorite places to visit in Iceland. This stunning area is within Vatnajokull National Park. At the summit of a small mountain, you can look over a landscape where it appears as if the very earth has been pulled apart like a zipper.
The Laki fissure and Volcano Gimsvotn suffered a violent eruption here in 1783 and 1784. This cataclysmic event led to deaths of over 50% of the island’s livestock, and nearly 25% of the residents of the island. Lava flows alone destroyed 20 local villages. The 1783 volcanic explosion remains as the largest volcanic event ever witnessed by humans. The resultant chain of craters stretches for nearly 17 miles across the barren landscape of the Icelandic interior. The land was left so toxic that many of the remaining locals fled the island for destinations such as Gimli Manitoba.
Stroll The Picturesque Fjadrargljufur Canyon
The Fjadrargljufur Canyon is an otherworldly 1.25-mile canyon in South-East Iceland. From the edge of Highway 1, Fjadrargljufur may not appear that wondrous, but step inside the 328 ft high walls and you’ll be transported to a world that seems straight out of a fairy tale. The canyon was formed over 2 million years by a mostly shallow stream and a small chain of waterfalls. In recent years this destination has become one of the most popular Icelandic destinations outside of the Golden Circle thanks to its appearance in the Justin Bieber Video – I’ll Show You.
Bathe In The Hot Springs Of Landmanalauger In The Highlands
Landmannalaugar in the Icelandic Highlands is the premier hiking destinations in Iceland. Also known as the ‘People’s Pools,” Landmannalaugar covers a vast lava field formed by an eruption in 1477. The colorful rhyolite mountain offers a dramatic look that leads to a spectacular rainbow of colors. Although remote, Landmannalaugar welcomes throngs of visitors during the summer months. Many of them taking the time to relax in the natural geothermal baths that gave the People’s Pool its name.
If you’re making the trip out to Landmannalagar, it’s good to know that there are very few amenities offered in the area. The drive itself can be a rough one, especially after a rain. Most visitors choose to camp at Landmannalaugar as the only accommodations available are huts by Ferðafélag Íslands. The huts do not provide linens so you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag or blankets. If you don’t have a car or would prefer to let someone else do the drive to Landmannalaugar, you can always do a super jeep tour from Reykjavik.
Dive Or Snorkel The Silfra Fissure In Thingvellir National Park
The underwater experiences in Iceland are easily on-par with those above the waterline. With thousands of miles of glacier-fed rivers, lakes, and dramatic coastline there are huge amounts of water to be explored. One of my favorite underwater experiences in Iceland is the popular Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park. Many visitors make the visit to see and drink from the clean water of this glacier melt. But the surface tells only a tiny part of Silfra’s story. Underneath the surface of the Silfra fissure is a magical world of neon-green algae and gorgeous rock formations. The water is among the clearest on Earth, leading to near-limitless visibility.
End your Silfra visit with a relaxing stay at one of the beautiful Reykjavik hotels. Be warned though that because visiting Iceland is popular, hotels book up super fast. You can check out some of the best hotels in Reykjavik here. We did our Silfra diving as a tour from Reykjavik. This way your gear and transportation are all handled. This Silfra diving experience is highly rated.
Did I miss some of the most awe-inspiring places to visit in Iceland? Drop your favorite Iceland experience in the comments below. Or visit our Facebook page and share a photo from your Iceland travels. We would love to share in your travels.
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