When tasked with choosing the top tourist attractions in Iceland it is actually quite a tricky one. Thankfully though this has nothing to do with a lack of places to go and things to do. Quite the opposite in fact! In a country with so many incredible natural wonders it is narrowing them down that’s the problem. From epic landscapes to incredible encounters with the natural world Iceland has an abundance of amazing experiences awaiting any visitor.
In this article we will take you on a whistle-stop tour of some of the most popular places to visit. We will also fill you in on what part of the country they are to be found in. As well as offering tips on how and when to see and visit them. Hold tight for a dizzying tour of some of Iceland’s many gems.
Top Tourist Attractions in Iceland
First up is Iceland’s lively capital city. As this is where every tourist in Iceland lands it makes sense to spend at least a few days here. Exploring the capital offers a great introduction to the country. You will get a feel for the Icelandic culture and its people as well as the weather and temperature.
The capital is Iceland’s cultural powerhouse. There are a myriad of galleries and museums to explore. From contemporary art galleries to historical museums and natural history museums. Reykjavik offers the perfect opportunity to learn about some of the places you will be visiting on your trip. You can also find out all about the founding of the country and its relatively short history.
During the evenings you can get out and about and enjoy the capital’s restaurants and bars. Head to the Reykjavik Old Harbour area and soak up the atmosphere or hit one of the city’s hip food halls. You might consider investing in a Reykjavik City Card if you are staying for a few days. This discount card can save you money on museum entry, travel and eating out. If you are hiring a camper van in Reykjavik there is even a convenient campsite within the city limits.
The Golden Circle
Arguably this is THE top tourist attraction in all of Iceland. Although technically it is three sights combined. The Golden Circle is sometimes referred to as the Golden Triangle and is a trio of ultra-impressive sights in South Iceland. Each is a manageable distance from the next and all are a short distance from Reykjavik. This means that they can all be visited as part of a daytrip from the capital. Basically you can’t miss a visit to the Golden Circle. It’s just not allowed!
The three attractions are all natural wonders of the highest order. Firstly there is the Gullfoss Waterfall. This colossal waterfall is one of the most dramatic waterfalls in Iceland. And that’s saying something! The water here churns over two rocky tiers into a narrow gorge. It is at its most stunning when the river is in full flow in spring and early summer. But it is an fantastic place to visit anytime of year.
Then there is the Thingvellir National Park. Beautifully untouched this vast national park encompasses lakes and mountains and rugged landscapes galore. It also has an important history connected to the Viking court. Number three is the Geyser Geothermal Area. This explosive volcanic zone bubbles, pops and fizzes and shoots water high into the sky.
Given its southerly location in Iceland the Golden Circle can be visited year-round. The roads here are well maintained and easy to navigate. There are also campsites along the way where you can park up your camper van hire.
Iceland’s Celestial Sights
One of the best attractions in Iceland is not actually a place… It is something far more mysterious and fleeting than a physical location. In order to experience it all you need to do is cast your eyes to the heavens. You got it! We are talking about the magical Northern Lights! Some experiences just can’t be matched. And seeing the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis is one of those experiences that will stay with you.
Of course it is not quite as straightforward as simply gazing skyward. There are a whole host of conditions that need to combine for you to see them. The main criteria are a dark night sky for a backdrop and a smile from lady luck. The Northern Lights can only be seen during the darker winter months from around September to March. For the full low down visit our dedicated article explaining all about Finding the Northern Lights in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon
Perhaps the most famous of Iceland’s top attractions is the thermal hot springs of the Blue Lagoon. The steaming waters of the lagoon are a favourite for soaking away aches and getting fully into holiday mode. The baths lie midway between the Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavik. So they are a perfect place to visit at both the beginning and end of a trip. The balmy waters can be visited year-round. Just be sure to book your slot to avoid disappointment.
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula
The lovely Snaefellsnes Peninsula is often times referred to as ‘Iceland in miniature’. It might not be as well known as some of the other attractions. But it is a top attraction for those driving Iceland by camper van or motorhome. It very much suits the first time visitor or those a little shorter on time. It is only a two-hour drive from Reykjavik and can be explored well in 2-4 days.
Due to its southerly position and a good road network Snaefellsnes can be visited year-round. Once there you will find incredible landscapes encompassing mountains, glacier and a wild coastline. There are plenty of good campsites dotted around the outskirts of the national park here. Dark night skies make it a good place to see the Northern Lights in season.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is close to the South Coast of Iceland and a short detour from the famous Ring Road route. This is one of Iceland’s most well-photographed waterfalls. Here a single plume of water cascades over a cliff edge down into a beautiful pool. During the summer months it is possible to follow a path all the way around behind the curtain of water. This makes for some incredible views out across the landscape.
If you are taking a road trip along the South Coast then you should definitely visit. There is a good campsite nearby and the falls can be visited year-round. Having said that do heed the path closure times. In winter it is too dangerous to loop around behind the falls on the slippery perhaps icy path. But it is no less impressive seen from the front!
The Diamond Circle
Similar to the Golden Circle in South Iceland the Diamond Circle is made up of a series of sights. This time though the route lies in the lesser-visited North Iceland. Rather than just three impactful locations this route is a little longer and more open to interpretation. There are many different options on this driving tour. And you will certainly need more than a day to do it justice.
There are of course several must-see sights. But there are also many more unknown locations that you could visit along the way. One of the main attractions is the wonderful Lake Mývatn. This beautiful lake is home to some varied birdlife. There are also hot springs to rival the Blue Lagoon here. And there is no need to book your bathing window in advance. There is plenty of room to wallow in the balmy waters and the whole experience is much more laidback.
There are also mighty waterfalls to experience. Including Dettifoss the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. Add to that a bubbling geothermal area, whale watching and hidden cave systems. For the full lowdown on the Secrets of the Diamond Circle driving route visit our article all about it.