In a country full to the brim with beautiful sights, where do you start when it comes to planning an itinerary? Sifting through the many must-see sights in Iceland is a time-consuming job, so we figured we’d get you started. Here are some of those amazing places you just cannot miss if you visit Iceland.
South Iceland sights
Visit Iceland and you can’t miss the Golden Circle. Its trio of natural wonders makes this the perfectly packaged day trip. Gullfoss waterfall is majestic and dramatic, dominating the surrounding landscape. Strokkur gives the nearby geyser field a breathtaking beauty, but arguably the finest panoramas are those which you’ll see at Thingvellir National Park near the spectacular Almannagjá Gorge, one of several places in the country where you can view the North American and Eurasian plate boundary close up.
Iceland’s most famous spa, the Blue Lagoon, might be an unlikely contender for a place on its most beautiful sights list, but as the steam rises over the milky turquoise thermal water you can see what the attraction is. Surrounded by rugged lava fields, the greys of the moss and rocks contrast appealingly with the water. You won’t even notice the power station in the distance, but even if you do, it merely adds a touch of industrial grit to the place’s beauty.
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
Conversely, there’s absolutely no disputing the beauty of the country’s other famous lagoon. Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is one of Iceland’s most photographed sights for its iceberg-strewn lake and Breiðamerkurjökull glacier in the background and of course for idyllic Diamond Beach. Whether you visit for the Midnight Sun or take your chances to try to witness the Northern Lights far from Reykjavik’s light pollution, this is one place that lives up to the hype.
Deep beneath Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, rivulets of meltwater carve a subterranean landscape. In winter, as the temperatures plummet, the resultant ice caves can open safely for visitors, the largest and most famously referred to as Crystal Cave. With translucent blue walls and sheer walls of ice, these underground caverns are exquisite. Of course, the meltwater finds a different path each spring and summer, and the caves never stay in one place, but your guide will know where to take you.
Of all the South Coast waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss is, arguably, the one with the greatest wow factor. Set back from the ring road, its verdant setting is attractive as you approach. But close up, visitors experience it in all its glory as they step behind the curtain of water. Time it well, and you can peer through to witness a gorgeous sunset. But whatever hour of the day you come, you can be sure that this pretty waterfall will take your breath away.
Justin Bieber has a lot to answer for – his 2015 video increased footfall exponentially to this previously little known Fjadrargljufur canyon, forcing authorities to shut off access so that the fragile landscape could recover. But the magical light over this fairytale canyon makes this a beautiful sight in Iceland, particularly when you don’t have to share it with others. Tread carefully and stick to the marked paths, but if you come when the light’s right, this place is enchanting.
Church Mountain, the gateway to the Snaefellsnes peninsula, is a phenomenal sight if the Aurora Borealis appears above it. The most famous view of this iconic peak, with Kirkjufellsfoss in the foreground, has become the darling of many an Instagrammer, thanks to its verdant setting. Continue on to Snaefellsnes National Park for one of the best day tours from the capital, offering wild beaches, caves, glaciers and towering cliffs.
Come off the ring road and drive north through Iceland’s mountainous interior to reach Landmannalaugar. The myriad colors of the rock formations, caused by mineral deposits, make this a firm favorite with hikers. Along the way, you’ll pass through the Fjallabak Nature Reserve; in winter, its vast lava fields are blanketed with snow. The trio of lakes – Hnausapollur, Ljotipollur and Frostastadavatn – with their photogenic reflections on a still day are another highlight.
North Iceland sights
Iceland has several famous lakes: this one is framed by lush pasture and weathered lava fields. Bird watchers and naturalists flock here to appreciate the lake’s natural beauty. The area is geothermally active, with plenty of evidence to check out should you wish. Don’t miss the Hveraströnd Sulphur Springs, Krafla Caldera to the north and Mývatn Nature Baths, a hot pool to rival the Blue Lagoon.
Waterfalls in Iceland are hardly in short supply, but this northern gem is a standout. The clue’s in the name – it translates to “the waterfall of the gods”. Measuring 30 meters across and surrounded by lava fields, this place, on the Skjálfandafljót River, is nothing short of heavenly.
Some describe it as the jewel of the Westfjords, others say it’s pretty enough to be a bridal veil. What everyone agrees, however, is that this splendid waterfall is worth traveling some distance to see. The hike up to the falls takes walkers past another six waterfalls, but the icing on the cake is, fittingly, at the top. A cascade of around 100 meters (300ft) tall and 30 to 60 meters (98-196ft) wide is gorgeous to look at.
Víti Lake, Askja
You might think it’s heaven, but to Icelanders this place is hell, at least by name. Large craters such as this were once believed to be the entrances to the underworld, hence the name. But there’s nothing hellish about such a beautiful mineral-rich lake, especially if you are able to take a dip in its warm waters. Hot spring lovers will be pleased to learn that it maintains a constant temperature of around 25°C (77 F), making it ideal for a swim.
This unusual horseshoe-shaped depression is located in the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park and forms part of the Diamond Circle. It was shaped by the floodwater created by an ancient volcanic eruption, and could be as much as 10 million years old. At its base is a forested area, mostly formed of birch and willow, which is home to Arctic foxes. Adding interest is “The Island” or Eyjan, a substantial rock formation right in the middle of the canyon.
The most beautiful sight in these parts is not in Húsavík itself, though this fishing port isn’t unattractive. But take a trip out on one of the regular whale watching tours and the sight of humpback whales in Skjálfandi Bay, not to mention white beaked dolphins, harbor porpoises, fin whales, blue whales, orcas and belugas, make this one of the must-do attractions in Iceland.
When it comes to the volume of water, this north Iceland waterfall is in a league of its own. You’ll find it in the Vatnajökull National Park, part of the Diamond Circle route. This section of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River cascades down a 45 meter (147 ft) drop into Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. To fully appreciate its beauty, the best panoramas are to be had from the east bank. If you want to get wet, cross over to the other side.
If you’re keen to see the Icelandic horse in a spectacular natural setting, then you’ve come to the right place. The Tröllaskagi area is characterized by farms and many of them rear horses, welcoming visitors who are keen to attempt the unique tölt. Aside from the Highlands of the interior, the tallest mountains in the country are found here, and the daddy of them all is Mount Kerling, almost 5000 feet tall. It’s a relatively easy climb for those who want a different perspective on the scenery.
The Arctic Henge
Proving that beauty doesn’t have to involve a natural landscape, Arctic Henge makes a super trip if you find yourself in this part of Iceland. Created to form a massive sundial, this stone circle spans 50 meters (164ft). Columns of basalt make Heimskautsgerðið a special place. 72 stones have been carefully placed there according to Norse mythology and the four gates that you see represent the four seasons.
The most beautiful sights in Iceland
This is just a small selection of the many beautiful sights you’ll encounter if you come to Iceland. If you do, it won’t take long for you to work out why so many people are blown away by its landscapes, for this truly is one of the most wondrous places on the planet. Whether you tackle the north, or south, or both, one thing is certain: you’ll find the Icelandic countryside breathtaking.