Top 10 Attractions of Iceland

1. The Blue Lagoon

The milky blue geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon. Photo: Pexels.

The Blue Lagoon is a large geothermal pool, located in Reykjanes peninsula in the southwestern part of Iceland. The pool is not from a natural source of geothermal water, it is actually supplied by excess water from a nearby power plant called Svartsengi.

The Blue Lagoon came into existence in 1974, when excess water was released from the Svartsengi power plant. The lagoon quickly became a popular spot for swimming and bathing but there were absolutely no facilities by the lagoon until 1987.

The water is rich in minerals, especially sulphur and silica, which are supposedly good for your skin. This explains the lagoon’s popularity in its early years.

The facilities at the Blue Lagoon underwent a major renovation in 1992 and has in the recent years gained a reputation as a world class tourist attraction. In 2016, bathing in the Blue Lagoon became the most common thing that tops travel bucket lists of Millennials around the globe. The Great Pyramids of Giza came second!

If you want to go to the Blue Lagoon, you have to schedule your visit beforehand. You can book your admission ticket here
 

2. The Golden Circle

Gullfoss during wintertime. Photo: Pexels.

The Golden Circle is a route between three major attractions: Geysir, Gullfoss Waterfall and Thingvellir National Park. It takes one day or less to do the whole tour and it’s well within reach from the capital. The route is around about 300 kilometres (190 mi) long, counting the drive from Reykjavik.

You can either drive the Golden Circle route yourself or embark on an organized tour. Here's a list of some fantastic guided tours:

Some of these tour companies offer all sorts of variations and additions on the classic Golden Circle tour, for example The Golden Circle and Fontana Wellnes Tour , Golden Circle and The Secret Lagoon , Golden Circle and Snorkeling in Silfra and so on.

The advantages of a self-drive tour are that you can plan the tour according to your needs. There are loads of interesting sites in the region and some pretty decent restaurants too. Self-drive is also a good option for those who are spontaneous and want to let their curiosity control the itinerary.
 

3. The South Shore

Sólheimasandur plane wreck in the southern part of Iceland. This famous plane wreck is located on Sólheimasandur, a black sand on the south shore. Unsplash/Jeff Sheldon. 

The south shore of Iceland is extremely beautiful and thus attracts many visitors. Many of Iceland's most beautiful attractions are located on the south shore; Reynisfjara Black Beach, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Skógafoss Waterfall, the Sólheimasandur plane wreck and more. 

Driving along the south shore from Reykjavik can be done in one day, but it's easily possible to explore the area at a slower pace. If you want to drive yourself, you can rent a car here. If you prefer going on an organized excursions, check these out:

 

4. Vatnajökull National Park

Hótel Skaftafell, Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland. In Skaftafell, south of Vatnajökull Glacier. Unsplash/Alexandre Godreau. 

Vatnajökull is the name of Iceland's largest glacier. The Vatnajökull National Park is also the largest national park in Iceland, covering the glacier itself and the surrounding areas. 

For nature lovers, Vatnajökull National Park is a sheer paradise. You can hike in the area, explore fantastic natural wonders or simply drive from one attraction to another. 

To read: 

5. Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Kirkjufell Mountain in Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland. The incredibly picturesque Mt. Kirkjufell. Unsplash/Trevor Cole. 

Snæfellsnes Peninsula has been dubbed "Iceland in a nutshell", as most characteristics of the Icelandic nature can be found in the area. Whether you decide to do a multi-day roadtrip around the whole peninsula or just a quick tour to see the major highlights, Snæfellsnes will definitely be a destination to remember. 

See also:

6. The Whales

A humpback whale jumping from the sea.

Iceland is a fantastic destination for those who are interested in seeing whales in their natural habitat. The oceans surrounding Iceland are home to roughly 20 different species of whales and dolphins and at least eight of these species are frequently spotted, either on whale watching tours or even from the shore

Whale watching is a year-round activity, although sightings are more common during the summertime. You can embark on a whale watching tour from Reykjavik harbour, in Snæfellsnes peninsula, in the Westfjords or the northern part of Iceland. Here are a few tours I can recommend:

7. The Diamond Circle

Geothermal area in Mývatn, characterised by columns of steam and reddish surface. Hverir Geothermal Area near Lake Mývatn. Unsplash/Eleni Afiontzi. 

The Diamond Circle is a tourist route in the northern part of Iceland that connects three of the most beautiful attractions in the region; Ásbyrgi Canyon, Dettifoss Waterfall and Lake Mývatn. There are also loads of other splendid attractions en route, such as Húsavík (the whale watching "capital" of Iceland), Tjörnes, Goðafoss and more. 

The Diamond Circle is around 190 miles (310 kilometers) long, so just driving the whole route takes you a little over four hours. Since you’ll be getting out of the car and exploring the main attractions on the route, the whole tour will take you around 10–12 hours.

If self-drive travel is not your style, there are plenty of tour companies that offer Diamond Circle Day Tours. These are the ones I’d recommend:

8. The Northern Lights

Northern lights over Lake Mývatn, North Iceland. Glimmering northern lights over Lake Mývatn. Unsplash/Vincent Guth. 

The northern lights (Lat. aurora borealis) appear when electrically charged particles, emanating from the sun, travel at a high speed towards Earth, resulting in a collision with the highest air particles. The different colors of the lights are in accordance with the different gases that are found up there. Most northern lights are green in colour, due to collision with oxygen. The solar activity affects the strength of the northern lights.

Iceland is situated on the so-called auroral zone, which means that this magnificent phenomena can be seen from there when the conditions are right. Just remember that spotting northern lights is impossible during summer (blame it on the midnight sun!). 

For those who like guided tours and perhaps don’t have a rental car to drive outside the city, I think a northern lights tour could be a good idea. The guides are usually very knowledgeable about the Aurora Borealis and I assume they know the best spots to see them. I advise you to check out the northern lights forecast before you book a tour and if the chances are low, you might as well skip it altogether.

Some tours are “combo” tours, which means that you get to do something else ( see some major attractions , go kayaking or going on an ATV tour for example) while looking at the northern lights. These tours feature the northern lights kind of like a bonus; it's great if you see them during the tour but since northern lights-hunting isn’t the only goal, you won’t get as disappointed as if you join a tour that is solely focusing on the lights.

Here you can book Travelade’s favourite northern lights tour in Iceland.
 

9. Þórsmörk (English: Thorsmork)

A majestic mountain in the green Thorsmork area.

Thorsmork is a mountain ridge, located in south Iceland. The name literally translates to “Thor’s Woods”, referring to the Norse god Thor. The Thorsmork area is extremely beautiful and combines the distinct characteristics of the Icelandic Highlands, black sands and lush woodlands. 

Thorsmork is a paradise for hikers. There are countless trails in the area, including the world famous Laugarvegur Highland Trek. It’s also the finishing point (or the starting point if you walk from north to south) of the Fimmvörðuháls Trek. If you are interested in hiking Fimmvörðuháls Trek as a one-day trek, here's a helpful article

There is a nice campsite in Thorsmork but there are other alternatives for accommodation too: The Volcano Huts for example. Staying in Thorsmork for a few days is heavenly for hikers and nature lovers – it's the ideal place to visit during the short Icelandic summer. 

If you're looking for guided hiking tours in the area, you can book them here
 

10. Downtown Reykjavik


The Pond of Reykjavik, Iceland. The Pond of Reykjavik City. Unsplash/Evelyn Paris. 

Reykjavik City is no metropolis, but it certainly has its charm. Travelers describe it as cool and quirky and food lovers drool over the diverse and hip restaurants you'll find in the capital. 

Most travelers end up wandering around in the city center of Reykjavik, even if the purpose of the trip was to explore Iceland's gorgeous nature. The major highlights of Reykjavik are probably the Hallgrímskirkja Church and Harpa Concert Hall. You should definitely take your time to see these magnificent buildings. There are plenty of other interesting things to do and see in the city and you can easily spend at least a couple of days just going to museums and restaurants.

Here's some more reading material: 

And here are some sightseeing tours in Reykjavik I recommend: