When you think about the size of Iceland (roughly the same as the state of Kentucky), it’s hard to believe that there are so many different kinds of landscapes to see and so many activities to try. Whether you are basing yourself in Reykjavik and taking day trips to the surrounding areas or renting a car and circumnavigating the whole country, here’s a list of five things you should do in Iceland:
Hunt for the Northern Lights
One of Iceland’s biggest draws, especially between the months of September and March, is the Northern Lights. While they’re completely unpredictable, it’s still worth a trip to Iceland to try to catch them (just make sure there are other things you want to do while there in case you don’t catch them). Your best chances of viewing them are between 9pm and 12am, and while you can sometimes spot the Northern Lights in and around Reykjavik, it’s better to get away from the city and somewhere without light pollution. I saw them vividly from Thingvellir National Park, but also faintly from Reykjavik just after.
Jökulsárlón, the glacial river lagoon, is located in southeast Iceland and should not be missed. It’s a great place to get some photographs of the glacial run-off and chunks of ice that have washed ashore the black-sand beaches. It’s also possible to take a boat cruise on the water to get up and close to the massive blue and black icebergs floating around — you might even get to taste the ice! Afterward, treat yourself to a warm bowl of seafood soup from the café.
Go on a glacier hike
Over 11% of Iceland is covered in glaciers, making glacier hiking a popular activity when visiting. There are many companies that offer glacier hikes — both in groups and in private sessions. So book your hike, strap on some crampons, and take a lesson on how to walk like a duck and a Texan cowboy before setting out on your journey. On your hike, let the magnitude of what you’re doing sink in — walking on ice that’s hundreds of years old and is slowly melting away. Just be sure to watch out for those 30-foot crevasses!
Go whale and puffin watching
Your best chances for seeing whales and puffins are during the summer months and in the northern parts of the country. If you are only basing yourself in Reykjavik, there are opportunities to go whale watching from there, but if you can make your way north to Húsavík, you’re in for a treat. Hop on board a restored oak schooner and set sail towards the Arctic Circle in search of these mammoth beasts while passing by a puffin colony. After a few hours on the open waters, maybe you can help raise the sails to navigate back to shore.
Explore the south coast’s black beaches
Exploring the South Coast of Iceland is certainly one of the most beautiful times I’ve spent in my life. There’s something so special about the black-sand beaches and so many different places to stop along the way when exploring. After Jökulsárlón, Vík is probably the most popular and is home to Reynisdrangar, the basalt sea stacks in the water. If you didn’t already know, many Icelanders believe in elves and trolls, and these stacks were said to be trolls who wandered out to help save a ship and unfortunately got caught in the daylight and were turned to stone. It is one of the must-see stops on any golden circle itinerary for sure.
There’s also Dyrhólaey, made famous by Bon Iver’s “Holocene” video, which was filmed on the basalt columns on the beach. There’s also a small cave to wander into and explore.
Lastly, the US Navy DC-3 plane wreckage located in the middle of nowhere on a black-sand beach. It’s about four miles off the Ring Road and can only be found by following the previous car tracks in the sand. It’ll feel like you’re headed to the end of the earth, but once you make it there, it’s a very surreal experience worth the trouble of finding it.
About the Author
Megan Allene Smith is a former cubicle-dweller turned career breaker, currently gallivanting around the globe. She’s on a mission to experience, photograph, and write about the world. You can connect with her on her blog, Meganotravels.