Iceland is a volcanic wonderland of fissures, geysirs and lava fields. It is this geological landscape that make it so unique. So here is our pick of the best things to do in Iceland to capture that uniqueness.


Compiling a list of the best things to do in Iceland in summer is no easy task. Breath-taking waterfalls, weird geothermal areas and multi-coloured mountains fill every corner of this island country.

But in our view, the best things to do in Iceland are those that showcase its volcanic landscapes and scenic weirdness. The sights you just don’t see anywhere else in the world.

That means Reykjavík isn’t on the list. Nor are some of the sights on the famous golden circle. Instead, we have included some firm favourites as well as those slightly hard to get to places. The places that give a sense of the unusual natural wonders Iceland has on offer.

If you are mildly adventurous, like getting off the beaten track and working a little harder for your awesome sights, here are our 11 best things to do in Iceland in summer. And if you want to see how we put it all together and the best time to go then check out our 10 day Iceland itinerary.

OUR TOP 11 THINGS TO DO IN ICELAND

ASKJA CALDERA / Driving through rivers, black sand and lava fields to this remote caldera

WHALES / Spotting humpback whales and clumsy puffins from Húsavík

KRAFLA  / Meandering smoking lava fields and lake filled craters near Myvatn

GLACIAL LAKES / Photographing the ice filled lagoons of Jökulsárlón

LANDMANNALAUGAR / Finding hidden canyon, imposing vistas and colourful rock

GEYSIR / Getting excited by majestic towering plumes of water

HVERIR  / Exploring bubbling mud pots and steamy vents in this volcanic wonderland

DETTIFOSS  / Witnessing the awesome power of this remarkable waterfall

KERLINGARFJÖLL  / Hiking to the boiling rivers and steam covered colourful mountains

BLUE LAGOON  / Soaking in naturally heated 5-star luxury

VATNAJÖKULL  / Investigating beautiful waterfalls, glaciers and rocks in this stunning national park

1 / DRIVING THROUGH RIVERS, BLACK SAND AND LAVA FIELDS TO ASKJA CALDERA

Nothing says road trip like Iceland, and nothing says Iceland like getting off the tourist trail and exploring the highlands on a mountain road. One of our favourite expeditions into the highlands was to Askja Caldera, the volcanic spectacle of nature that’s worth it just for the effort it takes to get there.

Askja Caldera is a massive subsistence caldera with an 11 sq km lake (Öskjuvatn) and a geothermal spring (Viti). Together they form a lesson in the power of mother nature.

The drive out to Askja is a thoroughly adventurous, concentration-testing Icelandic road trip. Gravel roads, shifting sands, river crossings, lava fields and massive boulders, fuel the independent traveller’s thirst for adventure.

It was one of our top things to do in Iceland which you can read all about here.

2 / SPOTTING HUMPBACK WHALES AND CLUMSY PUFFINS IN HÚSAVÍK

In July – we were told – you have a 99% chance of spotting whales in Húsavík in the northeast of Iceland. Not the type to be easily seduced by smug statistics, we went to see for ourselves.

Straddling the bench on the RIB – the nimble inflatable vessel used for whale watching – I was grateful for the very calm seas. Known for my predisposition to seasickness, I wasn’t looking forward to throwing up over the person in front of me. They probably weren’t either.

After cruising past a puffin colony, we were soon entertained by the graceful ballet being performed by a family of Humpback whales. A tailfin rising in the air, a dorsal fin gliding above the surface. The water was their stage and we were their audience.

After spotting four humpback whales, a family of bottlenose whales and several Atlantic dolphins, we agreed the people of Húsavík were justified in their proud viewing statistics.

3 / MEANDERING SMOKING LAVA FIELDS AND LAKE FILLED CRATERS AT KRAFLA

Nothing quite captures the uniqueness of Iceland’s landscape like Krafla, an unfinished work of art which is still being tweaked by mother nature.

Between 1975 and 1984 a series of volcanic eruptions and uplift subsidence events dramatically changed the landscape. Today, Krafla is a small, easily accessible area near Myvatn boasting boiling mud pools, blackened lava fields and fumaroles (an opening in the earth’s crust which emits steam).

The starkness of the landscape is interrupted by the beautiful Viti crater (not to be confused with the crater of the same name at Askja) with symmetrical golden walls surrounding a turquoise lake.

Krafla is easily one of the best things to do in Iceland. The golden colour of the landscape, steam rising from cracks in the earth’s crust, the pungent smell of sulphur, the fresh lava field crunching underfoot. It’s another world here and a fascinating place to admire nature at its most bizarre.

4 / PHOTOGRAPHING ICE FILLED LAGOONS AND BLACK DIAMOND BEACHES AT JÖKULSÁRLÓN

Often photographed in the perpetual darkness of winter – water smoothed by a long exposure; horizon glowing with diffused light – Jökulsárlón is an Icelandic poster boy.

But witnessing this natural sight under the midnight sun in July is just as impressive. The water in the glacial lagoon is perfectly still, its smoothness interrupted by the large blocks of ice that have fragmented away from the glacier. Occasionally the sound of ice breaking disrupts the quiet.

Some of these large ice-boulders have made their way down a small river to the famous black diamond beach – one of the many black sand beaches in Iceland. Seals were battling the current, trying to make their way from the beach to the lagoon, as we walked along beside them. The rough seas pounding these large diamonds, set against the black sand is one of the most unusual beach scenes you will find.

5 / FINDING HIDDEN CANYONS AND IMPOSING VISTAS AT LANDMANNALAUGAR

Easily one of the best spots in Iceland, Landmannalaugar is popular for the brightly coloured mountains, steaming sulphur vents, bubbling mud pots and thermal pools that dot the landscape. After navigating some tricky 4×4 roads, a day hiking in Landmannalaugar offers the chance to witness incredible landscapes and is easily one of the best things to do in Iceland.

Our drive out to Landmannalaugar on an unkempt gravel road, with large boulders obstructing the path and river crossings to contend with, satisfied the sense of adventure we were hoping Iceland could deliver. The journey also contains one of Iceland’s hidden gems, the seldom visited Sigöldugljufur Canyon. This postcard-perfect scene with numerous waterfalls cascading down vertical walls was a highlight of our trip to Iceland.

Nearby to Landmannalaugar is the Ljótipollur Crater Lake, where you can sit on the edge, take in the view and feel the heat of the Earth in the gravel beneath your butt.

Read all about our Lanmannalaugar day trip here.

6 / GETTING EXCITED BY THE TOWERING PLUMES OF WATER AT GEYSIR

If there’s one thing that gets visitors gasping with delight, it’s the spectacle of Geysir. Easily accessible by bus from Reykjavik and positioned right by the highway, Geysir is not exactly a hidden gem in Iceland, but it’s still one of the best things to do in Iceland.

There are a number of different geysers, including Geysir himself, from which all others all over the world are named. The one that collects the biggest crowd is Strokkur, known for its predictability, Strokkur erupts every 10 – 15 minutes or so.

Geysers are formed by water seeping over rock heated by magma. Once the pressure builds up, the geyser erupts. Water shoots into the air. Cameras click. Tourists giggle. Repeat every 15 minutes. All the geysers are stretched along a 100m wide strip of land running along the gap between the tectonic plates.

7 / EXPLORING BUBBLING MUD POTS AND STEAMY VENTS AT HVERIR

Close to Krafla, Hverir is another attraction in Iceland that showcases its environmental weirdness. Sandy coloured terrain, completely devoid of vegetation, steams at regular intervals. Grey mud pots bubble and belch, spitting at anyone who gets to close.

A few small rivers weave their way around the landscape with warning signs dotted around reminding visitors to maintain some proximity. In some places, the water is at boiling temperature. Stepping out of the roped off areas quickly reminds you of that.

It’s a weird and wonderful world out here and interesting to see for its utter uniqueness. Like most attractions in Iceland, Hverir is completely free of charge.

8 / WITNESSING THE AWESOME POWER OF THUNDERING DETIFOSS

Iceland is a waterfall chaser’s dream country. The island is blessed with an abundance of waterfalls, each aching to be photographed. But our pick for this list is Detifoss.

For sheer power alone, Detifoss is a spectacle to behold. Each second around 193 cubic metres of water cascades over the 45 m drop. The spray from the waterfall so persistent and strong that the far wall of the waterfall – the one that gets the brunt of the spray – is visibly greener than everything else around it.

Detifoss isn’t the most picturesque waterfall (that’s Godafoss), or the one with the best walking trails (Skógafoss) or even the waterfall with the most water (Gullfoss). But, Detifoss does have the reputation for being the waterfall with the most power in Europe. Standing on the large rocks, so close to the torrent you can almost feel it, is another way to behold the power of nature in Iceland.

9 / HIKING TO BOILING RIVERS AND COLORFUL MOUNTAINS AT KERLINGARFJÖLL

Kerlingarfjöll is everything you want a day trip to discover the uniqueness of Iceland to be. Sandy coloured bald mountains tower above steaming waterways, mud pots and sulphur vents creating an unreal atmosphere.

While a carpark is located directly beside Kerlingarfjöll, the hike from the nearby mountain resort is the best way to make your approach into this popular geothermal area. Being a particularly cold summer in Iceland during our visit, the walk involved trudging over snow before descending down into Kerlingarfjöll.

From the top of the pass, the valley opened up to display one of the most stunning views we witnessed in Iceland. Smooth snow-capped mountains surround sandy coloured valleys disappearing into a haze of sulphurous steam. It’s a remarkable sight and easily one of the best things to do in Iceland.

Read more about our Kerlingarfjöll day trip here.

10 / SOAKING IN MODERN 5-STAR LUXURY IN THE BLUE LAGOON

There a number of geothermal pools in Iceland to experience the strange sensation of bathing in naturally heated water. A bit like a reverse swimming pool, it’s great fun to rush out in your swimming costume in the freezing cold to get relief by jumping in beautiful warm water.

The Blue Lagoon isn’t the most atmospheric lagoon in Iceland (that’s Landmannalaugar), or the warmest (Gamla Laugin) or the one with the best view (Mývatn), but it’s by far the most sophisticated.

So, if you’re looking for a luxurious geothermal pool experience, where you get changing rooms, a nice fresh towel, a swim-up bar and mud to smear on your face, wiping years from your appearance, then the Blue Lagoon is for you. The industrial-looking plant spewing out smoke right beside the lagoon is typical of an Icelandic scene, and something you just have to experience.

11 / BEING IN AWE OF THE SPECTACLE OF SVARTIFOSS AND VATNAJÖKULL

From the phenomenon that gave the world the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, comes Svartifoss – an iconic waterfall in Iceland with an exquisitely carved stone façade.

The hike up to Svartifoss takes around 1 hour on a very good path with plenty of photo opportunities along the way. From the path, Svartifoss opens up in the distance, the unique rock face tucked in around rolling green hills.

After taking our fill of snaps at Svartifoss we continued along the path up to Skaftafellsjökull glacier. From a high vantage point, the breath-taking, rugged beauty of Iceland is laid out before you. The massive glacier stops directly below the lookout point where it converts into a lake. The views up the glacier as it twists through the surrounding mountains is a sight to behold.

MAP / OUR TOP 11 THINGS TO DO IN ICELAND

To see the list of places we found captivated us so much they made our top things to do in Iceland, click on the icon to the left of the title on the map. To save this map, click on the star the right of the title – this will download to: YOUR PLACES -> MAPS in Google.

INSPIRED? HERE’S HOW TO PLAN YOUR OWN TOP THINGS TO DO IN ICELAND

Firstly, if we have inspired you to visit Iceland, we might inspire you to visit other places. All our best photos and the stories of our travels are on our Instagram. Follow us here.

Secondly, if these top experiences have inspired you to see the country for yourself, our complete itinerary has all the information needed to collect all our favourite things to do in Iceland in 10 days. If you need more convincing, here’s some more reading:

HIKING IN KERLINGARFJÖLL

DRIVING TO ASKJA

DAY TRIP TO LANDMANNALAUGAR

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below – we will always reply. To stay up to date with our travels, follow us on social and signup to our NEWSLETTER.

Best things to do in Iceland in summer / Iceland's hidden gems / #iceland

Best things to do in Iceland in summer / Iceland's hidden gems / #iceland

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