First Time In Iceland? Don't Miss These 15 Outdoor Highlights

Glaciers, volcanoes, fjords, geysers, black sand beaches, lava fields, and more.

By Journy Team

1 February 2021

Just south of the Arctic Circle and bursting with active volcanoes, Iceland truly is the land of ice and fire. Given its unique position on the globe, Iceland boasts a variety of dramatic natural wonders: glaciers, volcanoes, fjords, geysers, black sand beaches, hiking trails, and lava fields—which often earns it a top spot on the list of the most beautiful places on earth.

In just over a week, you can experience the best that this enchanting country has to offer with day trips aplenty. Continue reading for 15 of the best things to do on your first trip.

Plan My Trip To Iceland

1. Indulge in the waters of The Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Embrace the natural beauty of Iceland’s geothermal landscape while indulging in the ultimate spa treatment. You'll enjoy full access to the blue-white waters, along with a Silica skin-purifying mud mask, saunas, and steam rooms. Enjoy a perfect back massage under the Waterfall, a man-made falls designed specifically for tension relief, then be sure to check out the swim-up lagoon bar for a cocktail without leaving the water. When you’re fully soothed and steamed, dine at the stunning Lava restaurant, which is carved directly into the black volcanic rock overlooking the lagoon.

2. Explore the lava fields on an underground tour of Leiðarendi Cave

Leiðarendi Cave | @life_of_ck

Discover what's underneath all the lava in Iceland on a tour of Leiðarendi. The 900-meter-long cave is pitch black, but you'll get a helmet with a headlight to explore the lava formations (stalactites and drip stalagmites), which were formed more than 2,000 years ago. Be prepared—you may need to hunch and crawl a bit!

3. See the Northern Lights and iconic lighthouses at night

Northern Lights in Iceland | @kevinfloerkle

No visit to Iceland is complete without a tour of the iconic Northern Lights (aka aurora borealis) or the country's many lighthouses, which once played a vital role in warning fishing vessels of impending danger. Be sure to visit both the Gardskagi Lighthouse (the tallest in Iceland, which offers a stunning view) and Reykjanes Auxiliary Lighthouse.

4. Explore Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park | @fjoladooggth

Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) is a historic national park just east of the capital city of Reykjavík that's located in a rift valley caused by the separation of two tectonic plates (which explains the rocky cliffs and fissures). It's best known for the Alþing (Althing), which was the site of Iceland's parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries and exists today as the oldest surviving parliament in the world. Be sure to also explore the tiny but charming Þingvellir Church tucked away in the woods, next to which sits a peaceful, small cemetery.

5. See Iceland's iconic Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall | @jackwanders_

Gullfoss, also known as the "Golden Waterfall," is a two-tiered waterfall that dramatically drops 70 meters deep into the narrow canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. For the best views of this breathtaking natural marvel, you'll walk along the path from the parking lot to the viewing platform.

6. Watch the Strokkur Geyser erupt

Strokkur Geyser | @_luluinthesky

Not far from Gulfoss, the Strokkur Geyser is a great place to catch sight of a reliably erupting geyser. With eruptions nearly every five minutes, you won't have to wait around forever for the main event—and you'll have a plenty of opportunities to snap a great photo. Pro tip: check out the trail that leads to the top of the hill above—you’ll get the best view from here during the winter and summer months.

7. See the volcanic crater lake, Kerið

Kerid Crater | @dennis.sma

Kerid Crater, and the lake that fills it, is one of the major sights along the Golden Circle. Not far from Selfoss, Kerid Crater is remarkably beautiful—its mirror-like lake, surrounding pine forest, and dramatic vistas make this a must-visit for hikers. It also boasts some of the best photo ops in all of Iceland. Wear your hiking gear and climb to the top for the best views.

8. Visit the scenic Faxi Waterfall in the Tungufljót River

Faxi Waterfall | @tallpeaksandhightides

Faxi is a stunningly beautiful, cascading, powerful waterfall located in the Tungufljót river that many travelers (unfortunately) overlook. For the best vantage point, head to the viewing platform just below the parking lot and above the waterfall, or make your way up to the traditional Icelandic réttir where farmers herd their sheep in the fall. If you're lucky, you may also spot some salmon swimming upstream to spawn.

Although the waterfall can't be seen from Route 35, that's the best road to take since it leads to the natural hot springs at Geysir and to Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall.

9. Visit Brúarfoss (Blue Waterfall)

Brúarfoss Waterfall | @shawna_mnchi

Brúarfoss Waterfall earned its reputation as Iceland's bluest waterfall due to its stunningly vibrant blue hues. Although the only way to get here is to hike, it's worth the 4.4-mile round-trip trek—especially since, along the way, you'll pass smaller (but still picturesque) waterfalls.

10. Soak in the steam baths and geothermal pools of Laugarvatn Fontana

Laugarvatn Fontana | @fontanaiceland

Spend the afternoon taking in the unique healing powers of the geothermal springs. Relax in the mod wading pools before popping into the cedar-lined steam room that's fed by a natural vent below. If you get hungry, stop by the Geothermal Bakery, where bread is baked for 24 hours underground. And if you're feeling especially adventurous, take a dip in the refreshing lake (and then likely right back into the hot pools).

11. Hike along the Sólheimajökull Glacier

Sólheimajökull Glacier | @lauraecass

Hike Sólheimajökull Glacier alongside an experienced guide on a small group adventure, which is available all year round. An outlet from the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap, Sólheimajökull is surrounded by some of Iceland's most iconic volcanoes—and even transforms into a glacier lagoon during the summer months.

12. Explore the Katla Ice Cave by Jeep and/or foot

Katla Ice Cave | @comptoirdesvoyages

Visit the 800-year-old (still active) Katla volcanic ice cave, which is located about 45 minutes north of Vík. Along the scenic ride, your driver will bring you through the ruggedly beautiful landscape complete with verdant green mountains and pitch-black lava sand plains from previous eruptions.

13. Walk on impacted ice during a glacier hike at Skaftafell National Park

Skaftafell National Park | @simexposure

Embark on a breathtaking hike across Europe's oldest glacier, Vatnajökull. Not only will you discover what it feels like to walk on impacted ice, but you'll also catch stunning views of the ice-capped peaks of Skaftafell National Park while using crampons, ice axes, and harnesses to see crevasses and deep cracks on the surface. Your expert guide will introduce you to the history of the glacier and teach you about the vertical shafts (aka moulins) which form when melting water makes its way into the fissures and cracks.

14. Take a boat tour to see Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón - Glacier Lagoon | @thestrawhatbackpacker

This glacier lagoon guided tour begins at the Ice Lagoon truck. From there, you'll sail with a small group and expert guide on a zodiac boat through Jökulsárlón, an expansive lake in the southern corner of Vatnajökull National Park. Traversing the glacier's edge, you'll reach the point where the iceberg splits off from Vatnajökull, Europe's biggest glacier.

15. Visit the Skógafoss Waterfall and Sólheimasandur crash site

Skógafoss | @voyagerben

Skógafoss is one of the largest waterfalls in all of Iceland, and a must-visit for first-time and repeat visitors alike. This waterfall, which is located along the former south coast of the country, drops 62 meters into the Skoga River and spans 25 meters—and yes, you can walk right up to it!

Nearby, you'll find Sólheimasandur, a massive stretch of black sand beach where a US navy plane once crashed. All passengers thankfully survived, but the spot has been left as a mecca for photographers and interactive works of art. The odyssey to find this hidden treasure is worth the trek, and the image of the haunting plane wreckage against the other-worldly black sand makes a stark and unforgettable contrast. Your GPS will really come in handy to find this point off the main highway.

Interested in something you don't see on this list, such as...

  • Whale watching
  • Riding Icelandic horses
  • Spotting puffins!
  • Visiting Diamond Beach/Lake Myvatn/Landmannalaugar/Vatnajökull Glacier/[insert natural wonder here]
  • The nightlife scene
  • Cultural attractions such as the Hallgrimskirkja church or art museums of Akureyri

...let us know! Every Journy itinerary is built from scratch with considerations for your interests, budget, preferred pace of travel, and so, so much more. We're also pros at all things logistics when it comes to planning iconic road trips and day tours along the Ring Road.