You’ve seen all the Instagram photos, and may be starting to consider Iceland for your own bucket list. But perhaps you have some reservations: isn’t it supposed to be cold up there, and aren’t there volcanoes?? Is Iceland really worth visiting if you’re not a super adventurous, risk-taking person?
Why should you spend your hard-earned money on a visit to this cold, windy island instead of a tropical beach? From one person who once questioned this very same thing, there simply is no other place on earth like Iceland!
If you’re looking for something a little different, I would seriously consider Iceland. I went there during the pandemic and it was easily one of the most memorable and visually stunning destinations I’ve ever been to.
Iceland has some of the most spectacular natural scenery you will see anywhere in the world. It’s a great destination for social distancing, as you’ll be spending plenty of time in your own car or tour bus driving from attraction to attraction. Then, there will be plenty of time spent outdoors at these vast wonders. There are glaciers, ice caves, geysers, geothermal hot springs, enormous waterfalls, dramatic black sand beaches and ancient volcanoes.
Being located so far geographically North, the sun does not completely set at night in Iceland during the summer. It will dip towards the horizon close to midnight but doesn’t actually get dark and you could still easily drive your car without headlights at 1 a.m. in peak summer. This was a really unique and cool feature I hadn’t experienced anywhere else before.
Yes, this country does draw serious hikers and adventure-seeking folks looking to climb glaciers and scuba dive between two continents. However, you don’t have to do any of that to love Iceland. In fact, I did no serious hiking or climbing on my first trip and loved everything I did.
Hiking is not the only way to enjoy Iceland’s dreamy landscapes. Road tripping to waterfalls or watching a geyser go off is approachable for all travellers, while still being awe-inspiring. And don’t forget about the hot springs! Talk amount minimal effort and pure relaxation…
Bottom line – a visit to Iceland can push you just a tiny bit outside of your comfort zone without being overwhelming. Sometimes getting a little uncomfortable can bring you some of the best travel memories.
Iceland is truly impressive; the Iceland hype is real and deserved. A week is plenty of time to hit the highlights in and around Reykjavík. But, there is more to be seen and four seasons to explore so here are the top unique things to do in Iceland that make this country special.
1. Enjoying Reykjavik – the Vibrant Capital
With its low buildings, colorful murals, and brightly painted houses, Reykjavik is such a cozy city full of cheer. The capital’s small size makes it very manageable to explore over a day or two. It’s also the perfect home base for many fun day trips around Iceland.
Here are some places you can’t miss:
- Hallgrimskirkja Church
- Sun Voyager Sculpture
- Harpa Concert Hall
Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in the city, is absolutely striking. It was built to mimic the look of volcanic basalt rock, which are quite bizarre-looking lava rock columns, paying tribute to the island’s geological history. A statue of the famous explorer Leif Eriksson stands in front.
The Harpa Concert Hall must be one of the coolest-looking buildings I’ve ever visited. The Harpa Concert Hall is completely made of glass, reflecting the Icelandic landscape, sea, and sky off its wild geometric design. This impressive structure is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera.
The Sun Voyager Sculpture is a remarkable piece of art. Built by Icelandic sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason, it’s an ode to the sun, symbolizing light and hope. It’s the most famous sculpture in Iceland. If you love art and culture, this sculpture is a must-see stop while exploring Iceland’s capital city! One of the best times to view it is around sunset. You can reach it on foot heading east from Harpa Concert Hall.
2. Spending the Day Road Tripping
Just a single day of road tripping can pack a powerful punch in your Iceland itinerary. You don’t have to go far from Reykjavik to find the likes of volcanos, geysers, waterfalls, and black sand beaches. Due to the country’s volcanic nature, there are some areas in Iceland where it seems like the land is literally alive.
The two most popular road trips from Reykjavik are the Golden Circle and the South Coast. Both can be done in a single day, and consist of many breathtaking stops. You can either rent a car and do the drive at your own pace, or join a tour.
The best part is that most of these natural sights are completely free to visit. If you are able to rent a car, it’ll greatly help you to see Iceland on a budget.
3. Waterfalls everywhere
Iceland is cold, dark and icy over the long winter months. As the sun rises in summer and the temperatures rise, all that snow and ice starts to melt. If you’re following the popular Ring Road to drive around the country, you’ll mostly be driving near the coast. The melting ice and snow from the higher centre of the country run down towards the coast and into the ocean.
This creates spectacular waterfalls as you’re driving. Some of the larger ones are well-marked on the tourist maps and are worth a stop and a photograph while you take in the power and sound of the gushing water cascading downwards at speed.
However, you’ll see plenty of waterfalls without even stepping out of your car as you’ll drive past them along the Ring Road regularly.
4. Black sand beaches
While it’s very unlikely to ever be warm enough to swim in the ocean in Iceland, even in the middle of summer, as an island, there are plenty of beaches. They’re very different from what you might be used to in the sunny Mediterranean, due to both the northern location Iceland enjoys and the volcanic earth.
There are spectacular black sand beaches to enjoy — you can walk along these without seeing another person as they are wide, windswept and largely deserted.
5. Soaking in a Hot Spring
Surprised that you’ll need to add a swimsuit to your Iceland packing list? If you’d like to partake in one of Iceland’s most famous activities, soaking in a hot spring, then swimwear is a must. Iceland powers much of the country with its natural geothermal water, which also keeps these hot springs toasty. You can comfortably soak outdoors at the famous Blue Lagoon or the newer Sky Lagoon all year round.
The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most popular and famous attractions. It’s very conveniently located close to the main Keflavík International Airport (KEF), so very handy if you have some time to kill before or after your flight but it’s quite touristy, busy and fairly expensive for a basic ticket.
If you have a bit more time on your side and are venturing away from the capital, there are plenty of other geothermal hot springs dotted around the country. These are popular with locals and significantly cheaper. Much like the Finnish love of their saunas, Icelandic locals love soaking up the mineral benefits and gazing out over the natural landscapes.
Is Iceland worth visiting for four or less days?
Short answer: yes. My trip to Iceland was just four days long but it brought unforgettable experiences. I recommend basing yourself in Reykjavik and making day trips from there. A single day could be spent visiting the Blue Lagoon, exploring Reykjavik, and doing a northern lights tour if visiting in winter. On a second day, tour the Golden Circle. If you have a third day, take a road trip down the South Coast.
And if you have an extra day to spare, then I recommend taking a road trip around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It is often referred to as Iceland en miniature or mini Iceland since it contains so many different landscapes you encounter all around Iceland and makes a great road trip for those travellers unable to take a week and drive the full Ring Road around the island.
No matter how much time you have to spend in Iceland, anything you manage to see will be totally worth the visit. There’s no other place with dramatic landscapes, a cozy capital city, and friendly locals like Iceland has! Hopefully I have convinced you that Iceland is worth visiting! This Nordic country has otherworldly beauty and magic that will create awesome memories.
So if you stumbled upon this post wondering if Iceland is worth visiting, then my answer is YES, absolutely. Iceland is one of the most beautiful and unique places on our planet and it’s definitely worth a trip. If anyone tells you that Iceland is boring, then they just don’t know how to appreciate natural beauty! Iceland is on my return list, and that alone is as good of an endorsement as I can give anywhere.