1. Discover the golden circle
Gullfoss, or “Gold-waterfall”, is a magnificent and enormous natural waterfall with a rich history. It’s not made of gold as far as we know.
Geysir National Park is a geothermally active area with many natural hot springs, some of them erupting. The largest two largest erupting geysers are Strokkur, which erupts to a height of 20 meters roughly every 15 minutes, and Geysir, from whom all geysers take their name, which erupts to a height of 70 meters, but only sporadically. Although the park is no doubt full of vacationing geezers, the name Geysir actually refers to the erupting nature of the hot spring, and can most appropriately be translated “Gushie”.
Tempting as it may be to think of them as the “thing-wells” – Thingvellir which is a National park actually means “parliament fields” – referring to the fact that this was the site of the ancient viking parliament from about 930 AD until 1798. One of the oldest democracies in the world, viking chiefs from across the country would congregate here and hear the law spoken from the “law-rock”. (Yeah, that’s a thing). It also happens to be located along the rift of the European and American tectonic plates. Among other things, you can learn about the incredibly rich history and geology of the place, and dive in one of the natural underwater fissures.
2. Swim in the Blue Lagoon
This iconic spa resort the Blue Lagoon started in 1976 as a place to pour off excess water from a geothermal construction project. Gradually, the construction workers and passers-by started bathing there (despite the fact that raw geothermal water can vary dangerously in temperature). Since then it’s been renovated and turned into a luxurious spa resort, and the water temperature is moderated so it is perfectly safe. It is conveniently only 40 minutes from Reykjavík, and only 20 minutes from Keflavík airport.
3. See the Northern lights
Among the amazing things you can experience in Iceland is the Northern lights, the famous green celestial laser show that can be seen on clear winter nights. There are several tour operators that specialize in finding the right spot, either by bus or by boat.
4. Explore a Glacier
It is a common joke that Iceland should be called Greenland and vice versa. While it is true that Iceland is greener than Greenland, that’s not really saying much. Iceland is home to the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, and a host of others, all in all covering about 11% of the country’s surface. There are a number of ways to explore them, including hiking or riding a snowmobile on them, if so inclined.
5. Ride the unique Icelandic horse
Iceland is home to a unique breed, the Icelandic horse. It is unusual in size, the size of a pony, and yet amazingly strong and sure-footed. It has two gaits in addition to the most usual walk, trot and gallop, known as tölt and skeið. Icelanders are protective of this breed, so it is illegal to import foreign breeds to Iceland, and once and Icelandic horse leaves the country, it can never return. Riding is a usual pastime for Icelanders, whether they own their own horses, as is common, or they simply rent a horse for a day now and again in the summertime. You can find a horse riding tour in any part of the country.
6. Whale watching
There are 23 different breeds of whale that populate the ocean around Iceland. You can go on a boat tour from a number of ports, or even see them from land in some places. There are a number of operators offering rides and the best time to see whales is between May and September. Remember to wear a hat though, since sailing the ocean can be quite cold, even in summer!
7. Visit Perlan, the Pearl
The Pearl is a landmark building in Reykjavík, with its glass dome, observation deck and revolving restaurant. It sits atop tanks of geothermally heated water and is situated in Öskjuhlíð, a forested outdoor area with many walking paths and remnants of the US occupation of Iceland in the second world war.
8. View the historic site of Höfði
Höfði is a house with an interesting history. It is best known as the place where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the heads of the US and USSR respectively, had their famous negotiations in 1986. Built in 1909 as a french consulate and long time residence of famous Icelandic entrepreneur and poetEinar Benediktsson, it is now owned by the authorities and used to host parties and receptions.
9. Go Diving or Snorkeling
Iceland is probably not the first place you think of when you think of snorkeling. But between the sub-oceanic hot water outlets and the various geological fissures, there is a lot to see.
10. See the view from Hallgrímskirkja belltower
Hallgrímskirkja church is one of the tallest buildings in Iceland. Its beautiful architecture is inspired by the basalt lava columns found in Icelandic nature and on the square outside its main entrance you can see a statue of Leifur Eiríksson, who sailed to America long before it was discovered by Christopher Columbus. It is located near the center of Reykjavík and you can ride the elevator right to the top to see the view.