Iceland is a beautiful country to visit and one of the most unique when it comes to the most epic places to see! And, although a first-time visit to Iceland is an exciting prospect, there’s a heap of planning, logistics and bookings to be made to ensure a nice smooth trip. This is exactly why I wanted to share some of the best things to do on a first trip to Iceland.
Now, as it’s your first visit, you’ll probably be thinking about starting in the southwest of Iceland. This is where nearly all international flights arrive and depart, so it’s a good starting point for your adventure.
Now, most of these are within a 5-hour drive from Iceland’s international airport, Keflavik and easily reached by main arterial roads.
This all makes it a bit easier when seeing the bigger picture of how much driving is involved.
Take a little look at some of the best things to do on a first trip to Iceland.
1.) Bathe in the Blue Lagoon
Iceland is known the world over for its famous geothermal heated pools, with the Blue Lagoon being one of its most pristine!
Head across to the Blue Lagoon (around a 10-minute drive from the airport) and spend a good few hours relaxing in these piping-hot pools.
Now, the lagoon can get busy, so book your tickets in advance and make sure to visit at less busy times. Usually, first thing in the morning is a little quieter.
Also, If you arrive in winter, you can actually head to the Blue Lagoon and watch the sunrise, a magical experience that is well worth doing!
Oh, and don’t forget to book these Blue Lagoon tickets that include a mud mask, drink and towel. It’s totally worth it and such a unique experience.
Afterwards, if you’re looking for an adventure, hike to the erupting Fagradalsfjall Volcano that’s only a 15-minute drive from the Blue Lagoon. Then, once here, you can join this hiking trail and see the most incredible eruption in Iceland.
It’s beautiful and one of the best things to do on a first trip to Iceland for sure.
2.) Spot the northern lights
No visit to Iceland is complete without (at least looking for) the Northern Lights.
If you’ve rented a car, it’s best to head out of the towns and head for some of the darker rural areas. We drove about 30 minutes out of Reykjavik to see them clearly in the dark and within the national park itself.
The months around March and September are the brightest for the northern lights but you can be lucky and see them at any time of the night.
When the lights are really strong, you’ll be able to watch them prance overhead regardless of the (small amounts of) light pollution from the towns. Always keep your eyes peeled for those dancing swirls.
Now, you can book this incredible Northern Lights tour, which is great if you don’t drive (or just don’t fancy driving). The tour picks up from Reykavik and takes around 4 hours. It’s incredible. Best of all, they will know all the places to go to avoid light pollution.
That being said, if you have a car, then you can go out alone. It just depends on what suits you best.
3.) Go Whale Watching
There is an abundance of whales that call the shores of Iceland home. Book this incredible whale-watching tour that departs from Reykjavik and try your luck at spotting some of these majestic animals in the wild.
Taking roughly 3-4 hours, it’s the perfect way to see whales in their natural habitat. Just be aware, that sometimes the tours can overrun a little, so have a buffer for any future plans just in case.
Oh, and be sure to book your tour in advance. Tickets can run out at peak times.
4.) Eat typical Icelandic cuisine
Traditional Icelandic cuisine is a little unknown outside of Iceland but that doesn’t mean it’s not yummy!
Head to one of the delicious restaurants in Reykjavik and try some local dishes like; Harðfiskur which consists of dried fish and is a firm favourite!
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, chow down on Svið a baked sheep head. Now, I can’t say I’ve tried the latter, but you know what, as they say, ‘when in Rome’ you might want to give it a try.
Though, don’t fret if you don’t know what to try or where to go in Iceland. Book this 3-hour foodie walking tour in Reykjavik that’s such a great way to try Icelandic cuisine.
You’ll get to try different local dishes to get a full flavour of Icelandic cuisine across different shops, restaurants and stalls. We loved it.
5.) Bake Hot Spring Rye Bread in the earth
There are few places where the heat of geothermal activity can actually bake bread in the ground.
Iceland is one of these places! Head over to the Fontana Hot Springs, or even to some hotels and restaurants, where they will help you prep, make and (the best bit) eat the baked rye bread.
Work up an appetite and spread with lashings of butter.
If you want to explore but don’t drive, book this Golden Circle tour that’ll take you to some of the best places in Iceland in this area. Along the way, you’ll get to see the iconic Geysir, visit the Gullfoss waterfall, and explore the wider Þingvellir National Park.
6.) Watch the sunset at Go To Vik & Dyrhólaey
One of the best places to watch the sunset is Vik and Dyrhólaey.
Head here to see the sun slowly descend over the horizon, all whilst standing on the iconic black beach that Iceland has become so famous for…
…It really is a beautiful place.
Also, don’t forget, you can book this incredible ice-cave and glacier tour from Vik that’s just incredible. It’ll take you to the top of the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier and you’ll get to explore the iconic ice cave below Katla Volcano.
It’s immense and all guided in an all-weather jeep.
Just be sure to book before arriving in Iceland – these Glacier tour tickets fill up fast.
7.) Drive the Golden Circle
One of the main ‘routes’ visitors to Iceland take, the Golden Circle encompasses quite a few incredible sites you’ll not want to miss.
Including the iconic Strokkur Geyser (that erupts every few minutes) and Gullfoss, that looks stunning in both winter and summer.
The golden circle can take about 4-5 hours to complete but I’d always give a little extra to relax and enjoy this stunning route. It really is one of the best things to do on a first trip to Iceland.
8.) Visit the capital city, Reykjavik
The capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik is one place you’ll likely spend an evening or two. Head here on weekends when the bars are filled with live music, friendly local and an amazing atmosphere.
In the days, explore the city itself, visit the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral or head over to the Harpa concert hall which is home to the national opera and symphony.
9.) See the roaring Skógafoss
Skógafoss is approximately 2 hours east of the airport, and it is one of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls to visit.
Entry is free to Skógafoss and if you arrive early in the morning, or late afternoon, you’ll notice the crowds dissipate, leaving the waterfall just for you. It’s lovely.
10.) Explore the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
The glacier lake of Jökulsárlón is probably the farthest east you’ll travel out of all these places (it’s about 5.5 hours from Keflavik airport) but well worth seeing if you’ve made it as far as Vik.
Head over to Jökulsárlón and see the incredible landscape that surrounds this region. It really is an impressive sight (just don’t fall whilst taking a selfie, as Yaya did).
Oh, and if you fancy it, pop out onto the lagoon via the boat trips that happen here.
If you don’t have a car, book yourself onto this epic Jökulsárlón tour. It’s an incredible way to see the ice caves of Vatnajökull Glacier on a tour from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. All with the experts who know all the safety precautions needed.
Horseback riding is a beautiful experience in Iceland, especially with the friendly Icelandic horses that are so full of character.
Head out onto the tundra and keep your eyes peeled for Icelandic trolls! Legend has it that they live in the little grassy humps you’ll spot all over the country.
Make sure to book an Icelandic horseback tour and discover the natural beauty of Iceland. It’s such a great way to experience its dramatic landscapes. Just be sure to book in advance, places do get filled up when visiting Iceland.
12.) Walk behind a waterfall at Seljalandsfoss
Seljalandsfoss waterfall is approximately a 10-minute drive from Skógafoss, so it’s well worth doing these at the same time.
If you need help planning (or just want an easier trip), you can book an Icelandic day trip tour that’ll take in all the main spots to see, including Seljalandsfoss. Plus, you’ll get to visit the black beaches and explore more of the south coast of Iceland, too.
Now, for us, one of the best things about Seljalandsfoss is that you can actually walk behind the falls themselves, which is incredible to do!
Though, remember, when conditions get really dicey, the path behind the waterfall is closed off. If that’s the case, don’t be too disappointed; after all, it’s for your own safety.
Finally, if you’re looking for Icelandic tours, check out these incredible ones (we love), below. They all have 24-hour cancellation policies, which is great for Iceland, especially as plans can change fast with weather or trip changes.