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 south-west of the island? 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 that 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 has known the world over for its famous geothermal heated pools, with the Blue Lagoon being one of it’s most pristine!
Head across to the Blue Lagoon (around 10 minutes 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!
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 go out on a pre-arranged tour but we always love just going out in the car and parking up in the national park. This way, you can stay as long, or as little, as you like.
3.) Go Whale Watching
There is an abundance of whales that call the shores of Iceland home. Head onto one of the whale watching tours that depart 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, sometimes the tours can overrun a little, so have a buffer for any future plans just in case.
4.) Eat typical Icelandic cuisine
Traditional Icelandic cuisine is 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 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?
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 at 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.
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.
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’s 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, with it being 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 furthest 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.
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.
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.
One of the best things about Seljalandsfoss is that you can actually walk behind the falls themselves, which is incredible to do!
When conditions get really dicey, the path behind the waterfall is closed off; so don’t be too disappointed. After all, it’s for your own safety.