Iceland Bucket List
After 10 days in a campervan exploring the Iceland Ring Road, there are a few things I have learned.
One is that you will have never experienced a country like Iceland.
Two, 10 days is nowhere near enough time to explore all the things to do in Iceland and three, there is no hope of trying to pronounce half the names of all the beautiful places there is to see in Iceland.
Want our 7 Tips for Iceland Family Vacation in a Campervan?
With all that in mind here are 11 Amazing things to do in Iceland…that will make you never want to leave.
Yes, this place is real and no, this photo has not been edited to the max!
The river Fjaðrá winds it’s way along this two-kilometre canyon and what a shade of blue it is.
It is only a short walk from the car park to stand on the upper parts of the canyon and glimpse down the 100 metre deep walls to views like this.
There are various paths to explore both the upper canyon and down into the canyon itself. With waterfalls and stunning views to discover.
Unfortunately due to a small hiccup ( see Getting There section) I only had a 15-minute view of this magic place while my husband sat in the stranded campervan with three overtired children. Worth. Every. Minute.
How to Get To Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is located near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur just off the Ring Road. The road leading to the canyon is gravel, although in good condition and suitable for most cars. The car park is quite small and when we arrived in a 6 berth Campervan it was full, which lead to a 12 point turn and some fun times.
Ever had the experience of walking behind a waterfall? In the summer months a visit to Seljalandsfoss it is possible to do just that!
With water originating from the melting glacier which covers Eyjafjallajokull volcano cascading over a drop of over 60 meters this place wows as soon as it is visible on the drive along Iceland’s Ring Road, Route 1.
There is a small cave behind the falls that can be reached by those willing to get thoroughly wet and chance the slippery walk.
Find a great deal on wet weather gear here
How To Get To Seljalandsfoss
Seljalandsfoss is included in the Golden Circle and is about a 2-hour drive from the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik. It is impossible to miss as it is easy to see from the main road on approach. To chase more waterfalls, head another 30km up Route 1 to Skógafoss… just be prepared to tackle the 500+ steps to see the falls from above.
This National Park is famous for being the site of the Althing, the national parliament of Iceland. The Althing was established in 930AD, making it the oldest parliament not just in Europe but in the world.
As well as being important historically this area is where it is possible to see the continental drift between the Eurasian and North American Tectonic Plates.
There is plenty to explore in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, from diving the Silfra fissure to discovering the darker side of the area.
With place names that translate to “ Drowning Pool” and “Gallows Rock”, Þingvellir’s role as a place of public execution from the 17th century until 1800 has left a lasting impression on the area.
How To Get To Þingvellir
Þingvellir is about 45km from Reykjavik and is part of Iceland’s Golden Circle. Heading north from Reykjavik turn onto road 36 which will take you to the National Park.
4. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake in Iceland and due to the effects of global warming is getting bigger each year. As ice from Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull melts into the lagoon, Jökulsárlón’s landscape constantly changes.
There are various tours and activities available on the lake from boat tours to kayaks and Stand Up Paddle Boarding… as well as the opportunity to just take in the views on the lagoons edge or nearby Diamond Beach.
Our kids favorite part was getting to eat 1000-year-old ice, while we were in awe watching an iceberg flip ( Did you know that if an iceberg is bright blue it has only just turned over? ).
How To Get To Jökulsárlón
You will find Jökulsárlón along Route 1. From Reykjavik, it is around a 6-hour drive..although this will be longer as there is so much to stop and see on the way.
5. Black Sand Beach, Reynisfjara
National Geographic has ranked Reynisfjara as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world which isn’t too shabby considering there isn’t a palm tree or white sandy shore in sight.
Instead, boots crunch on black lava and the basalt stacks, Reynisdrangar tower out of the turbulent Atlantic ocean just like the imposing trolls, local folklore states they are.
The beauty of Reynisfjara isn’t just the volcanic black beach.
Here at the base of Reynisfjall, there is Hálsanefshellir cave and hexagonal-shaped basalt columns to explore too. It is hard to comprehend that nature is capable of creating something so exact in shape.
An important thing to note at Reynisfjara is to be aware of the dangers of sneaker waves and strong currents. Here beauty can be deadly. It is wise to read warning signs and not get too close to the shoreline.
How To Get To Reynisfjara
Located on Iceland’s South Coast, Reynisfjara is around a 2.5-hour drive from the capital. It is well signposted from the Ring Road. Our advice would be to get there early. Not only will you miss the crowds but if you are lucky enough you will catch an amazing sunrise.
Surprisingly, Iceland has lots of beaches to explore. Make sure you visit at least a couple.
Námaskarð is probably as far as you or I could get to being on another planet.
A barren landscape full of bubbling sulphuric mud, steam pouring out of otherworldly terrain and smell that will put you off dinner.
Once you get past the rotten egg smell ( try not to breathe it in too much as sulfur is harmful to us mere mortals ), you start to notice all the rich and various colors of the minerals in the ever-changing landscape. An area where you can get lost in the beauty and wonder that our world is capable of.
This place is HOT…as in above 200 degrees Celsius…you can feel the heat coming off the steam springs ( fumaroles ) even from a distance. And the mud springs ( solfataras ) are hypnotizing as they gurgle and boil from their high temperatures.
How To Get To Námaskarð
Chances are you will smell this place before you see it. Located to the North of Iceland’s Lake Myvatn.
There are so many waterfalls in Iceland to explore and it is hard work to pick a few standouts.
Svartifoss is one of the most unique though. Only 20 meters high, it isn’t anywhere near one of the biggest waterfalls but with its black, hexagonal, lava walls it is one of the most stunning.
The walk to the falls is where some of the magic happens too.
It is around a 3km round walk to Svartifoss through Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. You walk over bridges, past three other waterfalls, and through lush growth before you get to see the falls from a distance.
Getting There: Head from the Ring Road onto Route 998. Park inside the National Park near the information center then follow the marked path to Svartifoss. Be prepared for some hills and steps.
Discover 11 helpful tips for visiting Iceland with ( or without kids ) on a post we wrote for Ytravelblog here.
8. Hot Springs
The Blue Lagoon may be one of the most famous geothermal pools in the world…and in case you are wondering it is well worth the visit, just make it early. We headed there for the open time and dodged all the bus tours heading in for mid-morning. Makes for a much more enjoyable experience.
There are, however, plenty of other areas around the country that offer a subliminal dip in warm, mineral-rich waters.
From Mývatn Nature Baths to the Secret Lagoon near Flúðir and special spots off the beaten track like this one the hot springs in Iceland are worth discovering.
How To Get To The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is located in Grindavík which is about 20km from Keflavík International Airport or around 40km from Reykjavík. As to the other hot springs, it’s much more fun to go adventuring and discover them yourself.
The famous Sólheimasandur plane wreck sits eerily on the black sand of Sólheimasandur beach.
Over four decades ago, in November 1973 this United States Navy DC plane was forced to land after running out of fuel. All of the crew survived and it was later discovered the pilot had intact accidentally switched to the wrong fuel tank. I imagine he was a popular fellow.
From this mistake though has come a great treasure and it is a lot of fun to clamber over the plane and explore inside the wreckage.
Like many of the popular sites, it is much more fun to head here earlier or later in the day and miss the crowds. Just allow for the long walk and weather changes.
How To Get To Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck, Iceland
Located on the South Coast about 20 minutes from Vik, this place isn’t too well sign-posted. You will see a car park at the side of the road and that’s your only clue. Expect a 45-minute walk to the plane…and hope for good weather as you can have sand blasting you the whole way there.
10. Vatnshellir Cave
Take your own Journey to the Centre of the Earth in the location Jules Verne based his famous novel.
As you disappear down 35 meters below the ground into this 8000-year-old lava tube it is easy to imagine you could end up in a whole new world.
Equipped with helmets and flashlights you descend down spiral staircases to see lava formations and a stunning variety of colors. This is one of the most fun things to do in Iceland.
Our favorite part was when our guide asked everyone to turn their flashlights off. Enveloped in cold darkness, with eyes straining to see any light and the dripping of water it can send goosebumps down your spine.
How To Get To Vatnshellir Cave
Vatnshellir cave is located in Snæfellsjökull National Park. It is pretty much right on Road 574 and the ticket office is clear to see as you drive along the west of Arnarstapi.
11. Northern Lights
I saved my favorite until last.
I’m not sure if it’s the fact that you have no control over getting to experience this magical phenomenon, or that it usually involves being awake in those secret hours of the night but seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is truly a moment to treasure forever.
The best chance of seeing the lights is from September till around Mid April.
It also helps to be away from light pollution in the larger cities and towns.
Add this to the fact that there needs to be little cloud cover and a dark night without a bright moon, and it is easy to see why it is so special when the lights put on a show.
On our trip, we saw the lights twice. These images were from the second time. We watched them dance in green and purple across the sky for over an hour.
Find out how to take photographs of the Northern Lights like these images.
How To See The Northern Lights In Iceland
There are Northen Light tours from Reykjavik available. If you are exploring the Ring Road in Iceland you may just be lucky enough to step outside of your campervan like we did one night and capture moments like these pictured. Follow this website to keep track of the lights. It is good to note though that this can change quickly. The night these photo’s were taken was one of the lowest ratings during our stay and we almost decided not to keep watch!
Planning a trip to see all these amazing sites? Check out these great Iceland travel tips before you leave.
Travel With Meraki. Make sure you leave plenty of time to take roads you’re not sure where they lead to, to wander along a path not on your itinerary and to put the camera down and soak it all up.
Things To See In Iceland