If you’re a lover of natural beauty, there’s a good chance that a trip to Iceland ranks high on your travel wish list. The island nation might be home to only 330,000 people, but more than six times that many people visit the country every year. Iceland is actually so popular with Americans that more U.S. residents visit Iceland than there are citizens of Iceland, as half a million Americans flock here every year to try the 5 things you must do in Iceland and much more.
Given that Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, it’s no wonder so many travelers make their way to this tiny island every year. But Iceland has much more to offer than just one amazing and unique view. These five experiences and many others make Iceland worth visiting many times and once you’ve experienced them, they’ll likely have you excitedly looking forward to your return visit to Iceland!
Chances are, you’re going to be doing this by default, as most flights from the U.S. will take you into Reykjavik’s Keflavik International Airport. But there’s much more to see than just the beginning of your journey into Iceland, as Reykjavik is a cultural hot spot as the capital of the country. One of the best examples of this is the Harpa Concert Hall, which is one of the most beautiful glass buildings in Iceland as well as a great place to listen to music. If you’re a lover of the orchestra, the Icelandic Symphonic Orchestra is absolutely worth a visit inside the Harpa.
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You’ll also want to check out Hallgrímskirkja, a church that’s built in a way that resembles Iceland’s Black Falls. Other examples of beauty include the Reykjavik Art Gallery and the street art that is constantly on display throughout the capital. At the end of the day, there are few better things to do in Reykjavik than going to one of the local restaurants and ordering the fish of the day for some of the freshest seafood you’ll eat anywhere. Ideally, you’ll want to do that somewhere that allows you easy access out of Reykjavik so you can view the Northern Lights. While they would be visible from Reykjavik, light pollution won’t give you many good views, so it’s best to get out of the city and take in the incredible view.
The Blue Lagoon
If the capital is the main thing that every visitor has to see in Iceland, this has to be a close second. In fact, virtually every tourist that comes to Iceland ends up making a trip to the waters of the Blue Lagoon, a man-made geothermal lagoon that’s the largest in the world. The Lagoon’s waters are rich in minerals, and bathing here has actually been known to assist with treating skin diseases, such as psoriasis.
The waters are between 98 and 104 degrees, making it a fantastic hot tub-like experience and something that Iceland takes very seriously. For instance, showers are mandatory before entering the Lagoon (or any public waters in Iceland, for that matter), and all children under the age of eight must wear water wings to enter. The Lagoon itself is only about six feet deep at its deepest point, but safety and hygiene are both very important to Iceland to ensure that the country can keep the Lagoon enjoyable for everyone.
On the surface, the Gulfoss waterfall certainly warrants a place on a list of five things you must do in Iceland, because it’s one of the most picturesque waterfalls you’re going to find in Iceland or anywhere else in the world. But Gulfoss nearly didn’t last long enough to be enjoyed properly.
In 1907, an Englishman attempted to buy Gulfoss and use it for electricity, but owner Tomas Tomasson refused to do anything more than lease it. Even that wasn’t enough for Sigriður Tómasdóttir, Tomas’ daughter, who tried to void the contract and stop construction that would harm the natural environment. She won the day, and the waterfall now belongs to the Icelandic government, ensuring it can never be purchased for private use. When you see a rainbow over the waterfall, you’ll be glad that’s the case.
Ride a Snowmobile on a Glacier
Iceland might not be as covered with ice as the fictitious story implies, but winter sports are still a very big thing in Iceland, and one of the most popular ones is riding a snowmobile on a glacier. If you’re new to riding a snowmobile, no worries. Iceland offers plenty of great snowmobile tours that allow you the thrill of riding on a glacier in a safe situation.
Not only will you get to ride on a glacier, but many of the tours will take you throughout different parts of Iceland and give you a different perspective on some of the best parts of the island. This is one experience that you definitely shouldn’t miss.
See a Geyser
Iceland’s surrounded by quite a bit of volcanic activity, which leads to several streams of water shooting up through the ground, much like Old Faithful or Soda Springs in the western United States. You’ll have your best chance to see them and get a great picture by going to Haukadalur in the southwestern part of Iceland, which is home to the majority of the country’s geysers. Given how much of a role water and volcanoes have played in Iceland’s history, this is a quintessential Iceland experience.
For true cultural and natural beauty, it’s hard to find a better vacation spot than Iceland. Though the country might be small in terms of both population and land mass, it’s anything but in terms of things to do while you’re there. Once you’ve tackled the 5 things you must do in Iceland, odds are that there will be plenty left on your list to squeeze in before you make your return to the States from a truly memorable vacation!