There is so much to see and do in Iceland that it can get daunting to decide what’s best. How to budget your time is always a seminal concern for tourists and travelers alike. Take my advice when you arrive in Reykjavik. Head to the Iceland Travel Market in the center of town. They are really professional and know their stuff. I booked three days of awesome trips in ten minutes!
While I must say that most things that I have seen and done in Iceland over the three times I have been are worthwhile, but there are a few that stand out above the rest. Here are the 5 best things to do on a road trip in Iceland. Many of which I visited on a two day road trip I just took with my two buddies.
Gullfoss is my favorite place in Iceland. It is located a few hours from the capital of Reykjavik and is one of the best waterfalls in the world. From the highway it doesn’t even look like there is anything there until you notice the loads of cars and busses parked at the visitor center.
As you walk behind the visitors center and head down the wooden path toward the river you see the mist and then you see the top tier of the falls. At that moment you are happy with what you’ve come to see. But as you walk down the long flight of stairs to the ground level you notice that there is a second tier of the waterfall itself.
I won’t go as far as to say it’s as great a site as Victoria or Iguassu Falls but it’s right there after Niagara Falls in my book of great waterfalls of the world. The power and volume of the water can be hypnotic and awesome. What a great site and you can get right next to it.
It will be a little misty as all big waterfalls are and it can be quite cold so dress the part and bring a waterproof coat too. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
2. Pingvellir National Park
Pingvellir National Park is of great significance to the Icelandic people and is their first National Park. It is also a site where the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian plates can be clearly seen in the faults that traverse the gorgeous region.
The drive through the park is spectacular and there are many different types of scenery to see. My favorite is the biggest natural lake in Iceland called, Pingvallavatn. You drive along it for a while as you cruise through the park. It is marked with some nice islands in the middle and great vistas from all around.
Pingvellir is also home to Iceland’s first Parliament. The entire park is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is well worth the time to drive through and see it. It is one of the stops of the Golden Circle.
3. Langjokull Glacier
Langjokull is a glacier in the middle of Iceland. It is visible from quite a distance away. It seems to follow you around as you curve in and out of the mountain roads before you reach it.
The best thing about Langjokull is that you can drive your jeep onto the glacier itself and go as far as the temperamental weather will allow. Our day on the glacier was particularly windy and snowy so we only made it a mile or two out but had a blast while doing so. The views went from great vistas around the valley to a complete whiteout very quickly.
You can also race dog sleds on the glacier if you like. I would have done that exact thing if I hadn’t done it on Greenland a few days earlier. The glacier is a must in Iceland and fits in nicely with driving to the Golden Circle sites and Pingvellir National Park.
4. The South Coast
The south coast may be my favorite part of Iceland. There isn’t too much to see and do per se but there is an amazing amount of nature and views to be seen. The landscapes are ever spooky and it has an other worldly feel to it. You feel like you’re driving on the moon.
The best actual site to see en route to or from the south coast is Kerid; which is an awesome volcanic crater lake. It has a colorful look and a very peaceful vibe to it. You’d barely even know it was there as you drive so get a map and pay attention.
The rest of the coast, whether you are coming from or headed toward Reykjavik, should be simply enjoyed. The views are great and the landscapes are mind blowing. There are also a lot of horses. You won’t regret going a little out of the way on the brand new road they just put in.
5. The Blue Lagoon
The world famous Blue Lagoon has become the iconic symbol of Iceland to many tourists. In fact, many tourists simply transit Iceland en route to Europe or the States and take their layover time to visit the Blue Lagoon, which is right by Keflavik Airport. This is unfortunate that they don’t see more of the country but it is cool that they can experience it.
The expensive ticket price, some $50USD, is a bit much but the experience is a lot of fun. I have been three times now and have never been disappointed. Much has changed since my first visit in 2000 including a swim up bar where people can pay with their entry bracelets. This is convenient because you don’t have to bring cash but annoying at the same time because then you have drunk people potentially peeing in the water!
The springs are gorgeous, nobody can dispute that, and it is a must see when you visit Iceland. However, do not make it your only thing that you see in the country. There is so much to see and do. The lagoon is nice but is a bit of a tourist trap and very overpriced.
Other Spots to See
The waterfalls at Hraunfossar and Barnafoss are excellent as well and would normally make any list of top attractions. However, Iceland has many good things that it was my first cut.
There is a cave at Vidgelmir; which is cool to see. If you’ve never been caving before you will definitely enjoy doing some spelunking. The only downfall is there is nothing to see or do in the cave so it’s relatively anti-climactic.
The geysers at Geysir and Strokkur are cool to see as well and are easily accessed from the main road and only 10 minutes or so from Gullfoss; which is really convenient. They erupt every 15 minutes or so and can get pretty high. We saw a few eruptions and unfortunately I messed up the actual eruption picture. However, it is really cool.
If you’re wondering how it compares to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park in the States. It is cooler in that you can get much closer to the actual geyser but it isn’t as high or powerful.
So those are my top five, along with a few other recommendations for Iceland. Reykjavik of course is a great city and I will post separately on it soon. So get to Iceland, see the sights and enjoy one of natures greatest creations. The language is another story though…