I’d say it’s pretty nice to see the best of what a country has to offer. You take in the food, the sights, the monuments, the culture, and then you consider yourself duly informed of what makes that country special. Then you plan your next trip to another destination.
Iceland isn’t like this. Its area is roughly the size of the US state of Kentucky. If you haven’t been (to either place), I assure you there is more to see in Iceland than Kentucky (yes, I said it). The country is a dramatically different place whether you decide to visit in the summer vs. the winter. This beckons the understanding that one trip to Iceland just isn’t enough.
My third trip (humble brag) to Iceland has taught me some truths:
1. Rent a campervan and forego any tours. This gives you ultimate flexibility with regards to time.
2. Do some prior research or have some sort of idea what you want to see/do instead of winging it.
3. Save money by preparing your own meals and using campsites instead of hotels.
4. Bring a friend or two! Road trips are always better with great company.
Now of course, if you’ve got just a few days, you could take a guided tour (Golden Circle or South Coast tours) and get an overview of some of the popular destinations.
There are a few waterfalls in Þingvellir National Park such as Gullfoss and Öxarárfoss that are worth seeing. Stuðlagil Canyon and Vestrahorn Mountain in Eastern Iceland are absolutely glorious. And Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, made popular by the Biebs, is a stunning gem on the South Coast. With these great places, also expect many people.
With so much to see in this country, maybe it’s a big overwhelming trying to figure out what places to go in Iceland. But have no fear, I will break down what to see in the different regions of Iceland and recommend places that you should absolutely not miss.
Without a doubt, this part of the country has the largest concentration of gorgeous geological features one cannot miss. Head East from Reykjvaik and make stops at Faxifoss, Urriðafoss, Skógafoss, Kvernufoss, Hjalparfoss, Haifoss, Þjófafoss, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Hundafoss, Svartifoss, Reynisdrangar, Reynisfjara, Stjórnarfoss, and Kerid Crater just to name a few. I would say it’s worth seeing all of these places if time permits.
However, when it comes to places you cannot miss, check out the following:
This waterfall name translates to ‘bridge falls’. There is a designated parking area to access this waterfall, which requires a 45 minutes hike one way. What is so striking about Bruarfoss is how blue the water is and how unique the falls look. Best of all, due to the hike required and its location away from the Icelandic Ring Road, it is never overrun with too many people.
This waterfall is indeed a stop on most tours, so yes, you won’t be alone, but this is one of the only waterfalls in the country where you can walk behind it, giving you a unique photographic perspective. The best time to go here is when the sun is just above the horizon, which makes for some dramatically EPIC photo ops (see below). This will probably be my FB cover photo for forever.
Just a few hundred meters walk from Seljalandsfoss, is this beauty. This place is accessible by walking on rocks, protruding above the stream into an open cavern. Not as treacherous as it seems, and the reward is worth it. Even the spray from the falls didn’t deter me from trying to time the perfect photo.
The ‘Yoda Cave’ as this one is called, is nestled just 2 kilometers down a gravel road, after turning off the ring road. The cave is largely not very spooky (bonus), but large enough to accommodate over 100 people. Both times I went here, I had it all to myself (lucky me).
The ‘teeth’ of this glacier is something to behold, however this massive ice cube can only be seen from a few hundred meters away. The blue, white, and black color scheme of this glacier makes for such sublime photographic imagery. I was able to dispatch my drone (named Tobias), to collect some nice shots for me.
This glacier lagoon is glossed over as people favor the much larger Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, just a few miles away. This is a mistake! This lagoon is further away from the ring road and there is considerable less people here, making it much more peaceful to experience.
I wouldn’t call this place a ‘secret’ per se but getting here requires a bit of research. To even get to the starting point of the hike, one must have the precise coordinates of the side road to turn onto that will lead you there (63.98866, -16.39715, you’re welcome). Once you get there, if you make your way up the hillside, you’ll eventually get a slight plateau that boasts the view of views.
Most people don’t get this far. They reach this side of the country and turn back towards Reykjavik. Congratulations, you’re seeing a place that few(er) humans are discovering! Some fantastic places you should consider seeing are: Vestrahorn mountain, Hvalnes Lighthouse, Litlanesfoss, Hengifoss, and Seyðisfjarðarkirkja. Here are the MUST sees:
Found in the glacial valley of Jökuldalur, this area is replete with hexagonal basalt rock columns and a gorgeous turquoise river running through it. You can walk down to the surface of the water for a great perspective of just how much the columns tower above you. Try to see it around sunset!
This is by far the best place to see in Iceland (my humble opinion of course). You’ve got cascading waterfalls here (maybe 10 or so?) that just keep rising and rising making it seem endless. What made the adventure perhaps more mysterious was driving through a low hanging cloud on the gravel road to get here, only for it to be revealed to me as soon as I descended back below it.
If you’ve gotten this far, you are dedicated to completely circumnavigating the country/island. Props to you. Northern Iceland is home to Iceland’s second largest city, Akureyri. It’s a charming town where some of the red traffic lights are heart shaped (no joke, pretty neat). This is an obvious place to stop for the night between your adventures to Selfoss, Hafragilsfoss, Kolufoss, and Kraftla Crater. Be sure you don’t miss:
A bit of a popular place but it can’t be missed for its beauty. Depending on the side that you park on and walk to, you can get down at water level along the rocks. These turquoise waters provide such a stunning foreground to these crescent-shaped falls.
I have seen this waterfall in movies, like ‘Prometheus’, I have heard of its scale, I have imagine what it would be like to stand right next to it and still, it blew me away. I remember parking and hearing the thunder of the 2nd most powerful waterfall in Europe and I just started smiling. To finally be here and see this beast in all of its raw and primordial glory. Do not miss this.
PROTIP: Take the road on the EAST side of the falls, the west side viewpoint is where the spray from the falls goes.
Another charming area within a few hours from Reykjavik, this is also another popular tour location. Sights to see in this area include: Gatklettur, Londranger, Budakirkja, Malariff Lighthouse, Svöðufoss, Djúpalónssandur Beach, Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, and Öndverðarnes Lighthouse. My favorite spots on this peninsula however are:
This lighthouse is on the same gravel road as the Öndverðarnes Lighthouse. Both are orange, however this one is taller and more distinct looking. It almost looks like a miniature castle. I think the orange color makes it absolutely sublime and lucky for me, I had a matching jacket to go with it (Another FB profile pic clearly). The landscape around it serves as a bird nesting area where you can get a great view of the dramatic cliffside.
Iceland has many churches but this one in particular is especially striking because of its red roof. When you take an aerial photo like I did, it’s quite remarkable against the otherwise earthy-toned landscape. I managed to see it during golden hour which was, OH so glorious. Hallelujah!
This waterfall/mountain combination IS quite popular, but there is a reason for it. The mountain itself (Kirkjufell) is so uniquely shaped and the perfect backdrop for the aurora borealis or a bright sunset. The waterfalls just below it (Kirkjufellsfoss) make the scene just that much more better.
There you have it. Some of the most amazing sights in Iceland, most of which are off the beaten path. If you want an extremely detailed breakdown of every facet of my Iceland Road Trip, check out my blog posts on eCKsplorer.Last updated on Jan 3, 2021