Let me be straight with you – just about every spot in Iceland is an epic, bucket list worthy location. As we traveled around the Ring Road (the road that circles the country) we couldn’t believe how many beautiful, unreal, out-of-a-fantasy-novel places and landscapes there were. Suffice it to say, we absolutely fell in love with Iceland.
However, if we HAD to choose our top favorites, our definite must-sees, this is the Iceland bucket list we would make (in no particular order).
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8 Bucket List Places You Must See in Iceland:
1. Falljökull Glacier Hike
We hiked the Falljökull Glacier in the Skaftafell area and spent just over 4 hours on the glacier. It was stunning! The ice was so varied, full of crevices and ridges and various colors. We drank glacier water and played on the ice.
At the farthest point, we were right up against the ice fall, with tall glacier cliffs on our side and a view of the valley beneath. The farther you go, the cooler it gets. It was such a surreal surrounding and an absolute bucket list experience that I am so glad we did.
You have to go with a tour guide to hike the glaciers, and the tour company we went with was incredible. Honestly, I wouldn’t even consider any other tour group – they park right up next to the glacier so you can spend more time on it (instead of parking 1/2 mile back at the parking lot and having to spend your precious time walking up to the glacier, which is what the other companies do). They also keep the groups really small, so you have a much more personal experience. I can’t recommend this experience enough!
I would also 100% recommend doing the longer “Glacier Adventure” hike instead of the shorter “Glacier Hike.” The coolest places are farther back and to me, it was absolutely worth the extra time and money to really get a full experience of the glacier.
2. Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
We did quite a bit of hot pot hopping around Iceland and I was always so excited for the next one. Despite going in summer, it was still chilly and often windy, so that hot water felt goooooood. The hike up to the Thermal River was gorgeous – cliffs, valleys, waterfalls, vistas – and the thermal river itself was relaxing and unique among hot pots – you just don’t see a hot river that often!
Read all about our favorite hot pots in Iceland here!
3. Stuðlagil Canyon
This stunning canyon is in a remote section of eastern Iceland, with a section that is full of towering basalt columns. It was recently discovered, as before a dam was built the river level was higher and covered the canyon. We couldn’t believe the way the basalt columns towered over us, and were so impressed with how large and stark they are and the effect as they framed the rushing water was magnificent.
The columns vary from being straight and tall to curved to and twisted. There are two ways to view – from an overlook above, or via an hour hike that lets you get down to water level. Both are cool, but we recommend 100% doing the hike to get up close and personal with the basalt columns!
4. Gljufrabui Waterfall
There were so many waterfalls in Iceland! We had a lot on our itinerary, but this one really stood out! As you walk across a field toward this fall, you can see the top of this waterfall streaming off the cliff and then disappearing behind a rock wall. It was such a cool effect, and it created a really unique atmosphere.
When you get close you can see there is a small entrance into the cliffside and if you peek inside, you see the fall crashing down into a cave.
It’s just a short wade in (a few yards through ankle to mid-calf deep water) to be able to enjoy and explore the cave for yourself. It was very misty, but a beautiful sight and definitely unique. As a bonus, there are a couple of small falls and another large fall (Seljalandsfoss) within a half-mile that you can also visit.
Read all about our favorite 14 waterfalls in Iceland here!
5. Jökulsárlόn Glacier Lagoon
When we were in Iceland, every local and tourist we talked to said the same thing: “You HAVE to go to Glacier Lagoon!” Good thing it was already at the top of my bucket list!
The lagoon was just incredibly spectacular – you look out over these icebergs floating in a blue lagoon to towering mountains in the distance framing an arm of the glacier flowing between the mountains and ending at the lagoon. Parts of the glacier will break off and make their way across, causing an ever changing vista. The colors of the icebergs vary from blue to white to crystal clear.
We slept here overnight and opened the back of our campervan towards the lagoon in the morning. We spent an idyllic hour snuggling in bed, watching the icebergs and looking for seals.
The icebergs eventually exit the lagoon via a short channel to the sea, where some get washed back on shore creating a Diamond Beach. Make sure you walk along the black sand there and view the glittering ice structures that dot the beach.
Suffice it to say, Jökulsárlόn Glacier Lagoon is a TOP bucket list Iceland location.
6. The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal area outside of Reykjavik that has been turned into a spa. It is the most expensive hot pot to visit in Iceland and is definitely a tourist attraction, but who cares — I still loved it!
The lagoon is very large and is full of milky blue water, thanks to the high levels of silica in the water. There is steam rising off the water, the rocks around the lagoon produce a white mud that is used to make mud masks you can apply, and the whole thing is so very relaxing and unique.
It’s such a unique and relaxing experience – really, the Blue Lagoon cannot be missed! Go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds!
7. Midnight Sun
We visited Iceland the last few days of May into the first week of June and were really excited to learn that the sun set so late and rose so early that it never actually got dark. Not only that, but when we were in the north part of Iceland, the sun would set at 12:09am! We were beyond excited to see the midnight sun! It was such a surreal experience.
The sun took a good 45 minutes to set from the moment the bottom touched the sea to when the top actually sank beneath the waves. During that time, it also traveled really far along the horizon.
It was under the horizon for just a few minutes before it started rising again!
It was such a cool feeling being all by ourselves in nature, experiencing an incredible phenomena. If you are traveling to Iceland during the summer, definitely plan to be north enough to see the midnight sun! (The very south coast never gets to see it).
8. Black Sand Beaches (Reynisfjara, Vik, Stokksnes, plenty of others)
Virtually every beach in Iceland is a black sand beach because it all comes from volcanic lava. With Iceland being a small island country, there are black sand beaches everywhere and each one was incredibly striking. Many beaches had tall rock pillars just off shore. Others, like Reynisfjara, had basalt columns on shore, or had a mountain ending right at the sand, like at Stokksnes.
Some had sand that was incredibly fine and others were made up of smooth, shiny stones – or both! Whether a famous beach or a small beach on the side of the road, I loved the uniqueness of all the black sand. Definitely make sure you visit at least one of these beautiful beaches!
I’m not including this on the regular list, because who knows how long the volcano will last, but our (two!) visits to the Fagradalsfjall volcano were the most incredible parts of our trip and a sight I won’t ever forget.
We walked past immense lava fields (even got to get right up close to one) on the trail up. We heard and felt the rolling thunder of the earth as it spewed lava high in the air and lava poured down the side of the volcano.
The smell (of fireworks), the sound, the heat, the sights… amazing. You can even roast a hotdog or marshmallow over the lava (on the far edge of the lava field) if you want to engage your last sense, haha. I’m still pinching myself that it was real! Read more about our experiences at the volcano here!
I hope this list gives you some good ideas for those must-see, bucket list spots in Iceland!