The Ultimate Iceland Bucket List.. And Off The Beaten Path Alternatives!

highlights Iceland Bucket List Iceland things to do

Iceland has resided firmly at the top of many traveler’s to do list since it burst onto the scene as Lonely Planet’s Top Country to Visit in 2012.  And 4 years on, it is still a dream destination for most people – me included! Boasting amazing landscapes, geothermal pools, black sand beaches and glacier lagoons (to just name a few!), it is the country that has something for everyone. With so much on offer, it’s hard to know where to start, so I thought I’d put together a list of Iceland’s highlights and top things to do – and include some off the beaten path alternatives to the main tourist sites to help you get the most from your trip!

highlights iceland bucket list top things to do iceland off the beaten path

The Ultimate Iceland Bucket List & Off The Beaten Path Alternatives!

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Iceland is a beautiful country with so much to offer, it can be hard decide what to fit into your trip. Let me give you a run down of Iceland’s highlights and top things to do along with some off the beaten path alternatives to make your Iceland trip the ultimate adventure!

The Blue Lagoon

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You can’t go to Iceland and not go to the Blue Lagoon. Now affectionately thought of as one of the wonders of the world, it was formed in 1976 during an operation at the nearby geothermal power plant. In the years that followed, people began to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin, and today it is Iceland’s number 1 tourist attraction.

Off the beaten Path Alternative: Myvatin Nature Baths

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Located in the Northern region of the island, Myvatin offers a quieter and less crowded natural hot springs experience than you would typically get at the Blue Lagoon. With the water temperature hovering around 36-40oC throughout the year, and it’s extended opening hours, it’s the perfect place to take a dip and watch the sunset across the awesome landscape of the national park in which it is located.

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Northern Lights

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I have wanted to see the Aurora Borealis – or Northern Lights – for all of my adult life. I can’t imagine a trip to Iceland would be complete without watching this amazing natural light show. I’d always book a Northern Lights Tour for something like this – as they will know all the best spots and help maximize my chances!

off the beaten path alternative: The Buubble Hotel

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OK, it’s not an alternative – the closest thing to an alternative for the Northern Lights is the Southern Lights down in Tasmania (but they’re a bit far to go for the purpose of this post!). But who wouldn’t want to stay in a glass bubble and watch the lights dance above you throughout the night?! #bucketlist

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Golden Circle Tour

The Golden Circle Tour is one of the most popular routes in Iceland – and the best thing is that it can be done in a day. Starting from Reykjavik, it takes a 300km loop taking in the Great Geysir, Gulfoss & Thingvellir National Park. Below are just a few highlights of this amazing roadtrip!

Hallgrimskirka

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Located in Reykjavik, this 73m church is one of the most unusual and impressive buildings on the island, and could be visited before or after your Golden Circle tour.

Harpa

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Also located in Reykjavík, Harpa is a concert hall and conference centre which features a distinctive colored glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. I’ve heard that is beautiful inside too so try and take a peek if you have time!

Strokkur geiser (‘The Churn’)

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One of the greatest natural attractions of Iceland and part of the famous “Golden Circle Tour”, the Stokkur Geiser erupts every 10 minutes or so with its white tower of churning water rising to up to 30 meters. A truly magnificent sight!

Gulfoss

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Gullfoss – or Golden Waterfall – is an iconic waterfall of Iceland offering a spectacular view of the forces and beauty of untouched nature. Gullfoss is part of the Golden Circle tour, located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height. On a sunny day shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls.

off the beaten path alternative: Bruarfoss

iceland top things to do iceland off the beaten path

Bruarfoss – meaning Bridge over Waterfall – or sometime just the Blue Waterfall is one of Iceland’s hidden gems. Formed by the river Brúará as it flows down over 2-3 meter and ends in a U shape slot, it’s bright blue colour is something you need to see with your own eyes!

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Whale Watching

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Iceland is the perfect location for whale watching. The cold waters off the coast play host to a diverse marine life. During the summer months in particular, the shores become a feeding ground for multiple species of large marine mammals, giving visitors a chance to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

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Snorkeling/Diving @ Silfra

highlights iceland top things to do

Another thing at the top of my Iceland Bucket List is diving (or snorkeling) between the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates at Sifra in the Þingvellir National Park.  Absolutely the coldest place I would ever consider diving – it would absolutely be the experience of a lifetime!

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Reynifjara Beach

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The world-famous Reynisfjara shore, near the village Vik in Myrdalur on Iceland’s South Coast, is widely regarded as the most impressive black-sand beach in Iceland.

off the beaten path alternative: Raudisandur Beach

highlights iceland bucket list iceland top things to do iceland off the beaten path

Bored of black sand beaches? Check out Raudisandur – a rare beach that is pale red, almost pink and sometimes white in color (dependent on the light) and is home to countless seals and bird life including the famous Icelandic puffins!

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Jokulsarlon

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Jokulsarlon is a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the glaciers. It is now 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) away from the ocean’s edge and covers an area of about 18 km2 (6.9 sq mi)

off the beaten path alternative: Fjallsarlon

highlights iceland top things to do iceland off the beaten path

Only about 20 minutes away from Jokulsarlon you’ll find another glacier lagoon, Fjallsarlon – it’s much quieter but no less beautiful.

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Skaftafell Ice Cave

Ultimate Iceland Bucket List Iceland things to do

Skaftafell ice cave is located on the frozen lagoon of the Svínafellsjökull glacier. The centuries old ice coming down the slopes of Öræfajökull via Svínafellsjökull glacier has metamorphosed into highly pressurized glacier ice that contains almost no air bubbles. The lack of air means that it absorbs almost all visible light, apart from the blue fraction which is then visible to the naked eye and is absolutely stunning!

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Solfara

Ultimate Iceland Bucket List Iceland things to do

No trip to Iceland is complete with taking a photo of the iconic Solfar Sculpture. The gleaming steel sculpture sits on Reykjavik’s splendid waterfront that resembles a Viking long-ship is known as the ‘Solfara’ or ‘Sun Voyager.’ The striking landmark was created by Jon Gunnar Arnason and honors Viking travels.

off the beaten path alternative: Vatnsnes Peninsula

Not a man-made sculpture, the basalt stack known as Hviterskur sits on Iceland’s Northern coast – and should be on everyone’s Iceland To Do List! The Peninsular is a magical place where the wild horses out-number the local population, and where one of the largest seal colonies parade along black sand beaches. It’s one of the Least Instagrammed Places on Earth – and I’m sure it won’t stay that way for long!

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Ready to Plan Your Trip?

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Where to Stay – Reykjavic

Apotek Hotel Reykjavik (Luxury $200+ per night)


Conveniently located in the centre of the city, this 4-star hotel makes for an ideal base in Reykjavik. Only a short stroll from Radhus Reykjavikur, it provides modern rooms equipped with a telephone, a mini bar and a desk.
Apotek Hotel Reykjavik by Keahotels has 45 well-appointed rooms that are equipped with a range of essential amenities to ensure guests have a comfortable stay. The bathrooms feature a shower and come with a hair dryer.
Like more info? Click to Read Trip Advisor Reviews

Reykjavik Lights Hotel (Mid-Range $100-200 per night)


The hotel is situated in Reykjavik and is close to local attractions. It also offers meeting rooms, a coffee bar and a 24-hour reception.
Reykjavik Lights Hotel offers unique rooms equipped with cable/satellite channels and a hair dryer, plus all the essentials to ensure an enjoyable stay.
Like more info? Click to Read Trip Advisor Reviews

Thor Guesthouse / Rental Guesthouse (Budget <$100 per night)


Centrally located, Thor/Rental Guesthouse offers easy access to Reykjavik's main tourist and retail hot spots. Just a short stroll from The Sun Voyager, it provides comfortable rooms equipped with a desk.
Thor/Rental Guesthouse Reykjavik's neighbourhood is known for its nightlife and guests will be spoilt for choice when it comes to dining and bar options. The guest house also serves breakfast each day.
Like more info? Click to Read Trip Advisor Reviews

If you have specific requirements, click through to the Iceland Accommodation section and narrow down your results with your own preferences.

Where to Stay – Akureyri

Hotel Nordurland (3* $100-$150 per night)


Hotel Nordurland by Keahotels provides a comfortable setting when in Akureyri. It is conveniently positioned for those wishing to visit local attractions and is located in the heart of Akureyri’s entertainment district with restaurants, cafés and nightlife on the doorstep.
Ideally situated, the hotel is just a 10-minute car ride from Akureyri Airport.
Like more info? Click to Read Trip Advisor Reviews

Hotel Akureyri (2* $130-$150 per night)


Hotel Akureyri is a modern setting while in Akureyri and is close to everything the area has to offer. It offers a laundry service and limited hours room service, and is an easy stroll from the Akureyri Art Museum and Akureyri Junior College.
The area surrounding Hotel Akureyri is well-known for its vibrant nightlife, with a wide range of places to go for a drink or dance. Akureyri Airport is under a 10-minute drive from the hotel.
Like more info? Click to Read Trip Advisor Reviews

IcelandAir Hotel Akureyri (3* $100-$120 per night)


Set in Akureyri, the hotel is a short walk from the Akureyri Art Museum and provides a swimming pool. It is ideally positioned for those wanting to visit the area's popular attractions.
The modern rooms at Icelandair Akureyri have wireless internet access and all the necessities for a comfortable stay and offers easy access to the airport
Like more info? Click to Read Trip Advisor Reviews

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So there you have it – my Ultimate Iceland Bucket List including all the highlights and top things to do along with some off the beaten path alternatives to make your trip the best one ever! And don’t forget to grab these everyday travel essentials before you go

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Thank you to Guide to Iceland & Iceland Tourism for the use of the amazing photographs in this post.

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72 thoughts on “The Ultimate Iceland Bucket List.. And Off The Beaten Path Alternatives!

  1. Laura Lynch says:

    When I went to Iceland it was in the winter and we couldn’t get out to the more remote parts of the island to tag some of these. I really appreciate the alternatives to some of these things – that just adds more possibilities to the list!

  2. Charles McCool says:

    Our alternative for Blue Lagoon was to hike to the public hot springs from Hveragerdi, only 35 minutes from Blue Lagoon. It is a magnificent 3km hike through gorgeous Iceland landscapes, passing bubbling sulfur holes until you arrive at the amazing hot springs. There are some rustic buildings to change clothes but most people just remove their outer layers right next to the water and get in. You will quickly find out which water is scalding hot, very warm, and warmish. Save big money and have more fun.

  3. Howard | Backroad Planet says:

    You will not be disappointed when you finally make it to Iceland, Vicki! Jerry and I traveled there last June. We drove the Ring Road and visited many of the destinations mentioned on your bucket list. The waterfalls (my favorite feature) were on steroids during our visit due to the spring thaw. Before our visit, we never had a “favorite” destination. Now we do.

  4. Drew says:

    Iceland is such a unique destination. And the Buubble Hotel? That’s now on my bucket list! How cool is that room. Of course, the natural beauty is the real heart of Iceland, and you listed from great alternatives to the traditional tourist spots like Gulfoss. Great tips!

  5. mark wyld says:

    Great list of alternative sites and popular sights to see in Iceland. We are headed to Iceland in January wish I had of seen your article earlier so i could have planned some of these other sites. We will be doing some of the tourist stuff like Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights and third ring can wait

  6. Katherine says:

    Seeing the northern lights is in my bucketlist. Any tips like what’s the best month to go? Would love to see the rest of the places in Iceland too. It looks wonderful.

    • Vicki says:

      Hi Katherine, I think between September and mid-April is best for the Northern Lights as that is when the nights are the darkest 🙂

  7. Jennifer says:

    You’ve definitely touched on some of the most popular things to do in Iceland, though there is a lot I’d add to the ultimate Iceland bucket list trip. Most notably missing are Iceland’s many incredible natural hot pots that are not only free in terms of cost, but also free of the oodles of tourists that descend upon the Blue Lagoon. There’s also a lot of really great hiking, countless waterfalls and natural attractions unlike no where else on earth.

    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Jennifer – and whilst I agree that you can add natural hot springs to the list – giving directions and recommendations for these is hard when you don’t know where they are!

  8. RaW says:

    Oh God! Iceland! I’ve been reading about this country and it’s driving me crazy! I should have gone there when I lived in the UK before. I’d love to drive around the country on the Ring Road one day! And thanks to this post, I’d want to try Buubble Hotel as well now! Watching aurora above while you’re in bed would be an amazing experience, I bet!

  9. knycx says:

    Great list and there are a lot to do to see in Iceland, I think I have visited some of them and the natural sceneries were amazing.

    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Lara! I liked the idea of showing alternatives to the (now) highly commercialized spots. Hopefully I can get there before my alternatives go that way too!

  10. Megan Jerrard says:

    Awesome list! We loved Iceland – we went during the summer last year and fell in love. Though it’s a completely different destination from summer to winter, so we didn’t have the chance to do a lot of things, seeing the Northern lights being one of them. Would love to head back to keep the adventure going!

    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Meg! The Northern Lights are right up there for me so I would have to visit during winter – even if it meant sacrificing some of the other places!

  11. Punita Malhotra says:

    This country is like a dream…whether offbeat or typical, everyplace screams to be photographed. That Bubble Hotel is just cute to be true…would love to camp in that. How can you ever cover everything in one trip, though?

  12. Maddy says:

    I went to Iceland 8 years ago and can feel it calling me back. Like you, I went I the Blue Lagoon and loved it! I also climbed an ice glacier which I want to do again (someone had made an ice slide and as a child it was so much fun!) thanks for all the tips should I visit again

  13. Nathan says:

    I wish I would have had this list before I went this summer. We went to all the major places but it would have been nice to hit some of these off the beaten path places. Great list!

  14. Ticker Eats The World says:

    Beautiful post with interesting and informative points for the perfect trip to Iceland. Iceland has become such a talked about destination over the last couple of years and I am yet to find anything remotely negative about the place. It’s natural resources and the beauty is simply astounding. The Buubble Hotel looks magical and I so look forward to visiting it soon.

  15. Stephanie Flx says:

    Some really great off the beaten track alternatives I’m definitely taking note of! Top of my list would be whale watching, the blue cave and the sunset across the thermal baths you describe – sounds perfect!

  16. Paul says:

    Iceland is certainly high up on our bucket list, especially for after our SE Asia travels! There looks to be so many adventure activities out there, and of course to see the northern lights!

  17. Andrew Scott says:

    Nice post, Vicki! There are so many incredible things to do in Iceland; it must have been hard to condense them all into one list. Did you take one of the boat rides when you were at Jokulsarlon? What an experience that is (even if it’s 45 degrees, raining, and so foggy that your’s is the last boat ride of the day on account of it being too unsafe).

  18. Bella WW says:

    If I had to name one country that has the largest number of cool activities related to travel, then it may be Iceland. It would be enough just to mark off the northern lights and a dip in the blue lagoon to completely fall in love with it. I must visit Iceland as quickly as possible! P.S. Love your photos!

  19. Brown Gal Trekker says:

    Iceland is gorgeous most definitely. I have been there and hiked a volcano. But I hope to return one day to do the ring road drive the famous 5 day trek (which I can’t even spell!). The choices for off the beaten path look amazing.

  20. Andrea says:

    I love everything on this list! I’m definitely saving it. Whale watching and the northern lights would be amazing…and the bubble hotel!!! That place looks unreal! Did you find Blue Lagoon was super busy, I’ve heard that it’s become a huge tourist destination now…

  21. Michaela Harrison says:

    Love the photos, especially the Hotel bubble and Blue Lagoon. The Northern Lights are amazing! Thank you sharing. I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights and now I know that is so much more to see!

  22. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    We visited Iceland in 2011 and knew very few people who had been, but now, it seems to be on everyone’s bucket lists … and with good reason! Your suggestions for “off the beaten track” are great, I love the Buubble Hotel – never heard of it but it looks like an amazing place to stay! We do intend to return to Iceland, so will pin this for future reference.

  23. Maria says:

    Iceland looks like such an amazing location, and your photos are so great that make me want to go there. Really great tips, I’m pinning this post for future reference.

  24. Chrysoula says:

    Love your post, Iceland is so on my bucket list. I would love to stay in that Bubble and watch the Nothern Lights from there, it looks like a dreamy experience.

  25. Wouter says:

    We went to Iceland last spring, it was really amazing! Thank so much for your work and info! It was my second time i have visited Iceland but after reading your inspiration and want to jump on the plane again.

  26. Sandy N Vyjay says:

    Iceland is a real wonderland with its varied and many a time contrasting landscapes. Your post gives a fresh perspective about this much written about country. The off beat alternates you throw up really look enticing. The alternate to the Blue Lagoon, which I hear is overcrowded looks really promising. i would love to stay in a bubble hotel room and watch the changing colours of the sky at night. Sounds so ethereal!

  27. noel says:

    This really on my bucket list of places to also visit, the countryside and attractions look really stunning and warrants a long visit or road trip.

  28. Kerri says:

    I just had to read this. On 29 May I am heading off to Iceland and to say I am excited is an understatement. I feel as though I’ve read everyone’s opinion on the country and yet I’m still so excited to read more. Great tips here and I will email myself the link so I can review this list again as we travel along. We’re doing it in a camper !!! Waterfalls, geysers, beaches….so much to love. And, I’ve already booked the Blue Lagoon. It’s just one of those things that you have to do I think !!!

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