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Travel News Best Places to Visit in Iceland

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Best Places to Visit in Iceland

Iceland is the destination on everyone's lips (and lists!) today, to the extent that national authorities have begun to worry about "over-tourism." Paradoxically, it can be difficult to find straightforward information on the best places to visit in Iceland, apart from a short list of major destinations near the capital Reykjavik.

Below, you’ll learn where in Iceland you should go, but also the pros and cons of visiting at different times of year. You’ll even read some tips on scoring cheap flights to Reykjavik, so you can save more of your hard-earned cash for delicious seafood meals and gas to fill up your rental car.

Easy Iceland Destinations

Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon

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Iceland’s capital doesn’t get a lot of love, though certain attractions—namely, Harpa Opera House and the bizarre Hallgrimskirkja Church—are very much worth a visit. The other most popular Reykjavik-area attraction is also the most photographed place in Iceland: The Blue Lagoon. Located only a short drive from Keflavik International Airport, the Blue Lagoon is the perfect place for one last chill-out session before your flight to the United States departs.

The Golden Circle

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If you don’t plan to rent a car and take a road trip through Iceland, you can still see otherworldly nature. The easiest place to do this is the so-called “Golden Circle” near Reykjavik, which is a popular stop for many day tours from the capital. Popular Golden Circle attractions include Gullfoss Water, a geyser known as “Geysir” (creative, we know) and Thingvellir National Park, where you can actually SCUBA dive down to the small space between two tectonic plates!

Vik, the Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach

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Outside of Reykjavik, the city of Vik on Iceland’s southern coast is probably the country’s next-most popular destination. Like the capital, Iceland’s second city is famous mostly for attractions around it, though its main cathedral is beautiful during summer, when a carpet of purple lupines blooms around it. Vik-area attractions include the Jokusarlon Glacier Lagoon, the iceberg-covered “Diamond Beach” and Reynisfjara, the most accessible and popular of the country’s many black-sand beaches.

Where to Go on an Iceland Road Trip

Eastfjords

If you rent a car upon arriving in Iceland and want to drive the “Ring Road” that circles the country, your first stop after Vik will be the Eastfjords, the broad name given to the sprawling region around the east coast of the country. Most of the attractions in this part of the country (including its namesake fjords) are natural, though charming harbor towns like Hof and Husavik, which is a hub for whale watching, are also worth a visit.

Borgarnes

Located just to the north of Reykjavik along Iceland’s West Coast, Borgarnes is the gateway to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which you can read more about in a few paragraps. If you don’t have time to head to Snaefellsnes, there are plenty of wonders within day-trip distance of Borgarnes, namely Borgafjodur, which is not only home to one of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls, but is also a great place to spot wild puffins.

Westfjords

Like their counterparts in eastern Iceland, the Westfjords are defined by rugged beauty, though they’re even more remote, which means fewer fellow tourists and even more dramatic scenery. Things to do in the Westfjords, a region that takes a minimum of 1-2 days to explore and is about 3/4 of the way along the Ring Road, if you start in Reyjavik and drive counter-clockwise, include the mesmerizing Dynjandi Waterfall and Drangajokull, which is the northernmost glacier in Iceland.

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Wild and Crazy Iceland

Ice Cave Trekking

What’s better than walking along iceberg-covered beaches or boating through glacier lagoons? Trekking inside ice caves, of course! Many such opportunities exist in Iceland, though the most accessible one is located within the Langjokull Glacier. Many Reyjkjavik tour companies offer excursions to this ice cave, though you should keep in mind this is only available between November and March, and that you can only enter if you have a licensed guid with you.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Iceland is beautiful throughout, but the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the northwestern part of the country features perhaps its most outstanding scenery in the smallest amount of land area. These include the Arnarstapi rock arch, Londrangar Cliffs and Kirkjufell Mountain. The towns of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula are also picturesque, from Olafsvik on the northern coast to the ancient fishing village of Hellnar in the south.

The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights is more of an experience than a place to visit, but it’s nonetheless a major reason many people come to Iceland. Popular places to watch the aurora borealis include Jokusarlon Glacier Lagoon and Kirkjufellfoss Waterfall on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. You can theoretically see the Northern Lights all year, though they’re most visible when skies are dark and clear, i.e. during winter and in the later autumn/earlier spring months.

When to Visit Iceland

Much of the conversation about overtourism in Iceland relates to the throngs of tourists who descend on the country during summer, when the sun stays up until midnight. Here’s why to consider visiting Iceland outside of peak season:

  • Spring in Iceland is short and not necessarily warm, but doesn’t boast the sometimes hazardous driving conditions of winter. Additionally, visiting in May or early June can allow you to enjoy summer-like conditions without huge crowds.
  • Autumn in Iceland, like the spring season, passes quickly and without a lot of fanfare, especially since the country doesn’t have many trees—no changing colors. However, this “shoulder season” is often cheaper than summer.
  • A road trip in Iceland during winter is not for the faint of heart, but you’ll be rewarded in beauty for all your stress. In addition being the best time of year to see the aforementioned Northern Lights, Icelandic winter features almost nonexistent crowds and frozen, magical landscapes.
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Tips for Booking Flights to Iceland

Icelandair has recently announced its intentions to purchase beleaguered low-cost carrier WOW Air, but even if prices go up as many expect, you can still score cheap prices when you book flights to Iceland:

  • Take advantage of Skyscanner tools including “Best Time to Book,” which uses data to determine when you should book for your flight, and “Cheapest Month,” which shows flexible travelers the best date to travel.
  • Be flexible about your departure city. If you live in New York, for example, consider flying from Philadelphia or Boston to Reykjavik, if flights are cheap.
  • Start your search for flights to Iceland early. The longer you have to browse deals, the more chance you have of finding one.
  • Don’t insist on flying direct. Though Iceland now enjoys nonstop service from dozens of US cities, the cheapest flights sometimes involve backtracking through hubs like Paris and London-Heathrow.
  • Sign up for Skyscanner Price Alerts to get notified via email or the Skyscanner app when prices go up or down.

The Bottom Line

There’s a reason hundreds of thousands of tourists head to Iceland every year—many of them, in fact. From mainstream destinations near Reykjavik, to far-flung spots you can see only when you rent your own vehicle, this list of places to visit in Iceland is both simple and comprehensive. Make your trip to Iceland perfect by visiting during a particular time of year, and when your search flights to Reykjavik turns up prices so low you can’t believe them.