Don’t just stick to the Golden Circle and South Coast. You may see some great sights, but you’ll spend a lot of time in lines and waiting for people to get out of your pictures. To see a side of Iceland fewer travelers see, spend some time in Snaefellsnes, the Westfjords, or the North of the country. You’ll appreciate more of Iceland’s beauty and culture than you can by sticking to the most-visited areas.

Below is a breakdown of the various regions of Iceland along with their top sights and activities. Each area has many more hidden gems, but here are the highlights to get you started.

Can't decide where to spend your time? See it all by following our guide to Iceland's Ring Road in 2 weeks.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula / West

Mossy lava fields along the coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula (photo by Chris McCarty)

Highlights

  • Hike to Glymur Falls (Iceland’s tallest waterfall), Hraunfossar and Barnafoss
  • Small Historical Towns of Borgarnes, Reykholt, Hvanneyri, and the Settlement Center
  • Gerðuberg Basalt Columns
  • Búðakirkja and Budhahraun Lava Fields
  • Cliff Walk from Arnarstapi to Hellnar (with Fish Soup at Fjöruhúsið)
  • Snæfellsjökull National Park, home to Snæfellsjökull volcano from “Journey to the Center of the Earth”
  • Djúpalónssandur Black Sand Beach with Shipwreck Remains
  • Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall and Kirkjufell Mountain (Iceland’s most photographed)

Best For: Volcanic formations and cliffs (known as "Little Iceland" as it has a little bit of everything), impressive waterfalls and saga towns.

1 hour north of Reykjavik the crowds thin and you can experience the remoteness of Iceland. Hike 2 hours to Glymur waterfall, offering amazing views from the top. Learn about Iceland’s settlement history in small towns and at the Settlement Center in Borgarnes.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula is sometimes referred to as “little Iceland”, because here you can find a little bit of everything that Iceland has to offer: amazing  Basalt columns, tiny fishing villages, coastal cliff walks past arches and other rock formations, lava fields, volcanic craters, black sand beaches, waterfalls, lava caves, and more.

How to get here: Drive 1.5 hours north from Reykjavik along Route 1 to Route 54.

Follow our 2-day self-drive tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Westfjords

Hiking high above Isafjordur in the Westfjords (photo by Chris McCarty)

Highlights:

  • Explore Hornstrandir Nature Preserve, untouched Iceland at its best
  • Walk along the Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs high above the water
  • Walk along beaches with red or golden sand (unique for Iceland)
  • Enjoy a fjord-side picnic below Dynjandi Falls
  • Climb to the “Troll Seat” above Ísafjörður and feast on the best fish in Iceland at Tjoruhusid

Best for: Remote escape from the crowds, beautiful scenery

Escape to the Westfjords, one of the most remote parts of Iceland where few tourists visit. Slow down and enjoy a couple days enjoying dramatic fjord landscapes where tiny fishing villages sit along calm fjords, with flat mountains towering above. See the best birdlife at Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs and Hornstrandir Natural Preserve.  Picnic near massive Dynjandi falls in a picturesque fjord setting. Make Isafjordur your base and spend your days kayaking the fjords. Or take a boat to Hornstrandir Natural Preserve for a 1-7 day hiking experience you will never forget.

How to get here: 4 hours drive from Reykjavik to Southern Westfjords, 5 hours to Isafjordur. Or take a 45-min domestic flight into Isafjordur

To learn more, read our guide on the best sights of the Westfjords in 2-4 days

North / Lake Myvatn

Otherworldly lava fields near Lake Myvatn

Highlights:

  • Lake Myvatn’s otherworldly lava fields, rock formations, geothermal steam vents and mud pits, ice caves, and volcanic craters.
  • Whale Watching in Husavik, Iceland whale-watching capital
  • Relax in the Myvatn Nature Baths with better views and smaller crowds than the Blue Lagoon
  • First-class Waterfalls of Godafoss, Selfoss, Dettifoss, and Hafragilsfoss
  • Akureyri, Iceland’s second city with its restaurants, cafes, and nightlife in a beautiful setting
  • Grímsey Island: Bird Watching above the Arctic Circle

Best for: Geothermal Wonders, craters, lava fields, big waterfalls and whale watching

The North has it all: incredible waterfalls, geothermal wonders, volcanic craters and lava fields, caves, relaxing nature baths, great restaurants and nightlife, and the best whale watching in Iceland. And everything is within 1-2 hours of driving!

Akureyri is only 4.5 hours from Reykjavik by car, making it a great alternative to the more crowded south, with the sights more concentrated. If you’re short on time, consider a 45-minute domestic flight over the majestic highlands (beautiful by plane) and spend 1-2 days before flying back.

You can spend several days hiking around Dettifoss and Asbyrgi Canyon, or get a bit more off the beaten path with some cliff-side walks and explore more of the remote northeast of Iceland.

How to get here: 4.5-hour drive from Reykjavik, or 1-hour domestic flight.

Learn More:

East Fjords

A river flows down towards Seydisfjordur in the Eastern Fjords (photo by Chris McCarty)

Highlights:

  • Borgarfjörður Eystri: Isolated Picturesque community with great hiking options above the fjords
  • Seydisfjordur: Street Art, fjord views, waterfalls, and a ferry to Denmark
  • Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss: hike to 2 waterfalls framed by dark basalt columns
  • Djúpivogur: tiny fishing town with a lighthouse walk, Papey island ferry, and great fish meals at Framtíð.
  • Hofn: Vatnajokull National Park visitor center, great views of Vatnajokull Glacier, top lobster restaurants.

Best for: calm, quite fjord landscapes, scenic small villages.

The vast majority of Iceland tourists don’t make it out of the Golden Circle and south coast, and even fewer continue past Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon to the East Fjords. If you’re looking for a quiet escape and to surround yourself with beauty, come to the East Fjords. This region is also more accessible than the Westfjords, as many highlights are less than 1 hour off the ring road. If you’re driving the entire Ring Road, save a few days for this area or you’ll really be missing out.

Spend some time in Borgarfjörður Eystri, an isolated community with hiking trails leading from the valley up into the mountains. During early summer, you may also spot some puffins in the area. Walk around the sound sculptures and street art at Seydisfjordur, or hike past many waterfalls up the side of the fjord. Kayak through the fjords or even take a ferry to the Faroe Islands or Denmark (a couple days journey).

Skip this section of Route one and take the scenic Routes 92 and 96 where you will wind around mountains and around the tips of the fjords.

Djúpivogur makes for a great overnight or a stop to break up a long drive, where you can walk around the harbor or out to the tiny lighthouse at the point. Or take a boat to Papey Island where you are likely to see seals and puffins.

How to get here: 6-hour drive along the south coast from Reykjavik; 2 hours from Lake Myvatn. Or a 1-hour domestic flight from Reykjavik to Egilsstadir.

Read more about the highlights of Iceland's East Fjords region. If you're driving on the ring road, learn more about the top sights between Egilsstadir and Vik

South Coast

Skogafoss waterfall along "waterfall way" on the Fimmvörðuháls trail

Highlights:

  • Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
  • Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Svartifoss Waterfalls
  • Fimmvörðuháls Hike past “waterfall way”, volcanic landscapes, and into Thorsmork
  • Glacier Walks, Ice Caves, and Ice Climbing on Iceland’s impressive glaciers
  • Quaint Vik with nearby Reynisfjara black sand beach, Reynisdrangar basalt columns, and Dyrholaey Arch
  • Hiking through Skaftafell and Fjadrargljufur Canyon
  • Crashed DC-3 Plane on Sólheimasandur Beach

Best for: famous waterfalls, black sand beaches, glaciers and ice caves

Iceland’s south coast is by far its most popular area. People come for the impressive waterfalls, black sand beaches, strange canyons, glaciers and glacial lagoon, and to see the quaint towns of Vik, Hof, and others. All of this lies within 1 days drive from Reykjavik.

While you will have plenty of top-tier sights to see in the South, you will also experience crowds, long lines, and lots of other people. Parking is limited and the only road is the one lane Route 1, which can be filled with cars. If you can, consider spending time in the other areas of Iceland, each with their own hidden gems, and see the sights on the south once you’ve already experienced the true Iceland experience.

How to get here: 2-hour drive from Reykjavik to Vik, 4.5 hours to Jokulsarlon. Or fly into Egilsstadir and drive from east to west.

Learn more about the top sights between Vik and Selfoss

Highlands / Interior

Red and Orange Volcanic terrain of Landmannalaugar in the highlands

Highlights:

  • Hiking through Volcanoes at Landmannalaugar, including 4-day Laugavegur trek to Thorsmork
  • Exploring Thórsmörk, the valley of Thor
  • Explore steam vents, mud pools, and bright colors at Hveradalir Geothermal Area
  • Askja Crater
  • Drive Iceland’s infamous “F-Roads” to the most remote and desolate areas with no tourists

Best for: volcanic landscapes, remote hikes, hidden geothermal areas. 

Iceland’s interior is by far its most rugged area. The terrain can be tough, and the F-roads are only accessible by jeeps with 4WD (in Winter, only by modified “super jeeps”). But the increased difficulty level means you will have the place to yourself, as few tourists reach the highlands.

Here you will find some of the best hiking destinations: the red and orange volcanic landscapes at Landmannalaugar, strange canyons and other-worldly landscapes at þórsmörk (Thorsmork, “Thor’s Valley”), and some of the top geothermal areas at Hveradalir Geothermal Area where you can wander through the hills walking past steam vents and mud pools.

Continue reading more about the highlights of Iceland's highlands region.

Reykjavik / Reykjanes Peninsula / Golden Circle

A view over Reykjavik from the tower at Hallgrimskirkja

Highlights:

  • Reykjavik: Iceland’s capital city, restaurants, nightlife, Hallgrimskirkja, Settlement Exhibition, Harpa Cultural Center, Sun Voyager Sculpture
  • Follow the Golden Circle route to Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, Gullfoss
  • Snorkel/Scuba between continents at the Silfra Fissure
  • Relax in geothermal waters at the Secret Lagoon
  • Seltún and Gunnuhver Geothermal Areas
  • Warm, milky blue waters at the Blue Lagoon

Best for: "Big city" experience, quick trips and overviews.

No trip to Iceland is complete with at least 1 day in Reykjavik exploring “big city life” in the nation’s capital city. Take the elevator to the tower at Hallgrimskirkja church for a great overview of the city and panoramic views of the area. Walk along the water past the Sun Voyager Sculpture and to the Harpa Cultural Center with its unique architecture. Walk around the harbor or join a whale watching tour. Spend a cold or rainy day learning about Iceland’s history at the Settlement Exhibition or the National Museum of Iceland. Snack on a world famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur or hop between cafes. In the evenings enjoy a variety of top-tier fish restaurants and experience Reykjavik’s nightlife scene.

Most visitors spend a day touring the Golden Circle route. The roads and sights are Iceland’s most popular and most crowded. If you want to make the trip, consider spending a night along the route near Gullfoss or Reykholt to get an easy start before the crowds arrive. Hike around Thingvellir National Park, or snorkel between two continents where the tectonic plates meet. Visit historical Law Rock where chieftains from all over the country met once a year to discuss laws and issues. Walk among steam vents and hot pools at the Geysir geothermal area, where Strokkur geyser erupts like clockwork, and stand in awe of Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”) one of the most impressive waterfalls in the country.

Away from the Crowds

Iceland is quickly becoming one of the top places on many traveler bucket lists, and for good reason. Tourism is increasing 20-30% each year and won't stop anytime soon. It's tough for hotels and attractions in the popular areas to keep up with the increased demand each year, which can mean longer lines and more traffic. This is a great time to explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Westfjords, North and East Fjords before the secret's out and more people start exploring further afield. 

Map

Map of Where To Go in Iceland: the Best Sights and Activities Region by Region
Map of Where To Go in Iceland: the Best Sights and Activities Region by Region

Recent Trip Reviews

Related trips planned by kimkim specialists

Where to go in iceland: the best sights and activities region by region, Iceland - May 25 - Jun 5, 2017

Traveler: Julie D. - Local specialist: Halldor Bjarkason

Thank you so much to the KimKim team for putting together such an amazing vacation for us. Everything was customized to exactly what we wanted. An extra special thanks for working with us through our 2-day flight cancellation/travel delay issues!

Halldor was great!