Things to do in Iceland

Winter vacations can be fun, peaceful and invigorating if you’re down for an adventure.

“It’s going to be fun! You’re really going to like it. Trust me, I know you.” These were the not-so-convincing words my best friend uttered before buying my plane ticket to Iceland. The purchase was a mere $275 RT that I would eventually pay back, but the unexpected timing of the transaction had caught me off guard. As much as I wanted to go on a girl’s trip, I wasn’t very excited about being in the cold. For as long as I can remember, vacation was synonymous to palm trees, warm beaches and suntans. Here I was gearing up to go to a country known for its icy landscape, frigid temperatures, and minimal sunlight. But she was right (when she reads this part, she’ll smirk and do her I-told-you-so-shoulder-shrug) and my initial judgement of Iceland was completely wrong. Here’s a recap of our #soiceyzzzz Icelandic adventure with some hacks on what to do and expect.

The Blue Lagoon

Our flight out of Newark landed at 5 AM in Iceland on a Friday. Knowing we had to maximize our 4 day stint meant beginning the adventure as soon as we touched down. So we booked the first bus out of the airport to the Blue Lagoon. I HIGHLY recommend you book the 7:30AM bus if at all possible. You’ll avoid major crowds and in the winter you’ll get a chance to experience the mega geothermal spa during night and day light. Also, there is nothing more relaxing after a 6 hour long flight than spending the next four hours in a HUGE hot tub with facials, an easy access bar and other pamper-friendly accommodations. Still, we didn’t account for a couple of things:

    1. You’re going to do it for the “‘gram”, so buy a waterproof cover for your smart phone. They sell them at the bar, but the quality is so poor you’ll regret spending $37 on it. 
    2. If you book your tour on the wrong date (this happened to Kim) just wing it! Be nice, ask for your receipt, get on the bus, make sure you move with your group and immediately request an upgrade when you reach the Blue Lagoon. This may work better in the early morning since people are still in sleep mode. Also the staff in Iceland seem to rarely check tickets so don’t sweat it too much.

Northern Lights

No trip to Iceland is complete without seeing this natural wonder but it isn’t as easy as I expected. We made sure to book an AirBNB that would maximize our potential but also booked a tour for added good measure. Our guide, Josh, was a former Bushwick Brooklyn resident who shared funny dad jokes, incredible insight and feel good vibes. He even made hot chocolate and let us sample fermented shark (IT WAS GROSS). Conditions weren’t optimal for seeing the lights the night we made the trip but after three hours of thugging it out in the cold we got to see the luminary dance and no picture (not even the good one featured below) does this natural phenomenon justice.  

Northern Lights by Mark Claus
Aurora by Mark Claus

Southern Iceland

Iceland is the saying “Winter Wonderland” personified. The snowy views are so beautiful and impressive, you’ll likely never tire of seeing the crisp mountainous landscape. On our second day we decided to spend 11 hours exploring the country’s rich physical features. 

Things to do in Iceland

Reynisfjara Beach aka Black Sand Beach

Things to do in Iceland

In 1991, National Geographic voted Reynisfjara as one of the Top 10 non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet. But our tour guide made sure to warn us of the potential dangers. Because there is no landmass between the beach and Antarctica the waves are particularly violent, often pushing far further up the beach. “Do not turn your back to the waves and stay at least 30 meters away” was our last warning before exiting the bus. 

Things to do in Iceland

The basalt sand is a result of Iceland’s volcanic feature. Boasting a total of 130 volcanoes, Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice and has several volcanic beaches, but Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is hands down the best with its insane basalt columns, lava formations, towering cliffs, and caves.


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Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Things to do in Iceland

Drinking water straight from a waterfall is an experience worth flying to Iceland for. It is so crisp, fresh and delicious. The water goes through an 80 year natural filtration process. If you decide to go, pack an empty bottle and fill ‘er up. 


Things to do in Iceland

Visiting a glacier is obviously a must and we planned on hiking it but weather conditions were to dangerous on our set date. Thankfully we had a chance to explore a bit during this tour. The cold is weird. Its challenging and harsh but it is also serene and calming. Everything feels stronger but also softer and it was during a sunset in -8 degree celsius weather that I fell in love with the winter. 

Things to do in Iceland

Things to do in Iceland

Things to do in Iceland


We dedicated the last day of our trip to sightseeing and shopping in Iceland’s capital. Although no skyscrapers were visible in the downtown area, you can’t miss Hallgrimskirkja, a towering cathedral with its commanding architecture. It was a windy Sunday the day of our visit (so fitting) and the views did not disappoint. 

Things to do in Iceland


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Other things to do include:

  • Eating a famous Icelandic hot dog
  • Peeping the interesting street art and vibrantly colored homes
  • Window shopping

Things to do in Iceland

Things to do in Iceland

Things to do in Iceland

Things to do in Iceland

Other tips for your trip:

    • Make sure you pack extra warm heat tech socks, leggings and tops
    • Buy your alcohol at the duty free and bring flasks – they come in handy
    • Pricing bears semblance to New York so budget wisely and do some grocery shopping to get more bang for your buck
    • Your skin will thank you, Icelandic water is amazing


Photo story by Maude Delice

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