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The 28 Best Things to Do in Iceland, From Puffin Spotting to Bread Baking

Narrowing down the best things to do in Iceland isn’t a simple task. Whether you’ve come for adventure or leisure (or both), this Nordic island has enough to fuel a lifetime of vacations—one of the many reasons I’ve visited the Land of Fire and Ice a dozen times over the last decade.

At 20 million years old, the small, New York–sized country of Iceland is Europe’s youngest island—and it’s still changing, given its placement on top of two actively moving tectonic plates. It’s a country with major range: Driving 30 minutes out of Reykjavik in any direction offers access to diverse landscapes that will have your head spinning. Fields of porous black rock, mountain valleys, subterranean caves with walls of lava, glaciers looming far off the road, and mysterious black sand beaches welcome everyone who makes the trek. There’s something magical about the never-ending playlist of weather that rains (or snows, or hails, or blows) down on the island, bringing you face to face with the natural elements—whether you like it or not. Locals have adopted a level of acceptance, never working against the elements and choosing to co-exist instead, a mindset us out-of-towners can learn a lot from.

A country with so much to offer can be hard to nail down in a single itinerary. As a self-proclaimed Iceland enthusiast, I did my best to sift through my own favorite stops to help you whittle down your own. Read on for ideas for short layovers, long-weekend adventures, weeks-long vacations, and more.

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Settle into a good read at the Nordic House

One of my favorite things to do when I first arrive in Reykjavik is to head to the Nordic House. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a walk from the downtown hub (at least 20 minutes, depending on the ever-changing weather) but this Alvar Aalto-designed community center houses a hidden gem. The library is not only an exhibit space showcasing some of the Finnish architect’s most iconic designs, but it’s a tranquil space to get your bearings before taking on the city. Don’t miss a snack at Sónó, which serves up vegetarian fare.

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The city of Husavik’s manmade hot spring overlooks the sea, making it a perfect place to spot whales.

Alex Ramsay/Alamy

Stop for a Soak at Geosea

If you find yourself in the northern city of Husavik—the best place to spot whales—make time for at least two visits to Geosea. Walking into this manmade hot spring is not entirely unlike walking onto a James Bond movie set. Located next to a quintessentially Nordic-looking lighthouse, the pools overlook the sea. There’s nothing more calming than grabbing a drink from the swim-up bar and watching the clouds fall over the distant mountain.

Get to know the creative community at DesignMarch

Fun fact: Despite its name, DesignMarch happens in late April or May. (In 2024, it’s taking place April 24-28.) During the annual design week, the city comes alive with creative spirit—galleries are open late, special exhibits draw visitors from around the world, and the annual DesignTalks spotlight some of the world’s most inspiring designers and artists. Experiencing this festival is like unlocking a secret level of a video game; the city is a thriving playground for creators and lively discourse.