Drawn by sublime landscapes, filmmakers have thronged to Iceland in recent years, using it as a setting for thrilling epic adventures. Inevitably, tourists have followed in their wake. But, with so many spectacular locations to choose from, which features should a visitor prioritize on a short visit to the country?
Iceland offers breathtaking natural sights, thrilling adventures, cutting-edge architecture, and fascinating cultural venues. From cave tours to the northern lights, beautiful quaint villages, and contemporary design, there’s something for everyone here.
This article lists some of the top sights visitors to Iceland can look forward to. It covers both landscape features and outdoor adventures for thrill seekers, as well as cultural and historical sights that might interest urban travelers.
Breathtaking Natural Sights
When most people think of Iceland, the first thing that comes to mind is its extraordinary landscape. With glaciers, volcanoes, ice caves, hot springs, and mountains and beaches, the landscape is both spectacular and varied. It’s no wonder so many epics have been set here.
Iceland has many beautiful national parks that visitors will want to explore. They’re the ideal places to get a taste of the rich variations in the landscape across the island nation.
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull covers over 5,444 sq mi (14,100 sq km).  That’s almost 14% of all Icelandic territory. You’ll find everything here, from the Dettifoss and Svartifoss waterfalls to the Askja volcano and many glaciers and rivers.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
Snæfellsjökull National Park covers the area around the Snæfellsjökull glacier. It’s surrounded by protected lava fields and home to many incredible varieties of native plants and animals. The ice cap at Snæfellsjökull was made famous by the novelist Jules Verne when he portrayed it as the gateway to the heart of our planet in his book Journey to the Centre of the Earth. 
Þingvellir National Park
Besides its rugged terrain and beautiful lakes and waterfalls, Þingvellir National Park is also the site of the Alþingi – a natural amphitheater that 10th-century Vikings used to hold the world’s first parliament.  This makes it a place of both natural beauty and cultural significance.
If pressed for time, visitors needn’t spend weeks exploring vast landscapes. They can drive or trek, seeking out some of the most fantastic landscape features in the world. Some of the most spectacular natural landscapes across Iceland include:
- The Strokkur geyser
- The black sand beaches at Reynisfjara and Djúpalónssandur
- The stone arch in the sea visible from Dyrhólaey beach
- The Gullfoss waterfall
Thrilling Outdoor Adventures
Thrill-seekers and adventure lovers will find many things to like about Iceland. Its rugged landscapes and far-north location mean the country has adventures to offer that can be found nowhere else.
Iceland has many active volcanoes, and visitors can hope to catch one of the most awesome sights in the natural world. Several eruptions have occurred in recent years, including the Fagradalsfjall eruption of 2021-22 and the Holuhraun eruption of 2014-15, which was the most spectacular in 300 years. 
The Northern Lights
Few sights in the world are more incredible than the aurora borealis or the northern lights. A result of the interaction of solar winds with the earth’s magnetic fields, the phenomenon is most clearly visible near the arctic circle. Dark winter nights are particularly great for a good sighting of the purple-green light show.
The same geological features that make Iceland home to many active volcanoes also make it a great place to explore ice caves. The landscape here is formed by layers of volcanic lava produced and cooled over millennia, leaving many hollow veins and tubes running through it.
The caves are full of extraordinary sculptural structures formed by the flow and rapid cooling of lava over the years. Many of the most spectacular caves are closed to the public for conservation purposes. But visitors can still visit a few caves, such as Gjábakkahellir and Leiðarendi. 
Visitors need not only view glaciers and lakes from a distance. In many places in Iceland, they can also explore them on snowmobiles. The Langjökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Vatnajökull glaciers are all explorable by snowmobile, as is Lake Mývatn in winter. 
Cutting-Edge Contemporary Architecture
But Iceland isn’t just about natural beauty. It also has vibrant cities with a cosmopolitan vibe and spectacular avant-garde architecture.
The Hallgrímskirkja is a towering minimal concrete structure that dominates the Reykjavik skyline – it can be seen from as far as 12.4 mi (20 km).  Surprisingly for such an adventurous design, it houses a Lutheran church. The view from the top is extraordinary.
The Harpa is a sleek glass structure by the Reykjavik harbor that looks particularly dazzling at night. It was opened only in 2011 and hosts many concerts, some for free. Visitors can ask for a paid half-hour tour of the premises, but it is also worth visiting just for the view.
Fascinating Culture and Museums
Finally, for those interested in Iceland’s culture, traditions, and history, a round of museums and other sites of cultural importance will be particularly enjoyable.
Old Reykjavik forms the heart of the modern capital of Iceland. The quaint historical buildings in this part of the city can be taken in on a leisurely walking tour. The Tjörnin lake, Austurvöllur park, the National Museum, City Hall, and the Icelandic parliament are all a stone’s throw away.
Iceland has many pretty towns and villages, but the dainty old whaling harbor town of Húsavík is especially worth exploring.  Today whales are no longer hunted here. Instead, visitors can catch a ride on one of the many whale-watching boats from the harbor or soak in seawater pools at one of the local resorts.
The Settlement Exhibition is a unique museum located on top of an archeological find. It allows visitors to enter the ruins of a Viking longhouse and helps them imagine what life at the time must have been like using technological aids such as multimedia displays. Parts of the structure are among the oldest man-made objects in Reykjavik.