Traveling to Iceland might cost you your savings, but that doesn’t mean you’ll end up spending more once you’re in the country. With plenty of natural wonder visits to fill up your itinerary, here are our top free attractions that you should include in your list.
All photos are by WhateverThereWas team
Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland and the most visited has many free interesting attractions. Travelers may find plenty of things to spend time on including the Harpa arts centre with a view to die for of the Esja across the waters from the Harpa centre.
You could also walk on Laugavegur shopping street and window-shop, or climb the Hallgrímskirkja’s tower which is Reykjavik’s most popular church tower with a spectacular view of the city.
Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skóga river in South Iceland. It is one of the major free attractions in the are where travelers and busload of tourists will make a pit stop for photos. It is probably one of the waterfalls where people can try to get as close as possible and feel the thundering water forcing its way down. Be warned though that the mist and wind combination will get you wet so wear waterproof jacket if you plan to walk near the base.
Skógafoss GPS coordinates: N63°31′47″ W19°30′50″
Seljalandsfoss is situated between Selfoss and Skogafoss at the Route 1 (The Ring Road) on the way to the east Iceland. It drops for 60 metres from the top and visitors are able to walk the path behind the falls.
Seljalandsfoss GPS coordinates: N63°36.966 W19°59.572
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park
Thingvellir is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Iceland as it is near to the capital of Reykjavik and are easily accessible with many spots to visit within reach. It is also the site of a rift valley that is the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that is shifting each year and also the home to Thingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Thingvellir, located within the Golden Circle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are a few spots worth visiting within the park – Silfra for diving, Gulfoss and geysers of Haukadalur. Visitors may find hiking trails and camping grounds to spend the summer, or dive at the popular Silfra Lake, in between tectonic plates that boasts to have unparalleled visibility in the world although it would cost you money.
Thingvellir National Park GPS Coordinates: N64°15.806 W21°07.030
Eyjafjallajokull Visitor Centre
In 2010, the sleeping giant of Eyjafjallajokull erupted and caused massive chaos within the European air space. Many flights were cancelled due to the smoke it created and it is one of the most historical eruptions in modern history. Now, visitors that are passing by the volcano in the South Iceland may visit the family-run centre to view photos and videos during the event.
Visitor Centre GPS coordinates: N63° 32′ 34.431″ W19° 40′ 3.972″
A US Navy plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach of Sólheimasandur at the south beach coast of Iceland. All the passengers survived but the remains of the plane are still there up to this day. Getting to this spot is quite an adventure but it is worth every bit when you see the white wreckage in the middle of a sea of black sand. To top it off, it makes a pretty cool picture-esque background. It was also featured in Sigur Ros’ homecoming documentary ‘Heima’.
Sólheimasandur crash site GPS Coordinate: 63°27’34.3″N 19°21’52.6″W
Reynisfjara at Vik í Mýrdal
If you’re passing by Vík í Mýrdal, do stop by at the black sand beach of Reynisfjara. Here you will be able to see the Reynisdrangar, basalt sea stacks that are part of the folk tale that these were trolls that turned into rocks when the sun hit them. These natural stone formation is the main attraction in the village, facing the raging waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Reynisfjara beach GPS Coordinate: N63° 24′ 10.512″ W19° 2′ 36.422″
Skaftafell National Park
Skaftafell National Park, also a part of Vatnajökull National Park is situated in the mid-south of the island and its short and easy trail will lead you to the waterfall Svartifoss and Skaftafellsjökull glacier. Skaftafell is also the perfect base camp for those who seek to climb Iceland’s highest mountain peak, Hvannadalshnúkur. From the short trails you are able to see the glaciers like we did (we only had very little sunlight in February winter) but if you have more time, you could go with the tour companies on-site to walk on the glaciers. Do check on their guided walk times as the frequency varies according to season.
Vatnajökull is also the location where they set up the Tibetan village in Batman begins and also the training between Bruce Wayne and Ra’s al Ghul on the ice.
Skaftafell National Park GPS Coordinate: N64° 0′ 59.015″ W16° 57′ 58.980″
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
On our way from öræfi to Höfn, the guesthouse owner suggested that we stop by at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, one of the world’s most visited sites. Another guesthouse owner also mentioned that one of the James Bond movies were shot in Iceland and Jökulsárlón was one of the sites where they did the car chasing scene over the ice! A few other movies that were shot here includes Batman Begins, Tomb Raider, A View to Kill and more.
We stopped our car before the bridge thus there are walking trails that would lead you down to the ice (and there are less tourists to photobomb) your photos too. You could take photos from one of the peaks above, or walk down below to the lake and play with the glacier ice. We spent about an hour just listening to the cracking of ice at the top of the glaciers and enjoying the movement of the floating ice. The common stopping point after the bridge however has more moving blocks as there are less ice and more water. Boat tours are also available for a fee. If you’re more adventurous, we’ve seen a few people on instagram that brought their kayaks down to the lake too.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon GPS coordinate: 64°04′13″N 16°12′42″W
Mývatn lake is situated in the North of Iceland, not too far from the Krafla volcano. The lake was created from a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago and it’s surrounded by lava pillars, pseudo-craters and a few restaurants and hotels. From Lake Mývatn you can see surrounding volcanoes, birds and the lava formations on a clear day. It was a terrible snow day for us in Mývatn so we only took a few photos of the lake after visiting Dimmuborgir and headed straight to Akureyri. We even had to skip a few places that we wanted to visit as the roads were closed due to super thick snow but you should check out these spots too if you’re there (click on each names for links):
Also directly translated as “Dark Cities”, Dimmuborgir is an unusually shaped lava fields in the Mývatn area. This area consists of collapsed lava tube formed from a lava lake following an eruption thousand of years ago. In Nordic Christian folklore, it is said that Dimmuborgir is the place where satan landed when he was casted from heaven, creating a “catacomb of hell”. There are two trails that visitors could follow to trek around the area – easy and difficult. We chose the easy as it was a heavy snow day the snow was so thick from the earlier pour that we couldn’t see the trails anymore.
Dimmuborgir GPS Coordinates: 65°35′25″N 16°53′58″W
On our way to Akureyri, we stopped by at Goðafoss, also known as the Falls of the Gods. Legend says that it received the name when a local lawspeaker made Christianity the official religion in Iceland and threw all of his Norse Gods statues into the falls. Now, it is one of the most visited waterfalls in the North of Iceland due to it’s beauty.
Goðafoss GPS Coordinates: 65° 40′ 48″ N, 17° 32′ 24″ W
In the Vatnsnes peninsula at the Northwest of Iceland lies what is believed to be a petrified troll that was hit by sunlight and turned into stone. Well at least that’s what the folklore says but this basalt rock formation that resembles a giant animal drinking is one of the most breathtaking view on the North of Iceland. You can either view it from the top like we did, or hike down the steep trail onto the beach. On the right seasons, you might also see seals resting on the shores.
Hvítserkur GPS Coordinates: 65° 36′ 23.33″ N, 20° 38′ 8.27″ W
Snæfellsjökull National Park
Snæfellsjökull, one of the mountains in the National Park is famous due to the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) by Jules Verne, in which the protagonists find the entrance to a passage leading to the center of the earth on Snæfellsjökull. We did not manage to visit this park as we were short of time to drive to our next destination before sun down but these lava formations are apparently varied and fascinating that there is a number of ice caves in the area. Visitors are advised not to enter caves unless accompanied by an experienced guide but if you have the cash to spend, this caving activity would definitely be once in a lifetime experience for most people.
Snæfellsjökull GPS Coordinates: 64° 48′ 0″ N, 23° 47′ 0″ W
Gufuskálar in the Snæfellsnes area was once a medieval fishing station from the 15th century to the 20th. The spot where boats landed and fishermen’s huts are still visible. There are several sheds where the fishes were hung up to dry on the nearby lava fields. Trekking around the ruins were relatively easy but watch out for slippery stones in winter.
Location: Gufuskalar archaic site is located not too far from the longwave radio mast in Hellissandur and also Hotel Hellissandur.
Djupalonssandur & Dritvik
Djupalonssandur is a beautiful pebbled beach in the NorthWest of Iceland, not too far from theSnæfellsjökull National Park with a series of lava rock formations around the beach. The waters can rise very quickly in this beach, hence we saw an emergency rescue kit located on a part of the beach. There’s also a lake (frozen when we were there in winter) and scattered shipwreck remains from a famous Epine trawler wreck in the area. This place was a main fisherman landing place in the past.
On the beach were also big stones which visitors can test their strength lifting them just like in the days of the fishing stations. A few different stones indicates your category – Fully Strong (154 kg), Half-Strong (100 kg), Weakling (54 kg) and Bungler (23 kg). Any men who weren’t able to lift above the weakling was apparently deemed unfit to become a fisherman.
Djupalonssandur GPS Coordinates: N64° 45′ 7.253″ W23° 54′ 8.142″
Bárður Snæfellsás is a saga about a half-man, half-troll that threw his nephew into a gorge hence the name of the place was given. This huge stone structure in Arnarstapi was done by sculptor Ragnar Kjartansson. There are a few spots to visit within this area –
Arnarstapi GPS coordinates: N64° 46′ 12.731″ W23° 37′ 16.028″
Other Free Attractions in Iceland
There are plenty of free attractions and spots to stop in Iceland. The country has provided points along your drive to stop for the best views, complete with picnic benches and tables to spend some time at. These spots are also best for photo opportunities on good weather. Driving off-road is illegal in Iceland, though you could find the nearest stopping points and walk towards the place that you saw while driving earlier. Iceland has so much to offer in terms of views and outdoor adventures that you’ll be spoilt for choices whether its free or paid for. These are some of the free options to visit in Iceland, while some are better to spend money on for once in a lifetime experience (which I promise will write about soon).
Leave us a comment on the places that we might have missed out so other visitors can check them out too!