The Instagram Guide to Iceland

Between the Blue Lagoon and the Northern Lights, the country is as magical as it gets.

(Image credit: Alamy)

Editor's note: We encourage our readers to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for up-to-date information on how to safely travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Straddling two continental plates, Iceland is a volcanic country, one where the landscape is constantly shifting and changing, giving it the nickname "the land of ice and fire." As if Iceland wasn't epic enough with its otherworldly beauty, the island nation is pretty awesome policy-wise too: Its abundant use of renewable energy is to be admired, as is its leadership in gender equality—Iceland elected the first female president in the world in 1980, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir.

Iceland is currently open to fully-vaccinated travelers. If this is your first trip since the pandemic began, you’ll feel relaxed in the sparsely-populated country with its main attractions outdoors, basking in the wide open spaces. (Still, you should check the Icelandic government website for COVID-19 related updates.)

When you go to Iceland is just as important as where. During the peak of the summer, you can experience nearly 24 hours of daylight (though temperatures are still chilly), helping you make the most out of your visit. However, to experience the stunning Northern Lights, September through March offers the best visibility. Whenever you decide to go, here’s what you shouldn't miss:

Experience the Famous Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland for good reason: The steamy, pale blue water against the black lava rock creates Instagram-worthy hot spring dreams. It’s close to the Keflavik Airport, so it's a perfect attraction to visit before or after your flight to Reykjavík. In the main section of the lagoon, visit the mask station to apply a complementary silica mud mask then glide over to the swim-up bar for a cocktail.

Find Bliss at the Retreat Spa

The Retreat Spa is built into an 800-year-old lava flow on the south shore of the Blue Lagoon, tapping into the unique powers of the geothermal seawater to offer treatments that will have you floating. (Literally.) Treat yourself to an in-water massage—an unforgettable experience of getting rubbed down while you float weightlessly in the warmth of the lagoon. Can’t get enough? Stay at the 62-suite Retreat Hotel—one of the most luxurious hotels in Iceland—so you can be the first one in and last one out of the lagoon each day.

Experience Icelandic Cuisine at Moss Restaurant

Journey through a seven-course tasting menu at the Blue Lagoon's own Moss Restaurant, sampling regional flavors and delicacies from Iceland’s farms, fjords, and seas. From hand-caught scallops to locally made wasabi, each taste is a peek into Iceland’s history and its reinvention. Make sure to check out the wine cellar, which was built into a cavern of lava from an eruption in 1226.

Visit the Puffins on the Westman Islands

The 15-island archipelago of Vestmannaeyjar, the Westman Islands, is home to the largest colony of puffins in the world. It also has fascinating community history and culture, including sprangan, a tradition of scaling rocks to collect bird eggs. Heimaey, the main island, is just a 35-minute ferry ride from the south coast of Iceland, making it an incredible day trip.

Stay Off the Beaten Path at Hotel Ranga

Hotel Rangá is a four-star hotel designed to feel like a cozy lodge—the perfect place to stay while exploring Iceland’s South Coast. Go on adventures during the day and relax at night in one of its three geothermal-heated hot tubs with gorgeous views of the East Rangá river. Its remote location makes it an ideal place to catch the Northern Lights, with an optional aurora borealis wake-up call and an observatory equipped with a roll-off roof and telescopes.

Go Off-Roading in Thorsmork

Thorsmork (a.k.a. Thor’s Valley) is a nature reserve in the southern Icelandic highlands full of dramatic landscapes and a variety of hiking paths. Due to the shifting rivers, there is no good road to Thorsmork and, even with a 4x4 car, most people shouldn’t drive themselves. Instead, go with a local guide who has a Superjeep that can handle the terrain.

Chase Gorgeous Waterfalls

The South Coast is home to so many incredible waterfalls that you could spend an entire week exploring them all. Head to the majestic Seljalandsfoss waterfall to walk behind the falls. Two additional stunners are Skógafoss off of Route 1 and Godafoss in the Golden Circle (a route connecting three of Iceland's most popular natural attractions: Pingvellir National Park; Geysir, the original geyser; and Gullfoss waterfall). FYI, “Foss” is the Icelandic word for waterfall.

Pack Plenty of Layers

The first thing to check when packing for Iceland is the weather! Even during the summer, temperatures can vary dramatically each day, so bringing layers is key. For your outer layer, turn to Icelandic heritage brand 66°North, which has protective and functional jackets tough enough for whatever the skies throw at you. To capture Iceland’s spectacular beauty, bring a great camera. If you’re heading to the Blue Lagoon, make sure it's waterproof.

If you've fallen in love with Iceland, book a trip here.

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Michelle Stansbury

Michelle Stansbury is a San Diego-based freelance writer who writes about travel, food, and relationships. Misuse of the word "literally" drives her figuratively insane.