Iceland is a land of stunning natural beauty and unique cultural experiences, attracting millions of tourists from around the world each year. From the famous Blue Lagoon to the picturesque Golden Circle, there’s no shortage of Iceland attractions to explore. However, not every attraction is worth your time and money.
In this 2023 update, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most overrated and underrated attractions in Iceland. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, this guide will help you make the most of your trip. You will also surely discover some hidden gems along the way.
From under-the-radar hiking trails to off-the-beaten-path swimming pools, there’s something for everyone in Iceland. So, pack your bags, and let’s explore the overrated and underrated attractions of Iceland!
5 Overrated Iceland Attractions
Iceland has become a popular travel destination in recent years, thanks to its stunning natural beauty and unique cultural experiences. However, not every tourist attraction is worth your time and money. Here are five overrated things to do in Iceland that you may want to skip.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is often at the top of many visitors’ Iceland bucket lists. However, it’s important to know that the lagoon is not a natural hot spring. Instead, it’s a man-made pool that is heated using geothermal energy from a nearby power plant.
While the bright blue waters and unique setting can be appealing, the artificial nature of the lagoon can be disappointing for some visitors who were expecting a more natural experience.
In addition to the artificial nature of the Blue Lagoon, visitors should also be prepared for crowds and high prices. During peak season, the lagoon can get extremely busy, with long lines and limited space to relax. The high admission fees can also be a deterrent, especially for budget-conscious travelers.
While the Blue Lagoon can still be an enjoyable experience, it’s important to manage your expectations and consider other hot springs in Iceland that offer a more authentic experience. There are many natural hot springs located throughout Iceland that are less crowded, less expensive, and offer a more genuine connection with Iceland’s unique geothermal landscape.
Some popular alternatives include the Myvatn Nature Baths, the Secret Lagoon, and the Reykjadalur Hot Springs. By considering these options, visitors can have a more enjoyable and rewarding hot spring experience in Iceland.
For a breakdown of how the Blue Lagoon compares to North Iceland’s Myvatn Nature Baths, check out our deep dive here.
The Golden Circle
Iceland’s Golden Circle is a popular tourist route that includes three main attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area of Geysir. While each attraction is undoubtedly beautiful, the Golden Circle can be very crowded and expensive, and it may not live up to the hype for some visitors.
Thingvellir National Park, while historically significant, can be underwhelming compared to Iceland’s other natural wonders. Gullfoss waterfall can also be overcrowded, especially during peak season, making it difficult to appreciate the beauty of the falls.
Finally, while the Geysir area is home to several geysers, the main attraction, Strokkur, erupts predictably every 5-10 minutes. This leads to crowds of visitors waiting for the next eruption. An additional side journey can take you to the Kerid Crater Lake as well. This is one of the few attractions in Iceland that is not free to explore.
Overall, while the Golden Circle is still a popular route, visitors should be prepared for crowds and consider exploring other natural attractions in Iceland.
If you are wanting to check out the Golden Circle and want an effective self-drive route, we recommend checking out our comprehensive guide.
Seeing the Northern Lights is often at the top of visitors’ to-do lists when traveling to Iceland. However, the Northern Lights are highly dependent on weather conditions and solar activity, and sightings are not guaranteed. Many visitors are disappointed to find that they are unable to see the lights due to cloudy or overcast skies.
Additionally, some visitors may not find the Northern Lights as impressive as they thought they would be. While the lights can be breathtaking, they often appear as green or white lights in the sky rather than the colorful, dancing auroras that are often depicted in photographs.
Visitors who still want to try to see the Northern Lights should research the best times and locations for viewing, and be prepared for the possibility of not being able to see them.
We have a comprehensive deep dive into the Northern Lights that can be found here. If you’re looking to capture the auroras, it’s a great place to start and provides the best locations in each of Iceland’s regions to see them.
Whale Watching Tours
Whale-watching tours are a popular activity in Iceland, but they can also be expensive and disappointing. While it’s certainly possible to see whales in Iceland’s waters, sightings are not guaranteed, and many tours are overpriced and overcrowded.
Additionally, some visitors may be uncomfortable with the ethics of whale watching, as it can be harmful to the animals and their natural habitats. Visitors who still want to try whale watching should research their options and choose a reputable tour operator that prioritizes the safety and well-being of the whales.
Reykjavik City Pass
The Reykjavik City Pass is a popular tourist pass that offers discounted admission to museums and other attractions in the city. However, many of the attractions included in the pass are not worth the time or money, and visitors may end up spending more than they save.
For example, some of the museums included in the pass may be small or have limited exhibits, while other attractions may be easily accessible by foot or public transportation. Visitors should research the included attractions and decide whether they’re worth their time and money before purchasing the pass.
For a deeper dive into things to do in Reykjavik, we highly recommend our comprehensive overview of the stunning capital city, explorable in one day.
While Iceland offers a wealth of natural beauty and cultural experiences, not every attraction is worth your time and money. By avoiding these overrated tourist traps, you can make the most of your trip and have a more authentic and enjoyable experience in Iceland.
5 Underrated Iceland Attractions
While Iceland is known for its stunning natural beauty and unique cultural experiences, there are also plenty of underrated activities and attractions that are worth exploring. Here are five underrated things to do in Iceland that you may want to add to your itinerary.
Ásbyrgi Canyon is a horseshoe-shaped canyon located in northern Iceland that is often overlooked by tourists. The canyon was formed by a catastrophic glacial flood and is surrounded by steep cliffs that rise up to 100 meters high.
Visitors can take a leisurely walk along the canyon floor, which is covered in lush vegetation and features a small pond, or hike up to the cliffs for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Ásbyrgi Canyon is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including reindeer, arctic foxes, and various bird species. The canyon is a popular spot for birdwatching, as it is a common nesting site for several bird species, including the gyrfalcon and the ptarmigan.
We offer a strong overview of Ásbyrgi Canyon here, including the best ways to get to the canyon and what to do once you arrive.
Hofsós Swimming Pool
The Hofsós Swimming Pool is a hidden gem located in a small fishing village in northern Iceland. The pool is heated using geothermal energy and offers stunning views of the surrounding fjords and mountains.
Unlike the more popular hot springs in Iceland, including the Myvatn Nature Baths in Myvatn, the Hofsós Swimming Pool is affordable and uncrowded. This makes it a great alternative for travelers looking for a more authentic and peaceful experience.
In addition to the pool, visitors can also explore the charming village of Hofsós, which is home to several historic buildings and a beautiful harbor.
For more things to do in Northern Iceland, we offer one of the most complete guides to the region right here on Iceland In 8 Days. Discover it here.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a beautiful and underrated alternative to the popular Golden Circle tourist route. The peninsula is located on the western coast of Iceland and is home to stunning natural attractions, including the Snæfellsjökull glacier, Kirkjufell mountain, and the black sand beach of Djúpalónssandur.
Visitors can also explore charming fishing villages like Arnarstapi and Hellnar, which offer picturesque views of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding mountains. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is also home to several hiking trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
For a more complete dig into the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we recommend our full guide to the region, which can be read here.
While many visitors to Iceland explore the Golden Circle and the South Coast, few venture to the eastern part of the country to visit the Vatnajökull Glacier. The glacier is the largest in Europe and is home to stunning ice caves and crystal-clear glacial lagoons.
Visitors can take a guided tour to explore the glacier and learn about its formation and importance to the surrounding ecosystem. In addition to exploring the glacier, visitors can also hike to nearby waterfalls like Svartifoss and Detifoss or explore the nearby town of Höfn, which is known for its fresh seafood.
For more things to do in Eastern Iceland, we offer one of the most complete guides to the region right here on Iceland In 8 Days. Discover it here.
Icelandic Horse Riding
Icelandic horse riding is a unique and underrated experience that offers stunning views of the Icelandic landscape. Icelandic horses are a unique breed known for their small size, gentle temperament, and unique gait. Visitors can take a guided horseback ride through the countryside and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
Horse riding tours typically take visitors through stunning landscapes like lava fields, mountains, and forests, offering a unique perspective on Iceland’s natural beauty. Icelandic horse riding is also a great way to learn about the country’s rich cultural heritage, as horses have played an important role in Icelandic culture for centuries.
While Iceland is known for its popular attractions like the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle, there are also plenty of underrated activities and attractions worth exploring.
By venturing off the beaten path, visitors can discover the true beauty and charm of Iceland and have a more authentic and enjoyable experience.
Our Final Thoughts on Overrated and Underrated Iceland Attractions
Iceland is a country that offers a wealth of natural beauty and unique cultural experiences. While popular tourist attractions like the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle are certainly worth exploring, there are also many underrated attractions that are often overlooked by visitors.
By venturing off the beaten path and exploring some of these hidden gems, you can discover the true beauty and charm of Iceland and have a more authentic and enjoyable experience.
Whether you’re interested in hiking through stunning landscapes, soaking in hot springs, or exploring charming villages and historic landmarks, there’s something for everyone in Iceland.
By doing your research and seeking out underrated attractions, you can avoid the crowds and high prices associated with some of the more popular tourist spots, and discover a side of Iceland that many visitors miss.
So, as you plan your trip to Iceland, be sure to consider some of the underrated attractions highlighted in this guide. With so much to see and do in Iceland, you’re sure to have an unforgettable adventure that will stay with you long after you’ve returned home.