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12 things to do in Iceland that will help you beat the crowds

Iceland's unique landscape.
Iceland’s unique landscape.
Guitar photographer/Shutterstock

In the last few years, tourism to Iceland has increased dramatically— out of nowhere, it seemed like nearly everyone was either going there or knew someone who was.

It’s not hard to see why: Iceland offers a unique landscape of mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, wide open spaces, and cold ocean waters that is hard to find elsewhere. There is an endless amount of things to see, but some attractions stand out as more popular than others. Almost everyone who goes to Iceland wants to check out the wonders of the Golden Circl e, swim in the beautiful Blue Lagoon, and take a trip to attempt to see the Northern Lights.

These are, of course, wonderful things to do, and if you only stuck to the more tourist-filled spots in Iceland, you would still have a terrific time. But they certainly aren’t the only things the country has to offer.

I recently went on a trip to Iceland and, to be honest, was surprised at how much I loved it. Reykjavik, the capital city, was very different than I imagined it would be, and the beauty of all of the nature surrounding the city is just as breathtaking as people say. I was overwhelmed by how much there was to do, and found myself enjoying the more underrated activities a little bit more. If you want to miss the crowds and try something different, check out these underrated things to do in Iceland.

Set something up with the Team Iceland Stopover Program.

Set something up with the Team Iceland Stopover Program.
Icelandair.
StudioPortoSabbia/Shutterstock

This year, Iceland’s soccer team has become the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup. To celebrate this achievement, Icelandair launched a Team Iceland Stopover program, which is a series of 90-minute soccer-inspired experiences for passengers that were created by the national team players. The 90-minute experiences are actually included in the price of a flight ticket to Iceland, so it’s a pretty great deal. The activities also highlight some of the more underrated aspects of the country: one experience is a long hike, another is playing golf in a beautiful landscape, and one is to go to a soccer game.

This is a really fun and easy way to experience some of the more underrated parts of Iceland, and it’s only available now until the end of June.

Eat all the vegetarian food.

Eat all the vegetarian food.
Seriously.
Jessica Booth

When you think of food in Iceland, you probably think of the country’s more adventurous options, like horse meat, whale meat, hot dogs, and fermented shark. Before arriving in Iceland, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as restaurants, and my expectations were low. But my stay there proved me wrong: Iceland has amazing food, and surprisingly, they have terrific vegetarian options.

Make sure you spend as much time as possible in the many restaurants in Reykjavik, where you’ll find a lot of lamb and different seafood, as well as great vegetarian/vegan options. I highly recommend The CooCoo’s Nest for healthy eats (it’s a small, adorable, and delicious cafe by the harbor), Fish Company for something fancy and unique (it’s really cozy and has great seafood), and Sumac for wonderful Mediterranean vegan options.

Landmannalaugar.

Landmannalaugar.
Landmannalaugar.
Karin de Jonge-Fotografie/Shutterstock

Many people who go to Iceland flock to the Golden Circle, which is beautiful. But if you want to go to something a little less popular, check out Landmannalaugar. A local recommend this to me while I was there — it’s an area that is found next to a Laugahraun lava field, which is dried magma that was originally formed in 1477. Landmannalaugar is a lot of rhyolite mountains, which are different shades of red, pink, green, and golden yellow that all change tone with the sun. There are hiking trails and geothermal baths, and it’s truly stunning.

Go to a soccer game.

Go to a soccer game.
It’s a classic activity.
David Ramos/Getty Images

One of my personal favorite things about going to other countries is getting a taste of local culture, and one of the most fun ways to do that is to go to a sporting event. I went to a soccer game (or, as they say, futbol) while I was there, and I actually had the best time. Iceland has a small stadium that makes the experience a lot more intimate, so you really feel like you’re a part of the game. Going to a futbol game may not be the first thing you think of when thinking about planning a trip to Iceland, but it can definitely be a fun night time activity.

Relax at a geothermal spa that isn’t the Blue Lagoon.

Relax at a geothermal spa that isn't the Blue Lagoon.
A geothermal spa in Iceland.
Shutterstock/ Maridav

The Blue Lagoon is one of the first things many people think of when they think of Iceland. And while a trip there is definitely worth it, you should know that it’s absolutely not the only geothermal bath in the country. Actually, the Blue Lagoon is so popular that many are now complaining that it’s too crowded all the time, taking away some of the good things about the experience.

If you want to check out a geothermal bath experience but don’t want to get stuck in the crowds, try another geothermal spa like Laugarvatn Fontana. It’s considerably smaller, but still offers a relaxing, naturally hot bathing experience with gorgeous views of the lake and mountains in the distance. There are natural steam baths you can hang out in, a kid’s pool, and a geothermal bakery where they actually make bread in geothermal springs (and it’s incredible).

Eat lunch in a tomato greenhouse.

Eat lunch in a tomato greenhouse.
Fridheimar, a tomato greenhouse.
Jessica Booth

Reykjavik has so many wonderful restaurants to offer that you don’t really need to leave the city to find a good meal. But if you’re out exploring, make sure to stop by Fridheimar, a tomato greenhouse conveniently located around the Golden Circle area that also has a restaurant. It’s very charming, with a small menu entirely focused on tomatoes. Stop in to get warm with tomato soup and a side of bread (no joke, this place had the best bread I’ve ever had in my life), and finish off with tomato ice cream (which is a lot better than it sounds). It’s a unique, interesting experience.

Go to Braud & Co for cinnamon roll.

Go to Braud & Co for cinnamon roll.
The colorful wall outside of Braud & Co.
Jessica Booth

To be honest, I was not prepared for how delicious Iceland’s food was, especially when it came to pastries and bread (the best bread I’ve ever had, hands down). One thing that especially stood out was the cinnamon roll from the bakery Braud & Co. It’s a small bakery with a very colorful outside, and everything is delicious — especially the cinnamon rolls. Buy them and eat them for breakfast. Trust me!

Explore a volcano from the inside.

Explore a volcano from the inside.
Inside the Volcano tour.
Enken/Shutterstock

The best thing about Iceland is all of the unique experiences you can take part in that can’t be found anywhere else – or at least not just anywhere. One of those is exploring a volcano from the inside, which sounds terrifying but also amazing. There’s an Inside The Volcano tour that brings you down to Bláfjöll, where you’ll hike to a volcano, then go on a sort of elevator-like basket, and be taken down into a volcano. This should definitely be something everybody is talking about!

Go horseback riding at night.

Go horseback riding at night.
Icelandic horses.
Ivanchik/Shutterstock

Maybe the coolest thing about going to Iceland in the summer is experiencing how much daylight the country has. While the winter only has about five hours of sunlight, the summer, from mid-May to mid-August, offers up to 21 hours of sunlight— and those other few hours aren’t very dark at all. It’s kind of amazing and a totally unique experience.

Take advantage of all that extra light by going for a night time horseback ride— although it definitely won’t be dark. Iceland is known for their unique breed of horses, and going for a midnight golden hour tour is super special and different.

Explore Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon.

Explore Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon.
Andrés Nieto Porras/Flickr

If you’re up for a long hike, you should check out this canyon in Southern Iceland, which is a mossy wonderland full of beautiful things to see. There are rushing streams, beautiful mountain peaks, and lots of Instagrammable moments. Just bring lots of layers and waterproof shoes and clothing — you’ll be walking through low water some of the time.

Go on a brewery tour.

Go on a brewery tour.
Icelandic beer.
Gary J. Wood/Flickr

You might go to Iceland to get a good dose of nature, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grab a drink along the way. There are a few brewery tours in the country, like one in Reykjavik, that allow you to get a taste of unique Icelandic beers. You can also learn more about Icelandic brewery history, and explore some cool bars in Reykjavik.

Check out Dyrhólaey.

If you want to explore outside more, check out Dyrhólaey, known as “the arch with the hole.” Located on the south coast of Iceland, it’s a small peninsula that just looks very cool. You’ll get a beautiful view and might spot some cool birds. You’ll also be close to a small town called Vik, which is the southernmost village in the country, and is adorable to walk through.

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