Northern Lights, Waterfalls and More

With terrain shaped by volcanic eruptions and shifting tectonic plates and the surrounding waters filled with glaciers, icebergs and whales, Iceland is like no other place on Earth. It’s also an ideal spot to observe a seasonal phenomenon above the Earth: the northern lights (or aurora borealis).

The following Iceland tours, determined by U.S. News to be the best available thanks to expert input and traveler sentiment, provide ideal ways of experiencing all that this extraordinary place has to offer. All of these excursions are conducted by knowledgeable guides eager to share their insights into their country’s special features.

Ice Lagoon Adventure Tours – Zodiac Boat Tour

Price: Adults from 13,900 Icelandic króna (about $102); kids from 8,500 króna (about $63)
Duration: 75 minutes

Explore the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon – part of Vatnajökull National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to Europe’s largest glacier – aboard an inflatable rigid boat on this expedition. In addition to icebergs and the glacial wall, you might also spot wildlife like seals and various bird species. Tourgoers consistently describe the guides as passionate and knowledgeable, and say photo opportunities abound.

Trips are available from May through October several times a day, with departures in both the morning and the afternoon. Tours take approximately an hour and 15 minutes, including transportation between the check-in point and the dock and at least an hour on the boat. Tickets cost approximately 13,900 króna (about $102) per person ages 15 and older; children ages 6 to 14 can join for 8,500 króna (approximately $63). Riders must be at least 6 years old. The park containing the lagoon sits in the southeast part of the country, about 236 miles from Reykjavik. Ice Lagoon Adventure Tours also runs private excursions.

NiceTravel – Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon & Kerid Volcano

Price: Adults from 16,900 króna (about $124); kids from 14,900 króna
Duration: 11 hours

Visit the Golden Circle’s top sights, including Thingvellir National Park and Gullfoss, plus a volcanic crater and a pristine lagoon on this daylong journey. The park is of both geological and historical significance as its straddles a fault line between two tectonic plates and was the site of a Viking parliament that ruled for hundreds of years starting in A.D. 930. Other highlights include Geysir, a hot spring that shoots plumes of vapor into the air; Gullfoss (aka the Golden Waterfall) over which water cascades down more than 100 feet into a narrow canyon; Kerid, a colorful red-earth volcanic crater; and a two-hour stop at the heated waters of the popular Blue Lagoon. Tour-takers invariably find the scenery spectacular and the guides friendly and informative.

Tours happen daily all year long. Pickup from various locations in Reykjavik happens between 8:30 and 9 a.m. and minibuses return to the city around 8 p.m. Prices start at around 16,900 króna (about $124) for adults and 14,900 króna (about $110) for kids ages 5 to 15, and covers admission to all attractions (but not lunch or bathing suits).

Reykjavik Sailors – Whale Watching

Price: Adults from 11,990 króna (about $88); kids from 5,995 króna (about $44)
Duration: 3 to 3.5 hours

While April to October is considered peak season for whale watching off Iceland’s coast, humpback, minke and orca whales, as well as porpoises and dolphins, inhabit the waters all year. Reykjavik Sailors, located on Reykjavik’s Old Harbour, offers whale watching boat trips throughout the year starting at 1 p.m. with additional 9 a.m. departures from March through mid-November and 5 p.m. departures from mid-May through September. Tourgoers report spotting ample wildlife, and appreciate that the guides take the time to point out and identify the various sea creatures.

Trips generally last from three to 3.5 hours. Tickets cost approximately 11,990 króna (about $88) for adults and 5,995 króna (about $44) for children 7 to 15. (Kids 6 and younger can tag along for free.) Transportation from area hotels is available for an additional fee. Snacks and beverages are available aboard the boat, which features outdoor viewing platforms as well as heated indoor space. Reykjavik Sailors also operates tours of the northern lights, among other options.

Arctic Adventures – Crystal Ice Cave Tour Iceland

Price: Adults from about $188; kids from around $141
Duration: 2 to 3 hours

Take a ride in a rugged vehicle from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon to the edge of the massive Vatnajökull glacier and then hike to an ice cave on this small-group excursion. The tour, with up to 14 travelers, also allows you to witness the result of calving – the process of icebergs breaking off of glaciers. Tourgoers frequently praise the capable and personable guides.

Trips depart from the lagoon daily from October to mid-April beginning at 9:40 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Tours last two to three hours. Tickets, which cover transportation to and from the cave, as well as use of safety gear, cost approximately $187.65 for adults and $140.74 for youths ages 6 to 15. While the hike to the cave is rated as easy, children younger than 6 are not allowed on this trip. Arctic Adventures conducts a variety of ice cave tours, glacier hikes and more.

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BusTravel Iceland – South Coast Waterfalls, Glacier & Black Sand Beach Tour

Price: Adults from 13,990 króna (about $103); kids from 6,995 króna (about $52)
Duration: 10 hours

This daylong outing affords opportunities to explore the glaciers, volcanos and other distinctive features of Iceland’s southern coast. Highlights include Skógafoss, a nearly 200-foot waterfall beside the Eyjafjallajökull volcano; the slightly taller Seljalandsfoss waterfall; Reynisfjara, a beach on the north Atlantic Ocean with black volcanic sand and basalt columns; a stop for lunch in the fishing village of Vik; and Sólheimajökull glacier. Tour-takers consistently call the scenery extraordinary and the guides informative.

Fees start at around 13,990 króna (about $103) for adults, 10,493 króna (about $77) for youth 12 to 15 and 6,995 króna (about $52) for children ages 2 to 11. Transportation from various Reykjavik locations is available for an additional charge. Pickups occur between 8 and 8:30 a.m. and in all the bus trip lasts approximately 10 hours. Prices do not cover any food and drink in Vik. Note: Reaching the glacier involves walking on uneven ground. BusTravel Iceland also leads tours exploring the Golden Circle, the northern lights and more.

Your Friend in Reykjavik – Walk With a Viking

Price: Adults from $42; kids from $25
Duration: 2 hours

See the sights of Reykjavik on this two-hour walking tour of the city’s center. Highlights include Harpa (an incredible performance venue), Hallgrímskirkja church, the Parliament building and Reykjavik harbor, as well as the first Viking house. Tour-takers find this stroll to be a great way to get to know the city and consistently describe the guides as friendly, educational and enthusiastic.

Groups of up to 12 depart from Ingólfur Square daily at 10 a.m. and 1 and 5 p.m. Prices start at $42 for adults and $25 for children 7 to 15. (There’s no charge for children 6 and younger.) Your Friend in Reykjavik also offers private walking tours.

Wake Up Reykjavik – Reykjavik Food Tour

Price: Adults from 15,900 króna (about $118); kids from 9,990 króna (about $77)
Duration: 3 hours

Sample an array of Icelandic cuisine on this three-hour walking tour of downtown Reykjavik. Try eight traditional dishes, including fish and grass-fed lamb, as well as ice cream and street food. (Vegetarians and those with allergies or other dietary restrictions can usually be accommodated.) Between stops, you’ll stroll past notable sites, such as the Parliament building and city hall. Food enthusiasts generally appreciate the accommodating guides’ extensive knowledge about both culinary and historical topics.

Tours start outside Harpa concert hall every day beginning at 10:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tickets start at around 15,900 króna (about $118) for adults and 9,990 króna (about $77) for children 4 to 12. Wake Up Reykjavik also organizes daytrips to the Golden Circle, the South Coast and more.

Troll Expeditions – Snorkeling in Silfra

Price: From 21,900 króna (about $162)
Duration: 3 hours

Snorkel between tectonic plates in the only place where that’s possible during this adventure. Located in Thingvellir National Park about a 30-mile drive northeast of Reykjavik, Silfra fissure lies in the space where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates have slowly moved apart. Its water, from the melted ice of the Langjökull glacier, is exceptionally clean, boasting visibility of about 330 feet. Snorkelers laud the attentive, professional guides as well as the one-of-a-kind experience.

Snorkeling trips are available year-round at least twice a day; start times vary depending on the season, but with the earliest tour at 8 a.m. and the latest at 4 p.m. Prices begin at around 21,900 króna (about $162), which covers the use of all necessary snorkeling equipment as well as underwater photos. Tours last about three hours, including instruction on how to snorkel, with about 50 minutes in the water. Groups are limited to six people and participants must be at least 12 years old and no older than 69. Travelers should note, those who are between the ages of 60 to 69 must have a doctor’s note clearing them to participate. Those who can’t swim or are pregnant may not take part in the tour. This excursion also has weight restrictions. Troll Expeditions also offers guided glacier hikes, daytrips and multiday excursions around the country to the South Coast, Ring Road and more.

Adventure Vikings – Silfra Drysuit Snorkeling

Price: From 20,900 króna (about $154) to 27,990 króna (about $206)
Duration: 2 to 4.5 hours

Iceland straddles the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The tour, located in Silfra, is part of the Thingvellir National Park. Travelers will be allowed to explore the pristine glacial waters between the two plates. Snorkelers rave about the Silfra fissure’s beauty and appreciate the adept guides’ helpfulness.

The tour lasts up to 4.5 hours depending if round-trip transportation is needed. Fees start at around 20,990 króna (about $154) or 27,990 króna (about $206) if you opt for transportation between your Reykjavik hotel and Thingvellir National Park. Prices include use of snorkeling equipment. You can rent a wearable GoPro camera for an additional 6,900 króna (around $51). Tours are available year-round with 9 a.m. and noon start times from March through October (and an additional 3 p.m. tour from July through August), and 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. start times from November through February. Snorkelers must be at least 12 years old; groups have no more than six people per guide. Participants preferring to don a less restrictive (but also less warm) wetsuit instead of a dry suit have that option. There are height and weight requirements for this tour. Adventure Vikings also leads surfing and stand-up paddleboarding tours, among other outings.

The Best Iceland Tours

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Reykjavik Excursions – Northern Lights – Small Group Tour

Price: Adults from 11,999 króna (about $90); kids from 6,000 króna (about $45)
Duration: 3 hours

The kaleidoscopic colors of the northern lights typically appear above Iceland from late August to April, which is when this small-group bus tour occurs. The Reykjavik Excursions team studies the weather and aurora forecast each night to determine the best viewing locations away from the city lights, meaning buses may not go to the same location each tour. Tourgoers enjoy the informative guides’ commentary, as well as the opportunities to observe the aurora borealis.

During the viewing season, trips with up to 25 participants are offered daily starting when it’s dark, around 9:30 p.m. Trips usually last three hours. Ticket prices start at around $90 per person ages 16 and older and around $45 for youths ages 6 to 15. Reykjavik Excursions also offers city tours and trips to the Blue Lagoon, among other outings.

ĺshestar – Lava Tour

Price: Adults from 15,900 króna (about $117); kids from 11,925 króna (about $87)
Duration: 2 hours

See the green hillsides and lava fields outside Reykjavik on this two-hour small-group horseback riding tour. Travelers frequently describe riding an Icelandic horse as a fantastic experience, and they generally appreciate the professionalism of the staff who lead the outing.

Rides depart every day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Prices start at 15,900 króna (around $117) for adults and 11,925 króna (around $87) for children 7 to 15. The cost includes the use of helmets and boots, as well as post-ride coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Round-trip transportation from Reykjavik is available for an additional fee and starts an hour before the tour. Groups are limited to 20 participants; all must be at least 7 years old and weigh less than 240 pounds. No prior horseback riding experience is necessary. Longer, multiday trail rides, as well as private tours are also available.

Special Tours – Northern Lights by Boat

Price: Adults from 12,900 króna (about $95); kids from 6,495 króna (about $48)
Duration: 2 to 3 hours

Admire the northern lights from the water on this two- to three-hour boat ride. Along the way, guides regale passengers with stories, myths and scientific facts about the aurora borealis. Travelers praise the amazing views as well as the humorous, helpful guides.

Cruises are available nightly in the fall and winter. Departure times vary by time of year, but boats typically sail from Reykjavik’s Old Harbour at 10 p.m. in September and mid-March to mid-April; they depart at 9 p.m. from October to mid-March. Prices are approximately 12,990 króna (about $95) for adults and 6,495 króna (about $48) for children 7 to 15. Children 6 and younger can ride for free. Prices include the use of overalls to keep riders warm. If you don’t see the aurora borealis on your first trip, you can take another one at no charge. Food and drinks are available for purchase on board. The company also offers whale watching excursions, fishing trips and more.

BusTravel Iceland – Snaefellsnes Peninsula Tour

Price: Adults from 16,900 króna (about $125); kids from 8,495 króna (about $62)
Duration: 11 hours

In addition to its tours of the southern coast, BusTravel Iceland offers a daylong tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, an area northwest of Reykjavik that boasts black sand beaches, lava fields, beautiful waterfalls, rock formations and more. Highlights include Berserkjahraun lava fields, which date back to a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago; the 1,520-foot Kirkjufell (aka Church Mountain); the nearby Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls; Snaefellsjökull National Park and the cliffs of Arnarstapi harbor, once a bustling fishing area. Travelers typically enjoy both the dramatic landscapes and the guides’ commentary.

Tours last approximately 11 hours. Ticket prices start at around 16,990 króna (about $125) for adults, 12,743 króna (about $93) for youth ages 12 to 15 and 8,495 króna (about $62) for youngsters 2 to 11; pickup from various Reykjavik locations is available for an additional 1,590 króna (about $12) per person. Tours happen daily starting at 8 and 9 a.m.

The Best Iceland Tours

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GeoIceland – Premium Golden Circle Tour

Price: Adults from 18,900 króna (about $140); kids from 14,900 króna (about $110)
Duration: 9 hours

Visit the rift between two tectonic plates, the powerful waterfall and the geothermal area comprising Iceland’s famed Golden Circle and more on this daylong tour. In addition to the high cliffs of the rift valley in Thingvellir National Park, the often rainbow-adorned Gullfoss waterfall and the hot spring Geysir, this tour stops at the Kerid volcanic crater, as well as a tomato farm. Tour-takers frequently cite both the stunning scenery and the friendly, amusing guides as highlights of this journey.

Buses depart from the Aurora Reykjavik museum daily at 9 a.m. and return approximately nine hours later. Prices – approximately 18,900 króna (about $140) for adults and 14,900 króna (about $110) for children 3 to 12 – include admission to all attractions, but exclude lunch at the tomato farm’s restaurant. GeoIceland also runs tours that depart from other cities in Iceland, including Akureyri and the Lake Mývatn area.

Iceland Everywhere Tours – Northern Lights Midnight Adventure Tour

Price: From 11,200 króna (around $70)
Duration: 3 to 5 hours

Spend the night searching for the northern lights on this seasonal outing. During the trip, guides not only provide information about the aurora borealis, local history and Icelandic culture, but also assist participants with finding the right setting on their cameras or smartphones to capture the best images. Free professional photographs are also available if you’d prefer to simply admire the sky. Reviewers often rave about the colorful lights and appreciate the knowledgeable guides’ insights and willingness to take pictures.

These minibus rides happen every night from September to mid-April starting at 9 p.m. and last from three to five hours. Prices start at 11,200 króna (around $70). Transportation from area hotels is available. There is a maximum of 15 participants per each tour. Iceland Everywhere Tours also offers guided excursions to the South Coast and the Golden Circle.

Funky Iceland – The Funky Food & Beer Walk

Price: Adults from 15,000 króna (about $110); kids from 7,500 króna (about $55)
Duration: 3 hours

Enjoy a culinary adventure on this three-hour walking tour of Reykjavik. The tour has five food stops featuring nine traditional Icelandic dishes, such as lamb stew, dried fish and fermented shark, as well as five locally craft beers. Foodies tend to relish the savvy guides’ insights into Icelandic culture and cuisine.

Tours start outside the Hallgrímskirkja Church at 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday and Tuesday. Tickets cost approximately 15,000 króna (about $110) for adults and 7,500 króna (about $55) for children 12 to 15. There’s no charge for kids 11 and younger. Groups range in size from two to eight people.

CityWalk Reykjavik – Free Walking Tour Reykjavik

Price: Free
Duration: 2 hours

Stroll among the main attractions of downtown Reykjavik, including the statue of Jón Sigurðsson and the Harpa concert hall, on this approximately two-hour, 1.3-mile tour. Guides will regale you with stories concerning Icelandic history, as well as lore involving elves, Vikings and more, which tour-takers deem highly entertaining.

Walks start at 10:30 a.m., noon or 1:30 p.m. every day at the Austurvöllur (the city’s main square) and conclude at city hall. Bookings open up about five days in advance. While there’s no fee for this tour, guides do appreciate tips. There are no age or group-size limits. CityWalk Reykjavik does offer a slightly longer, small-group tour for a fee.

Icelandic Mountain Guides – Blue Ice Experience

Price: Adults from 13,990 króna (about $102); kids from 9,793 króna (about $71)
Duration: 3.5 hours

Hike among the ice formations, crevasses and frozen ridges of the enormous Vatnajökull glacier on this small-group expedition. Outings of up to 15 people commence at the welcome center at Skaftafell (about 200 miles southeast of Reykjavik) and last about 3.5 hours, including up to 1.5 to 2 hours on the ice. Past participants consistently describe the scenery as stunning and the guides as professional and informative.

Tours are available multiple times a day, beginning at 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Adult tickets start at 13,990 króna (about $102). Corresponding costs for youngsters 10 to 17 are 9,793 króna (about $71). Children younger than 10 may not join the tour. Prices include the use of ice axes, harnesses and crampons. Icelandic Mountain Guides conducts a variety of glacier walks, snowmobile tours and guided hikes.

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