In addition to being home to an abundance of natural phenomena, the country of Iceland is itself a natural phenomenon that occurs nowhere else in the world. The island nation rests on top of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates that cause an enormous amount of geological activity. Geyser, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are all part of the daily life of Iceland.
After your long flight to Iceland, what better way to unwind than to soak in a thermal pool? There are many such pools all over the country, most with a temperature that enables you to lay back and relax. Can you imagine laying back in 30 degree weather with snow falling all around you? Well, that’s Iceland; rain, snow, hail and sunshine, all at once.
One such pool is the Blaa Lonio, or the Blue Lagoon, a peaceful and relaxing thermal pool that feeds off the natural forces of the earth below ground. Go bathing in the massive heated pool, get a massage from a powerful waterfall, and then cleanse your face with the mineral rich silica mud.
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland is best experienced through a walking tour. This is a great way to get a feel for the city, and learn the culture and history of Iceland. During your walk, be sure to stop by the interesting museums and art districts, as well as the restaurants that offer very unique cuisine.
Your tour of island is not complete without seeing the Aurora Borealis or the northern lights. The best time to view this spectacle is from September to April. There is nothing in the world quite like it – a definite must see in your lifetime.
Iceland has water in all its forms: ravenous waterfalls, geysers and of course, glaciers. In Iceland, you can see glaciers, walk on them, climb underneath them and do so much more, because after all Iceland has glaciers all over the country. One of the most beautiful of the Icelandic glaciers is the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. You truly have to see it to believe it.
Plan your visit to Iceland between April and October to go on a whale watching tour. The tours begin from the Reykjavik Old Harbour, sailing past the Puffin Islands. Make sure that your camera is charged up, so as not to miss the stunning scenery you will encounter on this drive.
Iceland is a nature lover’s paradise boasting massive glaciers, powerful waterfalls, temperamental volcanoes and acres of wild untamed scenery. With some of the most unique landscapes in the world, it’s no wonder then that Iceland is fast becoming the hottest travel destination in Europe. Everyone should visit Iceland, whether for a long weekend or a week. You will not be disappointed!
A clean and attractive city, Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland, surrounded by a beautiful landscape that adds to the attractions offered to tourists. You have many options in the Icelandic capital as there’s always something fun you can do.
Known for its colorful and entertaining nightlife, Reykjavik is a must for party-lovers. Note that in Iceland, partying begins rather late with the clubs and bars getting busy only after midnight. The evening meeting will typically begin at someone’s house before heading downtown. There are countless nightclubs, pubs, bars and restaurants open till late in the Icelandic capital.
Perlan is a Reykjavik landmark, a unique architectural piece that was built in 1988. The site features a glass dome constructed over the large tanks in which natural hot water is stored for heating the city. Under the dome you will find a rotating restaurant that serves fine cuisine. There is also a café and viewing platform which offers beautiful panoramic 360-degree views of the city and its surroundings.
The museums of Reykjavik offer a great combination of learning and fun. At the National Museum of Iceland and the Saga Museum, you can experience how the Vikings feasted and fought in an interactive way. Live actors at the open-air Reykjavik City Museum – Arbaejarsafn provide insights into how people lived in Reykjavik in the old days. Iceland’s biggest open-air museum, the City Museum traces the development of the city and the country from their beginnings to the present day.
Hallgrimskirkja is a church that can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. Its steeple rises above all other Reykjavik buildings and is able to seat more than 1,000 worshippers at once. Named after Hallgrimur Petursson, the Icelandic poet, the church and its grounds also house a statue of the first Viking said to have visited America.
Videy is a unique Island in Reykjavik that offers a combination of nature, history and culture. Inhabited until the 1940s, Videy Island is home to Videyjarstofa, Iceland’s oldest stone building that was built in 1752 for the High Sheriff. The island features hiking paths and is renowned for its varied bird life. At least thirty breeding bird species have been counted on the island. Videy also features interesting sculptural art works.
Because Reykjavik is surrounded by the Ocean, its waterfront paths make for a perfect place to take a relaxing stroll, do some cycling, jogging or rollerblading. The northern waterfront area of the city is popular with its views of Mt. Esja, the landmark mountain of Reykjavik. Also take a peek at the striking Sun Voyager sculpture that stands here, and is characterized by a massive steel sculpture in the shape of a Viking ship. Stand by the sculpture during sunset or sunrise and experience an unforgettable moment.
Visitors can also go on an exciting sea adventure with the numerous whale-watching tours that are available from Reykjavik. The ocean surrounding the city is a natural habitat for many species of whales, as well as seals and dolphins. Tours will typically also pass by Puffin Island where you can take great photos of the beautiful birds that give the island its name.
Whale watching season lasts from late March to late October and the best place to experience it is in Husavik, the “whale capital of Iceland.” Nestled on the edge of Shaky Bay, Husavik town is renowned as one of the world’s best spots from which you can watch the whales. In fact, you have higher chances of seeing whales in Husavik than from any other location in Iceland.
About 23 whale species have been recorded in the waters of Iceland, in particular at the Skjalfandi Bay near Husavik. Humpback whales are the most entertaining animals to watch at sea because of their playful nature, as well as the range of actions they perform. If you’re lucky, you may get to see them jumping out, feeding, slapping their flippers against the water or dipping their heads out the water.
The Blue Whale is another visitor that frequents this Bay. This is the largest known animal on the planet with its tongue alone weighing as much as an elephant, and its heart as much as a car. Seeing any of these sea creatures in their natural habitat offers a truly breathtaking sight.
Lucky tourists may even get to have dolphins with white beaks, riding the bow of your ship. These smaller creatures offer closeness and a cheerful nature that will put the cherry on top of your whale-watching experience.
2. The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a very popular 190-mile-long tourist route that runs by some of the top natural attractions in Iceland. The wide open landscapes of the Golden Circle Route are unlike anything you’ve ever encountered before. An actively volcanic area, the Golden Circle is an inland route that features a mass of waterfalls, geysers, glaciers, volcanoes and lava fields.
The key highlights of this route include the Strokkur geyser that gushes water 60 to 100 feet into the air every 5 minutes; the beautiful and otherworldly Kerid Crater; as well as the Silfra Fissure which is one of the best diving spots in the world.
Your first stop on the Golden Circle Route will be the Thingvellir National Park, a spectacular site at which the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and separate. This spot is characterized by a widening fissure in the ground where the planet is actually opening up.
A must for any diver worth her salt, the Silfra Fissure offers some of the best underwater diving opportunities in the world. Divers can immerse themselves in this unique underwater world that boasts unmatched water clarity, and swim between 2 of the biggest continental plates on Earth.
Situated in the Thingvellir National Park, the Silfra Fissure can be experienced with a guide who will introduce you to the unique cultural and geological history of Silfra and the surrounding Thingvellir area.
Take the plunge and experience diving into the pristine, crystal clear waters of Silfra. Filtered over the decades by the volcanic basaltic rock of Iceland, you can easily take a sip during your dive as you will not find purer drinking water.
A typical dive will have you exploring the 4 main sections of Silfra. Float through the Big Crack, the narrowest part where you can have your “Dive between the Continents” photo taken. As the fissure widens, you will find yourself inside the majestic Silfra Hall with the possibility of local ducks and geese floating overhead.
Close to the Thingvallavatn opening, you will enter the Silfra Cathedral. If there are other divers ahead, you will see the “chandelier effect” caused by their rising bubbles. The endless visibility of the Silfra Lagoon will mark the end of your dive.
One of the best cold water diving sites in the world, and Iceland’s most popular diving spot, Silfra is a must for certified divers. Nonetheless, travelers who are not certified divers but wish to experience Silfra can go on the Snorkeling Silfra Tour.
Also worth a peek are the geysers found within the Golden Circle Route. Geysers are hydrothermal systems that erupt hot water in response to the deep formation of steam. A very hot and very deep spring, a geyser has its bottom water steadily heated and prevented from boiling by pressure from the water above. When the heat overcomes the pressure, the boiling begins.
As more steam arises from the boiling, it pushes up the water column and more water flashes into steam, and the feedback cycle builds into an eruption. As the hottest water is blown out, the cooler water flows into the plumbing of the geyser and the cycle begins once again.
The energy, animation and personalities of geysers are what make them a natural magnet for tourists, and Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see geysers. In fact, Geysers derive their name from Geysir, a longtime tourist attraction of Iceland. The great erupting hot spring, Geysir is in this regard an eponym, something that gives its name to everything of its type.
Once boasting 80-meter high boiling fountains, Geysir or the Great Geyser is no longer as vigorous or regular as Strokkur, its closest neighbor. But during its heydays in the 1700s, Geysir was a must-see for all visitors coming to Iceland. Today, Geysir rests for years at a time due to the numerous rocks thrown down its throat by the 18th and 19th century tourists.
Another highlight of the Golden Circle, Kerid is part of a group of Icelandic volcanic lake hills which were formed by volcanic eruptions about 3,000 years ago. Kerid is part of the Western Volcanic Zone of Iceland and is situated in the Grimsnes area.
Kerid is an inactive volcanic crater that is dormant. The only evidence of the forces that once shaped this landscape is the volcanic rock that forms the walls of Kerid, and the ground on which you will stand while peering down into the colorful waters below. The crater is comprised of red volcanic rock as opposed to the usual black rock.
The sleeping monster is quiet. Long gone are the days when magma was spewed from its core, spiling onto the surrounding soils to build the ground on which the curious tourist stands. Even at rest, you can feel the power of Kerid.
Its volcanic remains are impressive. The volcanic crater is believed to have the most visually recognizable caldera that is still intact. It is characterized by a 180 foot deep hole inside the earth that measures about 170 meters wide and 270 meters long. To appreciate just how big Kerid is, try making a trip around it by foot.
Today, Kerid is filled with water to form a green lake surrounded by slopes that are steep and circular. A pool of uniquely colored waters collects at the bottom. The lake will be 7-10 meters deep depending on the level of water in the surrounding areas. Stand at the top of the crater and peer down at the eerie calm of the lake below, with its waters an opaque aquamarine color.
Although the sides of Kerid’s crater are deep, daring tourists can climb down into its depth. The challenge, however, will be getting back up the 55 meters to the top once again.
Once at the bottom, stand by the lake and take in the site. You will appreciate how the crater sides create a cocoon for sound, as the wind and road nearby are silenced by the crater’s natural walls. The bottom of the crater is peaceful with its static, quiet waters offering an ideal spot for meditation.
3. Aurora Borealis
Commonly known as the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis occurs as a result of large numbers of electrons streaming in towards the Earth along its magnetic field and colliding with air particles. The air then lights up as you would see in a fluorescent light tube. The resultant colors reflect the gases found in the air.
While the northern lights can be seen throughout the entire hemisphere, most tourists prefer to see them in the auroral zones of Iceland, Alaska or the Nordic European countries. The northern half of Sweden and Norway, along with the entire Iceland are famous for offering the “best seats” for Aurora Borealis viewing.
Aurora Borealis is typically associated with dark winter nights. Although the natural phenomenon occurs all the time, it’s just harder to see it in lighter conditions. The best viewing period is from September through April, between 11pm and 2am. The further south in Scandinavia you go, the shorter the Aurora Borealis season becomes.
Because Aurora Borealis forms at around 100km high, its lights are visible from hundreds of kilometers away. Aurora Borealis is best viewed at night and during early evening when it is not overcast.
However, because the northern lights are natural phenomena, there is no guarantee that you will see them. This is due to the fact that the charged particles originate from the Sun, therefore the Sun or general weather conditions will determine whether or not you will witness the Aurora Borealis.
In Scandinavia, the Aurora Borealis often appears in the form of a reddish glow on the northern horizon, like a dark sunrise in the middle of the night. If seeing the Aurora Borealis for the very first time, be prepared to be amazed by the lit-up skies.
One of the best spots in Iceland to view the Northern Lights is from the Hveravellir natural pools in the central highlands of Iceland. The pools offer a superb viewings spot as they are away from any sort of pollution. Tourists enjoy soaking in the open-air natural hot waters while watching the sky suddenly light up in a wondrous glow of different colors.
Alternatively, take a boat trip from the Old Harbor of Reykjavik during which your guide will offer some interesting facts about the Northern Lights. Or go on an exciting trip to the Icelandic southern coast during which you can also sample some lobster. Lake Mvatn near the Arctic Circle is yet another ideal viewing spot for the Northern Lights, and is also famous for its volcanic wonders.
Established in 2008, the Vatnajokull National Park encompasses not only the entire Vatnajokull glacier, but also its extensive surroundings. These include national parks that exist at Skaftafell to the southwest, as well as Jokulsargljufur to the north. Situated to the north of the country the Park spans 13% of Iceland and is ranked among Europe’s largest national parks.
Despite a large chunk of the National Park resting beneath the icecap of the Vatnajokull glacier, it features a diverse landscape, mainly due to the interplay of the glaciers and volcanic activity. Few other places in the world experience effects of such a broad range of natural phenomena as Vatnajokull. It is here that the battle between fire and ice continues to rage, created by the combined forces of glacial ice, rivers and geothermal and volcanic activity.
A beautiful mountainous area on the southern edge of the mighty Vatnajokull Glacier, Skaftafell offers an amazing Icelandic site for viewing the huge contrasts between mighty glaciers, active volcanoes, powerful glacial rivers and endless flat sandy plains.
Sheltered by high ice, Skaftafell’s vegetated oasis overlooks the black sands deposited to its west by the Skeioara River. The sands are mainly comprised of ash stemming from the frequent Grimsovtn eruptions and brought to the coast in glacial floods.
There are many ways to enjoy Skaftafell. Visitors can hike to the glacier lagoon, or hike up to the Kristinartindar peaks for amazing views. Whatever you chose to do in Skaftafell, don’t miss out on a tour of the Svinafellsjokull ice cave. Amazingly beautiful from the inside, the ice cave is situated on the frozen lagoon of the Svinafellsjokull glacier, accessible through an entrance on the shoreline.
Created by the unparalleled forces of the Vatnajokull ice cap, the ice cave was formed as a result of its glacier meeting the coastline of Iceland. The ice in the cave dates back centuries and its weight has pressed out all the remaining air to produce colors and textures that are both brilliant and otherworldly.
Because ice caves are generally unstable and can collapse at any time, they are safe to enter only during winter when the cold temperatures have hardened the ice. Nonetheless, while inside, you will constantly hear cracking sounds inside the cave. Fear not as this does not mean the cave is about to collapse, but is due to the fact that it is moving along with the glacier. Each time the glacier moves even a millimeter, you should expect it to be accompanied by loud sounds inside the ice cave.
Skaftafell is also a paradise for hikers. In addition to its glacial wonders, there are numerous trails such as that to the Svartifoss. Visitors can go here to admire the basalt columns that make Svartifoss one of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls. Fantastic natural scenery, favorable weather and a network of hiking trails are what make Skaftafell an ideal destination for outdoor activities in Iceland.
A mythical land filled with colossal geological features including geysers, volcanoes and mountains, it’s no wonder then that Iceland is also home to some of the world’s most awe-inspiring waterfalls. Dettifoss is one such waterfall.
Dettifoss is a waterfall situated close to Asbyrgi. The most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss features 500 cubic meters of water plummeting over its edge every second. Be sure to also go on the hiking trail that winds along the canyon from Dettifoss to Asbyrgi.
The majestic Dettifoss is said to be so powerful that the ground around it actually vibrates. Dropping 148 feet into the Jokulsa a Fjollum river, Dettifoss’ muddy waters are ice cold due to most of its flow emanating from the large melting Vatnajokull glacier.
Less than a mile upstream is yet another impressive waterfall, the semi-circular Selfoss that’s also worth a visit. Dettifoss also conveniently sits on a popular walking trail that snakes through some of Iceland’s finest volcanic landscapes.
Approximately 11% of Iceland is covered in glaciers and close to the Vatnajokull National Park is the biggest glacial lagoon of its kind in Island, the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. Jokulsarlon was formed as a result of a glacial retreat when the Breioamerkurjokull glacier began receding away from the Atlantic. The result is a picturesque lake with floating icebergs.
Because the Jokulsarlon Lagoon opens to the sea, it contains a mix of fresh and saltwater that gives it its unique blue-green color. Hundreds of seals can be spotted here during winter, while the lagoon itself supports numerous fish species including trout, herring and the occasional salmon.
Once the road that leads to the Landmannalaugar region opens during spring, visitors flock to the amazing oasis, drawn by its natural geothermal pool, steep black lava fields and tempting hiking trails on the area’s colorful mountains.
Situated in the Icelandic central highlands, Landmannalaugar comprise of geothermal hot springs open for bathing, within the most attractive natural setting imaginable.
The region of Landmannalaugar is home to several unique geological elements including the lava fields that cover wide areas and silica-rich volcanic rock mountains. To enjoy this natural beauty and enjoy a great experience, go hiking in the area. Landmannalaugar also offers beautiful camping grounds.
Also visit the Ljotipollur, a deep, still lake that was created in 1477 by a volcanic eruption. The lake is full of brown trout and features a red-colored crater rim that perfectly complements the water’s colors to make it well worth a visit.
The most popular hiking trail in Iceland lies between Landmannalaugar and the Porsmork Nature Reserve. This route is 55km long and takes hikers up and down volcano hills desolate and gloriously hued, over clear blue water streams and overflowing glacial rivers, along with rugged mountains and glaciers, through green valleys and lava fields.
In essence, the hiking trail offers an entire spectrum of the interior landscape of Iceland, compressed into a single trip. This trek is normally done in 3-5 days.
Seljalandsfoss is a unique waterfall in the river Seljalandsa, situated 30km west of Skogar. The 60 meter high water fall has a thin cascade and is the only waterfall of its kind, in that you can walk behind it on a foot path at the bottom of the cliff. Because the waterfall is very picturesque, it has been the subject of numerous photos over the years.
A little further west are several other waterfalls, among them the interesting Gljufrabui that is partially masked by its own canyon. These waterfalls lie near the main Ring Road at the base of the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier which is also well worth a visit.
Iceland is one huge geological hotspot. One of the world’s most active volcanic regions, Iceland has eruptions occurring every 3-4 years on average.
The reason why Iceland is so active is mainly because of its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the point at which the North American and Eurasian plates are moving apart, therefore literally opening the crust of the earth. And at the center of this ridge sits the Thrihnukagigur volcano. The beauty of this crater lies in the various colorations inside it, as well as its enormous size.
Situated within the Blafjoll Country Park, Thrihnukagigur is a dormant volcano that last erupted more than 4,000 years ago. There are no indications that Thrihnukagigur could erupt again in future. The name of the volcano translates to “Three Peaks Crater” and true to its name; Thrihnukagigur features 3 craters, prominent landmarks standing against the sky on the highland edge.
The magma chamber is often referred to as the heart of a volcano. It is here that the liquid rock waits to find its way through to the surface, thereby causing a volcanic eruption, after which the crater is typically closed by cold, hard lava.
Thrihnukagigur is a rare exception when it comes to volcanoes as the magma in its chamber seems to have disappeared. It is believed that Thrihnukagigur’s magma solidified in the walls or simply retreated into the bowels of the earth.
8. Blaa Lonio (Blue Lagoon)
Blaa Lonio is Iceland’s “Blue Lagoon”, a famous geothermal spa in which guests can relax soaking in seawater heated by Mother Nature herself.
Situated just 40 minutes form Reykjavik, the Blaa Lonio offers an invigorating experience, all-year round, whether surrounded by snow in the middle of winter, or during the long days of the Icelandic summer. This is because Blaa Lonio’s thermal waters that are always pleasantly warm, no matter the weather.
The fluorescent blue pool of water is close to 40 degrees centigrade all year round, which makes it a popular destination during the cold Icelandic winters.
You will notice that the Icelandic Blue Lagoon is surrounded by black lava rocks and covered in bright steam. Change into your bathing suit then take a shower in the locker rooms before entering the waters of the Lagoon.
You will get a weightless sensation as you float in the mineral rich waters believed to possess curative powers. In addition to bathing in the Lagoon, you can visit the lava cave or take a nature-powered steam bath.
In a country filled with stunning volcanic creations, one of Iceland’s most unique is Maelifell. A stunning volcano covered in moss, Maelifell is characterized by a uniquely uniform cone rising out of a barren desert of lava ash.
Situated near Kirjjubaejarklaustur, about 5 hours drive from Reykjavik, Maelifell was formed by an eruption that occurred underneath the Myrdalsjokull glacier. Its cone comprises a mix of solidified ash as well as other volcanic debris and stands at 650 feet above the plain.
Roughly 10,000 years back, Myrdalsjokull, Iceland’s fourth largest and most southerly glacier finally retreated from Maelifell, exposing the pointy peak to the Sun. As a result, the volcano’s cone became covered in a soft coat of moss.
The moss in question is grimmia, one of 500 types of moss that constitute a huge percentage of Iceland’s 1,300 species of plants. Grimmia thrives on the laval soils and its most remarkable feature is its color. In dry soil, grimmia grows into a silver-grey color that’s rather inconspicuous; but in moist soils typical of Maelifell, the grimmia turns into a bright green that’s almost luminous.
The feet of Maelifell are surrounded by the Maelifellsandur Desert and washed by many streams and rivers flowing from Myrdalsjokull. The end result is a rather otherworldly landscape that is presided by Maelifell’s quiet green cone. Maelifell is best visited from June through November when you can see it at its best.
Maelifell has not erupted in over 10,000 years, which has led volcanologists to conclude that it is extinct. However, a little farther south, also underneath Myrdalsjokull’s ice is Katla, one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. Katla’s last eruption was in 1918, and volcanologists believe that it could erupt again very soon.
Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes are among the most unique in the world. Even its beaches are extraordinary, characterized by black sandy expanses that trace the coast of the south Atlantic. Iceland’s southernmost village, Vik is one such place that is famous for its black sandy beaches. Situated on the Myrdalsjokull glacier’s southern tip, close to Vik, is the magnificent Reynisfjara beach.
Situated about 180km from Reykjavik, Reynisfjara is a black sand and pebble beach interlaced with pyramid structures and caves that will leave every visitor in awe.
Reynisfjara beach is tucked underneath a wall of rugged cliff-faces that’s set against the backdrop of 3 mountains. This dramatic landscape of black sandy coastline is framed by an array of natural rock art that juts from the waves. Long a favorite of photographers, Reynisfjara’s black sand is a blend of powdered lava and volcanic ash that forms shingles in a fine coal color.
One of south Iceland’s most beautiful tourist destinations, Reynisfjara main attraction is its marvelous cliff made of regular basalt rock columns that resemble a rocky step pyramid. The columns are arched upward into a triangular point at which your eye meets a conical mountain behind it to produce the appearance of a pyramid. Each of the columns juts out in a seemingly chaotic staircase toward the sky.
Go around the corner from the basalt rock columns where you will find a massive cave-like indent in the mountain that creates a stalactite version of the front side. Rather than basalt columns popping out into the sky, they are now pointing towards the ground in a similar chaotic pattern. All the while, the sounds of the raging Atlantic Ocean crashing against the shore echo off the surfaces to add an eerie feel.
Also of interest are the Reynisdrangar, which are characterized by towering needle point sea stacks majestically rising out the Atlantic just off shore. These lone blade islands stand firm against the Atlantic Ocean’s strong currents to produce basalt sea stacks in spectacular shapes.
Another intriguing site is the rugged Dyrholaey promontory, a natural giant rock arch through which ships sail to shore. The giant door hole is surrounded by a series of basaltic rock columns peeking out from the ocean waves. To enjoy the best views, be sure to scale the rocks or climb through the labyrinth of basalt caves lining the coast. This is certain to provide you with a unique experience as well as great opportunities for photos.
This area of Reynisfjara is rich in birdlife, such as puffins and offers a beauty all of its own. You will see puffins swooping off their nests to balance on the steep cliff face, dancing and twirling in the wind, or bunched together on the rocky outcrops with their white belies jutting out against the soft green grass.