Iceland is a country of many opposites. It is called the “land of fire and ice”, which is due to the existence of many of the largest glaciers, but also some of the most active volcanoes. Moreover, some call it the “land of light and darkness”, which is a result of the big differences in daylight the country gets. Some summer days, you can get up to 24 hours of light per day, but, on the other hand, during the shorter winter days, you might only get a few hours of daylight.
Iceland is one of the most stunning countries worldwide. It might not be exceptionally wide or big, but it has so much natural beauty to offer. What are you waiting for?
Snæfellsjökull National Park
The highlight of the Snæfellsjökull National Park is the glacier Snæfellsjökull. But that’s most definitely not all this Iceland National Park has to offer. There are many lava tubes and fields, and you can admire extraordinary flora and fauna you don’t get to see anywhere else. Moreover, it’s possible for fans to go whale or bird watching. And if you’re lucky, you can also spot dolphins and rare seabirds.
The Park has many hiking trails for all different levels. Some of them lead up the mountain and some go around it, and it’s all up to your mood (and weather conditions, obviously) which ones you take on.
Djúpalón Beach is part of the Snæfellsjökull National Park. It is most popular for the black sand and outstanding rock formations. Some people say parts of the rocks look like trolls and elfin churches, but I guess you will have to find out yourself whether that’s true or not.
There are many limpid pools scattered in the sand and, if you’re lucky, you can find leftover parts of a ship called ‘Eding’ which stranded here in 1948.
Djúpalón Beach is one of the easier to visit beaches in Iceland, since it’s more popular and more easily accessible than most others. Tiny tip: before you come here, educate yourself on the many legends and myths and try to find the spots in real life.
The Rauðasandur Beach is not your average ‘white sand, blue water, palms all around’ beach. This Icelandic beach is famous for its special red and pink sand. It backs into the Látrabjarg Peninsula and, due to the cold weather conditions, it is more of a seaside walking place instead of a sunbathing beach. You can either take the coastal trail or walk up to the bird cliffs from which you can observe many exceptional bird species.
Iceland has many wonderful sights to offer and some of them include the many breathtaking waterfalls. And the waterfalls are always stunning in themselves, but seeing them being surrounded by the beauty of untouched nature is something truly special.
The Gullfoss Waterfall might just be the most famous one in Iceland. It lies on the Hvita River and goes down 32 meters deep. Gulfoss Waterfall can be translated to “Golden Falls”, since the sediments underneath the water appear to be shimmering golden-ish once sunlight hits them. It is possible to take trails down to the base or wander around the top.
The Dettifoss Waterfall falls down 44 meters into the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon and can be easily accessed by route 862. It is the biggest waterfall in Northeastern Iceland and the strongest waterfall in all of Europe. Coming in just before the Rhine falls due to a greater height and volume.
Dynjandi Waterfalls can be admired in the Westfjords part of Iceland by the Dynjandivogur Bay. The view is absolutely stunning, since there are many smaller waterways around it that, although stunning as well, make the real deal appear even more wonderful.
The Dynjandivogur Bay is a protected nature reserve with camping areas, making it even more adventurous for you to come here.
The Þingvellir Plain is the spot where the North American and European tectonic plates shift away from each other. The most well known result of tectonic movements are earthquakes, which can occur when tectonic plates move against each other. But this is not the case here.
This type of movement causes cracks, which result in rivers, lakes and gulleys. The Öxará River falls off the side of one of the tectonic plates, which results in an extraordinary landscape of waterfalls and the Drekkingarhylur Pool.
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa in Iceland. The water naturally heats up to high temperatures because of the heated, breathtakingly turquoise, seawater. Many scientists (and visitors) believe in water having many healing benefits for your body and soul.
The seawater contains many minerals such as silica, which is of use as a treatment for many skin conditions and ailments. You can either visit a clinic or the luxury spa right beside the Blue Lagoon.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a big lake with many icebergs which crash against each other on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. The lake is growing each year due to the effects of climate change on Icelandic glaciers. In a century, the lagoon will have turned into a fjord.
Asbyrgi Canyon is a canyon in the northern part of Iceland. The striking thing is, that it is shaped like a horseshoe. A giant horseshoe. It stretches for a length of 3.5 km and a width of 1 km. The canyon has a big cliff in the middle which you can walk along if you want to soak in the wonderful view from the base.
Legends have it, that this cliff is home to ‘Hidden People’ who have been living here for centuries and never really come out in civilization.
Puffin Island is about half a mile from the capital city of Reykjavik and consists of the two islands of Akurey and Lundey. Once you arrive (probably by boat, since there’s no other way, since the islands are uninhabited by humans), you can see crazy amounts of puffin colonies.
Akurey is the more famous of the two since the population of puffins is way greater. Moreover, it has much more wildlife, like for example, cormorants and guillemots, to offer.
The city of Reykjavik forms the capital of Iceland and, just like it is with most capital cities, there is a lot to discover. I am not going to go too into depth on all of the sites, and just give you a little sneak peek so you can decide for yourself about which one you want to know more about.
- Hallgrimskirkja Church: This church was inspired by the Svartifoss Waterfall and has an incredible statue of Leif Ericsson in front of it. He discovered North America about 500 years before Columbus did.
- Harpa: The Harpa is a concert and conference hall in the Old Harbor. It was designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects and hosts the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, the Icelandic Opera and many exquisite festivals.
- Street Art: Iceland’s street art scene has been flourishing ever since the 1990s. Most of the artworks are collaborations between street artists and music artists.
- Perlan: The Perlan is a building of six cylindrical water tanks with a reflective dome on top. Many museums and exhibitions take place here. One of them is about glaciers and ice and you have to make your way through a 100-meter ice cave.
- Nightlife: Icelands’ nightlife is talked about as one of the best worldwide. Whether it’s your style or not, barhopping from one intimate bar to the next is worth taking part in. Most of them have special motifs or themes.
- Nordic House: About 10 minutes from the center of Reykjavik is the Nordic House. This building supports connections with other Nordic nations and was designed by Finnish modernist architect Alcar Aalto. He calls it a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, since the exterior as well as the interior is planned out to the smallest of details.
Golden Circle Route
If you don’t have too much time in Iceland and want to see a lot in a short time, definitely take the Golden Circle Route. You can see three of the most famous sites in Iceland on your way. The first being the Þingvellir National Park with the Drekkingarhylur Pool and the waterfall. The second one is the geothermal area of Haukadalur with the great geyser and the Strokkur geyser and the Gullfoss Waterfall. The last of the stops is the waterfall Gullfoss, whose name (Golden Waterfall) shaped the name of the Golden Circle Route.
Lake Myvatn Geothermal Area
Lake Myvatn is the fourth largest lake in Iceland, and that says something, since there are a lot, let me emphasize that – a lot – of lakes in Iceland. It was formed when a volcano erupted over 200 years ago and the whole area is still prone to volcanic activity since there are many adjacent volcanoes. Some of the scattered pools heat up like whirlpools because of the underlying natural earth heat.
Legends have it, that the lake, as well as the surrounding areas of solidified lava are called Dark Cities. People believe that Satan landed here when he became a fallen angel after being banished from heaven. After some time, he was cast out by elves who reclaimed their land, and he became the Lord of Hell.
The Skaftafell Park includes an area of over 4,800 square kilometers and is covered with thick birdwood forests and black volcanic sand and even icy rivers. You can see some of the most beautiful views on earth in this exact park.
The Hekla Volcano in Iceland is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and rises to 1,500 meters. It is named as the ‘Gates of Hell’ since it does actually erupt from time to time. Some of you might know the sight of the volcano since it acts as a backdrop for many Hollywood blockbusters, just like Prometheus.
Seeing the gigantic creatures live is way more exciting than some might think. It is definitely entirely different from seeing them in a book or from far away. The only thing you (please) have to make sure, is that you don’t support businesses that hold these animals hostage. If you want to see them, make sure to take a boat and sail on the ocean to admire their free spirit.
There are over 2o different species of whales around Iceland, including the humpack and minke whales.
The Leidarendi Lava Caves are famous for the exceptional stalactites and rock formations which reflect the light in a very colorful way. Their name can be translated to ‘End of the Journey’, since the solidified state of the lava is the last state it will naturally be in.
Mount Esja is a 914-meter high mountain overlooking the city of Reykjavik. It is made of volcanic sediments and basalt. Esja is famous for multi-hued rhyolite rock and offers amazing views of the capital of Iceland.
There are many different routes you can take on your way up. They are all varying difficulties, so I bet you will be able to find one for every level of experience.
Last but most definitely not least, the Northern Lights. Iceland is your best chance at seeing aurora borealis. The best time to spot the natural wonder is from October through March, when the nights are very long. If you point your camera north during a clear night, you will most likely always get a shot of the (mostly) green Northern Lights.
The best places to see them include Reykjavik, Þingvellir National Park, and the Hotel Ranga. This hotel has an onsite observatory with astronomers who help you make the most of your experience.
Many also travel to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, since you can take absolutely breathtaking pictures of the water reflecting the Northern Lights.
Why you should visit Iceland
Iceland is a country of magic and mystery. A place of natural, untouched beauty. The incredible landscape is absolutely captivating. Most of the land is an uninhabited landscape of the most striking colors, breathtaking views, and exceptional wildlife. Entering Iceland is like entering a different world. Like entering a world where nature is more appreciated and where we can let the natural beauty ground ourselves and make us realize what truly matters in life.
Feature image credits: Norris Niman / Unsplash