The Lonely Planet called it a ‘symphony of elements’ and that it is. It’s the land of fire and ice; of volcanoes, waterfalls, geothermal baths, abnormal rock formations – it is otherworldly. It is raw, it is unspoiled and many have called it a Nordic Nirvana. The transfixing splendour found in every corner of the landscapes is enough to remind you of your insignificance in the great manner of things. You’ll forget about the meaningless technologies at home and the chaos of everyday life in this magical place. There are so many reasons why you should visit Iceland- you won’t just fall in love with the country, you will also fall in love with Mother Nature.
1) Visit Thingvellir National Park
It has been named Iceland’s national shrine and a place of both historical and geographical significance. The park is the oldest existing parliament in the world, first assembled in 930 AD and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being geographically unique, it is the place where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year. Almannagjá is a canyon formed between the two tectonic plates and a visual representation of continental drift.
In spring and summer, you can go diving in the Silfra fissure, in the crack between the two tectonic plates. You can also dive in Lake Þingvallavatn and witness for yourself, the product of over 10,000 years of evolution. The brown trout, Arctic charr and the three-spine stickleback are said to have became isolated in the lake in the wake of the last ice age. In winter, brave the icy temperatures and go on the golden circle tour to watch this breath-taking spectacle of the frozen Lake Þingvallavatn at sunrise. You’ll hear nothing but silence as you look in awe over the snow-engulfed mountains- it is a truly majestic vision.
2) See the impressive Gulfoss Waterfall
Gulfoss, meaning Golden Waterfall, is just one of over a hundred waterfalls that can be found in Iceland. It is located in South on the Hvítá (White) river, which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. In Spring and Summer, the waterfall sits amongst green pastures and during a sunny day, a shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls. In winter, it is even more impressive as snow-covered fields surround the fast plummeting water. Standing on the same level as the waterfall allows you to watch the water flow at a powerful rate of 109 cubic metres per second.
Gulfoss isn’t just a beautiful waterfall either, it also tells of a very powerful story. An early 20th century a woman named Sigriður disapproved of her fathers agreement to lease the waterfall, so she hired a lawyer to defend her case. Although her attempts failed, Sigriður’s struggles to preserve the waterfall brought attention to the importance of preserving nature. She is often called Iceland’s first environmentalist and her actions lead to the permanent protection of the waterfall in 1979.
3) Watch Geysers explode
There are over 50 Geysers in Iceland, situated in a geothermic field to the east of a small mountain called Laugafell. You can visit the Geysers on the Golden Circle tour and watch water being shot up to 40 metres at a rate of 2.5 l/s. The biggest and most impressive Geyser is called Strokkur and explodes water approximately every 4-6 minutes. This thrilling display of natural forces is the aftermath of earthquakes dating back to the 13th century. Watching the Geysers is an invigorating and mesmerising experience, another of the many impressive natural occurrences you will see in Iceland. The areas surrounding the Geysers are also incredibly beautiful and when it snows, you’ll feel like you could be on the moon as the smoking and bubbling craters are almost otherworldly.
4) Explore the underground Ice Caves
Adventure into the crystal caves of Iceland and explore the world inside a glacier. You can witness 2500 years of ice sculpted by nature and walk around dramatic landscapes of blue tinted ice. These visual wonders can be seen inside the Vatnajökull Glacier, located in the South-East of Iceland. Covering an area of roughly 8,000 sq. km and having a thickness of almost 1000m at its deepest point, Vatnajökull Glacier has the largest glacier mass in Europe.
In the South-West of Iceland, you’ll find Langjokull Glacier which has an area of about 950km² and is the second biggest in the country. Enter into the heart of the remote glacier ice cap and become enchanted by the glistening spectacle that is buried deep beneath the surface. Make sure you get yourself a tour guide and spend a couple of days lost in these underground, ice kingdoms.
5) Venture into Volcanoes
Iceland isn’t all about water and ice, the country is also home to over 130 active and inactive volcanoes. There are a number of different volcanic experiences that you can do. Drive across desolate black deserts, past frozen lakes and trail between glaciers to view the glowing lava lake of Bardarbunga volcano. Bardarbunga is one of the biggest in Iceland, with an an impressive 10km calder under ice.
In Iceland, you can also quest to the middle of the earth by delving into a dormant volcano. Descend yourself 120 metres to the empty chamber of Thrihnukagigur volcano that was once filled with lava and let your jaw drop as you view the breathtaking multi-hued volcanic rocks. Alternatively, if you fancy walking on warm lava then you can at Fimmvorduhals volcano, near Eyjafjallajökull. There, you can feel the heat rising from the lava field and hike between two glaciers to the beautiful Thorsmork National Park.
6) Discover Reynisfjara Beach
Like everything you’ll see in Iceland, the black beach Reynisfjara, is an extraordinary natural occurrence. It is an incredibly beautiful place, where frothy white waves crash onto pitch black sand. The beach is set underneath the Reynisfjall mountains, which houses puffins that nest high in the cliffs. It also features an amazing cliff of basalt columns called Gardar, which resemble a rocky step pyramid and spectacularly shaped basalt sea stacks, Reynisdrangar which can be found out in the sea. According to folklore, the stacks were formed when two trolls attempted to drag a ship to land but were turned to stone as daylight broke. The beach is both striking and mystical and the dramatic scenery is bound to leave you speechless. If you do visit, make sure you take care as the waves are particularly strong and unpredictable.
7) Gaze at the Northern Lights
Because of it’s geographical positioning and low light pollution, Iceland is one of the best places to view the Northern Lights. Stand in the confines of a national park and let yourself become hypnotised by the dreamy blue and green lights that dance for you. Be lost for words as you stare up at the star studded spectacle and reflect on the beauty of the display .
As Northern Light sightings are popular during Winter months (November – February), you won’t have only one chance to watch them. Tour operators often rebook you for the next evening if you can’t seem them that night. So make sure your first attempt at viewing the lights is on the first day of your trip. The lights are definitely one of the biggest reasons why you should visit Iceland, watching them is a once in a lifetime, pinch yourself moment- an evening you will never forget.
8) Swim in the Hot Springs
The geothermic springs in Iceland have become a haven for travellers. With temperatures of between 37 to 39 celsius throughout the year you can see why. The Blue Lagoon is the most famous geothermic spring and was formed in 1976 during operation at a nearby geothermal power plant. Over the years, visitors have enjoyed bathing in the unique water and applying natural silica mud to their skin. Sit in the crystal blue water and sip a refreshing beverage while you view spectacular snow covered lava rocks in all directions.
Since geothermal energy was first harvested in Iceland, the tradition of public bathing has become rooted in the local culture. Geothermal energy is now used all over the country. Although the Blue Lagoon is the most popular, there are many other geothermic lagoons all over Iceland such as Reykjadalur and Grjótagjá- which featured in Game of Thrones.
9) Experience the Icelandic Wildlife
The fields of Iceland, whether covered in grass or snow are littered with roaming herds of beautifully coloured horses. Characteristically identified by their thick haired manes, tails and fury hooves, they have become iconic to Iceland’s trademark. You can find them almost everywhere and if you’re lucky enough to embrace one, they are also the most gentle of creatures.
Iceland is also the best place in Europe to watch over 20 species of whales during their migration. It is best to do the whale watching tour during the summer months (from April to September) but you can watch them from either side of the Island, in both the North Atlantic and Artic oceans. Watch in awe as these majestic giants play in their natural habitat alongside dolphins, porpoises, seals and basking sharks.
Often referred to as a bird watchers paradise, Iceland is also home to indigenous colonies of seabirds and waterfowl. The Laxa River is particularly famous for having the most varied populations of ducks in Europe and some species such as the Harlequin duck and the Barrow’s Goldeneye can be found nowhere else in the continent. Prime bird watching season in Iceland is from the end of April to the beginning of June, although tours are offered year-round.
10) Adventure around Reykjavik
Seen from almost everywhere in the city, Hallgrímskirkja church is set upon a hill in Reykjavik main town and is one of the city’s greatest landmarks. This beautiful church resembles the basalt lava flows found in Iceland’s landscape and features a 15 meter gargantuan pipe organ. It also has an observation tower where you can view all of Reykjavik town and it’s surrounding mountains. Reykjavik town itself is also beautiful. Littered with lots of national and saga museums, you can spend the afternoon tracing Iceland’s Viking history. Make sure you also walk along the frozen lakes in winter and watch as the Canadian geese fly in to gather at sunset.When you wonder down the main street at night, you’ll feel like you’re in a Christmas village. There are many Icelandic restaurants to choose from and if you fancy a tankard of beer, step into one of the many cosy pubs the city has to offer.
It’s a country of new and unique experiences. Whether you go in Spring or Summer, you’ll fall in love with Iceland’s stunning landscapes. So, what are you waiting for?