Topping all bucket lists, enchanting nature lovers and impressing visitors, this northern destination is simply breathtaking.
The North of Iceland truly is a land of contrasts. its long valleys and peninsulas are interspersed with mountains, lava fields and smooth hills carved out by rivers. The deep and numerous indentations in the coast of the north are at times lush with vegetation, at others barren. As one nears the arctic circle in the northern latitudes, the midnight sun is invariably awe-inspiring.
Close by in the northern reaches of the Vatnajökull National Park is the impressive Ásbyrgi Canyon, as well as the Dettifoss waterfall—the most powerful in Europe.
There is so much to explore in East Iceland. Iceland’s biggest rhyolite formations directly accessible from an inhabited area are those around Borgarfjörður Eystri, while impressive magma chambers filled with colourful mineral deposits can be seen and visited along the eastern coast. In the summer months, the east of Iceland becomes a creative hub for artists and young people from around Iceland and abroad, as a variety of music and art festivals have been popping up and expanding steadily in recent years.
The hiking and riding possibilities are also numerous, including across extensive but well-mapped uninhabited areas. Winter tourism, for instance skiing or driving on snow, is also important.
Isolation has preserved the region in relatively unspoiled wilderness. Largely uninhabited, Iceland’s Westfjords are frequently distinguished by travel guides as a destination of excellence, and are a must-see for any serious explorer.
Hornstrandir are located in the Westfjords’ north-western corner, an uninhabited peninsula and nature reserve that is a haven for the Arctic fox as well as a variety of birdlife. The bird cliff Látrabjarg, on the west side of the Westfjords, which apart from hosting nearly half of the world’s population of some bird species, is also the westernmost point of Europe. The spectacular Dynjandi, a set of waterfalls with an accumulated height of 100 meters, is another must-see.
From wonderful waterfalls, to great glaciers, South Iceland is brimming with natural with new wonders unfolding at every turn. With the Golden Circle route, connecting Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir, South Iceland is a very popular destination for visitors as these three locations have been a must-see for any tourist to Iceland for centuries. Further east along the shore, you will find Skógafoss Waterfall, Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon, Vatnajökull Glacier, and several other natural wonders.
The South is rich in history and culture. Events from the Sagas are remembered in many ways along the coast, and several museums in the area celebrate Icelandic customs and heritage. With much of the country’s agricultural products coming from the area, the South is also a fine testimony to Icelandic restaurant culture.
West Iceland is a world where culture, nature and history complement each other, creating a unique experience. This vast area consists of fjords, valleys, craters, glaciers and volcanoes. Great hikes are found around Akranes and Hvalfjörður, with the mountain Akrafjall and the highest waterfall in Iceland Glymur less than an hour from Reykjavík. Visit the homestead of medieval writer Snorri Sturluson at Reykholt, and see the man-made geothermal bath in which he must have often allowed his mind to wander. Or learn about the awe-inspiring Viking poet Egill Skalla-Grímsson.
These are only a few examples of the interesting sites that can be found all over West Iceland, where nature is inextricably linked to the story of the people. Just look around, history is everywhere to be discovered. The magnificent landscape and wildlife at Snæfellsjökull National Park, Iceland’s only national park that reaches into the sea. The mystical volcano Snæfellsjökull Glacier has inspired artists and poets through the centuries, being one of seven greatest energy centres on Earth. Snæfellsjökull is the setting of Jules Verne’s Journey to the center of the Earth.
Reykjanes peninsula is replete with natural marvels, in addition to the renowned Blue Lagoon and an array of lighthouses.
As travellers touch down at Keflavik International Airport, visitors are greeted by a moon-like landscape. Unless hidden by snow, a seemingly endless lava field topped with green-grey moss blankets much of the Reykjanes peninsula, and this rather other-worldly sight turns out to be most people’s first glimpse of Iceland, the land of fire and ice.
Reykjanes has several high-temperature geothermal areas, three of which have been harnessed to generate electricity. In the Geothermal Energy Exhibition in the Hellisheiði lava fields, visitors can learn not merely about geothermal power but also local geological history.
On the Reykjanes peninsula the junction between the European and American tectonic plates of the earth’s crust is more noticeable and comprehensible than anywhere else. Thus it is no wonder that the peninsula has now been designated as the Reykjanes Geopark, which besides being a landscape to admire and study is also a veritable hotbed of recreational activities.
GEOTHERMAL POOLS & SPAS IN ICELAND
A natural wonder which is strongly related to Icelandic culture is the use of geothermally warm or hot water. The spa is a modern day invention, but enjoying the various health benefits of bathing in thermal baths is an Icelandic tradition dating back to the settlement. Snorri Sturluson, the famous twelfth century historian and author, was a prolific spa enthusiast by modern standards, and had his own thermal pool built so he could soak in hot water whenever the mood struck him. Of the thirteen baths that are known to have been used in the early days of the Icelandic society, four are still standing.
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND
The Aurora Borealis takes its name from the roman goddess of dawn, aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, boreas. From September to April, Iceland is a hotspot for this magnificent lightshow.
The Aurora Borealis, more commonly referred to as the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon created when solar particles interact with the atmosphere in the Earth’s magnetic field. This releases energy, causing peculiar luminous green streaks across the skies.
On clear winter nights, sightseeing trips are organized around this spectacular—though fickle—natural phenomenon. The ideal location for sightings varies and excursion leaders are skilled in “hunting” the lights, finding locations where conditions are best for seeing them on any given night.