After exploring the best of Switzerland for more than a year we have caught a fascination for these stunning natural sites which are no less than a fairytale. Iceland is another country that is high on our bucket list and we badly want to make a visit for the presence of so many mysterious and enchanting landscapes that are hard to believe from pictures and are best when experienced in person. Here are the top things to do in Iceland which is on our list and we hope to make to this surreal land soon.
The capital city Reykjavik is the largest city of Iceland and offers a lot of interesting things to do and see for its visitors. The iconic landmark of Reykjavik Hallgrimskirkja Church dominates the city skyline with its striking architecture which is inspired by the basaltic rock formations. A statue of Leifur Eiríksson the first European to discover America stands in front of the church. The downtown Reykjavik is a colorful city with vibrantly painted houses similar to the colorful Burano houses and numerous street arts. The climb up the tower of the Hallgrimskirkja Church is one of the top things to do in Reykjavik and offers a wonderful bird’s eye view of the colorful cityscape.
The other major landmarks of the city are ‘The Pearl’ with an observation platform offering panoramic views of the city, ‘Hellisheidi Power Plant’ with geothermal energy exhibition, the imposing ‘Reykjavik City Hall’, ‘Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre’ and Laugardalur botanical gardens. A walk along the various waterfronts of the city is a great way to explore the coastal beauty. Do not miss the impressive Sun Voyager – a massive steel sculpture resembling a Viking Ship which is also the best spot to witness the phenomenal midnight sun during the summer. When exploring the beautiful places in Iceland, Reykjavik makes for a great base which is the starting point for the tours.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the major Iceland points of interest and the most visited falls in the country. The falls are formed by the Seljalands River originating in the great volcano glacier Eyjafjallajokull and plunging down from a height of 60 m creating a surreal cascade of Seljalandsfoss. The location of Seljalandsfoss close to the Ring Road only 120 km from the capital city of Reykjavik and easy access by road makes it a touristy spot. The falls is unique and one of its kind where one can follow a trail to a cave behind the falls and gawk in awe as the waterfall forms a curtain over picturesque landscape beyond. At a walkable distance from Seljalandsfoss is yet another falls Glufrafoss mystically hidden behind a canon but equally gorgeous.
The Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis
The stellar aurora light show put up across the skies of Iceland during the winter is one of the top reasons why tourists flock to Iceland. Though the incredible phenomenon of Northern lights or the Aurora Borealis occurs from September to late April its sighting needs a bit of luck of optimal weather conditions. Though the Northern lights can be seen almost anywhere in Iceland the best place to see the Northern lights would be to head to a location far away from the city lights into the countryside amidst the tranquility of nature like a beach or a national park. The options are renting a car and driving on our own hunting for the lights or join one of the guided Iceland tours and let them do the hunting for you. Or the best why not join the photo tours in Iceland to capture the best of what ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ has to offer.
Reynisfjara Black Beach
Located near the town of Vik Iceland on the south coast 180 km from Reykjavik is the most popular and unusual black beach of Iceland, the Reynisfjara. The expanse of beach is made up of amazing pitch black pebbles and features a dramatic cliff of basaltic lava columns similar to the ones in Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The black beach with the lava columns and sea stacks make for an astounding vista, no doubt the beach has been voted the best beach by National Geographic.
The cliff of lava columns forms a pyramid called Gardar at the foot of the Reynisfjall mountain. One can also enter the cave in the cliff which also has wonderful lava formations. Two basaltic cliffs called Reynisdrangar rise from the Atlantic Ocean, legend says these are sea trolls which turned into stone at daylight. The beach is known for spotting exotic sea birds like puffins.
The waves at Reynisfjara beach are known to be very ferocious which has resulted in several fatal accidents and hence visitors are advised to be extra careful.
The Blue Lagoon Iceland – The Geothermal Spa
An Hour’s drive from the capital city Reykjavik is the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa amidst the rocky lava field in Grindavik on southwestern Iceland. The mineral-rich warm waters of the lagoon are a great way of relaxing the mind and soul and also serves as a retreat to cure skin diseases. There are shower rooms and changing rooms in the lagoon and the lagoon is wheelchair accessible. If you feel intrigued to take the guided tour of the lagoon which provides an insight into the formation of the lagoon and the lava fields around Iceland.
Landmannalaugar in the southern highlands of Iceland is part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve and is known for its stunning landscapes, hiking trails, and natural geothermal pools.
Daily buses run from Reykjavik during the summer months with increased frequency in later summer months. One can also choose to rent a car though be advised that 4WD cars are the best option for the rough mostly impassable routes. The route winds through some of the breathtaking dramatic landscapes which are ever-changing from dry to snow-covered and lush green which is a reminiscence of our road trip to Ladakh in India.
There are huts on campsites that need advance booking in high season or one can also choose to camp along the trails. Icelandic horse riding is also an option to visit places that are difficult to reach by foot or by car. Read here for some best travel tips for Iceland.
The fountain geyser Strokkur is a popular Iceland attraction located in the Haukadalur valley in southwestern Iceland over an hour’s drive from the capital Reykjavik. The geyser is known to erupt every 4–10 minutes and to an impressive height of 15–20 m the highest being 40m. The Strokkur is said to have erupted for the first time in 1789 after an earthquake which is believed to set off this breathtaking phenomenon. The geothermal area is home to several small hot springs and the Great Geysir which is the most famous geyser in the world erupting as high as 60 meters until it stopped erupting in 1916. Curious? Watch the video of Strokkur here.
About 10 min drive from Strokkur Geyser is the magnificent waterfall Gullfoss which literally means ‘Golden Waterfall’. It is located in Haukadalur Valley south of Iceland about 110 km from Reykjavik. The two-tiered waterfall originating in River Hvita and plummeting into a 2.5 km long canyon is a spectacular sight to behold. The walking trail along the gorge takes the visitors from the parking to the vantage points to experience the awe-inspiring falls from close.
Gullfoss is equally stunning during the winter months when it is partially frozen which makes even winter the best time to visit Iceland.
There is a stone memorial above the falls dedicated to Sigridur Tomasdottir the daughter of the farmer who owned the falls before leasing it out for hydroelectric developments. The project which subsequently got shelved after the fierce protest by Sigridur Tomasdottir who even threatened to jump into the falls and lack of funds. The falls was finally bought by the Icelandic nation.
Strokkur, Gullfoss along with Thingvellir National Park makes for the popular Golden Circle Tour in Iceland which can easily be done from the Iceland capital Reykjavik.
Jokulsarlon and the Diamond Beach
Jokulsarlon one of the natural wonders of Iceland is a large glacial lake in southeastern Iceland fed by the melting of glaciers. The lagoon is filled with floating icebergs and is an ideal place for spotting exotic seabirds and seals. The lagoon located at the edge of Vatnajokull National Park is a 5 hrs drive from Reykjavik.
On the other side of the road is the Diamond Beach which is so-called because of the large chunk of ice washed up from the sea. The stark black beach dotted with the glistening blocks of icebergs in opaque white or aqua blue colors is an otherworldly sight to behold.
The Skjalfandafljot river flowing over the lava fields plummets from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters to form the spectacular waterfalls. The Godafoss waterfall marks a prominent date in the history of Iceland. In the year 1000, a law speaker from Iceland named Þorgeir made Christianity the official religion of Iceland and threw idols of the Nordic gods into the falls which gave it the name ‘waterfall of the gods’.
Some 5 km from the waterfalls is the beautiful lake of Ljosavatn. A great place to spend time amidst the enchanting landscapes and a popular sunset spot. There is a small church built on the farm to commemorate the 1000 year anniversary of Christianity in Iceland which is open to the public in summer.
If you are planning to visit Iceland in winter here are some great packing tips for Iceland winter.
Travel to Iceland would be a dream come true. There is so much to see and this post does not make an exhaustive list of things to do in Iceland. This list of Iceland attractions will definitely be on the top of the bucket list whenever we visit Iceland. We just can’t wait to visit Iceland and explore these beautiful places. What’s on your Iceland Bucket list? Share with us in the comments.
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