A land of fire and ice, where the heat from the earth’s core comes to the surface in the form of geysers and geothermal pools, while glaciers flow on the surface and broken off ice cubes decorate the beaches.
Iceland is a small island in the North Atlantic. The tectonic plates of Europe and North America brush alongside each other here. The island is volcanically and geomagnetically active and the effects have given the island dramatic land formations. The landscape has featured in film and TV series, including Game of Thrones, Batman Begins, James Bond and Star Wars.
The Northern Lights
Iceland is the perfect place to see the natural phenomenon Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. When the sky is clear and the geomagnetic activity is high, you can be entertained as shades of green and pinky purple colour dance across the dark sky. As it’s a natural phenomenon, it’s not guaranteed you will see them, but the tour guides carry monitoring equipment and will take you to the best dark sky places to glimpse this magical event.
The capital city and most populated place on the island is Reykjavik. Most people choose to stay here. It is a compact city and one of the safest cities in the world. It has a plethora of accommodation to suit all budgets and plenty of places to eat and drink.
The tall tower of Hallgrímskirkja stands high above the city. You can visit the church and climb the tower for stunning views of the city and surrounding area. The National Museum, Saga Museum and the Settlement Exhibition all give an oversight of how the country has developed from its Viking roots. For those who want to experience the fire and ice without leaving the city, Perlan gives visitors the experience of volcanos and glaciers and has an outdoor observation deck for views across the city and beyond. Whales of Iceland is an interactive exhibition about the whales who live off the coast. Boat trips run from the harbour for whale spotting.
The Golden Circle
If you only have time for one trip, this one covers the most popular landmarks in Iceland. If you feel confident, you can hire a car and drive it yourself, but be aware of the weather conditions as the roads can become dangerous very quickly, especially in winter.
The Geysir geothermal area is known for Srokkur which famously throws water 100ft in the air every few minutes, along with smaller geysers and boiling mud pits.
Gullfoss is a large wide waterfall where the water fiercely tumbles over two ledges into the canyon thirty-two meters below. The spray creates a rainbow effect when the sun is shining and sometimes the water has a golden hue.
Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The land has been shaped by the movement of the tectonic plates. The area is dramatic with tall rocky crags with deep rifts between them. It is rich in ancient history and is a place of spiritual beauty.
The South Shore
This is another popular area to experience the natural landscape. Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are two well-known waterfalls in this area. Seljalandsfoss is slightly smaller and much narrower with the water plunging sixty meters down the cliff side. There is a cavern behind the waterfall so you can walk behind and feel the power of the water. Skógafoss is slightly taller at sixty-two meters but has a much wider span at twenty five meters making it look much bigger. If the sun is shining, the spray will produce a rainbow. The land is flat at the bottom so you can walk right up to the waterfall.
Jökulsárlón is a glacier lagoon on the south coast. All year round, the lagoon is filled with pieces of ice that have broken off the glacier. Depending on the levels of ice in the lagoon, it may be possible to take a boat trip through the ice.
On the edge of the lagoon, Diamond beach sits. An expanse of dark black sand littered with frozen pieces of ice that look like huge diamonds glinting in the sunshine, while the cliffs behind tower above them.
Iceland is littered with geothermal springs used for bathing. The most famous is the Blue Lagoon which takes it name from the colour of the water due to the silca mud beneath the surface. Surrounded by mossy hills, it’s a beautiful place to relax and nourish mind and body. If you want a less crowded experience, there are many other smaller geothermal springs across the island where you can experience the pleasure of the soothing warm water while admiring your surroundings.
For those who like more excitement in their lives, Iceland offers many excursions where you can push your body to the limits. You can go snowmobiling across plains of pure white snow, taking in the wintery atmosphere as you rush by. There are several ice caves to explore where you can see the layers of ice that have formed over the years. Some tunnels are called lava tubes, which were formed many years ago as molten lava cut its way through the landscape on its way to the sea. The colours and swirls are still present and preserved in the cave walls. If weather conditions permit, it is possible to hike up the glaciers and be mesmerized by the blue ice formations formed as water has flowed and frozen repeatedly over time.
Iceland is for everyone
Iceland is a country like no other with the diverse landscapes and many natural geological features to marvel at. There is a good mixture of activities from slow paced to seeking thrills, so it is easy to plan a trip that will meet your needs. Pack well so you have the right clothing and footwear for the activities you wish to do. You will certainly get a lot from this small island.
Featured image: source.