There is a mystic isle located in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the edge of the Arctic circle that is known as the land of fire and ice. Although it sounds like a Game of Thrones title, it actually refers to Iceland, one of the most diverse, dramatic and geologically active landscapes on earth. Where ice literally meets fire with lava floes and glaciers (including Europe’s largest ice field) stunning waterfalls and geysers, beautiful fjords and active volcanoes. It’s a country that transports you to another world and you’ll believe you’ve walked onto a film set. And indeed, you might have, as Iceland’s diverse scenery has attracted the attention of many Hollywood locations scouts recently – including Star Wars, Prometheus and Interstellar.
Buzzing Reykjavik is a vibrant city that is run by its youth, and the island is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise – with endless hiking and biking options, and dreamy vistas to delight even the most amateur photographer. In short – it’s got everything. But as it’s difficult to choose, thus we’re giving you an easy guide to the top 7 sights you really shouldn’t miss.
Let’s start nice and easy in the world’s most northerly capital city – which will most likely be your jumping off point to the rest of the island. Located on the west coast, Reykjavík is teeming with life, much of which comes out a night, but there are plenty of other attractions should you not be into the raucous party scene.
There’s an ancient history here too, as the settlement is believed to have been established in AD 874, with Viking and Gaelic ancestry. Don’t miss the Hallgrímskirkja (a Lutheran parish church and number one tourist attraction in the city – possibly because it looks like it was built out of Lego) and the Northern Lights in Reykjavik.
The National Museum of Iceland will tell you all you everything you need to know about the island and its inhabitants, and for those who like to stay fit while travelling – Iceland is famous for regularly producing the world’s strongest man – so a visit to a gym here is an experience in itself!
2. The Blue Lagoon
Another one of the most popular and visited attractions in Iceland is the world famous Blue Lagoon – a geothermal spa that sits within a lava field under 50 minutes from the capital. With a water temperature of 37-39 degrees Celsius, the spa is the perfect way to unwind even in extremely cold weather. The beautiful milky-blue waters alone are popular with tourists even if you don’t want to take a dip – and the area offers up many picture-postcard opportunities.
But with the water rich in silica and sulphur minerals reputed to have significant health benefits, it would be a sin to visit without joining everyone else enjoying this lava heated paradise.
3. Whale Watching
The best time to take a Whale watching tour is to visit Iceland in the summer months when the great behemoths of the sea come closer to shore and into rich feeding grounds. There is the possibility to sight around 20 different species from April to early October, and whale watching tours become a staple of the tourist industry during this period every year.
Orcas, Humpbacks, Minkes, and mighty Blue whales have been known to regularly grace the waters off the coast of Iceland, as well as a variety of dolphin and porpoise making up a diverse marine ecosystem. Check out the old harbour in Reykjavík for regular tour departures.
4. The Northern Lights
Rivalling northern Scandinavia and parts of Scotland, Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Aura Borealis – the Northern Lights. Possibly due to it being so far north.
The best time to visit is from September through to mid-April, when you’ll have a chance to regularly view the spectacle on a cold, crisp and clear night. It’s a crapshoot though, as the lights can be shy and unpredictable, and they might not make an appearance if they don’t feel like it. It’s advisable to visit Iceland for other attractions first– and if you’re lucky in viewing a Northern Lights extravaganza it’s an added bonus.
5. Vatnajokull National Park
If you look at a google map of Iceland, you’ll notice an enormous green patch covering much of the south-east of the island. If there’s one national park you visit on your trip to the country – make it this one. The Vatnajokull National Park is home to the largest glacier in Europe, measuring 8,100 km2. This is at the time of writing and is, of course, subject to change.
The park is divided into four sections, each with its own diverse landscape, including stunning waterfalls, other-world rock formations, volcanoes and lava fields, and the mesmerizing Skaftafell Ice Cave – safe to visit in winter. If you’re looking for the great outdoors, Vatnajokull will not disappoint.
6. The Great Geysir
There’s an everchanging, bubblingly expectant hive of volcanic activity across Iceland, and something could kick off at any moment.
Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe. Most of the time. We think. If you’re not really into hiking up an active volcano, perhaps the safer, more family-friendly option is to visit one of the famous geysers in the country. The best one to visit is at Strokkur, the most popular in the country – and for good reason. Known as “The Great Geysir,” it was this one in particular that gave its name to the word geyser in the first place. Make sure you bring your waterproof clothing when this active spring erupts.
7. The Ring Road – Route 1
Finally, if you’re looking for the ultimate adventure when visiting Iceland, hire yourself a car and drive the famous ring road. Otherwise known as “The Golden Circle,” this 1,491 km route takes in the best the country has to offer in one, stunningly beautiful loop around the coast. You’ll experience the very best of the Icelandic landscape, including all of the attractions we included in this article.
The golden circle is one of the finest drives in the world and a sure-fire bucket list contender. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time for all the stops on this epic road trip.
The Happiest People in the World!
It is thought that Icelanders are the happiest people in the world, and it’s certainly a joyful experience travelling to find out why. Iceland might well be one of the coolest (pun intended) places you could ever visit – but don’t forget about the endless nights in winter and the endless days in summer. Perfect for vampires and sun worshipers respectively.
Have you been lucky enough to visit Iceland? What are your top picks? Let us know!