The best of natural attractions of Iceland

Reykjavik with view on Leif Eriksson Statue, Iceland © A. Karnholz - Fotolia.com

The main attractions of this fabulous country are not architectural monuments but sightsbeyond the large cities. All the splendor of Iceland lies in its unique nature. Iceland is full of great places that should be listed in your itinerary while you travel around the country, and their number is much bigger than those presented below. Having explored the main of them, you may extend the list of top 10 sights in Iceland with your ideas.

Vatnajökull National Park

It is the largest national park in Europe. Previously, there were two other parks – Skaftafell and Yekulsaurglyuvur that after 2008 became the part of Vatnajökull, so today it occupies more than 1 million hectares. Its name the park got from the huge glacier located on its territory.

The landscape is very picturesque: there are rivers, areas of black sand, glaciers, beautiful mountains, hills, waterfalls, streams, and quicksand.

  1. To the north, the mountain plateau is divided into glacial rivers. Askja, Kverkfjöll and Snæfell Volcanoes rise above this part of the park, together with the volcanic mountain Herdubreid.
  2. There is a huge waterfall Dettifoss at the end of the canyon, while the picturesque, curved and horseshoe-shaped rocks Ásbyrgi are located farther, to the north.
  3. Marshy land near the glacier and further, to the east, surround Snæfell.
  4. The central part of the volcano Öræfajökull is covered by the southernmost part of the glacier.
  5. Volcanic activity also characterizes the landscape to the west of Vatnajökull, where there are two largest crevasses in the world.

The weather can vary greatly in the park, as the region is large enough and varied in height. To the south of Vatnajökull Glacier there is a lot of precipitation. The temperature ranges from 10 to 20 Celsius above zero in summer and the winter is fairly mild, the temperature rarely drops below minus 10 Celsius.You can get here by boat from Reykjavik, with a tour group or by car via the Ring Road 1. The entrance to the park is free.

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir is listed in UNESCO World Heritage List.

This is where the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates lies. The park is located in an active volcanic zone, with the volcano Hengil being the most interesting. It is located on the southern coast of Tingvadlavatn, the largest lake in Iceland. The park is crossed by the river Eksara with the waterfall Eksaraurfoss. The territory is also known for the important historical events. Thus, in 930, Althingi – the oldest in Europe democratic parliament – first met here.

There are many interesting tourist routes, including diving and exploring the waterfall Gullfoss and Geysir. Be sure to see the canyon Peningagja with crystal clear water and Drehkingarhilur pool, which is also called ‘whirlpool for the drowned’. In the old days, witches or unfaithful wives were thrown there, and their names are engraved on a commemorative plate.

The park is located 50 km away from Reykjavik. You can reach it by car via the Ring Road or by bus, which departs from the city center (BSÍ bus terminal), but only in the summer season. You can go here round the year as the park is beautiful at any season. In winter, there is abundant precipitation.

Geysir and Strokkur

In the valley Haukadalur, there is the Great Geysir, which gave its name to this natural phenomenon. The Great Geysir is the most famous in Iceland. It is located 50 kilometers from the volcano Hekla, Lugerfall hillside, just 40 meters from the geyser Strokkur. The Great Geysir may be inactive for a very long time. During the eruption, it throws hot water to a height of 60 meters – it's incredibly an exciting scene. In the calm periods, Geysir takes the form of a green lake.

Strokkur is the second largest and most active geyser in the valley Haukadalur in Iceland. Strokkur pleases the tourists with eruptions every 2-10 minutes, letting water out to a height of 20 meters. In addition to the geysers, in the valley, there is the waterfall Gullfoss and the beautiful lake Blasé.

Haukadalur Valley, the part of the popular tourist route Golden Circle, is located about a hundred kilometers to the east of Reykjavik. You can reach the geysers within a day trip that starts from Reykjavik or by car moving along the Ring Road 1. The best time to visit the valley is from June to August.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon is a worldwide known geothermal pool, one of a kind. The peninsula is formed of porous lava, so loose that sea water seeps through it. An average water temperature in the Blue Lagoon is 37 Celsius above zero, it may lower a little due to rain or snow. The water is rich in minerals, so the pool is popular with people suffering of skin imperfections or those who just want to improve their skin condition.

Blue Lagoon takes visitors all year round; only the working hours are changed depending on the season. The cost is 40-65 Euros per adult person. The road from Reykjavik takes about 45 minutes; you can get there with a tour group for 23 Euros.

Skogafoss Waterfall

Total, in the country, there are dozens of famous waterfalls, as well as a huge number of nameless.

Beautiful Skogafoss Waterfall is one of the most famous and visited in the country. The width of the waterfall is 25 meters, the height of the water drop is 60 meters, and splashes make iridescent shades, especially on a bright sunny day. Furthermore, it is very easy to climb it what attracts hundreds of tourists every day. The waterfall is located right on the rocks once being the coast.

There is a tourist walking trail leading to Skogafoss, which crosses Fimmvyurduhauls Pass, then passes between two glaciers down to the picturesque valley Toursmerk. The closest town to the waterfall is Skogar, 13 km south of Reykjavik, where you can get with a tour group or by car. The weather is warmer, windier and wetter than in the north of the country.

Landmannalaugar Valley

Landmannalaugar is a region in the south of Iceland with strange but at the same time interesting geological formations. Landmannalaugar Valley is a nature reserve in Iceland. The Valley has an incredible landscape formed of various kinds of water and lava. Mountain valleys are made of pure rhyolite, a slowly crystallized volcanic rock. This beautiful stone formed smooth mountains of a pyramidal shape. The color of the rocks and sand varies depending on the lighting and weather conditions: they can be yellow or reddish-brown with blue, green, purple veins, which are formed from ash mixed with rocks during the volcanic eruptions. In the valley, the steam rises from the earth's surface giving the place an even more fabulous look.

Most of the travelers come here in the June-September period as it is the most convenient time to visit the valley. You can get here by car or daily bus going from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar.

Hekla volcano

One of the best sights in Iceland are the majestic volcanoes. Total, in Iceland, there are more than 25 volcanoes. Moreover, once the island itself appeared in the result of the eruption of molten basalt.

One of the most known as well as active volcanoes in the world is Hekla located in the south of Iceland. Its name is translated as ‘the hood’ as the top of Hekla is often closed by a dense fog or clouds and is hardly to be seen. It is also difficult to reach its bottom because the volcano is surrounded by fields of lava. Nevertheless, lots of tourists try to climb the top of the volcano. All eruptions of Heklaare accompanied by the catastrophic consequences.

The road F255 goes to the foot of the volcano. Then you have to overcome a 7-kilometer climb to an altitude of 1488 meters, which will take at least three hours. Planning to reach Hekla not in the summer, take warm clothes and shoes. Until August the peak is covered with snow.

Latrabjarg Cliffs

One of the most beautiful areas of Iceland is the indented coastline of the western fjords. Famous destination among tourists is the rock Latrabjarg, the westernmost point of Europe as well as one of the best places for bird watching. On steep Latrabjarg cliffs, there are millions of cormorants, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and, of course, puffins which are one of the symbols of Iceland. You can come very close and take pictures with the minimum distance.

Here you can catch the birds only during the nesting season, i.e. from early May until August. Latrabjarg lies in the region of western fjords; to get to the rocks you should turn off the Ring Road to the unsurfaced road near Vestfjarðavegur. The road from Reykjavik takes about 5.5 hours.

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

The Glacial Lagoon Yokulsarlon is a unique place where you can see icebergs so close. 50 years ago the glacier reached the coast, and snap-off ice floes began to float away into the ocean. While the glacier stepped back (about 100 meters per year), it left behind a plain filled with melt water and giant blocks of ice. The lowland was surrounded by hills and connected to the ocean by a narrow isthmus. Thus the glacial lagoon was formed.

Tours are organized here throughout the year, however, only during the warmer months, you can get on the boat-tour over the lagoon. When it gets warmer, the icebergs break off and melt quickly, but in the winter, the lagoon freezes and locks the icebergs until the next spring. You can get to the lake with a tour group (in the summer, these are jeep-tours, and in the winter – snowmobile), and independently by car, moving along the Ring Road 1.

Reykjavik

If you want to get acquainted with the historical sights of Iceland you’d better go to the capital of the country – Reykjavik. Travelers can visit the National Museum and the Gallery of Iceland, the church Hallgrimskirkja, which is known throughout the world for the organ in the Art Nouveau style. Arni Magnusson Institute is also worth visiting. It keeps unique vintage books with traditional sagas and a large collection of historical works.

Reykjavik has a very humid climate with strong winds and rains brought by the clouds from the sea. The warm Gulf Stream makes the climate not so cold despite its location in the northern latitude. The abundance of vegetation in the city contrasts with the almost lack of greenery in the suburb. In the long winter months, the sun rises just for a few hours a day.

Moreover, most of the tours over the best Iceland attractions start from Reykjavik.