Are you fond of traveling? Do you wish to travel around the world and see beautiful places? If so, Iceland is definitely one of the countries you should visit. I know that some of you may be thinking “seriously”?! “What could be there in a frozen dessert”?
Iceland will surprise you in many ways. There are many exciting things that you can do in Iceland. It is stylishly nicknamed, “The land of fire and ice.” Iceland is a volcanic island located near the Arctic circle on the Atlantic ocean. It is located 300 km to the east of Greenland and 900 km to the west of Norway.
Table of Contents
- Places to see and things to do in Iceland
- Tour Around the Golden Circle
- See the sunset at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
- See the Dettifoss Waterfall in Northern Iceland
- Visit the West Fjords
- Do a glacial trek
- Walk along the black sand beaches in Iceland
- Try Icelandic food
- Play with the Icelandic Ponies
- Search for puffins, the birdy symbols of Iceland
It is a relatively small nation with an area of 103,000 sq. km. Over 10% of Iceland is covered by glaciers, the largest of which is the Vatnajökull glacier. This glacier incidentally, also happens to be the largest glacier in Europe.
Two volcanoes recently erupted in the land of fire and ice and made the headlines in European newspapers. They are the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which erupted in 2010 and the Grimsvötn volcano, which erupted in 2011.
Iceland has cold winters and cool summers. Since it is located close to the Gulf Stream, it does not get excessively cold during the winter. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream have a moderating effect on the climate of Iceland.
Iceland’s highest volcano is Hvannadalshnjúkur, which is 2.119 meters (6852 ft) high. Iceland is quite sparsely populated with a population of only 360,390 people. 80% of the country is uninhabited! Iceland is also known for its beaches. Being an island nation, it has over 9000 sq km of coastline.
During the 8th century A.D., Celtic monks first discovered Iceland. A century later a race of people called the Norse settled on the island. The first of the Vikings named Hrafna Floki Vilgeroarson explored the whole of Iceland during the 10th century A.D. Seeing the large volume of ice there, he named the island, Iceland (Makes sense to me).
Iceland had witnessed several invasions, pirate raids and pandemics (including the “Black Plague”) which had dwindled its population. According to me, it was the land of slaves, where Europen powers and Vikings traded and used slaves for their own selfish work/goals.
Iceland is now a free country, guided by Denmark. There are many places of scenic beauty to see in Iceland, which I shall discuss in this article.
Places to see and things to do in Iceland
There are many places to see and many exciting things to do in Iceland. Some of them are:
Snap a photo at Kirkjufellsfoss
Kirkjufellsfoss is a waterfall located on the mountain, Kirkjufell. Kirkjufell is the most popular mountain and tourist spot in Iceland. Both the mountain and its waterfall are tantalizingly beautiful.
The waterfall is located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and is even more beautiful when viewed from a particular angle. It is a treat for landscape photographers. The waterfall is located just outside the small village called Grundarfjörður and is 463 meters high.
There is a small path on Kirkjufell mountain that leads behind the waterfall itself. There is also a more commonly taken path that will lead you right in front of the waterfall.
There is also a small scenic lake to the left of Kirkjufell mountain. Sometimes the beautiful Aurora Borealis can be visible from the mountain.
When I visited Iceland, I took the narrow path on Kirkjufell mountain and got to see Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall from behind. I also got to see the waterfall from the front and both the views were breathtaking. To top it all off, I even saw an aurora from the mountain.
It is also a paradise for any landscape photographer. The drizzle from Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall can drench you. So make sure that you wear a raincoat before going near the waterfall. Naturally, rainbows are visible on sunny days near the waterfall.
Stand under Skógafoss waterfall
This is one of the best things to do in Iceland. Skógafoss waterfall is another spectacular waterfall in Iceland. It is 200 feet high and 82 feet wide. There are 527 steps on the hill with the waterfall. You can either climb them to reach the top of the waterfall or you can daringly trek the hill.
Sometimes, due to the large amount of drizzle produced by the waterfall, you can see double rainbows. The spectral pattern in the second rainbow will be reversed (ROYGBIV). Kindly notice that if you are there.
I went with my family to Iceland so I had to climb 527 steps to reach the top of the waterfall but if you are single and young, you can probably trek to the top of the waterfall.
There is also a rumor about this waterfall. It is that a Viking settler named, Þrasi Þórólfsson buried his treasure chest in a cave under the waterfall. The rumor also states that people were successful in finding the treasure chest. However, as soon as they took hold of its ring handle, it vanished!
The ring handle was donated to the local church as an artifact to preserve but the treasure chest is still rumored to be behind the waterfall. I would advise you, people, not to go looking for it as it might get you into mortal peril. It is due to this rumor that Skógafoss waterfall is also called ‘Church Fall’.
There are many hiking spots, fishing spots, and villages nearby this waterfall. Kindly explore them if you are an adventurous person.
Tour Around the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a tourist route in Southern Iceland which is 300 km long. It connects three main tourist spots namely: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur.
Þingvellir National Park
It was the first national park to be established in Iceland. It is now a UNESCO heritage site. This park is located just 45 km from the village of Reykjavík.
The geographic specialty of this park is that it is situated on the rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Iceland is the only nation in the world where the Mid Atlantic Ridge can be seen above sea level and the best place to see the ridge from is Þingvellir National Park.
When the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates moved apart millions of years ago, lava from the separation solidified and formed the Island of Iceland. Even to this day, the tectonic plates continue to move apart. It is the reason why Iceland has so many active volcanoes.
The park is very beautiful and filled with numerous species of flowers, shrubs, birds, and bees. There are many streams that flow through the park. They are fed by the glacier named, Langjökull. All the streams keep the soil in this park very fertile and they drain into the lake, Þingvallavatn.
The streams and lakes in this park are crystal clear as they are filtered by the porous lava rock. The best activity to do in this park is to go scuba diving in its lakes. Especially, in the lake Þingvallavatn.
I was totally in awe by the beauty of this place. Its colorful flowers and clear streams left an indelible impression in my mind.
The Geysir Geothermal Area
This is one of the top things to do in Iceland. This is the second stop in the Golden Circle. It is the place where fire meets ice in Iceland. This area is approximately 50 km from Þingvellir National Park. Hot geysers are a common sight in this area and they are the most concentrated near the village of Laugarvatn.
The water temperature of these geysers is a comfortable 60 degrees Celsius. The village of Laugarvatn has steam baths built right on top of hot geysers! You should definitely bathe there if you can. Geysers are rich in dissolved minerals that will cure many bodies and skin related diseases.
The tallest geyser in this area is the Great Geysir. It can throw water 100 to 200 meters in the air. This geyser has existed for over 10,000 years. This geyser is not a consistent geyser (unlike the Faithful).
When I visited Iceland, luckily the Great Geysir had erupted. It threw water 110 meters into the air and luckily I had time to capture it on my smartphone. It was an awe-inspiring sight. I will never forget how fascinated I was at the sight of it.
Sometimes it can erupt every half hour and sometimes it won’t erupt for months on end. So consider yourself lucky if you see this geyser and don’t forget to take a selfie with it.
Geysers are common in this area because there is underground water flowing from the glacier Langjökull. There is also magma close to the crust of the earth and there are lakes from which geysers can erupt.
There are even boutique shops and restaurants close to the geysers. It is a great place to admire nature.
This is the third and the last stop in the Golden Circle. This fall is less than 10 km from the geyser area. It has a height of 105 feet and a width of 140 feet. This is again a very breathtaking waterfall.
This fall has a total water volume of 4944 cubic feet. It is fed by the glacier, Langjökull. It is a part of the river, Hvíta. It, like all waterfalls, produces a drizzle, which in turn produces rainbows.
When I visited this waterfall, I was amazed at how massive it was. It demonstrated nature’s beauty and power.
During the 20th century, the owner of the falls, Tómas Tómasson, attempted to damn the falls to generate hydroelectricity. He also grouped with some European investors to do it but his daughter rallied local support and stopped its construction.
It also turns out that the investors even clubbed together, did not have enough money to construct the damn. An Icelandic environmentalist named Sigríður actively opposed the construction of the damn along with Tómas Tómasson’s daughter. She did not want the beautiful land to be destroyed.
There is even a statue of Sigríður built on top of the Gullfoss Waterfall in her honor and memory. Sigríður was an uneducated but brave woman who opposed anything that would destroy nature massively.
See the sunset at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón is the largest glacier lagoon or lake in Iceland. It is located between Skaftafell National Park and the village of Höfn. It is the remains of a melted glacier. It is the second deepest lake in Iceland and has a depth of 200 meters.
The size of the lake has increased four-fold since 1970s due to glacial melting and global warming. This lagoon has turquoise colored water and is crystal clear. Boating is a famous activity that you can do in this lagoon.
The oceanic shore is not too far away from this lake (less than 20 km) and if one reaches the shore, one can see floating icebergs in the Atlantic Ocean. The lake itself will have ice pieces (large) floating on it during springtime.
When I saw the icebergs on this lake during dusk. They reflected the orange and red rays of the sun and sparkled like rubies and topaz.
The ice that are near this lagoon are over a thousand years old. Scientists sometimes drill and research ice cores in this area. The ice in this area has gas bubbles trapped inside them that tell us about the composition of the atmosphere over centuries. Seals flock near this lagoon during winter to catch fish.
Justin Bieber’s album named, ‘I’ll show you’ was composed/filmed at this location. Even the Bollywood film named ‘Diwali’ was shot at this location.
The colorful rays of the Sun are reflected off the icy white surface of the lagoon during sunrise and sunset. Hence, it is a visual treat that you must watch. Thousands of photographers year-round flock to film the sunrise and sunset at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. It’s a great tourist attraction and a panoramic place.
See the Dettifoss Waterfall in Northern Iceland
The Dettifoss Waterfall is the largest waterfall in Iceland by the volume of water it encompasses. Over 500 cubic meters of the waterfall over its edge every second. This waterfall is 45 meters high and 100 meters wide.
Road 864 passes by this waterfall. The road graveled in 2012. This waterfall is again very beautiful and produces rainbows whenever there is sunshine. You must take precautions not to get drenched in its drizzle (unless you don’t mind it).
Visit the West Fjords
The West Fjords are the least visited place in Iceland because they are far from villages and other popular tourist spots in Iceland. Now, this does not mean that they are not worth visiting. They are one of the most beautiful places in Iceland where the wilderness remains undisturbed by mankind.
The West Fjords are only accessible during the summer months. During other times of the year, they are covered in snow and dangerous. This is the most ancient part of Iceland. This piece of land was the first part of Iceland to form. It is more than 16 million years old.
As I went with my family, we did not dare to visit this place as it was remote and in a foreign country. This is one of the best things to do in Iceland in July. The places to visit in the West Fjords of Iceland are:
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
This nature reserve is rich in flora and fauna. It is a great place to be if you want to film the wildlife of Iceland. The common fauna found here are the Arctic Fox and Grey Seals.
These cliffs stretch for over 14 km. They are the prime nesting grounds for birds like razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, auks and northern gannets. However, the most popular nesting bird species in this area are the Puffins.
This waterfall is over 100 meters high. This waterfall somewhat resembles a long staircase. The white foaming water and the dark lava rock are in beautiful contrast to each other. This waterfall disintegrates into many smaller waterfalls.
This beach is quite different from the other beaches in Iceland. It is filled with golden sand rather than black volcanic mud. It is a very picturesque beach.
Just like in the rest of Iceland, the West Fjords are rich in hot springs. Bathing in these hot springs has a lot of health benefits as they are mineral-rich.
Do a glacial trek
There are so many hills and volcanoes in Iceland. You can trek on popular ones. The popular hills in Iceland have a trekking booth near them. There you can rent daggered shoes, rope and skiing ax for trekking. As I went with my family, I did not go for trekking.
It is your responsibility, however, to wear warm clothing. This young couple from the US went trekking in Iceland and they found it very enjoyable. You can get some tips by watching their video.
Walk along the black sand beaches in Iceland
Iceland has more than 9000 km of beachline, being an island nation. It is a pleasure to walk on the popular beaches in Iceland. You can see floating icebergs from any of Iceland’s popular beaches. Iceland’s beaches are black due to the volcanic soil.
When they reflect the colorful rays of the sun during sunrise and sunset, it is a visual treat for anyone. The spotted seal and the Arctic White Fox are the common fauna found on the beaches of Iceland. One may also encounter colonies of Gannets and Puffins.
When I visited the beaches of Iceland, the sight of icebergs on the ocean was totally new to me as I was only used to seeing water in my home country. It made sense scientifically but I was still blown away by the new sight.
Try Icelandic food
The food that Icelanders eat reflects the harsh conditions in which their ancestors survived. Centuries ago, Iceland had a savage cold and limited hunting and fishing options. The food there might be simple but it is quite delicious and you must try it.
Dried Stock Fish
This was the staple breakfast of Icelanders a few centuries ago. It is still consumed these days but not as regularly. This is a protein-rich food. The fish is deboned, descaled and hung dry for a day before selling. It also tastes good.
Plokkfiskur or fish stew
It is a simple mix of white fish, potatoes, onions, flour, milk, and seasoning. It is very popular among tourists. Restaurants in Iceland regularly make this dish.
Humar or Icelandic lobster
Lobsters are known for their tender and tasty meat. They are usually grilled, baked or fried and added to meals. It’s considered a delicacy in Iceland.
The type of bread made in Iceland is Barley Bread. It is made from the flour of the Barley plant as only the crop Barley can survive the chilly conditions in Iceland. Grains cannot be grown there at all owing to Iceland’s icy conditions.
The Viking farmers had massively destroyed the forests in Iceland for firewood and this caused soil erosion. Iceland became a barren land where only a few hardy crops could survive. Barley is one of them. Barley cultivation began in Iceland only around the 19th century and became prominent in the 20th century.
Barley bread is more nutritious and tasty than whole grain bread. Iceland even exports a small amount of this bread to European countries. I only ate bread when I visited Iceland as I am a vegetarian.
Play with the Icelandic Ponies
The horses of Iceland are the most unique in the world. They are shorter than the average horse and they have more hair than the average horse owing to Iceland’s cold conditions.
The hair on Iceland’s horses come in a lot of different colors, which are pleasing to look at. They come in black, white, orange, yellow, brown, peach, blue and other colors. Iceland’s horses can also do a special type of gallop known as tolt. To know what touting is, watch this video.
Iceland’s horses are in high demand all over the world. They are often used as racehorses. Horses were brought to Iceland by the Vikings. They used horses as their primary mode of transport and also for other important work.
I did not ride on a horse in Iceland as they are strictly wild there but I saw them and thought that they were cute. The horses of Iceland are sometimes called Ponies as they are smaller than other species of horses.
Search for puffins, the birdy symbols of Iceland
Puffins are a bird species that are native to Iceland. They settled on the island centuries ago as the climate was ideal for them to breed. They look like birds in a clown costume. For this reason, they are also known as Clown Birds.
They feed mostly on a type of fish called the Sand Lance. However, due to global warming and oceanic current changes, these fish are becoming scarce for the Puffins. Environmentalists have to relocate these birds to where it’s ideal for them.
Puffins are quite colorful birds, especially at their beaks. They are quite used to humans so they will not freak out if they see you. They can be found nesting on the cliffs of hills, which are near the shore. Don’t forget to take a selfie with them in case you see them.
I saw puffins nesting on a cliff near a beach. Their beaks were colorful and patterned. I thought that they were weird and wonderful. I also thought that they must be relocated with urgency to save them from starvation. To know the challenges that Puffins face in Iceland, kindly watch this video.
Iceland is a place with many places to see and exciting things to do. If you can’t see all of them, at least see the Golden circle. You must take a bath in the hot water springs in Iceland. You must go mountain hiking. You must see the wildlife of Iceland.
You must see the myriad waterfalls there. You must try its native food. Last but not least, you must visit the beaches of Iceland.
Iceland is a unique place. It will be a trip that you won’t forget. In no other place on Earth, Fire and Ice interact as frequently as they do in Iceland. It’s a very scenic country, ideal for adventurers. Summer and spring are the best seasons to visit Iceland.
1. How do I get to Iceland?
Iceland is accessible only by air for common citizens. There is an international airport 31 miles to the southwest of Reykjavik. Passengers can board a bus from the airport to any other town in Iceland. There are also car rental services available in case you prefer traveling by car.
2. Do people give tips in Iceland?
The service charges are included in your bill so there is no need to tip waiters. You can still do it if you want to. People of Iceland are quite honest and the restaurants pay their waiters well so tipping has never been a significant part of Icelandic culture.
3. Is Iceland a safe country to visit?
According to the 2019 survey, Iceland has been ranked as the safest country in the world. Petty crimes are still prevalent in Iceland, so exercise your usual level of caution. Large, violent crimes are, however, nonexistent.
4. What is the currency of Iceland?
The currency of Iceland is the Icelandic Krona (ISK). One USD is worth a hundred ISK.