Europe is home to a plethora of fascinating countries that are worth visiting. There are many countries to pick up your next destinations, each with its unique charm. However, the northern region of Europe seems to be the most neglected despite being home to alluring lands and plenty of hidden gems to discover.
Northern Europe encompasses a wide array of countries that were the earliest homes to the Nordic nations, and Iceland is no exception. These fascinating Icelandic lands embrace breathtaking landscapes with surreal scenes that leave you utterly speechless. These lands have earned the title of the land of fire and ice for blending several elements of nature in a dreamlike backdrop.
Instead of leaving Iceland among the lesser-known histories and the less-travelled paths, take the initiative to unearth its unparalleled beauty. Besides, it holds rich layers of the Viking history, one of the world’s most captivating civilisations. Waste no time and venture into the Icelandic lands, discover its history, observe its raw beauty, and leave no stone unturned.
1. Observe the Mesmerising Northern Lights
The darkness isn’t always something to complain about, for the most surreal things can actually happen in the dark. This applies to the whimsical phenomenon of the Northern Lights, scientifically known as Aurora Borealis. Such wonder happens in northern Europe, with the Icelandic region being part of this magic.
Aurora Borealis is lines of lights freely swirling in the utterly dark sky, illuminating the blue and green colours. It only occurs in extremely cold regions and in secluded places with minimal artificial lights. The reason behind this magical wonder is the interaction of the sun’s charged particles with the atoms found in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
If you want to live this peculiar experience, plan your Icelandic vacation between September and March. Although you cannot guarantee to spot these heavenly lights, the chances are still higher when the nights are longer. It’s a phenomenal adventure that will imprint in your mind for years to come.
2. Walk Over the Black Sand of the Icelandic Beaches
Iceland is an Island with many unearthly scenes that seem to be out of a fictional movie. This land will literally leave you dropping your jaw in awe continuously, and it’s not only about the icy landscapes. Another peculiar scenery that you shouldn’t miss is the beaches flooded with black sands, hugging the shores in a fascinating view.
Given that it’s the land of fire and ice, the Icelandic island is famous for being a hotbed for volcanic activity. It’s a feature that provides the world with more than a few black-sanded beaches, resulting from the formation of black volcanic rocks after the lava cools down. Although there are more than a few beaches with black sand, Reynisfjara remains the most iconic.
Reynisfjara Beach lies on Iceland’s south coast, right beside the infamous village of Vík í Mýrdal. Reynisfjall Mountain embellishes the beach by spanning alongside the black sands in a vista too eccentric to behold. However, swimming around here isn’t recommended, given the unpredictable change in tide. Yet, it’s rated among the world’s best 6 beaches so that you can take a couple of likes-worthy snaps.
3. Visit Lake Kleifarvatn on the Icelandic Lands
It seems that Iceland offers nothing short of breathtaking views and surreal experiences. Most of the Icelandic attractions possess features that make them stand out among every other landmark you have ever visited. Interestingly, Lake Kleifarvatn is no exception, and it doesn’t look like an ordinary lake that offers impressive sunsets.
This lake sits in the centre of the peninsula and is one of the country’s deepest lakes, reaching almost 100 metres in depth. Lake Kleifarvatn doesn’t have the ordinary appearance of a coursing river but features non-visible drainage. Moreover, the water level is incredibly altered depending on the level of the groundwater from which the lake stems.
Even more, the surrounding area is a captivating landscape featuring a thick layer of lava spreading over the terrain. Hot springs top the volcanic layer with steam filling the air in a bizarre scene. This spot is ideal for hikers and joggers, for several routes and trails pass through the area, allowing you to hike within a mysterious nature. Mountains also frame the area, offering some glamorous views to fill your vision while exploring the Icelandic lands.
4. Explore the Ice Caves of Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull is a famous glacier that covers a fair part of the Icelandic lands and is one of the world’s most popular glaciers. The glacier and its surrounding areas became within the borders of Vatnajökull National Park, a protected wilderness area in southern Iceland. This park became one of the top Icelandic landmarks that capture the attention of people from all over the globe every year.
The park features a lot of attractions and landmarks that will keep you occupied and equally mesmerised, with Skaftafell being the most prominent. Skaftafell is quite vast and considered a park on its own, yet it falls within the borders of the renowned Vatnajökull National Park. It’s popular among locals and visitors, being a prevalent hiking spot with scenic views to observe.
Several snowmobiling activities are offered around here, providing you with the needed adrenaline rush that will make you feel alive more than ever. It’s yet another great adventure that you wouldn’t want to miss on your Icelandic break. Finally, make sure you visit the ice caves scattered across the park. It’s a pretty surreal experience where you’ll explore an awe-inspiring spectrum of glacier formations.
5. Take A Bite of the Icelandic Street Food (Pylsa)
Wherever you go, you should definitely get a bite of the country’s cuisine and let your taste buds embark on their own journey. Food isn’t only about kerbing your hunger, but it’s also a perfect way to learn about the culture and mindset of people. You’ll also get to see their key ingredients and how the Icelanders incorporate them into their daily meals in a very unusual way.
Needless to say, plenty of Icelandic restaurants offer fine dining and fancy dishes to enjoy. Yet, we encourage you to explore every street corner and try Icelandic street food. There’s always something quite authentic about the traditional dishes of every culture, and unfortunately, Icelandic cuisine doesn’t seem to get enough hype.
Icelandic cuisine is known to incorporate lots of lamb and fish, yet the famous Icelandic hot dog sandwich remains the one to grab the most attention. Locally known as pylsa, this traditional meal is quite affordable and features a hot dog bun that doesn’t taste like your typical American street food. The spices used are quite distinctive, and the hot dog itself is made of beef, lamb, and pork mixed in a perfect ratio to offer a flavourful taste.
6. Don’t Miss Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is a top Icelandic attraction located east of Reykjavik’s capital city. In case you’re a history buff and have a penchant for old tales, then this place is definitely for you. Þingvellir Park is a well-known historic site that features a plethora of ruins of what were once old stone shelters. It’s also home to the renowned Þingvellir Church.
Þingvellir is called the heart and soul of Iceland, for it embraces a huge part of its history, not only the political one but also the spiritual one. Although it’s deemed the oldest parliament in the world to survive to this day, it’s also a site that witnessed the Icelandic conversion from paganism to Christianity. It was also the final settlement of the Norsemen, or the Vikings, in 874.
Interestingly, this site is also known to be the only site declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in all Icelandic lands. That may be because not only does it embrace fascinating historical and cultural significance, but it also possesses peculiar geological traits as well. While this is a common feature across Iceland, this site, in particular, embraces all aspects at once.
It’s a fascinating site where you can hike, swim, fish, bird watch, and observe unique rock formations. Rare species of animals and plants also seem to thrive around this region. There’s so much to do here; thus, it has become a hot tourist destination. And the extra bonne bouche is that it’s among the main filming locations of Game of Thrones.
7. Roam the Icelandic Capital City of Reykjavik
Although the hidden gems of every country lie somewhere in the secluded areas and less-travelled paths, the capital cities still have their own power and charm. The most important museums, landmarks, and attractions are often found in the capital city; thus, you should always add them to your itinerary to learn more about your destination’s history and culture.
In this case, Reykjavik is the city in question, being the Icelandic capital city and one of the world’s most spellbinding spots. Although it’s not deemed quite large, it’s still brimming with liveliness and unmissable destinations. Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital city, offering rugged landscapes, fascinating Viking history, and unprecedentedly beautiful volcanoes and glaciers.
Reykjavik is a Norse term that literally means “Smokey Bay”. Legends have it that the early settlers picked up that name, given that the city is laden with hot springs with rising steam filling the air. The city is also known for being with almost no criminal records, being one of the safest travel options for wanderlusts. Thus, make sure you explore the worthy corners of the Icelandic capital city before taking off.
8. Bathe in the Hypnotising Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon is always a common destination between several countries, and it speaks of a surreal experience. Yet, the Icelandic Blue Lagoon remains the most iconic, featuring a plethora of awe-inspiring scenes. It’s also one of Iceland’s most prominent tourist destinations that you don’t want to miss.
Blue Lagoon lies in the southwestern part of the country on Reykjavik Peninsula near Grindavík. It’s a geothermal spa with a fascinating lava field covered in moss framing the area. This spot has always been famous for swimming, where visitors and locals spend the day in the warm pools and reaping the benefits of hot springs.
It has also been popular as an ideal spot to observe the northern lights, given that it is far from the bustling cities. Blue Lagoon is a perfect escapade to relax your body and get to enjoy the facilities they offer, from multiple snacking and dining options.
9. Relax in the Hot Springs of the Great Geysir
The Great Geysir is one of the top destinations in southwestern Iceland and is part of the prominent Golden Circle. The latter encompasses plenty of splendid Icelandic landmarks and destinations, among which lie the Geysir, the Thingvellir National Park, Blue Lagoon, and more. Geysir is yet another hot spring pool in Iceland, yet these ones are the works of nature.
Geysir is an Iceland verb that translates to “to gush,” describing the state of the waters around the area. The hot springs around the area are popular for spurting jets of hot water at irregular intervals. These boiling waters can spout up to 30 metres into the air, erupting for a few minutes before falling back into their positions.
Bathing in the geyser isn’t recommended, for the waters are sometimes quite too hot for humans to handle. Yet, watching the interval eruptions of water rising from the grounds is more fun than you expect. After observing the beautiful burst outs, you can head off to complete your route around the Golden Circle, visiting the beautifully cascading waterfalls of þórufoss, witnessing the breathtaking Kerid crater, and exploring the Thjorsardalur Valley.
10. Hike the Snæfellsjökull Glacier
The Icelandic glaciers are worth spending every minute exploring the surroundings and taking in the raw beauty of nature. Snæfellsjökull Glacier is many centuries-old volcanoes capped with snow in the most whimsical way. This area has been attracting visitors from all corners of the world for many years.
Snæfellsjökull Glacier is a famous hiking spot situated on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the western part of the Icelandic lands. It gained more popularity after being featured in the renowned sci-fi novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. The peninsula is home to some otherworldly attractions, including Vatnshellir Cave and Kirkjufell Mountain.
It’s also home to the Helgafell mountain, one that has been associated with several legends of Norse mythology. Helgafell Mountain holds a spiritual significance to the pagans of the Norse who settled in Iceland after the Viking Age. It was believed to be the entry point to Valhalla, the warriors’ paradise, in the belief system of Norse paganism.
11. See the Active Volcano of Meradalir Up-close
It is definitely exciting to be in the land of fire and ice. As we have already learnt about the contradicting nature of the Icelandic lands, there’s more to this country than you may know. Aside from the snow-capped mountains and vast icy landscapes, the volcanoes are vital in making up these lands.
Besides, not only are the icy parts that you can visit but there are active volcanoes quite suitable for visiting. Despite being a scary experience, seeing an active volcano up close is usually open for visitors depending on the state of the volcano. Thus, fret not about putting your life in jeopardy.
Meradalir is one of the most recently active volcanoes in Iceland, with an eruption that occurred just in 2022. This volcano falls within the Reykjavik peninsula, home to many other active volcanoes. Hiking routes spanning around the Meradalir volcano are currently open for visitors to enjoy; however, it’s deemed a bit challenging for people with low fitness levels. If you happen to be a daring soul fitness freak, make sure you add this destination to your Icelandic itinerary.
12. Venture into Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel
Do you know what’s even more adventurous than observing an active volcano up close? Walking amidst the aftermath of an actual one is even more enthralling. Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel is among the most magnificent Icelandic experiences that you don’t want to miss. Besides, the tunnel sits only half an hour away from Reykjavik, so it’s quite easy to reach.
Raufarhólshellir is famous for being the most extended tube in Iceland and even the most famous. It offers a fascinating experience for its visitors, where you get to walk within the inner workings of an actual eruption. Despite being the result of a fiery lava field, splendid ice sculptures manage to form within the tunnel most spectacularly.
It’s an experience you will deeply regret missing, so make sure you book a spot in advance to explore the insides of the most paradoxical works of nature. You’ll be accompanied by a professional guide to help you navigate the breathtaking marvel.
Make the best of your Icelandic trip by stopping to seize every whimsical opportunity presented to you in this stupendous country home to mind-blowing phenomena and unearthly wonders.