With so much to see and do in Iceland, it’s essential to do your research beforehand. While many like to venture off the beaten track, this is one place where even the major tourist attractions are likely to impress. If you just don’t know where to start, then let us show you what Iceland is famous for.
What should you not miss in Iceland?
Let’s begin with Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital. In a country where the natural landscape is dramatically photogenic, it takes quite a city to compete, but somehow Reykjavik manages to hold its own. The town has a few must-see sights, including Hallgrímskirkja church with its nod to the basalt columns you’ll see in the countryside, and iconic Perlan, home to a fantastic planetarium Northern Lights show and arguably the best view in town.
But much of Reykjavik’s charm isn’t in its museums and galleries, though they are worthy of your time. Instead, wander the streets of its old town for a spot of window shopping and potter down to Old Harbour to dine out on freshly caught seafood chased with a shot of Brennivín. Hop on a boat for a chance to glimpse the whales which venture into its waters or content yourself with a view of the sea from the promenade that’s home to the Sun Voyager sculpture as it reddens with the setting sun.
The Golden Circle
Of all the attractions in Iceland, perhaps the most famous of all is the trio that are packaged up and referred to as the Golden Circle. These three attractions are within easy reach of the capital Reykjavik. It makes them doable as a morning or afternoon excursion – though you’ll want to stay longer once you’ve set eyes on them.
Gullfoss Waterfall, the first of the three, is an impressively large waterfall that plunges into a rift in the landscape, sending up clouds of spray in the process. Though there are many waterfalls in the country, this receives the most visitors. It is located on the Hvítá River. The place is breathtaking: around 140 m³/s of water in summer and 80 m³/s in winter pours into a narrow canyon, plunging 11 meters on the first drop and then another 20 meters after that. Though it isn’t in the same league as Niagara, Iguaçu, or Victoria Falls, you’ll be able to venture close enough to get a soaking. Size doesn’t matter after all.
The nearby geothermal field at Geysir is where you’ll see Strokkur, a geyser that reliably domes and erupts at frequent intervals throughout the day all year round. It’s a breathtaking sight as you watch a jet of superheated water and steam eject from a turquoise pool in front of you. On average, the water reaches ten or even twenty meters into the air, and sometimes, even more, making this one of the most jaw-dropping sights in the country.
Thingvellir National Park
Rounding off the Golden Circle attractions is Thingvellir National Park, which you can also see as þingvellir. This park is significant not only for its scenic beauty but also for its cultural importance. The North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are drifting apart here to leave a rift valley. Descend along the path that leads through the Almannagjá Gorge and hemmed in by rock you can imagine what it would have been like when the original Icelandic parliament, the Alþing, first met there over a thousand years ago. But this place has yet more to offer: snorkeling and diving in Silfra fissure and fishing at Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake, to name just two activities.
What is Iceland Famous For? – Beyond the Golden Circle
The land of fire and ice offers plenty beyond the Golden Circle. Another much larger loop in the form of the country’s ring road provides the starting point for the road trip adventure of a lifetime. Black sand beaches, rugged lava fields, and moss-covered canyons await travelers who circumnavigate Iceland on its most famous road. Some journeys along only one of its regions, the famous south coast. They’re drawn by the promise of exquisite natural beauty of glaciers so massive they hide volcanoes beneath their icy surface.
Vatnajokull National Park
Vatnajökull is Europe’s largest glacier, which tourists love for its summer snowmobiling and its winter ice caves. Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier, is a little closer to Reykjavik and for those who’ve scheduled a visit in the warmer months, home to the country’s only year-round ice cave. Icelandic engineers tunneled into the glacier to create a stunning ice cave 7 meters high and 10 meters wide.
The jewel in the south coast’s multi-studded crown is Jökulsárlón. This magnificent place is the darling of many a photographer. Icebergs from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier calve into the lagoon and gently bob down to the ocean, where the pounding waves fling them back onshore to what’s become known as Diamond Beach. In summer, tourists can book a seat on the amphibious craft which tours the lake; in winter, the crowds thin a little unless the aurora borealis shows up. The sight of purple and green ribbons dancing across the sky draws a crowd, even to this far-flung locale. Though the Northern Lights appear in many parts of the country, there’s something extra-special when they show up here.
What are the best places to go in Iceland?
A couple of hours’ drive from Reykjavik gets you to the perfectly packaged Snæfellsnes peninsula. Home to the Snæfellsjökull National Park, it inspired Jules Verne to write the Journey to the Centre of the Earth, though he never saw the place in real life. If he had, it’s likely that he’d never dreamed of leaving a site so pretty behind to descend underground. On the way in, you’ll pass another must-see sight, this time Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain.
The Snaefellsnes peninsula
Explore the Snæfellsnes peninsula on a day trip that could encompass the moss-covered lava field of Búðahraun, wild waves battering the sea stacks of Lóndrangar and the lifting stones of Djúpalónssandur. At Skarðsvík, on the northwestern tip, you’ll probably be surprised to find a white beach in a country known for its black volcanic sand. Book a tour of Vatnshellir Cave, and a colorful lava cave created 8000 years ago during an eruption inside Purkholar crater. Before you leave Snæfellsnes, call in at the quirky Shark Museum to try hákarl, a traditional snack made from the rotted meat of Greenland sharks.
The Reykjanes peninsula
More convenient still is the Reykjanes peninsula, for it’s where you’ll fly into Keflavik International Airport. Few tourists manage to make the short journey to or from the airport without a stop at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s most famous spa. This, like many places in the country, it is a geothermal area. It makes use of the warm water to entice visitors for a dip. The mineral-rich white mud is said to have health-enhancing properties. Which is as good a reason as any to treat yourself to a tub of the stuff to take home as a souvenir.
Nature lovers who feel a little constrained by the orderliness of the Blue Lagoon will delight in the knowledge that there are many more hot springs and naturally heated swimming pools scattered throughout the country. Some are large enough to accommodate barely a handful of people; others more. Come in summer to experience the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun, when one day scarcely ends before the next begins.
Are you looking for a travel destination this year?
If you are looking for a travel destination this year, then make 2020 the year when you discover the delights of the island. Those that make Iceland famous! Packaged up in one easily manageable country are landscapes as enticingly diverse as they are astonishingly beautiful. While the climate has a reputation for being a little chilly – they don’t call the place Iceland for nothing – the people couldn’t be more warm and welcoming if they tried. But don’t take our word for it. Come and check it out for yourself.