Coming into land at Reykjavik felt like landing on the moon. I’d never seen a landscape quite like it, the colour of the rocks, the sparseness of it all, it was like something out of a documentary and it took my breath away. The next week was spent exploring as much as possible, but still barely scratching the surface.
While it may not be cheap to visit Iceland, it really is unforgettable and if you’ve got the time to spare, I suggest spending at least two weeks immersing yourself in one of the most naturally beautiful places on earth.
To help you plan your trip to Iceland, here are my tips on the most beautiful, unique and truly unforgettable places to see while you’re there.
1. Thingvellir National Park
Þingvellir is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland, with good reason, as it forms part of the famed Golden Circle. The area is part of a fissure zone which runs through Iceland, which means the earth here is pushed and stretched into huge rifts, making it almost unbelievable. Things to do here include hiking, visiting the church or taking trails rides on horse back through some of the most stunning landscapes you could hope to see.
2. Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
On Saturday 24 November, 1973, a plane suffering from severe icing was forced to land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach. Thankfully everyone onboard survived the emergency landing of the US Navy Aircraft and its abandoned wreckage is now a photographer’s dream. You can see a photo of the plane before the crash, here.
One of the most breath-taking waterfalls you could imagine exists in Iceland. Gulfoss is hard to describe properly and until you see it, you won’t quite understand how visceral the experience is. As you walk to the waterfall, it’s slightly obscured, making it seem like the massive rush of water is dropping back through the earth. It is definitely a must-visit destination in Iceland and will make any photographer cry with joy.
4. Solfar Sculpture
Also known as the Sun Voyager, this gorgeous sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason is located by Sæbraut, by the sea in the centre of Reykjavík. According to the artist, “The sun ship symbolizes the promise of new, undiscovered territory.” Visit at dawn or dusk for beautiful photos and a memorable experience in Iceland.
5. Quad Bike Safari
You’re going to need to hire a car when you’re in Iceland, to make sure you cover enough ground. But even then, stopping frequently and really getting up close and personal with the landscape can be a pain. Solution? Jump on a quad bike and zip around like a madman. It’s a great way to see more as you can whizz up and down mountains and even do the Golden Circle tour.
6. Reykjadalur Hot Springs
Drive 40 minutes from Reykjavik to the Reykjadalur Hiking Trail. Along the trail you’ll see steam pouring out everywhere, which is where the name Reykjadalur comes from, translating to ‘Steam Valley’. The 3km hike will take you past some of the most stunning views you’ll see, which are a reward in themselves, but at the end of the hike you’ll find an even bigger one; the hot springs await!
Another amazing spot for photographs and hiking is Landmannalaugar, home to the raw, natural beauty of the rhyolite mountains which come alive with beautiful bright colours. Landmannalaugar forms part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve and is famous for the multicoloured mountains, geothermal hot springs and its fantastic hiking trails, including a 2 hour hike through the Laugahraun lava field to Mt. Brennisteinsalda.
8. Blue Lagoon
When you think of Iceland, there’s a good chance you think of the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. The water is indescribably beautiful and in the cold months, steam billows off the pools making it seem other-worldly. Our experience was it was very crowded and the huge volume of people there made it difficult for us to want to pay the $61AU each to go in for a dip.
9. Diving and snorkelling
Yep, you can go diving and snorkelling between two continents, in Iceland! Amazing, right? The Silfra Fissure sits between two continents in the Thingvellar National Park and boasts the clearest water on earth. A dive or snorkel here would be one of those unforgettable life experiences.
10. Latrabjarg Cliffs
Drive out to the most western point of Iceland, to the Latrabjarg cliffs which is home to millions of birds, including Puffins, Northern Gannets, Guillemots and Razorbills. Birds aside, the views here are second to none, making it seem like you’re standing on the edge of the world. While there, be sure to visit Raudasandur Beach.
11. Strokker Geyser
There are a few different places to see a Geyser in Iceland, but one of the best is Strokkur Geyser, which sits south of the now-dormant Great Geyser. Strokkur erupts ever 10 minutes or so, sending a huge spout of boiling water up to 30 metres in the air. It’s pretty damn impressive, too. You’ll find loads of cool pockets of water, brightly coloured, with steam vents around the place too.
12. Lake Myvatn
Located in the North of Iceland, Lake Myvatn is a shallow, eutrophic lake which formed around 2,300 years ago by a large fissure eruption that sent basaltic lava spilling out everywhere. Again, it’s a photography dream with stunning views over the lake and surrounding lush greenery (in summer months). The area is also a very important home to many waterbirds as the fertile land creates the perfect setting for plant growth.
13. Asbyrgi Canyon
This totally breath-taking and surreal place was supposedly formed by catastrophic glacial flooding during the first ice age, some 10,000 years ago. The view from the top of Asbyrgi Canyon is unlike any other, with a huge expanse of lush greenery (in summer) bordered by huge rock-faces up to 100m high. Hiking trails here run from 30 minutes through to 7 hours and the must-see views happen on top of Eyjan.
14. Glymer Waterfall
Glymer is Iceland’s second highest waterfall, at 198 metres, having been recently pipped for the top spot by a waterfall at Vatnajökull glacier. You’ll need to hike to get to Glymer, which should take you around 3 to 3 1/2 hours all up, but it’s worth it. The waterfall drops into a huge canyon, with thick clumps of lush green moss covering the rock face.
15. Laugardalur Park
For a different side of Reykjavik, visit Laugardalur Park, if you have the time. It is, essentially, a botanical gardens type thing but it also has the largest outdoor thermal pool in Iceland and a small zoo which is home to Icelandic animals like foxes, horses, reindeer, cattle and seals; perfect for families!
16. Horse back tour
Possibly one of the most beautiful ways to see Iceland is on horse back. Thankfully there are some fantastic tour companies offering horse back tours from a few hours through to a few days long, taking you through winding paths, with dramatic mountains as your backdrop.
17. Raufarholshellir Lava Tube Cave
The Lava Tube Cave formed from, you guessed it, scolding hot lava flowing through the area. Once the lava was gone, the tube cave remained. It is estimated to be around 1360 metres in length and it’s a pretty intensely beautiful thing to behold, especially in winter when ice forms around open sections of the ‘ceiling’ allowing snow to fall in and coat everything in powder. It’s not for the unfit and should be done under supervision by experienced folk, but that isn’t a requirement of visiting.
The famous Hallgrimskirkja church is based in Reykjavik and, honestly, it isn’t exactly hard to spot. It’s worth going inside, to get out of the cold and take the trip up to the top of the church for fantastic views of Reykjavik and surrounds. Although the outside of the church makes for some pretty great photos too.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland, for good reason, this place is freaking spectacular. The waterfall is around 30 metres high, with a foot path behind it so you can get some pretty amazing photos from the back of the waterfall. It really is worth the trip, with the waterfall being a ‘do not miss’ destination.
Another of the most famous waterfalls, Skogafoss is also a ‘do not miss’ destination on your trip to Iceland. The waterfall has to be seen to be believed, the sheer size of its 60m drop and the power of the water are incredible, making for a perfect photography spot.
If you find yourself heading out to the West Fjordlands, you’ll want to visit Hornbjag. Standing on the jagged cliffs here is as close as you’ll get to standing on the very ends of the earth, with nothing but brilliant blue water and the horizon ahead of you. It is one of the most remote locations in Iceland, accessible only by boat, which takes you past spectacular scenery. The only way to do it, really, is to organise a day tour. Worth it? You betcha!
The beautiful town of Selfoss is worth a visit, if you have the time to spare. The town itself is just lovely, with plenty of cafes and restaurants to explore as well as cool shops to pick through. Take a drive around the area and you’ll find many pretty picture spots and great views to take in.
23. Northern Lights
Probably the most amazing thing about visiting Iceland is the chance to see the Northern Lights, something I missed as I visited during the summer months. If you get the chance to plan your trip around them, be sure to do it, because it’s one of those things you wait your life to do… just go for it!
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger who believes life should be full of fun and adventure. Phoebe shares practical inspiration to help others enrich their lives through travel. Her fun Vlogs, useful travel guides and beautiful photographs are all aimed at inspiring others to live a life they love and never settle for less.