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13 reasons to visit Iceland
1. The Midnight Sun in Iceland
Because Iceland is situated just below the Arctic Circle, the summer nights are bright with 24-hour daylight from mid-May to late July.
The summer solstice occurs between the 20th and the 22nd of June, marking the time when the midnight sun, Iceland’s ethereal crown jewel, sets just after midnight and rises again just before 3am.
Kirkjufell mountain in the midnight sunlight.
Nothing compares to a solitary moment faced with the midnight sun in the middle of nowhere, and utilizing the endless days by going sightseeing late at night allows one to see Iceland’s strange landscapes from an unmatched perspective.
There is a number of midnight sun tours to choose from, for example, the Golden Circle, horse riding or Hiking a mountain during the midnight sun, but seeing the sun refuse to set for the first time is in and by itself an experience that is sure to leave life lasting memories.
2. The Northern Lights in Iceland
Northern lights over the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in south Iceland.
Iceland’s location on the top of the world also ensures that it is among the very best places on the planet to see the northern lights or aurora borealis. These spectacular celestial wonders are commonly seen in Iceland from September to mid-April and are one of the top reasons for visiting Iceland outside of the bright summer months.
The Black Church at Búðir under the shimmering northern lights.
On a still winter night, you are likely to see the mystical green lights dancing in the clear sky above Reykjavík, but your chances of witnessing them increase if you head out of town, away from electric lighting and the disturbance of the city. Many experienced guides specialise in northern lights tours, seeking out the very best nightly sightings and going northern lights hunting can be equally thrilling as finally seeing the astonishing astral show itself.
3. The Icelandic Geothermal Baths
The Landmannalaugar Baths. Picture from Landmannalaugar Super Jeep Tour.
Iceland´s rich supply of water is by far its most valuable natural resource. Not only is the quality of the drinking water exceptional due to an abundance of unspoilt mountain and glacier streams, but Iceland also has a long history of using geothermal energy as a source of power.
Remarkable advantages of Iceland’s geothermal nature are natural pools that can be found all around the country, each situated in a completely unique environment. Some of the most astonishing natural pools are located in Landmannalaugar, a natural reserve in the highlands which is renowned for its stunning beauty.
Landmannalaugar’s majestic scenery of otherworldly rhyolite mountains can only be fully appreciated while bathing in the geothermal water. On a guided Landmannalaugar Super Jeep Tour you will explore some extraordinary locations before visiting the pools, including Háifoss (the second highest waterfall in Iceland) and the Ljótipollur explosion crater lake.
4. The Icelandic Whales
The ocean around Iceland provides ideal living conditions for over twenty species of whales, and in recent years, Iceland has steadily grown to become Europe’s whale watching capital.
Whale watching in Iceland is renowned for the high chances of spotting the magnificent sea giants. On a whale watching trip from Reykjavík you can be 99% certain of seeing minke whales, whale beaked dolphins or harbour porpoises, but on Húsavík traditional whale watching trip in north Iceland, you will very likely spot the gigantic humpback whale as well.
A face to face encounter with the Icelandic whales in their natural habitat is an experience beyond compare, but many tours also include a visit to the busy seaside cliffs where the puffin, Iceland’s colourful ambassador, nests in rocky crevices or burrows in the soil.
5. The Þingvellir National Park in Iceland
Located within a 45-minute drive from Reykjavík, the Þingvellir national park in south-west Iceland is a must see destination because of its historical and geological significance. The Icelandic parliament, Alþingi, was founded in Þingvellir in the year 930 and held its first sessions by the Almannagjá gorge, the rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
The Silfra fissure. Photo from Dive Silfra – Day Tour.
Þingvellir has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site because of the area’s countless extraordinary natural features, including Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest natural lake, and the Silfra fissure, in which one can dive or snorkel between the American and European tectonic plates.
6. The Icelandic Glaciers
Iceland is known as the “Land of Ice and Fire” because of the numerous glaciers and volcanos that are scattered around the island. 11% of Iceland’s landmass is covered by glaciers, the largest of which, Vatnajökull, covering the greater part of the southern and central highlands.
Glaciers are directly responsible for many of Iceland’s most astonishing attractions, such as Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lake in south-east Iceland which is filled with gigantic icebergs that have broken off from the tip of the tongue of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, creating a fairyland of ice and wildlife. Jökulsárlón tours have attracted visitors for decades and remain one of Iceland’s most popular activities during the summer months.
Locals have ventured onto the Icelandic glaciers for centuries and today they offer a variety of guided glacier tours with options ranging from hiking excursions to snowmobile tours and even helicopter rides.
7. The Food in Iceland
The Icelandic kitchen is a modern reflection of the gastronomic traditions of our forefathers. Fishing, farming and gathering on a volcanic island in the North Atlantic resulted in a fairly strange but basic preparation of the few ingredients people could scrape together; for a millennium, Iceland provided some of the harshest living conditions on earth, and its people’s diet reflected that fact.
Advances in greenhouse and farming technologies, combined with a public demand for fresh, natural ingredients have helped the Icelandic kitchen establish its own unique space within the New Nordic Cuisine.
Having dared to embrace the freedom of the imagination while remaining faithful to tradition, Icelandic chefs have produced exceptional lamb and seafood dishes consisting of fresh locally sourced ingredients and today’s Iceland is home to many great restaurants that serve what has come to be known as the New Icelandic Cuisine.
8. The Icelandic Mountains
Lómagnúpur mountain in south Iceland.
Icelandic is beset with so many mountain ranges that the most diligent of mountaineers could be kept busy for a number of lifetimes. Even the capital is surrounded by a remarkable variety of peaks and a twenty-minute drive can take you away from the city and onto a hiking trail.
The many mountains in Iceland, their accessibility and general proximity to civilisation make Iceland a hiker’s paradise which offers endless options varying in difficulty, length, and height. Across the country, a diverse number of guided mountain tours are available for experienced and novice mountaineers alike, and whether you venture to the top for magnificent views or simply decide to take in the landscape from the bottom, you are bound to be amazed.
9. The Icelandic Horse
The unique animal called the Icelandic horse has played a key role in the cultural and historical development of the nation. This special breed has capticated animal enthusiasts for decades and for a long time, it was Iceland’s main tourist attraction.
When Iceland was colonised, the first Viking settlers brought with them their best horses and throughout the centuries the harsh conditions of the island have shaped their nature and the strongest have survived.
The Icelandic horse is known for its gentle but spirited character, its five gaits, and an unmatched skill for crossing extremely rugged terrain. Numerous horse riding tours, therefore, take travellers far into the rough and inaccessible Icelandic wilderness, allowing for the unforgettable experience of witnessing the land from the perspective of its original Viking settlers.
10. The Icelandic Volcanoes
Volcanic eruption in Holuhraun Volcano 2014.
Iceland exists because of volcanic eruptions, and there are still countless active volcanoes around the island. Although you are not very likely to witness a volcanic eruption on a short visit to Iceland (but you never really know), numerous volcano tours explore the volcanic force that has shaped Iceland from the beginning of time.
The Þríhnúkagígur magma chamber, southwest Iceland.
Widely considered the most fascinating natural phenomenon of its kind, the Þríhnúkagígur magma chamber encapsulates Iceland’s volcanic essence. A Þríhnúkagígur volcano tour is literally an excursion into the cold heart of a dormant volcano where fiery shades of red tell terrible tales of unspeakable power and destruction.
11. The Black Beaches in Iceland
Although Iceland may lack a steady supply of sunshine, calm winds and year-round warm weather, the beaches of Iceland continue to attract visitors from around the globe; what they lack in subtle tropical features, they make up for with sheer extremity.
Close to the southernmost village of Iceland, Vík, lies the world renowned black pebble beach of Reynisfjara. Its black basalt cliffs, enormous caves, gigantic rock formations, and the perpetual beating off strong winds make Reynisfjara a remarkably powerful place where the full force of the North Atlantic Ocean is a ceaseless reminder of the frailty of human existence.
A less known but equally stunning phenomenon is the “Diamond beach” of Breiðamerkursandur in south-east Iceland, an otherworldly strip of black sand which derives its name from the “ice diamonds” with which it is adorned all year round.
The “Diamond Beach” south of Jökulsárlón, southeast Iceland.
Through the Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi glacial river, countless small icebergs are carried from the nearby Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and out to sea, where they are polished by the waves before being washed onto the black sands by the high tide.
At dusk and dawn, the light of the low sun illuminates the ice diamonds from a horizontal angle, transforming the black sands into a field of glowing diamonds.
12. The Icelandic highlands
Covering most of Iceland’s interior, the highlands are home to many of Iceland’s most astonishing natural wonders. Generally referred to as “the heart of Iceland”, the highlands are an unique and untouched area where you can travel for hours without seeing any signs of human civilization other than the rugged mountain road on which you might be driving; no light posts, no shops, no crowds, no noise; just you and nature, peace, beauty, and serenity.
13. Lake Mývatn in north Iceland
Situated in northeast Iceland, the eutrophic lake Mývatn and its encaptivating surroundings combine in a single area many of the elements that make Iceland stand out among unique travel destinations.
A few kilometers North of the lake, the hell-fire furnace Krafla is looming, a volcano who’s vascular system provides the greater Mývatn area with an unbelievable variety of natural springs fit for bathing, otherworldly colours and haunting rock formations like the eerie Dimmuborgir (Black Forts), an area of chaotic lava, reminiscent of the ruins of an ancient demon city.