Iceland. A country of unrivaled beauty. Its unique landscapes transport you to another world. It would be easy to spend a whole month exploring the untamed terrain, but how many of us are able to do that? If you want to explore the Ring Road, you will need a minimum of 10 days. However, no visit to Iceland should be shorter than 5 days. Iceland is so much more than Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. With so much to take in, and limited time, there are some natural wonders that are musts while exploring Iceland:
This impressive waterfall is part of the Golden Circle and is a wonderful introduction to what Iceland has to offer. Seeing the falls from above is impressive. But, it’s only when you stand right next to them, with the water rushing past you, do you feel the enormity of the falls. It’s best to visit first thing in the morning to avoid the tour buses.
2. Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Plan on at least one full day to explore this region of Iceland. There’s so much to see from the stunning coastal hike between Hellnar and Arnarstapi, the dramatic cliffs of Lóndrangar, the towering gorge of Rauðafeldsgjá, Saxhóll Crater, the black beach of Djúpalónssandur (with the remains of an unfortunate trawler strewn across the beach), to the formable volcano of Snæfellsjökull (that inspired Jules Verne to Journey to the Center of the Earth). And that’s just for a start! There’s plenty more. And, it’s only a two-hour drive from Reykjavik.
This is Iceland at its most iconic. It’s a short stroll from the car park to the top of the falls where you may find it hard to stop staring.
The waterfall of the Gods. And, it lives up to its name. It’s not the tallest waterfall you’ll see, nor the most powerful. But for what it lacks, it makes up for in sheer beauty. There are viewing areas on both sides of the falls, and I cannot recommend enough taking it in from both sides.
If it’s power you’re looking for, then this is the place to be as Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Oddly, you cannot see the waterfall until you go down the mile-long path, though you can see the mist of the falls rising above the landscape as you drive up. You can view the falls from either the west or east bank – I only did the west bank off Route 862. Don’t miss the smaller Selfoss, which is a short stroll from the trail head to Dettifoss.
The area of Mývatn is an active thermal area with the lake of Mývatn dominating the area. My favorite part was hiking the trails of Dimmuborgir, large and unusual lava formations and caves. It’s a dark wonderland.
Be prepared to spend hours at this glacier lagoon. I thought I’d spend an hour there. I ended up staying for over 3 hours. And, that’s only because the sun had set and the light was gone. The chunks of ice are massive. You can stroll along the trail that goes around the lagoon or you can opt to take a boat tour to get up close to some of these massive structures. Coming from the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, you can watch these gentle giants slowly make their way out to sea. If you follow the path under the bridge, you’ll find yourself on Diamond Beach, where remnants of the ice chunks wash up.
8. Skaftafell National Park
Many people come to Skaftafell National Park to view Svartifoss, the picturesque waterfall tumbling over black lava columns. Iceland is a celebration of waterfalls. Each is different and each worth a visit. The first view is an overlook of the falls. As you make your way closer, the view keeps getting better. While here, it’s a short walk to the base of Skaftafellsjökull, one of the massive glaciers in the park. There’s also a viewpoint of the glacier from above. But, if you love to hike, this park offers some incredible trails. One of the most rewarding is S3, a 10-mile trail that takes you to some epic viewpoints.
Yes, another waterfall. But this one is incredibly beautiful (ok, they all are). While here, climb up the trail to the overlook, but don’t stop there. Climb over the fence (there’s a ladder) and you will be rewarded for your troubles. Another set of waterfalls! And, in my humble opinion, even more stunning than Skógafoss.
Looking down this canyon makes you believe in mythical creatures. It’s a short stroll up a hill to get to the final viewing area, and what a view. You don’t know where you are anymore. All you’re certain of is that it isn’t on Earth. Possibly middle earth.
Yes, it’s hard to narrow down Iceland to only 10 places to see. It really could be a list of top 50 places. I won’t bore you with such a long list, so below are honorable mentions:
Walking behind this waterfall gives you a unique perspective (not to mention a mild soaking). The trail is very slippery but a lot of fun.
For some reason, tourists tend to overlook exploring the peninsula by the international airport (except for stopping at the Blue Lagoon). But it has some fascinating places, including Krýsuvík, which is a geothermal area full of mud pots and sulphur deposits. I found it to be much more impressive and better situated than the more popular Hverir near Mývatn.
The famous black beaches of Vik, with its haunting rock formations standing against the violent waves, offers numerous incredible sights. There’s lots to take in around this one small area in Southern Iceland.
It’s not every day that one has the chance to visit a crash site with the wreckage still there. Luckily, everyone on the plane walked away from the crash back in 1973. There isn’t a sign on the road indicating where the wreckage is, but you’ll know when you get to it by the massive amounts of cars parked off the road. It is a 2.5 mile walk down to the crash site. The walk is flat and easy; and, with never changes scenery, you have the sensation of walking but getting nowhere.
Make sure you spend a day exploring this colorful city. From the striking Hallgrimskirkja church (that looks as if it came straight from Lord of the Rings), to the stunning architecture of the Harpa Concert Venue, to the famous Sun Voyager sculpture, it’s easy to stroll around the city center among the shops and restaurants.
But no matter what you decide to see in Iceland, it’s bound to be epic. That’s just how Iceland is – a land of fire and ice, of waterfalls and glaciers. Just hop in a car and head off on the Ring Road. An adventure awaits!