It seems like everyone is going to Iceland. Like every destination I’ve travelled to, I wish I been there earlier. The wait is almost over… 4 days (or more specifically, 96 hours 15 minutes). You might be wondering why I’m writing a blog post about a place I haven’t even visited yet. This is my bucket list (not complete) of the sites that I am hoping to visit when I’m there in a few days. I wonder if this list will remain the same after I return.
So, why my passionate interest in this country? That’s an easy one to answer. Iceland is an island of striking landscapes, where rivers run through deserts and fire erupts from ice. It’s a photographer’s dream – a land of stark contrasts, and a land with a fiery heart and ice-capped soul.
My top 10 list is in no particular order as they are all amazing places that deserve a visit.
Some of you might have limited time in Iceland and you’re planning on driving the Golden Circle. The 300 km route covers many beautiful landmarks in a short period of time. Some of the places on my list are on the Golden Circle.
I will be there for 10 days and I’ll be driving Iceland’s Ring Road (which circles the country) and driving the smaller Golden Circle route near the end of my adventure. Self-driving (instead of an organized tour) allows you stop for photos anytime you want or head off to explore side roads.
1. Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) is an iconic waterfall of Iceland offering a spectacular view of the forces and beauty of untouched nature. Gullfoss is part of the Golden Circle tour, located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height. On a sunny day shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls.
2. Kerið Crater Lake
Kerið is a 55 metre deep volcanic crater lake located in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland, on the popular tourist route known as the Golden Circle. Once a typical cone-shaped volcano, the top has since collapsed into an empty magma chamber. The bottom is filled with a deep blue shade of water that sets off the red & green colours on the crater itself. Hiking down to the bottom of the crater only takes 5 minutes.
This 3000 year-old crater is part of a group of volcanic hills called Tjarnarhólar, and is now filled with water, creating a lake whose steep circular slopes resemble an ancient amphitheatre. Concerts have actually been held on a floating raft on the lake.
3. Kirkjufell Mountain
From what I’ve read about visiting Iceland in the summer months, it’s difficult to avoid tourists (especially along the Golden Circle). I understand that it is a good idea to spend at least a few days on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Near a small town of Grundarfjörður in western Iceland, the Kirkjufell Mountain rises from the stunning landscape. In the surroundings of this striking mountain one can find small waterfalls and admire the Northern Lights at night.
4. The Volcano Hekla
Mount Hekla, towering 1500 metres into the Icelandic sky, is located in the highly active volcanic zone along the south shore and is the most active volcano in Iceland with more than 20 eruptions since 874.
The earliest documented eruption of Hekla took place in 1104, and since then between twenty and thirty significant eruptions have been recorded — and with the volcano sometimes remaining active for the greater part of a decade, medieval European scribes and legend makers had no choice but to place the gates of hell in its very centre.
5. Reynisfjara Beach
Approximately 180 km southeast of Reykjavik is Reynisfjara, a black sand beach, surrounded by roaring surf, and the hexagonal basalt columns of Reynisfjall mountain. It is located in Vik í Myrdal, with a population of 300 residents, the village holds the title to be the biggest village in the southernmost part of Iceland.
Perpetually accosted by North-Atlantic storms, three titanic rocks which are said to be the petrified remains of careless trolls hit by sunlight, stand strong in the constant sea spray, facing only the strange dark caves which gape in the cliff-face on shore.
6. The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon was formed in 1976 during operation at the nearby geothermal power plant. In the years that followed, people began to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. Those with psoriasis noticed an incredible improvement in their condition. Over the years, Blue Lagoon has been innovative in harnessing this gift of nature to develop different spa services and products. Today, Blue Lagoon is recognized as one of the wonders of the world.
7. Lake Myvatn Geothermal Area
Approximately 90 kilometres east of Akureyri is Mývatn, Iceland’s fourth largest lake which was most likely formed by a catastrophic volcanic eruption some 2300 years ago. The area is still very volcanically active, the Krafla volcano being close by, its last eruption taking place in 1984.
8. Skaftafell National Park
Measuring 4800 square kilometres, Skaftafell is home to some of the strangest and most surreal landscapes on the planet.
The scenery around Skaftafell is full of stark contrasts. The various glacial tongues are flanked by jagged mountains, with the glacier-topped peak of Hvannadalshnjúkur rising highest.
The area is formed by a constant duel of fire and water, and camping in the greens of a birch wood forest, surrounded by black desert sands, glacial rivers, and a spur of the Vatnajökull ice cap is sure to be a humbling experience.
9. Asbyrgi Canyon
In northeast Iceland, the horseshoe-shaped canyon, Ásbyrgi awaits travellers who thirst for spiritual fulfilment through tranquilly experiencing natural splendour.
A gigantic, anomalous, horseshoe-shaped rock formation, Ásbyrgi stands guard next to the northern entrance to the 35km Jokulsa Canyon. With geological wonders such as Hljoðaklettar and Dettifoss inside, the Jokulsa Canyon forms one of the most admired walking destinations in the country. Inside Ásbyrgi there are anything from 30 minute to 7 hour hiking trails. Walk across the canyon floor and enjoy the honeycombed basalt rocks, or traverse the cliffs and marvel at the sheer scale of the rock formation itself. The most adventurous routes involve both, clambering up cliff passages on a series of ropes.
The canyon is 3.5 km in length and 1 km across, split by a towering cliff structure from which travellers enjoy fantastic views, while below, fellow pilgrims parade through a thicket of birch, willow, fir, larch and pine.
10. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
In the southeast of Iceland, there is a glacier lagoon filled with large chunks of ice and is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions due to its immense beauty. The lagoon is called Jökulsárlón, or Glacier’s-River-Lagoon.
Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland’s natural crown jewels, and we’ve even started calling the nearby black beach our Diamond Beach, as the ice chunks lying on it resemble diamonds glistening in the sun.
There it is – the 10 Reasons Iceland Is At The Top Of My Bucket List. Will these magical locations still be in my top 10 after I return? Who knows? Although I may not be as active on social media during my adventures in Iceland (because I’ll be hiking, whale watching and chasing the light with my camera throughout the night) I do hope to post brief daily updates. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you soon.