Sofie is a nomadic journalist who loves to write about people, places, and food. In her free time, she can be found twirling around in her dancing shoes.
Iceland's nature is easily the highlight of the entire country. The island features glittering glacier lagoons, bubbling hot springs, and powerful waterfalls – illuminated each season by either the Northern Lights or the Midnight Sun. With its countless natural wonders, it's easy to see why Iceland has become one of the top travel destinations in the world. Below we have listed some of our favorite must-see destinations and must-do experiences that should be on every visitor's bucket list!
1. The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights is one of the most famous Iceland bucket list experiences. This ethereal light show is an indescribable experience that everyone should witness at least once.
When the Aurora is active, it lights up the dark sky with hues of green, yellow, violet, and pink, while forming cosmic swirls. Visitors are always stunned by this magical natural phenomenon. And even locals, who have the opportunity to witness this occurrence quite often, are never bored by the Aurora. The lights are never the same and every show is unique.
The best time to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland is from September to April. The lights are most visible when the sky is dark and relatively clear. Joining a Northern Lights tour can increase your chances of finding the best viewing location. If you visit Iceland in the wintertime, make sure to go hunting for the Northern Lights. It will be well worth your while!
2. The Midnight Sun
When the Northern Lights disappear from sight, the sun steps in to fill the skies. The phenomenon of the Midnight Sun occurs around the polar circles every summer. Peaking in June, these areas experience 24-hour sunlight while the sun from the Arctic Circle is visible all night long.
Iceland, being very close to the Arctic Circle, enjoys the magic of the Midnight Sun from May to August. In the northern regions, the sun hangs right above the horizon all night long while in the southern regions, it dips below the horizon for a bit. The whole country experiences glorious sunset-sunrises – where golden and pink hues paint the skies – that last all night long.
If the weather allows, watching this beautiful display is a heavenly experience. Go out for a late-night walk to witness the sun as it never truly sets. Take magical photos of the landscape by the Sun Voyager sculpture or by Grotta lighthouse in Reykjavík.
3. Glaciers and Ice Caves
With11% of its total land area covered by ice, Iceland is the ultimate glacier paradise. Europe’s largest ice cap can be found in Iceland along with a number of smaller ones.There are also some incredibly impressive glacier tongues.
Most of Iceland’s glaciers hide active volcanoes beneath their ice sheets.The famous Eyjafjallajökull, whose name refers to both the glacier and the volcano, is a prime example of this. Iceland’s glaciers also store evidence of volcanic eruptions that occurredhundreds and even thousands of years ago. Layers of ash from each eruption are trapped in the ice which results in Iceland’s glaciers being striped with black layers.
Many of the Icelandic glaciers are quite easy to access, allowing Iceland to offer a great selection of glacier activities to its visitors. One of the most unique things you can do is explore a crystal blue ice cave that has formed inside a glacier.
Entering an ice cave is a fairytale experience. Sparkling like a diamond, cyan blue, and crystal clear, ice caves create a surreal atmosphere that can’t be experienced anywhere else in the world., You’ll only find themdeep inside the body of a glacier.
Ice caves are short-lived wonders that collapse every summer while new caves form every winter. Over the past decades, Iceland’s glaciers have been melting and, according to scientists, most of them may disappear completely within the next 50 to 100 years. Make sure to put a glacier or ice cave tour on the top of your bucket list when you visit Iceland!
4. Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Iceland’s stunning glacier lagoons are some of the most celebrated natural wonders in Iceland, with Jökulsárlón being the largest. Referred to as the “crown jewel of Iceland” this picturesque lagoon is filled with giant opaque icebergs. Tour the lagoon up close with a Zodiac Boat Tour.
Glacier lagoons form at the tip of glacier tongues.As the ice slowly melts and retreats, it leaves a lake behind. This lake is filled with glacial meltwater and ice chunks that break off of the glacier’s tip. The icebergs can vary largely in size and shape, from small diamond-like pieces to gigantic icebergs that can be as large as 20-30 meters (65-98 feet) across. At Jökulsárlón, the lake is directly connected to the sea so the icebergs can float into the open ocean.
Located about half a mile (1 km) from Jökulsárlón is Diamond Beach, another must-visit site. This is one of the most photographed natural attractions in Iceland. You will find the giant icebergs from Jökulsárlón washed upon the shore. Pushed onto the coast by waves, the glaciers decorate the black sand like sparkling diamonds.
Whether you just want to admire the glacier lagoon from afar or go for a boat ride on the lagoon, do not miss out on seeing a stunning glacier lagoon.
5. The Blue Lagoon
Nothing quite measures up to experiencing a hot spring soak in the middle of nowhere. Iceland has countless exotic hot springs as well as man-made geothermal pools. Both can be found in incredible locations and often offer breathtaking views.
The Blue Lagoon is the most well-known hot spring in Iceland. It has even been listed as one of the 25 Wonders of the World by National Geographic. It is a warm, milky-white lake located in the middle of a rugged lava field. Its water is a mixture of freshwater and seawater which is extraordinarily rich in silica and minerals. These unique ingredients are very good for the skin and even help some people with skin ailments such as psoriasis.
The Blue Lagoon is a world-class spa with modern facilities and many extra services such as in-water massages, a sauna, steam rooms, and a relaxation area. Other than the Blue Lagoon, there are hundreds of geothermal swimming pools all over the country with 14 located in the capital area alone.
Geothermal bathing is a huge thing in Iceland and is part of the locals’ daily life. Do not skip out on it when you visit the country!
6. The Geysers and Hot Springs
Iceland has countless active geothermal areas with numerous bubbling hot springs, fumaroles, and other stunning volcanic activities. In fact, the country gets the majority of its power from geothermal power plants. During your trip, you won’t want to miss the chance to visit some of Iceland’s lively geysers.
Home to the Great Geysir, the geyser for which all other geysers are named, you have to visit the country’s geothermal wonderland of Haukadalur Valley. When it was active, the Great Geysir could blow hot water 150-200 meters (492-656 feet) into the air –pretty impressive! Sadly, it is not very active today.Its last activity took place in 2016. But it could erupt again at any time.
Next to the big geyser is its little brother, Strokkur. More consistent than the Great Geysir, it erupts every few minutes.It shoots a fountain that can reach up to 30-40 meters (98-131 feet). It is quite the spectacle!
7. The Waterfalls
Out ofallofIceland’s natural attractions, tourists are always stunned by how photogenic the country’s waterfalls are. Each boasting its own unique features, these impressive cascades could easily be nominated as the world’s best travel destination for waterfall enthusiasts. One of the best features of these destinations is thatthey are easy to access and some of them are so close to each other you could spend an entire dayvisiting waterfalls.
It seems like at every stop that people make on the Ring Road, there is a magnificent waterfall to explore. The most famous waterfalls are Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss in Southern Iceland. They are both located just next to the Ring Road, about a half an hour’s drive apart. They are both approximately 60 meters (197 feet) tall. Seljalandsfoss is thinner but you can walk behind it in summer while Skógafoss is much wider, much stronger, and you can climb up to its top.
Another giant, Gullfoss, is located just about a two-hour drive from the capital. Iceland has the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, Dettifoss.The countryalsoboastsSvartifoss, a waterfall framed by black basalt columns. The second-highest waterfall is within an hour’s drive and another one-hour hike from Reykjavík. There are so many thrilling cascades to explore. Make sure to visit some while you are in Iceland!
8. The Volcanoes
With 32 active volcanic systems in Iceland, there is always something for enthusiasts to watch out for in Iceland. A volcanic eruption takes place on average every 4-5 years in Iceland. The last eruption occurred atBárðarbungaVolcano under Vatnajökull Glacier. It ended on February 28, 2015, meaning that the next eruption is due at any time!
You might not be lucky enough to see an actual live volcanic eruption during your visit, but standing next to an active volcano is a truly magnificent way to feel the power of nature. Even if it is not currently erupting, you can admire some incredible signs of current activity such as solidified lava flows, steameminating from the ground, lava caves, and you can even descend into the belly of a sleeping volcano!
You can, for example, hike up to freshly formed craters such as Magni and Móði which were formed during the infamous Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010. Or, you can visit an ice cave at the foot of Iceland’s deadliest volcano, Katla, and see the layers of ash trapped in the ice over the centuries. You can even climb to the peak of the highest volcano in Iceland,Hvannadalshnúkur.This also happens to be the country’s tallest mountain.
Make sure to check out some volcanoes in Iceland, even if they are not active. They are an impressive sight to see!