The American West. Switzerland. Austria. Norway. And Iceland. These are “Instagram-ready” locations where almost anyone can take a magazine-worthy photo. Kati and I love these type of locations. Probably the most Instagrammed country in the world has to be Iceland. Known for its dramatic landscapes and rugged terrain, the country is often described as “being on another planet”. With volcanoes, hot geysers, mountainous backdrops, and massive waterfalls it is easy to see why people think that. Iceland is truly a place on earth that is unlike any other country. The story of Iceland dates back a few centuries with the first inhabitants being a mix of Nordic and Celtic peoples along with the supposed “first inhabitant” being a Norwegian Viking who settled in the area that is now Reykjavik.
Although considered to be “Nordic European”, Iceland is really its own thing with most Icelandic speakers, speaking a dialect more similar to the language of the Vikings. The sun rises and sets dramatically with the seasons changing and, despite what many people might think, the winters are actually pretty mild. If you’re the outdoorsy type of traveler you need to have a visit to Iceland on your bucket list and here’s why. Check out some of these amazing things to do in Iceland.
Waterfalls are abundant throughout the Icelandic landscape and it should come as no surprise that a couple of the most beautiful ones will feature in this list. Dynjandi Waterfall is one of the most spectacularly blue and majestic waterfalls in the country. Located in the Westfjords area of Iceland getting to the waterfall is like a little adventure on its own. Many little waterways and paths lead ultimately to Dynjandi Waterfall, and if you’re looking to get to it, it’s up to you to follow the right paths.
The area also serves as a nature preserve and park so not only will the Dynjandi Waterfall be a sight to behold, but there are also gorgeous landscapes to take in and beautiful flora and fauna found along the area. Camping by the waterfalls is also an option for those looking to spend the night but bear in mind that they are massive waterfalls and can be quite loud up close.
See the Earth’s Tectonic Plates at Þingvellir Plain
With grassy plains and rocky mountains in the distance, simply visiting Þingvellir Plain is a pretty cool experience in itself. But what if you could stand between North America and walk to Europe? It is in fact possible here at Þingvellir Plain. Officially the tectonic plates here are the dividing line between North American plates and European ones meaning that you can technically walk from North America to Europe and vise versa. But you might want to do that fast because the plates are shifting and separating more and more each year.
The separation of these plates creates cracks and rifts in the earth giving way to new rivers, lakes, and even valleys.
The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft
For those who enjoy a little weirdness when they travel look no further than the macabre museum of Icelandic Sorcery & witchcraft. Iceland has a very deep and rich tradition with folk tales, myths, and yes even witchcraft. The story of witches in Iceland is a little different from what most people in the west consider to be witches. While most think of witches as female, Icelandic witches are primarily men. Despite the difference in gender, Icelandic witches were still killed for being witches just the same.
The museum of Icelandic Sorcery & witchcraft has details of accounts of witches along with tons of supposed spells and rituals. Browse through the exhibitions full of artifacts like runes, animal skulls, and the legendary “necropants” which is the skin of a dead man, from the waist down which were to be worn as, yep, pants. The museum is not for the faint of heart, but definitely for the lovers of the weird.
Have a beach day at Rauðasandur Beach
Despite what a lot of people might think, Iceland actually has a lot of beaches and Rauðasandur Beach is one of the most beautiful ones around. Although sunbathing is not particularly a common activity here, taking a long walk on Rauðasandur Beach is a common thing to do and with the natural landscapes that surround the beach, there is plenty of wildlife to check out. What makes Rauðasandur Beach a place that stands out is the pinkish-red sand on the beach. The minerals in the sand make the beach have a pinkish-red hue that certainly stands out (especially against the sunset). Do a little bird watching and listen and watch the waves hit the pink sand.
Grab a snack at Bæjarins Beztu
It’s inexpensive, it’s not particularly fancy, and you’ll probably want some napkins to clean yourself off but Bæjarins Beztu is an Icelandic institution. If you’re spending any time in the capital or if you’ve just hit the bars and you need a late-night snack, Bæjarins Beztu is the spot. The iconic hot dog stand by the Reykjavik waterfront is the capital’s hottest hot dog stand. Served out of a tiny wooden shack, Bæjarins Beztu serves the best hot dogs covered with toppings and is open until 4 am.
It might not necessarily be “traditional” Icelandic food but it is a legendary hotspot that has been opened since 1937. The stand has been visited by notable people like former U.S president Bill Clinton, actor Charlie Sheen, Metallica frontman James Hetfield, and Anthony Bourdain.
Spend some time with local wildlife on Puffin Island
Outside of the capital city, are two little islands that are home to thousands of residents. The islands of Akurey and Lundey are home to a fluffy and cute population of puffins! The islands are uninhabited but are typically open to visitors and boat tours. Of the two islands, Aukrey is the bigger one with a larger puffin colony but the islands are also home to plenty of other wildlife like ducks, cormorants, and seagulls. Make sure to bring a camera along for this one as you’ll definitely want a snap for your Instagram of you cuddling a puffin.
Heal yourself with a dip in the Blue Lagoon
In the 1970s when Iceland was building its geothermal power networks, the Svartsengi geothermal plant accidentally became a spa. Iceland has a lot of volcanic activity with much of the island sitting on top of geothermal sources of heat. When the Svartsengi geothermal plant was built the runoff of water which is rich in salt, blue-green algae, sulfur, and white silica was found to have health benefits for people with skin problems. And so it became the island’s biggest spa. Yes, you heard that right….the Blue Lagoon is not entirely natural. I know this took us aback when learning this.
The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist spots and pictures of the aqua blue water and steam is an iconic sight. The geothermal plant continues to operate, powering the homes and businesses of Iceland, while also providing a health benefit for visitors. Thousands of people come every year to the Blue Lagoon which is free of bacteria and sits at a nice and hot 102°F (32° C).
Visit Snæfellsjökull National Park
The beautiful Snæfellsjökull National Park is one of the most recognizably “Icelandic” places in the country. If there is any place on the island that exemplifies the beauty and rugged nature of Iceland, it is Snæfellsjökull National Park. Located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the park is known for its legendary glacier called Snæfellsjökull. The glacier is over 700,000 years old and owes some of its popularity to French author Jules Verne who wrote about it in his 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Visitors to the park can hike through the many paths and walkways seeing a wide range of local flora and fauna as well as catching a glimpse of lava fields and lava tubes. Depending on the time of year, you can climb and walk along the glacier itself.
See the beautiful Kerid Crater Lake
Iceland has tons of stunning lakes, they also have tons of stunning mountains and volcanoes. But they also have a stunning lake, inside a volcano and that’s what Kerid Crater Lake is. Located in southern Iceland, Kerid Crater Lake likely formed when magma in the center of the volcano depleted itself then filled with water. But what makes the Kerid Crater Lake really stand out is its rainbow of colors that surround the area. The red volcanic mineral-rich earth that surrounds the crater contrasts with the azure blue color of the water in the center of the crater making Kerid Crater Lake one of the most uniquely colorful places in Iceland. During the winter months, the area and the lake transforms into a place of desolation and starkness set against the Icelandic landscape. For the adventurous tourists out there, the lake freezes over and some take to skating on its surface.
Learn about Viking History
If you are like Kati and I, we love the history of the places we go. Pre-Columbian. Roman. And Viking. Take a step back in history and learn about the interesting history of the Icelandic people. The country was founded by Vikings and according to ancient manuscripts settlement began in 874 AD when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent settler on the island. After him came other Scandinavian settlers along with Gaelic slaves and serfs.
The Viking World Museum presents plenty of artifacts and exhibitions on what life was like for the Vikings and well as what life would have been like for early Icelandic settlers. They even have a full-scale Viking replica ship that sailed across the Atlantic to L’anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland in 2000 in honor of Leif Erikson’s voyage 1000 years prior.
Bathe in Lake Myvatn
Lake Myvatn is Iceland’s fourth-largest lake and is home to a few myths and legends. But if that is not of interest to you, the lake is a geothermal hot spot and is known around the island as being one of the best alternatives to Blue Lagoon if you’re in the mood for a hot geothermal skin cleaning.
In reality, the lake is said to be the result of volcanic eruptions over 200 years ago and the area is still known to have a range of volcanoes around with volcanic activity. But for those interested in myth, it is said that the lake is where Satan fell to the earth after being banished from heaven who afterward was cast out of the region by elves who reclaimed the area as their own.
There are several spots where the heat under the earth has warmed up pools so it is a popular spot for people into geothermal bathing.
Watch the Aurora Borealis
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the legendary northern lights. Being geographically at the top of the world means that seeing Aurora Borealis is not only a must but it is actually kinda hard to ignore. They’re so prevalent here that sometimes you can even see them from the middle of Reykjavik. Obviously, the best option is to go somewhere outside the city so you can view them without light pollution.
September through March is the best time to check them out as the nights are darkest and longest throughout this time of the year.
Iceland is one of the most geographically unique places, not in Europe but in the world. It is the one place where you can technically walk from North American to Europe, it is the one place where you can see Aurora Borealis from a city, and it is probably the only place in the world where you’ll actually want to bathe in the runoff from a power plant. The beauty of the landscape is certainly otherworldly with mountains and volcanoes just being the normal backdrop here so it’s no wonder why so many people the world over have visited Iceland or made it their bucket list destination.
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