Nature Lovers, Here Are 9 Amazing Sights You Shouldn’t Miss in Iceland
If Instagram is any indication, Iceland is the destination du jour. Tourist arrivals are estimated to break the 2.5 million mark this year, certainly nothing to sneeze at for a country with a population of 330,000. Everyone with an iPhone and a selfie stick is flocking to the land of fire and ice for a simple reason: nature. Iceland was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions (it’s still a hotbed of volcanic activity—remember the Eyjafjallajökull eruption that grounded practically all European flights back in 2010?) and the resulting landscape feels like a whole other planet. Plus, they’ve got geothermal pools, geysers, massive glaciers, and waterfalls everywhere you look. Here, we list 9 sights you shouldn’t miss.
It’s hard to believe these structures are completely natural and not man-made. As hot lava cools, it shrinks and breaks apart to form these geometric basalt columns. They can be found all over Iceland but the beach at this location makes it extraordinarily picturesque; there’s even a small cave you can go into to marvel at the rocks up close.
Its name means Feather River Canyon, and it was carved by decades of melting glacial water. The rocks that form the canyon are estimated to be a staggering two million years old. Walk along the canyon edge or down below. Either way, the view is spectacular.
Solheimasandur plane crash site
In 1973, a U.S. Navy plane ran out of fuel and crashed on this black sand beach on the south coast of Iceland. Everyone on board survived and the plane was left where it crash-landed. Naturally, the abandoned plane wreckage is now a popular tourist destination. You used to be able to drive right up to the plane, but it’s on private property and cars are no longer allowed to enter the premises. Park near the side of the road and trek several kilometers to the plane wreckage instead.
The massive Vatnajökull glacier occupies around 8% of Iceland’s total land mass. One of its glacial tongues, Breidamerkurjökull, ends in this glacial lagoon. Ironically, we have climate change to thank for its presence—the icebergs in this otherworldly place are blocks of ice that have fallen off the retreating glacier. Walk along the black sand beach and you might even see seals in the water. The chunks of ice in Jokulsarlon continue to float downstream towards the sea, so cross over to the other side of the bridge to see larger-than-life icebergs that have washed ashore on the beach.
Getting here involves a fairly long hike through the Vatnajökull National Park, but this picture-perfect sight will be waiting for you at the end of the trek. The way the basalt columns formed at this waterfall makes it look like a pipe organ.
Boiling mud pots and fumaroles mean this geothermal area in northern Iceland smells like rotten eggs, and that’s part of the fun. The landscape is the very definition of extraterrestrial and could be easily mistaken for Mars. (Fun fact: NASA sent 32 astronauts to Iceland for field training in the 1960s.)
Some off-road driving and trekking is required to get to this waterfall in the northern part of the country. The journey, however, is worth it. Water from the Skjálfandafljót river (no, we don’t know how to pronounce it either) forces its way through basalt rock to make a 20-meter drop into the Bardardalur valley.
Downtown Reykjavik’s main highlight is this stunning concert hall designed by Olafur Eliasson. The honeycomb glass façade and the multifaceted ceiling take inspiration from the Icelandic landscape, mirroring its glaciers and the ice caves that form naturally in the depths of winter. Visit on a sunny day to see the beautiful interplay of light and shadow on the concrete walls of this architectural marvel.
Stokksnes in southeastern Iceland isn’t on many tourists’ lists, so there’s a good chance you’ll have the place all to yourself, but the view—a vast black sand beach with the craggy peaks of Vestrahorn in the background—is so beautiful that you’ll wonder why other visitors don’t make the trip.