In Iceland, you can experience a whole host of different natural phenomena you cannot find anywhere else. It is Iceland’s high volcanic activity and the fact that the island is in the path of the Gulf Stream that make this extraordinary island unique. The first two men who settled on the island were Ingolfur and Hjörleifur. The two arrived at the island in 874. His slaves killed Hjørleifur while Ingolfur and his wife remained. They settled in Reykjavik, which is now the island's largest city and capital.
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of the world, a sovereign state, and has become a very popular destination for adventurous tourists in recent decades. Reykjavik is located in the southwestern part of Iceland. There are about 123,300 people in the capital and 216,940 in the metropolitan area. Reykjavik is Iceland's cultural, economic and political focal point and a very important part of the history of the country.
This futuristic building in the centre of the city can be seen even from a far distance. The Hallgrimskirkja church reflects the basalt columns in the southern part of the country. The tower is around 73 m high and offers an amazing view over the whole city. The church got its name from Hallgrímur Pétursson, a clergyman living in the 17th centrury. A statue of Leif Eriksson, who discovered the American continent far before (around 500 years) Christopher Kolumbus, is positioned on the plaza.
The newly built (2011) concert hall Harpa is situated close to the sea and is an architectonial highlight. It hosts the national opera and national orchestra. Due to its illuminated honey combs frontage of glass and steel, the outside of Harpa never looks the same. But also the inside is worth a visit. Olafur Eliasson is the designer of this fascinating building.
Close to the harbour, you can find the beautiful art nouveau villa Höfdi. Nowadays, it is used for public purposes. But in 1986, Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbatschow met here for the first international disarmament meeting
Every weekend, a popular flea market takes place in the Tryggvagata at the back side of the harbour house (Hafnarhús). Both, locals and tourists come together to browse through antiques, books, souvenirs and different kinds of curiosities and enjoy the diversified culinary offers
Whoevers wants to be and stay active while being in Reykjavik should pay a visit to Laugardalur. It includes the biggest geothermal open-air pool of the city and is definitely worth a visit. But also the botanical garden and zoo is close by and are popular resting spots for the towners.
Throughout the year, locals come and meet each other at Tjörnin (engl. pond). It is in close location to the parlament. Even if it seems like a sedate place, the variety of birds is impressive. From here, you can see the new townhall, the university and the cathedral of Reykjavik.
Museums in Reykjavik
The Islandic national museum focusses on the culture and history of the country – it is a must-do for each and everyone who is interested in the era of the Vikings. The saga-museum is a great compliment und displays the 17 most important historical events in a very appealing and vivid way. Another interesting but also amusing museum is the phallus museum. All art lovers will be satisfied with a visit at the national gallery. Islandic artists like Ásgrímur Jónsson and Jón Stefansson can be found here. The vulcanohouse opened up in 2011 and provides all necessary information regarding the formation of the island Surtsey, the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and living on a vulcano island. The outdoor museum Árbæjarsafn which is located outside of the city centre displays authentically the back-in-time country life of Icelanders. It also includes a church with a typical sod of peat roof.
The Austurvöllur is a popular place both for locals and tourists. The statue of Jon Sigurdssons is situated here. Jon played a major role in the Icelandic independence movement in the 19th century. The basalt building of the Islandic parliament was built in 1881 and can be found on the other side. In comparison with other countries, the manageable size and the low safety measures are very uncommon. Reykjavik´s Lutheran cathedral is situated in close vicinity to the parliament.
Sør-Vest og Reykjanes
The Blue Lagoon is one of the most visited sights in Iceland. It is located in Grindavik, only a few minutes from the airport. The 38° Celsius hot lake is situated amongst a lava field and is fed by the close-by geothermal power plant Svartsengi. Its turquoise blue water has a relatively high mineral and silicid acid content and is supposed to have healing powers. Additionally, you can order and drink your cocktails right in the water. But if you plan on visiting this magical bath, you should buy your tickets in advance.
In the past, Hafnafjördur has been an important harbor city and is only 10km south of Reykjavik. You can either enjoy your day in Hafnarfjördur while watching the fishermen bringing in their daily catch or standing on the Hamarinn cliffs and enjoying the view. In the past years, Hafnafjördur has become an artist colony.
The geothermal area Krisuvik in the South of the Reykjanes peninsula is also worth seeing. Countless boiling mud pots, solfatara and fumarole can be watched in this 10 square metre big area which arose from an earth quake. Particularly beautiful, are the different colors of the ground which have been formed by sediments at the eruption spots.
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular day tours from Reykjavik or South-Iceland. It includes the national park Thingvellir, the area of the geysers and the waterfall Gullfoss and is a must-do for everyone visiting Iceland.
From a historical point of view, Thingvellir National Park is one of the most meaningful sights in Iceland. In 930, the Islandic parlament Althing was established. Amongst impressive rock scenery, political decisions have been made, law was spoken and even marriages have been contracted. The laws have been read aloud at Lögberg and nowadays this place is marked with a flag. In the national park you can also find Iceland´s biggest lake, Thingvallarvatn. Another highlight of the park is a view over the Almannagja. Here, you can see the impact of the American and European plates drifting apart. The more than 7 km wide valley is just breathtaking. Right next to the church Thingvallakirkja and at the bank of the river Öxará, you can see the gorgeous white summer residence of the president. Since 2004, Thingvellir is declared UNESCO world heritage.
The highlight of the Golden Circle for most Iceland-visitors is the waterfall Gullfoss, the golden waterfall. It is just a few driving minutes away from the area of geysers. The river Hvítá empties in two mighty cascades and falls 32 meters deep. Due to the immense movement of water you are always surrounded by a light spray mist. When the sun is shining you might even see a rainbow.
Hveragerdi is known as THE green house city of Iceland. Due to boundlessness of geothermal energy in this area, the majority of the Islandic vegetable production takes place here. Salads, cucumbers, tomatoes and even bananas and ornamental plants are cultivated. Steam rising from the ground can be seen everywhere in this city. Even the bread is baked under the ground - give the dark and malty tasting Hverabrauð a try. Ingólfur Arnarson is supposed to be buried in the close-by village Ingólfsfjall.
Area of Geysers
The spectacular geysers are a must-see. The eponym of this natural spectacle, the big Geysir, is practically inactive since its last eruption in 2000. Before then, he exploded 100 m high fountains. Nowadays, the visitors rather concentrate on the highly active geyser Strokkur which explodes every 5 to 10 minutes with water columns as high as 20 meters. In the whole area, plenty smaller and bigger boiling water puddles can be found. If you want to learn more about geysers, pay a visit to the close-by visitor centre.
The South Coast
Kap Dyrhólaey with its impressive archway is located western of Vik. The rocks of Kap Dyrhólaey are 120 m high and are a paradise for eiders, arctic terns, puffins and fulmars. During breeding time in May and June, there is only limited access to the cape. At the peak of the cape, you can find a lighthouse and a mark of the most Southern point of Iceland.
Skógar und Skogafoss
At the foot of Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010, the sedate place Skógar is located. One of the most popular museums of the country is Skógasafn, an open-air and local museum. In a vivid and authentic way, the life in South-Iceland is displayed. To the West of the small village the waterfall Skogafoss is situated. Here, the glacier river Fimmvörðuháls falls 60m deep. Special tip: approach the impressive waterfall from below.
The glacial valley Thorsmörk is located between Eyjafjallajökull and Myrdalsjökull. The countless rivers, which dominate the scenery, offer a once-in-a-lifetime-view. The river Krossá divides the area. The Northern part convinces by its rich vegetation, while the Southern part, also called Godaland, is much rougher and convinces by its remarkable rock formations. Plenty hiking trails cross the valley. Some of them lead to the highland Landmannalaugar while others lead via Fimmvörduhals pass to Skogar. If you want to drive to and in Thorsmörk a 4x4-vehical is mandatory. During summer time, tourists can take the local bus to the glacier valley.
The Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) are located approximately 10km off the Islandic coast. In total, they count 15 islands and countless cliffs. The Westman Islands are the main breeding spot for puffins. In 1963, the youngest island Surtsey was formed by volcanic activity. 10 years later, all of the sudden a 1,5 km long cleft gaped above the city centre and was followed by a volcano eruption. Immediately, the inhabitants of the main island Heimaey flew. Around 400 houses were buried under the lava masses. If you are interested in receiving more information of this event, you must visit the volcano museum Eldheimar.
The most Southern city of Iceland is definitely worth a visit. Not only can you see black lava beaches but also countless bird colonies and a gorgeous view on Myrdalsjökull. The three rock needles of Reynisdrangar are a popular photo scene. According to legend, they are three petrified trolls.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most fascinating waterfalls in Iceland and is also located in the South. Have you ever had the chance to walk behind a waterfall? Here you do, but do not forget your rain gear if you want to walk behind the 60m high waterfall – you might get a little wet.
The so called East Fjords of Iceland are rather narrow and are located between Borgarfjördur Eystri and Berufsfjördur. Driving along the scenic roads and picturesque fishing villages is highly recommended but also hiking along remote mountain paths is not of lesser interest.
Vatnajökull National Park
Europe´s biggest national park measures 14.200 square kilometres, which represent around one-eigths of the landmass of Iceland. Also Skaftafell National Park and the former national park Jökulsargljufur belong to Vatnajökull National Park.
Since 2008, Skaftafell National Park belongs to the bigger Vatnajökull National Park. A visit is highly recommended. It is a perfect place to not only do glacier hikes but also to see the much diversified landscape of woods and moor.
Glacier Lagoon Jökulsarlon
One of the most spectacular sights of Iceland is the glacier lagoon Jökulsarlon. There, you can see big icebergs of the glacier Breidamerkurjökull swimming on the lake. The boat tour pays off as you not only get amazing photo scenes of the over 1000 year old ice but also get to see some spots of the James Bond movie “Die another day” which was lensed here.
Akureyri is not only one of the most beautiful places in Iceland; it is also the capital of the North. Akureyri relies on the harbor, which is located at the Eyjafjord, and on the University of Akureyri; both display the most important economical mainstays. The botanical garden covers all local plant species and beyond 700 foreign species. The landmark of the city is the Akureyrarkirkja, which can be seen from a far distance. It was designed by the same architect who also designed the Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik. Akureyri also offers a lot of museums, e.g. the art museum. But it is also worth it, to just take a stroll through the older part of the town where you can find the parental home of Jon Sveinsson or Laxdalshus, the oldest building of the city.
The canyon is also often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Iceland. At the bottom of the canyon you will find a rarity – a mixed forest. With a length of 3.5 km and a wideth of 1 km the canyon offers an impressive view. The form of the canyon is also really remarkable – it looks like a horseshoe. According to legend, it originates from Odins eight-legged horse.
The most powerful waterfall Europe´s empties itself with around 193 m³ water per second into an approximate 45m deep cascade. Spray mist and a remarkable noise emerge from the impressive water masses.
Godafoss is one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland. The cascade measures only 12 m, but its horseshoe-shaped canyon makes this waterfall special. The name Godafoss was given by the law speaker of the Althing-Meetings in the year 1000. Thankful for the Icelanders accepting Christianity as their state religion, he threw the images of the pagan gods into the water masses at exactly this spot.
The turf houses in Glaumbaer display another popular photo scene. In the Skagafjördur museum of Popular Art, you can observe the typical turf construction of the houses. 9 out of 13 buildings are connected by a 20 m long aisle.
Hverarönd is the name of the high-temperature area at the mountain pass Namaskard. The area is characterized by plenty boiling mud pots and hizzing hot springs. The mineral-bearing steam and muds left a beautiful play of colours on the ground. A visit is highly recommended, but you have to promise to never leave the path.
Husavik is the centre of whalewatching in Northern Iceland. There exists a 99% percent chance to see humpback whales, minke whales or dolphins. The small but beautiful city is located right at the amazing Skjalfandi-bay.
The bizarr rock formations of Dimmuborgir are referred to as the „dark castles“. You can find them North of lake Myvatn. Supposedly, these are the remains of steam ducts, which have been formed in a lake of lava. Plenty hiking trails follow through Dimmuborgir.
Lake Myvatn means Moskito Lake. During summer, thousands and thousands of moskitos bustle here around. At its maximum, the lake is only 5 m deep and therefore heats up really quickly. This causes a continuous increase of these insects. The lake was formed by lava which prevented a drain of the water. Nowadays, the lake hosts countless islands and birds. The area is very popular among bird lovers as you can find around 16 different kinds of ducks here.
At the southside-bank of the lake, numerous pseudocrater string together. These round rises emerged from lava overflowing the wetland. Beneath the lava, steam gathered and got through the surface and led to explosions. This event caused its today´s shape.
Vigur is a small island East of Isafjördur. It only counts five inhabitants but countless birds during summer. You can observe puffins, arctic terns and eider in its natural environment. In addition, the only still existing wind mill of Iceland is located on this small island.
Hrafnseyri is an insignificant old farm with a meaningful history. The Icelander Jon Sigurdsson who was fighting for Iceland´s independence was born here. Nowadays, Hrafnseyri displays a memorial with a full-scale replica of the farm, a remembrance church and a museum
One of the most beautiful and impressive waterfalls is located in the West Fjords – the Dynjandi waterfall (engl. the thunder). It consists of six different waterfalls and is fan-shaped. With its height of 100m and its width of 60m it is a breathtaking natural beauty.
This nature reserve counts towards the most beautiful spots in Iceland. This is real nature – it reaches from big angelicas over colourful sloping meadows until bright mayflowers and lion´s tooth. But also the scenery of abondonded houses, driftwood at the beach and the infinite width of the sea cast a spell over you. But also hikers get their money´s worth – this area offers countless possibilities for extensive hiking tours.
Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs
These cliffs are just impressive. Not only display they the most Western point of Iceland, even from Europe; they are also the longest (14 km) and oldest (13-14 Mio. years) rock formation of Iceland. At the highest point, the cliffs measure 441m. During summer time, thousands and thousands of sea birds nest at Latrabjarg and therefore, it hosts the biggest sea bird colony of the Northern hemisphere.
The Snaefellsnes peninsula is also called „Iceland en miniature“ due to its scenic diversity. You get to see not only dramatic rock formations but also an imposing glacier landscape and impressive lava fields.
Arnarstapi is a small fishing village right in front of the mountain Stapafell. Here, you will get to see countless caves and remarkable basalt columns in which bird colonies nest. But it is also popular for being the village of poets and sagas. A remote attraction is the Gatklettur, a rock with a hole in the middle through which water is splashing during stormy days.
This 1.410 m high glacier is supposed to be one of the most beautiful and regular vulcanos of the country. But only the peak of the vulcano is partly glaciated. In case of god weather you have an amazing view over Hellissandur and Breidafjördur-bay; maybe you can even spot the Westfjords. This glacier is also very attractive in literature – it is pictured as the entrance to the “centre of the Earth” in Jules Verne eponymous novel.
This small little piece of Earth counts towards the most important historical and cultural places of Iceland. The village has commited itself to the investigation and intervention of the life work of Snorri Sturluson – the most powerful and popular man of the medieval Iceland. He authored countless writings focusing on history and literature.
In the Western part of Iceland, you will find the biggest hot water spring of Iceland which produces 180 liter of 100° hot water per second. Additionally, a real rarity which cannot be found somewhere else in Iceland is located here – a special kind of deer fern.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss
The lava waterfalls Hraunfossar present an amazing natural spectacle. The crystal clear water overflows from lava rocks into a vast number of cascades. This play of colours is a stunning spectacle. Barnafoss is located right above Hraunfossar and is not less impressive. This river empties over a couple of stages. It got its name (transl. child waterfall) from a tragedy in the past days. According to legend, the two sons of a widow fell into the fast-moving river.