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A Guest Post by *Michal Jonca
Top 7 Natural Wonders You Can Find in Iceland
Traveling Iceland alone might be one of the most outstanding adventures in your life. This small island in the middle of nowhere, also known as the Land of Fire and Ice, is the youngest piece of Europe situated near the Arctic Circle at the junction of two tectonic plates. This unique location, combined with intense volcanic and seismic activity, makes it one of the most beautiful and unpredictable parts of the Earth.
In short, Iceland is a pure masterpiece of nature. You will not find such a variety of natural phenomena anywhere else. In 2019, so just before the pandemic, over 2 million people visited Iceland. This number was relatively small compared to the beauty of the Land of Ice and Fire.
Moreover, most tourists limit themselves to visiting just some top places in the so-called “Golden Circle”. These are undoubtedly amazing places, but this magical land has so much more to offer! Here are the top seven natural wonders you can find in Iceland. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed!
Cheap solo travel around Iceland
Iceland is a Scandinavian country. The most important thing related to this fact are… prices. Unfortunately, Iceland isn’t a cheap destination. It’s challenging to organize budget solo travel around the Land of Fire and Ice. But it’s not impossible!
Believe me or not, the cheapest way to experience a solo adventure in Iceland is renting a car. The fact that Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world makes camping the best idea to save on accomodation. If you don’t care about the king-size bed, you can sleep in a car or a tent.
An undoubted advantage of this solution is that you do not have to look for accommodation or return to your hotel every time. And accommodation is one of the more expensive expenses in Iceland. Additionally, in Iceland you can stay overnight almost everywhere except in national parks.
When it comes to hygiene (you have to take a shower, don’t you?) there are dozens of hot springs with showers in Iceland. Not only can you relax in the hot spring, you will also get yourself cleaned up. Win-win situation!
Food is another thing that is expensive in Iceland. I recommend shopping in the Bonus store, which is the cheapest market on the island.
Natural wonders in Iceland
Iceland is a land of thousand wonders. Here are top 7 to discover.
Let’s start with the fire.
Of the phenomena I have seen in my life, an active volcano is second only to a total solar eclipse. The sight of the eruption and the sulfur-smelling lava river is something beyond description.
This mind-blowing place isn’t Mordor. You won’t find Frodo and Sam wandering to destroy the Ring of Power. It’s “just” the Fagradalsfjall volcano at its prime.
In March 2021, media around the world reported about the volcanic eruption in the south of Iceland. I was so lucky to go there at the beginning of September and admire this phenomenon with my own eyes. Surprised? Volcanic eruptions can last even thousands of years!
We don’t even know how significant impact volcanic activity has had on the Earth’s history. For example, the eruption of the Laki volcano (1783 – 1784), however, sounds lucky, was one of the greatest natural disasters in the last millennium. Its repercussions were catastrophic.
There was a dry fog over much of the Northern Hemisphere for several months. The famine affected not only Iceland (25% of the island’s population died) but also all of Europe, North America, and even China and Japan! Some historians claim that this phenomenon was one of the primary causes of the Great French Revolution.
We started with fire, and now it’s time for ice. And there is nothing icier than glaciers.
The most famous glacier in Iceland is Eyjafjallajökull. Try to read it out loud. Eyjafjallajökull. Eyja (island) fjalla (mountain) jökull (glacier). Now it’s easier, huh?
This glacier covers, of course, a volcano. In 2010, correspondents from around the world were very ineptly trying to pronounce its name (the same as the glacier’s name) because of its eruption, which paralyzed air traffic between America and Europe.
The largest glacier in Iceland is Vatnajökull. It covers as much as 8% of the island’s surface, and its cover can be up to 950 meters thick. Unfortunately, as a result of climate warming, Vatnajökull is noticeably decreasing. If there are any positives in this situation, it will definitely be the magical Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
It is a lake formed by a retreating glacier on which huge blocks of ice float. The current carries them to the sea, and the waves push the ice blocks onto the black beach. It is simply beautiful. If you’re lucky, you can meet seals swimming in the lagoon.
Going to Iceland and not seeing geysers is like going to Australia and not seeing kangaroos. It just doesn’t fit!
In the Haudakalur Valley near Reykjavik, while driving the so-called Golden Circle, you will reach geothermal fields with geysers. There are several of them, but the most famous are two: Strokkur and… Geysir. Yes, I know, it’s a bit awkward that the geyser is called Geysir. The fun fact is that Geysir is where the name geyser comes from.
Currently, Geysir is relatively inactive as it only ejects water a few times a year. Don’t be disappointed because Strokkur is much more visitors-friendly! It explodes every 5 to 10 minutes.
Imagine it is around 41 °F outside, and you are sitting in a wild hot spring and admiring an impressive glacier that stretches as far as the eye can see. In Iceland, it’s actually business as usual.
Not only is it full of commercial and wild hot springs, but you can also find a hot river! If that sounds exciting to you, find Reykjadalur on the map. There is a river there. Don’t forget to bring your towel, cold beer, and a good mood!
Let’s make a little challenge. Do not read the following paragraph yet, and guess how many waterfalls there are in Iceland. Ready? Guess!
Nine hundred eighteen! Can you imagine it? In a territory the size of Kentucky, you can find almost a thousand small and big waterfalls! Ok, let’s talk about the quality, not the quantity.
The most frequently visited waterfall in Iceland is Gullfoss, which means the Golden Waterfall. Next to geyser geothermal fields and the Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss is the main sight of the Icelandic Golden Circle. No wonder it’s a spectacular two-stage waterfall. Every second, 140 cubic meters of water are poured over its edges.
The highest waterfall in Iceland, Glymur, is 650 ft in height. You can make 3-hour picturesque trekking from down to up if you dare. Trust me, the views will blow you away. You can go back the same path or cross the river barefoot (the water is knee-deep and cold) and step down on the other side. Strongly recommended!
How about watching the waterfall from the back? If this idea excites you, you should definitely visit Seljalandsfoss. Fantastic experience (by the way, not-amazing experiences in Iceland don’t exist)!
Just half an hour drive from Saljalandsfoss you can find another iconic waterfall called Skógafoss. Did you watch Game of Thrones? If so, one of the scenes from the final season was shot over there. Just behind the corner, there is my favorite, Kvernufoss. What’s so special about it?
Many Icelanders still believe in Elves. If I would point to one place where Elves actually live, it’s surely somewhere near Kvernufoss waterfall. Moreover, most tourists don’t even know it exists. It’s a kind of hidden gem just 5 minutes away from popular Skógafoss.
Godafoss, Kirkjufellsfoss, Dettifoss, Litlanesfoss, Hengifoss… There are so many tongue-breaking fosses in the Land of Fire and Ice! Let’s jump to other natural wonders you can find in Iceland, which are…
Iceland is a volcanic island. You already know that. Lava has shaped this land for hundreds of thousands of years. Therefore, when driving in the southern part of Iceland, between the Saljalandsfoss waterfalls and Skógafoss on your right, you will see a several kilometers long field of solidified lava covered with moss.
Stop and take a walk. You will feel as if you have just landed on another planet. Here is another of Iceland’s wonders. Another place that you surely will never forget.
Do you know anyone who would not like to see the northern lights at least once in their life? Me neither.
As Iceland is located near the Arctic Circle, you have a good chance of seeing this amazing phenomenon. The best months to observe the aurorae are January, February, and March. In winter, Iceland shows a different face. It is cold, snowy, and dark because the night lasts over 20 hours there. Still, it is definitely worth visiting at this time, and the aurora is one of the main reasons. Just take a look.
*About the author:
Michal Jonca is passionate about travel and food experiences who visited 40+ countries on four continents. He is a Travel Leader at the largest Polish travelers club Soliści organizing adventurous trips worldwide and the Community Manager at Passport Photo Online. Currently, he enjoys workation in Thailand and writes his travel blog Opowieści Podróżne.