Places to visit in Iceland: Major Attractions
Full of stunningly beautiful landscapes – dramatic, elemental and, in places, surreal, Iceland is a fascinating country. From majestic glaciers , volcanoes, cascading waterfalls, geysers and hot springs, rolling tundra, vast black sand beaches, tectonic plate boundary areas, to glacier lagoons with pure iridescent ice, beauty and fascinating natural phenomena in Iceland abound. In addition, Iceland’s unique cultural treasures add a whole new dimension to the experience of the “Land of Fire and Ice”.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle refers to the three most visited attractions in Iceland: Þingvellir (Thingvellir), Geysir hot springs and geyser area and the “Golden Waterfall” – Gullfoss.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) “Parliament Plains”, is “the cradle of Iceland’s history”, as well as and one of the world’s most impressive natural wonders. It is the place where the ancient Alþingi (Althing), was founded in 930 AD, the oldest extant parliament in the world. For its cultural significance to mankind, Thingvellir was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Located on the divergent tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in soutwestern Iceland, Thingvellir is also renowned for its exceptional natural beauty and geological uniqueness.
Geysir is the geyser from which the word geyser originates. Together with geyser Strokkur, the hot springs and other geothermal features, it’s one of the most frequently visited attractions in Iceland.
Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall, is Iceland’s most famous waterfall on the glacial river Hvíta. Tumbling down over a 32 m deep cleft, the waterfall is two-tiered, 2.5 km long and breathtakingly beautiful.
The Blue Lagoon
A geothermal spa set in quintessentially Icelandic lava landscape is a unique experience. Sited between Keflavík International Airport and Reykjavík, the Blue Lagoon is easily accessible from both locations.
Landmannalaugar are part of Iceland’s central Highlands, the scenery of this area is diverse and fascinating: new lava, rhyolite mountains, natural geothermal pools, lush green valleys. These, and the views of the Hekla volcano and Torfajökull (Torfajokull) glacier area are just part of the reason for this area being such a popular sightseeing destination.
Thorsmork is a wide valley named after the Viking god þór (Thor). One of Iceland’s most popular hiking grounds, it’s surrounded by 3 glaciers: Myrdalsjokull, Eyjafjallajokull and Tindfjallajokull in the southern part of Iceland. This area offers picturesque vistas and impressive scenery, including the lovely Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Thorsmork is located about 160 km east of Reykjavik, in the Highlands of Iceland.
Lake Mývatn and Dettifoss
Lake Myvatn and its surroundings are famous for natural beauty, rare landscapes and vibrant birdlife. The lake is the 4th largest in Iceland, covering 36.5 sq. km, with more than 40 small islands. Lake Myvatn is about 90 km east from Akureyri. The many interesting sights include Jökulsárgljúfur (Jokulsargljufur), Ásbyrgi (Asbyrgi), Dimmuborgir cliffs and Dettifoss, Europe´s most powerful waterfall. Hljóðaklettar (Hljodaklettar) and Asbyrgi, are huge cliff formations formed by glacial floods from the Vatnajokull glacier. The Mt. Askja caldera is further to the south.
Hosting majestic glaciers, active volcanoes, impressive waterfalls, black sand expanses, and ancient Viking history, South Iceland area has some of the most spectacular of Iceland’s attractions. Eyjafjallajökull (Eyjafjallajokull) volcano and glacier, and Mýrdalsjökull (Myrdalsjokull) glacier are in this part. A more detailed description of these features can be found in our article on South Iceland.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jokulsarlon is one of Icelands most spectacular sights, located about 60 km east of Skaftafell and some 400 km from Reykjavik. Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is on the border of SE Iceland, at the foot of Vatnajökull glacier. Numerous birds live by the glacier lagoon and the nearby Breiðamerkursandur (Breidamerkursandur)is the main home to the great Skua. Eider ducks are also common. From May to September it is possible to take boat trip on the lagoon. Due to its exceptional beauty, Jokulsarlon has been used as a location for several Hollywood films.
Iceland’s National Parks
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, Snæfellsjökull (Snaefellsjokull) National Park and Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull) National Park, which includes Jökulsárgljúfur (Jokulsargljufur) in the north and Skaftafell in the south, are Iceland’s three national parks. Each is an absolute must-see for nature lovers, with their own unique features which are described in more detail in our articles on Iceland’s National Parks.
Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands)
Westman Islands archipelago and the island of Grímsey (Grimsey), in the Arctic Ocean also offer many attractions. Westman Islands are well known for their volcanic history and being the largest puffin colony in the North Atlantic. Grimsey is a small fisherman’s island, about 60 km from Akureyri, with about 100 inhabitants and millions of seabirds. This is Iceland’s northernmost point, right on the Arctic Circle.
This region has most of what makes Iceland so unique, as well as the reindeer in the wild, not found anywhere else in Iceland. Beautiful fjords, picture-perfect fishing towns and villages, steep mountains, highland farms, pure mountain streams, forests and woodlands, and vast expanses are typical of East Iceland. In some ways, the eastern part of Iceland still remains Iceland’s undiscovered treasure.
The capital Reykjavík
Reykjavik is a beautiful, striking city with avant-garde architecture, numerous interesting spots to visit and vibrant cultural life. Reykjavik is also perfectly located for taking day trips or longer journeys into the countryside.