A lot of tourists visit Iceland for a few days or a long weekend of three days and cover the basic ‘Golden Triangle’. But driving around the country is the best way to experience this wonderfully marvelous country. And these sights make the trip worth-while. Every visitor must include these ten spots in their itinerary:
Every visit to Iceland must begin with the capital and largest city – Reykjavík. Its latitude makes it the world’s northernmost capital of a sovereign state and a popular tourist destination. With an urban area population of around 200,000, it is the home of the vast majority of Iceland’s inhabitants. It is the center of culture and life of the Icelandic people as well as being one of the focal points of tourism in Iceland. The city itself is spread out, with sprawling suburbs. The city center is a very small area characterized by eclectic and colorful houses, with good shopping, dining and drinking.
Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, Jökulsárlón (glacial river lagoon) is a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the glaciers. It is now 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) away from the ocean’s edge and covers an area of about 18 km2 (6.9 sq mi).
About 1.5 hour drive north from Seyðisfjörður (fjord town in east Iceland) lies this small village of about 150 residents – Borgarfjarðarhreppur, which has one of the largest Puffin colony in Iceland. There’s a free viewing platform that allows you to get up close and personal with these cute, clumsy creatures. The puffins arrive mid-April and are gone by mid-August, but other species linger longer.
4. Mývatn Lake
Located in the north-central region of Iceland lies Mývatn lake. Visit the Hverfjall Crater which is a 2500 year old, nearly symmetrical tephra crater that rises 463 meters high and is 1040 meters across. Just down the road are the lava rock formations of Dimmuborgir that are composed of various volcanic caves and rock formations, reminiscent of an ancient collapsed citadel.
Located in south-east Iceland on way from Vik to Reykjavik, take a right from Route 1 on road 249 to reach this 40 meters high waterfall – Seljalandsfoss. A foot path behind the falls allows you to have a 360-degree view and get wet by standing under the falls.
One of the largest alluvial plains of the country, Skeiðarársandur is situated between the counties Öræfi and Fljótshverfi and has an area of approximately 1000 sq.km. The distance between the glacier’s edge and the sea is between 20 and 30 km and its coastline is 40 km long. A few glacial rivers form innumerable branches in the lower regions and sometimes-terrible flood waves occur, especially when the sub glacial caldera Grimsvotn empties or sub glacial eruptions take place. This plain is mostly devoid of vegetation.
7. Viti Crater
The site of a major volcanic eruption is known as the Krafla Fires of 1975-1984. The access road runs north off the Ring road, passing right under piping from Leirbotn power station on the way. The station harnesses steam vents to generate power; these are what you can hear roaring away like jet engines up on Krafla’s flanks. The road ends at a car park in front of Viti, now a deep, aquamarine crater lake on Krafla’s steep brown gravel slopes; a slippery track runs around the rim.
About 300 meters in diameter, this huge explosion crater was formed during a massive volcanic eruption at the start of the famous Mývatn Fires in 1724. The eruption continued more or less non-stop for 5 years and Víti’s bubbling cauldron of mud boiled for more than a century after that.
8. Þingvellir National Park
Situated on the banks of the lake Þingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland (84 sq. km.), the old Icelandic parliament (Alþingi) was founded here in the year 930. Since 1928 the area is a National Park and Þingvellir is a large lava field, situated right on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the European and North American plates are moving apart.
The actual European- and American- sides are 7 km apart from each other.
[Far off mountain is formed on the European plate of Þingvellir National Park]
[North American plate of Þingvellir National Park]
Just a short drive from the town center of Vik is Dyrhólaey – A 120 meter high headland into the sea. Dyrhólaey forms an impressive southernmost part of Iceland. Sea erosion has carved a giant hole in the towering cliff, big enough for boats to sail through. Dyrhólaey and the cliffs that rise out of the sea to the south of it are a haven for a variety of birds and the area is a wildlife sanctuary.
[Small boulders rise from the sea]
Sólheimajökull is the spectacular glacier tongue that comes down from Mýrdalsjökull. Take road 221 by car from the town of Vik for an easy access to the glacier. From there you can go on a guided tour or have a coffee at Cafe Sólheimajökull.
Have you been to Iceland? Share your experiences and favorite places in comments.