Note: This post was created in collaboration with Guide to Iceland.
One of the questions I’ve been asked by multiple people about my current travels around Europe, is why I’m not visiting Iceland. This isn’t surprising given that I said before leaving Australia for Europe that Iceland was one of the destinations I most wanted to visit.
However, that changed once I’d been in Europe for awhile and discovered that Iceland was just about the only country in Europe that still quarantines dogs. Initially, I thought no problem, we can leave our dog behind with a dog sitter or at a fancy dog hotel while we fly over for a quick trip. But despite spending nearly 2 years in Europe, there’s simply been so many places we could easily visit with our dog, that we’re not going to get around to it.
Despite that, I’m certainly still wanting to visit Iceland! It’ll be at the top of my list for when we next return to Europe, this time without our dog, and visit all those places that have been difficult to visit with a dog. (As my husband and I are trying to visit every UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world, there’s more than a few out-of-the-way places that we’re trying to visit.)
So, why do I want to visit Iceland and why should you visit too? While I’ve been recommended to try fermented shark (to determine if it’s the most disgusting thing I’ve even eaten) and seen great photos of the street art scene in Revjavik, it’s really the incredible natural beauty of Iceland that has me longing to experience it for myself. For starters, there’s these…
1. The Beautiful Geothermal Pools of Iceland
The most famous geothermal pool to visit in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. It’s the ultimate splurge, and can even be visited on the way to and from the airport, as long as you’ve booked your tickets in advance. However, there’s also plenty of other geothermal pools in Iceland that you can visit for far less, or even free, without sharing the experience with so many other people. For example check out Myvatn nature baths or Reykjadalur‘s hot springs. Many can be visited on excursions from Reykjavik.
2. Visiting Amazing Waterfalls and Geysers
There’s no shortage of spectacular waterfalls and geysers to visit on day-trip or extended trips on Iceland. Some of the must-see waterfalls include Gullfoss, Kirkjufell, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Additionally, the seismic origins of Iceland means there’s plenty of geothermal activity, including the Geysir geothermal area. The area is home to the Great Geysir, that’s been active for more than 10,000 years, plus the more active Strokkur.
3. Seeing the Northern Lights of the First Time
One of the trickiest decisions when it comes to visiting Iceland for the first time is what time of year to visit. Sure, the weather is nicer (although still not warm) in summer, the peak season, but if you visit in the winter you might be able to spot the Northern Lights. As it’s a natural phenomenon sightings aren’t guaranteed, but it would be amazing to finally see this for the first time.
4. Exploring Amazing Glaciers
It’s no surprises that an island with the word “ice” in it’s name is home to many incredible glaciers, covering over 10% of the land mass. Many of the glaciers can be visited on day trips, with the option to go on a glacier hike or enter caves in the glaciers. Another highlight is visiting the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, where the glacier can be viewed from afar, across the lagoon where ice-blue icebergs float, after carving off the face of the glacier.
5. Diving Between Two Continents
Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a point where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, and are in fact drifting apart every year. One of the most amazing places to experience this is Silfra Fissure, if you’re got the diving skills and the courage to brave the icy cold water. Here is the only place where you can touch two continental plates underwater at the same time. If you don’t have a diving license or your skills are a bit rusty (like mine), there’s plenty of places to see this on dry land, too.
6. Viewing one of the Newest Islands in the World
It’s not often that a new island is formed in the world, but that’s what happened not far off the coast of Iceland in the 1960s. Surtsey is a volcanic island located about 32km off the southern coast of Iceland, which has been protected from its birth and is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Visits to the island itself are prohibited, but instead you can take a cruise or scenic flight past the island. Already the island is home to over 60 vascular plants, 89 species of birds and 335 species of invertebrates.
7. Visiting Þingvellir National Park
The other UNESCO World Heritage site in Iceland is Þingvellir National Park. This is the site of the Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland, that was established in 930 and continued to meet until for centuries, until 1798. These days there are fragments of around 50 booths built from turf and stone visible, with the earliest remains from the 10th century thought to be buried underground. A visit to the national park is included on many Golden Circle tours.
Main image of Kirkjufell Mountain © Promote Iceland