top of page
  • Einar Páll Svavarsson

Things to do in Iceland - 10 most interesting natural wonders

Updated: Dec 15, 2022


Stuðlagil Canyon Basalt Columns
Stuðlagil Canyon Basalt Columns

There are few places on the planet where you can see, experience, and visit as many natural wonders as you can in Iceland. It is amazing that the natural wonders demonstrated in this article can all be experienced on a small peaceful island up north in the Atlantic Ocean. You might find similar places and natural wonders elsewhere on planet Earth, but the distance between them means you must spend weeks or even months traveling to be able to see them. In contrast, the distance between all of Iceland’s natural wonders is often surprisingly short. They can be seen in just a few days by renting a car and driving around our small island in great comfort and peace.


Interesting lava formation at Skælingar
Interesting lava formation at Skælingar

And most significantly, Iceland’s distance from most of Europe and North America is much shorter than many think. Most of Europe and the east coast of North America are only a three to five-hour flight away. You can fly here from California, Oregon, or British Columbia in seven and a half to eight and a half hours. If you look at our list below and the accompanying photos, you might understand why so many people have Iceland on their bucket list. For a week or a ten-day family summer vacation, it is probably one of the most spectacular places you can visit.

 

The ten natural wonders you can experience in Iceland are so amazing that you will probably book a road trip or vacation tour to our country before you finish this article.


1 - Waterfalls

One of many spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, Dynjandi
One of many spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, Dynjandi

Iceland has infinite waterfalls; more than 1600 of them are estimated to be higher than 2 meters. Our waterfalls cover a broad spectrum: we have small but attractive waterfalls like Háifoss and Dettifoss, one of Europe's largest waterfalls. If you travel the Ring Road, you can visit three to five stunning waterfalls merely by stepping out of the car, and each and everyone will take your breath away. Among our most interesting waterfalls are Goðafoss, Gullfoss, Dynjandi, and Seljalandsfoss.


2 - Iceberg lagoons

Fjallsárlón glacier and iceberg lagoon
Fjallsárlón glacier and iceberg lagoon

An iceberg lagoon is a rare but spectacular natural wonder, the product of a glacier tongue and a lake. When ice from a glacier starts its journey down a mountain slope traveling at a very slow speed, it forms a glacier tongue, usually a long and cold one. At the end of the tongue, the iceberg falls and begins floating on a lake or a lagoon. Seeing this up close is entirely different from seeing it in a photo or a video. Most people are surprised by the magnitude of their feelings when they see this astonishing natural wonder. Iceland has two beautiful iceberg lagoons by the Ring Road: Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón.


3 - Hot springs and geothermal activity

Geothermal activity in Hveradalir in the Highland in Iceland
Geothermal activity in Hveradalir in the Highland in Iceland

Seeing steam and boiling mud bubble up from the ground in a geothermal area is a magnificent experience. Moreover, the eruption of Strokkur in the Geysir area to a height of 20 meters is a very rare sight. It is like seeing up close in real life something that you thought was special effects made on a computer. There are geothermal areas in most parts of Iceland. Among the most popular are Seltún in the Reykjanes Peninsula, Geysir in Haukadalur, Hveradalir in Kerlingafjöll, and Námaskarð near Mývatn.


4 - Glaciers and glacier tongues

Svínafellsjökull glacier toungue
Svínafellsjökull glacier toungue

Glaciers are a large part of the Icelandic landscape. Iceland has five large glaciers, one of them the largest in Europe. Most house some of the most notorious volcanos on our planet; the weight of the glaciers prevents the magma from bursting to the surface. This is one reason Iceland is often called the land of ice and fire. When traveling in some regions, glaciers are visible for hours—in some interesting places, they are even accessible from the Ring Road. The largest glacier/icecap is Vatnajökull, a relatively easily accessible one is Langjökull, and probably the most famous (although the smallest of the five) is Eyjafjallajokull.


5 - Canyons

Jökulsárgljúfur canyon
Jökulsárgljúfur canyon

Although our largest canyon Skaftárgljúfur (25 kilometers), disappeared when it was filled with lava in the late 18th-century Skaftáreldar eruption, Iceland still has many spectacular canyons. Some are natural wonders by their own merit and also house other stunning natural wonders. The sight from above and within a canyon is beautiful and breathtaking. Iceland's most spectacular canyon is Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon; other sensational ones include Eldgjá in the Highland and the newly discovered Stuðlagil in the Eastern Region.


6 - Aurora Borealis - Northern lights

Northern lights at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in November
Northern lights at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in November

For those who have never experienced strong and fast-moving northern lights, the first sight could be almost frightening. The scene of the dark sky lit up in neon green, red, violet, and orange, moving like a supernatural force, is simply out of this world, like a major movie special effect multiplied by 100. During the winter months (October through February), the beautiful and powerful northern lights can be seen in many places in Iceland. Our experience is that the small town of Fáskrúðsfjörður in the Eastern Region and Akureyri in the north are the best places to experience the Aurora Borealis on an otherworldly or extratextual level. But here you can read about the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland.


7 - Basalt columns

Basalt columns rock formation at Kálfshamarsvík
Basalt columns rock formation at Kálfshamarsvík

The rocks, cliffs, and stacks made of basalt columns are sometimes so uniform that it is hard to believe that they have not been designed and constructed by humans. Sometimes these geological formations are almost poetic, bending and swaying around other parts of the landscape or by a riverside. Some of the most spectacular basalt column sites in Iceland are in popular destinations like Reynisfjara. Others are in Stuðlagil, Dverghamrar, Gerðuberg, and Kálfhamarsvík. All have distinct shapes and forms.


8 - Geothermal pools

Strútslaug geothermal pool in the Highaland
Strútslaug geothermal pool in the Highaland

The idea of tearing off your clothes in the middle of a spectacular, grand landscape and diving into a natural pool made of warm groundwater is undoubtedly irresistible. There are so many natural pools in Iceland that one can plan a two-week visit and bathe in a different natural pool every day. Although many such pools are accessible from the road, like in the Westfjords, the most interesting ones, like Landmannalaugar, Hveravellir, and Laugarvellir (that also has a warm shower), are in the Highland.


9 - Rhyolite mountains

Colorful Rhyolite mountains in Landmannalaugar
Colorful Rhyolite mountains in Landmannalaugar

If there is a place on Earth where nature celebrates color, it must be the rhyolite mountains. If you are used to seeing only two colors on mountains—one when in proximity and one when far away—prepare yourself. The rhyolite mountains have many different colors splashed all over a spectacular cluster of peaks. There are many such mountains in Iceland, and all of them are extremely interesting and colorful. Two of the most interesting are Landmannalaugar and Ljósártungur in the Icelandic Highland.


10 - Animals in their natural environment

Humpback whale breaching
Humpback whale breaching

If you have never seen a 16-ton humpback breach whale, a flock of puffins meeting on the edge of a cliff, a seal relaxing by the shore, or other free animals in their natural environment, you are in for a treat. There are many ways to watch birds, whales, seals, and other animals in Iceland. Most interestingly, they can be seen when viewing other natural wonders or traveling the island. The most interesting place to see whales is the world capital of whale watching, Húsavík. There are also many places where you can see puffins during summer; one of our favorites is Papey in the Eastern Region.

...and somtimes we have eruptions in active volcaonos
...and somtimes we have eruptions in active volcaonos

I could go on and on about lava fields, caves, mountains, rivers, craters, calderas, volcanos, lakes, black beaches, ice caves, spring-fed creeks, sea stacks, fjords, valleys, coves, and much more. But I must leave some elbow room for excitement and encourage you to read about other things on my website.