In addition to its waterfalls, Iceland has other attractions to keep you busy taking photos or admiring the scenery. I’ve singled out some of the features that you’re bound to see upon a visit to the country. Read below to get a brief introduction to these features.
Geysir: The original Geysir is said to be the one responsible for the widespread usage of the word geyser. These days, Geysir doesn't go off regularly nor to its former height of well over 30m due to human vandalism (by throwing things in to its vent to induce eruptions), its neighbor Strokkur goes off very frequently with varying degrees of height (sometimes up to 30m). This attraction is part of the Golden Circle, which can be done as a long day tour from Reykjavík.
It is perhaps the most recognizable and architecturally significant structure in Reykjavík - the capital city of Iceland. This church resembles a progression of organ pipes culminating in an apex with a cross at its top. A statue of Leifur Eiriksson stands before the front of the impressive building.
It is perhaps the most popular attraction of Iceland's Interior. Given its remote location, it's amazing to see such a collection of people, buildings, campsites, etc. here. The area features colorfull hillsides due to the volcanic nature of the recent past as well as thermal pools near the campsites. Many tours comes here and trekkers go to-and-from here to other parts of the country such as Þórsmörk and Skógar. Although you generally need 4wd to get here, many 2wd vehicles can make it if they take the northern approach near Hrauneyjar.
Sprinkled throughout the country are several turf farms reminiscent of the harsher times of the Saga Age. These farms have the characteristic grass and turf on their roofs not unlike the ones found in Norway. However, these farms appear more hobbit-like than their Norwegian brethren. We managed to find a handful of turf farm sights such as Glaumbær near Ketubjörg, the museum near Skógar, etc. as well as a handful of smaller sights such as Bustafell near Vopnafjörður.
Surrounded by lava rocks and cinder cones, this lake features one of the most unique scenery in the world. With birds and geese galore as well as the annoying namesake midges, the lake is popular with both locals and tourists. In fact the thermal nature of the region has also given rise to its own version of a bathing lagoon like the Blue Lagoon near Keflavík. They even have a local underground-cooked bread called hverabrauð which is unique to this area.
One need not look any further than this glacial lagoon for evidence of Global Warming. Growing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, this lagoon features icebergs, glaciers, and even seals. The glacier lagoon also made an appearance in one of the more recent James Bond movies.
It is definitely a popular tourist stop as visitors gaze at floating icebergs headed out to a sandy beach or the ocean. Some that land on the beach are even touchable. There are also amphibious tours letting you get a different look at the lagoon as well as glaciers backing the lagoon making this an awesome place to stop and stretch out as you drive through the glacially-scoured sandurs of South Iceland.
This is perhaps Iceland's most important cultural heritage site as well as one of the places where the American and European continental plates separate in a rift valley cutting right through the middle of Iceland. The historical importance stems from the fact that this is where the althing (or assemblies that dictated rules, regulations, and punishments) took place. Countrymen from all over Iceland attended these gatherings (some had to cross the Interior to get here). As a result of the historical importance of the site, it is the country's only UNESCO World Heritage site.
Iceland is home to many glaciers including the world's largest glacier outside the Arctic Circle (Vatnajökull). Many of these glaciers can be glimpsed from the country's southern sandur region between Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Höfn. However, there are other intriguing ones such as Snæfellsjökull on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, where the glacier sits atop a volcano. Many of these glaciers are responsible for the country's biggest waterfalls as well as glacial rivers that were difficult to traverse before bridges were built. However in the Icelandic Interior, many of these rivers remain unbridged. Whether or not these glaciers will remain in the near future (with Global Warming) is uncertain, but as long as they're here, they're quite a sight to behold.
This colorful thermal region just east of Mývatn contains boiling mud pools, hissing steam vents, and technicolor hills. Included in this general area is the Námafjall mountain and Namaskard. When it's sunny, it's great for photography. When it's bitterly cold, you'll be appreciative of the geothermal warmth (just don't whiff too much of the noxious gasses).
Further to the north past the Geothermal Plant at Krafla (Króflustóð), you can find some additional interesting volcanic geology. Included in here are crater "lakes" such as Stóra-Víti, which is laced with minerals and makes the water unusually colorful. Other attractions include lava flows and the active volcano Krafla.
Blue Lagoon (Bláa Lónið):
This is Iceland's most popular and famous attraction. Geothermally heated runoff fills a man-modified lagoon area with comfortably warm water and therapeutic mud which is good for exfoliation. In addition to the obvious relaxation and refuge from the usually cold weather, this facility also displays how resourceful and efficient Icelandic people can be. Everything from the wrist bands to the turnstiles to the source of the water, etc. shows that very little gets wasted and almost everything gets re-used. Perhaps other countries (such as the United States) can learn from the folks at the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Nestled near the south end of the Húnafjörður fjord lies this interesting rock with two small arches at its bottom. Birds love this rocky protrusion. Tourists can get a fairly unsatisfactory view of it from the official overlook or scramble down a slippery and steep slope onto the black sand beach to get right down to the arches themselves.
This strange attraction is near the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. It was once believed that this floor was manmade, but it's really the top of a series of basalt columns resembling a neatly-decorated hexagonal-tiled floor. Such basalt formations are very prevalent in Iceland though other places with a mix of lava and ice have similar formations. For example, the Devil's Postpile
in California is one such example. In any case, this one attraction is very easily accessible and has managed to maintain its natural shape. During our trip, we enjoyed the wildflowers growing between the hexagons.
Iceland has many sea arches but perhaps the largest quantity of impressive sea arches are found at Arnarstapi on the southwest end of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Back by the impressive Snæfellsjökull, you can also spot ocean-bound waterfalls as well as these cool arches. Pictured here is the largest and perhaps most photographed one of the bunch but there are at least four other big ones in the immediate area.
This interesting stretch of coast just to the west of Arnarstapi has a black sand beach with rock formations, a small arch, some small lagoons, and even the legendary lifting stones. To top it all off, you also get a nice backside view of Snæfellsjökull on a clear day. It's easy to spend hours here just exploring the black sand beach while examining the remains of a shipwreck. It also makes a great place to watch the sunset or even the midnight sun (assuming the sun sets after midnight).
Just west of Vík í Myrdal in the south of Iceland lies the impressive sea arch at Dyrhólaey. We weren't able to get a view of the arches from sea level (I think those require some amphibious or boat tour), but we were able to view the arches from the top down (as pictured here) near an interesting lighthouse. In the general area, you can also see another smaller sea arch (with basalt columns in its span!) as well as the sea stacks to the east called Reynisdrangar.
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