Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 348,580 and an area of 103,000 km2, making it one of the most sparsely populated country in the world. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík.
Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country are home to over two-thirds of the population.
Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. According to the ancient manuscript Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in 874 AD when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent settler on the island.
Iceland is an island of striking landscapes, where rivers run through deserts and fire erupts from ice, Iceland is best described as a realm of stark contrasts—a land in which the natural elements perpetually dance between the primordial poles of fire and frost, during day-less winters and night-less summer months.
Visiting Iceland is close enough to visiting North or south pole, in the summer there is no night and in the winter there is no day light, this only thing is already a good reason to visit Iceland.
So what should you visit when you are in Iceland:
1. Lake Myvatn Geothermal Area
Approximately 90 km east of Akureyri is Mývatn, Iceland’s fourth largest lake which was most likely formed by a catastrophic volcanic eruption some 2300 years ago. The area is still very volcanically active, the Krafla volcano being close by, its last eruption taking place in 1984.
The lake is rich with birdlife, and its surroundings are composed of many of Iceland’s most precious natural marvels.
Unique and unusually shaped lava-formations make up the mystical Dimmuborgir (Dark cities), where, according to legend, Satan himself landed after being cast from the heavens, only to be outlawed by the local light-elves who then turned his “Catacombs of Hell” into their capital city.
In the surrounding lava fields, one is likely to chance upon cracks and caves full of naturally heated water suitable for bathing.
Bursts of earthquake have, however, caused some of the natural baths to become extremely hot, and thus very dangerous. It is, therefore, best to ask the locals for guidance before diving into the enchanting warm water.
Tours to the volcano Krafla are easy from Mývatn, and some include other beautiful attractions, such as Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall.
2. The Blue Lagoon
Bláa lónið, or the Blue Lagoon, is a geothermal spa, filled with seawater, which is believed to have natural healing powers. The water, rich in silica and minerals, has worked well on all sorts of eczema and other skin related problems (e.g. psoriasis), and the Blue Lagoon even has a special clinic for skin treatment.
It also offers a variety of luxury spa treatments, and it is possible to dine at the restaurant Lava situated at the lagoon.
An experience in the Blue Lagoon is always beautiful; it has milky blue water and is surrounded by lava, making the place enchanting and mysterious.
For years the Blue Lagoon has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. It is situated on Reykjanes peninsula, close to Keflavík International Airport, only forty minutes’ drive from the capital.
Reykjanes peninsula is well known for its raw and rocky landscape, which many compare to the moon, and it is worthwhile to make a trip around the peninsula to visit the fisherman’s town of Grindavík.
3. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
Intertwined with the Sagas, and populated until the early decades of the 20th century, the northernmost part of the Westfjords is called Hornstrandir. This colossal cliffside peaks at 534 m above sea level, providing the perfect habitat for one of the greatest seafowl colonies on earth.
Due to general poverty, lack of technology, and geological isolation, communications with the outside world were, until recently, always difficult at best, making the former few inhabitants of this one horse province renowned for their distinct rituals and beliefs, especially their liberal generative attitudes towards closely related family members.
Luckily, the farms and villages have all been vacated, and nowadays an increasing number of travellers visits the area to enjoy the solitude and magnificent landscapes.
The Hornstrandir area is reachable by ferries from Ísafjörður fjord and Strandir district.
4. Skaftafell Nature Reserve
Measuring 4800 km² (1,850 mi²), Skaftafell is home to some of the strangest and most surreal landscapes on the planet.
The area is formed by a constant duel of fire and water, and camping in the greens of a birch wood forest, surrounded by black desert sands, glacial rivers, and a spur of the Vatnajökull ice cap is always a humbling experience.
Numerous hiking trails take you away from the campground, to such natural treasures as Svartifoss (Black fall), which flows over a sublime cliff of black basalt columns.
Skaftafell is renowned for its warm climate and sunny summer days, and local services include guided tours around the area and onto the glacier, ice-climbing tours, transportation, food and accommodation.
Only a short drive away, titanic icebergs float magnificently on Jökulsárlón, a majestic sky-blue glacier lagoon, where travellers can sail among the countless mountains of ice that constantly fall from the glacier.
5. The Volcano Hekla
One of the most active volcanoes on earth, Hekla, towers 1,500 m (5,000 ft) into the south Icelandic sky, forever threatening infernal holocaust and raucous thunder.
The earliest documented eruption of Hekla took place in 1104, and since then between twenty and thirty significant eruptions have been recorded. With the volcano sometimes remaining active for the greater part of a decade, medieval European scribes and legend makers had no choice but to place the gates of hell in its very centre.
In 1180 The Cistercian monk Herbert of Clairvaux wrote in his De Miraculis:
“The renowned fiery cauldron of Sicily, which men call Hell’s chimney … that cauldron is affirmed to be like a small furnace compared to this enormous inferno.”
In modern times Hekla and her rugged vistas have served as the inspiration for numerous artists and filmmakers, such as director Ridley Scott who partly filmed his Prometheus there as the volcano’s lunar landscapes encapsulated his vision of a hostile alien planet in the darkest corner of the known universe.
If you decide to drive to Hekla yourself, be sure not to confuse it with the small nearby town of Hella.