Iceland should be on the bucket list of every avid traveller. From natural phenomena to unique experiences and activities – Iceland has it all. If you’re still wondering “Why visit Iceland?” this article is your ultimate guide.
Travellers have been bombarded with idyllic images of tanned bodies on white sandy beaches with a cocktail in hand for many, many years. That’s probably why Iceland doesn’t necessarily spring to mind when planning your next getaway. But there are many reasons to visit Iceland, some of which are truly once in a lifetime experiences.
Is Iceland a Good Place to Visit?
Before we even start diving into our top 10 reasons to visit Iceland, the first thing you need to know is that Iceland was rated the 4th happiest country in the world. It’s clear that all that ice has not dampened the nation’s sunny disposition. You’re likely to experience the warmest welcome any country has ever extended to you. So when asking the question “Why visit Iceland?” the first answer should be “The people!”
Why Visit Iceland? Our Top 10 Picks
There are plenty of reasons why you should visit Iceland at least once in your life, but these are our recommended top 10 – most of which you can’t experience anywhere else in the world.
1. Aurora Borealis
More commonly known as the Northern Lights, this is the most impressive light display nature has ever provided us with. To experience these red, green, yellow and blue light patterns that appear as flickers, rays and spirals across the entire sky is something that one can’t truly capture in words.
It’s important to note though that the Northern Lights are not visible all year round. You will need to plan your trip so it falls between September and April. Some still take a chance in August, but the nights are much shorter and drastically decreases the odds of you spotting them.
The general consensus is also to go somewhere with the least amount of lights (so Reykjavik is out!) if you want a glimpse of this natural phenomenon. A few recommended places include:
- Reykjanes Peninsula
- Snæfellsjökull Peninsula
2. Whale Watching
Iceland is one of the best places to visit if you want to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. It is the fact that warm and cold sea currents mix and blends with Iceland’s shallow fjords that sets the scene for a very unique whale watching experience. Due to this unique temperature blend, a wide variety of whales can call Icelandic waters their home (24 different species in total!). These whales include:
- Humpback whales
- Minke whales
- Sperm whales
- Harbor porpoises (one of the smallest whale species)
- Toothed whales
- Beaked whales
- Pilot whales
Unlike many other countries around the world where migrating whales mean that they can only be seen during certain seasons, the Icelandic whales can pretty much be spotted throughout the year. Although the blue whales and fin whales are predominantly seen throughout the summer months.
Having a close encounter of the whale kind is made easy with the many whale watching tours on offer. The majority of these can be found in and around Reykjavik, so if you’re planning on taking part in any whale watching activities, the capital should be your first stop.
3. Hot Springs
Why visit Iceland? Well, where else will you find so many natural springs and geothermal pools? Iceland literally has hundreds of them! And to make these natural hot tubs even cooler, the reason why they exist is because of the magma chambers (think lava caves) being the main source of heat for these water masses.
Many hot springs are pretty tepid for a leisurely swim, but there are others than can get up to 40 degrees Celsius! No wonder many of the locals opt for a quick dip in the cold ocean, rivers etc. in between hot spring sessions. But that’s only at locations that offer both, of course.
With hundreds of options out there it can be tough to narrow them down, so we have come up with a list of the absolute must-swim, we mean, must-see hot springs for you:
The Secret Lagoon/Gamla Laugin
This is one of those hot springs where you can alternate between the hot and the cold as it sits next to a large river with other smaller geysers surrounding it. The reason why it’s called the secret lagoon is that people actually forgot about it!
People first recounted swimming in the lagoon as early as 1891, but from 1937 it seemed to have been completely forgotten till 2006. Since this hot spring is only 1.5 hrs away from the capital, we’re sure this won’t ever happen again.
This is an interesting spot since it’s not your typical hot spring pool. If you see it, you’ll almost think that someone created this footbath for commercial purposes so perfect is this natural creation.
Sit and relax with your feet in the hot water while licking an ice cream and gazing at the majestic views of Mount Esja. This cute little hot spring is also one of the closest to the city centre (just 45 minutes).
The Blue Lagoon
Seems like the bright blue water of the travel ads is not exclusive to the Caribbean. The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s rendition of this, but with views of icy mountain tops.
The beautiful blue water is a science experiment of its own as the blue is due to the silica (the most prominent element within the lagoon’s water) and how it reflects visible light. As one of the official 25 wonders of the world, this is a hot spring you do not want to miss.
Another reason why travel to Iceland is so popular is because of the country’s spectacular waterfalls. As a country with large mountain glaciers, tall mountains, water in abundance and thaw/freeze cycles, it’s the perfect recipe for these spectacular displays of water plummeting to the earth or trickling over stone terraces. Some of the unmissable waterfalls are:
5. Burnt Beaches
Okay, not really. But the black beaches of Iceland certainly look like it. These beaches are made of black sediment that was formed due to hot lava floating across the beach and solidifying once it reaches the cold ocean water. If you’re planning on visiting one of these black wonders, we recommend these be your first go-to stops:
- Solheimasandur (this one even has a plane wreck to explore!)
- Diamond beach
Whales are not the only impressive wildlife Iceland has to offer. The country also boasts with the biggest Puffin colonies in the world and is credited with housing 60% of the world’s entire Puffin population! Since Iceland is essentially their breeding grounds, you’ll be able to see these cuties over the summer months from May to early September. Some of the most famous Puffin colony locations include:
- Akurey & Lundey
- Westman Islands
- Ingólfshöfdi Nature Reserve
- Pepey Island
7. The Golden Circle
America is not the only one with infamous road trip routes. Iceland should definitely be on your road trip bucket list with routes such as:
- The Westfjords Way
- The Ring Road
- The Arctic Coast Way
- The South Coast
But none are as popular as The Golden Circle. The fact that most of the tourist attractions are stops all along this route probably has a lot to do with it. Tourist attractions such as the Blue Lagoon and Gullfoss mentioned above.
The entire route is 300 kilometres long. There are plenty of guided tours of the Golden Circle one can take, but we highly recommend doing a self-drive. That way, you’re 100% in control of your own time and activities. We offer a wide range of rental cars in Reykjavik and take pride in offering a high-quality service for a small price, so make sure you take a look at our fleet while planning your trip.
Yes, you can hike anywhere in the world, but as a country boasting with exceptional natural beauty, you’ve never experienced hiking quite like hiking in Iceland. Especially if you’re someone who prefers keeping off the beaten track and avoiding the tourists a bit.
There are many different hiking trails one can take from 1-day hikes to overnight hikes and all require various different skill levels. So whether you’ve just started your hiking journey or have been at it for years – you’ll find the hike to fit your fitness and skill level. Some of the popular hikes include:
- The Mount Esja Trail
- The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
9. Midnight Sun
Experiencing a midnight sun is something very unique to Iceland. But it’s also important to note that this never-setting sun phenomenon is a seasonal occurrence. So you will need to plan your trip for May to August if this is on your Iceland to-do list.
10. The Tectonic Plates
Without sounding too dramatic; do you want to see continents torn apart? Well, now you can without having to be some villain from the marvel universe. The Tectonic Plates are situated on the Pingvellir Plain and is where the plates between Europe and North America are pushing away from each other. This has resulted in lakes, rivers and ragged gulleys that are quite a sight to see.
So, is Iceland Worth Visiting?
There are far more reasons to why visit Iceland? But after taking a look at our top 10 picks, the question should really be why not visit Iceland? We look forward to having you. See you soon in the Land of Fire and Ice!