With an incredible wealth of natural features, a kind population, and easy flights, Iceland should be at the top of everyone's bucket list. I don't know that I've ever been anywhere else that had so many distinct things to see in such a concentrated space. Nine days in Iceland was most definitely not sufficient, and I expect to be back several times in the future. Here is the short list of things to see in Iceland.
1 | Waterfalls - Called a "foss" in Icelandic, Iceland has no shortage of waterfalls. Each fall is distinct and amazing in it's own way and changes dramatically with the seasons. I was in Iceland at the end of winter, but have seen images from the summer that make each fall look entirely different.
2 | Reykjavik - The capital and largest city of Iceland, this is where the majority of the population lives. Despite its relatively small size, Reykjavik is full of cute restaurants and cafes, has a vibrant nightlife scene, and has a large number of cultural centers and museums.
3 | Glaciers - Glaciers have carved much of the Icelandic landscape. Take a hike on a glacier and experience ice fissures and more.
5 | Glacier Lagoons - Giant icebergs break off the glaciers and float around in the lagoon before heading out to the ocean.
6 | Ice Caves - Melt water flows underneath the glaciers, creating incredible ice caves in the winter months. The caves look like frozen waves and have an otherworldly quality to them. You must have a guide to enter the caves as they reshape and change every year. By far the most beautiful caves I have been in.
7 | Icelandic Horses - A hardy, yet small horse breed native to Iceland. Once an Icelandic horse leaves the island, they can never come back.
8 | Whipped Butter & Fresh Baked Bread + Volcanic Salt - This is no joke. One of life's greatest joys (in my opinion) is eating freshly baked bread. Add delicate, delicious whipped butter, top it off with some black volcanic salt, and I am literally in heaven.
9 | Continental Divide - The Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the rift between the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates is found in Thingvellir Park. You can dive between the plates in the Silfra fissure, also located within Thingvellir.
10 | Icelandic Architecture - Drawing from Scandinavian influences, traditional Icelandic architecture features a mix of original turf homes, Swiss Chalet type structures, and stone buildings.
11 | Geothermal Pools - Everyone has seen images of the iconic light blue waters of the Blue Lagoon, but few people realize that this is just one of many geothermal pools in the country. Even small remote accommodations may have a natural "hot pot." This site maps the various pools and hot pots throughout the country.
12 | Geysers - Watch water shoot straight out of the ground. The most convenient one to reach is on The Golden Circle.
13 | Black Sand Beaches - Although there are several throughout the country, the most famous black sand beach is at the Reynisfjara shore near the village of Vik. The "sand" is made from the ocean grinding down basalt rocks that exist due to volcanic activity on the island.
14 | Basalt Columns - Igneous rocks formed when lava cools. These basalt columns can be found all around Iceland, adding a natural architectural element to the landscape. I found the Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik (above ) to echo these basalt columns.
15 | The Northern Lights - Last, but most definitely not least, the aurora borealis is a stunning light show visible from Iceland predominately between October and April. See here for my experience with the Northern Lights and tips for seeing them.
ICELAND PACKING ESSENTIALS