Updated: Sep 1
Over the past decade or so, Iceland has become an increasingly popular travel destination. This comes as no surprise, as this little island nation way up next to the Arctic Circle just has so much to offer. The Land of Fire and Ice boasts many marvelous natural wonders that make it an attractive place to visit. In this article, we’ll be exploring the top ten highlights of Iceland's nature.
Planning your Iceland nature tour can be tricky as the number of things to do and see makes it difficult to include everything in one go. But the fact is- attempting to fit it all in a single trip would be a mistake. To do this land justice, you should take your time and really appreciate each of these unique experiences and places to the absolute fullest.
So, check out our top ten natural wonders below, but aim to pick out a few favorites for your bucket list. Don’t worry, you can always come back and experience the rest next time!
1. Glaciers and ice caves
Iceland is an elemental place, for sure, and often referred to as ‘The Land of Fire and Ice’ as previously mentioned. Therefore, experiencing some of its frosty terrains is a must. There are well over 250 glaciers In Iceland, covering some 11% of its landmass. It is also home to the largest ice cap in Europe. The mighty Vatnajokull covers a vast area of over 8000 sq. km.
Many of Iceland’s glaciers and ice sheets are hidden in the inaccessible wilds of the island, but there are plenty you can visit as well. If you are traveling to Iceland in summer, then you’ll be able to take hikes and boat rides to see some up close. Although summertime is a beautiful time to visit, a winter trip to Iceland’s glaciers is another experience entirely.
One of the top Iceland nature tours has to be venturing into a glacier ice cave. This is only possible on a guided tour during the winter months when the ice is stable. The opportunity to situate yourself inside a real glacier is an incredible experience, with deep blues and turquoise sweeps of ice rising up overhead like a grand hall.
Other winter activities include hiking across the glacier surface on a guided nature tour. Intrepid adventurers might also like to try their hand at ice climbing, while speed demons may get more enjoyment out of whizzing across the ice and snow on a snowmobile.
2. Iceland’s volcanoes
Now let’s move on to the fire element of the country’s nickname– volcanoes! Iceland’s varied nature showcases a whopping thirty-two active volcanic systems across the country, with odds of one erupting every 3-5 years. So, maybe while you’re out and about you could witness an eruption occur with your very eyes!
If not, you’ll be able to see the aftermath of Iceland’s volcanic eruptions. There’s everything from crater lakes and calderas, to solidified lava flows and tunnels. You can even drop down into the dormant magma chamber of the Thrihnukagigur volcano. Alternatively, hike to the summit of one of Iceland’s many sleeping volcanoes and take in the otherworldly views.
3. Volcanic black sand beaches
The volcanic black sand beaches around the South Iceland coast are another remnant of volcanic activity. Huge age-old eruptions sent lava flows right across the land and the beaches have jet-black sand to show for it.
Reynisfjara Beach near the town of Vik is one of the best examples. The beach here has been featured in countless music videos and photoshoots, and if you set foot on it you’ll soon see why. Towering basalt column cliffs rise up from the inky sands, while the wild Atlantic lashes at the shoreline. Meanwhile out in the bay, huge basalt rock stacks add to the drama of the scene.
4. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
This pair of icy wonders are another highlight of South Iceland. The Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon connects its namesake glacier to the open ocean. So, as the ice breaks off from the glacier's face it makes its way across the water and out to sea. The result is a vast watery sculpture park of icebergs. In summer, visitors can take boat trips to them and see nature’s artworks up close.
A little further down the coast is another signature black sand beach, and one of the best places to visit in Iceland, known as Diamond Beach. Here, much of the lagoon ice is broken up by the waves and washed onto the sands. This allows ice blocks in all shapes and sizes to decorate the beach, shining like diamonds on the black sand.
5. Iceland’s waterfalls
Iceland’s waterfalls are best viewed in the early summer months after the snow has melted. This is when their flow is at its strongest and most impressive. However, they can also be enjoyed year-round and they most definitely should be. Iceland nature tours aren’t complete without seeing several of these incredible natural wonders in their full glory. Here are some of our favorites:
Gullfoss Waterfall – A two-tiered extravaganza on the Golden Circle route.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall – Close to the Ring Road route, with a famous path behind the falling water.
Skógafoss Waterfall – A focal point in many photoshoots, this beauty is sixty meters high with a stunning wide-falling curtain of water.
Svartifoss Waterfall – A single plume of water surrounded by striking basalt rock columns.
Godafoss Waterfall – A wide horseshoe-shaped waterfall in North Iceland.
Dettifoss Waterfall – The most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, located in North Iceland off of the Diamond Circle.
6. Hot spring pools
All the best nature tours of Iceland have to include multiple dips in well-known hot spring pools. There are numerous pools and lagoons of all different shapes and sizes spread across Iceland. Though the Blue Lagoon is undoubtedly the most famous, the list does not stop here.
Visitors with a 4x4 camper rental can seek out thermal rivers in the Southern Highlands, or remote hot pots way out in the wilds. Nearly every town and village will have its own hot spring pool, with some situated in impressive surroundings. Whatever you do, don’t forget your bathing suit!
7. Geysers and fumaroles
Iceland’s volcanic heart strikes again! The most well-known of Iceland’s geothermal active zones are the geyser fields on the Golden Circle. Here you can see huge spurts of water leaping high into the sky, as well as bubbling mud pots and steamy fumaroles.
But there are more of these alien landscapes dotted around Iceland. You’ll find them at Hverir near Lake Myvatn in North Iceland, and across the Central Highlands if you take a summer road trip.
8. Whale watching
Iceland isn’t home to a huge amount of endemic wildlife, but it does welcome some of the world’s most miraculous mammals to its shores. One of the top Iceland nature tours has to be taking a boat trip out to see visiting whales. Right through the spring and summer, it is possible to see many different species of whales off the coast.
9. The Northern Lights
Seeing the elusive Northern Lights is already up there on many people’s travel bucket lists. And when conditions are right, Iceland is the ideal place to see them. For a good shot at spotting the Aurora Borealis, you need to visit Iceland in the winter months. We’re talking from late September through to early April.
This spectacular natural wonder is best viewed on clear, dark nights well away from any form of light pollution. The ethereal glow lights up the skies in dancing swathes of greens, blues, and lavender. It truly is a magical experience and one you will feel very lucky to have lived.
10. The Midnight Sun
At the other end of the seasonal spectrum, you will find the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun. During the height of the summer months, the sun barely dips below the horizon. This means that visitors who come at this time of year are given a whopping twenty-four hours of light with which to explore Iceland.
With the sun low through the night, the landscapes are bathed in a beautiful golden sunset glow. The light at these times is truly jaw-dropping, so summer visitors mustn't miss out on a nature walk under Iceland’s magical Midnight Sun.
Iceland's nature on a road trip
Driving through Iceland is the adventure of a lifetime. Many of these must-visit places in Iceland will offer you nature in all its contrasting glory. From stunning glaciers to geothermal hot springs, midnight black sand beaches, and vibrant blue ice caves, there is much to take in.
So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and have a look at some of our top rental campers and start planning your epic Iceland adventure today!