The Eight Natural Wonders of Iceland

Iceland Bucket List: Natural Wonders

Fully licensed travel agency & tour operator
February 14, 2019
author Viktória Komjáti

By Viktória Komjáti

Viktoria is a restless adventurer with personal experience in all of the outdoor activities that Iceland has to offer. She loves to inspire others to get to know Iceland and to make a deep connection with the country during their travels.

Many say that Iceland is a whole different world. That is why it is often referred to as Planet Iceland. A range of breathtaking natural wonders are stuffed into this remote little country. There is no other place on Earth where such natural wonders appear so close to each other. It is no wonder why Iceland has become a top travel destination and can be found on the bucket lists of so many people from all over the world. Let us introduce you the most amazing natural wonders that can be found in Iceland!

1. The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are one of the major reasons why many people visit Iceland. Having this spectacular light show dancing across the sky above you is difficult to describe in words. You simply have to experience it yourself.

When the Aurora is active, it lights up the dark sky, forming varied shapes and taking on dreamlike colors. People are enchanted by this wonderful phenomenon. Even locals, who have the opportunity to witness this occurrence quite often, are never bored by the Aurora. It is never the same; every single show is unique and unrepeatable.

The best time to see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland is from September to April. The lights are most visible when the sky is dark and relatively clear. If you visit Iceland in the wintertime, make sure to go out Northern Lights hunting. It will be worth your while!

A magical display of the Northern lights in Iceland

A magical display of the Northern lights in Iceland

2. The Midnight Sun

When the Northern Lights are impossible to detect, there is another magical thing that makes Iceland so special: the midnight sun. There is no point in comparing these entirely different natural wonders because they are both magical in their own very unique ways.

The phenomenon of the midnight sun occurs around the polar circles every summer. Peaking in June, these areas experience 24-hour sunlight while the sun from the Arctic Circle is visible all night long.

Iceland, being very close to the Arctic Circle, enjoys the magic of the midnight sun from May to August. In the northern regions, the sun hangs right above the horizon all night long while in the southern regions, it dips below the horizon for a bit. The whole country experiences glorious sunset-sunrises where golden and pink hues paint the skies and last all night long.

If the weather allows, watching this beautiful display is a heavenly experience. Go out for a late night walk to witness the sun as it never truly sets. Take magical photos of the landscape by the Sun Voyager sculpture or by Grotta lighthouse in Reykjavík.

The view from Arnarstapi on the Snæfellsnes peninsula after midnight in July

The view from Arnarstapi on the Snæfellsnes peninsula after midnight in July

3. Glaciers and blue ice caves

With 11% of its total land area covered by ice, Iceland is the ultimate glacier paradise. Europe’s largest ice cap can be found in Iceland along with a number of smaller ones as well as some incredibly impressive glacier tongues.

Most of Iceland’s glaciers hide an active volcano beneath their ice sheets, such as the famous Eyjafjallajökull, whose name refers to both the glacier and the volcano itself. Iceland’s glaciers also store the evidence of volcanic eruptions that have taken place over the past few hundreds or thousands of years. The ash layers from each eruption are trapped in the ice which results in Iceland’s glaciers being striped with black layers.

Many of the Icelandic glaciers are quite easy to access, allowing Iceland to offer a great selection of glacier activities to its visitors. One of the most unique things you can do is explore a crystal blue ice cave that has formed inside a glacier.

Entering an ice cave feels like being in a fairytale. Sparkling like a diamond, cyan blue, and crystal clear, ice caves have a surreal atmosphere that cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world, only deep inside the body of a glacier.

Ice caves are short-lived wonders that collapse every summer while new caves form every winter. Over the past decades, Iceland’s glaciers have been retreating a lot and, according to scientists, most of them may disappear completely within the next 50-100 years. Make sure to put glacier exploration on the top of your bucket list when you visit Iceland!

A spectacular crystal ice cave on Vatnajökull glacier

A spectacular crystal ice cave on Vatnajökull glacier

4. Glacier Lagoons and a Diamond Beach

Iceland’s stunning glacier lagoons are some of the most celebrated natural wonders in the world. Out of many, Jökulsárlón is by far the most famous. Visitors refer to it as the crown jewel of Iceland and a major highlight of their trips.

These beautiful ice lakes only form at the tip of a glacier tongue. As the ice slowly melts and retreats, it leaves a lake behind. This lake is filled with glacial meltwater and ice chunks that break off of the glacier’s tip. The icebergs can vary largely in size and shape, from small diamond-like pieces to gigantic icebergs that can be as large as 20-30 meters (65-98 feet) across.

Uniquely, at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, the lake is directly connected to the sea so that the icebergs can escape into the open ocean. Here, the waves push them back onto the coast where they end up breaking into a million pieces on the seashore, decorating the black sand as sparkling ice rocks. This place is nicknamed “Diamond Beach” and is one of the most photographed natural attractions in Iceland.

Whether you just want to admire the glacier lagoon from afar or go out for a boat ride on the lagoon, do not miss out on seeing a stunning glacier lagoon. Seeing icebergs floating in the cold water and mixing that experience with the midnight sun or the Northern Lights will create a memory that just might last forever. We suggest that you get up close and personal with a glacier lagoon and experience first hand how magnificent they can be.

Jökulsárlón glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón glacier Lagoon

5. The Blue Lagoon or Other Geothermal Pools

Another thing that should definitely be on your bucket list is taking a pleasant dip in a hot spring or in a geothermal pool somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Iceland has countless exotic hot springs as well as man-made geothermal pools which can be found at incredible locations and which offer breathtaking views.

The Blue Lagoon is the most well-known of all as it has been listed as one of the 25 Wonders of the World by the National Geographic. It is a warm, milky-white lake located in the middle of a rugged lava field. Its water is a mixture of freshwater and seawater which is extraordinarily rich in silica and minerals. These unique ingredients are very good for the skin and even help some people with skin ailments such as psoriasis.

The Blue Lagoon is a world-class spa with modern facilities and many extra services such as in-water massages, a sauna, steam rooms, and a relaxation area. Other than the Blue Lagoon, there are hundreds of geothermal swimming pools all over the country with 14 located in the capital area alone.

Geothermal bathing is a huge thing in Iceland and is part of the locals’ daily life. Do not skip out on it when you visit the country!

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

6. Geysers and Hot Springs

Iceland is known for its thrilling geysers. The country is actually the home to the Great Geysir, the one that all other geysers are named after. When it was active, the Great Geysir blew hot water 150-200 meters (492-656 feet) into the air! Sadly, it is not very active today as its last activity took place in 2016. But, it could erupt again at any time!

There is another geyser next to the big one, its little brother, Strokkur. It reliably erupts every few minutes and its hot water column can reach the height of 30-40 meters (98-131 feet). It is quite an impressive sight to see!

Another tiny geyser is located next to a geothermal pool called the Secret Lagoon. You can watch this geyser erupt while relaxing in the warm water.

Iceland has many active geothermal areas with numerous bubbling hot springs, fumaroles, and other stunning volcanic activities. The country even gets a majority of its power from geothermal power plants. Make sure to check out some geysers while you are in Iceland!

Strokkur geyser erupting

Strokkur geyser erupting

7. Waterfalls

Besides the countless natural attractions, many of the people that visit Iceland are most amazed by the number of stunningly beautiful waterfalls. These impressive cascades are so easy to access and some of them are so close to each other that Iceland could be easily nominated the world’s best travel destination for waterfall enthusiasts.

It seems like at every stop that people make on the Ring Road, there is a magnificent waterfall to explore. The most famous waterfalls are Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss in Southern Iceland. They both are located just next to the Ring Road, about a half an hour’s drive apart. They are both approximately 60 meters (197 feet) tall. Seljalandsfoss is thinner but you can walk behind it in summer while Skógafoss is much wider, much stronger, and you can climb up to its top.

Another giant, Gullfoss, is located just about a two-hour drive from the capital. Iceland has the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, Dettifoss, and also has a waterfall framed by black basalt columns, Svartifoss. The second highest waterfall is within an hour’s drive and another one-hour hike from Reykjavík. There are so many thrilling cascades to explore. Make sure to visit some while you are in Iceland!

Skógafoss waterfall and the Northern Lights

Skógafoss waterfall and the Northern Lights

8. Volcanoes

With 32 active volcanic systems in Iceland, there is always something for enthusiasts to watch out for in Iceland. A volcanic eruption takes place on average every 4-5 years in Iceland. The last eruption took place at the Bárðarbunga volcano under Vatnajökull glacier. It ended on February 28, 2015, meaning that the next eruption is due any time!

You might not be lucky enough to see an actual live volcanic eruption during your visit, but standing next to an active volcano is a truly magnificent way to feel the power of nature. Even if it is not currently erupting, you can admire some incredible signs of current activity such as solidified lava flows, steaming ground, lava caves, and you can even descend into the belly of a sleeping volcano!

You can, for example, hike up to freshly formed craters such as Magni and Móði which were formed during the infamous Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010. Or, you can visit an ice cave at the foot of Iceland’s deadliest volcano, Katla, and see the layers of ash trapped in the ice over the centuries. You can even climb the highest volcano in Iceland with its peak, called Hvannadalshnúkur, which also happens to be the country’s tallest mountain.

Make sure to check out some volcanoes in Iceland even if they are not active. They are an impressive thing to see!

Hikers on the new crater Magni that was formed during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010

Hikers on the new crater Magni that was formed during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010