Natural Phenomena You Have To See In Iceland

Time it just right and you could even catch double rainbows over the Barmur Rhyolite Mountains in Iceland
Time it just right and you could even catch double rainbows over the Barmur Rhyolite Mountains in Iceland | © David Forster / Alamy
Addie Gottwald

The Icelandic people often talk about elves, trolls and “hidden people” inhabiting the land. It only seems fitting: Iceland is magical. This island is densely packed with some of Mother Nature’s most dazzling sites. Get out and explore the Land of Fire and Ice with our list of must-sees.

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The Separation of the North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates

The Þingvellir National Park is located about 35 minutes outside of Reykjavik. Not only is this park the site of the oldest existing parliament in the world (established in 930 AD), it is a beautiful spectacle of Iceland, filled with expansive views, waterfalls, rivers and lakes. Here you can also see the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian plates. Walk through no man’s land in the Almannagjá gorge between the two continents and then make your way over to Peningagja (Money Gorge) and throw coins in the water to make a wish.

Walking trail in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Hundreds Of Waterfalls

The earth seems to spit waterfalls every 100 meters in Iceland. Go to some of the best and most famous: Gullfoss, a powerful, wide waterfall in a beautiful setting, and Seljalandsfoss, a tall waterfall that you can actually walk behind (but bring plastic bags or raincoats for your phones in the mist).

Gullfoss Waterfall at Golden Circle in Iceland

Geothermal Pools

Iceland has an abundance of geothermal energy pumping through its ground. This natural phenomenon provides over 25 percent of the country’s electricity and heats over 87 percent of Iceland’s buildings and water. But when you visit, don’t let your hot shower be your only interaction with this natural phenomenon. Go to a geothermal pool.The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland, but it actually does not exist naturally. The lagoon is manmade, using (clean) wastewater from the geothermal power plant next door. There are, however, other geothermal pools on the island that are natural. Take a dip in these natural hot tubs and relax. Stop and smell the sulfur.

Aerial view of Gudrunarlaug hot spring in Iceland

Geysers

The word “geyser” comes from a specific geyser in Iceland named “Geysir,” a name that is in itself derived from the Icelandic “geysa” which means “to gush.” Visit the geyser that started it all, just an hour and a half outside Reykjavik. Right beside it is another geyser, Strokkur, that erupts much more frequently (every few minutes). Be sure to watch right before it blows to see the light blue bubble emerge from the pool.

Strokkur geyser eruption in Iceland

Rainbows

One of the most wonderful things about Iceland is its expansive sky; you will never feel closed in. Iceland’s unpredictable weather may be a deterrent for some visitors but if you’re lucky the country’s crazy weather may give you a beautiful rainbow gliding across the sky.

Skogafoss Waterfall in Skogar, Iceland

Volcanoes (And Go Inside One!)

Iceland is home to 130 volcanoes, 18 of which have been active since the country has been inhabited. One dormant volcano on the island, however, is quite distinguishable; it is the only volcano in the world that you can go inside. Book a reservation at insidethevolcano.com and drive about 25 minutes outside Reykjavik. Then put on your helmet and strap yourself in to the open elevator. Get ready to descend 120 meters (more than the height of the Statue of Liberty) to see the colorful rocks that lie inside.

Inside a magma chamber, Thrihnukagigur

Lava Fields

You’ll drive by all sorts of lava fields across Iceland; melted magma that has cooled and is now covered in beautiful moss. If you take a walk through a lava field you can often see lava tubes, the underground tunnels where the lava flowed from the volcano.

Moss covered ancient lava field at Skaftareldahraun, South Iceland

Glaciers

You can’t go to Iceland without seeing some ice. Glaciers cover about 11 percent of Iceland’s total area. Many different companies in Reykjavik offer glacier tours, or if you’re there for long enough, drive the ring road around the island and visit the bigger glaciers. The Vatnajökull glacier is the largest glacier in Europe, providing many glacial tongues to explore on the southeast side of Iceland.

Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland

Ice caves

Every summer water runs underneath the island’s glaciers, sometimes carving out huge ice caves. About four and a half hours outside of Reykjavik you can to go ice caving. Book the required guide and walk through this natural phenomenon in the Vatnajökull National Park.

Tourists in The Crystal Cave, Breidamerkurjokull Glacier, Iceland

Black Sand Beaches

Iceland isn’t exactly known for its beach vacations, but there is something special about beaches in Iceland: many of them have black sand. If you’re visiting for long enough, take a trip to Jokulsarlon Lagoon where you can watch parts of a glacier drift out to sea on the black beaches. Breathtaking.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon in Iceland

Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are nothing short of pure magic dancing across the night sky. Visit during darker months for a better chance of seeing this wonder and you’ll never be able to stop talking about it. There’s a reason it’s been on your bucket list.

Northern lights over Jokulsarlon lagoon, Vatnajokull Glacier National Park, Iceland

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