14 Life-Changing Experiences You Can Only Have in Iceland

Thingvellir National Park is just one of Iceland's many natural wonders
Thingvellir National Park is just one of Iceland's many natural wonders | © David Brabiner / Alamy
Photo of Camille Buckley
1 September 2021

Many people find themselves interested in coming to Iceland because of its mysterious landscape. Are you seeking a deep encounter with natural elements, or an amazing night of dancing followed by a trip to see the Northern Lights? Iceland has many attractions that could feel like a life-changing experience.

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Landscape paintings

Check out Kjarvalstaðir in Reykjavik, an art museum devoted to the beloved Icelandic landscape painter, Johannes Kjarval, whose works may invite you to see the real landscape in a totally new perspective.

The wild and beautiful Vestrahorn mountain | © Susan Dost / Alamy

Drive the Ring Road

Road trips can be pretty life-changing depending on a number of factors, including the people you’re on the journey with, the music you’re listening to and the weird hitchhikers you pick up on the way.

The Ring Road runs around the island of Iceland | © Dmitry Naumov / Alamy

Dip in an outdoor hot spring

In many hidden places in Iceland, you can find pools of natural rock formations where a geothermal pool has formed. Immersed in the earth in such a way, you could feel alive in a whole new way.

Dip in a hot spring | © imageBROKER / Alamy

Witness the Northern Lights

The sight of the Aurora Borealis neon lights dancing in the night sky is awe-inspiring. You simply have to experience it first hand.

Vík is the southernmost village in Iceland and an excellent spot to watch the Northern Lights | © Tawatchai Prakobkit / Alamy Stock Photo

See a geysir erupt

The Geysir hot spring area has a dozen boiling pits; the most active, Strokkur, spouts to heights of 30m (100ft) – a remarkable sight.

The Strokkur geyser eruption is an astonishing sight | © Myron Standret / Alamy

Dyrhólaey rock formation

This sculptural formation on the south coast of Iceland is shaped by the waves on the coast, creating a timeless effect.

Dyrholaey, in southern Iceland, is a remarkable rock formation | © David Noton Photography / Alamy

Jökulsárlón glacial lake

This glacial lake in southeast Iceland contains luminous blue icebergs, calving from the largest glacier by volume in Europe, Vatnajökull. The sight of these huge masses of ice eddying so slowly in the lagoon as they make their way from being part of a glacier to melting in the sea is quite a sight. Keeping in mind why they are calving from the glaciers is equally potent for a life-changing experience.

Icebergs at the Jokulsarlon glacier | © Sally Anderson / Alamy

View the waterfalls

With so much water, it’s unsurprising that Iceland is covered in amazing waterfalls. Svartifoss, for example, is 12m (40ft) high and framed by black columnar basalt, in Vatnajökull National Park, but it is only one of many of Iceland’s numerous waterfalls.

Svartifoss waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park | © UlyssePixel / Alamy

Swim in Lake Víti

This crater, formed during a prehistoric eruption, was itself formed during an 1875 eruption. Víti’s colour ranges from milky green to pearly blue and you can bathe here, but getting here is quite a journey as it is in the remote highlands in central Iceland. Plus you need to make a steep descent to reach its shores.

The Viti crater is open to bathers, but it’s not easy to get here | © Vadym Lavra / Alamy

Walk through Þingvellir National Park

This wonder is the site of the world’s first democracy in 930CE. Fittingly, it is also where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. This historically significant place can bring many insights as you walk through the moss-covered canyon.

Thingvellir National Park is a site of site of historical, cultural, and geological significance | © George Oze / Alamy

Gaze at Herðubreið

Considered the Icelandic National Mountain, and sometimes dubbed the Queen, this flat-topped mountain in the Central Highlands is the sole figure rising out of the desert. It’s an incredibly sight from a long distance if you’re driving past, or you can hike to enjoy the view from on top.

Mt Herdubreid stands along amid a desert landscape | © Andreas Werth / Alamy

Snæfellsjökull

Within Snæfellsjökull National Park lies this 1,200m (4,000ft) glacier, which inspired Jules Verne in his 1864 novel, A Journey to the Center of the Earth. Like the science fiction classic that uses the location for its mythical entryway, the place itself holds a similarly mythical quality.

Snaefellsjokull National Park inspired Jules Verne | © Tatyana Tomsickova / Alamy

Tvísöngur Sound Sculpture

This site-specific sound sculpture, designed by German artist Lukas Kühne, is located near the artistic haven Seyðisfjörður in eastern Iceland. Built out of concrete, the five domes, of varying sizes, are interconnected and correspond to the Icelandic musical tradition of five-tone harmony. The sculpture, built in 2012, is always open and can be reached by a short walk from the village. If you want a life-changing moment in how you experience sound, this is the place.

The sound sculpture, Tvisongur, near Seydisfjordur, was built in 2012 | © Pavel Dudek / Alamy

Samúel Jónsson Art Museum

In the remote valley of Sélardalur in the Westfjörds, this unusual collection of sculptures and paintings by outsider artist Samúel Jónsson can be found. The reclusive farmer turned artist passed away in 1969. Scattered around a museum and a chapel the artist built himself, the collection is now maintained by independent and government organisations and represents the artist’s rich imaginative life.

The Samuel Jonsson Art Museum in Arnarfjordur Westfjords | © ARCTIC IMAGES / Alamy

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