The land of world-famous waterfalls, lunar-looking scenery, volcanic vistas and thermal lagoons, Iceland is a living gallery of gorgeous panoramas. It’s not easy to make a definitive list of unmissable landscapes in Iceland, because wherever your Icelandic itinerary takes you, the scenery will always be special. So, here are just some of the landscapes we love in this bucket-list-leading location – from the grand falls of Gullfoss to the bather’s paradise of the Blue Lagoon.
- The Grandeur of Gullfoss
- Geological Wonders in Thingvellir National Park
- Lunar-Like Reynisfjara Beach
- The Beloved Blue Lagoon
- Fantastic Fountains of Geysir Geothermal Area
- Extra-Special Seljalandsfoss
- Hiking Heaven in Landmannalaugar
A duo of dramatic cascades thundering into a deep canyon, Gullfoss (which translates as ‘Golden Falls’) is one of Iceland’s best-loved landmarks. It’s also a stop on the famous Golden Circle route; a 140-mile trail that takes in three of Iceland’s iconic natural wonders (more on the other two later). In the early 20th century, developers wanted to harness the force of the falls for hydroelectric power. But thanks to the tireless campaigning of Sigridur Tomasdottir, a local woman who lived close to the waterfall, the developers withdrew their plans and Gullfoss remains untouched. Widely regarded as Iceland’s first environmentalist, Tomasdottir pioneered a new ethos of preserving and protecting the natural beauty of the country. This means that we have her to thank for preserving some of the most spectacular landscapes in Iceland.
Another stop on the Golden Circle route, Thingvellir National Park sits in a rift valley between two tectonic plates, making the landscape one of grand gorges, cloud-piercing cliffs and rolling rivers. Centuries of continental drift have created cracks and faults across the region, some of which are now captivating canyons like Almannagjá. Here you can hike a once-in-a-lifetime track between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, while the national park also has historical significance as the site where Iceland’s first parliament was founded back in 930 AD. Meanwhile, devotees of Game of Thrones might recognise some of the scenery from their favourite series. Hiker, history buff or fantasy TV fan, Thingvellir National Park is a landscape that every traveller will love.
The best landscapes in Iceland look good in all seasons. Take Reynisfjara beach, for example. The charcoal-coloured sand, spectacular basalt stacks and boisterous Atlantic waves are particularly impressive when the fog rolls in, making the landscape moody and moon-like. And while this isn’t a beach made for bathing (in either the sun or the sea), National Geographic once named it one of the top ten non-tropical beaches on the planet. You won’t need your swimwear, but bring your walking shoes for a stroll along the rugged coastline.
Top of our list of spots for a scenic swim is the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal gem that’s now a world-famous spa. Soaking in the soothing, mineral-rich lagoon is great for the skin as well as the soul. But it’s the scenery that makes this spa experience even more special. The milky blue water is semi-hidden in a haze of steam, the nearby lava field looks almost alien in its stark beauty and the mountains towering on the horizon have an air of magic about them. It’s easily one of the most impressive landscapes in Iceland, where you can savour your surroundings while enjoying the blissfully-warm waters of the bath-like lagoon.
This steamy spot is the third point of the Golden Triangle and another of Iceland’s other-worldly landscapes. Geysir is a geothermal area known for its hot springs and geysers, including one that shares its name. And although Geysir itself is currently inactive, the nearby Strokkur geyser erupts every six to ten minutes, sending a plume of steam and water 65 feet into the air. The regularity of this natural spectacle means you’re guaranteed to see it at least once during your visit to the hot spring. So, have your camera at the ready to capture this iconic image for your Icelandic travel album.
It wouldn’t be a round-up of unmissable landscapes in Iceland without another waterfall. So, what makes Seljalandsfoss special? Unlike other falls that you admire from afar, here you can get up close to the waterfall, by walking a path that passes behind the 200-foot cascade as it plunges into the pool below. The sparkle of the streaming water in the sunlight, the white noise of the never-ending flow and the spray of mist on your skin combine for a magical experience that feels a little like something out of a fairy tale. Just don’t forget your waterproofs, as you’re definitely going to get damp.
Winner of most colourful landscape has to be Landmannalaugar. The region’s mountains are made of rhyolite, a type of volcanic rock that comes in a kaleidoscope of colours. Beloved by summer hikers, the rolling hills are an artist’s palette of red, pink, yellow, blue and green, making a trip here feel like stepping into a painting. It’s one of Iceland’s most picturesque places to pull on your walking shoes; a wild, windswept valley where you can see every shade of nature. And when your muscles are aching at the end of a long walk, you’ll be pleased to know that the area is also home to geothermal hot springs – the perfect spot for a post-hike soak.
Image by Zoe Fiji