Iceland: the name alone conjures a landscape far removed from the tropics. It sounds paradoxical but a destination named Iceland has become one of the hottest destinations on the planet. Sparsely populated, hauntingly beautiful if not otherworldly, Iceland has captured the imagination of travelers from across the globe, including Filipinos who have been increasingly curious as to why local places such as Batanes have invited comparisons with the landscapes of faraway places such as Iceland and Ireland. It’s not exactly cheap or easy to go to, but there is flight information about Iceland available. Keflavik International Airport which is 30 minutes away from Reykjavik, the country’s capital, is the landing site for all international flights. From here, tourists can take a domestic connection to any of the incredible sights and sites that await including these 10 stunning stopovers you shouldn’t miss on your trip to Iceland.
Admire the Northern Lights and Sights on Kirkjufell Mountain
Out of the flat landscape rise Kirkjufell Mountain on the north coast of Snaefellsnes peninsula near the town of Grundarfjordur in western Iceland. There are beautiful waterfalls to explore around here. The northern lights are also beautiful to behold on this 463m mountain. Not surprising that Kirkjufell was chosen as one of the locations for the popular American TV series, “Game of Thrones” for its 6th and 7th seasons, the arrowhead mountain seen north of the Wall by the Hound and the company.
Behold the Reynisfjara Beach
Forget about tropical beaches for a while and venture to this black sand beach about 180 km away from the capital, Reykjavik. For all the water, you can’t swim here as the surf is dangerously strong and water temperature is bone-chilling cold. But the view is alluring, with a view of towering Reynisfjall mountain and far out at sea, the sight of three humongous rocks which as legend has it, were the petrified remains of trolls.
Experience Paradise Husey
Some call Husey a little paradise in Iceland and for good reasons. This wonderful place 60 km north of Eglisstaoir in east Iceland, is a destination between two big glacial rivers, Jokulsa a Bru and Lagarfljot, commanding a view of the surrounding mountains. It is also a veritable jump-off point for excursions to more of Iceland’s virtually untouched nature destinations. 175 species of plants grow here, the most in all of Iceland, drawing 30 bird species every spring. You can go on a multi-day trek, sail on the Jokulsa River, or ride an Icelandic horse while watching seals on the river.
Say Spahhh in Blaa Lonid
If you love spas, you’d be at home at Blaa lonid, otherwise known as the Blue Lagoon, located in Grindavik, just 40 minutes away from Reykjavik. A geothermal spa that taps seawater instead of fresh water, the Blue Lagoon is not surprisingly, a very popular tourist attraction. Located on the Reykjanes peninsula, the spa experience it offers is not only good for the body; the rugged beauty of the place — lava formations, blue water — is also good for the soul.
Explore Surreal Skaftafell Park
It is said that Iceland is the land of fire and ice, and Skaftafell Park is one of the country’s best sites to illustrate just that. Created and shaped by the perpetual battle of fire (volcanic eruptions of Oraefajokull) and ice (glacial activity), this 4800 sq km park which is part of the larger Vatnajokull National Park, offers an incredible, if not most surreal, landscape experience on Earth, a study of scenic contrasts. There are glacial rivers, jagged mountains, black desert sands, a birch wood forest, and Vatnajokull ice cap. Take a hike along the trails and explore the Black Falls, Svartifoss. waters cascading from a basalt cliff. Join an ice-climbing guided tour. A bit farther away on Jokulsarlon, sail away on a glacier lagoon among humongous icebergs. You can also go caving in the Skaftafell Ice Cave during winter when the ice doesn’t melt and it’s safe to explore.
Enjoy the Solitude of Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
A trip to Iceland is a journey into the heart of nature. Nowhere is this more evident than venturing to the high cliffside peaks of Hornstrandir, north of the Westfjords. The Westfjords is around 16 millions years old, the oldest in the whole of Iceland.
Accessible from Strandir and Isafjordur via ferries, this remote destination offers fantastic fjord landscapes as well as relative solitude, far from the maddening crowds. The villages and farms have been abandoned by people over 60 years ago and the seafowls and various wildlife have made the place their home. No roads lead to the nature reserve but if you’re up to the adventure and the luxury of solitude, you know you just have to venture here.
Hike Asbyrgi Canyon
3.5 kilometers long and 1 kilometer across, mythology has it that the Asybrgi Canyon was created by the hooves of Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. The horseshoe shaped canyon, also known as the “Shelter of the Gods”, is visited by travelers and pilgrims alike for its natural splendor that borders on spiritual. Little wonder that the place is also known as the capital of Huidufolk or “hidden people.” A bit farther off is the 35km Jokulsa Canyon — a must-visit especially if you’re fond of hiking as it is among the country’s most admired walking destinations. Iceland is know for its surreal vistas and Aybyrgi is no different; a nearby waterfall, DettiFoss, was featured in the opening scenes of the sci-fi movie, Prometheus.
Get Hot at Lake Myvatn Geothermal Area
Hot baths and stunning views await visitors to the Lake Myvatn Geothermal Area. Located about 90 kilometers away, east of Akureyri, this volcanically active area offers vastly contrasting sceneries — the heath of Myvatnsheidi, the rugged peaks of Krafla and Hekla volcanoes, the awesome power of Detiffoss Falls, reputedly Europe’s most powerful cascade. The surrounding lava fields have caves and cracks with naturally heated water for bathing. The lake itself is the sixth largest in Iceland at 37 sq km, situated 277 meters above sea level.
Explore Nature and History at Thingvellir National Park
Located about 45 minutes drive time from Reykjavik, Thingvellir is home to the largest natural lake in Iceland, Pingvallavatn, and arguably, one of the country’s most popular attractions. If you have the time and resources, go diving at the Sifra dive spot and venture to the cleft that separates Europe from America. Now, if you have a thing for history, Thingvellir (or Pingvellir) was the site of the Iceland parliament (Allthing) from the 10th to 18th century.
Hike Up Hekla Volcano and Landmannalauger
Rising 1,500 meters from the sea, the Hekla volcano is one of the most active on Earth. Not surprising that the Europeans called it “Gateway to Hell” during the Middle Ages. When not erupting, the volcano is a beautiful sight, blanketed with snow and ornamented with small glaciers. Popular among hikers, the otherworldly beauty of Hekla has not escaped the eyes of filmmakers; acclaimed Hollywood director, Ridley Scott, has tapped the site for some scenes in his blockbuster movie, “Prometheus”. Accessible via buses to Landmannalaugar which is located 30 km further east. Landmannalaugar itself boasts of rhyolite mountains and lava fields which makes sightseeing, horseback riding and hiking must-do activities here.
Explore Gullfoss Waterfall
Located in the canyon of Olfusa river in southwest Iceland, Gullfoss waterfall is a stunning natural masterpiece, frequented by most visitors to the country. From afar, the edge of Ofusa river is obscured from view, making it seem like the river vanishes into view. Above the falls, the river flows into a curved staircase, plunging in two stages. The result is a stunning scenery of moving water. memorialized in the album cover of Brit band, Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Porcupine.”
Swim Outdoors at Seljavallalaug Pool
Create a splash by taking a dip outdoors. Seljavallalaug is one of the oldest outdoor swimming pools in the country. Fed by the natural warm water , this architectural masterpiece is located on a wet hillside at the foot of a mountain, offering a stunning vista of rugged scenery and tranquil surroundings. Located in the southern part of Iceland, it is around 2-hours away by car from Reyjavik. The old pool used to be the largest in Iceland, at 25 meters long and 10 meters wide. A newer pool closer to the valley was built in 1990.