5 Reasons Iceland Should Be at the Top of Your Travel Bucket List

The first time I visited Iceland, it was on a four-day layover on my way to Ireland. Not near enough time to truly experience it, but enough to know I had to go back. I’ve returned every year since, and have visited in nearly every season. While you’ve probably heard about its magical landscape by now, if that hasn’t been enough to inspire you, here’s why you really need to put this nation on the top of your travel bucket list.

The Waterfalls

Legend has it that Iceland was named by some clever Vikings who were hoping to disguise that fact that the island was a stunningly lush, green land in order to keep it all to themselves. Whether or not that’s true, you’ll immediately understand why when you set eyes on one of its many breathtaking waterfalls. There are so many, it would be impossible to see them all in just one or two trips, but Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland’s most photographed falls, is a definite favorite. A popular stop on tours of the southern coast, it plunges nearly 200 feet into a pool below, but the highlight is that you can actually walk around to the back of the cascading waters to feel the spray and take in a unique perspective that few others get to experience.

Kirkjufellsfoss on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula enjoys one of the world’s most incredible settings. In fact, the region was what was said to have inspired Jules Verne to pen Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Other waterfalls well worth seeing include Godafoss, near Akureyri in the north, and Gullfoss or Golden Falls along the Golden Circle Route, although there are countless others – so many that you could make a trip out of waterfall-hopping if you wanted to.

The Hot Springs

The Icelandic tradition of bathing in geothermally heated pools dates all the way back to the days of the Vikings, and for Icelanders, soaking in the warm, healing waters while surrounded by majestic scenery, is a regular part of day-to-day life. The most famous of all the pools is the Blue Lagoon, with milky, warm turquoise waters surrounded by black lava rocks. This one is usually busy, and a rather touristy experience, but it’s certainly worth visiting at least once. Plus, you can even swim out to a bar that sits in the middle of the lagoon to sip strawberry champagne, a cool brew or a healthy green smoothie.

My favorite pool is located near Akureyri, the unofficial “Capital of North Iceland.” Myvatn Nature Baths offer more of a remote, wilderness experience, where you can relax in the geothermal waters without bumping elbows with other tourists and enjoy uninterrupted scenery that’s truly out of this world.


Outdoor Adventures

There are few better places on the planet for those who want to take part in recreational activities among jaw-dropping natural beauty. Hiking offers close encounters with diverse landscapes that feel as if you’re stepping onto an entirely different planet. You can even hike to the top of a volcanic glacier and trek across glaciers. If you don’t want to go on your own, join a tour with one of the multiple outfitters that offer them, like Extreme Iceland, which guides participants on Svínafellsjokull Glacier, crossing a glacial wonderland of ridges, crevasses and ice formations.

In the winter, discover what it’s like to walk around beneath the ice by taking an ice cave tour. Located inside the glaciers, you’ll get to gaze upon the sparkling blue frozen ceilings dotted with stalactites that are precariously hovering over the natural icy path, and crawl into a vast frozen chamber under a cathedral of translucent blue waves.

If you’re looking for an even bigger thrill, try whitewater. There are few experiences that can top the Iceland Riverjet, which takes passengers on an adrenaline-packed blast up and down the Hvita River along the Golden Circle. You’ll rocket through the narrow basalt canyon, endure heart-pounding 360-spins while jumping the rapids in the 40-minute adventure through the icy glacial waters.

Iceland is also home to one of the world’s top dive sites: Silfra. Here you can float between the Eurasian and American continents enjoying remarkable visibility while becoming immersed in vivid neon colors and other-worldly-like topography. Just a few of the other possibilities include ice cave exploring and skiing in the winter, and surfing, horseback riding and sea kayaking in the warmer months.

The Black Sand Beaches

Iceland is also renowned for its jet black sand beaches that were created by hot lava that flowed into the chilly North Atlantic, resulting in the tiny hard fragments seen today. The most famous of them all can be found along the south coast near the village of Vik, which also features a cliff of impressive basalt columns, similar to Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. Consider joining an Icelandic horse riding tour where you can gallop across the black sands while gazing out at the unique jagged basalt sea stacks that sit just offshore.

The People

Iceland may have a chillier climate than many other countries, but the warmth of Icelanders makes up for the icier temperatures. It’s consistently ranked among the Top 5 “Happiest Countries in the World.” Those legendary Icelandic elves might have something to do with the fact that locals here always seem to be smiling, but of course, the stunning landscape and regular soaks in the hot springs probably don’t hurt either. Don’t be surprised if you’re offered free food, drinks and all sorts of advice, as it’s all just a part of the culture.

Now that you know why really have to go, ensure a worry-free trip by visiting a healthcare professional and getting up-to-date on vaccines. Hepatitis A outbreaks can occur anywhere in the world, including contaminated water or food in Iceland, and while rabies isn’t a major risk, if you plan on participating in adventurous activities like caving or other pursuits where animals, including bats, are around, a rabies vaccination may be in order.


Leave a Reply