A complete advanced guide to Iceland
Iceland is a mountainous Nordic European island nation in the north Atlantic Ocean between Europe and North America and close to the Arctic Circle. Iceland is home to some of the largest glaciers in Europe. Iceland is also the land of light and darkness. Long summer days with nearly 24-hours of sunshine are offset by short winter days with only few hours of daylight. Iceland was the last country in Europe to be settled.
Winters in Iceland between September and April are dark with one of nature’s most spectacular Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. It is widely known as ‘The Land of Fire and Ice’. Folklore is very much alive in Iceland being the cornerstone of Icelandic culture. Ancient Icelandic Sagas have a troubled past with violent tales of blood feuds.
Iceland is a land for the hedonistic travelers around the globe. Iceland has one main road called Route 1 which is the ring road which goes around the island. The Húsavík Whale Museum and Seal Center in Hvammstangi are must dos.
Reykjavík is the natural starting point for any visit to Iceland and is truly considered to be is the gateway to Iceland and is best explored by foot or bike with lots of day time excursions and trips taken from the city to the mountains, glaciers, volcanos and hot springs with activities that include horseback riding, glacier climbing, river rafting, caving, whale watching and wild game hunting. This metropolis is for sunbathers and picnickers at Austurvöllur which is the green square.
Laugavegur is the main drag for shopping and bistros and happy hour bars with outdoor seating. The traditional Icelandic lopapeysa is a knitted wool sweater a must-have fashion item. Icelandic wool woolens are to die for. Pagan Jewelry inspired by Celtic and Old Norse legends are also must buy. Icelandic musical baskets and porcelain glasswork souvenirs are must buy.
Iceland is a land of natural diversity with lava fields in the southwest, the barren highlands in the central Iceland and fjords in the northwest known as the Westfjords.
West Iceland is geologically diverse regions with fjords, waterfalls, valleys, craters, glaciers and volcanoes. North Iceland has valleys, peninsulas, mountains, lava fields and hills carved out by rivers. The phenomena of the midnight sun at the Arctic Open and Arctic Circle in the northern latitude are a rare spectacle.
Langjökull is a spectacular spot in West Iceland. The sun sets briefly each night in June and before it gets fully dark it comes back up again. In the March and September equinoxes, days and nights are of about equal length as elsewhere in the world.
Volcanic activity is the geological activity responsible for some of the most dramatic features of Icelandic nature. Iceland has a wealth of rocky landscapes, geothermal pools and geysers volcanic craters, caves, lava fields, highlands, fjords, mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, sub-glacial volcanos, rivers, lakes, caves and terrains. Iceland is replete with activities like rafting, aerial sightseeing plane and helicopter tours, fishing, abseiling, diving, snorkeling, hiking, climbing, dog-sledding, and snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, surfing, caving, Heli skiing, whale watching, bird watching, trekking, Icelandic horse riding, public swimming pools, natural hot springs, snow mobile trips or jeep safaris across the highland. Icelandic horse riding is a must do for the ancient Icelandic breed of horses is now extinct outside of Iceland.
Iceland has 4,500 square miles of glacier. Ice climbing, glacier walking, glacier hiking, glacier climbing and glacier boating on a glacier lagoon are undertaken year-round on the Eyjafjallajökull, Sólheimajökull and Svínafellsjökull glaciers in the south of Iceland in a day trip from Reykjavík and Skaftafell.
In the southeast of Iceland the Vatnajökull Glacier is the Europe’s largest glacier covering 8% of the country. Vatnajökull glacier is such a massive water body that it beats Ölfusá which is the Icelandic river with the greatest flow. The southernmost part of the glacier envelops the central volcano Öræfajökull and Iceland’s highest peak Hvannadalshnúkur. It is sheltered by the high ice and black sands brought by glacial floods deposited by the river Skeiðará from the frequent eruptions at Grímsvötn.
Mýrdalsjökull glacier has high precipitation levels with its water meeting the sea on the south side of Vatnajökull. Snæfellsjökull Glacier is one of the seven greatest energy centres on the earth with mysterious powers and views of Mount Snæfellsnes to the east with excursions onto the glacier are offered from Arnarstapi on the southern side. Jökulsárlón is the largest glacier lake in Iceland and part of Vatnajökull glacier.
Snæfellsjökull National Park is Iceland’s only national park that reaches into the sea. Snæfellsjökull National Park located on the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland is home to the ice-covered volcanic crater.
Vatnajökull National Park has the Ásbyrgi Canyon and torrential and the largest waterfall in terms of capacity release Dettifoss Waterfall. Ásbyrgi waterfall is out of catastrophic glacial bursts and has carved out the deep ravines and rocky basins. Lake Mývatn has surrounding wetlands for water birds and distinctive rock formations. A large part of the national park is underneath the icecap of the glacial ice. Vatnajökull National Park also includes Skaftafell and Jokulsargljufur National Parks.
Þingvellir is also protected as a national park. Þingvallavatn Lake is the biggest in Iceland with the largest popuation of brown trout and char in the world. Almannagjá canyon is formed between two tectonic plates from continental drift. The national park has Iceland’s highest mountain Hvannadalshnúkur.
The Golden Circle route of Iceland connects Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir is a very popular destination for travelers. Gullfoss or Golden Falls is the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland plunges down a double cascade from the river Hvítá. Geysir or Geyser and Strokkur are hot spots located 10km west of Gullfoss. Jökulsárlón or Jökulsár Lagoon is a glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland brimmed with glacial icebergs all year round.
Hiking has long been a popular activity in Iceland and beautiful trails can be found in all parts of the country from day hikes to multi-day treks in world-famed Laugavegur trails at Eyjafjallajökull volcano and into the interior of Iceland. This is considered one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the world. Great hikes are found around Akranes and Hvalfjörður, Mount Akrafjall and the highest waterfall in Iceland Glymur in Reykjavík. Hiking trips at the Snæfellsjökull glacier in the west and the Vatnajökull glacier in the east are also recommended. A hiking trail goes along the canyon from Dettifoss to Ásbyrgi is a must do.
Icelandic hillsides are replete with winter from late fall through spring. Reykjavík’s local Bláfjöll is a snow destination. The remote areas around the country can be reached via helicopter.
North Atlantic island is a haven for water sports especially white water river rafting. The rapids of Hvítá River in South Iceland and Jökulsá River in East Iceland are hotspots for rafting. Whitewater rafting is also done on the rivers of Vestari and Austari Jokulsa from Varmahlid.
Iceland is on the mid-Atlantic ridge the rare opportunity to do snorkeling and scuba diving between continental plates. Þingvallavatn is Iceland’s largest lake with a glacial river that is its water source and offers the best visibility in the world as Earth’s youngest crust pushing up and out approximately 2 cms per year right at its spot.
Iceland highlands are best explored across mountain roads Kjölur and Sprengisandur in the summer months. Reykjavik has easily accessible yet challenging woodland trails and trail runs at Heiðmörk, Mosfellsbaer, Hafnarfjordur, Reykjadalur in Hveragerdi and Mt. Esja. Akureyri in north Iceland has structured running paths. The trails of Kjarnaskogur and on Súlur mountain around Akureyri are well recognised.
Bikers take the Ring Road the well-known highway number 1 with marked paths that runs around the country. Protective clothing is bare essential. The uninhabited highlands of Landmannalaugar is a must do.
Icelanders has a bounty of natural hot springs, boiling mud pools, spurting geysers and geothermal lagoons such as the famous Blue Lagoon and Mývatn Nature Baths with high silicate minerals have revitalising effect on the skin in a luxury spa setting. Blue Lagoon or Bláa Lónið is in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula in south-western Iceland with proximity to Keflavík International Airport and Reykjavík.
Lava fields of Reykjanes peninsula is a geothermal spring with lighthouses. The Reykjanes peninsula is the link on the earth’s crust between the European and American tectonic plates and also clearly visible. The geothermal area of Landmannalaugar has natural hot rivers surrounded by rhyolite mountains.
The east coast of Iceland with magma chambers filled with colorful mineral deposits is home to the country’s largest forest, lush farmlands and a range of small fjords and islands with natural harbors, fishing villages and seaside communities. Along the east shore some must visits are Skógafoss Waterfall, Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon and Vatnajökull Glacier. Seyðisfjörður is the landing place for ferry from Europe. There are depressions in the coast of the north.
Akureyri and Eyjafjörður are Iceland’s longest fjords. Ski touring, ski mountaineering and heli skiing is done in the town of Akureyri in the north and the mountains of the Troll Peninsula.
Hornstrandir peninsula are located in the Westfjords is nature reserve that is a house for some of the most exotic animals like the Arctic fox. Látrabjarg is a bird cliff of the Westfjords hosts nearly half of the world’s population of some bird species. The Laugavegur trail leads to the woodland nature reserve Þórsmörk on a valley surrounded by is a popular base camp for hikers with rocky terrains, pointy peaks, volcanoes, ice caps, valleys and hot springs.
Dynjandi is a set of waterfalls at an accumulated height of 100 meters. The most visited caves with rock formations are the Gjábakkahellir Cave near Þingvellir National Park and the Leiðarendi Cave in the Bláfjöll area in summer and winter respectively. These tube caves are formed by magma underneath the earth’s surface.
The Þríhnúkagígur crater with magma chambers formed of rare natural phenomenon out of a volcanic eruption.
Iceland is the perfect location for whale watching with widely available whale watching excursions on whale watching vessels from the Old Harbor in Reykjavík, Húsavík and Akureyri from April through September. The species of Cetacea, Orca, Minke, Humpback and Blue Whale are seen in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Isolated tours in the Skjálfandi and Eyjafjörður bays are must do to spot white-beaked dolphins, harbor porpoises, seals, basking sharks, puffins, gannets, seagulls and Arctic Terns.
Iceland’s wetlands and lowlands are a conducive habitat for nearly half of the world’s population of bird species and therefore bird watching activity is frequented and spotted along the coasts of Iceland include the Arctic Tern, eiders, Harlequin duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye waders, passerine birds and seabirds such as Guillemot, Gyrfalcon, Razorbill, waterfowl, Atlantic Puffin, Fulmar, Razorbill, gannets, and seagulls.
Popular Bird watching destinations from Reykjavík include Reykjanes Peninsula, Snæfellsnes Peninsula or Westman Islands, Dyrhólaey in Southern Iceland Svarfaðardalur Valley, Laxá River, Eyjafjarðará River islets, Grímsey Island in Steingrímsfjörður and Lake Mývatn. Látrabjarg in the Westfjords is the largest birdcliff. The prime birdwatching season in Iceland is from the end of April to the beginning of June.
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