Iceland’s Stunning Scenery
When planning an Iceland northern lights trip, keep in mind that there is no guarantee you’ll see the aurora. So it’s often said: Go for the scenery, hope for the northern lights. The aurora borealis is almost as unpredictable as Iceland’s weather. But thanks to the island’s incredible scenery, it’s well worth the journey. Volcanoes, geothermal fields, hot springs, moss-covered lava flows, glaciers, and waterfalls are all part of TravelQuest’s amazing Iceland itinerary.
One unusual fact about Iceland is that the island is continuously expanding, albeit at the very slow rate of a mere 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) per year. Icelanders sometimes joke that millions of years from now, Iceland will be large enough to be called a continent. The results of this expansion are most obvious in Thingvellir National Park, an hour northeast of Reykjavik. Here you can stroll beside a towering cliff wall of solidified lava that is part of the North American plate, while gazing across the rift valley toward the Eurasian side of Iceland.
Thingvellir is one of three sites that comprise the ‘Golden Circle,’ a must-see excursion when visiting Iceland. The others are the Geysir Hot Spring Area, where every few minutes the geyser Strokkur shoots water 100 feet (30 meters) into the air, and Gullfoss, the ‘Golden Falls,’ Iceland’s iconic, thundering waterfall.
Iceland may have more waterfalls, per capita, than any other country. On the south coast is magnificent Skógafoss (with the excellent Skógar Museum nearby) and Seljalandsfoss, a tall cascade of water you can actually walk behind. In the north is Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Iceland, and majestic Goðafoss, the ‘Waterfall of the Gods.’ Dynjandi, in the Westfjords, is cited by some Icelanders as the country’s most beautiful waterfall.
There are at least 30 active and extinct volcanoes in Iceland. Perhaps the most famous is Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010 and caused a major disruption in air travel across parts of Europe. On the Snæfellsnes peninsula in west Iceland is magnificent Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000-year-old glacier-capped stratovolcano that last erupted some 2,000 years ago. In Jules Verne’s 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, he placed the entrance of a passage leading to Earth’s center on Snæfellsjökull.
One benefit of so many volcanoes on the island are the fascinating fields of frozen lava and numerous steaming geothermal landscapes. South of Reykjavik lies Seltún, an area with smoking fumaroles and boiling mud pots. The landscape is a colorful blend of minerals, including sulfur, deposited by the geothermal waters. Thanks to the sulfur, the area’s rotten-egg smell is unmistakable.
Farther east along Iceland’s south coast is the little town of Vik and Reynisfjara—a black sand beach once described as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world, and the only cold-water beach so designated. Flanked by enormous, multi-sided basalt stacks, with mist rising from the crashing waves of the north Atlantic, this beach is a unique site, even for Iceland.