Glaciers a short distance from the sea, burning hot Springsspectacular geysersactive volcanoes, lava fields, breathtaking waterfalls and snow-capped mountains: if you want nature in its purest and wildest form in Iceland you will have them until you get tired. Because this is the land of fire and ice. And when asked about what to do in Iceland the answer is: to remain speechless in the face of the strength of the forces that man does not know and cannot control.
But first things first: Iceland, the second largest island in Europe, is located near the Arctic Circle north-west of Scotland and south of Greenland and it is precisely, mainly, its unique and wonderful natural phenomena that attract visitors. A pity because even the human component that has colonized these harsh and hostile lands has a lot to teach: the Icelandic people in fact, descended from the ancient vikingsis the one who gave birth to what is the Oldest Parliament in the world (which is still active today: theAlþing, founded in 930 AD. C.) and the first to appoint a woman head of state.
Not only that: this barren island has in the distant past created a heritage of literary sagas which date back to the times of Viking colonization. And there’s no better way to travel through time.
What to do in Iceland: the Golden Circle
We said that in the list of what to do in Iceland everything revolves around nature. Luckily to go and discover it, at least for a substantial taste, it is not necessary to face too long journeys around the island since the most popular tourist attractions of the country are in the south of the island, near the capital, Reykjavikand are collected in that itinerary which is commonly called the Golden Circle, or the Golden circle. His pearls? The waterfall Gullfoss and the gushing hot springs of Geysir.
Here a premise is necessary: the name of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, means ‘smoky bay’, but in the case of this city (Europe’s northernmost capital) the smoke is certainly not smog but rather steam from underground springs that burn just below the surface in the whole island. And that heat the tap water and also the swimming pools. And that in the heart of the golden circle they erupt with the punctuality of a completely natural clock.
Puffs of steam and Bjork
Usually the first stop on the tour is Kerid, a crater, the result of an eruption, about 15 km east of the city of Selfoss next to the road leading to Geysir. The crater is now filled with water to a depth of over 50 meters and it is estimated that it was formed around 3,000 years ago. The extremely green color of the water and the steep circular slopes that degrade create an eerie and vaguely hellish vision that prompts tourists to stop in silence. A silence which, however, hides a surprise: due to its natural amphitheater shape there is excellent acoustics at that point: and in the past the famous Icelandic singer Bjork (whose surname is Guðmundsdóttir) held just a concert on the lake.
We then proceed to Gullfossthe golden falls, on the river Hvítá. The waterfalls are huge and majestic, 32 meters high and divided into two parts, and often large rainbows are formed by the sun reflecting on the very high cloud of steam created by the fall of the water. In winter, however, striking ice formations decorate the waterfalls. Told in a few words perhaps they seem little: what but in the list of what to do in Iceland this stop has a relevant place.
The next stop is the geothermal field of Haukadalur. In other words, the paradise of steam and puddles hot mud. The Great Geyser he is the father of all dandelions and if today we call all jets of steam with this term (Geysir derives from the Icelandic term gjósa which means “to erupt”) it is due to him. But he withdrew. Dumb tourists shut its mouth by throwing stones – that’s one thing you can’t do in Iceland – and it doesn’t erupt anymore. On the other hand, the neighbor Strokkur shoots water and steam up to 30 meters every few minutes. Near these places there is also a small geological museum and a restaurant. We eat and enjoy the ballet of the geysers from the stained glass windows.
An ancient parliament and a fault line
Another stop, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the national park of Thingvellir, a place of immense historical and symbolic importance to Icelanders. It has long been the place where theAlthing, the parliament which, as we have said, dates back to the distant past. Founded in 930, the Althing was an assembly of free men who gathered at Thingvellir for two weeks each summer to settle disputes, settle established laws and, oddly enough, arrange weddings.
It is located in the same area Þingvellir which is a fundamental place to understand what happens under our feet. And in the list of what to do in Iceland between geysers and waterfalls there is also the possibility of better understanding why the earth is shaking. Right at this point passes the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (for the rest it is under the sea), or the place where the two separate faults of Europe and America. Each movement of the deep clods trigger earthquakes. The curious thing is that you can physically put your feet inside: going down into the named cavity Almannagjáthe visitor finds himself with one foot in America and one in Europe.
The waterfall in the lava gorge
Is this idea scary? Likely. Then it is better to go back up and feast your eyes on the beauty of the surrounding landscapes: when the weather is fine this area is decidedly splendid, with the power of the waterfall Öxarárfoss which falls into a gorge of solidified lava and with the groups of birch trees that are reflected in the blue waters of the lake Thingvallavatn. It is the largest in Iceland, has very cold waters and underwater visibility of almost 100 meters. For divers it is a unique experience. For others, a splendid place to stop and to take part in a horse ride.
Soak in the Blue Lagoon
Are you tired and want to relax in warm water? No problem, in the list of things to do in Iceland between geysers and waterfalls there is also this: a bathroom. The right place is there Blue Lagoona much loved attraction in Grindavikon the Reykjanes peninsula, about 40 km from the capital and 20 km from the international airport of Keflavik. It is a thermal spa located in the middle of a lava field where the artificial lagoon filled with thermal waters between 37 and 39 degrees that flow from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal plant.
The hot water content is very rich in minerals such as silica and sulfur and in addition to the pleasure of the bath there is also a beneficial effect on the skin. There are also saunas, waterfalls, massage areas and the possibility of having a mask with details sludge which are said to be very beneficial. To reach it from the capital there are dedicated bus services. An important detail: this is a much loved attraction. And it’s often best to book your ticket online.
What to do in Iceland: and when to go
One thing to know is that the climate is decidedly hostile for us: and the months in which you can enjoy the local version of Nice weather they are only the summer ones from June to August. In these months the days are longer but prices and crowding increase. In any case you need to bring heavy, waterproof clothing and change to face the rains which are frequent. It is not unlikely to find several days in a row of bad weather even in summer. But Iceland, despite this, is worth the trip.