The real beauty of Iceland can't be found in a day tour.
Many people come to Iceland as a stop off between North America and Europe. They may spend a day or two in Reykjavik and jump on a Golden Circle tour. However, spend two weeks in a camper driving the Ring Road, the only road that circles the entire island, and you’ll fall in love with the desolate and alien beauty that is this spectacular island. Here are 10 of the most pertinent sights that take you far beyond the Golden Circle and deep into the magic of this country.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
On Saturday, November 24, 1973, a United States Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane was forced to land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach because of icing issues. Everyone survived the crash landing, but the fuselage remains. It is one of the most iconic and mysterious spots in all of Iceland.
INSIDER TIPUntil recently, you could drive to the spot, but the path has been closed. Now, it’s a good four-kilometer walk over black sand to reach the plane. Plan accordingly and arrive early to avoid crowds.
Ljósafoss Power Station
Iceland runs on geothermal power. Basically, the whole island is built on volcanoes. and everything is powered by that internal energy. Built in1937, the Ljósafoss Power Station capitalizes on this natural energy by catching the outflow of Lake Úlfljótsvatn and turning it into power. Now there is a multimedia exhibit here called “Powering the Future,” which showcases the principles of electricity, hydropower, and geothermal and renewable energy. Times for the exhibit change based on the season. Visit the website to know when to go.
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The Jokulsarlon Iceberg Lagoon
About 370 kilometers from Reykjavik, this lagoon is a large waterway full of the large chunks of ice that break off from the Vatnajökull glacier. The area is mystical and so beautiful it has become one of the most popular attractions in the country. It is directly next to a shoreline known as Diamond Beach for the glittering chunks of ice that sit on the sand close to the water.
INSIDER TIPIf you plan to spend the night near the lagoon in April in a camper, plan for high winds that rock the camper at night. It’s worth it for the early morning views, but harrowing when the camper rocks to and fro.
Natural beauty abounds in Iceland, and this 396-meter high tephra explosion crater near the eastern shore of Lake Myvatn is no exception. The black ash and sand that cover much of the country make up this cone-shaped crater. Hike up the slope and around the crater’s rim for stunning views. The view is so spectacular and alien, it’s easy to imagine what it must be like to visit another planet.
INSIDER TIPUse the restroom before you start walking. It should only take about an hour, but there’s nowhere to hide if you need to go while walking!
Askja Volcano Crater
Askja is a large caldera (volcanic crater) in the Dyngjufjoll mountains, and a part of Vatnajökull National ParkThe caldera is home to more than one volcano, including the most well-known: Víti. The water in the crater is about 30 degrees Celsius and often appears milky blue.
INSIDER TIPVíti is a popular place to take a dip, but the path is very slippery when it rains so be aware before sliding your way in unintentionally.
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Krafla Lava Field
The Krafla Caldera a deep and long hole on the edge of the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. The volcano is still active and has had 29 recorded eruptions, the most recent of which was in the 1970s. The area is home to a geothermal power station, a volcanic crater with a green lake at the bottom, and Leirhnjúkur, a wild, steaming terrain full of multicolored lava rocks and desolate walks.
INSIDER TIPThe hike is marked “difficult” and is about five kilometers over rocky terrain. Be prepared for it.
Namafjall Hverarond, Geysers, Mud Pits
Sometimes it feels like Iceland is doing its best to kill you and nowhere is this more evident than these steaming mud pits. The pits of Hverarond are so hot that they actually boil. This is one of the largest sulfur spring areas in Iceland and the area reeks when the wind is blowing, as the steam blows with it. Watch your step and expect the unexpected.
INSIDER TIPWalk with extreme caution as the soil may give and this can be dangerous.
The Dimmuborgir area is largely a place to hike toward a massive lava tube formed after a volcanic eruption 2,300 years ago. The way the lava cooled here created all kinds of fascinating rock formations that tunnel away from the Earth in strange and wonderful patterns. There hollow pillars of solidified lava to climb through and explore make this area particularly exciting for small children–or anyone with a sense of childlike wonder.
INSIDER TIPWhen this isn’t crowded (early spring and late fall), this area is desolate. Plan not to see another person for miles.
The most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss is a sight of shock and awe. The water sources from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier gives it the greyish white look so iconic in the photos of the area. In a country rife with waterfalls, this one is a must-see. The water flows over 44 meters, causing a massive, crashing spray and sound that carries for miles.
INSIDER TIPThe walk can be treacherous in bad weather. Wear good shoes.
Skeiðará Bridge Monument
This twisted bridge is all that remains of one of the original bridges on the Ring Road. It was destroyed by a glacial flood caused by an erupting volcano. Today, there are two twisted girders by the side of the new road. They form a unique monument to the lovely but powerful beauty of Iceland’s natural landscape.
INSIDER TIPThis is visible right from the main Ring Road. It’s still worth getting out of the car.