Iceland is hauntingly beautiful and offers a myriad of experiences. Chasing the northern lights, driving around the Golden Circle, walking through the colourful cityscape of Reykjavik and bathing in a blue lagoon is pretty much on every traveller’s list. But some unique Icelandic experiences do not exist anywhere else in the world. Add them to your trip when visiting the land of fire and ice that and it will surely get your heart melting and your Instagram handle on fire! Here are some of the best and coolest experiences to have in Iceland.
1. Take a tour of a real magma chamber
If the movie journey to the centre of the earth has fascinated you, then Iceland can provide you with a similar experience. The Thríhnúkagígur Volcano lies between the city of Reykjavik and the Golden circle.
The dormant volcano has a perfectly preserved magma chamber that you can visit on a guided tour. The Bláfjöll mountain which serves as the base of the volcano is merely 30 minutes drive from the city of Reykjavik. Once you reach the base there is a moderately difficult hike of 45 minutes. You can descend inside the volcano through its crater in an open elevator which takes you 400ft below the ground to the magma chamber.
Visiting an actual magma chamber is a one-of-a-kind experience. The huge chamber is dotted with bizarre rock formations in intense colours. The inside of the chamber is so vibrant that it’s hard to believe that the place is not manmade but a natural geological site.
2. Swim between the tectonic plates
Not many places on earth can promise you to swim between two continents. At the Thingvellir National Park, there is a crack between the North American and the Eurasian continental plates called the Silfra fissure. It is the only place in the world where such kind of gap is accessible.
The water filtered through the lava is sparklingly clean. The fissure is touted to have some of the clearest water on the earth. Although the temperature of the water is sub-zero, yet the visibility and the geology make this place a world-class diving site. The majority of the dive is inside a narrow rift that opens up into a lagoon with views of dramatic rock walls on either side and submerged glaciers apart from marine life.
3. Hunt for a natural ice cave
Ice caves are formed by the melting of glacial waters. There are plenty of man-made ice caves around the world but natural caves are hard to find. This is especially true because of global warming. The difference between the two caves is that the artificial caves do not change in shape, whereas the natural caves are constantly changing from season to season, both in terms of appearance and access. Every year there is suspense if the cave from last year’s winters will still be there to visit.
The Vatnajokull National Park in Iceland have most of the world’s natural ice caves and the Breiðamerkurjökull Crystal Cave is the largest of all. A specialized vehicle called a super jeep takes you up to the glacier. The inside of the cave is a stunning bright blue. The ice formed here is without any air bubble and can absorb all the light except for the colour blue. The tour to this cave gets sold out quickly so you must book it well in advance.
4. Set up your tripod at the photogenic Vestrahorn mountain
The Vestrahorn mountain on the Stokksnes peninsula is located near the city of Hofn. Unlike other Icelandic natural attractions, the road to Vestrahorn is private property, and there is a small fee to enter the road.
Vestrahorn’s location, stark contrasts of colours, and contiguity of light and reflections on the camera make it a photographer’s delight. The batman shaped mountain rises to a dramatic height of approximately 1500 ft right from a flat, black beach. Dark sand beach dunes with beautiful tall green grass are a perfect foreground to the towering Vestrahorn mountains. It’s possible to get some amazing shots of the mountain mirrored in the lagoon whatever your photography skills.
5. Explore a glacial lagoon on an amphibian boat
The Jökulsárlón glacier is a powerful and elemental place of the surreal landscape. It is used in movies, various TV shows, and documentaries and you must visit the icebergs up close to enjoy their beauty.
There are multiple options for the boat tours that can take you near the icebergs but riding on an amphibious vehicle that travels straight from the parking lot to the melting glacier is a unique experience.
Some of the boats were once used during the war and were designed to navigate through forests and rivers. They are capable to steer past icebergs and seals just as adeptly. Tour guides provide a lot of information about the place and sometimes you may get to hold hunks of the iceberg (when safe) so that you can feel the weight and texture for yourself.
6. Drive across the world’s largest lava fields
Iceland boasts a plentiful of unearthly places, the Eldhraun lava field is one such example. This place makes you forget if you are on earth. It was the result of a devastating volcanic eruption in the year 1783.
With time the cooled down undulated lava got covered with thick Icelandic moss. Driving across the Eldhraun field will give you a mystical feeling of pure nothingness. The field is around 550 sq. km and consists of three main colours, the black of the lava, the green of the moss, and the blue of the sky, an absolute bliss! The lands look so otherworldly that the crew of Apollo 11 trained for their impending moonwalk at this place.
The fields can be visited on a self-drive trip along the ring road in south Iceland. Because of its unstable ecosystem, you can’t walk across the field. The best way to photograph and explore the area is by stopping at one of the parking lots just off Ring Road.
7. Visit the most famous Black sand beach
Iceland might not conjure up an image of a beach destination, but it does have some beautiful beaches. Reynisfjara is the most popular beach in the country. You might not be able to bask in the sun or go for a swim here because the water is icy cold, the wind gusts are crazy, and the sneaky waves will suck you into the sea. Yet, this beach is hands down one of the coolest beaches you’d ever visit.
The Reynisfjara beach consists of volcanic ash, weird rock pillars, a strange cave, and towering cliffs. The black sand of the beach is the result of the lava that had cooled down after meeting the frigid water of the sea. Opposite the sea is a cluster of hexagonal basalt columns that looks like a step to some invisible throne, adding more drama to the Icelandic landscape. The beach is easily accessible right at the ring road near the town of Vik in South Iceland.
8. See one of the rarest horse breeds
For more than 1000- years the Icelandic horses have been isolated from the rest of the world. In 982 AD, the parliament of the country had passed a law that prohibited the importation of any other horse breeds into the country. And if a horse from Iceland left the country for some purpose, then it can’t return, ever.
Therefore, the horses that are in Iceland are the purest breed of horses in the world. These horses are shorter and more colourful than other horses. They look more like model ponies with their long-flowing manes.
Even if you’ve never sat on a horse before they are fun to ride because of their size and pleasant permanent. What stands out in an Icelandic horse is its number of gaits (ways of walking). Most of the horses can perform only 3-4 gaits while the horses of Iceland can walk in 5 different ways. The best way to explore the stunning highlands of the country just like the Vikings did, is on a native horse.
The land of ice and fire is also the land of harmony and contradictions. The ecosystem of this Arctic nation is crucial for the survival of humanity. It is treading on a thin line of balance between geological and natural disasters. A not so gentle reminder of how fragile life is and how mindful we should be to try and keep the balance.
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