1. Black beaches
Black is the new white! There’s nothing quite so atmospheric as watching the ocean lap back and forth, leaving a veil of white water across a black beach.
2. Unbelievable icebergs
It’s hard to believable seeing something like this is so accessible. To this day, Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon is easily one of the most remarkable natural wonders I’ve ever seen.
3. Crystal Beach
Ok, these are ice floes not crystals but I still think this beach opposite Jokulsarlon should be called ‘Crystal beach’, don’t you?
4. Basalt columns
It’s incredible to think that after such a violent eruption of lava, almost perfectly symmetrical ‘sculptures’ are born. So much order in the chaos!
5. Abandoned cabins
Adding character to the landscape are abandoned fishermen’s cabins in all kinds of conditions and colours, from grey, battered and torn to well-preserved, painted and cute. Have your camera ready.
6. Turf houses
Every time I see one of these gorgeous little turf houses I possess a strong urge to throw my phone away, stop shaving my armpits, start a nudist colony and grow my own vegetables. Wanna join?
7. There’s even a turf house museum
At Glaumbaer in North Iceland you’ll be able to see how they used to live in this wonderfully preserved farm dwelling which was inhabited until 1947. It’s a great way to see how the past used to live, made from peat it might seem primitive but this kind of cladding retains a lot of warmth, which is something poorer Icelanders didn’t have before they tapped into geothermal energy.
8. The world’s only Penis Museum
Some people collect stamps whilst others collection penises…. but what happens when your collection gets too big for your home? You open a Penis Museum. Obviously.
9. It looks like Mars
Forget about comparing Iceland to other places on Earth, look at Mars and you’ll be a step closer to reality. Its capital city looks like it’s made up of Monopoly houses.
Just look at how colourful this capital city is! For the best view of the city head to the top of Hallgrimskirkja church for 360° panoramic views.
11. There’s a story in us all
Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country.
12. Quirky sculptures with a philosophical message
I adore this sculpture located in Reykjavik. I don’t think there’s a better why to get the point across that working in a job simply to amass wealth will leave you completely enslaved.
13. Gay Pride is a huge deal; they paint the city in more colours!
There’s nothing quite like people coming together and using art to send out a message of celebration and acceptance.
14. And when they’re not in the streets, they’re in the sky
Rainbows are an emblem for Iceland, you’ll often see them spring up over waterfalls and because the weather is so erratic it’s also common to see them in the sky when the rain is followed by sunshine.
15. Pretty fishing villages
My favourite is the small yet perfectly formed fishing village of Siglufjördur. Once known for its silver sea with its abundance of herring, thus giving it the nickname ‘Herring Town’. Though there is no longer any herring, its heritage has been wonderfully preserved at the charming little Herring Museum.
16. Icelandic horses
Icelandic horses are synonymous with the landscape, why not jump out of your car to say hello or take a photo of these beautiful creatures? Icelandic horses are known for their unique tolt (a special gait) that other breeds of horses are not capable of!
17. No mosquitoes
There are few countries in the world that can say they do not have any mosquitoes and Iceland is one of them!
18. Lake Mývatn
Although there are no mosquitoes, you won’t be able to avoid the midges at Lake Mývatn which translates to ‘Midge Lake’, however, this means the area flourishes with birdlife (every cloud has a silver lining). It’s difficult to get a perspective of how weird and wonderful the appearance of this vast expanse of water is without seeing a bird’s-eye view. However, it’s still easy to spot the collection of pseudo-craters that sprawl across it.
Dimmuborgir is its own world of unique and bizarre lava formations, which make exploring extremely enjoyable. The place has inspired much Icelandic folklore, believing Dimmuborgir connects earth with the infernal regions. It wouldn’t be surprising if Iceland’s elusive elves and trolls lived here too – I’ve read they do!
20. Hverir Geothermal Area
There’s a high chance that you’ll smell this place before you even see it! Hverir is a large field of bubbling mud pools, fumaroles and sticky red soil. You only need to see the large volume of steam emitting from the ground to know this area is high-temperature and evidently volcanic.
FYI: If you’re heading to Iceland and want to know what to wear, I got this pictured jacket from the new Sprayway collection – read my blog ‘What to Wear in Iceland and the Arctic Regions‘ for more advice.
21. Climb Hverfjall, an erupted volcano
This tuff ring volcano can be seen from miles away: broad, conical, black and shaped in a stereotypical cone, Hverfjall (or Hverfell) demands attention. You can hike to the top of the crater to see the black abyss below or get a 360° view of the surrounding area.
22. Sorry Britain, but Icelandic fish ‘n’ chips are superior!
Oh my word, your tastebuds will jump with joy after tasting Icelandic fish ‘n’ chips. Light and airy, they’ll melt in your mouth and will leave you craving more.
23. Hot Pools
Entering through a crack in the ground nearby Hverfjall, stop off at Grjótagjá Lava Cave for a few minutes to climb down into this low-ceiling tunnel harbouring a clear-blue steaming pool. However, unless you’re here in the winter, the pool is too hot to jump into during the summer so alternatively head to Seljavallalaug, one of the oldest pools in Iceland.
© Gina Churchill-Straffon
24. No McDonalds
You know a country prides itself on individuality when it doesn’t subscribe to having a McDonalds. It did once upon a time before the economic crash in 2008 but has no desire to see the chain again in spite of its economic recovery.
25. Epic waterfalls
Waterfalls in Iceland may not be the tallest in the world but they are the most diverse and beautiful. Dettifoss (pictured) in North Iceland is the most powerful waterfall in the whole of Europe. Before you even arrive you can hear the thundering sound of the river dropping 45m with enough force to send spray hundreds of metres skywards.
All Icelanders should be proud to have this woman representing their musical achievements on a global platform. And even when she’s not singing I really enjoy listening to her interview other people including David Attenborough and Arvo Part.
27. Europe’s first female president
Not only was Vigdís Finnbogadóttir the first woman to be appointed president in Europe in 1980, being head of state for 16 years means she remains the longest serving female president to date.
28. A taxi driver turned comedian turned Mayor
Ex-Mayor of Reykjavik, Jón Gnarr, created a satirical political party which parodied real life events in Icelandic society but by making politics more fun, it ended up thrusting him into real life politics.
Iceland is home to the largest number of puffins in the world with an estimate of 10 million. The single largest colony can be found on the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, a collection of 15 small islands, the largest being Heimaey with a population of 4500 people.
30. Northern Lights
Although you can see the Northern Lights in several countries, Iceland remains one of the best places. If you’re staying in a hotel make sure you ask for a wake-up call if the Lights decide to start dancing across the sky in the middle of the night.
31. Inside the Volcano
Gain new wonderment of the world by descending into a magma chamber where unimaginable geological ferocity once occurred.
32. Europe’s largest ice cap
Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe and the third largest in the world (after the ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland). The glacier is so massive that each of the many tongues have their own names and are referred to as separate glaciers like Svinafellsjökull.
33. Not just fields, but lava fields
Where we would usually have grass, the typical landscape around Iceland is lava fields – bizarre yet beautiful.
34. Smells like rotten eggs
If you have a problem with this smell then maybe you should avoid Iceland. I think it smells like heaven but that’s what love does to you!
35. Street art
Large wall murals transform otherwise nondescript buildings.
36. Warm welcome to refugees
The unfolding of the current refugee crisis has been really upsetting, but one of several heartwarming examples of compassion have come from Iceland, including the owner of an excursion company who has taken refugees on sightseeing trips and encourages some of the bigger excursion companies to do the same. These people have gone through things I cannot even imagine so for them to have the chance to see Iceland’s astonishing landscape hopefully brings them comfort and a small sense of distraction.
There’s no looking back after you taste your first spoonful of Skyr. Described as a yogurt and eaten as a yogurt, it’s actually really soft cheese with virtually zero fat (seemingly impossible I know). I recently tried coconut flavour, if you find this consider yourself lucky as this flavour is harder to find in stores.
I was told the story about an Icelandic man who moved to New York and began making it in his flat because he felt homesick and it wasn’t available across the Atlantic at the time. After his friends tasted it they encouraged him to approach specialist stores and from that a booming business was born! You can read more about his story here.
38. The perfect thinking place
With such a low population, very few cities and an abundance of breathtaking nature, Iceland provides the backdrop to really think about things in detail without the interruption of noise. This maybe the reason why they also publish more books per capita…
39. Sexy dad alert
It wasn’t me who said it first!
40. Film-locations from every direction
James Bond, Tomb Raider, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Game of Thrones – it’s no surprise why tourism is fast becoming one of the largest industries in Iceland.
41. The Golden Circle Route – a microcosm of Iceland in a day
If you only have a few days in Iceland it’s still possible to get a good impression of what the whole country is like in a day on the Golden Circle Route.
42. Significant in chess history
Before I started blogging and years before stepping foot on Iceland, the only real thing I knew about the country was that it hosted one of the most famous chess matches in history – The 1972 Bobby Fischer Vs Spassky match. The world-wide attention of this game really put Iceland on the map so when Bobby Fischer ran into trouble with the law later on in his life, Iceland stepped in and granted Bobby Fischer citizenship so he no longer had to worry about being deported back to America where he awaited criminal charges.
43. They don’t take themselves too seriously
It’s difficult to describe Icelandic humour because sometimes I’m never sure if what they’re saying is a joke or not because they often deliver their sentences with a deadpan expression.
But for quick, easy jokes head into the tourist shops and have a look at the T-shirts available to buy and you’ll definitely see a few inappropriate things that will give you a good chuckle! The Penis Museum also has its own merchandise too…
44. Policemen don’t carry guns
It’s not a coincidence that in one of the safest countries in the world the policemen do not carry guns.
45. Architecture inspired by nature
Even in the capital city you’re still constantly reminded of nature. Hallgrimskirkja church, the tallest building in Reykjavik looks exactly like basalt columns.
46. Geothermal Energy
Due to the high volume of volcanoes, Iceland is able to heat itself (including the main roads which remain surprisingly ice free) almost entirely by geothermal energy aka clean power.
47. Pure Water
You don’t need to keep buying bottled water, refill at your nearest tap, stream, waterfall or Lagoon – Icelandic waterfall is among the purest in the world!
48. Insane rock formations jutting out from the sea
A statement like this really deserves its own blogpost, but in a nutshell don’t miss the ‘fingers’ of basalt rocks known as Reynisdranger in Vik; Dyrhólaey, a 120 metres high promontory where a huge arch-shaped rock is located; and Hvítserkur, a basalt rock formation at Húnafjörður. I personally have a soft spot for Reynisdranger because you can see them wherever you are in Vik, Iceland’s most southerly and arguably prettiest town.
49. You can travel around the whole country on a single road
Driving the circumference of Highway 1 is the ultimate road trip! Long smooth roads passing unbelievable scenery. Bliss.
50. Photographer’s Paradise
Amazing glaciers, gushing waterfalls, impressive volcanoes, bizarre rock formations, stunning wildlife, quirky and colourful capital city, the photo opportunities are endless.