Iceland, found at the edge of the chilly North Atlantic Ocean and the even chillier Arctic Ocean is – unsurprisingly – quite a chilly place. At times stark and unwelcoming, the barren, volcanic landscape has a strange and at times otherworldly beauty all of its own.
Of course, when most people book their holiday to Iceland, they have one thing at the forefront of their minds – nature’s most magnificent lightshow, the incredible Aurora Borealis, or the northern lights – and rightly so.
Thought by the Vikings to be the Bifröst Bridge, connecting Earth with the realm of the Norse gods, these enigmatic, shimmering waves of bright green, purple and red draw visitors to Iceland from all over the world.
But whilst you should undoubtedly take a northern light-spotting excursion during your Iceland holiday, there is so much more to this windswept country, buffeted by the unforgiving waves of the North Atlantic and shaped by the tremendous volcanic forces below. Here are just a handful of sights you might not yet have heard about:
Experiencing the Northern Lights
This towering church made from smooth grey stone boasts an impressive frontage made from angular columns inspired by the way lava cools into basalt rock.
Starting relatively low at their furthest point, the columns gradually get higher until they meet high above the elegant entrance way, in a shape that looks like an arrow head pointing straight up to the stars.
The largest church in Iceland, and placed on a hill overlooking the centre of old Reykjavík, it’s considered to be the main landmark in Reykjavík, and as you can catch glimpses of it from almost all over the city, it’s not hard to find your way there.
Inside is just as striking as the outside, with white, minimalist columns tapering up to a vaulted ceiling, and unusual stained glass windows featuring vibrant geometric designs.
Thingvellir National Park
When planning your holiday to Iceland, you’ll no doubt hear about the Golden Circle tour. Featuring the Strokkur geyser and the Gullfoss waterfall, the inclusions of Thingvellir National Park might seem something of a footnote.
After the sheer force of the Gulfoss and the explosive fountain of the Strokkur, it’s easy to dismiss Thingvellir – and when it’s cold, it’s tempting to stay in the warmth of the tour bus!
But don’t miss out – there are still plenty of inspiring sights to be seen. The craggy, majestic landscape is situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – here the Eurasian and North-American plates pull apart a couple more centimetres a year.
The lakes, streams and rivers are all filled with glacier run off, purified by a journey through lava fields, and the water is so incredibly crystal clear you can see each stone and pebble on the bed in high definition.
Three days in Iceland - a first hand account.
Enjoy Iceland by boat
Another couple of must-does on any holiday to Iceland involve a voyage. Try a whale and dolphin watch – you might be lucky enough to spot blue whales, humpback whales, orcas, dolphins and plenty more species besides.
Alternatively – or perhaps as well as – try puffin watching. These tours will take you to a nearby island so you can get a fantastic up-close look at these endearing little birds as they dive into the waves in search of fish.
But whilst you’re out on the boat, make sure you take a moment as you leave the harbour to spot the tiny dwellings clinging to the shore, in scenes straight out of a storybook.
Then, as you get further out, make sure you take in the sight of Iceland’s snow-topped mountains, as they rise straight up from the waves.
As the sun goes down, the clear skies are filled with a golden glow, silhouetting the mountains – it’s a picture-perfect moment, so make sure you have your camera to hand!
Discover all these sights and so much more on your own tour of Iceland