Skip to content

10 Epic Icelandic Landscapes To Explore

These Icelandic landscapes are of dramatic contrasts and unparalleled natural beauty, boasting a stunning array of different landscapes that captivate and inspire.

This Nordic island nation, often referred to as the “Land of Fire and Ice,” is a living testament to the forces of nature.

From towering volcanoes and glaciers to cascading waterfalls, geothermal wonders, and black sand beaches, Iceland’s diverse landscapes offer a breathtaking and ever-changing panorama that beckons adventurers and nature enthusiasts to explore its rugged terrain.


Icelandic Landscapes

Whether you’re seeking the solitude of the highlands or the dynamic energy of its geothermal hotspots, Iceland’s landscapes are a testament to the awe-inspiring power of Earth’s geological forces.

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland you can find hotels in Reykjavik here.


Volcanoes

Iceland is often referred to as the “Land of Fire and Ice” due to its numerous active volcanoes and these are one of the most epic Icelandic landscapes to see.

The country sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a tectonic plate boundary where the Eurasian and North American plates meet. This geological setting makes Iceland one of the most volcanically active regions in the world.

These are some of the main Icelandic volcanoes:

Hekla is one of Iceland’s most famous and active volcanoes. It has erupted numerous times throughout history, with the last major eruption occurring in 2000. Hekla is sometimes referred to as the “Gateway to Hell” due to its frequent eruptions and the plumes of ash and lava it produces.

Eyjafjallajökull gained international attention in 2010 when it erupted, spewing ash clouds into the atmosphere and disrupting air travel across Europe. It is located beneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, which adds to the complexity of its eruptions.

Katla is one of Iceland’s largest and most active volcanoes. It is situated beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and is known for its powerful eruptions. An eruption of Katla could potentially lead to significant flooding in nearby areas due to the melting of glacier ice.

Located beneath the Vatnajökull glacier, Grímsvötn is one of Iceland’s most frequently erupting volcanoes. It tends to have explosive eruptions that can send ash plumes high into the atmosphere.

Askja is a volcanic caldera located in the central highlands of Iceland. It contains a deep lake called Öskjuvatn. The last major eruption of Askja occurred in 1961, and it is a popular destination for tourists and scientists interested in studying volcanic activity.

Laki is known for the 1783-1784 eruption, which produced the largest lava flow in recorded history. The eruption had significant global climatic effects, leading to what is known as the “Laki Fissure” or “Laki Fires,” causing crop failures and famines in various parts of the world.

Iceland’s volcanoes are closely monitored by the Icelandic Meteorological Office and the Institute of Earth Sciences to provide early warning in case of eruptions, as well as to study volcanic activity and its impact on the environment.

While volcanic eruptions can be disruptive and dangerous, they are also an essential part of Iceland’s geology and contribute to its unique Icelandic landscapes.

Glaciers

Iceland is home to numerous glaciers due to its location in the North Atlantic, its high latitude, and its mountainous terrain. These glaciers cover about 11% of Iceland’s total land area, making them a prominent feature of the Icelandic landscapes.

These are some of the best glaciers in Iceland:

Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Iceland and one of the largest in Europe. It covers an area of approximately 8,100 square kilometres (3,130 square miles) and is located in the southeastern part of the country.

Vatnajökull National Park encompasses this glacier and the surrounding highlands. It features many outlet glaciers, including Breiðamerkurjökull, which flows into Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon known for its icebergs.

Langjökull, which means “Long Glacier” in Icelandic, is the second-largest glacier in Iceland, covering an area of about 953 square kilometres (368 square miles). It is located in the western part of Iceland, and its ice cap conceals several smaller glaciers within it.

Hofsjökull is a large glacier located in the interior of Iceland. It covers an area of approximately 925 square kilometres (357 square miles). This glacier is part of the Hofsjökull National Park and is known for its relatively flat ice cap.

Situated in the southern part of Iceland, Mýrdalsjökull covers an area of approximately 700 square kilometres (270 square miles). Beneath this glacier lies the Katla volcano, which is known for its powerful eruptions.

Located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland, Snæfellsjökull is a stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit. It became famous as the entrance to the “Center of the Earth” in Jules Verne’s novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

These glaciers are not only significant natural features but also play a vital role in shaping Iceland’s landscape and hydrology.

Waterfalls


Iceland is renowned for its breathtaking waterfalls, thanks to its rugged terrain, abundant rainfall, and numerous glacial rivers. These waterfalls in Iceland are some of the most iconic and picturesque natural attractions in the country.

These are some of the best Icelandic waterfalls:

Located in the Golden Circle area, Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous and powerful waterfalls. The Hvítá River cascades down a two-tiered, 32-meter (105-foot) drop, creating a dramatic and awe-inspiring sight. In the winter, the waterfall can partially freeze, adding to its beauty.

Seljalandsfoss is unique because visitors can walk behind the cascading water curtain into a small cave. Seljalandsfoss is approximately 60 meters (197 feet) tall and is located along the southern coast of Iceland.

Skógafoss is another stunning waterfall along Iceland’s south coast. It’s one of the largest waterfalls in the country, with a drop of about 60 meters (200 feet). Visitors can climb a staircase to get a close-up view of the falls from the top.

Located in Vatnajökull National Park in the south of Iceland, Svartifoss is known for its unique columnar basalt rock formations surrounding the waterfall. These hexagonal columns give the falls a distinctive and otherworldly appearance.

Known as the “Waterfall of the Gods,” Godafoss is located in northern Iceland. It’s an impressive, horseshoe-shaped waterfall where the Skjálfandafljót River tumbles over a wide ledge.

Dettifoss is often considered the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It’s located in the northeast of Iceland and is part of the Vatnajökull National Park. The waterfall is about 100 meters (330 feet) wide and has a drop of 45 meters (150 feet).

Aldeyjarfoss is known for its striking contrast between the dark basalt columns and the white water. It is located in northern Iceland and requires a bit of a hike to reach, but the scenery is well worth the effort.

Hraunfossar, which means “Lava Falls,” is a series of waterfalls that seem to flow directly out of the surrounding lava fields. It’s located in western Iceland, near the town of Borgarnes.

Glymur is one of Iceland’s tallest waterfalls, with a height of about 198 meters (650 feet). It is situated in Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjord) in southwestern Iceland and involves a hike to reach its viewing spots.

These are just a few of the many stunning waterfalls that Iceland has to offer. The diverse Iceland landscapes and geological features make it a paradise for waterfall enthusiasts and nature lovers.

Geothermal Areas

Iceland is known for its abundant geothermal activity, and there are several geothermal areas in the country where you can experience hot springs, geysers, and other geothermal phenomena which remains one of the most popular places to visit for Icelandic landscapes.

These are some of the most famous geothermal areas in Iceland:

The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist routes, and it includes several geothermal attractions.

Geysir Geothermal Area: Home to the famous Geysir and Strokkur geysers, which erupt hot water and steam into the air at regular intervals.

Gullfoss Waterfall: A stunning two-tiered waterfall located on the Hvítá River, fed by glacial meltwater.

Þingvellir National Park: is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical significance, but it’s also situated in a rift valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart. This geological activity results in various fissures and fissure lakes.

Haukadalur Geothermal Area is located in southwest Iceland and is home to the Geysir Geothermal Field and the Strokkur geyser, which erupts every few minutes, delighting visitors with its dramatic displays.

Krýsuvík Geothermal Area is situated on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Krýsuvík is known for its colourful and steaming solfatara fields, mud pots, and hot springs.

Hveravellir is located in the central highlands of Iceland, Hveravellir is a remote geothermal area known for its hot springs and geothermal pools. It’s a popular stop for hikers and travellers exploring the interior of the country.

Reykjanes Geopark is also on the Reykjanes Peninsula and is home to several geothermal features, including the Gunnuhver hot spring, which is one of the largest mud pools in Iceland.

While primarily known for its stunning landscapes and hiking trails, Landmannalaugar in the highlands of Iceland also features geothermal hot springs, where visitors can soak in natural warm baths.

Deildartunguhver is located in western Iceland and is the most powerful hot spring in Europe, with an output of nearly 180 litres of boiling water per second. It supplies hot water to nearby towns.

Black Sand Beaches

Iceland is renowned for its striking black sand beaches. These unique coastal areas feature volcanic black sand and are often juxtaposed with stunning natural features like glaciers, cliffs, and basalt columns which are some of the main Icelandic landscapes to see on the coast.

These are some of the main black sand beaches in Iceland:

Located near the village of Vík í Mýrdal on Iceland’s southern coast, Reynisfjara is one of the country’s most famous black sand beaches. It is known for its towering basalt columns, sea stacks, and the Reynisdrangar rock formations rising from the ocean.

Situated next to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in southeast Iceland, Diamond Beach is known for its icebergs that wash ashore from the lagoon. The ice chunks on the black sand give the beach its “diamond” appearance, and it’s a popular spot for photographers.

Found on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Kleifarvatn is a serene and isolated black sand beach located beside the picturesque Kleifarvatn Lake. The area is known for its tranquillity and unique landscapes.

Located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland, Djúpalónssandur is known for its pebbly black sand beach and the remnants of a shipwreck that can be seen on the shore. It’s also surrounded by lava formations and hiking trails.

Found near Höfn in southeast Iceland, Stokksnes features a black sand beach with views of the Vestrahorn mountain, which makes it a popular spot for photographers. You can also explore Viking Village film sets in the area.

Fjords

Iceland’s coastline is dotted with fjords that offer picturesque views and opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking and wildlife watching. The Westfjords region is particularly known for its rugged beauty.

These are some of the most popular fjords in Iceland:

Located in northern Iceland, Eyjafjörður is the country’s longest fjord, stretching over 60 kilometres (37 miles) inland. The town of Akureyri, often called the “Capital of the North,” is situated on the shores of this fjord.

Ísafjarðardjúp: This large fjord complex is found in the Westfjords region of Iceland and includes several smaller fjords, such as Ísafjörður, Suðureyri, and Flateyri. The Westfjords are known for their remote and rugged beauty.

Situated on the eastern side of the Westfjords, Hornsafjörður is known for its dramatic cliffs and bird cliffs, which make it a popular destination for birdwatching.

Located in the Eastfjords region of Iceland, this fjord is known for its picturesque landscapes and the presence of puffin colonies during the summer months.

Found in the Eastfjords, Reyðarfjörður is the longest of the eastern fjords and is home to a picturesque town of the same name. It is surrounded by mountains and offers beautiful views.

Situated in the southeastern part of Iceland, Djúpivogur is known for its stunning landscapes, including the nearby Vatnajökull Glacier and the impressive Búlandstindur mountain.

Located in the Westfjords, Patreksfjörður is known for its dramatic cliffs and the remote and beautiful Rauðasandur Beach, known for its reddish-golden sand.

Located in the west of Iceland, Breiðafjörður is known for its numerous islands and islets. It’s a great place for boat tours and birdwatching.

Iceland’s fjords are known for their natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and unique landscapes. Whether you’re interested in hiking, birdwatching, or simply enjoying the stunning scenery, exploring Iceland’s fjords can be a memorable experience.

Highlands

The Icelandic Highlands, known as “Hálendið” in Icelandic, are a vast and rugged interior region of Iceland, characterized by some of the most dramatic and unique Icelandic landscapes.

The Highlands are largely uninhabited and are one of the last true wilderness areas in Europe.

The Highlands are geologically active and are home to numerous volcanoes, some of which are still active. The region features vast lava fields, volcanic craters, and geothermal areas.

The Highlands are bordered by several glaciers, including the Vatnajökull, Langjökull, and Hofsjökull glaciers. These glaciers feed many of the rivers and lakes in the region.

The Highlands offer some of the most challenging and rewarding hiking opportunities in Iceland. Popular trails include the Laugavegur Trail, which takes you from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, and the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, which leads from Þórsmörk to Skógar, passing by waterfalls and volcanic landscapes.

Read A guide to hiking the Laugavegur Trail.

Located in the central Highlands, Askja is a massive caldera with a crater lake, Víti, which means “hell” in Icelandic due to its historic eruptions. Askja can be accessed during the summer months and is a remote and otherworldly destination.

Kerlingarfjöll is a mountain range in the central Highlands known for its geothermal activity, hot springs, and colourful rhyolite peaks. It’s a popular destination for hiking and exploration.

Kaldidalur is a highland route that connects the southern lowlands to the western lowlands. It offers scenic views of glaciers and mountains.

Due to its harsh climate, the Icelandic Highlands are typically only accessible during the summer months, roughly from June to September. The roads and trails can be impassable in winter.

The Highlands are considered an environmentally sensitive area, and there are conservation efforts in place to protect the fragile ecosystems. Visitors are encouraged to follow Leave No Trace principles and respect the rules and regulations in the area.

The Icelandic Highlands offer a unique and remote experience for those who are willing to explore this wild and untamed region. It’s a place where you can witness the raw power of nature and see some of Iceland’s most stunning geological features.

Lakes

Iceland is home to numerous beautiful and diverse lakes, each with its own unique characteristics and attractions. These are some of the most notable lakes in Iceland:

Located within Þingvellir National Park, Þingvallavatn is Iceland’s largest natural lake. It is renowned for its crystal-clear waters and is situated in a rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Divers can explore the Silfra Fissure, which is a popular spot for snorkelling and diving.

Known as the “Glacier Lagoon,” Jökulsárlón is a stunning glacial lake in southeast Iceland, near Vatnajökull National Park. The lake is filled with icebergs that have broken off from the nearby Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and drifted out to sea, creating a mesmerizing and ever-changing landscape.

Located in northern Iceland, Mývatn is known for its unique geological features and diverse birdlife. The lake was formed in a volcanic crater and is surrounded by pseudocraters, hot springs, and lava formations. It’s a popular destination for birdwatching and outdoor activities.

Lögurinn (Lögurinn Lake): Situated in eastern Iceland, Lögurinn is Iceland’s third-largest lake. It’s known for its folklore and legends, particularly related to the mythical monster “Lagarfljótsormurinn.” The lake is surrounded by picturesque landscapes and small villages.

Located in the Westfjords, Vatnsfjörður is a serene and remote fjord with a picturesque lake at its head. The area is known for its tranquillity and is a great place for hiking and birdwatching.

Found in the Central Highlands, Þórisvatn is the second-largest natural lake in Iceland. It is situated in a desolate, highland area and is often frozen in winter. Access can be challenging, and it’s a remote destination for adventurous travellers.

Iceland’s lakes are scattered throughout the country and offer a diverse range of natural beauty, outdoor activities, and opportunities to immerse yourself in the stunning Icelandic landscapes.

Tundra and Moss-Covered Lava Fields

In some parts of Iceland, you’ll find vast expanses of tundra and lava fields covered in vibrant moss. This creates an otherworldly, almost alien-like landscape and is one of the main Icelandic landscapes you can see.

The Icelandic Highlands are a vast interior region characterized by barren, rocky landscapes, glaciers, and volcanic activity. In many parts of the Highlands, you’ll find tundra vegetation dominated by low-growing plants, mosses, and lichens.

The northern and eastern coasts of Iceland also have tundra-like conditions. These areas have a cooler and wetter climate compared to some other parts of the country. You’ll find tundra vegetation consisting of mosses, lichens, grasses, and low shrubs.

Located within Vatnajökull National Park in the southeast of Iceland, the Skaftafell area features tundra-like environments due to its proximity to glaciers and the harsh climate. Hiking trails in this region offer opportunities to see tundra vegetation up close.

Some parts of the Westfjords region in northwestern Iceland also have tundra-like conditions. The combination of a short growing season and cool temperatures results in low-lying vegetation and moss-covered landscapes.

Tundra ecosystems in Iceland are ecologically important and are home to various species of birds, including ptarmigans and waders, as well as Arctic foxes and reindeer.

Exploring Iceland’s tundra regions can be a unique experience, offering a chance to witness the resilience of life in harsh Arctic conditions and to appreciate the stark, otherworldly beauty of the landscape.

Tectonic Plate Boundary

Icelandic landscapes

Iceland is located on the boundary between two major tectonic plates: the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. This tectonic boundary is known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and it runs through the centre of Iceland.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a divergent plate boundary, where the two tectonic plates are moving away from each other.

These are some key features and information about the tectonic plate boundary in Iceland:

Rift Valley: The Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Iceland creates a rift valley that stretches diagonally across the country from the southwest to the northeast. This rift valley is a prominent geological feature and is responsible for the unique and dynamic landscapes found in Iceland.

Continental Drift: The North American Plate is moving westward, while the Eurasian Plate is moving eastward. The boundary between these plates is characterized by volcanic activity, earthquakes, and the widening of the rift valley over time.

Volcanic Activity: Iceland is one of the most volcanically active regions in the world due to its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The movement of the tectonic plates causes magma to rise to the surface, leading to the formation of numerous volcanoes and volcanic systems throughout the country.

Geothermal Activity: The tectonic plate boundary in Iceland also results in significant geothermal activity, as mentioned before.

Iceland experiences regular seismic activity due to the interaction of the tectonic plates. While most earthquakes are minor, larger and more significant earthquakes can occur, sometimes leading to volcanic eruptions.

Fissures and Fissure Eruptions: The tectonic boundary often creates fissures or cracks in the Earth’s crust. Fissure eruptions, where volcanic eruptions occur along these cracks, are not uncommon in Iceland.

Tectonic Plate Movement: Iceland is slowly spreading apart at an average rate of a few centimetres per year as the North American and Eurasian Plates move away from each other. Over geological time, this process will continue to widen the rift valley and shape Iceland’s landscapes.


Iceland

These are just a few examples of the Icelandic landscapes you can explore in Iceland. The country’s natural beauty has made it a popular destination for travellers seeking adventure and breathtaking scenery.

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland you can find hotels in Reykjavik here.

For more on Iceland take a look at the 10 best books about Iceland to read.


Share the Icelandic landscapes:

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Get the backpackingman newsletter to catch up on the latest adventures.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares