Iceland is known for its wild landscape, imposing waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers, and Northern Lights – as well as its unique culture, delicious seafood cuisine, and geothermal energy sources.
Things Iceland Is Known For
Have you ever dreamed of exploring a land of breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture?
Iceland, a small Nordic country, is just the place for you!
With its stunning natural wonders and unique traditions, there's no shortage of reasons to visit this amazing country. No wonder then that Iceland features so highly on people's European bucket list.
In July and August 2023, I'll be cycling around Iceland for 6 weeks. As part of my preparation, I thought to put this guide together on what's in Iceland to see so I can include the best of the best on my Iceland cycling route!
In this blog post, I've got the top 30 reasons that make Iceland an unforgettable destination and try to answer the question: what is Iceland famous for?
What is Iceland famous for?
- Breathtaking glaciers, waterfalls, geysers & volcanic landscapes.
- Northern Lights and unique sights
- Icelandic culture & traditions with unique architecture, cuisine and wildlife encounters!
Also read: Iceland Captions And Quotes
Iceland's Natural Wonders
Iceland's natural wonders are truly awe-inspiring. From glaciers and waterfalls to geysers and volcanic landscapes, there's always something new to discover. Its pristine landscapes and unique geological features have captured the hearts of travelers from all over the world.
Let's dive deeper into the four major categories of these natural wonders: glaciers, waterfalls, geysers, and volcanic landscapes.
Iceland is home to some of the most remarkable glaciers on Earth, including Vatnajokull, Myrdalsjokull, Langjokull, and Snaefellsjokull. These massive ice giants cover around 11% of the country's land area and provide breathtaking scenery for tourists to explore. The largest glacier in Europe, the Vatnajökull, is particularly impressive, offering visitors a unique opportunity to experience the power and beauty of nature up close.
For thrill-seekers, the glaciers provide endless opportunities for adventure. Activities such as hiking or snowmobiling across the icy terrain offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One particularly mesmerizing sight is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where icebergs break off from the glacier and float in the lake, a stark reminder of the effects of global warming.
Iceland is graced with an abundance of magnificent waterfalls, each more stunning than the last. Gullfoss, Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Godafoss, and Dettifoss are just a few examples of the breathtaking cascades found throughout the country. These powerful displays of nature attract visitors from around the world, and many have even been featured in popular movies and TV shows like Thor, Game of Thrones, and Vikings.
One waterfall with a particularly fascinating story is Goðafoss Waterfall also known as the “Waterfall of the Gods”. According to legend, chieftain orgeir made a statement by throwing his statues of the Viking gods into the cascading water to signify the start of Christianity in Iceland. This historical landmark perfectly captures the blending of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage that makes Iceland so unique.
The geysers of Iceland are another must-see natural wonder. The most famous geyser in the world, Geysir, is found here, and its eruptions can reach an incredible 60 to 70 meters high.
Nearby, the Strokkur geyser also puts on an impressive show, offering visitors an unforgettable experience of witnessing the raw power of geothermal energy. These geysers, along with the many hot springs scattered throughout the country, serve as a reminder of Iceland's volcanic origins.
Iceland's volcanic landscapes are both awe-inspiring and otherworldly. The country boasts numerous active volcanoes, such as Holuhraun, which erupted in 2014, and the infamous Eyjafjallajökull, which caused widespread disruption in air travel when it erupted in 2010. These volcanic eruptions have shaped Iceland's unique landscape, leaving behind vast lava fields and striking geological formations.
The influence of volcanic activity is also evident in the location of Icelandic towns and cities. Most are situated far away from volcanoes to avoid potential damage from glacial floods or ash. This has resulted in a sparse population along the south coast of Iceland, where visitors can explore the black sand beaches, such as Reynisfjara, and witness the stunning contrast between the dark volcanic sand and the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Northern Lights Phenomenon
Imagine witnessing the awe-inspiring beauty of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, as they dance across the night sky in a dazzling display of colors. In Iceland, this natural phenomenon is a popular attraction for visitors, especially between August and April.
The best place to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Reykjavik is from Grotto Lighthouse, where the stunning lights paint the sky in shades of pink, pale green, blue, yellow, and violet. This unforgettable experience is just another reason why Iceland is a must-visit destination.
The Blue Lagoon Spa
For a truly luxurious and unique experience, the Blue Lagoon spa is a must-visit when in Iceland. This popular tourist spot is known for its milky blue waters, black lava fields, and rejuvenating mud mask treatments. Visitors are required to take a long shower before entering the lagoon, as there is no chlorine in the water.
With the price of entry, guests receive a towel, mud mask, and a drink, ensuring a relaxing and pampering experience. The Blue Lagoon is not only a place to unwind, but also a testament to Iceland's incredible geothermal power.
Icelandic horses are a unique and cherished part of Icelandic culture. These sturdy and versatile animals have been in Iceland for over a thousand years and are the only horse breed allowed in the country. Brought to the island by Norwegian Vikings, Icelandic horses are now used for both work and leisure activities, including horseback riding tours for tourists.
The breed's adaptability and hardiness make them a beloved symbol of Iceland's rich history and rugged landscape.
Traditional Icelandic Cuisine
Icelandic cuisine is known for its unique and sometimes daring dishes. Traditional Icelandic foods, such as hákarl (fermented shark) and puffin heart, may not be for the faint of heart, but they offer a taste of the country's culinary heritage.
In addition to these adventurous dishes, visitors can also enjoy comforting classics like skyr (a yogurt-like dairy product), bollur (a type of Icelandic pastry), and kleinur (a twisted doughnut). With such a diverse range of flavors and textures, Icelandic cuisine is sure to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds.
Reykjavik: The Vibrant Capital
Reykjavik, Iceland's vibrant capital, is a city rich in history, culture, and architectural beauty. As the nation's first settlement and home to around 60% of the population, Reykjavik offers a glimpse into the heart of Icelandic life.
The city is known for its unique architecture, including the iconic Hallgrmskirkja Church, which towers above the city skyline, and the colorful ironclad houses that line the streets. With its lively atmosphere, diverse attractions, and friendly locals, Reykjavik is a must-visit destination on any trip to Iceland.
Black Sand Beaches
The black sand beaches of Iceland are a striking and unique feature of the country's coastline. Formed by ash, lava fragments, and minerals left by erupting volcanoes, these dark sands create a dramatic contrast against the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Reynisfjara beach, the most famous black sand beach, is a popular spot for tourists seeking a different kind of beach experience.
Other stunning black sand beaches include Skaftafell Ice Cave, Sólheimasandur with its old plane wreck, Black Lava Pearl Beach at the end of the Snfellsnes peninsula, and Diamond Beach next to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. These extraordinary beaches provide a stark reminder of Iceland's volcanic origins and are a must-see for any visitor.
Golden Circle Tour
For those looking to explore the best that Iceland has to offer, the Golden Circle tour is an ideal choice. This popular route takes visitors on a journey through some of Iceland's most famous attractions, such as Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Falls, and the Geysir Geothermal Area. Along the way, tourists can witness the beautiful scenery, learn about Iceland's rich history, and even partake in adventure activities like hiking or snorkeling.
Whether completed in a single day or spread out over several, the Golden Circle tour provides an unforgettable experience of Iceland's diverse landscapes and attractions.
Icelandic Culture and Traditions
Icelandic culture and traditions are deeply rooted in the country's history and landscape. From the orrablót midwinter festival, where smoked and preserved meats are consumed, to the Sólarkaffi coffee ceremony enjoyed in the morning sun, these customs provide a glimpse into the lives of Icelanders past and present.
Other unique traditions include Bolludagur, where children chase and spank their parents for pastries, and Réttir, the annual sheep round-up. Iceland also hosts the Verslunarmannahelgi festival and is home to the impressive Hallgrmskirkja Church.
By exploring these traditions and customs, visitors can truly immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Icelandic culture.
Iceland's diverse wildlife offers visitors the chance to witness some truly incredible creatures in their natural habitats. From whale watching tours that bring you up close to humpback, minke, and harbor porpoise in Skjálfandi Bay, to observing the adorable puffins that make up 60% of the world's Atlantic Puffin population, there's no shortage of opportunities for unforgettable wildlife encounters.
Visitors can also spot seals basking on the shores and watch arctic char swimming in the crystal-clear waters. Iceland's wildlife is yet another reason why this country is such an extraordinary destination.
Iceland's unique architecture is a testament to its rich history and innovative spirit. From the striking Kópavogskirkja Church perched atop Borgarholt Hill in Kópavogur, to the contemporary Kopavogur Art Museum, which houses over 1,400 works from modernist artists, the country's architectural landscape is both diverse and fascinating.
Another intriguing aspect of Icelandic architecture is the lfhól replicas, small houses, and churches built to provide homes for the huldufólk (hidden people) of local folklore. These charming structures add a touch of whimsy and enchantment to the already captivating scenery of Iceland.
Norse Mythology and Folklore
Norse mythology and folklore play a significant role in Iceland's cultural identity. These ancient tales, passed down through generations, are used to explain natural phenomena and shape the country's rich history.
One such example is the “Waterfall of the Gods,” or Goðafoss Waterfall which is a significant historical landmark and an incredible sight to behold. By exploring the legends and stories that have shaped Icelandic culture, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the country's unique heritage and the powerful forces of nature that have helped to shape it.
Gender Equality and Women's Rights
Iceland is a trailblazer when it comes to gender equality and women's rights. The country has consistently ranked as the world's most gender-equal nation, with a history of strong female leaders and groundbreaking achievements in this area. Iceland's first democratically elected female president, Vigds Finnbogadóttir, served for an impressive 16 years, and the Women's Day Off protest in 1975 saw 90% of women go on strike to demand equal rights.
These accomplishments not only demonstrate the strength and resilience of Icelandic women, but also serve as an inspiration to others around the world.
The Icelandic language, derived from Old Norse, is an important part of the country's cultural heritage. With a history spanning over a thousand years, the language has remained remarkably consistent, allowing Icelanders to read ancient texts with ease. In fact, Icelandic Language Day is celebrated every November 16 to honor this unique linguistic legacy.
By learning a few phrases or delving into the rich history of the Icelandic language, visitors can enhance their experience of this enchanting country and forge a deeper connection with its people.
Iceland offers a wealth of adventure activities for thrill-seekers and nature enthusiasts alike. From horseback riding on the resilient Icelandic horse to hiking through the stunning landscapes, there's no shortage of ways to explore the country's diverse terrain.
Visitors can also embark on snorkeling adventures in the crystal-clear waters, or venture into the depths of ice caves for an unforgettable underground experience. With so many exciting activities to choose from, Iceland is the perfect destination for those seeking adventure and unforgettable memories.
Art and Music Scene
Iceland's art and music scene is a vibrant and thriving aspect of the country's culture. With festivals like the LungA Art Festival, which celebrates creativity through music, visual arts, and performances, and the Tvisongur Song Sculpture, a unique fusion of music and sculpture, Iceland offers a diverse array of cultural experiences for visitors to enjoy.
The country has also produced internationally renowned musicians like Björk Gumundsdóttir and Sigur Rós, further showcasing the incredible talent and creativity that Iceland has to offer.
Quirky Parenting Style
Icelandic parenting is known for its quirky and unconventional approach. In Iceland, children are often encouraged to chase and spank their parents to receive pastries filled with jam or other variations. This playful tradition is just one example of the unique approach to parenting in Iceland, where freedom in childhood and honesty are highly valued traits.
By embracing these customs, Icelanders cultivate a strong sense of community and connection between generations.
Pet Laws and the Cat Capital
Pet laws in Iceland have played a significant role in the country's unique animal population. Strict regulations on the importation of cats and dogs, along with a ban on certain exotic pets, have led to a decrease in the number of household pets and a subsequent increase in the cat population.
As a result, the city of Reykjavk has earned the nickname “cat capital” of Iceland, with a thriving feline community that adds a touch of charm to the city's streets.
Icelandic genealogy is an important aspect of the country's cultural identity, with an extensive online database allowing Icelanders to trace their ancestors back 1,200 years. This unique resource provides a fascinating glimpse into the country's rich history and the complex web of familial connections that bind Icelanders together.
By exploring their genealogy, Icelanders are able to celebrate their heritage and maintain a strong connection to their past.
Sports and Athletics
Sports and athletics are an integral part of Icelandic culture, with a wide range of activities enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike. From pole vaulting and football to the influence of TV shows, movies, and theater productions on popular sports, there's no shortage of ways for Icelanders to showcase their athletic prowess.
Whether participating or spectating, sports and athletics provide a unique window into the competitive spirit and determination of the Icelandic people.
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Icelandic fashion is characterized by its practicality and reliance on the country's abundant natural resources. Traditional Icelandic clothing often features woolen garments, such as the treyja and peysa, made from the plentiful sheep population found throughout the country. These warm and durable clothes not only provide protection against Iceland's harsh climate, but also serve as a symbol of the country's resourcefulness and adaptability.
Iceland is a world leader in environmental initiatives and sustainable practices. The country is committed to harnessing renewable energy sources, such as hydropower and geothermal power, to meet its energy needs.
Additionally, Iceland has adopted sustainable tourism practices, such as the Fire & Ice trip by Contiki, which involves planting trees in the Haukadalur Valley and reducing the carbon footprint of travelers. These efforts demonstrate Iceland's dedication to preserving its pristine environment and natural beauty for future generations.
From Hangikjöt, a traditional smoked lamb dish, to Kjötspa, a hearty lamb and vegetable soup, Icelandic cuisine offers a diverse array of delicious and unique delicacies. Another popular Icelandic treat is Skyr, a yogurt-like dairy product that has been enjoyed for almost 1,000 years. Rich in protein and creamy in texture, Skyr can be enjoyed on its own or used in desserts such as Skyr cheesecake, often topped with fruits and candies for an extra sweet kick.
Sampling these Icelandic delicacies is a must for any visitor looking to truly experience the country's culinary culture.
Unique Christmas Traditions
Iceland has a number of unique Christmas traditions that set it apart from other countries. One such custom is the arrival of the 13 Christmas lads, who visit children while they sleep and leave candy or a rotten potato based on their behavior.
Another distinctive Icelandic tradition is Jólabókafló, or the “Book Flood,” where families exchange books as gifts on Christmas Eve and spend the night reading them. These festive customs add a touch of magic and wonder to the holiday season in Iceland, creating cherished memories for both locals and visitors alike.
Iceland has a history of peaceful protests, demonstrating the country's strong sense of community and commitment to positive change. One notable example is the Women's Day Off in 1975, when 90% of women went on strike to demand equal rights.
This groundbreaking protest was a pivotal moment in Iceland's history, paving the way for greater gender equality and setting a powerful example for other countries to follow.
Jólabókaflóð: The Book Flood
Jólabókafló, or the “Book Flood,” is an Icelandic tradition that celebrates the joy of reading and the importance of literature in the country's culture. On Christmas Eve, families exchange books as gifts and spend the night reading them, creating a cozy atmosphere filled with the spirit of the season.
This unique custom not only fosters a love of reading among Icelanders, but also serves as a reminder of the country's rich literary heritage and the power of storytelling.
Hot Spring Exploration
Hot spring exploration is a popular activity in Iceland, offering visitors the chance to experience the country's incredible geothermal power firsthand. The famous Blue Lagoon, with its milky blue waters and rejuvenating spa treatments, is just one of the many natural hot springs that can be found throughout the country.
Other hot springs, such as the Secret Lagoon, Krauma, and Fontana, offer equally soothing and relaxing experiences for those seeking to unwind in the midst of Iceland's stunning landscapes.
Whether you're looking for a spa vacation or simply want to soak in the natural beauty of Iceland, hot spring exploration is an unforgettable experience not to be missed.
From its breathtaking natural wonders and unique cultural traditions to its commitment to sustainability and gender equality, Iceland truly offers something for everyone. With so many reasons to visit, it's no wonder that this amazing country continues to captivate the hearts and minds of travelers from around the world. So why wait any longer? Embark on your own Icelandic adventure and discover the magic and beauty that awaits you in this remarkable land.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the country of Iceland known for?
Iceland is known for its dramatic landscapes of fiery volcanoes, icy glaciers and rugged terrain. It has a rich cultural heritage and is home to the Northern Lights, majestic waterfalls, hot springs, beaches and ample opportunities for wildlife spotting. With its distinctive Nordic character, Iceland truly is a land of fire and ice.
What are 5 interesting facts about Iceland?
Iceland is a land of fire and ice, with volcanoes, geysers, and numerous hot springs as well as majestic glaciers; it has a unique political system that combines democracy with a historic monarchy; Icelanders speak their own language, Icelandic, which is part of the Germanic family. Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is the northernmost capital city in the world, and its main industry, fishing, accounts for more than 40% of Iceland's exports.
Where is iceland?
Iceland is a Nordic island nation located between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. It lies just south of the Arctic Circle and is northwest of the United Kingdom, with its land area slightly smaller than that of Kentucky. Its varied landscape is composed of plateaus, mountain peaks, glaciers, and fjords along the coast.
Where is the iceland?
Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean, situated between Europe and North America. It's a unique island country with incredible landscapes, beautiful glaciers, powerful waterfalls, and a rich history and culture. With volcanoes, lava fields, geothermal hot springs, and unique wildlife, it’s an amazing place to explore and discover!