Iceland is sometimes known as the Land of Fire and Ice, thanks to a wide range of landscapes that include everything from volcanoes to thundering waterfalls to creeping glaciers. Towering mountains are surrounded by rolling valleys and black sand beaches. The sky, sometimes alight with the aurora borealis, is often mirrored in glacial lakes. It’s little wonder, then, that so many people flock to this North Atlantic country to take in the country’s natural beauty—and take so many amazing pictures of the breathtaking beauty of Iceland.
The river Hvítá is a wealth of majestic waterfalls and two of them are located literally a stone’s throw from each other, near Borgarfjörður in western Iceland. The more famous of the two is probably the Hraunfossar, a series of waterfalls that rivulet about 900 m across the rockface of the Hallmundarhraun, a lava field. Further upstream is the powerful Barnafoss, which rushes through narrow cliffs, creating lots of white water. Legend says two boys drowned after attempting to cross a natural bridge that had formed over the river. Hraunfossar, pictured here, is less powerful than Barnafoss, but perhaps more beautiful as it cascades across the lava flows. Hraunfossar is lovely in any season: in fall, the golds and reds of the surrounding plants complement the milky blue water, while in spring and summer, rich greens and vibrant blues provide contrast for the dark rock.
9. The Westfjords at Sunset
Although Norway is the country most famed for its fjords, Iceland’s scenic Westfjords peninsula can certainly give it a run for its money. Located on the Denmark Strait, facing Greenland’s east coast, the peninsula is connected to the Icelandic mainland by a narrow isthmus. The mountainous area is characterized by steep hills and dozens of fjords. The cliffs of Látrabjarg, Iceland’s westernmost point, are the longest bird cliff on the northern Atlantic and play host to nesting populations of birds like puffins, Iceland’s national bird. The Westfjords also contain dozens of natural harbors and it’s not unusual to stumble across sights like this one, with the last rays of sunlight highlighting the sheer cliffs, and the clear, blue water snaking its way through the lush valley below as the shadows begin to fall.
8. The Mists of Skógafoss
Skógafoss is probably the most “stereotypical” waterfall in Iceland: water cascades over the steep, mossy cliff, down into the valley below. Mist rises as the water thunders over the fall and, if you’re lucky, on sunny days you might spot a rainbow at the base. Although Skógafoss isn’t the highest or largest or most powerful waterfall in the world—or even in all of Iceland—there’s something almost magical about it, something that this picture captures very well. The misty falls lend the area an air of mystery, shrouding the nearby hills and obscuring them from view. The lush colors of the green moss and the sky overhead seem just a little brighter. A spell seems to be cast all around; you can almost picture fairies or other magical creatures coming here to admire the falls too.
7. The Two Volcanic Lakes of Askja
Askja is a volcanic caldera located in the Dyngjuföll mountains in central Iceland. Actually, the word “askja” means caldera in Icelandic and the area contains a series of nested calderas. In the calderas, there are two lakes: the larger Öskjuvatn and the smaller, geothermal Viti. Viti’s milky blue color is characteristic of Iceland’s volcanic waters, indicating the amount of silicone in the water. Both lakes are popular tourist sites, although they are accessible for only about four months of the year, from June until October; ice and snow keep the roads closed for the rest of the year. Askja last erupted in 1961 and increased activity in the area suggests another eruption may be around the corner. Other popular sites include Drekagil, the canyon of dragons, and the volcanoes Herðubreið and Kverkfjöll.
6. Reynisdragnar in the Surf
Travel about 180 km (110 mi) south from Reykjavik, and you’ll find yourself in Iceland’s southernmost village, Vik. Vik is famous for a few things, including its black sand beaches, the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Katla volcano. Another famous site is the Reynisdragnar, a series of basalt sea stacks located under the mountain Reynisfjall. Local legend relates that they are two trolls that were dragging a 3-masted ship in to land, but were caught by the rays of the sun and turned to stone when daybreak came. Framed by the black sand beaches and battered by the rough seas of the North Atlantic, the Reynisdagnar rise impressively above the roiling water, somehow surviving and standing tall in the surf, as captured in this image. On misty days, the sea stacks can sometimes be seen emerging from the fog.
5. Lava Fields at Landmannalaugar
At first glance, the lava fields of Landmannalaugar seem foreboding. Located in the Highlands of Iceland, this popular tourist area is situated at the edge of the Laugahraun lava field and is famed for its natural geothermal hot springs as much as for the surrounding landscape. Hiking trails lead tourists through the nearby mountains and the volcanic desert of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. One trail even takes you all the way into Reykjavik, a 4-day expedition. The mountains are a medley of colors that reflect their composition: the reddish tones of iron in the earth, bright sulfur spots and the grays and blacks of volcanic lava and ash. The landscape is dotted with milky blue lakes, contrasting sharply with the almost dystopian hues of the mountains’ jagged peaks. The nearby Brennisteinsalda volcano is perhaps Iceland’s most colorful mountains and certainly one of the country’s most photographed.
4. Sunset over Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lake in the southeast of Iceland, known as the “glacier lagoon.” The lake is situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurkjökull glacier. Visible from Route 1, Iceland’s “ring road,” between the towns of Höfn and Skaftafell, the lake is home to a number of blue icebergs, chunks of ice that have broken off the main glacier and are now slowly melting into the lake. The lake is the deepest in Iceland and considered one of the country’s many natural wonders. At sunset, the sky is mirrored in the calm waters and the icebergs pick up the fiery hues of dusk. The lake is also particularly stunning during displays of the aurora borealis, with the colors of the Northern Lights playing on the water and bergs.
3. The Northern Lights behind Kirkjufell
Kirkjufell is an iconic peak, one of the highest located on the Snæsfallsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland. This area is sometimes known as “Iceland in Miniature,” because it contains many of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions and natural wonders, like Kirkjufell. While Kirkjufell makes for a stunning sight in any lighting, weather or season, it’s hard to argue with this panorama of the mountain from afar, with the Northern Lights illuminating the velvety night sky behind the peak. The lone peak of Kirkjufell, jutting up toward the heavens, appears to be wreathed in the colors of the auroral display—fitting, somehow, for a mountain with a name that essentially means “Church Mountain.” It’s hard to imagine a sight that could be more emblematic of Iceland—or more breathtaking.
2. Gullfoss in Winter
Gullfoss is another of Iceland’s iconic waterfalls, located in the southwest. The wide Hvítá river rushes southward and abruptly takes a sharp right turn about a kilometer above the falls. It descends a curved, 3-step “staircase,” before plunging, rather suddenly, into a 32 m (105 ft) deep crevice. As you approach the falls, the crevice is hidden from view, making it appear that the Hvítá simply “disappears.” Gullfoss is part of Iceland’s “Golden Circle,” a popular day tour that also includes Thingvellir and the geysers of Haukadalur. Here, Gullfoss rushes on despite the cold temperatures that have brought snow to the landscape. Mist rises from the falls and the cool blue tones of the river waters and ice contrast against the warm hues of a winter sunset as mighty Gullfoss rages on through the long winter night.
1. The Colors of Vatnajökull
Vatnajökull might be called a glacier, but it’s more aptly an ice cap—and the largest one in Iceland and maybe even Europe for that matter. Vatnajökull has 30 outlet glaciers in Iceland and many volcanoes exist under the ice cap and its glacial extensions. The volcanic lake Grímsvötn erupted as recently as 2011. The ice of Vatnajökull contains many sediments and, as such, the ice can appear tinted, most often a vibrant or milky blue. Ice caves underneath Vatnajökull showcase this color particularly well: as light hits the glacier on the surface, it filters through the densely packed, crystal-clear ice to the caves below, making them appear to glow blue. Depending on the light and time of day, the color of the caves can shift, sometimes appearing a much lighter blue and sometimes much darker with hints of purple through it.