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The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier. The glacier covers an area of approximately 8.100 square km and the thickness of the ice cap ranging from about 400 to 1100 m. The subglacial landscape is a plateau with valleys, canyons, and gorges all hidden under the ice.  Formed thousands of years ago, Vatnajökull has approximately 30 outlet glaciers, or glacier tongues, flowing and bursting from the icecap as the ice crawls down to the lowland.  One of Iceland's main tourist attraction, Jökulsárlón, is a lagoon that feeds of one of the many glacier tongues, Breiðamerkurjökull (Wide Forest Glacier).  The glacier also hides some powerful and highly active volcanoes, including Bárðarbunga, Öræfajökull, and Grímsvötn that has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland.  Near Jökulsárlón lagoon and Fjallsárlón lagoon, there are interesting Ice caves that people can visit from November to March.  In the caves, where you can go under the edge of the glacier and have a view from down under.  It is truly a remarkable sight.

Eruption and humongous glacial bursts from under the glacier is constant fear factor

The latest eruption in Grímsvötn and by far the strongest for 100 years was in May 2011. It started with 12 km high plumes, followed by multiple earthquakes and an ash cloud rising to 20 km. Glacial bursts are quite common following eruptions and never cease to affect the live and amazement of Icelanders. They simply love their island's volatile and powerful nature, no matter what the consequences. Although the latest eruption connected to Vatnajökull did not occur under the ice cap but just north of the ice cap forming the new lava Holuhraun, it is very much part of the threat from the volcanoes under the glacier. The eruption occurred in August 2014 and was one of the larger ones in Iceland's history. So the glacier or the vast ice cap has many active threats and angry volcanos and could actually at any point produce some monumental disturbances in Iceland and possibly also in Europe.

The Ice Cap is melting away as global warming continues

For quite some years, Vatnajökull ice cap has been melting at a rate of one meter per year. Some of the glacier tongues have been melting even faster, like Skaftafellsjökull near the famous camping site Skaftafell in the South Region. But, Iceland has actually seen periods of warmer climate before (during the Middle Ages) where glaciers receded, only to reshape into their former glory when cooler period sets in. 
When you drive the Ring Road on a good day, you have the glacier Vatnajökull and all its might in front of you for hours.  It is a magnificent natural wonder and a joy to view against the blue sky.  Simply a beautiful sight adding to the pleasure of driving the Ring Road in Iceland

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Below is the location of Vatnajökull on the map of Iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier is Europe's largest glacier.

Svartifoss (The Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park, is surrounded by black, hexagonal basalt columns. It falls 20 m into a beautiful ravine that is accessible along a trail starting at the Visitor's Centre. You can follow the trail to the bottom of the ravine, thus enjoying the fall and the walls up close.In the 20th century, the walls surrounding Svartifoss were an inspiration to various Icelandic architects. The impression from their extraordinary formations is quite apparent in Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, as well as, in the ceiling of the Icelandic National Theatre. Svartifoss is also where the world-renowned sculptor Richard Serra drew his inspiration from for his sculpture Milestones, located in the Viðey Island, offshore from Reykjavik.

The base of the ravine is quite remarkable. Apart from the small lake created by Svartifoss, it is strewn with sharp rocks that have broken away from the hexagonal columns, as new column sections break faster than the water wears down the edges.

The hike from the Visitor's Centre, or the Skaftafell camping site, only takes 30 minutes. But once by the fall, visitors tend to linger for quite some time, simply to admire nature's unique sense of beauty and harmony.

Below is the location of Svarifoss on the map of Iceland

Svartifoss (The Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park, is surrounded by black, hexagonal basalt columns

Skógafoss (Forest waterfall) is often referred to as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland.  It has all the ingredients of a great natural wonder.  The amount of water is excessive, the form of the waterfall is almost perfect in its rectangular shape, the 60-meter drop makes it impressive, and the width of 25 meters puts it into a great perspective.  On the ground in front of the waterfall, the amount of spray continuously produced by the falling water quite often creates both a single and a double rainbow visible on any given day when the sun is shining. The rainbows are quite vivid and fall-bound enough to be almost touchable.

A feast of waterfalls in the Skógá river

The cliffs around the waterfall are former sea-cliffs when the shoreline was by Skógarfoss but has now moved five km south. On the eastern side of the waterfall, you'll find steps to the most popular hiking routes in Iceland, towards the Fimmvörðuháls pass. Once there, you are halfway to the beautiful Highland oasis of Þórsmörk.  Hiking the Skógaheiði moors, you will be amazed at the sheer number of waterfalls and rapids adorning the Skógá River. Indeed, there are 22 of them, each more beautiful than the other. It is really a feast of waterfalls.

Skógafoss in winter - a frozen wonderland

Skógafoss in winter - a frozen wonderland

Accessible for everyone on the Ring Road in Iceland

Mind you that you don't have to undertake heavy trekking to enjoy the Skógafoss waterfall itself. Skógarfoss is only two kilometers from the Ring Road in Iceland and easily accessible and visible from the main road, the Ring Road in Iceland. It is quite an experience to stand next to the mighty fall. It puts the world in a brand new perspective, and one tends to feel a bit insignificant. Climb the steps to enjoy the fall from the top and the view towards the Atlantic Ocean is a bonus.

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Below is the location of Skógafoss waterfall on the map of Iceland

Skógafoss is easaly acessable from the Ring Road

 

In South East Iceland, right by the Ring Road, you will find the unique Skaftafell National Park. The park and the surrounding area is nothing less than a natural wonder.  Skaftafell is a stunning place created throughout history by ferocious natural forces. If there is any one place in Iceland where you can see what is an island made of ice and fire means, it is the Skaftafell National Park.  Today Skaftafell is part of the Vatnajökull National Park.  For anyone traveling the Ring Road, it is a serious consideration to staying in Skaftafell for two to three days and taka advantage of the many spectacular hiking trails available.  It is also a paradise for families traveling with energetic kids on a family vacation. 

Skaftafell is an oasis of warmth beneath the glacier

The Skaftafell park covers the glacier Skaftafellsjökull (an outlet glacier of the Vatnajökull ice cap), the mountain range Kristínartindar and the Morsárdalur valley. The Skaftafell geologic history is marked by eruptions and volcanic activity under the ice cap and glacial floods bringing forth silt and sand to the mighty and dangerous Skeiðarársandur south of the National Park. It is also marked by the calm climate conditions as the great ice cap protects the area against the harsh northern winds. Strangely enough,  although surrounded by the glacier and ice, Skaftafaell has a rather pleasant weather and more sunny days than elsewhere in South Iceland.

Skaftafell hiking trails and reasons to stop

In Skaftafell some great hiking trails are leading from the Visitor's Centre. The most popular trail, a short hike, leads up the hills above to the Svartifoss waterfall.  For those more energetic a few hours more and take the path to Kristínartindar peaks, a fabulous way to get a breathtaking view of Skaftafell and surrounding area. Another exciting trail is the Skaftafellsjökull hike where you have a great view of the glacier tongue.  For those who want to take a day tour a hike to Bæjarstaðarskógur is highly recommended.  So there is no lack of activity and interesting things to do during summer in Skaftafell. It is a place for energetic and healthy outdoor families with intelligent members that like to prepare their vacations and study the places they visit.

The camping ground and visitors center

Skaftafell Visitor Center offers a lot of information about the area, hiking trails, and activities.  The campground is one of the best in Iceland although the soil is quite hard and sometimes difficult for the tent pegs. The time to visit Skaftafell is from the middle of May until the middle of August.  During summer the campground is always packed and a bit like a base camp for activity, a very exciting and excellent place to be during summer. It is also the headquarters for companies that organize exciting hiking tours with guides, like hiking up to the highest mountain in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur. For those who like to stay at one place, Skaftafell is also a neighbor to other interesting natural wonder only a hours drive or less away.  Natural wonders like Jökulsárlón, Fjallsárlón to the east and Fjaðrárgljúfur and Dverghamrar to the West. 

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Below is the location of Skaftafell on the map of Iceland

In South Iceland, you will find the unique Skaftafell National Park

 

The Geysir hot spring is part of the geothermal field in Haukadalur valley in South Iceland, quite close to the entrance to the Kjalvegur road leading to the Highland. It has been active for 10.000 years, although the earliest accounts of hot springs in Haukadalur only date back to 1294.  Geysir is a capricious hot spring, sometimes active, sometimes not.  Its earliest mention was due to significant changes in the area's landscape following a mighty earthquake. Ever since seismic activities have been carefully documented, and the geothermal field in Haukadalur closely monitored.

Connections between earthquakes and hot spring eruptions

Earthquakes tend to strengthen Geysir. It has had quite a few peeks during the nineteen century, as well as bursts of activities. If we go a bit further back, it had been more or less asleep for ages until the 1896 earthquake. Then it started erupting several times a day again, causing eruptions of up to 60 meters high and lasting for up to an hour. In 1910, Geysir was active every 30 minutes. The spells of activity rarely last more than a few months, and after the action in 1910, it looked as if the mighty Geysir was dead.

Geysir has a history of shutting off and turning on at its own convenience

In 1935 a channel was cut through the silica rim around its vent. The ditch resulted in lowering of the water level and restored Geysir's activity. The channel soon became clogged with silica and eruptions all but ceased. In 1981, the ditch was cleared again. By then, those who had authority over the hot spring realized it could be stimulated – on special occasions – by adding soap to it. Due to environmental concerns, the method was soon abandoned.The last time Geysir displayed its grandeur was following the Icelandic National Day earthquakes in 2000. It spewed its boiling water 122 m high and thus became the highest known geyser in history.

Strokkur has taken over the responsibility of splashing boiling water from the hot spring

Today the other impressive geyser Strokkur has taken the role and responsibility of erupting every ten to fifteen minutes every day and every night of the year. It is one of the most remarkable creature of mother nature in Iceland, almost like it wast designed for tourism. Barely fails or disappoints its hundred of thousands of visitors every year. 

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Below is the location of Geysir on the map of Iceland

Strokkur hot spring in Haukadalur

Lystigarðurinn (The Botanical Gardens) is Akureyri's pride and joy. It was a public park, opened in 1912, and a botanical garden opened in 1957. It has approximately 6600 alien taxa growing in beds and nursery, as well as, 430 species of the native taxa. Located a mere 50 kilometers from the Arctic Circle, developing and maintaining the beautiful Gardens has been no mean feat. It all started in 1910 when a number of women in Akureyri founded the Park Association to beautify their town.  A year earlier the town council had given them a hectare of land to play with, never realizing the ladies meant business. For the next forty-three years, the Gardens were run by the Park Society and increased to 3.6 hectares.

Apart from being tranquil and beautiful Gardens, the Botanical Gardens gradually became a place for scientific research. Many of the plants placed there were believed not to be able to survive on the Arctic edge. But, survive they did, and what's more: They prospered.

Within the Gardens, you'll also find fountains and tiny lakes where children like to play. At the southeast corner, you will find a few wooden buildings. One of them is a café/bistro with a large patio. It is the most delightful place to sit down and relax on a sunny day.
 

Lystigarðurinn (The Botanical Gardens) is Akureyri's pride and joy

Dimmuborgir (The Dark Castles) is considered by most natives to be the single most impressive place in Iceland. Located by Lake Mývatn in North Iceland, it is a lava field displaying the most unusual rock formations and caves. It is dramatic, to say the least. Icelandic folklore maintains Dimmuborgir is where earth connects with Hell. In Nordic Christian lore, it is also said to be the place where Satan plummeted when he was cast from Heaven, and later created the Catacombs of Hell.

The lava and the lake

In reality, Dimmuborgir was formed by a lava-lake, flowing from a large eruption about 2300 years ago. On the site of Dimmuborgir, the lava pooled over a small lake. As the lava flowed across the wet sod, the marsh water boiled with vapor rising through the lava, forming lava pillars. Some of the pillars were several meters in diameter. As the lava continued flowing towards the lower ground, the crust collapsed, leaving the hollow pillars of solidified lava standing.

Dimmuborgir is characterized by large hollow chamber-like structures formed around bubbles of vapor; some of them large enough to serve as "housing." The area is a maze, and you have to take care not to get lost there, as there are no prominent landmarks in the vicinity.

Dimmuborgir is home to the Icelandic Jólasveinar (Christmas Lads) and their parents, Grýla, and Leppalúði.

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Below is the location of Dimmuborgir by Mývatn lake on the map of Iceland

Dimmuborgir is a magical place to visit and walk the tracks

 

If you are keen on caves, Iceland is the place for you. Hallmundarhraun in Borgarjörður is indeed the best area for exploring caves. Half an hours drive from Surtshellir is the majestic Víðgelmir. Víðgelmir is one of the most intriguing caves in Iceland. It is 1585 kilometer long. The highest point inside the cave is 15.8 meter, and its width is 16.5 meters.  Víðgelmir formed in the same eruption as Surtshellir, but it differs from other caves in various aspects. It has stunning ice formations that are constantly changing. Sometimes, the ice even closes the cave.

Deep inside the cave you will find areas with stunningly well-preserved lava stalactites and stalagmites. And, like most large caves in Iceland it used to be inhabited by outlaws. Human and animal bones, as well as jewelry from approximately the year 1000, were discovered inside the cave – but have, of course, been removed for further research.

The cave's pitfall doubles as an entrance. It is 75 meters long, 15 meters long and quite deep. Once down there, the cave starts with a narrow tunnel that leads into the main chamber. From there the cave is quite accessible all the way to the bottom.
 

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Below is the location of Víðgelmir on the map of Iceland

Víðgelmir is one of the most intriguing caves in Iceland.

 

Before the Eyjafjallajökull (glacier/volcano) eruption in 2010 Snæfellsjökull glacier was probably the best-known glacier in Iceland for decades. Located in the westernmost part of the Peninsula Snæfellsjökull is around 1450 meters and towers over other mountains on the peninsula. One of the reasons for its fame came about when the glacier found its way into world literature in Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth in 1864. In the novel a German professor, Otto Lidenbrock travels through the volcanic tubes towards the center of the Earth. It is quite an adventure where he encounters prehistoric animals and natural hazards, before surfacing again in Italy. Ever since, Snæfellsjökull has inspired countless authors, poets, and artists. There is something otherworldly about this beautiful and accessible glacier. So, it may come as no big surprise that Snæfellsjökull is considered to be one of the World's seven largest spiritual centers.  It is also the home of Bárður Snæfellsás who made the glacier his home around 1100 years ago.

Like many glaciers in Iceland Snæfellsjökull is also a volcano

Snæfellsjökull is an active volcano with a crater in the middle of the beautiful mountain under the ice cap.  It is a product of many eruptions, the last one occurring around 1800 years ago with lava flowing down the slopes, forming the peninsula's extraordinary landscape. The glacier on top has been gradually diminishing during the last decades and is only about 11 square kilometers today. But, its pristine beauty has by no means diminished. Neither has its inherent energy. It still conveys the combination of ice and fire at its most extreme.

Find your way to Snæfellsjökull

Snæfellsjökull is accessible during most seasons of the year, and a number of tour companies in Iceland will take you to the summit to experience the full energy – and breathtaking scenery.  During summer it is quite simple to drive up to the edge of the glacier from the main road Nr. 54 circling the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula by taking the turn north on the difficult dirt road Nr. 570 near Arnarstapi. 

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Below is the location of Snæfellsjökull on the map of Iceland

Snæfellsjökull is irrefutably the best know glacier in Iceland.

 

If there is one place horse-riders love in Iceland, it is Löngufjörur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Contrary to other beaches in Iceland it is white – with a brownish hue and stretches for miles and miles. Some horse-riders say riding along Löngufjörur feels like riding through eternity. The sands are resistant, though soft on the hoof and seem to go on forever.

During your ride, you'll have the pristine Snæfellsjökull in front of you the whole time and the beautiful Ljósufjöll (Light Mountains) to your right. It is just you and your horse in harmony with Mother Nature. The only sound is the ocean waves gently washing ashore nearby.

Of course, if you are not a horse rider, you can always go for a walk on the beach. But beware. All is not what it seems, and this is a dangerous place. No one should venture onto the sands without guidance. When the tide comes in the currents are strong. They will wash over the sands in a matter of minutes obliterating all footprints and hoof-marks.  They are forceful enough to drown both horses and riders.

If you wish to experience this extraordinary place, be sure to seek advice from the local farmers, hire a local guide or join a organized tour with a horse-riding company.
 

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Below is the location of Löngufjörur on the map of Iceland

If there is one place horse-riders love in Iceland, it is Löngufjörur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

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