Iceland has been described as the land of fire and ice, and rightly so. It could also be described as the treeless land of moss and red mountains. Or, the happy land of boiling mud and black sand. In each description, you’ll find an attempt to convey the drama of Iceland’s diverse landscapes. That drama is intensified by the island’s wildness, vastness, and extreme weather. Situated a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic Ocean, this nordic country seems totally detached from the rest of the world. Perhaps it’s that detachment that has allowed Iceland to forge ahead in renewable energy. Iceland isn’t just a beautiful place to visit, it’s a role model on how to live in harmony with nature and not against it.
Because words are wholly insufficient in describing Iceland’s untamed beauty, here are some of my favorite photos taken during a 16-day road trip around the Ring Road.
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Brimming with floating icebergs from the Vatnajökull glacier, Fjallsárlón is a mesmerizing site to see. Though significantly smaller than its neighbor, Jökulsárlón, this lagoon impresses nonetheless.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is a 100 meter deep canyon in Southern Iceland. A narrow river ribbons through the canyon floor and contrasts beautifully with the green moss of the canyon walls. During your visit, you can walk the rim to various lookout points. In summer, it’s possible to wade through the river.
Iceland wouldn’t be Iceland without its special breed of horses. In the 9th and 10th centuries, Vikings transported their livestock and possessions, including their horses, to their new island home. For centuries, these horses had to adapt to Iceland’s harsh and ever-changing weather. Because of their natural resilience and isolation, Icelandic horses are one of the purest and strongest breeds in the world. To preserve the breed and safeguard the health of the horses, there’s an official ban on the import of foreign horses.
Hverir (also called Námafjall) is a geothermal field in Northern Iceland. Here, you’ll see large fumaroles (natural steam vents) and bubbling mud pools. It’s hard to say what’s more intense: the sulfur-rich air or the steaming visual landscape.
Eldhraun is a massive moss lava field in Southern Iceland. This unique landscape is the result of an eruption that lasted from 1783 and 1784, known as the Laki Eruption (Skaftareldar). The lava rocks are covered in wooly fringe moss, which can be as thick as 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) in some places.
Iceland has many black sand beaches, but the Reynisfjara beach is especially striking because of the basalt columns on the beach, the view of the Reynisdrangar Cliffs (basalt sea stacks), and the Hálsanefshellir Cave.
Icelanders gut and hang unsalted fish on wooden drying racks. The cold winter air dries the fish, resulting in a storage life of several years. Stockfish is consumed locally, but also exported globally. Italy and Nigeria are the largest global markets for dried fish products.
A quintessential Icelandic experience is soaking in a hot pot, especially on cold days. There are at least 40 publicly accessible hot pots throughout the country.