A land of incredible, outstanding beauty with a myriad of breathtaking landscapes on offer; it is fair to say that Iceland is an absolute dream of a country to visit. The volcanic scenery, spurting geysers, hot springs, and dramatic cliff faces and ravines are all dazzling to behold, and the endless variety of natural wonders will constantly amaze any lucky visitor to this awe-inspiring and ancient island.
With enough time on your hands, the perfect way to see all the diversity on offer is to follow the Ring Road that encircles the country. For those with less flexibility, a great option is to take to the road and follow the Golden Circle; a marvelous route that will take you past many of Iceland’s highlights.
Map of Iceland’s National Parks and Nature Reserves
The Blue Lagoon is also a must-see, aside from the astounding national parks in Iceland and other reserves that adorn the island. With such a plethora of things to see and do, here are the most beautiful national parks and nature reserves in Iceland.
This lovely nature reserve looks marvelous; with the distinctive crags and peaks of the mountains overlooking the clear, reflective waters of the ocean below, and the beautiful black beaches that line the shores. It is these contrasts that make Hvalnes Nature Reserve such a great place to take photos. Wandering around its trails and paths, there are a number of stunning panoramas and views for you to take in. The wide-open expanse of black pebble beach gives way to impressive looking mountains which dominate the landscape. Amidst the wild desolation, seabirds wheel freely in the breeze, dipping and diving into the cold waters.
Meaning ‘Thor’s Valley’ in Icelandic, the stunning scenery on offer looks as if Thor himself cleaved the earth in two with his hammer, pulverizing the rocks into the distinctive landscape we see today. As with much of the scenery in Iceland, the geological formations of Thorsmork Nature Reserve make for fascinating viewing. Spectacular and jagged volcanic rocks rear up impressively amongst the lichen-covered boulders in the reserve. It is this breathtaking dynamic that stretches out in all directions that makes it one of Iceland’s premium hiking destinations. The mountains, volcanoes and glaciers that loom above everything paint a dramatic picture as they look down upon the lush, verdant valleys below.
Located in the west of Iceland, Breidafjordur Nature Reserve is a delightful place to visit, as the charming landscapes on offer make for some stunning views. The mountains and volcanoes within the reserve form an impressive backdrop to the lovely fjords and sea cliffs that punctuate this part of the coast. As such, the trails and paths that weave their way along the shore are a pleasure to explore, and out in this wilderness you’ll find a sense of freedom. The huge fjord that the reserve is named after dominates the area, and over 3000 small islands and islets are sprinkled throughout the waters; small smudges of green amidst the blue.
There is a diverse array of fauna and flora to be found here and a huge variety of bird species call this coastal region home. Continuously inhabited since humans first arrived in Iceland, small farms and communities can be found in the area, showcasing a traditional way of life that dates back centuries. History lovers will be particularly enamored with Flatey Island, which perfectly demonstrates the resilience of the Icelanders who have eked out an existence on this remote island for so long. Pristine and wild, yet managed and cared for, this habitat is lovely to explore.
This barren and desolate landscape that has been scarred by glaciers of times gone by is all the more beautiful for the wild and wonderful scenery on offer. Numerous lakes and streams carve through the reserve, which takes its name from one of the impressive fjords that characterize this part of the coastline. Abandoned farms dot the area, and sheep farming is still prevalent in the parts of the reserve that have abundant grassy fields. These verdant spots at times overlook the jagged cliffs that line the dramatic fjords. Mountains and glaciers can also be found within the reserve’s confines. All in all, the varying landscapes on offer make Vatnsfjordur Nature Reserve a breath-taking place to visit.
Located on the outskirts of Reykjavik, Heidmork Nature Reserve is just a short trip away from Iceland’s capital; the proximity making it a popular destination for people looking to escape the city. Along with the trails that weave their way through the reserve’s forests, lakes and lava formations, it is the ‘Red Hills’ that are the most distinctive feature of Heidmork. Unlike the rest of Iceland’s scenery, which normally consists of lush, green landscapes and barren volcanic terrain, these hills are red in color and look like something one would find on Mars. Their distinctive appearance is a joy to explore, and wandering through the rocky red terrain is a unique experience in this wonderful country.
Situated on Iceland’s northernmost peninsula, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is staggeringly beautiful to behold. Two gorgeous fjords cut up the coastline spectacularly, and possibly the most marvelous sight is the carpet-like green grasses sweeping right up to the cliff face, which then so breathtakingly plunge away into the abyss below. Nowhere is this more apparent than Hornbjarg, and hikers simply must visit here when exploring the reserve, as the views and panoramas on offer are exquisite. The splendid isolation of Hornstrandir and the wild conditions which make it so hard to eke out a living here, have combined to ensure that the environment is pristine and untouched – just waiting to be explored.
Exploring the highlands of Iceland is a heavenly experience as you find yourself alone surrounded by wilderness. The natural wonders of the country spring out at you from every scene and where better to delve into this rich habitat than at Fjallabak Nature Reserve? The ethereal landscape surrounds you on all sides, and wandering along the paths of the reserve you will constantly be amazed as each new and wonderful view appears before you. Whether it is the hot springs of Landmannalaugur that appeal to you or the stunning mountains that dominate the skyline, nature lovers will adore this nature reserve. With lakes, rivers and lava fields also on offer, there are an endless array of attractions to lose yourself in: the volcanic Torfajokull being particularly special to behold.
With geological wonders galore and the site where Iceland’s parliament was established in the 10th century, Thingvellir National Park is one of the country’s top attractions. Thingvellir is situated where two tectonic plates meet, and this explains the distinctive and unique features that you will find when wandering along its paths and trails. Almannagja Gorge is particularly stunning to explore, with the picturesque waterfall of Oxarafoss at the end definitely making this a part of the park to head to. Lava fields and rocky ravines scar the earth and snowcapped mountains with sparkling lakes dot the landscape.
As the first stop on the Golden Circle, it is certainly not to be missed out on. Great for hiking, the national park also has two scuba diving sites which may entice hardy, cold-resistant divers into the incredible underwater world below.
This ancient stratovolcano located in the west of the country is mesmerizing to visit, and the incredible array of unique and distinctive geological features make it a joy to explore. Snaefellsjokull glacier stretches right to the ocean before cutting away into the waters below, and the dazzling white of it contrasts beautifully with the rest of the landscape in the area. Everything in this wild corner of the world is awe-inspiring to behold and visitors will particularly enjoy the harsh, craggy sea cliffs, the otherworldly geological formations and the plunging waterfalls. With volcanic craters and subterranean caves also on offer, you will have your work cut out for you trying to see all the stunning and unforgettable scenes that proliferate in Snaefellsjokull National Park.
A place of outstanding beauty, Vatnajokull National Park is centered around the glacier that is its namesake. A snowy, ice-filled domain, the southern part of Iceland is majestic in all its dazzling, white glory, and visitors will be astounded at the incredible scenery before their eyes. With beautiful snow-capped mountains, expansive glaciers, icy caves and the awe-inspiring Jokulsarlon: a lagoon filled with icebergs, this really is a paradise for nature lovers.
The panoramas on offer are jaw-dropping to behold and a real feast for the eyes are the Svartifoss and Dettifoss waterfalls; both absolutely gorgeous to gaze upon. The variety of landscapes on offer ranges from volcanic sites and glaciers to rocky sea cliffs and wild tundra. A must-see in this park are the spectacular mountain ranges that include Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjukur. Simply incredible to visit, your heart will ache at having to leave all the unbelievable landscapes that are the best of what Iceland has on offer.