Iceland is famous for many things. Full to the brim with natural wonders like glaciers, active volcanoes, geysers and hot springs, the country is a popular option for many cruise lovers. Here, we take a look at the things Iceland is most famous for, from Icelandic horses to the northern lights:
Iceland is known for…
Its breathtaking landscapes
Iceland is known as the Land of Fire and Ice because of its impressive array of active volcanoes and glaciers. Over 11% of the country is covered by glaciers while the 32 volcanic systems have spread their lava far and wide. What’s more, the presence of volcanoes has resulted in unique black sand beaches across the country. This rare phenomenon is caused by ash, lava fragments and minerals left over from eruptions.
When settlers first arrived in Iceland in the ninth century, they explored an island with almost no land mammals. With them, they brought sheep, horses and other livestock and relied heavily on the fish-rich ocean surrounding them. Many of the local dishes have existed for thousands of years and today, local chefs work hard to create exciting contemporary dishes that incorporate years-old techniques. Food is commonly preserved using primitive storage methods resulting in flavours that you’ve never tasted before. Take hákarl, for example. Hákarl is fermented shark meat that is cleaned, beheaded and buried in soil for several weeks before being uncovered and dried for several months.
Despite its volcanic land with little vegetation, Iceland boasts an abundance of wildlife. Most famous are Icelandic horses, a small but sturdy breed that is distinctive looking and incredibly friendly. The horses, which are descendants of horses brought over by Norwegian Vikings, play a vital role in the lives of Icelanders, assisting with farming, recreation and races. So it’s understandable that there’s strict protection of these national treasures. Interestingly, Iceland is home to the largest puffin population in the world. Puffin watching has become one of the most popular summer activities in Iceland and you can observe them in their natural habitat across the country.
Whale watching spots
Alongside horses and puffins, Iceland maintains a wealth of whales. During the warmer months, whale watching tours run day and night and you can even go whale watching in the midnight sun. Tour operators across the country believe there’s an 80 to 95% chance of seeing whales depending on the time of year but it is Húsavík that is known as the whale capital of Iceland. Here, there is a higher chance of spotting whales than in any other place in the country. Many different species frequently enter the bay of Húsavík; from minke and humpback whales to white-beaked dolphins, orcas and harbour porpoises.
Its capital, Reykjavík
Both the northern-most and western-most capital city in Europe, Reykjavík is Iceland’s centre of culture, economy and governmental activity. It is also one of the most popular ports on a cruise to Iceland thanks to its extensive history, culture and natural beauty. As the largest city in the country, it is home to 60% of Iceland’s overall population and is as popular with locals as it is with tourists. Its name translates to ‘smoky bay’ but despite this, it has a reputation of being one of the cleanest, greenest and safest cities in the world.
The Blue Lagoon
Iceland has many natural hot springs but the Blue Lagoon is by far the most famous. Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is just a 40-minute drive from Reykjavík. Located in the heart of a volcanic landscape, the geothermal spa reaches temperatures of 37-39 degrees Celsius and is said to be highly beneficial for both skin and health. This is because the water, which has a milky blue hue, is rich in salts and algae. The high silica content forms into soft white mud on the bottom of the spring allowing bathers to rub it on themselves, thus taking advantage of the skin benefits.
Witnessing the northern lights, or aurora borealis as they are scientifically known, is among one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. The country’s sparse landscape lends itself to low light pollution which means the aurora can be seen in larger towns such as Akureyri, Kópavogur and occasionally from Reykjavík. The best time to see the lights is between September and April but it is good to bear in mind that their appearance is unpredictable. However, your cruise ship may alert you to their presence so you don’t miss out on the opportunity to witness them.