Travel Guide to Iceland
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A few notable places

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir national park
Thingvellir national park. Photo: Extreme Iceland.

Thingvellir is a place in Bláskógabyggð in southwestern Iceland, near the peninsula of Reykjanes and the Hengill volcanic area. Thingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It is the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is also home to Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.
Parliament or Althingi was established at Thingvellir in 930 and remained there until 1789. Thingvellir National Park was founded in 1930 to protect the remains of the parliament site and was later expanded to protect natural phenomena in the surrounding area. Þingvellir National Park was the first national park in Iceland and was decreed "a protected national shrine for all Icelanders, the perpetual property of the Icelandic nation under the preservation of parliament, never to be sold or mortgaged."
There are tours to Thingvellir every day of the year. Often they also go to Geysir geothermal field and Gullfoss waterfall.



Geysir geothermal area

Strokkur geyser
Strokkur geyser. Photo: Extreme Iceland.

The Geysir field is situated at the northern edge of the southern lowlands, at an altitude of 105-120 m above sea level. The hot springs are located to the east of a little mountain called Laugafell. The geothermal field in Haukadalur lies on the outskirts of the neovolcanic zone from which it is drifting, and is therefore gradually becoming a low-temperature field. Magma may have forced its way out of the neovolcanic zone along one or more fissures, forming intrusions. This would explain the sustained geothermal activity. There is no evidence of recent (holocene) volcanism in this area and the bedrock appears to have been formed subglacially towards the end of the glacial period.
The geothermal field is believed to have a total surface area of approximately 3 km². Most of the springs are aligned along a 100 m wide strip of land running in the same direction as the tectonic lines in the area, from south to southwest. The strip is 500 m long and culminates near what once was the seat of the lords of Haukadalur. Today we find a church there. Here and there, at a considerably shorter distance from the ancient seat than from the hot springs, we find a 20-150 cm thick layer of siliceous sinter, mostly covered by earth, or in some cases even out in the open as the mound at Hvitamelur. Hvitamelur was once a spouting spring, but it is now absolutely dry. We can still discern the rims of the ancient basin, and the singer safeguards quite a few plant fossils. In other words, hot spring water must have covered large areas from which the geothermal field seems virtually to have moved. The heart of the geothermal area is now 2 km to the south of the Haukadalur seat, but two little springs have been left behind, Marteinslaug and Gufubadshver. As for the centre of the field, the northernmost springs, such as Geysir itself, are believed to be the oldest.



Gullfoss waterfall

Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall. Photo: Extreme Iceland.

Gullfoss (English: Golden Falls) is a waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in southwest Iceland.
Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. The wide Hvítá rushes southward. About a kilometer above the falls it turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11 m and 21 m) into a crevice 32 m (105 ft) deep. The crevice, about 20 m (60 ft) wide, and 2.5 km in length, is at right angles to the flow of the river. The average amount of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summertime and 80 m³/s in the wintertime. The highest flood measured was 2000 m³/s.
As one first approaches the falls, the crevice is obscured from view, so that it appears that a mighty river simply vanishes into the earth.
During the first half of the 20th century and some years into the late 20th century, there was much speculation about using Gullfoss to generate electricity. During this period, the waterfall was rented indirectly by its owners, Tómas Tómasson and Halldór Halldórsson, to foreign investors. However, the investors' attempts were unsuccessful, partly due to lack of money. The waterfall was later sold to the state of Iceland. Even after it was sold, there were plans to utilize Hvítá, which would have changed the waterfall forever. This was not done, and now the waterfall is protected.
Together with Thingvellir and the geysers of Haukadalur Gullfoss forms the Golden Circle, a popular day tour for tourists in Iceland.



Skaftafell national park

Svartifoss waterfall at Skaftafell national park
Svartifoss waterfall at Skaftafell national park. Photo: Extreme Iceland.

Skaftafell National Park was a national park, situated between Kirkjubæjarklaustur, typically referred to as Klaustur, and Höfn in the south of Iceland. On 7 June 2008, it became a part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park.
It was founded on September 15, 1967, and enlarged twice afterwards. Today, the park measures about 4807 km2 (2884 mi²), making it Iceland's second largest national park. It is home to the valley Morsárdalur, the mountain Kristínartindar and the glacier Skaftafellsjökull (a spur of the Vatnajökull ice cap).
The landscape is very similar to some of the Alps, but it has been formed in thousands of years by different influences of fire (volcanic eruptions of Öræfajökull) and water (the glaciers Skeiðarájökull and Skaftafellsjökull), the rivers Skeiðará, Morsá und Skaftafellsá. Volcanic eruptions under the ice-cap can give rise to jökulhlaups (glacial floods) which swell the Skeiðará river massively. The sandy wasteland between the glacier and the sea caused by jökulhlaups is called the Sandur. The last jökulhlaup occurred in 1996.
Skaftafell is renowned in Iceland for its agreeable climate and the sunny days in summer, uncommon in the south of Iceland. There is a natural birch wood, Bæjarstaðarskógur, as well as many species of birds and arctic foxes.
The waterfall Svartifoss (Black Fall) flows over a step of about 12 metres. Its name comes from the black basalt columns behind it.



Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. Photo: David Varga.

Jökulsárlón (lit. "Glacier Lagoon") is the largest glacier lagoon or lake in Iceland. Situated in south eastern Iceland, at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier branching from the Vatnajökull, between Skaftafell National Park and Höfn, it evolved into a lagoon after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the Icelandic glaciers. The lagoon now stands 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) away from the ocean's edge and covers an area of about 18 km2 (6.9 sq mi). It is the second deepest lake in Iceland at over 200 metres (660 ft) depth. The size of the lagoon has increased fourfold since the 1970s. It is considered as one of the natural wonders of Iceland.
The lagoon can be seen along Route 1 between Hofn and Skaftafell. It presents a picturesque parade termed as “A ghostly procession of luminous blue ice-bergs through the 17 km2 (6.6 sq mi) (18 km2 (6.9 sq mi) as reported in other sources) Jokulsarlon Lagoon”.
Jökulsárlón has been a setting for four Hollywood movies namely, 'A View to a Kill', 'Die Another Day', 'Tomb Raider' and 'Batman Begins', in addition to the reality-TV series Amazing Race. A postage stamp depicting Jökulsárlón was issued in 1991 with a face value of 26 krónur.
The tongue of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier is a major attraction for tourists. Tour operators conduct snowmobiles and jeep tours to visit the glacier along the winding iceberg studded Jökulsárlón Lagoon. The base station for visits to the area is at Joklasel, which is approached from Hofn. It is termed as Tourist Conveyor belt. While walking on the shore, the isolated big blocks of icebergs on the sand beaches could be seen.



Lake Myvatn, North Iceland

Geothermal area at Myvatn
Hverarond geothermal area, Myvatn. Photo: Extreme Iceland.

There are few places in Iceland that can boast from a mountain scene like the one Myvatnssveit area has and people are most likely to enjoy that scenery upon the Myvatnsheidi heath. Most of the mountains in the neighborhood of Myvatn lake were formed in sub glacial eruptions few thousand years ago. All those mountains are easily reachable and the view from their tops is splendid.
There are only about 10.000 years since the whole area of Myvatn lake and surrounding territory was covered with glaciers. It was a barren wasteland, but shortly after that eruptions started and the glaciers mostly disappeared and vegetation established itself in the area. Around 3500 years ago a great eruption occurred east of Blafjall mountain and the crater Ketildyngja was formed. A whole lot of molten lava raised down the slopes to the lowland and covered the countryside. The lava flow cut off every stream and river so a great lake was formed in the midst of the black desert that followed from the eruption, but due to the abundance of water in the area, vegetation soon caught roots and flourished once again. And then 2800 years ago, the Myvatnssveit area was once again hit with catastrophe when the notorious volcano Hekla erupted violently and spewed ash in a several hundred kilometer radius and the area was once again covered in ash, now white instead of black.
A lot of fun walking paths are in this area that should be noticed. Around the year 1860 a heathen grave was discovered near Myvatn lake in Baldursheimur, many interesting artifacts were uncovered in that grave and along the remains of the viking buried there, was the skeleton of his horse, a sword, a spear, an axe, a shield along with an ancient chessboard and carved likeness of a man. This archaeology find was the stepping stone for other future archaeological finds and the foundation of an archaeology museum in Iceland.



Snæfellsjökull national park

Snaefellsnes peninsula
From Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Snæfellsjökull national park lies in the westernmost part of Snæfellsnes peninsula and covers 170 square kilometres. It was founded on 28 June 2001, with the aim of protecting the area’s unique nature and important historical relics. A further aim is to facilitate travel around the area and make it accessible to people.

The Snæfellsjökull icecap lies within the national park, and the park is the only Icelandic national park that stretches to the sea. The nature reserves of Búðahraun and of Arnarstapi and Hellnar, and the natural monument of Bárðarlaug also fall under the same management as the national park. Búðahraun lava field lies in the southern part of Snæfellsnes peninsula, and, its eastern part (around 9 square kilometres) was designated a nature reserve in 1977. The lava field harbours some of the most beautiful vegetation in the country, giving shelter to approximately 130 species of plants, including 11 of the 16 species of fern that are found in Iceland. Approximately 0.6 square kilometres of coastal area around Arnarstapi and Hellnar was designated a nature reserve in 1979. Here you will find peculiar rock formations that have been carved out by the surf and have a rare opportunity to inspect flocks of kittiwakes up close. The natural monument of Bárðarlaug is an ancient water-filled crater located near Hellnar. Its bed was scoured by an ice age glacier. National parks and nature reserves are public property, free for the public to explore and enjoy, but all visitors are requested to follow the park’s rules of conduct.

Source: The Environment Agency of Iceland , and the brochure Snæfellsjökull National Park and Nearby Protected Areas.

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