Iceland’s extraordinary landscape is one of the most compelling reasons for tourism, not least the remarkable canyons that are littered across the country. If you’re struggling to sift out the best of a very big bunch, here are our picks for nine canyons that will make you want to visit Iceland.
With so much attention on the waterfall, and rightly so given how much water tumbles down the cleft in the rock, it’s easy to overlook the canyon that it cascades into. This beautiful location is justifiably popular and forms part of Iceland’s famous Golden Circle, but perch on one of the rocks beside it and admire nature’s handiwork before you continue your tour.
It’s not just this canyon’s geology that makes Stuðlagil one of the most breathtaking locations in Iceland, though the towering basalt columns undoubtedly play their part. But the most jaw-dropping aspect to the place is the vivid colours, notably the contrast between the turquoise water and the rust-coloured tones of the rocks that flank it. There’s a viewing platform, but to get right down to the water’s edge, cross the bridge and hike along the valley.
This is the spectacular canyon which contains Dettifoss, one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls. But though visitors are drawn by its churned up grey waters, the canyon boasts two more waterfalls. Don’t leave before you check out Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss as well. Keep your ears open for Hljóðaklettur, also known as the Singing Cliffs or the Rock of Echoes, where rock plays with sound in a magical way.
This Diamond Circle gem is a little different to your run-of-the-mill canyon, thanks to its unusual horseshoe shape and plethora of birch, willow and mountain ash trees. Rising up in the middle of it is a rock formation, 250 metres wide in places, called Eyjan. It’s hard to imagine that the whole thing could have been created in just a few days by a severe glacial flood.
Ask any ‘Belieber’, this canyon is a must for anyone visiting South Iceland. A fairytale gorge with a river that snakes through its many rocky spurs, this was the setting for the 2015 Justin Bieber music video for “I’ll Show You” that saw visitor numbers soaring once it went public. The fragile vegetation needs careful monitoring – for that, read temporary closures – to ensure footfall doesn’t lead to permanent damage, so it’s worth making sure it’s open before setting out yourself.
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You’ll need a 4x4 and a sense of adventure to reach Sigöldugljúfur, but when you reach it, you’ll be glad you made the effort. This dazzling canyon, located close to Landmannalaugar, is notable for the many waterfalls that cascade down its flanks.
Skógafoss waterfall is visited by thousands of tourists every year; many of them climb the steps beside it to take in the view. But far fewer hike inland along the Skógargil gorge. Eroded by the Skógá River, whose water is topped up by glacial meltwater, the gorge snakes inland. From the hiking trail beside it, you’ll be treated to a view of many smaller waterfalls.
You’ll find this off the beaten track gorge in North Iceland. Like many others around the country, it contains a waterfall, this one’s called Kolufossar. Both the gorge and the waterfall get their name from a giantess called Kola, who reputedly caught the river’s salmon by hand and cooked them in a nearby hot spring.
No round-up of must-see canyons could be complete without a mention of this Thingvellir National Park gorge. As you walk down into it from the parking lot, the narrow, steep sided gorge and the ghosts of the past seem to close in on you. You see, it’s as significant to Icelandic history as it is dramatic: this was where the Althing met for centuries to determine the country’s laws and policy.
Hey Iceland is your local travel agent and expert in everything Iceland. If you liked this round-up of interesting canyons you might also be interested in our articles about the best time to visit Iceland and how, where and when to see the midnight sun in Iceland.
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