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Iceland is renowned for the stunning, occasionally strange beauty of its landscapes. One thing's for sure: if you are a nature lover, this is the place to go for access to some of the most pristine, unique, far-flung reaches of space you can find anywhere on Earth. A notable fact is that, despite the country’s name, Iceland isn’t actually so very icy. Glaciers account for only eleven percent of the square footage here, but this fraction happened to be the part first viewed by the Norwegian Vikings who christened the land.
The people of Iceland are typical Scandinavians with regards to their brains and creativity. The country boasts one of the world’s highest literacy rates, as well as a magnificent literary tradition dating back to Viking days. The Icelandic are a modern, liberal, progressive people ... with one tiny, quirky exception. A pervasive bit of Norse culture that has survived through the centuries is a belief in the existence of elves. Roads have been re-routed and building plans have been altered or altogether scrapped to avoid disturbing places where these mythical creatures are said to live! Folks are proud of their roots here in general, and it shows in the language—modern Icelandic shares close linguistic ties with Old Norse as spoken by Erik the Red and his contemporaries.
Much of your Icelandic experience will depend on when you choose to visit. The summer months are popular with visitors, thanks to balmier temperatures and the midnight sun. On the other hand, braving the winter months and dark length of the Polar Nights will afford you the best chance of glimpsing the famed and breathtaking aurora borealis, which hits its annual peak between late fall and early spring.
Top Iceland Sights
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the world, as well as Iceland’s premier tourist destination. From whale watching to hot pools to Viking grasshouses, many of the country’s natural treasures can be found within city limits. For all the abundant history to be treasured in Reykjavik, however, the city has also cultivated an undeniable hipness that will beckon younger visitors with the promise of great music and bustling nightlife. It will be an unforgettable experience to party all night with the midnight sun on your back! The city is home to a thriving LGBT culture as well, a fact in which it takes great pride.
Residents and visitors alike flock to the Blue Lagoon, the site of a renowned geothermal spa. The health-giving properties of seawater drive countless locals to the lagoon, where the public can bathe in the hot pools for nothing more than the cost of a towel rental. International visitors, however, tend to flock to the onsite luxury spa for the memorable occasion of relaxing in the primal embrace of nature at her loveliest. Revel in a water massage while you float on your back under blue skies, or enjoy a brisk rubdown with the lagoon’s famed silica mud. Those who like to treat themselves to the best of the best should consider booking a stay in the Exclusive Lounge, a five-star haven of privacy, comfort, and romance where the star treatment is de rigueur.
Special trucks will take you deep into the snow-encrusted desert that is Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. The eponymous national park is also the biggest on the continent, covering about eleven percent of the surface area of Iceland. You can hike all around the park exploring its multiple scenic wonders. These include burbling brooks, picturesque mountain views, black sand, and an encyclopedic diversity of both plant and animal life. Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall, is also situated within Vatnajökull.
Arctic Circle Cruise
There are any number of choices if you want to experience an Arctic Circle cruise. The itinerary is one of the most popular in the world, offering cruisers the chance to bask in the sights of a true winter wonderland. Snow-capped mountains will frame your view as you glide through seas that, thanks to the Iron Curtain, were inaccessible to visitors mere decades ago. Naturalists will thrill to the sight of whales, seals, walruses, and seabirds, and historians will soak in the inescapable abundance of lore surrounding your voyage through these timeless seas. The piercing beauty of the Arctic is never so noticeable as from the comfort of a cruise deck, where you can contrast the luxury of your perch with the raw, desolate expanse of the Northern wild all around you.
Þingvellir National Park
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the location of the longest-running parliament in the world—it was first established in 930 AD! The power and influence of ancient Iceland was concentrated in this spot, and today you can stand atop the Lögberg (Law Rock), where once upon a time the Lawspeaker would recite from memory the law of the land over the course of three summers. Hiking, fishing, camping, and diving in waters of crystal-clear visibility are all popular diversions for visitors. The park is situated over north-south tectonic plate boundaries, resulting in a high amount of spectacular (and spectacularly dangerous!) fissures in the ground where the earth is literally being torn apart beneath your feet. There’s a great view of the northern lights here as well, and the park’s proximity to Reykjavik means that you can head over after dinner, see the spectacle, and be back at your hotel before midnight.
|Primary Airports: Keflavik International Airport (KEF), Reykjavik Airport (REK)|
|Government: Constitutional republic|
|Currency: Icelandic króna (ISK)|
|Population: 320,000 (2010 est.)|
|Language: Icelandic (official), English (widely understood)|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Time Zone: UTC|
Iceland Travel Reviews
A Quick Stopover in Iceland
While booking a trip from New York to England, an Icelandair offered us the opportunity to stop over three days in Iceland. Since we had never been there before, my husband and I decided to give it a try. Honestly, I had never really thought about visiting this country and had no idea what to do while we were there or what to expect. I immediately researched for things to do in Iceland, and I began to get very excited. On our first day of sightseeing we went on a whale watching tour with Special Tours Iceland. I knew that there was a possibility that we would not see any animals, but I was happy when we did see Minke whales, Harbor porpoises, and a variety of seabirds. Of course, it was cold out there and the sea was a little rough, but to me it was really worth it. The staff was friendly and the ship was large and comfortable. We spent another day looking around Reykjavík, the country’s capital. While we were there, we saw Hallgrímskirkja. This is a very unique church. I would particularly recommend going at sunset since this is a great time to get outstanding pictures of the church along with a colorful sky around it. That day we went for lunch at Sjavargrillid (Seafood Grill). We were not at all disappointed. We had an amazing lobster soup. The prices are high, but the experience is worth it.
Big Adventure in Iceland in One Small Day
The skies were mysterious and cloudy, and the wind brushed hair across my face. Our tour guide said that was a normal day in Iceland. My husband and I began our trip in the country of Iceland after a 10-day bicycle excursion in Holland. We arrived in the Reykjavik and immediately whisked away to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermic pool with soothing blue water. We soaked our bones and slept the night in a quaint hostel. Early the next day, we took a preplanned bus tour called the Golden Circle that highlighted all the scenic areas of Southern Iceland. Our first stop was Geysir, the namesake of natural geysers in the world. Then, we visited Strokkur where we waited in anticipation and were not disappointed when the picturesque geyser spouted steaming water. Our next stop and the most beautiful was Gullfoss, a spectacular and mind-blowing waterfall. Water cast asunder and then it descended over rocky steps into a vast crevice. After tearing ourselves away from the waterfall, our bus tour continued through Pingvillir National Park where a rocky landscape rose and fell all around us. At the park, we took a short walk down to the site of the world’s oldest parliament and at one time the center of Icelandic Culture. Continuing our stroll over the rocky terrain, we came to the northern tip of Iceland’s largest natural lake, Pingvallavatn. My only wish for that big adventure is that we had more time on that small day.
A Glimpse of Magical Reykjavik
When a friend invited me to travel to Iceland, little did I know it would be a breathtaking introduction to Reykjavik and its surrounding areas. For a first time visitor, Geysir and Gulfoss, two of Iceland’s natural wonders, magnified the beauty of the stark landscape. After a fleeting glimpse of Iceland’s magical panorama, and Thingvellir, site of the world’s oldest parliament, we explored the city on foot. The Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, our base during our five day visit, provided outstanding services and was conveniently located along one of Reykjavik’s efficient public transportation routes. A treasure trove of shops, bistros, and restaurants lined Laugavegur, the main city street, but at cafes, we engaged in friendly conversations with locals who were warm and endearing. At Le Bistro, we indulged in honey covered brie,and at Fridrik V we experienced a true epicurean feast. Additionally, sites, such as the Höfði House, the site of the October 1986 Summit; the Harpa Conference Center and Concert Center, a glass and metal edifice whose beauty complements the backdrop of a majestic landscape; and the Hallgrímskirkja church, a landmark that overlooks the city provided us with photo opportunities and lasting memories. The last hours of our stay in Iceland, however, ended within the relaxing waters of the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, a destination not to be missed.