Iceland is all the rage among adventurous travelers right now, and for good reason: it offers an endless selection of unique food, sights, outdoorsy activities, and more. With all of these choices at your disposal, it might be difficult to pick a starting point, but we’ve detailed some of the most fascinating Icelandic experiences for you right here.
The best way to spend your time in Iceland will depend on the season. It can be bitterly cold and dark in the winter, but the colder months are an ideal time to see the stunning Northern Lights, as the Aurora Borealis is visible on clear days between September and April.
Those who crave mystical landscapes will love Iceland, but it’s wise to rent a car to see them all. Among our favorites: the Gullfoss, a legendary waterfall; the Golden Circle, home to the biggest geyser in the country; and Reynisfjara beach, which features black sand and dark lava. But visitors on this beach are discouraged from swimming, as its currents and low temperatures can be dangerous.
Skaftafell Park offers forested camping grounds and many hiking trails, all in close proximity to black desert sands, rivers, waterfalls, ice caps, and the surreal Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon with floating icebergs that has appeared in films like Tomb Raider and Batman Begins.
Unusual Wildlife and Natural Beauty
Iceland has three national parks, all with their own unique characteristics: the Snæfellsjökull National Park contains a glacier/active volcano that was the setting of Journey to the Center of the Earth and is said to have mysterious powers. Þingvellir is home to the largest natural lake in the country, which boasts a much sought-after diving spot on the dividing line between America and Europe, as well as the oldest existing site where the Icelandic Parliament assembled in 930 CE.
In eastern Iceland, Húsey is home to 175 species of plants and 30 species of birds, not to mention abundant reindeer and seals. If you’re particularly interested in birdwatching, you can visit the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, a cliff-laden part of the Westfjords with one of the most impressive seafowl colonies on earth. At the Reserve, you can even ride a special breed of Icelandic horse, which is smaller than an average horse but well-adapted for rough terrains.
Local Dietary Specialties
Iceland has a bevy of culinary offerings, some you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Perhaps unsurprisingly (given the country’s coastal location), specialties include fermented shark, smoked trout, dried cod, whale steaks, and even grilled puffin. If you prefer vegetarian cuisine, never fear — geothermal heat allows Iceland natives to grow fresh produce and herbs in local greenhouses, and the rich Icelandic yogurt-like concoction Skyr has managed to find popularity in stores across America.
For less adventurous eaters, dishes like roasted lamb and international cuisines like Japanese, Italian, and Mexican are also popular. Even the street food should feel familiar: the most popular item is a hot dog, typically topped with fried onions, ketchup, mustard, and curry remoulade.
Endless Ways to Relax
A classically Icelandic way of relaxing is to visit a geothermal pool, spa, or even a beach. In fact, four of the baths in Iceland have existed since the country’s early settlement days. Naturally-heated public pools are everywhere, and most include saunas and steam baths. Public bathing is a longtime tradition, and one we encourage you to indulge in. Just remember to abide by the rules and shower before entering.
If you’re more interested in a remote aquatic adventure than a downtown bath, consider the Seljavallalaug Pool, built into a hillside at the foot of a mountain, about a 2-hour drive from Reykjavik. For a more healing experience, visit the storied Blue Lagoon, with mineral-rich water surrounded by lava and a special skin treatment clinic on-site.
Prolific Arts and Culture
Iceland is actually home to countless renowned events year-round, including music festivals, writers’ retreats, sports tournaments, and LGBT pride events.
You can dig into Icelandic history (while staying warm indoors) at Reykjavik’s National Museum of Iceland, which contains artifacts dating back as far as 1000 CE. If that’s not your style, the country has about 190 other museums and cultural centers to check out.
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