Visiting the lands of fire and ice.
I fell in love with Iceland the moment I stepped out of the airport. The wind, the overcast skies, and the mist created a surreal feeling. Admittedly, I had never considered traveling to Iceland, but as a last-minute addition to my three-month study abroad program, it quickly became the country I was most excited to visit. However, I never could have been prepared for the staggering beauty and countless adventures the country has to offer. Everywhere you look there are beaches, volcanos, mountains, and glaciers. When the green runs out of space, you are either looking at the blue of the ocean or the white of a glacier tucked neatly into the mountains. When backyard landscaping includes a natural waterfall, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful country.
I began my journey in the capital city of Reykjavik, a large city with a small-town atmosphere. Small businesses line the street with numerous options for breakfast pastries and shopping while food stands are lined with people eager to try an Icelandic hot dog. The Korlaportio Flea Market offers items and foods of many kinds — including the national dish of fermented shark. Although it’s not an example of the captivating countryside, don’t discredit Reykjavik’s vibrant culture and friendly locals.
Not far from the capital lies a perfect introduction to the natural wonders of Iceland. Taking you in a loop through the center of the country, the Golden Circle Tour encompasses some of the most well-known sites in Iceland. Spanning around 150 miles, the tour takes you to Gullfoss Waterfall, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Thingvellir National Park. These three settings provide a glimpse into the varying terrain of Iceland’s western edge. While Gullfoss is the most famous waterfall, my personal favorite is Skògafoss in the southern region. On a sunny day, the mist and sun work together to create a double rainbow at the base of the waterfall. The rainbows, the legend of hidden treasure, and the surrounding cliff s give this waterfall a magical quality.
And what is Iceland without some ice? From challenging hikes to boat and all terrain tours, Iceland’s glaciers provide the perfect place for adventuring. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned explorer, the country’s many glaciers grant opportunities for everyone to participate in this unique experience. Another unique aspect of Iceland’s geography, the Black Sand beach stands in dark contrast to the white of the glaciers. Complete with puffins (if you’re visiting before migration), the beach’s black sand, foaming blue waves, and unique cliff s set a beautiful scene to explore. But be careful, the strong pull of the water is not safe for swimming.
As you head to whatever your destination in Iceland may be, take a moment to watch as the scenery passes. What you are witnessing is a core piece of the culture of Iceland. The sheep roaming about, the odd formation of rocks, and even the glacial ice tell a part of the history and culture of the Icelandic people. Ask questions and listen to your guides. The stories of how Iceland has be-come so uniquely beautiful are incredible to hear.
Things to Know:
• Try an Icelandic hot dog. They’re made with lamb meat, topped with a variety of toppings, and made famous by a visit from former President Bill Clinton. The line is worth the wait.
• Iceland is extremely safe. Don’t be surprised if you see a stroller with a baby sitting outside of a restaurant alone (not kidding).
• Going to Iceland around the time of the aurora borealis? Tell the person at the front desk of your hotel you want a wakeup call, and they’ll let you know when the lights begin to show up.
• Swimming is a big part of Icelandic culture. With Iceland’s geothermal energy, outdoor swimming pools are enjoyed year-round and are a common setting for socialization, so don’t forget to pack your suit.
Sites & Adventures:
• Take a dip in the thermal waters and relax at the Blue Lagoon with a complimentary face mask and drink.
• Hike a volcano! There are volcanoes scattered throughout Iceland and some are active and accessible to the public.
• Travel by ferry to the Westman Islands. The islands are a cluster of gorgeous green mountains created by a series of volcanic eruptions. On the biggest island sits the city of Vestmannaeyjar, a homey and beautiful place perfect for a day of exploring.
• Go horseback riding. One of the best ways to witness the rolling hills and distant mountain view is on the back of an Icelandic horse.