Introduction Straddling the Arctic Circle, it would seem that its name is appropriate, as one would expect lots of snow and glaciers in a land mass 66 degrees above the equator. However, due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, and the uberactive volcanic processes beneath its surface, Iceland is a much more hospitable place that it would appear at first glance. The ocean currents off its coast moderate the winters at this latitude, and the heat of the earth warms its groundwater, providing with tons of free, clean energy. While life on this island isn’t always easy, the dramatic scenery makes it worth dealing with perpetual winter darkness and expensive fresh veggies, as you will soon discover as a visitor to this fascinating place. Currency: Icelandic Krona Languages: Icelandic, English
What To Do
Start off your time in Iceland by taking a few days to see all the significant Reykjavik sights. Given the small size of this nation’s capital, it won’t take long to see everything of note, and all the walking you’ll do will warm you up for more athletic endeavors in the Icelandic countryside.
The first sight you should see in Reykjavik is Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church constructed in the Expressionist style starting in 1945.
Completed in 1986 after 40 years of hard work, this decidedly futuristic-looking structure stands 244 feet high, which ranks it as the sixth tallest building in the country.
Containing a crypt, a gigantic pipe organ, and an observation deck at the top that gives some of the best views of the surrounding city and the mountains in the distance, it is an attraction that you ought to see in Reykjavik before leaving the city for the vast Icelandic wilderness that lays beyond it.
Next, the National Museum of Iceland is a good place to spend a couple of hours if you seek to understand the human and natural history of this fascinating island nation in the subarctic regions of the Northern Atlantic Ocean.
Starting from that day eons ago when Nordic settlers landed upon this windswept and glaciated land, this institution takes you through Icelandic life from medieval times through to the present day through its world class permanent exhibition … don’t miss it!
Another unique building that you’ll notice during your time in Reykjavik is Perlan, which used to be a boring tank farm that stored geothermally heated water for municipal use.
In the 1990’s though, this changed with a redesign that included the construction of a glass dome on top of the tank farm.
This turned the newly dubbed Perlan into a tourist attraction, which contains a winter garden, an observation deck, gift shops, a cafeteria and a revolving restaurant at its highest level. Definitely worth a visit for an hour and a bite to eat.
Getting out of town, the first (or last, if you want to end your trip that way) attraction you should visit is the Blue Lagoon.
Established in the early 1980’s after local residents started to report curative properties from bathing in the waste water lagoon of the local geothermal power plant, a business started up around the silica-rich waters to provide facilities and spa services to visitors.
Soon after, word spread around the globe of this magical hot spring that was the happy byproduct of this fully renewable form of energy, and the rest was history.
With a restaurant also on-site and new luxury hotel in the works, it is an attraction that is very popular with foreigners, and you’ll understand why after a dip in its 38 degree Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) waters.
While there are many natural sights to see in Iceland, the majority of its major attractions can be found within the Golden Circle, a 300 kilometre loop branching out from the capital of Reykjavik.
Strokkur is one of them, as it is a geyser that is renowned for its power and reliability. Every five to ten minutes, a blast of scalding hot water shoots up from the earth, forming a spout that can peak up to forty metres high. Another is Gullfoss Waterfall, a double leveled cataract that must be seen to be appreciated. With the water of the river flowing perpendicular to the crevice over which it eventually plunges, it is unlike any waterfall that you’ve likely seen before! If you do have time to circuit Iceland, take time out of your circumnavigation adventure to visit the Vatnajökull Glacier, which can be found in the southeastern corner of the country. Covering over eight percent of Iceland’s land area, Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Europe, giving visitors plenty of room to enjoy a spot of glacier hiking or snowmobiling in the middle of summer.
What To Eat
Given Iceland’s position in the midst of some of the richest fishing grounds in the North Atlantic, trying some Harðfiskur is a must.
Icelandic for dried fish, is is often eaten with melted butter or dulse on the side, and with its high protein, vitamin and mineral content, it has been attracting attention as a health food in recent years. Eat your Harðfiskur: it’s good for you!
When in Iceland, some Hangikjöt should also be on your menu, as this smoked version of lamb, mutton, or horse meat is a popular food, especially around the holiday season.
Eaten cold or hot, it is seasoned by the smoke of Icelandic Birch … or interestingly enough … sheep dung. Yup.
There is no dessert that will be able to get the idea of burning sheep doo doo out of your head quite like Skyr, as this yoghurt-like product will wash away savory flavours with every creamy spoonful you eat.
Produced plain or fruit-flavoured and sold in stores across the country, it is easy to get a hold of, so grab some before leaving Iceland.