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Iceland Destination Guide—Land of Fire and Ice

Icelanders are quirky, with the combination of creativity and tenacious survival in the face of severe weather. Visitors cite the breathtaking waterfalls, glaciers, ice caves, black sand beaches, and geothermal vents as contributing to the beauty and unusual flair of Iceland. At the same time, a thriving cultural scene in Reykjavik has made it a destination for partiers, shoppers, foodies, and anyone interested in Vikings and Norse Mythology.

The Highlights

Walking through the streets of Reykjavik, it can like one has stepped into a locavore’s paradise. Iceland’s locally roasted coffee, brewed beer, and even distilled vodka are all available in the stores and shops, while even simple pubs and restaurants can have a menu filled with shark, whale, or puffin entrees. A must-try dish is skyr, which is a delicate version of yogurt beloved by Icelanders and frequently served with berries, jam, or other adornments to make it into a dessert.
While museums like the National Viking Museum are great choices on stormy days, much of the appeal of Iceland’s attractions are outdoors. Within the city, you can visit the enormous pools and try their various hot tubs of varying temperatures, a popular activity with the locals during all times of the year. The most famous and popular collection of attractions in the Southwest corner of the country are along a route known as the Golden Circle, which takes visitors to waterfalls, crater lakes, geysers, and even the very spot where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet.
For the more adventurous and extreme guests, venturing farther north or to the Eastern coast of Iceland allows for a sight of the more rural fishing villages of the country. Tour companies will take trekkers into the heart of the glaciers and let them snowmobile, climb, and hike their way through the amazing natural ice and rock formations that decorate the heart of Iceland. Extreme sports are popular and with some practice, you could be traveling over snow that few people have ever seen.

The Geography

Iceland’s geography is deeply connected to its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, making it a hotspot for volcanic activity in spite of being at such a high latitude. This results in a hot layer under the surface of the country that provides them with abundant geothermal heat—there are places you can watch bread being baked in the ground at spots where heat vents to the surface.
At the same time, glaciers have formed over the majority of the surface of the country. Large swathes of the landmass are only accessible via F-Roads, which can be closed at a moment’s notice due to unpredictable alpine weather. Trusted guides can take snowmobiles or hikers up to see the magnificent views from atop the various glaciers, but look out for Vatnajökull glacier simmers Bardarbunga, a volcano that could erupt any time now.
The weather is undoubtedly unpredictable and harsh, but the Icelanders know how to prepare for it. Bring your best winter coat and other items for bundling up if you brave the colder time of year, and plan to bring a good windbreaker regardless because even the summer months can have cool mornings and brisk winds.

Best Time to Go

For Northern Lights, the months of February, March, September, and October are best, but for weather, July and August are the mildest and the most brilliantly sunny. Times in between these will be less ideal for weather and the sights in the sky, but they make up for it with some very inexpensive airfares on Wow! and Icelandair.

Know Before You Go

If you travel in the summer, prepare yourself for very short periods of darkness and almost no “true nighttime.” It is often bright twilight until after midnight during summer months. Also, know about Icelandair’s policy of giving free layovers for a few days in Iceland when you are on your way to somewhere else in Europe or the United States: sometimes you can package a little trip to Iceland into another trip for no net additional airfare. If you want to see lots of the natural sites, compare prices for renting a car to the prices of various tours that are available. With a group of 2 or 3, you may save money simply by navigating the tour yourself, which is fully possible even without knowledge of Icelandic.

Weather

Iceland is known as one of the three windiest places in the world, so pack clothes that will block the wind regardless of the forecasted temperatures. In general, Iceland will be cold right up until June-August, though some nice and mild days may come in there. In winter, plan to bundle up, but also plan to keep an eye out for the Northern Lights!

Language

Icelandic is different from anything you’ve probably ever heard before, but it is related to Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and other Scandinavian languages. While you’ll hear it if you venture into a gas station, small-town bakery, or other areas, English is very widely spoken, especially in any tourism-related enterprise. In the smaller towns you may encounter while road-tripping across Iceland, it is possible that some people won’t readily speak in English, so its worth trying out a few basic phrases for asking and thanking in Icelandic.

Electricity

Using the typical Northern European outlet (50 Hz/220 volts), so plan to borrow or purchase at least one converter to get from your home outlets to the typical outlet there. If you really don’t want to bring an adapter, contact your lodgings ahead of time to check and see if they have one to loan you—this is a perk of a very tourism-heavy country.

Currency

The Icelandic Krona hovers at around 0.01 of the US Dollar, and if you think the prices seem high, that is probably because they are. You can save by finding budget accommodations and inexpensive airfare, but visitors should plan to splurge on food, souvenirs, and tours.

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The Thrillseeker’s Guide to Iceland

Iceland Adventure Travel

Iceland is a country full of natural beauty but also extremely rugged terrain. Anyone who wants to walk on the wild side will get their fill in Iceland, given that its location along a volcanic seam of the Mid Atlantic Ridge has produced truly stunning natural formations worth exploring.

Climb Inside a Crater

When approaching Kerið from the main road of the Golden Circle, it doesn’t appear to be much. However, when you look over the lip of the crater lake, you realize just how amazing this volcanic caldera is. The rock surrounding the lake is deep red, with the water itself a crystalline blue. While many simply hike around the top of the crater lake, there is also a twisting and switchbacked path down to the water itself. Looking out across the unearthly water makes you wonder if there might be a monster in its depths. Even though many caldera lakes are incredibly deep, this one is actually only 7-14 meters deep (23-46 feet).

Walk Behind Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Even from the road, you can see the 60-meter high Seljalandsfoss waterfall, but it isn’t until you get up close that you see that there is a trail that goes behind and under the waterfall. Be forewarned: wear your raincoat for this trek, as well as some mud-proof shoes with good traction! A small cave opens up behind the main waterfall, and the rainbows that are thrown off by the falling water can be spectacular.
While many stop at the most frequented major waterfall, the ridge continues down a beautiful path. Along the way, there are more waterfalls and overlooks you can scramble atop to see everything for miles around. There are no handrails or specific handholds, so watch your step and hold on tight as you scale the craggy surface.

Trek Up a Glacier… or Snowmobile Over!

Glaciers cover a large area within the interior of Iceland, and hiking along the crest of one, with the proper equipment, can be quite the rush. These treks are best done in a group with an experienced guide, since few people outside of Iceland can put “experienced glacier walker” on their resumes. Along the way, you’ll learn more about the geological history of Iceland, the way that glaciers expand and contract, and the relationship between the icy glaciers and the fiery volcanoes around the country.
If you cannot get enough of the glaciers, one way to cover a lot more ground is to go on a snowmobile tour. The interior of Iceland is crisscrossed with “F-Roads,” or roads that frequently sustain extreme weather that normal cars usually cannot cope with. These roads are used by extreme weather vehicles, which can transport you and other tourists to spots where you can snowmobile over frozen terrain and along large expanses of glaciers. While relatively comfortable because you won’t be doing any manic downhill tricks, snowmobiling definitely is a rush and helps you to see even more of this unique landscape without having to walk for days to cover it all.

Enter the Ice Caves

One result of the seasonal changes in temperature and the underground geothermal heat is that ice forms in unique ways around Iceland. The natural seams in the glaciers Vatnajokull and Langjokull, in different parts of Southern Iceland, create amazing ice caves that will look like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
A few tips for seeing these brilliant sights: plan as far in advance as possible, basically as soon as you book a trip to Iceland, because the tours that are available tend to get booked very quickly and completely. Also, the experience is pretty much all-day, so trying to do an ice-cave tour as a day trip out of Reykjavik is a poor plan. Instead, choose a town closer to the caves you are visiting and spend at least one night there – you’ll get to know what smaller-town Iceland is like and you’ll not have to rush quite so much. Believe me: spelunking in an ice cave is more than tiring enough! You don’t need a round trip drive on top of that. Lastly, consider doing a package deal that includes a glacier walk and the ice caves along with lodging and possibly meals: the touring companies know the area well and will choose places you are likely to enjoy.

Hike to the Hidden Swimming Pool

Selljavallalaug is not a typical swimming pool with a cabana and maybe some umbrellas for shade. In typical Iceland fashion, it is both much more difficult to get to, but also much more rewarding as a location. In 1923, there was a fear that locals in Iceland couldn’t swim despite living near and fishing in the ocean. They built a swimming pool that was fed by a natural hot spring, meaning that it was always a comfortable temperature even in cold weather. It’s amazing that there was a time when Icelanders weren’t proficient swimmers, since pools are one of the most popular recreational activities now, with multiple large pool complexes in Reykjavik.
If you make the many turns necessary to find Selljavallalaug’s sparse parking area, you will be confronted with about another 20 minutes of walking over rocky terrain and on hard-to-find paths. Sure, it takes a little while to earn this swim, but trust me, the view alone is worth it. The simple dressing rooms give you space to change into a swimsuit, and the pool itself is mossy and green from the algae that grow in the warm water. A whole wall of the pool is a rock face and you can watch the steaming water drip down it; on the other side of the pool is a magnificent valley that truly looks like something from a fantasy film of another world. The swim is a nice relaxing moment after the drive and hike, and usually, the spot is not very busy, especially in the morning.
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A Complete Guide to Living like the Locals in Iceland

Icelandic Waters

With over 20 museums in the capital alone, you’ll find no shortage of pleasing cultural tributes, ranging from art and music to Vikings and archeology and including quirky exhibits that perfectly capture the island’s unique sense of humor.
Should history fall short in providing you with a sense of wonder, just step outside and look around– Iceland is touted as one of the most beautiful countries on Earth for its dangerously elegant ice caves, its lush canvas of vibrant natural colors, and its impossibly green fjords. Even in the depths of a frigid winter, Iceland glistens like pristine glass under the aurora borealis.
The real majesty of this almost otherworldly place, however, is the local atmosphere. How do Icelanders live their lives from day to day? What makes this natural wonderland a place to call “home” for over 300,000 people? Authenticity is more often found in the streets, among the sights, sounds, and locals that bring Iceland to vivid life.

How to Eat like a Local

The country’s largest city and capital, Reykjavik, provides a vast mural of activities for anyone to enjoy. Described as “compact,” this colorful swatch of Iceland is not just a haven for tourists, but an active local hangout that provides entertainment of all types. Most notably, however, is the large range of excellent quality cafés and restaurants in this area, some tucked away and hidden from plain sight.
One such eatery, the Laundromat Café, combines both excellent food and a busy environment, as well as featuring an actual laundromat in the lower section of the building. Their menu is as colorful as their venue, boasting delicious meals like Pulled Duck Burger, described as, “duck legs confit on brioche bun, mixed salad, dijonnaise, pickled red onions, and Cheddar cheese,” and a wholesome “clean vegetarian brunch” for its non-meat eating patrons (loaded with vegetables, hummus, and gourmet cheese, and served with seasonal fruits). The unique combination of laundry, Internet, and comfort food draws in a varied crowd and the café proudly invites its guests to let their little ones enjoy the playroom while their parents enjoy a fine meal.
Gelato and ice cream are, unquestionably, an Icelander’s favorite desserts, and the locals are proud of it. Some favorite parlors include Eldur and Is, a coffee and ice cream shop located on Skólavörðustígur that serves 4.8-star rated crepes, ice cream (with specialty flavors like sweet custard, banana, and apple) and a locally famous Toblerone hot chocolate. A short distance away on Laugavegur is Bada Bing, selling a wide variety of frozen treats that include unique flavors, like licorice and Daim (a popular Swedish candy bar made into a delectable ice cream).
Finally, with reviews that mark it as, “the best ice cream in Reykjavik,” Paradis Ice Cream on Njálsgata takes the “scoop,” so to speak, for the number one ice cream parlor to visit in the city. Their menu offers well over 100 different gourmet flavors of ice cream, each created from scratch, making a simple trip for dessert into a gastrointestinal adventure. Some of the most tantalizing flavors include Blood Orange Sorbet, Forest Berry Cheesecake, and Piedmont Roasted Hazelnut, all handcrafted with fresh, organic ingredients that day. Best of all, their online menu offers detailed information about each flavor and its nutritional content, ingredients, and a delectable description of the taste.

How to Shop like a Local

A hot spot for both locals and tourists alike, Reykjavik boasts a special shopping district located on the famous streets called Skólavörðustígur, a main roadway in the capital that combines art, history, and shopping, and Laugavegur, one of the most historical streets in the city. Skólavörðustígur leads directly to the largest church in the entire country, Hallgrímskirkja, a powerful and angularly elegant church that can be observed from every area of the city.
A notable shop in the district is The Handknitting Association of Iceland, where those who are particularly crafty will find a heavenly display of Icelandic wool, knitting supplies, and gorgeous, handknit goods for sale. Just a short walk from Hallgrímskirkja, this cozy shop has everything from yarn to completed blankets, and holds an excellent visitor rating. Their handcrafted sweaters feature traditional Icelandic patterns, allowing you to look like a local, too.
For those who are musically inclined, a trip to Reykjavik’s 2006 Shop of the Year 12 Tónar is a must– with amenities like books about rock music and free coffee, weekly concerts, and a welcoming atmosphere, this record shop is equal parts hang out and music venue, with a splash of literature. Customers tout it as, “the best store in Iceland,” and a bad review is not to be found, earning it a consistent 5-star rating. Aside from its lively day-to-day activities, 12 Tónar is also an independent record label that holds regular meetings with artists on-site, often a spectacle in and of itself.

How to Play like a Local

After a long day of adventuring up and down the bustling streets of the shopping district, take a wallow in the locally famous Vesturbæjarlaug, a community pool featuring hot tubs, sauna, and steam rooms for your enjoyment. According to locals, this spot is perfect for mingling in the intimate details of the city, often home to lively political discussions and group outings. Its central location is the perfect nearby respite for those looking for a way to unwind, simply a short walk from what is called the “city center,” and visitors of all ages are welcome. Vesturbæjarlaug is just one of 17 community pools located in Reykjavik, and purchasing a Reykjavik City Card is highly recommended, as it allows one free access to any of the area’s thermal pools.
Nauthólsvík, the capital city’s geothermal beach, is the Icelander’s very own piece of Xanadu. This gorgeous beach has been engineered to filter in geothermal water to keep the water warm in the summer, providing the islanders with a toasty paradise of around 66 degrees. The nearby “hot-pot” averages a steamy 100 degrees year-round, perfect for rest and relaxation. If you seek an extra level of authenticity, try cold-water swimming in the winter with the locals, an intense activity that originated in ancient times.
If you’re up for more than a swim, you might try the ancient Viking sport of kubbu. This summer game is a local favorite all through the season, and is almost always described as “a combination of horseshoes and bowling.” On a beautiful day, you might see a few games in action at Klambratún, a large, serene park near the city, where locals of any age go to enjoy the fleeting rays of summer sunshine.

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Planning a Romantic Getaway to Iceland

Romantic Iceland Getaway

Iceland might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of romance, but the truth is, this amazing country offers many advantages that the romantic traveler should carefully consider when planning for that vacation away. Not for nothing is Iceland called the land of fire and ice—and you can bring that fire to your romantic relationship on an amazing romantic getaway to Iceland.

The Capital City

In Reykjavik, Iceland, you’ll find just 200,000 people—a small city by many standards. This city, however, nevertheless has all the amenities you could ask for: an amazing nightlife, with parties that start at midnight and last until five in the morning; Hallgrímskirkja church, with its incredible tower that can be seen from anywhere in the city; Höfði House, which is one of the most beautiful buildings in Reykjavik; and plenty of other attractions to visit with your sweetheart.

Incredible Views

Throughout Iceland, you’ll find incredible views that are the very heart of romance. Since the country is relatively small, you’ll be able to see a large percentage of it on your stay—or, conversely, take the time to really explore a specific area with the one you love. There are some amazing, sweeping views and beautiful locations in nature throughout Iceland that the two of you will be delighted to explore together.
Seljalandsfoss is a stunning waterfall that you and your beloved can easily walk behind together as you explore the incredible landscape. This waterfall looks like something out of a fantasy novel: a beautiful, romantic location for a picnic or simply for sitting and taking in the view together—especially if the view includes the person closest to your heart.
Thingvellir National Park includes more than just the stunning landscapes you can expect to see as you travel throughout Iceland. At Thingvellir National Park, you can go snorkeling over the Silfra fissure with your loved one. This five-hour tour will take you through crystal clear waters to view a stunning underwater adventure. This trip is limited to six participants per guide, so you’ll get a wonderful small, romantic trip that you and your beloved will be talking about for years to come.
The Great Geysir will be sure to evoke feelings of awe as you and your beloved stand a safe distance away, watching as it shoots water hundreds of feet into the air. It’s a stunning display that is amazing to capture on camera, but even more incredible to capture in your minds for future reminiscing together.
Gullfoss is another gorgeous waterfall with an amazing story to tell. Explore the area with your beloved, taking in stunning scenery as you hold hands and wander around together. The beauty of untouched nature will leave you awed—and that awe will translate to one another.

Choosing Your Home Base in Iceland

While you’re staying in Iceland, you want to stay at the best hotels: the ones that will allow you to focus on your sweetheart and keep the romance alive. Luckily, there are plenty of great options to choose from.
Silica Hotel, which is located at the famous Blue Lagoon, is a fantastic romantic getaway for travelers through Iceland. This gorgeous hotel is just minutes away from the main Blue Lagoon resort and has its own private bathing lagoon just for hotel guests—a definite plus for checking out with your sweetheart. The amazing, serene atmosphere is perfect for focusing on the one you love during a relaxing stay.
Hotel Borg, located in the heart of Reykjavik, offers nice, large rooms where you and your sweetheart can cozy up for an evening in together. Large, deep bathtubs offer plenty of space for one or both of you, while heated marble floors in the bathroom will keep you warm. The understated decor leaves you free to focus on the one you love during your stay in this luxurious hotel.
CenterHotel Thingholt was designed with romance in mind. This gorgeous hotel includes all the amenities you could ask for from a romantic retreat with your sweetheart. The lighting and design are inspired by the beauty found throughout Iceland, from lava flows to waterfalls. In the attached spa, you’ll find rainfall showers, soaking tubs where you can receive a shoulder massage together, and more.

The Most Romantic Meals in Iceland

Of course, a romantic trip with your sweetheart wouldn’t be complete without a few romantic dinners along the way. As you sample the local cuisine, these stunning restaurants will help keep the romance flowing and make your adventure even more memorable. Note that in Iceland, if you want to get a table in high season or on the weekend at many of these amazing restaurants, you should make your reservations at least two weeks in advance to be sure you’ll get the table you want to share with your beloved.
Lækjarbrekka provides amazing Scandinavian cuisine in an incredibly romantic environment that will have both you and your sweetheart smiling. Sample their amazing lobster dishes or try the lamb together. Many guests opt to check out the three-course menu, which provides everything from the wine to the dessert.
At Fiskfelagid, or Fish Company, you’ll find a decadent menu that’s perfect for sharing with your beloved. The restaurant provides amazing service coupled with a dim atmosphere where you can enjoy some quiet conversation with the one you love before heading back to your hotel or off on another romantic adventure together.
MATUR OG DRYKKUR provides a cozy, intimate feel that you and your beloved will be sure to enjoy together. The amazing menu is one of the highlights of your trip together.
Planning a romantic getaway to Iceland is a great way to rekindle the fire with your loved one. There are some incredible sights to see, foods to try, and hotels and spas where you can experience incredible luxury together. It’s time to book your getaway to Iceland today and discover just how much this incredible vacation can benefit your relationship.