7 Reasons Why Iceland is the Next Big Travel Destination

In case you haven’t heard, Iceland is sort of becoming a thing. In recent years, the country has amped up its tourism efforts—especially in the states—and as a result, everyone and their mom is heading to the Nordic island. If you arrive in Reykjavík, the main (and let’s be real, only) city during the peak tourist months, you will see buses in the early mornings prowling the streets, picking up their daily flocks of fanny-packed families and Patagonia-outfitted young twenty-somethings.

Sweet graffiti art, Reykjavík.

Sweet graffiti art, Reykjavík.

More sweet graffiti art, Reykjavík.

More sweet graffiti art, Reykjavík.

More sweet graffiti art, Reykjavík.

More sweet graffiti art, Reykjavík.

If I'm being honest, Reykjavík is neat for a day or two, but the trick is to get out and see the rest of the island. I was traveling solo, but I would suggest if you’re going with a group, rent a campervan and go cruise around the island for a few days/weeks. There is so much expansive, wonderous NEATure out there, it would be an absolute shame to just stick to Reykjavík for your entire trip.

Iconic Sun Voyager sculpture, Reykjavík.

Iconic Sun Voyager sculpture, Reykjavík.

Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík.

Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík.

But why is everyone going to Iceland of all places? You might ask. Well, for one, the name. I mean, ICE-land. Badassery is sort of engrained in the name, #amiright. But the thing is, it kind of is badass…which I will get to shortly. But what’s more, I think people are beginning to venture outside of the typical London-Paris-Barcelona scene and are trying to find more exotic travel destinations. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about eating a Nutella crepe with a view of the Eiffel tower (don’t care how basic it is, I’m still into it) or getting tapas and a caña on Las Ramblas (all about that jamón life), but it also feels good every now and then to go to a place a little bit off the radar. Like ICE-land (insert emoji with excited jazz hands here). Think about Prague and Budapest these days. Who’s going there? Yep, er’yone. Because Eastern Europe is off the radar and less touristy and different than your average vacay (if you haven’t checked out our post on Eastern European adventures, check it out here).

Lobster and stuff... I'm into it. Cute restaurant by the harbor, Reykjavík. 

Lobster and stuff... I'm into it. Cute restaurant by the harbor, Reykjavík. 

Back to Iceland. If you’re thinking about taking a trip this year, Iceland should be at the top of your list. (Or Cuba, but let’s keep that one on the down low so it doesn’t get bulldozed by ‘Merica in the next five years, mkay?). So, here are the top 7 reasons why you should take a trip to Iceland…

The famous lifting stones at the black sand beach of Djúpalónssandur. 

The famous lifting stones at the black sand beach of Djúpalónssandur. 

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1. Ice Ice Baby (...and a Lil Bit of Green): Okay, so fun fact for you: Iceland is actually really green, and Greenland is actually really icy. Legend has it that when Norwegian Vikings discovered a ridiculously awesome green island and settled, they were worried their enemies would pursue them. So being the smart and petty Vikings they were, they sent word back to Norway that the island they had landed on was a deserted ICE-land whereas a nearby island (which was actually full of ice) was nice and green and would be perfect for them to settle in (aka, the OG you-can’t-sit-with-us). Hence, the weird dichotomy of Iceland and Greenland.

Word has it that the story is nothing more than that—a story—but I like it just the same. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if that still worked today? Like you went into Whole Foods and as the little hearts were starting to form in your eyes with all the little green organic labels and BPA-free signs, you sent word back to your small village of Santa Barbara or Brentwood or La Jolla that the Whole Foods shelves were filled with cans of dirt and people were all like, Oh cool thanks for the heads up, I’ll just go to Ralph’s instead. And you had the whole place (and ohmygod, the parking lot!) to yourself?! Either that, or everyone would be like, But is the dirt cage-free and free-range? (Jk, love you all, meanit!)

I digress. Iceland. But really, the place is super green. I’m talking neon green grass (check it out below).

I mean, rill green.

I mean, rill green.

But in spite of the folklore and all that greenness, it does have a decent amount of ice. Take Jökulsárlón, or Glacier Lagoon, for instance. It's a super popular tourist attraction and, as the name would suggest, a giant lagoon with icebergs. It's a fairly new phenomenon due to climate change in recent years as huge chunks of ice broke off from the nearby glacier and formed the lagoon. 

Jökulsárlón, or Glacier Lagoon.

Jökulsárlón, or Glacier Lagoon.

Jökulsárlón, or Glacier Lagoon.

Jökulsárlón, or Glacier Lagoon.

What's more, Iceland doesn't just stop at neat-looking glacial ice lagoons. Also, dog-sledding is a thing, as is ice caving. Also saw this dude surfing in iceberg-riddled water, because you know, #yolo. In any case, my point is that Iceland has it all (ice, green rolling hills, ocean, lagoons, mountains, whatever you want, they've got it). So if you’re into hiking and/or finding weird naturey adventures, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find it here. Which brings me to:

Hiking in Hellnar in Snaefellsjokull National Park.

Hiking in Hellnar in Snaefellsjokull National Park.

2. ERMEHGERD ERDVENTURES: Ever wanted to scuba dive in tectonic plates? Hike across a glacier? Want to go heli-biking? Don’t even know what that is? Yep, it exists. (Btw, it’s where you helicopter to the top of a mountain and then mountain bike down. I know, mind blown. The creative humans who invent this ish are awesome). In other words, Iceland is an adventure enthusiast’s dream. Hike in giant caves, check out active volcanoes, go snowmobiling, rent ATVs, go horseback riding, go whale watching (I advise you do this before you order it on the menu which I will get to shortly), go river rafting, paragliding, fishing… For real, they’ve got it all.

3. Geothermal Pools: So here’s a neat thing. Geothermal pools are in Iceland like lakes are in Minnesota. Okay, maybe not that much, but there are a lot of them. In case you don’t know what they are... geothermal pools are made from groundwater that is geothermally heated by the Earth’s crust (in other words, a hot spring). Think Jacuzzi but au natural. They’re supposed to have all kinds of healing properties and health benefits due to the rich mineral content in the water. Some experts say soaking in one of these bad boys gives you better circulation, aids with respiratory problems, can give you pain relief, increases endorphins, helps you age slower (it helps produce collagen), gives you a clearer complexion (the heat opens up your pores and lets you absorb bacteria-fighting minerals), and more.

Nauthólsvík geothermal pool on the beach (near Reykjavík).

Nauthólsvík geothermal pool on the beach (near Reykjavík).

I went to one on the beach just outside of Reykjavík (I mean, let’s take a moment to appreciate the coolness of that. There’s a geothermal pool. On a beach. In Iceland.) I also went to the wildly popular Blue Lagoon which was cool, no doubt, but also SUPER touristy. There’s plenty of geothermal pools on the island so I would recommend that you venture out and go to some of the lesser known ones. 

The Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon.

Getting my soak on at the Blue Lagoon.

Getting my soak on at the Blue Lagoon.

4. Waterfalls: TLC had obviously never been to Iceland when they wrote “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” Because, people, I’m telling you: CHASE ALL THE WATERFALLS! There’s not much to be said here except that they are all over. And Awesome. And ridiculously epic. Again, one more reason to rent a campervan and go explore. Think Hawaii but less tropical and mixed with Ireland. You get big waterfalls, lots of volcanic rock, and really green surroundings. Keep in mind that depending on when you go (winter vs. summer), these could look drastically different. Here are a few of my favorites from my trip:

Kirkjufellfoss

Kirkjufellfoss

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Skógafoss

Skógafoss

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

5. Northern Lights: Because I visited Iceland smack dab in the middle of August, seeing the Northern Lights was a no-go for me. However, plenty of my friends have visited Iceland in the winter specifically to see them and have raved about the experience. The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is from September to mid-April when there are fully dark nights. In the summer, the sun is known to set after midnight and can rise again as early as 3am (in other words, not optimal for trying to see the Northern Lights in a pitch-black night sky). 

Image via Flickr by Moyan Brenn

Image via Flickr by Moyan Brenn

6. Geysers: I had never seen a geyser before coming to Iceland (I know, terrible). But it’s pretty dang neat. So just to cover all my bases here, a geyser is a vent in the Earth’s surface through which boiling water and steam is ejected into the air, sometimes a few hundred feet. Or in other words, it's a spouting hot spring. It’s derived from geysa, or “to gush” from Old Norse. Too nerdy for you? (English major. #sorryboutit.) In any case, make sure to bring a rain jacket and/or a cover for that nice camera of yours because a few of these geysers do a helluva good job at blasting unsuspecting bystanders with a misty shower when it erupts.

Image via Flickr by Moyan Brenn

Image via Flickr by Moyan Brenn

7. Weird Food: Okay, so before you read this, if you’re a vegetarian/vegan/Free -Willy-Lover, I advise you to turn away and/or skip to the end of the blog. For those of you who are willing to forge ahead, here it is: I ate whale. (gasp!) And puffin. (no, you animal!) And fermented shark. (okay, what. lol.) 

Whale steak at a restaurant called Íslenski Barinn (aka Icelandic Bar) in Reykjavík.

Whale steak at a restaurant called Íslenski Barinn (aka Icelandic Bar) in Reykjavík.

Puffin salad in a jar. Neat. (at Íslenski Barinn in Reykjavík).

Puffin salad in a jar. Neat. (at Íslenski Barinn in Reykjavík).

Okay, so to be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about it ethically, but I figure “when in Rome” you have to try the local fare. It’s like eating a tarantula in Thailand. It may not be your idea of a delectable midday snack, but hey, think about it this way: they might think the same about your kombucha and nutritional-yeast-covered kale chips. My point is, relativity. And an open mind. You have to be willing to broaden your scope of what you know, or think you know, especially when it comes to food and travel. SO. Whale steak. It’s like a normal steak, but more tender. So yes, it was delicious. Puffin was a little bit more funky, a stronger flavor, but alright. And fermented shark was just downright gnarly. Not even gonna sugar coat that one. I’m all about fermentation—sauerkraut, kefir, ‘boocha, get at me. Icelandic fermented shark, not so much. In any case, if you’re an adventurous eater, there are all kinds of interesting things to try here. And most of it's rill tasty. (Sidenote: I happened to also be in town the same week as the Bacon Festival which also proved to be a marvelous experience.)

Other helpful things to note about Iceland… 

  • Flights: Airlines like WOW Air are currently offering really cheap flights to Iceland. I mean flights from LAX to Iceland for as low as $99 each way. I’ve heard the experience has been hit or miss (some have had terrible experiences—lost luggage, etc.—and others have been fine). With some airlines like Icelandair, you can add a stopover in Iceland and stay up to seven nights at no additional charge. For example, say you are going to Norway or Germany for a vacation. If you book with Icelandair, you can stop in Iceland, hang out there for a few days with no extra airfare charge, and then head on over to Norway/Germany for the rest of your vacay. Pretty sweet, huh? 
  • Cost: Just a fair warning, Iceland can be pretty expensive. You might want to start putting away some mula in that piggybank of yours to make sure you’re all covered once you get there.
  • Currency: In Iceland, they use the Icelandic króna. While some places will accept the euro as a service to tourists, do yourself and others a favor and make sure to have some króna in your pocket at all times, especially when you go to the more remote areas of the island. 
  • Language: The locals speak Icelandic, but they also speak English fluently. So you will be a-okay even if you don’t know what Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur means. And yes, that’s an actual word in Icelandic. 
  • And if all of these reasons still aren’t enough to convince you to go to Iceland, check this out. On my first day walking around the city, I stumbled across THIS. Yes, a giant, sparkly, rainbow unicorn. This place is that magical. So ditch your latest trip to Cancun and instead book a trip to Iceland (I can almost guarantee you won’t find one of these on a casual stroll through the city). 

For any readers who have been to Iceland, feel free to add any other ideas and/or suggestions in the Comments section below. Thanks for reading—until the next adventure! xo