From Mother Nature’s phenomenon to endless hours of sunlight, otherworldly landscapes, and take-your-breath-away hotels, there are plenty of reasons to plan a trip to Iceland.
Iceland’s landscapes are like nothing else. Simply driving from the Keflavík airport to Reykjavik will impress, but the real beauty is on the Golden Circle route, a popular route that encompasses Iceland’s most spectacular natural scenes, and can easily be self-driven in a day. From barren Lord of the Rings-esque lands, to mammoth erupting geysers, supreme waterfalls, and volcanic craters, it will impress even the most worldly of visitors. Gullfoss, the waterfall in the canyon of Hvítá river has particular wow-factor.
Whilst some might dub it a tourist trap, there’s no doubt the Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com
) is pretty special, and for most international visitors, a must-see attraction. Kicking back in the bluest of blue hot springs, sipping Prosecco, and applying a natural mud mask is a rather unique experience, and one that the majority of us won’t grumble about. Yes, there are lots of people, but just do your thing and enjoy. For an even more memorable experience, opt for an in-water massage: that’s you, floating around on a lilo, being massaged with mineral oils and regularly dunked so that your body is submerged in bath-like waters. Just heavenly. If you’re looking for the relaxation experience without the crowd, head to one of Iceland’s other hot springs; Laugarvatn Fontana (fontana.is
), just off the Golden Circle route is a much more low-key affair, but relaxing and luxurious all the same.
You’re bound to have seen ION Adventure Hotel (designhotels.com
) on Pinterest, on the television, or even Instagram, but not necessarily to have realised it’s in Iceland. Quite simply breathtaking, the luxury hotel sits on stilts against rugged, rural landscape, near to Thingvellir National Park. Being just off the Golden Circle route, guests are forever treated to breathtaking views, whether they’re in the hotel’s Northern Lights Bar, in the pool and Lava Spa, or in guestrooms, which have floor-to-ceiling windows. ION makes the most of naturalistic materials — lots of driftwood and muted colour palettes — for aesthetics that are raw and beautiful, and a reflection of the local landscape.
Fresh, contemporary cuisine
For a long time, Icelandic cuisine wasn’t exactly raved about. Long, harsh winters have given way to dishes that make the most of pantry supplies and others that can be stored for months or foraged from the hills. Now, with many more international influences and chefs striving to do exciting things with the island’s produce, the cuisine has improved dramatically. Seafood plays a principal role — makes sense being a country surrounded by water! — try it at Mar (marrestaurant.com
), a seafood restaurant that used to feed the local and foreign fisherman and now makes the most of fresh produce with exciting flavours and a relaxed atmosphere. KOPAR (koparrestaurant.is
) is fantastic too, overlooking the marina with great chefs that creatively explore the elements of land and sea.
In contrast to the rural barren lands of Iceland, Reykjavik knows how to party. It might be a small city but it draws visitors from far and wide, who come for its fun loving attitude, it’s lack of queues or VIP rooms, no queues, and good tunes. Over 50 bars line the main street, Laugavegur, so there’s no shortage of places to go; You can bar-hop all night (one of the benefits of no entry fees) and no one will bat an eyelid if you start dancing on the tables. Just don’t expect drinks to cheap - in Iceland, they are not.
In similar party spirit, Iceland is celebrated for its music festivals. Secret Solstice (secretsolstice.is
), held just outside of Reykjavik, is the country’s biggest festival, and this year will draw the likes of Radiohead and Of Monsters and Men, alongside a whole host of electronic music acts. 72 hours of sun means the party just goes on and on… Later in the year, Iceland Airwaves (icelandairwaves.is
) is another big festival which spans 5 days and pioneers new Icelandic and international talent.
The Northern Lights draw huge numbers of visitors to the country every year, as one of the best places in the world to see them dance. Though there are plenty of organised tours that you can sign up to, it’s as easy to go out and find them yourself, assuming you’ve hired a car. Stock up on snacks and drive somewhere remote, out of Reykjavik at least — Thingvellir National Park is perfect but requires a confident, cautious driver. Dark, clear nights are essential, so the best season for seeing them is most commonly considered September to mid- April.
Unique photo opportunities
Turns out a former volcanic crater turned lake makes for a seriously spectacular photo opportunity. As does an erupting geyser. And the birds-eye view of the tiny Lego-like houses from the top of Hallgrímskirkja. Reality is, Iceland is full of unique and diverse, camera-baiting beauties, it’s crazy picturesque in so many ways, so soak it all in with your beady eyes, before filling up an empty SD card and spamming that Instagram feed.
Endless summer days
Whilst the winter months in Iceland might have the draw of the Northern Lights, the summer months have endless hours of sunlight. Long, long days mean more time for exploring, eating, camping out and adventuring, and Iceland sure is the place to do all that. The longest day is around June 21, whereby in Reykjavik the sun sets just after midnight and rises again at 3am. Further north in Akureyri or Ísafjörður you can expect it to be even longer. And to put that all into perspective, the shortest day is around December 21, when the sun rises at 11:30am and sets at 3:30pm!
With Iceland’s average summer temperature being just 10 degrees, and the winter climes going down to -2, chances are you’ll need something to warm your cockles. Let that something be a White Russian, because Iceland does them well. Whilst it might not be a hot toddy, it’ll certainly warm your insides. Lebowski Bar (lebowskibar.is
), a kitsch, Big Lebowski themed bar on Reykjavik’s main strip has a dedicated White Russian menu. Pull up a seat and enjoy. And don’t forget to buy your own bottle of Reyka vodka so you can make your own versions at home.