Just outside the Arctic Circle is Iceland, a dramatic landscape of massive glaciers, geysers, volcanoes and lava fields. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, this mountainous island of fire and ice is an ideal vacation destination for nature lovers who come to hike some of the world’s most gorgeous terrain and to experience the famed Northern Lights.
Divided into seven varying regions reflective of culture and geography, this Nordic island country offers a wealth of exclusive experiences in one of the most untouched landscapes on Earth. Whether you choose to explore on your own or opt for a guided adventure that gives you access to more remote parts of this beautiful country and perhaps a reindeer sighting, your immersion into nature is sure to be magical.
For a true experience of Iceland, locals suggest visiting their unique geothermal hot baths and the small fjord in East Iceland, as well as hiking the Vatnajökull Glacier, one of the South’s most visited great glaciers, and tasting a traditional Icelandic dish. While landscapes of mountains and fjords act as havens for a variety of wildlife, Iceland also offers many opportunities to enjoy the local culture through music, shopping, museums, festivals, dining and more.
Visit Reykjavik in Iceland
Reykjavik, the capital, is the start of every journey for guests arriving on a flight or by ferry from Europe. Set with a backdrop of grand cascading mountains, this city is home to two thirds of the country’s population and offers an array of charming boutiques painted in vibrant reds, blues and dandelion yellows, as well as a notable food scene.
The food in Iceland is based on tradition and invention, using the land and the sea as inspiration. Depending on the season, chefs will incorporate traditional ingredients like lava salt, whale and cheese in their dishes in new ways. Some of the city’s most known dishes feature fare like lamb and seafood. Brennivín, the nation’s primary liquor, is made from fermented grain or potato mash; and Skyr, a thick and creamy dairy product, can best be described as the marrying of yogurt and cottage cheese.
What to Eat When Visiting Iceland
Soup, although common, is a traditional dish here. The fish soup, or Fiskisúpa, is made using a mixture of different fish, vegetables, a generous amount of alcohol and cream. At Svarta Kaffið, diners get to enjoy a savory soup filled to the brim in a homemade bread bowl. Being a country of rugged coasts, this dish is the perfect way to experience the merroir and culture of Iceland.
Set with a backdrop of grand cascading mountains, this city is home to two thirds of the country’s population and offers an array of charming boutiques painted in vibrant reds, blues and dandelion yellows.
After exploring the capitol, visitors can embark on a day trip to the stunning black sand beaches of Reynisfjara on the South Coast near the small fishing village of Vik. Reynisdrangar, an impressive basalt rock formation, sits upon the shore, inspiring folklore of trolls frozen to stone by the dawn light. The world-famous black beaches here are also home to a large estuary of charming puffins, fulmars and guillemots, making it a must-see location for birdwatchers.
Where to Visit in Iceland
Nearby is also Seljalandsfoss and its 200-foot waterfall. The cascade of falls once marked the country’s coastline, but now is separated from the sea by a stretch of lowlands. Around the falls is a 1.2-mile trail visitors frequent, and many learn that its origins tie to glacier Eyjafjallajökull. The glacier’s most recent activity was in 2010, when the volcano underneath erupted.
Another internationally-known attraction on Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. At first glance, this oasis entrances guests with its beauty. Dark rocks encircle it, a contrast to the azure water and wispy clouds of steam rising into the gradient sunset sky. Famous for its vibrant hue, the Blue Lagoon gets its color, and ultimately its name, from the way the silica—the iconic and most abundant element—naturally reflects visible light. At the heart of a volcanic landscape, this escape provides a serene getaway for relaxing in warm water naturally enriched with silica, algae and minerals. A cleansing mask bar, the soothing sauna and steam room, and the special in-water bar at this geothermal spa are a must and will make for an unforgettable experience.
Charming accommodations are readily available near quintessential landmarks and buildings. Guesthouse Galtafell, former home of the beloved Icelandic artist Guðmundur Thorsteinsson known as “Muggur,” is in the heart of Reykjavik near the Hallgrímskirkja Church and the National Museum. The inn’s architecture, influenced by the Victorian era, showcases ornamental touches and the simple comfort found in Nordic homes. The white castle-like exterior opens up into a welcoming space decorated with rustic paintings of Iceland’s skyline.
Iceland can be visited throughout the year. With an abundance of natural beauty as well as a rich culture, it is a truly remarkable destination for travelers. While summer is the best time to venture further afield into the striking countryside, winter is the best time for viewing the Northern Lights—a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For more information about luxury international travel, read our blogs on some of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world. St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps is a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts with stunning mountain views and world-class ski resorts. If you’re more interested in a historic metropolis, Paris is known as the City of Love and is a must-visit for art, fashion, and history enthusiasts. Provence in southern France is famous for its picturesque lavender fields and charming villages. It is the perfect place to relax, indulge in delicious cuisine, and immerse yourself in the laid-back Provençal lifestyle. Whether you’re seeking adventure, cultural experiences, or simply a place to unwind, these destinations offer a diverse range of experiences for every traveler. ~
Virginia native FRANCIS SWINSON is a graduate of the University of Virginia who loves to write about the many adventures that come with traveling around our beautiful globe.
AMY NICOLE CHERRY has been photographing stories of life and love for 10 years. The simple moments of life endlessly inspire her, and she’s thankful to call Charlottesville home. Her work has been featured in National Geographic Traveler, The Washington Post and countless wedding publications like Southern Weddings, Style Me Pretty and Wine & Country Weddings.
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