Go to Iceland for a surprising experience
A Brief Travel Guide to Iceland
Between Greenland and Norway stands a 40,000 square mile island that's unlike any other on the planet. An enigmatic destination with a fascinating landscape of geysers, lava fields, volcanoes, waterfalls and black sand beaches. It is one of earth's youngest landmasses, and Europe's least populated country. We're talking about Iceland, which attracted close to a million tourists in 2014. This guide will acquaint you with the best of what Iceland has to offer.
Let's start with the basics: How do you get to the country of Iceland? If you're in Asia, Australia or any place from where you'll have to travel across half the earth to get to Iceland, catch a flight to London or New York first. Reykjavik, Iceland's capital and largest city, is a five hour flight from New York and about 3 hour flight from London. When in Iceland, most tourists stay in the greater Reykjavik metropolitan area, which is home to a majority of the country's hotels. Smaller guesthouses, farmhouse accommodations are scattered across the countryside. New hotels are being built across the countryside as well, to relieve the pressure of the greater Reykjavík area and have visitors spending more time in the country side.
When you're planning your Iceland itinerary, make sure you add the following must-visit attractions to your list.
The Blue Lagoon
Located in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa whose warm waters are rich in sulfur and silica. You can enjoy a warm outdoor bath in the midst of scenic landscape, beer in hand (the spa has a bar) or sit in a steam cave with geothermal steam wafting out of the rocks around you. This heavenly experience is not the only reason for the high tourist footfall. The Blue Lagoon is a health, wellness and skincare hub whose waters are believed to heal such skin conditions as psoriasis. The water contains three main ingredients; silica mud (deep cleanses the skin), algae (supports anti-aging) and minerals (revitalizes and re-mineralizes the skin).
Caves are historically important to Iceland, having served as shelters for people and animals during severe winters. In fact, some caves are still used as barns or sheds for sheep. Iceland is home to caves of all shapes and sizes. Broadly, they can be categorized into glacier caves, lava caves and man-made caves. Some of the popular caves that merit a visit/tour include the Kverkfjöll glacier caves in Vatnajökull; Vatnshellir (water) cave on Snæfellsnes peninsula; Leidarendi cave that's about a half-hour drive from Reykjavik and an example of an Icelandic lava tube; Gjábakkahellir cave with its awe-inspiring lava formations and ice sculptures; Búri cave with spectacular ice formations; Lofthellir lava cave; and Thrihnjukagigur cave, which offers visitors the once-in-a-lifetime experience of traversing the inside of a volcano.
The Northern Lights
When you think of Iceland, you think of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, most often seen as striking green lights dancing in the sky, and occasionally, dazzling the sky with multiple colors, from varying shades of pink and red to blue, white and violet. You can catch the lights during night-time driving on your road trip, plan your visit to Iceland during a time of high Aurora activity, or check into a hotel that offers wake-up calls alerting guests when the lights emerge. If you're staying in Reykjavik, head to a lighthouse, hill, park or any other place darker than the rest of the city to capture the full splendor of the lights.
Optimal viewing times are between September and March, when the nights are cold and crisp, and the weather is calm and cloudless. Recommended areas include the open plains of the Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO Heritage Site and the geothermal pools in the countryside. The park is located in proximity to Reykjavik, you can start after dinner and return by midnight.
Bring along your DSLR. Cameras do a better job of capturing the Northern Light’s true colors than the naked eye. That’s because our eyes - whose cones work in the day and rods work at night - cannot see the dynamic range of the Aurora’s colors at night.
A road trip along Iceland's Ring Road is one of the best ways to explore the beautiful island in all its glory. You will be driving past a stunning landscape of beautiful horses, rugged mountains, geothermal springs and torrential waterfalls. If you're lucky, you can catch the Northern Lights or the occasional erupting volcano. You can either draw up a plan, rent a kitted-out camper van, and hit the road, or join a Ring Road tour where everything is organized according to your convenience.
Want to spend some time in the rural serenity of Iceland's farms? Opt for a farmstay as you're driving around the country. Lodging at a farm is as basic as it can get. Some of the small pleasures include horseback riding, watching lamb and sheep shearing, and visiting a geothermally heated greenhouse.
The Westfjords is a large peninsula in northwestern Iceland, and an ideal location for cruising in the bays, inlets, fjords and islands. The region has become popular with visiting yachts and is a well-known stop on Arctic and transatlantic leisure sailing routes. Here, yachting and sailing are parallel activities alongside skiing and snowboarding.
Another sailing destination is the island of Vigur, which is known for its excellent hiking opportunities and scenic Hornvík bay. It is the natural habitat of the Arctic Fox, with the furry creatures completely protected and totally relaxed or oblivious to human presence. The island is also home to two of Iceland's biggest bird cliffs and the world's largest colonies of Guillemots, in addition to other species such as Fulmars, Razorbill and Kittiwake.
While you may not exactly associate Iceland with amazing nightlife, let's be the first to tell you that the nightlife in Reykjavik is pretty electric. It also guarantees a partying experiences like no other, even at 1:30 am, it is as bright as noon, and there are no psychological signals telling you that it's time to call it a night! Reykjavik's bars are located in and around the shopping district of Laugavegur. It will take you a couple of seconds to walk from one bar to the next; it won't come as a surprise then that bar-hopping is a popular activity. The most happening bars include Kaffibarinn, Club Kiki, Húrra, Dolly, Rósenberg, The English Pub and Prikið.
Sounds enchanting? Start planning your trip now and get your budget in order. Allow for some moments of serendipitous discoveries and spontaneous explorations. Iceland's natives believe in the existence of trolls and invisible elves. So keep your eyes and mind open for supernatural experiences!
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