So, you are contemplating your vacation choices and none of them are creating that tingle of excitement you’ve come to expect. You’ve snorkeled in the warm waters of the Caribbean, visited the theme parks in Florida or California, kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland, cruised down the Rhine, and drank ouzo in Greece. There must be somewhere in the world where you can experience nature’s wonders, a different culture, yet feel safe and comfortable.
Hello, it’s Iceland, that small country in the north Atlantic often flown over or used as a stop over on your flight to Europe. It’s one of the safest and unspoiled places in the world yet still advanced socially, technically, and medically . Here’s some facts why it should be your destination, versus an also visited.
Though it seems Iceland is far away near the Arctic Circle, it is quite close by air – less than five hours from Boston or 5.5 hours from JFK gets you into the capital, Reykjavik. Compare to other destination choices. This is very welcome if flying is not a favorite part of your travel plans.
This island country is a place of contrasts. The modern and busy capital city of Reykjavik (incidentally the northernmost sovereign capital in the world) belies the fact that the country is largely unpopulated with very few people per square mile. You do not have to venture far from the city to be hiking, biking or pony trekking
in wide-open spaces. And because this small country is surrounded by the ocean, whale watching and puffin tours are a must.
Perhaps there is no more bigger contrast than between the huge, icy glaciers (largest in Europe) and the volcanos which gives Iceland its title of “Land of Fire and Ice”. The volcanos are quite active, with lava formations, geysers and geothermal pools a common sight. Because of this natural source of heat for homes and industry, the air is largely unpolluted. Sun sets and the Northern Lights are amazing in the clear atmosphere. Being so far north however, the sun does not really set in summer and hardly rises at all in winter. The dark skies become a perfect playground for the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, from September to April. Iceland’s winters are fairly mild despite its northerly location; however, the early Fall seems to be the time most choose to visit with this attraction – and the weather – in mind.
Here’s a few other sights or places you must not miss:
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa – World famous attraction purported to have healing minerals, this geothermally heated man-made pool is located in Grindavik near the capital. The water, changed every two days, is super heated to about 102 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a fee to use the spa, book ahead if you can, and note that it is also wheel chair accessible.
Thingvellir – UNESCO world heritage site, home to the world’s oldest parliament (the Althingi) which first met in 930 A, is a national park with historic ruins.
Hallgrimskirkja – This is a Lutheran church with a difference. Architecturally-designed and with a tower rising high into the sky above the city, it is probably the most dominant feature of the Reykjavik skyline. Guðjón Samúelsson created this structure to mirror Iceland’s landscape where molten lava forms columns of basalt rock upon cooling. Its pipe organ, to complement the church, is massive. There is an entry fee to tour the tower but gasping at the view of this amazing structure is free.
þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng – There are many museums in Iceland from celebrating the herring fishery to rock and roll to witchcraft, but what would be a visit to this country if one did not experience its Viking heritage? This museum features a re-constructed farmstead from the time of the Vikings including a long house and two other out buildings. Farming too tame? If you want to board a replica Viking long ship from the ninth century, you must visit the Viking World Museum.
What is the best way to see Iceland on your vacation? There are many options from cruising to guided land tours to custom itineraries. You can visit Iceland as part of an overall northern Europe itinerary on many major cruises lines, or opt for a cruise around Iceland itself. Hurtigruten, for example, currently offers a 12-day itinerary which circumvents the island.
If cruising is not your preferred vacation choice, a guided tour with a tour group may be just what you wish for. With escorted trips to the island’s highlights, and information on tap with your guide, it makes your visit easy and detail-free. Or if you like more freedom and adventure, a custom itinerary is your third choice. With any of these options, the help of a travel professional is recommended to make your vacation stress-free. Iceland will provide the wonder and the memories.
Images courtesy of Bigstock & Pixabay, the breath-taking scenery courtesy of Iceland.