A few years ago, I decided to visit Iceland way before it was the tourist magnet it is today. As I was getting ready to board my Icelandair flight from Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris on the afternoon of a summer day, it suddenly got cold and started raining, and it dawned on me whether I made the right choice coming with such light clothes.
However, contrary to its name, Iceland is not that icy and temperatures in the capital, Reykjavik, in the middle of the winter are equal to or sometimes even warmer than the temperature in New York for instance. And despite being a vast country with an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), it is inhabited by only 332,529 people, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe.
Iceland is a gorgeous country – I often have an internal conflict deciding which country I like the most, Georgia or Iceland. I spent around two weeks touring almost the entire country on the Ring Road, an 800 mile route that takes you around the country and covering almost everything that is worth seeing. Depending on how many stops you’ll make (and you will make plenty, believe me!) it could take between 7-10 days to get a good feel of what this beautiful country has to offer. I have heard of people who even spent a month and were not bored.
Who would enjoy Iceland? If you love nature in its rawest form, if you are an adventurer, if you are a bird watcher, if you like ice caves and lagoons, volcanos, hiking, waterfalls, glaciers, or the aurora borealis you would love Iceland.
Speaking of the aurora borealis, I unfortunately missed it since it wasn’t the season but at least now I have a pretty good excuse to go back! And although it has been a few years since I visited, I still remember the fresh air I was able to take in, which is not a surprise considering that Iceland runs almost entirely on renewable energy.
Without further ado, here are some reasons why I think every (adventure) traveler should visit Iceland at least once:
As usual, you can see pictures of Iceland and my other trips around the world on Instagram (@gmr83).
- Waterfalls: There are probably more waterfalls in Iceland than there are people! And almost all of them are pretty accessible right off the road. Guide to Iceland has a great list of the top 10 waterfalls.
- Geothermal springs: Iceland is the land of fire, ice, and water. The combination of all three along with Iceland’s unique geographic location means that there are lots of volcanoes, geysers, and hot water springs. Imagine the weather being 0-15 degrees Celsius outside while you are soaking in a water of about 40 degrees Celsius. You have probably heard of the Blue Lagoon, which is perhaps the most well known of these hot springs and the most commercialized, but there are many others that you could stop at and mingle with fellow travellers and locals.
- Jökulsárlón: You haven’t seen anything until you have seen Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. This is one of the most beautiful scenes I have set my eyes on. The serenity and majesty of this place simply compel you to not say a word as you just sit and stare in amazement. The best part is that you can also go on a boat ride in between the large chunks of ice covering the lake.
- Aurora Borealis: Or the Northern Lights are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The best months to see this beautiful phenomenon is September to mid-April, and you do not have to be that far off from the cities to see it. A few weeks ago, the city of Reykjavik turned off street lights and encouraged people to turn off the lights at their homes so that everyone could watch the northern lights.
- Unscheduled detours: As I mentioned below, you will probably travel through the Ring Road when visiting Iceland, however, you will always come across delightful secrets that lure you into making an unscheduled stop. Pictured below is Seljavallalaug (now try saying it three times real quick!), one of Iceland’s best kept secrets, and is filled with hot spring water which trickles down from Eyjafjallajökull (again, say it three times real quick!), which consists of a volcano completely covered by an ice cap.
- Bird watching: Iceland is home to a large diversity of beautiful birds, including the Arctic Tern, eiders, waders, and passerine birds, as well as seabirds such as the Guillemot, Razorbill, and probably the cutest of them all — the Atlantic Puffin.
- Horses: Icelandic horses are gorgeous and are probably the happiest in the world, and once you see the country, you will understand why! Unlike other horse breeds, Icelandic horses boast two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop. To protect its horses from diseases, Iceland has a ban on the import of horses, and once a horse leaves the country, it is not allowed back in.
- Geysers: The English word geyser actually comes from the Icelandic word “Geysir” which in turn is derived from the Icelandic verb geysa, “to gush”. The area of Geysir in Iceland lies in the Haukadalur valley on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, which is also the home to Strokkur geyser about 50 metres south.
- Whale watching: I am not best friends with open water nor am I a good swimmer so you could understand my reluctance to join a whale watching tour. However, the thought of getting so close to one of these majestic giants made the bumpy boat ride and the sight of multiple people throwing up because of sea sickness worth it!
- Ice caves and glaciers: Europe’s largest glacier mass is found in the south of Iceland in an area called Vatnajokull. I haven’t been to this part but this is high up on my list when I come back. See other beautiful pictures in this Daily Mail report.
Have you been to Iceland? What was your favorite experience?