In the past couple of years, Iceland has become one of the most popular and sought after destinations on earth, and for good reason. This little island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean offers up gorgeous views, delicious food, unique outdoor activities, and fascinating culture. Whether you’re just stopping over on your way to another destination, or heading there to explore in-depth, make sure you complete these ten activities during your time there.
1. Examine the architecture in Reykjavik
For a small capital (population about 120,000) Reykjavik is one of the most architecturally interesting cities in the world. The towering Hallgrimskirkja Church built using cooled volcanic rock, the glittering Harpa concert hall, and the dome-shaped Pearl restaurant and museum should be on your must-see list.
2. Dive or snorkel in Silfra
Silfra is located in Thingvellir, a UNESCO-listed natural park, and is considered to be one of the world’s best diving and snorkeling sites due to its location between the North American and the Eurasian continental plates. It is the only site in the world where you can explore the fissure between two continents. In addition, the visibly is excellent thanks to the chilly, volcanically-filtered water. You probably won’t see any fish, but you will see plenty of colorful underwater plants. Make sure to sip the water, it’s delicious and refreshing.
3. Eat the world’s best hot dog
A lot of restaurants claim to serve the best this or the best that, but Bæjarins Beztu, a small hot dog stand in Reykjavik’s harbor might just make the best hot dog in the world. The stand has been churning out these delicious dogs since 1937 and has become a national institution. Even former president Bill Clinton ate there during his visit to Iceland! Make sure you order your dog(s) with the works: ketchup, sweet mustard, fried and raw onions, and remolaði, a mayonnaise sauce mixed with sweet relish.
4. Learn about their green energy
Thanks to its geography and forward thinking, Iceland has become one of the world’s leaders in green heating technology. Iceland is located over a rift in the North American and Eurasian continental plates and has a high concentration of volcanos. As a result, Icelanders heat their homes and water with geothermal energy from these sources. Geothermal energy is both affordable and renewable, making it an innovative solution to climate change. Learn more about the science behind geothermal heating with a tour of the Nesjavellir Power Station, which is just outside of Iceland.
5. Explore trolls and folklore
Believe it or not, most Icelanders believe in trolls, gnomes, and elves. There are even elf spotters who study potential building sites before construction so as to insure that the “native” population is not disturbed. Road construction and golf course projects have been modified in order to appease these supernatural creatures. These traditions owe their existence to Iceland’s former isolation from the rest of the world, which resulted in a delay of scientific reasoning in the country as compared to the rest of Europe, as well as their long, dark winters, which lead to a rich storytelling tradition.
6. Drive around and find a hidden waterfall
Some of the best experiences you can have in Iceland are those that are unplanned. With a country as diverse and beautiful as Iceland, the adventures will come to you. So, rent a car and start driving wherever the road takes you. On your way, you’re sure to find a rugged, breathtaking waterfall. Make sure to take a picture. It might be one of the best souvenirs you bring back from your trip.
7. Explore real Hobbit houses
In reality, J.R.R. Tolkien’s little creatures have no relation to Iceland, but looking at traditional Icelandic turf houses makes you think differently. These grass-roofed houses are scattered around the island and tell an interesting story of the country’s early inhabitants. In order to combat the harsh climate, turf was incorporated into the exterior framework and roof to provide insulation. This material also presented an advantage in that it was readily available, whereas other building materials, such as wood and stone, were much harder to obtain.
8. Snuggle with the adorable Icelandic horses
Icelandic horses are truly a unique breed. While sometimes no bigger than a pony, these horses are strong and can live until their 40s or 50s. This breed is closely protected. It only exists in Iceland and once an Icelandic horse leaves the island it can never come back, so as to prevent potential diseases from spreading. Due to their lack of natural predators, these horses are very calm and friendly. This is good news for visitors because it means you can easily go up to their pasture and say “Hello!”
9. Bathe in a hot spring
Thanks to its volcanic geography, Iceland hosts countless hot springs. These pools look like an enormous outdoor spa and the water is full of skin-perfecting minerals. Most complexes also have saunas and cold pools to complete the experience. The Blue Lagoon may be one of Iceland’s most famous tourist attractions, but it certainly isn’t the only place you can go for some relaxing spa time. Myvatn Nature Baths in the north give you the same experience without the business and the city of Reykjavik has municipal pools for a fraction of the cost. Put on your swimsuit and get ready to relax!
10. Be utterly amazed by the views
The biggest takeaway from Iceland is its beauty. Due to its remoteness and rugged terrain, you’ll often have the impression that you’re one with nature. No matter way you look, you’ll be sure to see a glacier, a mountain, or a waterfall that captivates you. Take some pictures, but then put away your camera. The beauty and magnificence of Iceland will stay with you.
Iceland, a unique and terrific country
If you’re looking for unprecedented experiences, whether culinary, cultural, or natural, Iceland is the place to visit. It’s a great place to stop for a long weekend if you’re traveling from North America to Europe thanks to Iceland Air’s free stopover program, but it’s an incredible destination in and of itself as well. However you plan your trip, you’re guaranteed to have an unprecedented getaway.
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