When I told people I was going to Iceland this October, the most popular reaction was “oh, really? Isn’t it like, really cold there?” Before I had done some research, I probably would have thought the same. I had wanted to go to Iceland for a few years and no one had really shown an interest in going with me-so when 3 of my friends said they wanted to go as well, I booked it immediately!!! I knew it was going to be amazing, but I didn’t realize HOW AMAZING. After seeing it with my own two eyes, I feel like everyone needs to go and see how incredible this gem really is whether you want relaxation, adventure or to party.
1. You will come back with a new appreciation for planet earth.
We rented a car while we were in Iceland and decided that from Reykjavik (the main city AND most northern city in the world!!!) we would drive up toward “The Golden Circle” one day and drive down towards “Vik” (The incredible volcanic sand beach) another day. It was unbelievable to drive through the country and see all the casual waterfalls, glaciers, volcanic sand beaches and geysers just hanging out. To us, being from Ontario-driving down the road and seeing steam emerging from the ground was not a normal occurrence and seemed unreal. SO many times we would have to pull over just to stare at the scenery because it didn’t seem real. No picture I could take would do justice to what I was looking at. If you want to take a quick dip along your way, there is sure to be a geothermal spring available to jump into. If you feel like getting some exercise, strap on some crampons are climb one of the many glaciers. At one point I felt as though I was hiking through Jurassic Park and a dinosaur was going to come at me.
2. The nightlife is crazy
Needless to say, my trip wasn’t relaxing. After site seeing all day long, we didn’t want to miss out on the party! If you are looking for a unique place for a bachelor/bachelorette party-this is it! On the weekend, bars are open till 6am, and the main shopping street “Laugavegur” doesn’t calm down until sunrise (unless it is the summer, and there is 24 hour sunlight- so you head to the bar AND leave the bar wearing your sunglasses) The bars generally don’t have cover charges, which makes bar-hopping really popular. A lot of the bars are lined along the main street so you literally can walk out the door of one bar and into another. There also aren’t any real “clubs” here-mostly bars, and cafes that turn rowdy as the night goes on. On the weekend food trucks are set up along the street, making after bar food very easy to find! (You NEED to try an Icelandic hot dog while you are here!) Disclaimer: They like to pack people into these bars so if you are Claustrophobic, hate loud music OR generally don’t like other people this may not be your place. BUT if you like to let your hair down after a few cocktails you will be in your zone.
3. You will be able to do things you can’t do anywhere else
Where else can you say you spent your Saturday hiking a glacier? Well I am sure there ARE places, but Iceland is home to some of Europe’s best glaciers. We did a 3-hour trek through “Iceland Mountain Guides” and it was a once in a lifetime experience. We hiked through an ice cave they had just found a week earlier, since the glacier is always evolving and changing. It wasn’t all photo-opps though; we actually hiked pretty high up, dodging holes and steep cliffs.
Iceland is the only place where you can stand in the middle of two continents at one time. There is a place about 25 minutes from the Blue Lagoon where the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plate meet and you can walk in between or over top of the bridge. Live on the edge? You are also able to scuba dive in between and actually touch them at the same time.
The Blue Lagoon is one of the 20 wonders of the world and is something you need to see with your own two eyes. The milky blue water doesn’t seem real, and is surrounded by volcanic rocks. While you are in here, treat-yo-self with some of the clay facemask provided free of charge. It is said that coming in here adds 10 years onto your life. I think that made the trip to Iceland worthwhile in itself!
The Northern Lights- Yes, you are able to see the northern lights in other places but how cool would it be to see them in Iceland??? Escape the city and take one of the northern lights tours, where if you are lucky you will get a glimpse of the dancing colors through out the sky. There are even websites you can check that monitor the cloud coverage and chances of seeing the lights. On a clear night you may even get to see them from the city!
While you are driving along the ring road (the main road that circles the entire island) you will pass by A LOT of steam. This is the geysers’, and you MUST pull over! The biggest geyser (named-geyser!) explodes every few minutes, and it is amazing. There are other little bubbling geysers throughout the park as well as other geothermal pools. I literally felt like I was walking on another planet.
4. It is a photographers dream
I love to take photos, but I have NEVER been to a place with more photo opportunities then Iceland. Thankfully there are numerous car parks where you can pull over and get out so you don’t have to take your pictures out of the window. I could have pulled over every mile to take a picture of something new. There are waterfalls everywhere and you can get as close as you want. There are Icelandic sheep and horses just roaming around casually. There are mountains covered with snow, even when it isn’t winter. Even downtown Reykjavik is adorable with its colorful houses and buildings. Plan before you go and bring a portable charger so you don’t loose battery halfway through the day!
5. It’s a great stopover if you are travelling overseas
Believe it or not, from Toronto airport, the flight was under 5.5 hours. Generally Icelandair flights are over night and you will arrive early the next morning. Once you get to Iceland, other European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark are only a quick flight away, and can often be purchased super cheap! Why not book a layover on your way to Scandinavia? Rumor has it “Wow Air” –Iceland’s lower cost airline is starting to offer $100 one-way tickets from Toronto to Reykjavik next year, and if this is the case I will be back!
6. You are able to travel there with anyone and have a good time
One of the great things about Iceland is there is something for everyone. Going with friends? The nightlife is amazing. Going with your family? The site seeing is incomparable. Going with your sig other? The Icelandic scenery makes for some amazing photos to frame over the mantle. If you are an adventurer, there are countless hikes, waterfalls and rock formations to scale. If you want to get pampered, the Blue Lagoon will treat you well.
7. Reykjavik is the most adorable, colourful city
The colourful houses and building of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital is SO picture perfect you wont be able to put away your camera. The streets are covered with places to buy Icelandic sheep wool, traditional sweaters, Puffin and Viking paraphernalia and fur rugs. The downtown isn’t huge, so you might not need an entire week here- but the buildings reminded me of how I would picture Santa’s village! For the best city views, take the elevator ride up Hallgrimskirkja, the main church!
8. It is one of the safest places in the world
I’m not sure if its because Iceland is kind of secluded and up on its own in between North America and the UK but it is one of the safest places in the world to travel. Crime is extremely low here and the medical care is great. If you are a solo traveller there really isn’t much to be worried about, as long as you don’t go around flashing wads of cash and like, a new IPHONE or anything (Like anywhere you would go, of course!) The only thing to watch for is when driving, since the weather is always changing to be careful and drive with caution.
9. The weather changes every 5 minutes. Actually.
Before we left, I saw the weather forecast call for rain every day. That kind of puts a damper on a vacation, so I was little bummed. I read a lot of reviews saying the weather was always changing so I tried to take it with a grain of salt. I couldn’t believe it-the last day we were there we woke up to snow. The snow then turned to light rain, then to hail and then cleared up and got sunny. When it rained, it wouldn’t last for longer then 5 minutes and if you were driving through the country the weather would be changing as you go. In my photos within one day I was be wearing a winter jacket, then a sweater, then a tee shirt, then back to a jacket- make up your mind!!! It was pretty crazy, so when you go, always wear layers because there really is no way to predict the conditions! If you are planning to drive-I would highly suggest getting an SUV with snow tires to be safe.
10. There are organized tours for all the main attractions if you don’t want to rent a car
I absolutely LOVED having a car, so we could come and go at our own pace. In case you cant tell, I am super organized, so I knew exactly where to drive to-but you don’t need to book a car to enjoy all the sites. If you look online at sites like Viator you are able to book a tour to all the major waterfalls, glacier hikes, blue lagoon etc. There are Reykjavik site seeing tours so you can learn about the history of the main city or venture out into the countryside to see the best Iceland has to offer. There are hidden gems EVERYWHERE in Iceland, which is why having a car is great- but if you want a more relaxing trip, book a bus tour and sit, relax and take it all in!