Mini Travel Guide: Iceland

Travel to Iceland tickle your fancy? This mini travel guide to Iceland is brought to you by Heather who is a half-Icelandic second generation Canadian who runs annual retreats in Iceland (because it’s AWESOME). This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which we dip our toes into international gallivanting. If this post gives you a mean case of wanderlust, check out my ebooks on long term travel and traveling on your own!

Mini travel guide to Iceland


Must go in Iceland

Thingvellir

This national park is so cool for so many reasons, not the least of which is that is was the seat of the Icelandic parliament from 930 AD until 1789. It’s located in the rift valley, which marks the convergence of the mid-Atlantic ridge and is marked by huge cracks or rifts – some of which are filled with water. It’s got a Lord of the Rings vibe and is full of history.

Landmannalaugar

The oh-so-often overlooked dramatic beauty of Iceland’s highlands is truly something to behold. You need to plan ahead as there’s not much infrastructure there ~ most people camp, but there are a few huts for rent in which to spend the night. It really is one of the most striking regions of Iceland, with hot springs, lunar-like landscapes, psychedelic hues, geysirs (it’s their word, and that’s how they spell it), and lava fields.

Jökulsárlón

It’s an otherworldly glacial lagoon (need I say more?). Seriously stunning, this lagoon is located at the base of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and feeds out into the ocean 1.5 kms away. As the glacier recedes, the lagoon grows larger and the icebergs that break off the glacier float around in the 18 sq km aquatic wonderland, providing both picturesque scenery and a resting place for the odd seal that swims in from the ocean. It’s even been a setting for scenes in some great action movies such as Die Another Day, Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins. Just go.

Must do in Iceland


Must do in Iceland

Geothermal hot springs

Yes, we’ve all heard of the Blue Lagoon…and it’s pretty cool, I won’t deny it. But if you want a real authentic experience, ask some locals in town how to get to some natural hot springs outside of the city where you can just rock up and jump in – clothes optional – surrounded by nothing but nature. They’re out there, all over the place.

Night hike

Splurge a wee bit on a night hike with a local tour operator. They are super fun, usually include snacks, wine, and great storytelling (which Icelanders are famous for) and hot spring lounging under the stars. You may get to see the Northern Lights if it’s early (or late) in the season.

See the Northern Lights

As per the point above, the Northern lights (or Aurora Borealis) are best seen between September and April, and best visible in the north of the country. They most often appear in green and white and look like fluorescence dancing across the sky. Just watch the sky on any crisp late night while visiting Iceland and cross your fingers. They’re free, and they’re spectacular.

Must eat while in Iceland

Must eat in Iceland

Skyr

An Icelandic yogurt made from straining skim milk (technically it is a soft cheese) that’s super high in protein and low in fat. It’s most often eaten topped with a bit of sugar and a dash of milk or cream to balance out the flavour. To. Die. For.

Rúgbrauð

An Icelandic rye bread, dark and dense, usually rather sweet, traditionally steamed in a geothermal spring (but these days done in the oven) and perfect when topped with butter and rullupylsa (lamb flank rolled in spices, brined, and cut super thin).

Pylsur

This is the Icelandic word for hot dog, and the Icelanders are nuts about them. They’re a great way to eat on a budget and taste like no other hot dog you’ll ever try. They’re usually made of lamb, topped with mustard, fried and raw onion, sometimes ketchup, and remolaði ~ a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. The toppings are what really set these babies apart. Yum. Grab one at the famous cart downtown.

Cultural tips for traveling in Iceland

Cultural tips for Traveling in Iceland

Stay with Icelanders

There’s nothing like staying in an Icelandic home to help you truly experience the warmth of the country. Icelanders are extremely hospitable and love sharing great stories and traditional food with visitors.

Talk to Icelanders!

Almost all Icelanders speak English fluently (except for the really old farmers out in rural areas) and are happy to chat with you. Chat everyone up! You’ll have much more fun and may even get invited to some awesome all-night parties out in the boonies.

Traveling cheap in Iceland

Travel on the cheap in Iceland

Since the crash of Iceland’s economy in 2008, Iceland has been MUCH cheaper to travel within than at any time in recent memory. That being said, it’s still not a budget travel destination and one of the more pricey considerations is lodging. Your best (and most fun) bet for staying on the cheap is to find a place through Air BnB. Look for somewhere that includes breakfast because then you get to eat traditional Icelandic food for brekkie at no extra cost. Score.

Have you ever been to Iceland?  Any tips to share?

photo credits: 1) jen robinson 2) brian tomilson 3) jayneandd 5) littleBstudio, print for sale here 6) Herd in Iceland, print for sale here

13 Comments

Jenny

I went the Iceland in March. It was so incredible. FYI, there's an annual convention for some game called EVE in Reykjavik in March-so when we went the town was full of nerdy men from all over the world-a plus in my book.

You MUST do a glacier hike. This was my favorite experience in Iceland. The glaciers are so beautiful and it's a special experience.

My favorite thing about Iceland culturally was their love affair with candy. Candy stores stay open until midnight, you can buy candy by the pound in most stores and on Saturdays, all candy everywhere in the entire country is half priced.

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Kim

Half priced candy? Holy cow!

There's an Icelandic woman who opened a hot dog stand near my parents home in Massachusetts. O m g. So good. It's probably the best hot dog I've ever had.

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KiwiMichelle

Oh man. It's times like this that living on a small island at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean is a real drag. So so SO want to go to Iceland!

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Theresa

"Your best (and most fun) bet for staying on the cheap is to find a place through Air BnB."

I actually think there's a better (and cheaper) option: CouchSurfing.org. (After all, what's more cheap than FREE?) That's right — you can stay with actual Icelanders for $0. It's all about the cultural exchange, baby. So get yourself a profile, do a search for some welcoming folks, and meet up with your new friends. You don't even have to stay with people to benefit from CouchSurfing: you can join the local city's group and do outings with locals and other travellers.

I can't speak highly enough about it.

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Melissa Wellham

Ahh! Iceland is very much at the top of my 'must travel to' list at the moment, and this has inspired crazy amounts of wanderlust in me. ^^

Thanks!

Melissa @ Melicious

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Freya

Yay Iceland!

My husband and I honeymooned in Iceland last spring. It was wonderful, and the people were so great! We had museums opened just for us. Definitely agree on the hot dogs, and I'm sad we didn't get to visit the glacial lake last time, but we definitely want to go again!

The East fjords were an incredible drive. Visit the Museum of Witchcraft if you're up there!

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Sian

Such a beautiful place. I spent Christmas there a few years back. Spending Christmas Day at the Blue Lagoon was a real treat! I'm hoping to go back for Airwaves Festival sometime soon.

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Heather

Woohoo! Love all the comments here, especially to see that so many of you have already been. It's soooo amazing! We're off on my annual Adventure Retreat there in T-minus 19 days. And Theresa – good point! Couchsurfing is an awesome option!

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Meredith

Heather, I want to plan a trip to Iceland with my boyfriend. Are you available to chat via email at all? I have a few little questions I'd love to have answered by someone who knows the place well.

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