Travel to Iceland

Travel to Iceland

Glaciers, geysers, waterfalls, lava fields, ice caves, black beaches, thermal springs. This Nordic island nation is home to an embarrassment of natural riches.

Positioned in the North Atlantic between Greenland and Scandinavia, Iceland serves up plenty of grandeur on both the scenic and historical fronts. You’ll marvel at the sublime landforms of this geologically restless island, from otherworldly glacial lakes and sheer sea cliffs to steaming hot springs and moonscape lava fields. The capital of Reykjavík,the country’s main urban hub, is famous for its dramatic coastal setting and remarkably vibrant nightlife. Reykjavík’s museums, restaurants, and welcoming, fun-loving populace are their own great attractions, but you also have many celebrated landmarks around the island to check out. These include the dreamy Blue Lagoon resort (a steaming geothermal paradise), the icebergdotted Jökulsárlón lake, gargantuan waterfalls like Gullfoss and Dettifoss, and some of the world’s finest perches for viewing the Northern Lights.

Without a doubt, Iceland's geographic isolation has impacted its (very interesting!) culture, society and language. As its origins are Scandinavian (from the original Viking settlers), in many ways Iceland's culture still resembles those of other European, Nordic countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. That being said, don't be fooled into thinking they're identical; Iceland's Scandinavian background evolved into something downright unique.

Among Nordic countries, Iceland is renowned for its contributions to (and preservation of) Norse literature and mythology; its medieval sagas, some of which document the Viking discoveries of Greenland and 2Vinland, are particularly famed. Its language, Icelandic, descended from Old Norse and has some pretty interesting features. For example, most male last names contain the father's first name paired with "son," while most female last names contain the father's first name paired with "dottir." As a result, in one family – let's imagine an Icelandic family of four (mom, dad, boy, girl) – each member would have a different last name.

When visiting Iceland, you'll also find that many locals also speak Danish and English. The vast majority of Icelanders are Lutheran, and in general they have quite a sense of community. (And because they have historically been so isolated, there is even a dating app in Iceland to prevent you from dating anyone closely-related!)

Cultural sights to consider visiting in Iceland (there are many excellent ones) include the Reykjavik Art Museum, the Skogar Folk Museum and Thingvellir National Park. And after you've finished sightseeing, consider enjoying the hot springs, geothermal pools and saunas, all of which – along with swimming – are hugely popular with the locals.

While Iceland's traditional cuisine has historically centered around a "how on earth do we grow any veggies here?!" sort of existence, classic Icelandic dishes – which are heavy on fish, lamb and dairy products – are undergoing some modern twists by today's Icelandic chefs. The country has harnessed some of their outstanding geothermal energy and put it to good use building greenhouses to grow fruit and vegetables.

That being said, it is fun (and a cultural experience) to try some of the traditional fare. Expect to see smoked puffin, sheep heads, lamb and a terrific variety of seafood (including cured shark – which is usually served with Iceland's best known alcoholic beverage: Brennivin, a dry spirit similar to vodka).
The fascinating Nordic nation of Iceland is nothing if not remote. Located where the North Atlantic Ocean meets the Arctic Ocean and where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates intersect, isolated Iceland lies just south of the Arctic Circle. It is roughly the same size in area as the state of Virginia – but with 1/25 of its population. This means that Iceland, whose closest neighbor (Greenland) lies almost 200 miles away, is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. Most Icelanders reside along the country's coastal areas.

Its extraordinarily glittering landscapes are often described as forming part of "the land of fire and ice," and once you see its magnificent glaciers, lava fields, spectacular fjords, mountains, black sandy beaches, powerful geysers, immense waterfalls and dramatic rifts, you'll understand why. Its best attraction is undoubtedly its magical scenery, which has starred in many a feature film and television show (including the popular series Game of Thrones). Iceland's stark, dazzling beauty is surprising warm and inviting, largely because of its geothermal activity and the Gulf Stream. So whether you intend to relax in its naturally-heated pools, see the Northern Lights, ski, fish, golf, whale watch, ride horseback, mountain climb or snowboard – you won't run out of things to do in Iceland!

Top natural sights to visit in Iceland include the Blue Lagoon, Thingvellir National Park, the Golden Falls (Gullfoss), the Westfjords, Vatnajokull National Park and Snaefellsjokull National Park. It's also worth mentioning that Iceland makes for a very convenient stopover when traveling from North America to the British Isles or Continental Europe, and many travelers frequently pair three or four days in Reykjavik with stays in cities like London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo. However, if you intend to go beyond seeing Iceland's main attractions and wish to venture off to its more remote, spectacular areas, you should plan to stay longer.

Largest urban areas: Greater Reykjavik and Akureyri

Some of history's most interesting characters have hailed from Iceland (and no, we're not talking about Bjork). Leif Eriksson, the Viking adventurer who reputedly landed in North America long before Columbus encountered "the New World," was born in Iceland. Travelers wishing to delve headfirst into the Viking Age can travel to Eiriksstadir, located in West Iceland, to visit the farm of Lief's rather famous father, Erik the Red. The area houses an interesting Living Museum, which shows visitors what life was like for Iceland's Viking settlers, who traveled west from Norway over 1,000 years ago. The settlers often brought Celtic slaves with them – generally from Ireland and Scotland – a fact still reflected in the genetic traits of modern Iceland's population.

Other interesting historical attractions to visit in Iceland include the Commonwealth Farm in Pjorsardalur, the Settlement Center in Borgarnes, and the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik.

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