With springtime upon us, we begin to conjure up images of endless powdery beaches, gently blowing island breezes, and tropical warmth. It’s the time for jumping waves on your jet ski or hanging ten on your surfboard. It’s about hunting for treasures along the beach and listening to squawking gulls as you munch on burgers and fries, relaxed in your favorite beach chair. That’s spring, all right, in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean or Mexico’s Yucatán. This season, however, opt for a fresh alternative to a sun-caressed getaway in the tropics – a wintry landscape in a mystical world of trolls and elfin magic, in Iceland.
The tiny nation has plenty of black-sand beaches, where Atlantic breakers roll in and lash at the coastline – the island breezes are a bit blustery and nip at the cheeks – but no one can say Iceland doesn’t have her share of luxurious warmth. Genuine heat, belched up from the fiery cauldron that simmers just beneath her surface, the same heat that gurgles and steams out of the earth as geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles, and fuels every Icelandic home for mere pennies. Instead of allowing harmful rays from the sun to bake you to perfection, you can broil to your heart’s content, for hours if you like, in the milky thermal waters of the world-famous Blue Lagoon. You won’t go back home with a golden tan, but you will have that healthy inner glow, compliments of a generous slathering of the lagoon’s nutrient-rich silica, included with the entrance fee.
As for hunting treasures along the beach…unless you’re seriously into lava rock and green, moss-like grass, you’ll be disappointed. In its place, Iceland offers “treasures” of a different sort – artsy sculptures, fabulous relics and antiquities from the days of Viking lore (housed in magnificent museums), but mostly, the simple splendor of an outstanding nature. There are an infinite number of waterfalls to explore, and an equally-impressive amount of volcanoes to investigate, whose lava flow has accounted for over one-third of the world’s output in the last 500 years.
For the adrenaline junkie, there’s snowmobiling and glacier trekking, even a chance to go dog-sledding. And for the party-lovers who want to imbibe their way to inebriated bliss, you’ve come to the right place. For years, Europe’s cosmopolitan crowds have taken weekend jaunts to this northernmost capital of the world, and unofficial party capital of the planet, Reykjavík. A couple shots of Brennivín, the island’s own concoction of schnapps, and you’ll be well on your way to full-scale intoxication. Last, but not least, for the child lover in all of us, you can embrace your inner Viking, right down to trying on the chain vestments of armor and wielding your sword at the Saga Museum at Perlan. You can always splurge for one of those cheesy gilded Viking helmets hawked in all the souvenir shops; ladies, be sure to ask for the version with the golden braids…in case you want to be a warrior princess too.
So, dig that oversized parka out of the closet and get ready for a springtime extravaganza in the land of those elusive Northern Lights. With flights from Icelandair leaving from U.S. and Canadian gateways stretching from Seattle to Boston and Toronto and Halifax, and the krona still at an all-time low, there’s no better time to head for the pulsating island capital of Reykjavík. Urban sprawl…not too much. Instead, they have quaint homes with multi-colored rooftops, cut at peculiar angles to divert the weight from the winter’s snow. At night, the shimmering of a thousand stars dance diamond-like across the sky. Searching for the Aurora Borealis. Wicked winds gust across the stark volcanic terrain of this modern, sophisticated city…a city of free-spirited citizenry, proud of their Viking past.
While you’re dallying in Iceland, be sure to:
1. Get a panoramic view of Reykjavík proper from the balcony overlook at Perlan.
2. Admire Hallgrimskírkja church and the statue of Leifur Eriksson by day.
3. Check out the glimmering lights and snowflakes sparkling across its façade at night.
4. Explore the plethora of relics housed at the National Museum of Iceland, glorifying 1200 swashbuckling years of history. Be sure to ask about why they slept ‘naked’ inside the turf houses.
5. Cruise amongst floating icebergs, milleniums old, on a glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón.
6. Be lucky enough to witness the power of Mother Nature at Eyjafjallajökull or check out the latest tourist attraction – volcano viewing, up close and personal.
7. Take the Golden Circle Tour; tramp through snowdrifts to the geyser Strokkur and wait for its timed eruptions.
8. Traverse the steps and walk along the ridge at the mighty waterfall Gulffoss, as its cascades churn beneath layers of ice.
9. Travel to Þingvellir, the site of Europe’s oldest Parliament, and view the no-man’s-land of Europe and North America’s tectonic plates cutting through the middle of the park.
10. Hop on a snowmobile and sail across Langjökull glacier.
11. Wish that it was summertime so you could ‘walk behind’ the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, made famous by The Amazing Race.
12. Stand on the black-sand beach at Vik and watch the waves batter the coastline.
13. Strap on a pair of crampons and set out on a trek across a glacier face at Mýrdalsjökull.
14. Pose for a Kodak moment in front of the gigantic Skogafoss waterfall.
15. Pet a fuzzy Icelandic pure breed horse free-roaming on the snow-covered range on your way back from Vik.
16. Drive out to the Reykjanes Peninsula to the bubbling mud pots of Seltún.
17. Hang out at Solfar, the Sun Voyager sculpture, and feel inspired enough to bring out your own ‘inner artist’
18. Admire a snowy landscape on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the inspiration for Jules Verne’s book, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
19. Look out across the ocean at the basalt cliffs at Arnaastapi; listen to the chattering kittiwake seagulls. Sorry, no adorable puffins this early in the year.
20. Keep your fingers crossed and maybe you’ll see those fleeting Northern Lights bathing the nighttime sky in hues of green and yellow or purple.
21. Just before your flight back home, soak till you shrivel like a prune at the Blue Lagoon.
Planning your trip to Iceland
Iceland is a great country for long-term travelers as it’s often cheap and easy to add a Reykjavik stop into your flight plans to or from Europe. Check out the following multi-stop trip on Indie that has Iceland as part of its itinerary. To customize and make your own, simply click on “Price this trip” on the map below, enter the destinations and dates of your trip, and click “search fares” to get a bookable price back within minutes.
For more articles and resources for planning your trip to Iceland, check out the following:
- Read The Stopover Secret and learn how to add Iceland to your flight itinerary for free!
- Reykjavik Indie Travel Guide
- 10 Reasons to Visit Iceland Now
- Catch a flight to Reykjavik
- Find a hostel in Iceland
Photo credits: Srikanth Jandhyala, Bernt Rostad, Daniel Williams, Wolfgang Sauber, Kenny Muir, Jedimentat44, Daniel2005, Chris73, Axel Kristinsson, philborg, Ben Husmann, Aconcagua, Christine zenino, Andreas Tille, Christian Bickel, chakalat