Travel writer Laura Lippstone gave 12 reasons to visit Iceland in a recent article for the Huffington Post. Click here or continue reading to see what she thinks of the Land of Fire and Ice!
So we’re not that far into 2013 and you already need a vacation. If you’re racking your brains trying to figure out where, here’s another place to consider.
Iceland. You know, that smudge bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean between the U.S. and Europe?
Seriously. And I say that after having been there in the dead of winter.
As 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon might ask, Why would I want to go to there?
There’s much more to this tiny European island nation than Bjork. Of Monsters and Men. And that bank crisis.
Let’s clear up that weather myth right off the bat.
It may be even warmer than where you’re at right now. Even though Iceland’s almost at the top of the world near the Arctic Circle, winter temperatures are often warmer than, say, New York, London and Paris. In summer, the temp doesn’t get much beyond light sweater weather.
All in all, it’s decent weather to see all there is to see, and there’s a lot.
It’s got a world’s worth of dazzling and dangerous natural wonders, all in one country.
Iceland’s volcanoes are still very much alive. You may remember the chaos a few years back, when an angry volcano blew its top and the debris messed with European air travel for days.
You can get pretty close to that volcano and others, and see what it’s like to exist in their shadows.
With the volcanoes come waterfalls. Glaciers. Geysers. And drop-dead gorgeous coastline that looks like a cross between New England and Hawaii: rocky beaches with black velvet lava sand.
Right before your eyes, the country is changing, caught in a constant tug-of-war between the volcanoes and the ocean.
You can take a little stroll between continents.
There’s a national park that’s so full of history and natural attributes, it’s on the A-List of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Sort of like the Academy Awards for world attractions. You can walk around the spot where North America meets Europe. How cool is that?
You can swim outside every day, even in winter.
In Iceland, there’s a geothermal pool around every corner — another benevolent byproduct of all those angry volcanoes.
Geothermal pools are water heated by energy from the earth. Warm enough to comfortably swim in.
Most of the time, they’re outdoors. So are the so-called hot pots — Iceland’s version of Jacuzzis. It’s a good way to shoot the breeze with the locals. Not hard to do, since most speak English.
Which brings us to the Blue Lagoon: A tourist trap for folks who hate tourist traps.
If you don’t have time to look for a pool on your own, here’s a place that makes it easy: the Blue Lagoon. It’s right off a main highway near the airport. Which is why it’s a super-big tourist draw. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it.
Couple of things you need to know before you take the plunge into this geothermal pool that’s big enough to be a bathtub for the Jolly Green Giant: The good news is, you can rent a bathing suit. It’s one-size-fits-all, but it takes the hassle out of shopping for one. The bad news is, if you don’t like to get nekkid in front of strangers, it may not be for you. Everyone has to shower in a public locker room before getting into their suits. That’s because the water in the lagoon isn’t laced with tons of germ-killing chemicals.
If you can get past that, and the mad dash from the locker room to the lagoon before winter’s chill starts to steal the feeling in your feet…
Ah. A silky, warm, aquamarine blanket set on an other-worldly, lunar-esque landscape. Amazingly, despite the cutting winter wind, the water’s fine. The minerals supposedly give it that milky blue quality. Supposedly good for the skin, but bad for the hair.
The truth is, the lagoon’s not all natural. The hot water’s actually piped in from the next-door power plant.
Before you get all hot and bothered by that, the hot water did come from the ground. It was used by the plant to make heat and electricity. And then sent right over to the Blue Lagoon.
The Northern Lights
A natural light show that’s the result of a collision between sun and earth particles. It’s easier to see in winter because the nights are longer.
They still speak Viking in Iceland.
Well, kind of. The place was settled mostly by Nordic Vikings a long time ago. And Iceland’s modern-day language is basically the same.
The capital’s pretty cool.
Reykjavik, the capital, is the most-northern capital in the world. Because of its position on the planet, the sun never really sets in summer. This is a good thing if you like to party and hang out. And they do in Reykjavik. Coffee places are big, including one featuring desserts with volcano themes.
In the winter, the city looks like one big Christmas card. Plus, they celebrate Christmas for two days. And you really feel like you’re at the North Pole because the sun doesn’t come up until 11 in the morning. And we were told there are reindeer, though we didn’t see any.
Reykjavik is small — it’s got roughly the same amount of people as Little Rock, Arkansas. The locals are pretty approachable. But if you really feel like mingling — as in, being invited into homes and sharing a meal, you can. For a fairly reasonable price.
We had Christmas dinner courtesy of a site called Friend in Iceland. One of the friends of the friend is known as the Frank Sinatra of Iceland. (Check him out. He also sings“Mack the Knife” in Icelandic.).
It’s easier to get to than you might think. And you might get some of Europe in the bargain.
If you’re going from the U.S., Icelandair is pretty much the only way to go all year round. With some fares, it’s included as a stopover on the way to Europe at no extra charge. Delta also flies there in the summer.
Lodging’s expensive — but there are bargains to be had.
Finding a place to stay is expensive in the summer and around Christmas and New Year’s. Otherwise, there are winter bargains to be had.
Accommodation ranges from farms to hotels on the Reykjavik harbor to B&Bs. As I usually do, I rented an apartment from Airbnb, which I’ve now used in three countries.Here’s where we stayed.
One big IKEA showroom, which was fine with me. Great location for less than $100 a night. Plenty of hot water — again from the ground. Be advised: It smells like rotten eggs and temporarily washed the sparkle out of my David Yurman ring.
You might want to load up on bottled water. Just saying.
Tougher, but entirely possible, to see the sights in winter.
If you’re driving around in summer, no sweat. In winter, the roads can turn terrifying in an instant. Even with a four-wheel drive vehicle, might be better to leave the driving to a professional guide. We shelled out $400 for one day. It was worth it because we had a lot of ground to cover and not much time.
A day trip from Reykjavik easily includes the volcano that went berserk in 2010, waterfalls, geyers, the national park and the coast.
A good place to get cool winter gear
Every other shop in Reykjavik has sweaters and such. Check out 66 Degrees North, a local shop that’s outfitted avalanche and rescue teams. (66 North, by the way, refers to Iceland’s location.)
The food’s not terrible.
That’s if you don’t mind artery-clogging stuff like cheese, hot dogs and pastry. Being that it’s a seafaring place, the fish is good. But though they have whale-watching and horseback riding, they do eat whale and horse meat. To each his own.