See that picture? That’s Bey and Jay — unofficial rulers of Planet Earth — sipping something fancy, while standing in the shadow of their helicopter in Iceland. Having America’s royal family spend their holidays in the snowy Northern hemisphere nation, only proved the travel reality we’ve been coming to grips with all year long. Iceland is THE travel destination of the moment, and guess what? It’s actually not that far away.
For those of us in the 99% our Iceland excursion might not be all heli rides and bubbly, but if we save our pennies, and opt for hostels the world is open for exploration. And spoiler alert: All those Reykjavik pix people are posting on their social media may look insanely gorgeous but they’re only about a fraction as gorgeous as Iceland is IRL.
So what is it about this frozen island, with an inhospitable climate and a more infamous than lauded culinary culture, that makes everyone so eager to visit (including the musical leaders of the free world)? I have an idea, or rather, I have 12 of them. Let’s get bucket listing.
Hot springs are gorgeous and relaxing
Outside of the capital city of Reykjavik is the Blue Lagoon, famous with tourists for its natural geothermal baths. If you’re looking for gorgeousness on a basically unimaginable level AND a spa day, you really can’t do much better. If however, spa days sound like a snooze and you prefer an adventure, you could always brave the nation’s interior and take a quick swim in Viti Lake, a volcanic crater only open to tourism during the summer months.
Iceland might as well be synonymous with volcanoes, both active and inactive. Remember in 2010 when a volcanic episode interrupted flights and disrupted people’s daily lives when it spewed ash all over Europe? That was Eyjafjallajökull and what we saw was pretty much child’s play compared to what else goes on in Iceland on a fairly regular basis. But fire and fear aside, not all volcanos in Iceland are in danger of erupting and volcanoes like Maelifell and Hekla — while still active — are popular with tourists for hiking.
Ice caves that look like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude
Found within the Vatnajökull National Park are the Skaftafell Ice Caves, which look like they were made out of blown glass instead of frozen water. Rather than being dark, the caves are known for their light and otherworldly beauty. Sign us up, please!
Aurora Borealis. Need I say more?
From September to April every year, the lights of the Northern hemisphere bend and fold into curtains of color. This natural phenomenon, known as the Aurora Borealis, is the result of charged particles of sunlight striking the Earth’s atmosphere. While we don’t know everything about the occurrence of aurorae, we do know one thing for sure: you won’t see this in your average American city. Science just won’t allow it.
Modern architecture like you’ve never seen.
There is the Glaumbaer (above!), which looks like the cousin of a Hobbit-dream home; the Hallgrímskirkja, one of the most impressive churches you may ever see; the Blönduóskirkja, which is structured to look like a volcano; and the dome-shaped Perlan in Reykjavik. Tip of the iceberg, friends.
Pönnukökur a.k.a Icelandic crepes
Rumor has it these thin pancakes are served with rhubarb jam. How can that be anything other than perfect?!
It’s not yogurt, it’s Skyr.
Possibly one of the most famous bits of Icelandic cuisine (except, maybe for the infamous fermented shark, hakarl), skyr is a slightly sour dairy dish, served with warm milk and sugar.
For those with a penchant for black licorice, there’s Brennivín
Before you take a sip, be warned this alcoholic indulgence is commonly called the Black Death.
Kolaportið, Iceland’s biggest flea market
If you like exploring every corner of the world for obscure bric-a-brac and unique trinkets, Kolaportio is here to fulfill all your wishes. But what really draws the crowd are the food stalls, so come hungry for hot dogs and sandwiches (it’s a thing!).
Iceland Airwaves, perfect for the inner-hipster in us all.
Boasting indie international acts as well as lesser-known Icelandic names, Iceland Airwaves is the country’s biggest music festival. This next year, Hozier, Rachel Sermanni, The Flaming Lips, Kelela, Shura, Soley and so many others will be playing throughout the four-day-long November show.
For those of us who are a a little more bookish: Medieval manuscripts!
The Cultural House in Reykjavik has a permanent exhibition on Norse sagas, as well as information about book binding and literature within Iceland. This is pretty much what bibliophiles dream about.
And finally, Breidavik.
Look at this beach. Seriously. Look. Why aren’t
you we getting on a plane right now?
If a typical Euro trip or an American road trip isn’t what you’re looking to do with all those hard-earned, saved-up dollars, hopefully this presentation on the home of Bjork, puffins, and Vikings has tickled your fancy. Your trip might not be Bey and Jay levels of posh, but it will definitely be gorgeous and tastey and fun and adventurous and great. We approve.