Upon boarding the plane and exchanging the usual brief pleasantries with my seat mate, we inquired about each other's respective travel destination. "Where are you heading?", she kindly asked. "Iceland," I replied. "Wow... Why?"
For some, Iceland is not the obvious vacation choice. Known as the "land of fire and ice" because of its numerous glaciers and volcanoes, I wanted to see and experience a natural landscape completely foreign to my own.
I was in search of stunning scenic beauty, great hikes, and a change of pace. Iceland exceeded every expectation. It is an amazingly beautiful place and reminds you how alive and spectacular our earth truly is.
Why Vacation In Iceland?
1. Scenic Beauty
With ice-capped volcanoes, hot springs, glaciers, coastal views with black sand beaches, lava fields, and towering waterfalls at every turn, our journey along the southern coastline was the road trip of a lifetime.
As you leave the charming and colorful town of Reykjavik driving east along the ring road, you leave behind the traffic and have an open road (and spectacular scenery) ahead of you.
Iceland itself is about the size of the state of New York but with about 19 million less people. The population of Iceland checks in around 337,000, and about 60% of those live in or near the capital city of Reykjavik. So once you get outside of the capital, you'll have plenty of elbow room to explore.
With almost 80% of the country uninhabited, it feels remote without feeling desolate. Along your way around the ring road, you'll encounter small villages offering basic amenities of food, gas, and lodging.
11% of Iceland's landmass is covered by glaciers. You can see these large glaciers from miles away, and you can walk to many of them or even hire a guide to walk on them.
Iceland's breathtaking scenery is largely due to the fact that it is one of the most volcanically active areas on earth. You will witness this activity first-hand as you experience a constantly changing geography of mountains, flat lands, fields of moss-covered lava rocks, steaming geothermal pools, and even geysers. It's your very own geological exhibition.
Perhaps my favorite sight in Iceland is the glacier lagoons filled with floating icebergs and swimming seals.
5. Ocean Views and Diamond Beaches
You can watch icebergs tumble in the surf while walking a black sand beach glittering with icy remnants of a nearby glacier. I've found nothing like this anywhere else I've traveled.
6. Amazing Hikes
You'll find no shortage of walks and hikes leading you even closer to Iceland's amazing natural wonders. You can walk 5-15 minutes or hike an epic 15 miler. Your choice.
As you proceed along the Ring Road, you will lose track of the sheer number of beautiful waterfalls cascading down the mountainous cliff faces. Many of these waterfalls are easily accessible, allowing visitors to walk above or even behind them. Throw in the occasional rainbow and it doesn't get much better.
The tap water is pure, and the air is clean. Though pricey, the food is simple but tasty-- expect fish, lamb, hearty soups, delicious bread, good beer, and the best yogurt you've ever had. We loved the fish soup at Kaffivaginn in Reykjavik, the fish and chips at the food truck near Skógar, and the beer from Brothers Brewery in Vestmannaeyjar (the Westman Islands).
9. It's Easy
You'll find most signage and menus in English, making language translation practically unnecessary. Which is a good thing, because the Icelandic language to an English speaker looks like someone created words by typing random letters on their keyboard.
Iceland is also super easy to navigate with one main road (Route 1, also known as the Ring Road) circling the island. I thought I might have difficulty as "it is just off the ring road" is a common direction given for places in Iceland. But they are not kidding, the ring road is the only major road outside of Reykyavik and you will not have problems finding your way.
10. No Jet Lag
The time difference between the east coast of the U.S. and Iceland during the spring and summer is a mere 4 hours. Adding to that, the sun essentially never sets during the summer, leaving you with plenty of daylight to acclimate and have fun. Close the blinds at night and fall in to bed after a day of exploring.
Bonus! Stopover with Iceland Air
Icelandair offers passengers the chance to enjoy a free stopover in Iceland if booked on one of its transatlantic flights. So if you are planning a trip to Europe anyway, you could take a few days (up to one week max) to explore Iceland on the way. It takes approximately five hours to fly from New York to Reykavík, and three hours from Reykavik to London.
Iceland was a trip of a lifetime. We only had the opportunity to explore Reykjavík and the southern coast, but I'd like to return one day to explore the entire island.