Tell someone that you are going to Iceland, and you will hear they know someone who just got back. The self-sufficient island is in the middle of a tourist boom, and it’s no wonder considering how many incredible sites can be visited in a short time period.
Getting there is easy and convenient. Icelandair has had a stopover fare for years: Fly from several U.S. airports to Europe, and enjoy an extended layover in Iceland for up to 10 days. Flights from New York are less than six hours.
The hometown of songstress Björk, Reykjavík is 45 minutes away from Keflavík International Airport. Drive through flat lava fields and climb a small hill to arrive in this quaint seaside city. One of the cleanest capital cities, Reykjavík means “Smoky Bay.” The rising steam was the first thing that the city founder Ingolfur Arnarson noticed when he spotted the thermal hot springs in the ninth century. The steam heats the entire city; in fact, the island benefits from indigenous renewable energy sources.
Completely self-sufficient, Icelanders enjoy inexpensive energy, natural spring water available for drinking, and free education and health care. Visitors are surprised that the main delicacy in Iceland is beef. This is because all animals on the island must live indoors during chilly winter seasons. Delicious fresh seafood is abundant, including hardfiskur (typical dried fish), plaice and even whale. Try the chef’s tasting menu at Apotek or mingle with the locals at Snaps Bistro.
Many go to Iceland to see the aurora borealis; the best time of the year to see the Northern Lights is between October and April. The most luxurious way to see the lights is from the privacy of your own transparent bubble. The Northern Lights can be viewed certain times of the year all the way from London, but they can be seen by boat in Reykjavík. Don a warm set of coveralls and sip wine while attempting to see the famous lights and learn more about the island’s history. After the boat tour, don’t miss the famed trivia night at the Sæta Svínið gastropub on Sundays or a cocktail at Lebowski Bar. Visitors can select from a menu of 20 varieties of White Russians. (Don’t miss the Cocoa Puff White Russian.)
A great introduction to the many terrains of Iceland is the daylong Golden Circle tour. Look for a tour that operates in reverse to avoid large tour buses. The trip begins with a visit to the Secret Lagoon: Don your swimwear year-round and enjoy the hot thermal water. Set your eyes on Gullfoss — one of Europe’s largest waterfalls — and see an erupting geyser at Haukadalur before heading to Thingvellir. A sacred place to Icelanders, Thingvellir is the site of the first parliament. Additionally, this is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, offering visitors stunning views.
Start another day with fresh brewed coffee and a light bite at Reykjavík Roasters— you have a long day ahead. Superjeep offers a 13-hour tour in the privacy of a luxury vehicle, which is perfect for small groups. Let an experienced guide whisk you across the terrain, and explore the Skógafoss waterfall, see the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and hike to a glacier. The farthest part of the journey is worth the drive: the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and black sand Diamond Beach. The private guide lends flexibility, as well as the chance to detour to photograph a burly sheep or walk along a lava field.
Return from your daily tours to evenings exploring Reykjavik. Visit the famous Hallgrímskirkja, a cathedral with towering architecture set atop the entire city. Grab a warm drink at nearby carts or stroll along the harbor to explore multiple seafood offerings. A visit to Iceland is diverse: one sees incredible natural sites mixed with the charm of a quaint European city. You might even catch a sighting of the Northern Lights … or Björk.