Iceland, unlike Greenland, is (by comparison) a temperate country with seasonal variations and ecological diversity. And while Nordic settlers have known the treasures and mysteries of this island since about 800 AD, it seems that America is just now catching on to its impressive and expansive offerings. As Iceland sneaks into popular culture, it won’t be long before American tourists flock in droves to experience it first-hand. Already, there are vacation packages modeled after scenes from Game of Thrones and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. There are t-shirts at every touristy shop in Iceland that say, “Lost in Iceland.” Well, my suggestion? Get lost there now, before EVERYONE else is lost there, too.
While browsing the magazine section of my local Wegman’s, I saw a familiar image on a glossy cover of Life Magazine. “Around The World in 80 Places” boasted big letters over a tumbling waterfall amid improbable mounds of moss rising against the logic of gravity. I didn’t even need to read the description. It was Seljalandsfoss in southern Iceland, a place I know well.
Before long, Iceland won’t be a unique and quirky place to visit. Everyone, soon enough, will understand why Iceland is an excellent vacation destination.
You know when you’re about to go on a trip, and someone might ask you, “Where are you going?” to be polite?
And you might say, “Florida,” or “The Bahamas,” or “Rome,” or whatever.
And the person will say back to you, “Oh, that sounds nice!”
Well, whenever people asked me that question and I said, “Iceland,” nine times out of ten, their response back would be, “Why Iceland?”
Or, they would say, “Iceland? What’s there?”
Well, really, a whole lot of nothing. The population of Iceland is only about 300, 000. It’s basically void of humans outside the cities and small towns flecking the Ring Road. Most everyone lives in the one major city Reykjavik, which is beautiful and entertaining, but it’s not like Paris or Florence. You wouldn’t want to just hit Reykjavik and call it a trip.
The real reason someone visits Iceland is for everything else surrounding Reykjavik–and that vastness is difficult to summarize.
I would usually just say, “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.” And that’s the truth.
I first became interested in Iceland after hearing about a band called Sigur Ros. Since then, the band has grown in indie hipster popularity. Their music was even featured on an episode of Game of Thrones (their version of the song The Rains of Castamere played at Joffrey’s wedding.)
I don’t know why, but highschool-me became fascinated with the country and its incredible scenery and history. I mean, elves play a huge role in Icelander cultural identity. Elves.
How can anyone summarize the beautiful complexity of the Icelandic landscape? From the majesty of the misty peaks and steaming geothermal streams to the ragged sea cliffs and wind-grappling puffins. And don’t forget the eerie absence of trees and noise amid moss-cloaked ancient lava fields.
For good reason, many scenes from Game of Thrones are filmed in Iceland:
The gate to the Vale of Arryn was filmed at Þingvellir National Park.
I was THERE.
And perhaps more aligned with the misconception that Iceland is a shivering iceberg in the North Atlantic, scenes “beyond the wall” are shot mostly in northern parts of the country.
Soon enough, people will not be asking “Why Iceland?” But rather, asking themselves, “When am I going?”
Compared to other European countries, the Icelandic króna is relatively equal to the American dollar. The current exchange rate, according to Google, is 1 Icelandic Króna = 0.0089 US Dollar. And prices for goods and services are similar to what we’re used to in America. Obviously, you’re going to pay more for fancy hotels than a quaint farm stay. And highbrow restaurants will be more pricey than buying a hotdog at a little cafe. That’s when travel research based on budgetary constraints becomes essential.
EATING IN ICELAND
What do two twenty-somethings tr aveling in a camper van on a tight budget in Iceland do for food? I will gladly tell you:
A lot of chocolate.
Other typical Icelandic meals:
Double cheeseburger with bacon from Prikið in Reykjavik
Waffles with whipped cream and rhubarb preserves from Tjöruhúsið in the Westfjords
Icelandic pancake and cod stew
Lamb shank and potatoes
Cranberry pie with whipped cream
(P.S. All the chips and French fries are paprika flavored, so get used to that taste being in your mouth.)
Beat the cold and the dreariness of the rain by hitting the local pools and absorbing the geothermal heat from the comfort of a tiled hot tub. Definitely a must-do at least once on any trip to Iceland, even if you’re staying at hotels. Better yet, take a dip in a natural hot spring. Hveragerði‘s famous geothermal streams are easily accessible from a well-marked trailhead. After about an hour (3 kilometers) of mucky bogs and sloping hills, the payoff is the rushing threads of geothermal waters mixing with spring fed streams, creating the perfect bathing temperature. Although, we didn’t get too clean.
Iceland really is an incredible place where your childhood imagination can be relived. Walking through Iceland’s surreal landscape is like walking into a completely different and fantastical world. It is truly a place all its own and gaining recognition for this at an ever-hastening pace. Friendly locals, happy sheep, and hidden treasures await anyone willing to discover them in this seemingly endless country.