Had enough of beaches and lounging around this summer? Wanderlust kicking in and don’t mind stepping out of your comfort zone a bit? Fancy some road trips, national parks, hiking and snowmobiling? You must definitely consider going backpacking to Iceland! And no, it’s not a land covered in ice. In fact, it is more of a dramatic volcanic landscape of geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, glaciers, black-sand beaches and northern lights in a starry sky–throw in some geothermal-powered cities, national parks and some Viking museums for the geeks – and don’t even get me started on the eccentric, creative and fiercely independent Icelandic people!
While it is indeed a small dot in the Atlantic between Scandinavia and America, Iceland has built an impressive tourist industry from its abundant natural wonders. Even the financial collapse during the global economic crisis failed to hold back “the land of fire and ice” for long, and visitors pretty much seem to be flocking to its wilderness parks and dramatic landscapes all year round. So let’s read some more about this inspiring mix of magisterial glaciers, bubbling hot springs and rugged fjords.
What’s the brouhaha all about?
While volcanic tourism is huge there, so are the bubbling fumaroles, live lava flows and perhaps the world’s most reliable geyser at Geysir (can throw boiling waters up to 70 meters in the air!) And then there’s hiking under the Midnight Sun, the starkly beautiful wilderness of ice and thermal springs everywhere and of course, the iconic Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa with naturally steaming water surrounded by a landscape of tortured black lava. The Gullfoss waterfall (32 meters) is one of Iceland’s major attractions as well.
What to look out for?
The Jokulsarlon Vatnajokull National Park, the large glacial lake in southeast Iceland simply has to make it to your to-do list. You don’t want to miss a trek on a lava-field, gazing on a glacier or braving the snows in winter to glimpse the northern lights in their full glory either!
What about food cravings?
Iceland is known for its wide variety of unbelievably fresh fish available all year round and a classic would be the Saltfiskur (literally salt-fish), which is dried and salted of course, and has a history in Scandinavia of more than 500 years. With plenty of lamb, dairy and fish to experiment with, Hangikjöt (Smoked Lamb) usually served up with potatoes, béchamel sauce, red beets and green peas is a must-try, and so is the Skyr – which is a type of soft cheese, made from gelatinous milk curds. Don’t give the iconic Icelandic hot dog called Ein með öllu a miss either!
How do I get there?
Most people get their first taste of Iceland at Reykjavík, a seemingly small, yet vibrant city with its stylish bars, restaurants and shops, where the nightlife is every bit as wild as it could possibly get! It also makes a good base for visiting Geysir, the ancient parliament site of Þingvellir, the spectacular waterfalls at and the Blue Lagoon.
One of the most budget-friendly ways of visiting Iceland is not actually buying a flight but getting there through a stopover. Preferably when you’re already travelling between Europe and North America. And if possible, definitely try and squeeze in Iceland’s favourite hiking route into your list: the Laugavegur trail between magnificent hot-springs and lush green slopes.
Any other tips?
Iceland is known to get expensive. Especially if visiting on the tail-end of your savings. While cutting costs is indeed possible with Couch surfing and doing your research well, online bloggers and experienced travellers will tell you that visiting Iceland during winter has many advantages! Although you’ll trade the moss covered landscapes for snow and less hours of light, you’ll get epic sunsets, less crowds and (hopefully) the Northern Lights in return.
The northern lights are calling, folks!