I have never been to Iceland, but have always dreamed of going. Since my wanderlust began, I have often fantasized of the faraway land, and what it would be like to lounge in its turquoise blue hot springs after a long hike. In my spare time I found myself consumed by countless reminders, including ‘Buzzfeed’s 32 reasons why I should visit’. Unfortunately, the magnitude of Countries I’ve put on my travel radar have me struggling to decide which take priority. As a lover of backpacking I usually opt to tackle regions at a time, fitting in enough places to deem a longer trip necessary. However, following my move to London, in which I had to layover in Reykjavik, I decided to place Iceland high on my top places to visit in 2015, and have promised myself to explore the dream-like country sooner, rather than later.
Why the sudden urge? I mean, I only laid over for an hour in the capital. Well, allow me to explain. I have to credit a lot of this inspiration to the 3 friendly Americans who bought me a beer before our flight to Reykjavik. Had it not been for my thrifty, always take the deal mentality I would never have opted to take a connecting flight, but Cheap-o-air had an offer for a $400 layover so I naturally jumped on it. While I was at the gate in Pearson International I stumbled upon 2 friendly gentleman waiting on their friend, to embark on a week’s long tour of Iceland. Naturally, I was captivated by this Idea. I mean, most people opt for sunny skies, warm weather and sparkling white beaches for their New Year’s holiday, but these guys were heading to a place that only has 4 hours of Daylight in the winter time; a time that most of its locals call the winter depression. Nonetheless, they were ecstatic. This energy was fuelled by their excitement to see their third friend. You have GOT to meet Ritch, they said. Well soon after Ritch comes strolling around the corner with this massive grin from ear to ear. Turns out, he just got off his first flight at Toronto Island – which if you don’t know is a tiny airport in Toronto actually quite far from where he thought he was going to be. Now, most people would be venting and cursing about the ordeal the moment they finally reached their friends. Especially when it involved an apathetic flight attendant, a ferryboat over Lake Ontario, a rather expensive cab ride to the proper airfield, and the trouble of having to once again check in in an international airport. Not Ritch. He thought the whole thing was rather amusing. It reminded me of myself, in familiar situations where I totally get something wrong and just have to deal with it. He did so with positivity and grace.
After introducing himself I could see why his friends enjoyed his presence so much. He was off, and then back with a bunch of beers, in which he opted to open by cracking them off the beautiful ceramic counter tops. Not one beer broke, which suggested that it wasn’t his first time doing so. We quickly made friends, their benevolence reminded me why I love to travel, and I exchanged emails with them in the hopes that I would hear from them again. The safety reminder on IcelandAir was different than the usual. Instead of the boring repetitive ‘the exits are located’ video at the beginning of the flight, the Icelandic airline made a film that was part safety manual, part tourism commercial. It was absolutely brilliant. It had me giving my undivided attention to it. They had a couple jumping off a waterfall to demonstrate jumping off the plane down the slide into water. It was the first time I thought it might actually be fun (obviously this feeling didn’t last long).
The flight was quick, but in the short time I learned that the Country has recently been allocating resources to heavily promote tourism. It is actually VERY EASY, and very cheap to make a trip over to Iceland. What I didn’t know then was that anyone flying through via IcelandAir or Iceland Express could now extend their layover for up to a week – free of charge. Which means if you are ever flying over the Atlantic from North America to Europe or back a quick stop in Iceland would likely cost you less than a direct, and give you the freedom to check one more Country off your bucket list. And, since Iceland is still reeling from its 2008-11 financial crisis, it would cost you little to explore. Need I mention that beers are close to a dollar?
Oh, and let’s no forget about the huge musical talent that comes out of that that tiny Country: Sigur Ros, Of Monsters and Men, Olafur Arnalds, Bjork… Who doesn’t love a bit of good Icelandic folk music to calm the nerves after a long work day?
So, here are my top 7 reasons why I have put Iceland high on my travel radar this year, and why you should too!
- The Northern Lights (and the sky in general)
The easiest time to view the Northern Lights is obviously in the wintertime, where nights are long, and the sunsets around 4pm. Though this does seem somewhat depressing, I’m sure it makes way for an incredible nightlife. The natural light show is best seen between Feb-March and Oct-Nov with sightings up to several times per week, and since light pollution is less out there, its worth the trek.
- The Hiking
I find that hiking is best in the summer; the weather is warmer and its easier on foot. But the photos taken from Iceland in wintertime almost have me changing my mind. It’s both beautiful and unbelievable, and luckily there are jeep tours that run the Golden Circle in every season, so whatever the weather, you’re covered.
- The Geysers
A geyser, if you paid the same amount of attention in geography as I did (so none), is a vent in Earths surface that periodically ejects a column of hot water and steam. Thanks Wikipedia. Anyways, Iceland has a few of these, and though some are inactive Strokleur continues to erupt every 4-8 minutes, sometimes up to 40m high.
- Gulfoss and Iceland’s Other Waterfalls
Who doesn’t like a big fucking waterfall, why else do people fly across the world just to see the Niagara Falls? But this natural wonder of the world, reaching 105m high has a pretty interesting story behind it. Apparently the owner threatened to fling herself over the side pending speculation that a power plant was to be built. We’re glad they never did… For several reasons.
- The Beaches
Sparkling white sand is so overrated. There is something badass about black sand. Partly because it’s caused by volcanic sediment, and partly because it usually means there are some cool rock formations nearby. At least there has been in my experience. In southern Iceland, along the windy black sand beach, the Basalt Caves are something to marvel at.
- The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon on its own is enough reason to visit. It’s the mother of all thermal spas. The locals swear it has healing properties, and the white sand found at the bottom of the hot spring apparently does wonders for your skin. If you’re not a fan of crowds, that’s okay too, these pools are plentiful and there are local spots waiting to be explored.
- The Elf School
Hello. Lord of the Rings. The Icelandic Elf School, that’s right, elf school, with a curriculum, classrooms, textbooks, diplomas and on going research teaches about the different types of elves, fairies, dwarfs, hidden people, gnomes and the mountain spirits that inhabit the island. They’ve built elf houses in Icelandic Gardens, and even some tiny churches to try and convert the mystical creatures into Christianity. A large part of the population strongly believes in these teachings, and will tell you not to throw stones because of the possibility of hitting the huldufolk (the hidden people). I expect to be fully converted upon my departure. Did I mention that Game of Thrones beyond the wall is filmed in Iceland? I will go just about anywhere John Snow has gone. Boom Reason 8. If your still not convinced check this cheeky video out: