Iceland Belongs On Every Bucket List

The Gullfoss waterfall

Be prepared for cold*. Be prepared for rain, sleet, snow and wind. Be prepared to be blown away (figuratively). Be prepared to be awed.

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral

Before we visited Iceland we were told several times that this place has a beautiful Summer but unfortunately nobody can be sure when that week will be. During our late May visit temperatures probably averaged in the high 20’s to low 40’s but with winds often gusting at 30 and 40 mph it really seemed much colder.

You have to ignore the weather and let this country just overwhelm you. Reykjavík is a beautiful, clean and an easy city to walk around in. The centerpiece of the city is the Hallgrimskirkja (the Presbyterian Cathedral) standing almost 245 feet tall in the middle of town it towers over Reykjavik. The spire is open to the public with breathtaking vistas taking in the whole city and surrounding countryside.

The Harpa Opera House

The Opera House, Harpa, stands at the edge of the Reykjavik Harbor and is Iceland‚Äės biggest concert hall suitable for a broad range of concerts and cultural events. The city is also home to the Imagine Peace Tower dedicated to John Lennon. It is a work of art conceived as a beacon to world peace by Yoko Ono. The work is designed in the form of a wishing well from which a powerful tower of light beams into the night sky.

Central Reykjavik

Eating in Reykjavik can be an exotic experience considering some of the popular foods of this country (roasted puffin, sheep cheeks) but one stand out item is the famous Icelandic hot dogs. The most famous location is the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (pylsur means hot dog) stand located downtown just two blocks toward the water from the park in front of the government building. Most people order them “all-the-way” which includes a crunchy onion based relish, ketchup, a remoulade sauce and sweet mustard on a steamed bun. We just followed the trail of people walking up the street eating hot dogs and found them worth searching for. It is worth noting that most hot dog stands have no seating indoor or out and the only option is to order at the window and eat while walking away. We were also told you can order your hot dog¬† Bill Clinton style which is with just mustard.

Take the time to visit Reykjavik’s many museums  which offer insight into this country’s fascinating Nordic History. Start with the  Saga Museum  for a look into how the Vikings fought and lived with displays of wax figures depicting scenes of the earliest settlers (circa 874 AD).  The National Museum displays more than 2,000 artifacts from the ninth century to the present.  For a different experience, live actors at the open-air Reykjavik City Museum -Arbaejarsafn offer scenes of how settlers lived in the old days in an open-air museum, and it traces the development of Reykjavik and Iceland from their beginnings to today.

Not far from Reykjavik there is a famous geothermal bathing lake known as the Blue Lagoon. The mineral-rich thermal waters are a perfect 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and the minerals and algae in the water are supposed to improve skin and even cure psoriasis. The Blue Lagoon is a great way to spend part of an Icelandic afternoon. 

To get the real impact of this remarkable land you need to get out into the country where you can experience the real wonder of this unique place. Driving across Iceland you are immediately struck by the stark beauty of its landscapes. Snow covered tundra backed up by rugged snow-capped mountains.

Iceland is geologically a unique place. The island is an active geothermal area and the Icelanders have been very successful at making use of this geothermal activity to generate electricity, heat their cities and warm greenhouses to grow produce. The island of Iceland is also actually growing bigger as the North American tectonic plate is pulling away from the Eurasian plate causing a rift valley of new exposed land. What is exposed is an opening between the two plates featuring a walkway where you can stroll along Earths newest real estate. Iceland’s √ěingvellir National Park is located on this exposed rift between the two plates where you can stroll along a walkway through the rift and Earths newest real estate.

Path thru the rift

One of the most popular trips you can take to see some of the countries most interesting sights is known as the Golden Circle tour. The three primary stops on this route are the √ěingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur with Strokkur erupting every 5‚Äď10 minutes.

Haukadalur geothermal area

The Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall

The highlight of most tours is the Gullfoss waterfall. An amazing multi-tiered waterfall dropping from the river and halfway down makes a hard right angle turn before falling again into the deep gorge. The landscape surrounds you with that typical Icelandic starkness cut in half by the energy of this amazing waterfall.

Eyjafj√∂r√įur fjord in North Iceland leading to Akureyri
A shopping street in Akureyri in northern Iceland

Two hundred miles northeast of Reykjavik is Akureyri, Icelands forth largest city and a popular home base for exploring Northern Iceland. Again the landscape is the major attraction with three more waterfalls within fifty miles of Akureyri. The incredible Dettifoss, Aldeyjarfoss and Go√įafoss Waterfalls.

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