Iceland has begun opening the doors once again for tourism. All that pent up demand for travel will make this country a perfect beginning to an almost post-pandemic life. Ok, we’re probably in this for the long haul, but consider how much safer it is in beautiful outdoor surroundings amongst a sparse population.
You will be flying into Reykjavik, a thoroughly modern city, with great hotels with splendid breakfast bars. Not surprisingly, the restaurants know how to serve up the fresh local trout and salmon. The food here is top notch. Inexplicably, the grocery store shelves are lined with Pringles containers. Go figure. I was briefly taken back by the frozen food section, which was not in a freezer case, but in a dedicated room.
Chances are, seeing the Northern Lights will be your primary reason to visit Iceland. The September through March winter sky is the best time to view the extraordinary light show, seeing as there is no night sky in summer! So be prepared, pack layers of long underwear to survive the ridiculously freezing temps.
When booking a (heated!) tour bus to see the Northern Lights, make sure you get a guaranteed second trip in case there’s nothing visible the first time out. The bus operators communicate with each other to find the best viewing spot. The down side is you’ll be in a parking lot full of buses, roaring engines, and people lighting up the night sky with their cell phones. Helpful hint, walk over to the side, better yet, pack a seat cushion if you want to sit down, as it could be a long wait. That rock you’ve found is probably a giant ice cube.
Shake off last nights cold with a pilgrimage to the famous Blue Lagoon. Do not confuse this natural wonder with the dreaded 1980 Blue Lagoon film that Brook Shields won a never-coveted Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress.
Blue Lagoon, the real, magnificent natural hot spring is a must see. Walk into the warm waters and wade up to the bar for a handful of white silica mud, proven to have healing effects on skin. Go all out, slather your body, yes, your face too, with the mud, then float about looking as ghostly as everyone else. An extraordinary, unforgettable spa experience. Note to self… next time bring a waterproof selfie-stick.
If all this talk of cold doesn’t suit you, there’s plenty of reasons to visit in summer.
Rent a car or take one of the Golden Circle tours. Set aside a day to visit the breathtaking sights, most notably the Gullfoss waterfall, and the tectonic rift at Thingvellir National Park. Make sure to stop along the road to get up close to the friendly Icelander horses, which look like miniature horses with beautiful long manes. Between destinations you will pass miles of unspoiled wilderness and red roofed buildings peeking up from the snow, (or green fields).
Impress your friends, or rock trivia night with some Iceland facts.
- Thingvellir has the oldest functioning parliament in the world.
- The country produces its own sustainable energy, via natural steam and geothermal waters.
- Major Viking history.
- Volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, black sand beaches, and steaming lava fields.
- Every year March 1st “Beer Day” is celebrated, commemorating the 1989 (!) repeal of the 74-year beer ban.
- 11% of Iceland is covered by glaciers, three times the size of Rhode Island.
- One in 10 Icelanders will publish a book. (that explains all the thoughtful poem graffiti)
- The national sport is handball.
- Iceland was the last place on earth settled by humans.
- Many Icelanders believe in elves and trolls.
Bonus Reykjavik Wonder: the Icelandic Phallological Museum. (yep, exactly what you think)
Clearly, if you’re going to book only one trip, Iceland ticks off a lot of boxes.
Time to go back home, sad face. You’ve been so good the entire trip not spending up your tourist dollars on gifts. Who wants to lug that stuff around anyway. Still, you might have regrets about passing up that beautiful reindeer skin rug, or the fur hat, or the amazing sheepskin coat. Rejoice, as the Reykjavik airport has everything you coveted, prepared for carry-on or shipping.