If there was an 'it' girl of travel destinations, Iceland would be this year's Regina George. The country is home to some of the world's most incredible landscapes and natural wonders - leaving you wondering how you're going to see and do everything in the time you have. If you're a first time visitor, there are a few things in Iceland you won't want to miss:
1. THE BLUE LAGOON
It’s touristy. There’s no denying that. But the Blue Lagoon is a truly interesting experience. If you’ve never bathed in a geothermal spring before why not take your inaugural dip at one of the most famous baths on earth? The Tiffany’s-esque colored water warms up next to incredible lava rock formations, giving way to the perfect landscape. Even better in the winter when the warm glowing spring plays contrast to the misty rain or falling snow. Your Instagram feed will thank you.
The closest thing the island has to a cosmopolitan center, Reykjavík is the perfect place to start your trip and introduce yourself to the country. It is accessible from both the international and domestic airports, and caters heavily to tourism – in Reykjavík you’ll find all major tour companies, rental car dealers, and accommodation options. The capital is also home to a surprising and random assortment of international fare – with everything from Vietnamese pho, Thai noodle soup, American burgers, and traditional Icelandic grub. Needless to say that you won’t go hungry (though you might burn in a hole in your pocket in the process)!
Love ‘behind the scenes’ experiences? Then you can’t miss a visit to the magnificent Seljalandsfoss. As you reach the site driving down Route 1, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the waterfall. You can then walk up to it from the front before following the path along the side, right up next to it, and then directly behind it. The roar of the water and the mist on your face will wake you up and make you feel alive!
4. GO GLACIER HIKING
Glaciers and icecaps cover more than 11% of Iceland's land area. The largest of these is Vatnajökull, which has nearly 30 smaller outlet glaciers that flow from it, including Sólheimajökull. Here you can take guided hikes to explore the surface of the glacier. If you’ve never been glacier hiking – add it to your bucket list! Hiking above it or inside one of its crevices, where you can awe at the oxygen-deprived blue ice, it will undoubtedly be one of the best experiences in Iceland.
Imagine yourself in a scene of The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. In front of you are mountains reaching for the sky, covered in patches of fresh grass; at the tips of your toes is an amazing canyon ridge high above a beautiful river carving its way through the landscape like a sword through flesh. Welcome to Fjaðrárgljúfur. Located in southeast Iceland off the Ring Road, the massive canyon is a site you won’t want to miss. You can explore the canyon from both above and below – hiking to the end from either route brings you face-to-face with the beautiful waterfall of the namesake river. Alternatively you can channel your inner Justin Bieber take the risk of running along the exposed ridges. For the best pictures, go early morning, at sunset or on a cloudy/slightly-overcast day – that gives you the best lighting.
6. DRIVE THE SOUTHERN COAST
Some of Iceland’s greatest sights, including the three listed above, are located in the country’s southern region. All are easily accessible from the Ring Road, giving way to perfect pit stops for a road trip along the southern coast. Start in Reykjavík and take Route 1 as far east as you like.
7. HIKE TO THE ABANDONED PLANE WRECK
On Saturday November 21, 1973, a United States Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane was forced to land on one of Iceland’s southern beaches. Luckily everyone survived. More than 40 years later the plane – laying in the middle of a rocky black sand cliff – is still there and now plays host to those seeking to explore the wreckage. The scene, which can be reached via a easy/flat 2km hike, feels a bit like you’re on the moon. The path to the wreckage is right off of Route 1 but isn’t marked (though you’ll likely see the group of cars pulled over); to find your way use these directions.
8. SNORKELING BETWEEN TWO TECTONIC PLATES
Iceland straddles two tectonic plates - the American and the Eurasian. At Thingvellir National Park you can see the plates on display; though you likely won’t be able to notice the plates actually moving (they move away from each other at a rate of a few centimeters per year). The space between plates extends far beneath the surface, creating fissures in the landscape that get filled with glacier water. From above it may not look like much (something familiar to the wide open plains you see in Game of Thrones) but underneath the water’s surface is a snorkeling paradise with up to 100 feet of visibility. It is the epitome of a diamond in the rough.
9. CAMP ALONGSIDE A WATERFALL
Imagine waking up and having breakfast next to Iceland’s amazing waterfalls. Seem like a dream? Well it’s not. Right next to most of Iceland’s accessible waterfalls are fields and facilities dedicated specifically to campers. Pitch your tent and set up shop next to the likes of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss for far less (if anything at all) than what you’d expect to pay at a hotel with the equivalent real estate.