Don’t let the name fool you. Despite being a Nordic nation, Iceland is anything but a winter wasteland. Better known as the land of fire and ice, this mountainous island is a haven for nature and adventure seekers as well as those not looking to make the long-haul flight to mainland Europe. Coupled with the fact that it consistently ranks first as the safest country on the planet, it is no wonder Iceland is one of world’s hottest destinations this year.
Less than a six hour flight from New York and about the size of Ohio, the entire country is home to a mere 330,000 people – most of which live in the capital city. As such, the rest of the island remains a pristine wonderland of rocky glaciers, dormant volcanoes, and roaring waterfalls.
Though the temperate weather allows for visitors year-round, summer is by far the best time to venture here as the midnight sun provides seemingly endless hours to sight-see and explore all the natural wonders. Of course winter does provide that coveted opportunity to see the northern lights…
The main gateway and capital city, Reykjavik lies along the coast and is notorious for its colorful streets and hip cultural scene. Throughout the summer various festivals are known to take place for those interested in music, art, and film. But whatever time of year you pick there'll be something going on - whether it's the Winter Lights Fest in February, the Blues Festival in March or Pride in August.
Grab a room at the quirky Hotel Borg or stylish 101 Hotel if you are looking to stay close to the action. The former is Art Deco style and serves exquisite Icelandic cuisine; the latter is a luxury design hotel with an amazing spa.
After a day or so in Reykjavik, it is time to move onward and upward. Just two hours north is the stunning Snaefellnes Peninsula. Though you may not be able to pronounce it, this should definitely make your must-see list. Its dramatic coastlines and stunning peaks were magical enough to make Jules Verne deem it the setting of his Journey to the Center of the Earth. If you have the chance, a stay at the historic country home, Hotel Budir, is well worth the time, as well as good value.
The most infamous part of Iceland is without a double the “Golden Circle”. This south central area is an array of national parks, glaciers, and geysers. Be sure to stop by Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the geologically active area adeptly named Geysir and powerful falls of Gullfoss. If you are looking to get a bit more hands-on, Super Jeep expeditions are readily available to transport you to some of the more inaccessible areas.
If you prefer a more traditional and homey feel, Hotel Grimsborgir is absolutely charming with only 10 rooms. The alternative, ION Luxury Adventure Hotel , features a more modern and trendy vibe along with breathtaking views courtesy of the floor to ceiling windows.
Not far south of the Golden Circle is the area dubbed as Southern Iceland. The main town is Hella and it services as fantastic base for any adventure activities ranging from dog sledding to caving and even scuba diving in the crystal clear water. If you are willing, some local tour operators even offer spelunking (caving) in a dormant volcano. By far the best accommodations lie at Hotel Ranga , a rustic log cabin style property that feels more like an exotic hunting lodge than a hotel.
Last but not least, for those adventurous souls, lies the northern and more remote area of Akureyri. Although it is the second largest city in Iceland, the surrounding area offers a fantastic opportunity to explore the wilderness view visitors have ventured into. Northern Iceland is particular known for its lakes created from collapsed volcanos and lava tubes. Nowadays you can swim in these natural baths all while keeping an eye out for the Northern Lights. Here you can relax at Hotel Kea which offers a modern Scandinavian design combined with some fantastic cuisine to refuel for the next day’s adventures.
And as touristy as it may sound, be sure to carve out some time for the Blue Lagoon. Its milky blue mineral waters are thought to have quite the healing power and after all this adventure you may just need the R&R.