The country of Iceland is one of contradictions. Its name doesn’t accurately describe the land, which is green and grassy. That it is part of the European Union may surprise some people when they realize that it lies closer to North America than to Europe. But, Iceland’s location gives it the distinct advantage to be easily accessible from the east coast of the United States while still offering the European charm with a decidedly Nordic influence visitors appreciate. If you’re considering a trip to Europe, a vacation in Iceland will enchant you.
Iceland’s earliest inhabitants were believed to be Irish hermits or monks, who settled the island sometime before the Norse arrived in the late 9th century. Around 930 A.D., the Athling was established, the first parliamentary institution in the world and still in existence. Over the intervening millennium, the island was ruled by the Norwegians and then came under Danish control in 1397. From 1874 to 1944, Iceland began a gradual process of independence, declaring itself an independent republic just 11 days after the Allies invaded Normandy.
What brings many visitors to Iceland is this country’s natural beauty. The land and air is clean, reflecting a country that prizes environmental responsibility and is a strong advocate for sustainable living.
If you travel to Iceland, your trip will take you to Reykjavik, its capital and largest city, home to 65 percent of all Icelanders. Visitors typically stay in the capital at one of the city’s premier hotels including the luxurious Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura, a recipient of Iceland’s green certification for using local products and Icelandic ingredients, for using environmentally-friendly commodities and services, and for using resources effectively, while reducing waste and increasing recycling.
From Reykjavik, your trip can take you to a number of natural attractions including the Blue Lagoon, the country’s best-known geothermal spa. Surrounded by a snow-draped lava wilderness, you can bathe in the Blue Lagoon as temperatures stay a very warm 100 degrees regardless of the surface air temperature. Relax your body and mind — leave the waters feeling fresh and uplifted.
Travel just 90 miles northeast of the capital and you can take in the majestic Geysir Hot Springs. This landmark features hot water blowholes, number at least 12, including its namesake Geysir that gives us the English word, geyser. Another geyser, Strokkur, is also present and erupts much more frequently than Geysir. The hot springs, Pingvellir National Park and Gullfoss represent Iceland’s Golden Circle, or the island’s most popular tourist route.
Approximately 10 percent of Iceland has been set aside as Vatnajokull National Park, a destination for tour groups and people that are interested in taking in its breath-taking scenery including tremendous waterfalls, beautiful glaciers and the remains of long ago volcanic activity. Naturalists prize Vatnajokull for dog-sledding, hiking and ice-climbing.
The capital city offers visitors numerous cultural attractions including a variety of food establishments, entertainment, museums and more. The Víkin Maritime Museum describes Iceland’s sea-faring history and allows you to board a coast guard ship. A visit to the National Museum offers artifacts tracing back a millennium including an exquisitely carved 13th-century church door. The Reykjavik Art Museum is spread over three sites and includes contemporary Icelandic displays. Additional museums, statutes and monuments are scattered throughout the city, telling a history of a people that spans more than a millennium.
Reykjavik merchants offer everything a visitor to Iceland could want including hand-sewn Icelandic wool sweaters in traditional and contemporary styles. Silver jewelry, driftwood furniture, fish-skin clothing and all sorts of souvenirs including mugs, steins, glassware and ceramics can be bought. Yes, if your load is too heavy, you can arrange to have your purchases shipped back to the United States, bringing home Icelandic goodness that you’ll prize for years to come.
Nonni Haraldsson is a Social Media Coordinator at Icelandair Hotels, Iceland’s Trusted Provider since 1964, offering accommodations in several cities across Iceland including Reykjavik and Kirkjubaejarklaustur.