It’s safe to say, the picturesque, rugged, and sprawling country of Iceland is having a moment. Since the year 2000, the number of foreign tourists has more than tripled, with an average yearly growth rate of 9.3 percent1. Situated between the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans, the island of Iceland is a land of remarkable contrasts and very low population density, making nature one of the largest draws for visitors. From where to stay and spa to what to see and where to snack – get ready to discover this Nordic destination.
Where to Stay
From boutique hotels to discovering an Airbnb that fits your travel needs or perhaps deciding to camp in the sprawling natural landscape, Iceland offers a truly unique variety of accommodations.
Located in the capital city of Reykjavik, the 101 Hotel is a contemporary hotel with 38 rooms and a fantastic collection of art by local artists displayed throughout the public areas. In addition to a basement fitness center, steam bath, and Jacuzzi, guests can opt for in-room massage to soothe sore muscles after checking into their chic, modern accommodations. Grab a bite to eat or cocktail at the 101 Restaurant and Bar where traditional and modern combine on the menu.
Just an hour away lies one of the younger properties in Iceland’s hotel scene, ION Luxury Adventure Hotel. Nestled amongst the mountainous lava fields, ION is secluded from the more populated areas of Iceland, but for those seeking an intimate location to enjoy all the island has to offer, there’s no better place! With 22 deluxe rooms and 21 standard rooms all featuring organic linens and environmentally friendly showers, the hotel boasts many sustainability awards thanks in part to its green design and it’s commitment to the environment. In the winter months view the Northern Lights from the hotel’s natural spa’s outdoor heated pool or Northern Lights bar. Enjoy a close location to many of the outdoor activities popular in Iceland such as glacier hiking, fly-fishing, and a trip to UNESCO-listed Thingvellir National Park.
For those seeking a geothermal getaway, check out the Blue Lagoon Clinic, where the 15 well-appointed rooms await in the black lava field landscape. A private bathing lagoon is available only to guests. Note, many of those who stay at the Blue Lagoon Clinic are there for the treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis, which the geothermal waters can do wonders for.
Where to Spa
Photo Credit: Blue Lagoon
Even if you don’t stay at the Blue Lagoon Clinic, just a short walk away, a visit to the iconic and multi-award winning Blue Lagoon is a must for spa lovers, as is its geothermal setting in the Reykjanes peninsula. Even if you haven’t heard name, the images of the blue thermal waters amidst the black lava rock are likely familiar. Here guests can soak in the open-air lagoon and enjoy the warm mineral-rich seawater and the crisp and clean Icelandic air. Spa treatments including massage and facials using the exclusive Blue Lagoon product line are available.
Pools heated by volcanic lava are plentiful in Iceland, near the capital there is Nauthhólsvík Geothermal Beach and in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve there is Landmannalaugar, where a cold spring mixes with a hot spring to create the perfect soaking temperature.
Where to Snack
The climate doesn’t allow for much in the way of local veggies so Iceland’s menus are centered on fish, lamb, and dairy: Shark and herring are common, skyr is everywhere, and puffin is a delicacy. Skyr is a delicious non-fat, similar to yogurt, but not really yogurt, somewhat sweet and somewhat tart food item that you’ll find at nearly every meal. Another popular food in Iceland? Hot dogs! Known as pylsur on the island, the best in town (literally, that’s the name of the establishment!) is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, where a close friend who just arrived home from her Icelandic honeymoon said you must visit and must order a hot dog with everything!
If you’re looking for a pint of local beer (something prohibited on the island until 1989!) stop by Kex, located in an old bisquit factory in the capital. Here you’ll find breads, cheeses, and even a gym and a hostel! For a truly memorable meal, make a reservation at Dill in Reykjavik, known as one of the hottest restaurants in Iceland. The menu changes frequently here, but chef-owner Gunnar Karl Gíslason always features a twist on traditional Icelandic/Nordic cuisine.
What to See
The impressive contrast in the landscape and biodiversity begins at Iceland’s coastline where glacial erosion over the years has cut through the rock creating magnificent fjords. The interior of Iceland is uninhabitable due to mountains and lava fields, so it is along this coastline you’ll also find the majority of the island’s population in the capital city of Reykjavík, as well as in towns including Reykjanesbæ, Kolbeinsey, and Akureyri. In addition to coastline, lava, and awe-inspiring mountain ranges the island is home to a multitude of geysers such as Geysir and Strokkur, which erupts every five to 10 minutes.
While you’re in Iceland, go horseback riding in Olfusa, visit the breathtaking Pingvellir National Park, and the Gullfoss gorge which was formed by flash floods that pushed their way through the cracks in the basalt lava layers. Book a tour to head into a glacier and experience the ice from the inside. While in Reykjavík, explore the rich literary culture of the city in the many museums or stop in a record store where the locals will proudly share tunes of Icelandic musicians.
Have you been to Iceland? What would you add to the itinerary?
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