So, just how did Iceland become one of my travel obsessions? Like many of you, I learned about Iceland in grade school. Here is what I remember: COLD! ICE! VIKINGS! While Vikings are pretty cool in their own way and I’m no stranger to cold weather travel, it wasn’t a list that made me want to whip out my passport.
That all changed several months ago when I was sitting in the Atlanta airport chatting with my travel buddy about a guy she had just started dating. They met at an Alumni event at their university, and their first date took place at a coffee shop in the local town. My friend lives in Atlanta, and the guy lived in D.C., so I figured one would simply hop on a plane and visit the other, until… “Iceland,” my friend answered. “Our second date is a trip to Iceland! I’m a little nervous, but I have always wanted to go there and so has he!”
I was pretty shocked! Who plans an international vacation to a foreign country as their second date (Right?!), but crazy second date aside, why not choose a tropical beach location, or a ski trip? “I want to do something totally different,” my friend replied. “I want to push myself to explore – I want to have experiences that are off the beaten path that I’ll remember forever. I’m looking for a sexy destination that has it all: beauty, romance, and adventure.”
That last sentence made me pause; clearly I had missed something and there was much more to Iceland than snow and Vikings. I decided to do a little digging and within days, I was planning my own Icelandic adventure!
If you’re considering planning a trip to Iceland, here are some good “jumping off” points: I used this article from National Geographic in my preliminary research to get the lay of the land, and this brief article from Britannica.com provides a basic overview of Iceland’s current government and cultural development. As far as planning activities go, you can find a wide selection of golden circle tours here.
Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Bucket List Can’t Miss Iceland Activities:
- View the Northern Lights: This was high on my list from the beginning. Some quick research confirmed that the best time of year to view the lights is between early August and April. One of the best places to view the Lights is in Þingvellir National Park, a quick drive from Iceland’s capitol city of Reykjavík. Guide to Iceland’s tour is at the top of my list. It includes a two-hour boat tour that allows you to see the lights and also enjoy a late-night cruise around Reykjavík.
- The Blue Lagoon Spa: I am so excited about this – the Blue Lagoon is a naturally occurring geothermal pool situated amidst breathtaking lava fields. You can choose to go on your own or with a guided tour and you can customize your experience by adding private water massages and private baths. The Blue Lagoon earns its name from the blue-green algae, silica, and minerals that have been deposited through natural geological process occurring over thousands of years. The waters have been known to have a restorative effect on aching muscles and problem skin. ☺
- Dog Sledding: This has been on my personal Bucket List since I was a kid and fell in love with Buck in Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. Karisa’s experience dog sledding in Banff just added fuel to the fire!
- Explore the Gullfoss Waterfall: One of the most popular attractions in Iceland, the Gullfoss Waterfall is located within The Golden Circle in Southern Iceland. Covering approximately 200 miles, The Golden Circle is a popular tourist spot known for its breathtaking views and geological wonders. The Gullfoss Waterfall has a combined plunge of 105 feet.
- Explore Haukadalur: Haukadalur is located within the Golden Circle and is home to the two most famous geysers in Iceland, Strokkur and Geysir (which gave us the modern English term “geyser”). While Geysir erupts very rarely, Strokkur erupts every 7-10 minutes and you should have at least one or two sightings during your hike.
- ATV Tour: I’m not the world’s best driver but I am REALLY counting the days until I get to hop on one of these bad boys! Iceland is one of those destinations where just being outside and taking in the scenery is part of the huge appeal. I love snow sports, and I know I would enjoy seeing all that Iceland has to offer as I race through the snowy landscape.
- Glacier Climbing: I don’t know about you, but glacier-climbing is about as “action-hero” as it gets to me (or Jon Snow climbing The Wall in Game of Thrones, as I’m sure I will look just like that). I like my travel plans to include some rigorous activity, that way I can justify my evening dinner and cocktail-ing (hey, when you’re in a foreign country, it’s research). I would love the chance to climb the majestic glacier of Sólheimajökull in South Iceland, explore crevasses and, for the braver souls, have the option to try ice climbing.
- Saga and Vikin Maritime Museums: I mentioned Vikings earlier in this post, and in my opinion no trip to any country is complete without a little history lesson. Located in the capitol city of Reykjavík, the Saga Museum will transport you back to a time when Vikings ruled the land and seas of Iceland. Using life-size replicas to depict the Vikings of ancient lore, the Saga museum is a treat for all ages. Located in the “Grandi” area of Reykjavík, the Vikin Maritime Museum focuses on Iceland’s fishing industry, from the first expeditions of ancient fishermen to the more modern vessels used today. The location is perfect for taking in the shops, cafés, and harbor views.
- The Icelandic Punk Museum: Make sure you get a dose of modern Iceland with a visit to the Icelandic Punk Museum, located in an abandoned public toilet in the nation’s capital. Opened in 2016 by Sex Pistols idol Johnny Rotten, the museum offers visitors a taste of Iceland’s punk culture which paved the way for punk rock Gods such as Björk and Sigur Rós.
- Summer Visit: When you think Iceland, you think “ice.” But there are just as many amazing experiences to be had if you visit Iceland in the summer months. Horseback riding through the Golden Circle on Icelandic horses, snorkeling in the Silfra gorge, whale watching, and puffin watching (because is there anything cuter than a PUFFIN?!) are just a handful of summer activities you can try in Iceland.
Hopefully I’ve been able to share some super exciting Icelandic Bucket List items to inspire you to travel to Iceland. And if my list isn’t enough to tempt you…remember my friend who went to Iceland on her second date? They ended up getting married. Just goes to show what a little Northern Lights magic can do!
Are you planning to go to Iceland soon? What’s on your Bucket List?
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This post was written by FWTG writer, Meredith Bryant Snapp. Photo Credits: Inspired by Iceland.