Iceland: The Real Island Experience

Iceland: The Real Island Experience

If all the European counties were types, Iceland would be the hipster. A small island nation, Iceland is one of the most underrated destinations especially for those who are committed to having a sustainable aspect to their trips. Here are a couple reasons to visit:

Great Deals

Iceland really wants to draw in tourists, so often airlines will have great deals on flights. Icelandair, the main airline, offers something called a "Stopover Pass," which encourages those traveling from North America to Europe to take a multi-day stopover in Iceland at no additional cost. For those in-state, WowAir will begin offering cheap flights (some even 99$ one way) from Detroit to Reykjavík later in the year. Usually airfare is the most expensive part of a transatlantic trip so that’s an amazing deal. If you’re flying out of Toronto, Boston, or Chicago, Icelandair offers direct flights and accessible upgrade opportunities. 

Seeing an Endangered Species Up Close 

Iceland is very close to the Arctic Circle so naturally, glaciers formed and are (hopefully) going to be permanent fixtures of the landscape. A glacier walk is necessary for any trip not only because of the bragging rights, but also because of the impact of what you’ve actually accomplished. When you’re standing on this massive block of ice, it’s almost alive under you and the magnitude of our daily actions is clear. Sadly, climate change is still a debated topic in America rather than accepted as fact, however for Icelanders the evidence is right there in the form of their glaciers. Getting out and being active in the environment is a great addition to any trip and the drive out includes stops at waterfalls and horse pastures.

Some of the Best Swimming North of the Equator 

Don’t let the name fool you. Iceland has some of the best hot springs in the world so every vacationer should pack a bathing suit. Most of the country is supported by geothermal energy from the many hot springs just under the surface. Taking a dip is part of the culture so there are public pools everywhere. But these aren’t your regular, chlorine filled pools. It’s spa-quality water that comes naturally from the group. A must visit is the Blue Lagoon, and if you’re out on the Golden Circle, the Secret Lagoon is not as busy and equally as relaxing. 

No Organic Labels Necessary

It’s very hard to cultivate anything in Iceland, but that doesn’t stop them from having some of the highest quality food in Europe. They skipped the farm to table movement in Iceland because they’d already been doing it for centuries. Even outside of Reykjavík, they’re committed to freshness. Many greenhouses have been opened recently and powered by geothermal energy. One of the most well-known is Fridheimar Greenhouse. They supply much of the island with tomatoes and they require their tomatoes be sold within 24 hours of arriving in the store. In Reykjavík, I recommend Grillmarket ($$) and Saeta Svinid Gastropub ($). Both use traditional Icelandic ingredients in contemporary ways and deliver quality plates that could easily be found on the tables of Parisians or Londoners. 

Everywhere is Photographable 

If you’re looking to add some artsy pictures to your Insta or Vsco, Iceland is the place to go. The best backdrops are the natural elements from the mountains to the lava fields to the waterfalls. The vibrant greens and stark whites make anything stand out. However, Reykjavík is also great. Not only are the houses often bright colors in order to give some color to the dark winters, there’s a serious graffiti culture in the city. There’s a tradition of having an artist do a piece on your house so that other artists won’t tag their names on it. This has led to a very interesting curation of contemporary illustrations outside of the collections in a modern art museum. You might see a Viking queen splashed across a house directly across from a rainbow mermaid. Whether your goal is to build your portfolio or just to have some frameable pictures, Iceland is the place to go. 

A Trip With a Message

There’s been a movement recently in the travel world towards vacations that allow people to connect with the places they visit more than just stepping out of their hotel and going shopping. Iceland is perfectly set up for those types of visitors. The sustainability movement has really taken hold because they have such easy access to water-powered energy sources. You can visit geothermal plants and learn how the technology works. Glacier walks allow you to speak to guide who often double as researchers and know the glaciers so well. At local dairy farms you can speak to fourth generation farmers who have opened their farmhouse to visitors interested in the production of the ice cream they’re eating. Every guide I’ve met has a natural passion for the land and it’s clearly part of the culture.

More Sunshine than Florida

Iceland is very close to the top of the Earth so naturally it gets very drastic amounts of sunlight depending on the time of year. In the summer months from about May to August, you can expect to get at least 13 hours of sunlight and on the solstice you can be outside for almost 23 hours and be in direct light. It’s a natural phenomenon that many in the Northers reaches of the Earth experience every year but us Southerners might not even be able to comprehend. They take advantage of this sunlight by hosting all day music festivals and many international bands have stopped over in Iceland at some point. It’s perfect for tanning as well as long as you can stand the below 60 degree weather. 

Iceland is an amazing destination for anyone who is willing to wear a coat for a bit. From their unique horses to their original cuisine, Icelanders are a very independent and irreplicable people and they’ll be the first to tell you that their county is worth a trip at least once in your life.

Images courtesy of: Sara Shoemaker