For Katie Hammel, to visit Iceland is to fall in love – and for us she counts the ways.
Up until 2008, Iceland was just a dot on the map, a tiny island country in the North Atlantic. Then the country’s economy collapsed and suddenly Iceland – a famously expensive country to visit – became much cheaper to explore. Then in 2010 Iceland made the news again when Eyjafjallajökull, the unpronounceable volcano, shut down airspace between Europe and the United States, stranding thousands of passengers. But even still, many travelers know next to nothing about Iceland. They know the country went bankrupt, they know it has volcanoes with strange names, and they assume it’s a frigid place of snow and ice. And I’ll admit, I knew nothing about Iceland until the day I flipped open a travel magazine and saw an adorably stout and furry Icelandic horse standing in a field in front of a majestic looking fjord. In that instant I decided, I had to go to Iceland.
For some people, it’s Italy or France. For some people it’s Thailand or Argentina. For me, that happy place – that place that make me feel more alive than anywhere else when I am there and that I think of constantly when I am gone – is Iceland, the most unlikely of places. You see, I’m a city girl. I love tall buildings and streets full of taxis and sidewalks of chaos. Iceland has none of that. Iceland is quiet and small, with only about 300,000 people in the entire country (2/3 of whom live in the capital), which comes out to about three people for every square kilometer of space. There are no skyscrapers and no traffic jams, just small, brightly-colored houses and open roads. I’m also a budget traveler and though the costs of traveling in Iceland did decrease significantly with the financial collapse, the country is still quite expensive to visit (think $30 for a dorm room in a hostel, $7 for a beer in a bar, and $40 for the average entree at a moderate restaurant). Iceland seems to be the polar opposite of my dream destination. Yet for some reason, I find myself helplessly, irresistibly in love.
What’s to love about Iceland? Despite its name, it actually doesn’t get much colder here in winter than it does in New York City. And the summer temperatures hover between 65 and 75 degrees. There are waterfalls of all shapes, sizes and strengths – from tiny trickles to the biggest gusher in Europe – seemingly everywhere you look. The original geyser, called Geysir, is here, along with a rift valley where two tectonic plates are bumping against one another and slowly moving apart.
You can ride the unique Iceland horse, crawl through caves formed by hot lava, walk on glaciers, learn about Viking history, snorkel in some of the clearest water in the world (and float above the rift at Thingvellir), hike in multicolored mountains, spot whales and puffins along the coast, and soak in hot springs ranging from hidden pools in the middle of nowhere to the famous and touristy Blue Lagoon. You can shop, dine on modern Icelandic cuisine, or party all night in the cosmopolitan city of Reykjavik or you can find yourself alone in the countryside, with no one around for miles. In summer you can play all night under the Midnight Sun and in winter you can watch the blue and green waves of the Northern Lights dance above. You can drive the length of the 831-mile Ring Road that circles the island, explore the craggy inlets of the Westfjords or the remote highlands of the interior, or you can stay put in Reykjavik and still see the highlights of Iceland on a day trip…
… and yes, you can see unpronounceable volcanoes as well.
Iceland for First-Timers (Top 10 Tips You Need To Know)
Header Photo by 12019