Tags: travel news
Categorised in: Travel News
The land of fire and ice can be intimidating to some travelers.
The small, European island of Iceland is filled with volcanoes and snow, making it more of an adventurous journey than other popular vacation destinations. However, don’t let the country’s name fool you – the warm hospitality from Iceland’s natives, along with the inevitable exercise of trekking through snow – is plenty to keep even the most domesticated Southern Californian warm.
If you’re attracted to the idea of breathtaking natural beauty and trying something off-the-beaten path (it won’t be, for long), here are 5 reasons to visit Iceland – even in the dead of winter.
1. Explore Reykjavik. Iceland’s capital and largest city is quite small, with a population of around 122,000 and an easily-walkable downtown district; but what it makes up for in size is its creativity. Reykjavik’s unique variety of European charm is home to delightful architecture, welcoming pubs and incomparable museums. With some 5 hours of sunlight in the winter, it’s easy to burn through the long night while browsing through record stores such as Kaffi Vinyl, a quirky record store that features mouth-watering vegan food and coffee; or Lucky Records, which has a wide variety of genres and local Icelandic bands to choose from. Another must-do in Reykjavik is mocking yourself at American-style tourist bars such as the Lebowski Bar, themed after “The Big Lebowski” with a stellar ’80s playlist; or the American Bar, an Icelandic interpretation of American culture with enough football paraphernalia to make even the biggest football fan feel less homesick.
2. Visit the Iceland Phallological Museum. Yes, you read that right – Iceland is home to probably the world’s only museum dedicated to the male anatomy’s most distinguished feature. There is an affinity of more than 200 penile displays, articles and spectacles to marvel and hold back chuckles at. The museum offers genuine displays ranging from a Blue Whale’s phallus, the largest in the animal kingdom at 8 feet, to molds of the Icelandic National Handball Team’s most prized members. With around 11,000 visitors annually, the museum is a unique attraction that cannot be missed. At 1500 Icelandic Krona (about $15), you can easily spend a couple hours hysterically laughing in fascination of the many phallological exhibits.
3. Hike, especially if you go in winter. If dodging crowds on the trail isn’t your thing (we have plenty of highly trafficked hikes in Southern California as it is), visiting Iceland in winter is a major advantage. Known for a plethora of waterfalls, mountains and glaciers, Iceland is a great destination for nature lovers. Due to the influx of tourists coming into Iceland from WOW airlines, it can be a challenge to escape people in the summer on those picturesque waterfall and mountain hikes. A recommended beginner hike that can be done in less than an hour can is Elliðaárdalur, a 10-minute drive from Reykjavik, a park with rivers, small waterfalls, rabbits and geese. For more intermediate hikers, Gullfoss waterfall (Iceland’s Niagara Falls) is a must-see attraction, with a large expanse of 200-foot plus falls and a steep climb to get a pristine view. On the way to Gullfoss, visit the nearby Geysir Hot Springs where you can watch a geyser explode comparable to Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. Nearly two hours’ drive away from Reykjavik via the Golden Circle (a common route to get to tourist attractions in southern Iceland), these two attractions still bring a considerable amount of tourists in winter willing to endure the 20 to 30 degree weather – just bring snow boots or hiking shoes with grade-A grip for ice, a warm jacket and gloves.
4. Relish the warmth of natural hot springs with a breathtaking view. A notable advantage of visiting a geothermal area such as Iceland is the abundance of natural hot springs. One of the more convenient and well-known hot springs to visit is the Blue Lagoon, which is between KEF airport and Reykjavik. With bright, blue water and temperatures of a hot tub, you can swim and relax in the lagoon while taking in the surrounding mountainous scenery. An added advantage of visiting the Blue Lagoon in winter – if you’re lucky –, is being able to enjoy this natural gem with a light dusting of snowfall. To get to the Blue Lagoon, either drive yourself from Reykjavik or KEF, or use the bus to get there. Some people even visit the Blue Lagoon right before or after their flights since it is so close to the airport. Starting at 6100 Icelandic Krona (about $60), there are a variety of packages that can include face masks and drinks. Visit www.bluelagoon.com to learn more about price packages and transportation.
5. Ride the adorable, fuzzy creatures that are Icelandic horses. These guys are seriously cute and cannot be found many other places in the world. While driving along the Golden Circle there are herds of Icelandic horses that can be seen huddled along the countryside. Brought to Iceland as livestock by Viking settlers, Icelandic horses were traditionally used to plow fields, transport supplies and riders who could not travel across the harsh weather without them. With a bulkier body shape and a thick coat of fur, riding an Icelandic horse is a unique experience, with a smoother gate and wider back to adjust to. In winter, the air is brisk and a jacket-suit equivalent to a spacesuit is required by the handlers, but the views are worth it. No experience is needed to ride these friendly animals and could be a great introduction to horseback riding for beginners, since these horses tend to have a calmer demeanor, are extremely friendly and welcome cuddles. There are many places to go horseback riding near Reykjavik, but check ahead of time to make sure your desired horse rental company is open during the winter months. I recommend using Riding Tours South Iceland, a family-owned riding-tour company close to the Golden Circle. At 9000 Icelandic Krona (about $86), a one-hour tour is plenty during the cold of winter.
IF YOU GO
How to get there: If you want to visit Iceland on the cheap, visit WOW airlines at www.wowair.us. In December, a one-week trip from LAX to KEF (a 30-minute drive to Reykjavik) cost nearly $400, although, the flights through WOW do stay fairly low throughout the year if you plan ahead.
How to see the Northern Lights: Your chances of seeing the dancing lights go up significantly if you visit Iceland during its winter months; with less sunlight, there’s higher chance for clear, dark skies. There’s a number of tour companies that will “take you to the Northern Lights,” but in Reykjavik, you can somewhat escape the city’s lights at the nearby Grotta Lighthouse (3 miles from city center). If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a car and drive somewhere a few hours outside of the city.
Where to stay: I recommended using Airbnb in Reykjavik or out in the country,. There are plenty of affordable options for either location; or Oddsson Hostel, which has bunk and private rooms, near downtown Reykjavik.
- Kaffi Vinyl, quirky record-store with vegan eats at Hverfisgata 76, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
- Lucky Records, large-genre record store at 105, Rauðarárstígur 10, Reykjavík, Iceland
- Lebowski Bar, “The Big Lebowski” themed bar at Laugavegur 20b, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
- American Bar, American-themed bar at 10, Austurstræti 8, Reykjavík, Iceland
- Icelandic Phallological Museum, penis museum and exhibits at Laugavegur 116, 105 Reykjavík, Iceland
- Elliðaárdalur, park near Reykjavik with short hikes (coordinates 64.117537, -21.826745)
- Gullfoss falls, large waterfall near the Golden Circle, visit www.gullfoss.is
- Geysir Hot Springs, large geothermal area with geysers at Haukadalur, 35, Iceland
- Blue Lagoon, large hot spring and spa at Nordurljosavegur 9, 240 Grindavík, Iceland
- Riding Tours South Iceland, horseback riding tour company at Syðra-Langholt 3, 845 Flúðir