Destinations

Why You Should Add Iceland to Your Bucket List Now

Here's how to make the most of your next trip to the Nordic nation.
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Given the stunning natural beauty of Iceland, not to mention the friendliness of its 334,000 citizens, it should not come as a surprise that tourism has increased by more than 20 percent every year since 2010 (and last year, the number of tourists visiting the country was more than six times its total population).

Here's how to make the most of a trip to this magical land (where more than half of the population believes in elves).


ACTIVITIES


VISIT THE BLUE LAGOON


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Iceland's most famous tourist destination is also one of its more luxurious activities. Its geothermal seawater exfoliates and repairs the skin with its silica mud and minerals, and since it's located between Keflavik Airport and Reykjavik, it's an easy stop to make on the way to or from Iceland’s capital city.

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TOUR THE HALLGRÍMSKIRKJA

The best view of Reykjavik is definitely from the tower of the Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran Church that stands 244 feet tall. It's one of the largest structures in Iceland, and the perspective it offers is like nothing else around. Admission to the church is free, and it costs about $10 to take an elevator to the top of the tower. Walking tours that include tower admission are also available.

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The view from the top of the tower

GO INSIDE A GLACIER

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Iceland's second-largest glacier, Langjokull, offers one of the most unique tourist attractions in the world: a man-made cave with tunnels that reach 1,640 feet into the ice. Getting to the cave is half the fun—you ride in a specially outfitted, eight-wheel vehicle that resembles a monster truck from base camp to the tunnel entrance on the glacier. 

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SNORKEL BETWEEN CONTINENTS

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The Silfra fissure, located between the Northern American and Eurasian continental plates, is known as one of the top dive sites in the world. After donning a dry suit you can snorkel along the fissure, where the visibility is more than 300 feet thanks to the water's frigid temperature (about 38 degrees fahrenheit) and lava rock filtering (the dry suit allows you to wear thermal clothing underneath, so you really won't feel cold). The water is pure enough to drink at any time during the snorkel, too.

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TAKE IN THE NORTHERN LIGHTS


If you're lucky enough to be there at the right time, catching the aurora borealis is an experience you'll never forget. The dancing lights are only visible between September and April (with the optimal season occurring between November and March), and the night must be as dark as possible with very few or no clouds. Although it is possible to see them from Reykjavik, the farther away from artificial light you are the better, so driving just out of the city is advisable. Also, be sure to check the aurora forecast.

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DINE AT A MICHELIN-STARRED RESTAURANT—OR TRY A LESS FORMAL FAVORITE

In 2017, Dill became the country's first restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. The space evokes "a fisherman’s cottage retrofitted in a medieval church," and the New Nordic prix-fixe menu includes local specialties like Arctic char and root vegetables. Truly adventurous eaters will appreciate Grillmarkadurinn, which serves dishes like grilled puffin and reindeer and ambitious drinks like the Golden Circle, a cocktail named for the country's popular sightseeing route that includes the locally made Reyka Vodka and Björk liqueur. For more affordable fare, spend $4.50 on a hot dog at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, the island's top-rated spot. Make sure to order it "eina með öllu," or "with everything," meaning fresh onions, fried onions, ketchup, mustard, and remoulade.


HOTELS


THE RETREAT AT BLUE LAGOON

Opened on April 1, the luxurious 62-suite Retreat at Blue Lagoon is built on an 800-year-old lava flow and offers guests access to a private area of the lagoon. It's also home to a subterranean spa, Moss Restaurant, and a rotating exhibition of a 1,600-piece ceramics collection from the Icelandic Museum of Design & Applied Art. Book a Lagoon Suite for direct access to a private lagoon.

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HÓTEL HÚSAFELL

For a less-crowded alternative to the Blue Lagoon, visit Krauma. The bath is 25 minutes from Hotel Husafell in Borgarfjordur, a 48-room property focused on sustainability (100 percent of its energy is produced on-site.) Summer visitors can play around at the golf course or ride on the mountain biking trails.

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SANDHOTEL

This boutique hotel in the heart of Reykjavik is a great home base for a visit to the city. Its interiors are Art Deco-inspired, and the hotel itself is a combination of three townhouses (one of which is the former home of Nobel Prize-winning writer Halldór Laxness) that have been transformed into a modern destination. Be sure to check out Sandholt Bakery next door, which opened in 1920 and is still run by the same family. 

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HOW TO GET THERE


Icelandair has been offering passengers the option to stop over in Iceland since the 1960s. Now, the program allows travelers to stop for up to seven nights without paying any additional airfare while on their way to another European destination. And with on-board fare like skyr (an Icelandic cultured dairy product similar to yogurt) and Arctic char, the Iceland experience begins as soon as you step on the plane.

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WHEN TO GO


The summer months are the best months to visit Iceland, since they offer the warmest weather and most amount of light (the sun is visible for 24 hours around the Summer Solstice in mid-June). For the Northern Lights, you'll have to brave cooler temperatures of the winter months.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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