Explore the natural wonders of “The Land of Fire and Ice”
An island in the North Atlantic, Iceland has become incredibly popular in the last decade as curious travelers from across the globe have ventured to the progressive and peaceful nation in search of an abundance of picture-worthy moments as well as a glimpse of a modern society where freedom and equality are the most important qualities. The country continuously ranks near the top in various measurements for quality of life, gender equality and democracy, and is one of the highest ranked countries in the world regarding healthcare, education and accessibility of the Internet.
Known as “The Land of Fire and Ice,” Iceland is home to some of the largest glaciers in Europe and some of the world’s most active volcanoes. Iceland is also the land of light and darkness. Long summer days with almost 24-hours of sunshine are offset by short winter days with only a few hours of daylight.
Iceland is rugged yet beautiful and perfect for most outdoor adventures all year round. A lot of visitors go there for nature, which is completely valid, but don’t overlook the most unrivaled treasure, the people. If you haven’t brushed up on the Icelandic language–one of the most difficult in the world–not to worry, as most everyone speaks English. The people are also warm and friendly and most are eager to share a smile or chitchat.
Equestrians as well as horse enthusiasts are typically obsessed with the Icelandic horse, a unique breed of smallish horses that came to Iceland with the first settlers from Norway 1100 years ago. They may look small, and although they might resemble a pony, they most definitely are not. Archeological digs in Europe have revealed that the horses descend from an ancient breed of horses that is now extinct outside of Iceland, where it has been preserved in isolation. The Icelandic horse comes in many different colors, and the Icelandic language includes more than 100 names for the various colors and color patterns. It is small, weighing between 730 and 840 lbs., and standing an average of 52 to 56 inches high. It has a spirited temperament and a large personality.
The local natural wonder that is perhaps most ingrained in the fabric of Icelandic culture is the bounty of geothermal energy, the naturally heated water that powers our lives and heats our homes, baths and pools–public, as well as private. Since the advent of harnessing geothermal energy in Iceland, the tradition of public bathing has become deeply rooted in the local culture. Locals of all ages and professions frequent some of the hundred public pools for both health and social purposes in order to unwind after a long day or to catch up with friends. The swimming pool culture has clearly established itself, as the greater capital area of Reykjavik alone has seventeen public swimming pools, most of which are outdoors and some of which are equipped with saunas and steam baths.
The Aurora Borealis, more commonly referred to as the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon created when particles emitted by the sun interact with the atmosphere in the Earth’s magnetic field. This releases energy, causing peculiar luminous green streaks across the skies, and Iceland is a premier location to see this incredible light show. On clear winter nights, sightseeing trips are organized around this spectacular, though fickle, natural phenomenon. Tours are typically on standby and experienced excursion leaders who are skilled in hunting the lights will lead hoards of people on buses to the perfect location.
The most important ingredient in Icelandic cuisine is location. Iceland is blessed with an abundance of fresh water, clean nature and fertile fishing grounds, while geothermal energy makes it possible to supply a year-round offering of fresh vegetables, grown locally in organic greenhouses. Chefs create modern dishes with traditional ingredients, influenced by the philosophy of the New Nordic Cuisine, where freshness and local seasonal ingredients play a vital role.
A staple of Icelandic cuisine is fresh caught fish. Some of the richest fishing grounds in the North Atlantic can be found off the coast of Iceland, where cool and warm ocean currents meet to create the ideal conditions for fish stocks to thrive. Try one of the many Icelandic fishing restaurants, and you will understand why the locals will have you believe they invented the thing.
Travelling around Iceland on two wheels is both challenging and rewarding. There is no better way to experience the beauty of Iceland than from the saddle of your bicycle. But the weather is unpredictable and the distances you’ll need to cover can be long. Many bike enthusiasts come to Iceland to enjoy the Ring Road, the well-known highway number 1 that runs around the country. Others choose more difficult paths into the highlands, such as the beautiful trail across Kjölur. If you intend to travel into the highlands, be prepared to face gravel roads, as most of the roads in the Icelandic highlands are not paved. Fully equipped bikes with shock absorbers are probably a good idea as is not traveling alone. Outside of urban areas, bike paths are uncommon, and cyclists will usually have to share the road with motor driven vehicles.
Iceland is the hiker’s paradise. More than half of the country lies above 1300 feet and the landscape is extraordinarily diverse, with large areas covered with colorful mountains, lava fields, glaciers, hot springs, lakes and black sands. The rugged nature has been shaped by the elements to form majestic scenery unlike any other place in the world. Hiking trails in Iceland are as numerous as they are diverse, so trek overviews for the entire country are hard to come by. Individual trails can be examined in great detail at local tourist information centers around the country. Many mountain huts are also available for booking along known paths, allowing visitors to prolong their hikes and explore their destinations in greater detail.
A lot of visitors go there for nature, which is completely valid, but don’t overlook the most unrivaled treasure, the people. They are warm and friendly and most are eager to share a smile or chitchat.