The mere mention of Iceland, brings thoughts of long and icy cold days and nights, ice-laden lands that stretch beyond you for miles. You might shun the thought of visiting such snow-desert that might sound to you anything but interesting. But wait! Do you really know all about this place? Contrary to what most people think, it is full of lush forests, volcanoes, geysers, colorful landscapes and surprisingly has mild winters, although the best time to visit is summer. People are often mistaken in thinking that traveling to Iceland is a lot of ice sight-seeing, ice sports and everything related to ice. Here’s a guide to local, touristy and offbeat things to do in Iceland, beyond ice.
1. Watch the magnificent natural light show of Aurora Borealis
The famous Northern lights are a must see. The mesmerizing play of light is hypnotic and magic-like. The best time to spot these lights is in the middle of September to middle of April
2. Meet the majestic whales
Ah! Those majestic dwellers of the oceans – one is in awe, standing in their larger than life presence. Húsavík is the place to go for this humbling experience.
3. Discover the beauty of national parks, caves and lakes
There are three big national parks, with Þingvallavatn National Park being a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Þingvallavatn Lake, is the largest natural lake and the boundary where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. It is a popular snorkeling and scuba diving site.
Skaftafell ice caves in Vatnajökull National Park, is another famous site mostly visited by adventurers through organized trips. The play of light on the water and ice inside the caves is hypnotic. Best time to visit is in winters, when the caves are not melting.
4. Treat yourself to a relaxing spa day at the natural geysers
With a great number of geysers, underground springs and thermal pools, this bit of activity is for the adventurous and bold. The blue lagoon is a popular spot and for the dare-devils there is skinny dipping in Viti Lake, Askja Caldera, since swimsuits are strictly optional there.
Warning: Showering before entering the springs is a must and many places don’t have doors. So, along with your clothes you need to shed your inhibitions too.
5. Exercise those muscles, go hiking and trekking
All of Iceland has many hiking and trekking trails and spots with Landmannalaugar being a favorite among locals and tourists alike. One can enjoy a day trip with the picturesque landscape of multicolored rhyolite mountains, lava fields and Helka Volcano. You can also choose to see the place, riding a horse.
6. Watch nature at work
With a number of falls, a few mentionable ones are Gullfoss, a grand and beautiful waterfall with no rails around them, letting you soak in its natural beauty. You can experience the raw power of nature at Dettifoss in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, the most powerful waterfalls in Europe.
Summer is a better time to go since the waterfall plunge is stronger.
7. Dare to enter volcanoes!
Iceland has a history of erupting volcanoes which gave it the geysers and hot springs. There are volcano sites that people can access and experience. Thrihnukagigur Volcano has been dormant for thousands of years and one can take a tour inside. This is a unique experience if you can brave a 45-50 minutes hike and 120/140 meters descend in an open cable lift to reach the bottom of the crater. For those who want to give the hike and open cables a miss, helicopter tours are also available. The tour operates from 15th May to 30th September, every year.
Another volcano site to visit is at Fimmvorduhals, where you can still feel the heat rising from the lava field of Godahraun, and people can walk around and see the craters up close.
8. Head for inviting, warm beaches
Yup, beaches! There are great many beaches in Iceland for bathing (if the weather is warm) or just lounging. Breidavík with its long sweeping stretch of glistening golden sand and clear blue water is one of the most beautiful beaches to visit.
9. Ever played midnight golf? Try it here.
With 24 hours of daylight, the months of June and July see many golf enthusiasts catching up with their game. Although it’s cold and on occasions rainy, playing golf under the midnight sun is a surreal experience.
10. Soak in the local art, culture and architecture
Iceland is a hotbed of literature, art and theater. The Culture House in Reykjavík, amongst other things houses The Sagas, Europe’s oldest and finest medieval manuscripts.
Another example of beautiful architecture is the Hallgrímskirkja, which was built in the image of the Black Falls, an Icelandic natural wonder. This unique church stands tall in the middle of the city of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital.
11. Nights to remember
Iceland is famous for its night life and Rúntur or pub crawling in the capital city of Reykjavík is fun, although a bit heavy on the pockets. For the strong stomached, drink if you dare a local alcoholic drink called Brennivin, which has a somewhat nasty reputation even amongst the locals because of its vile flavor. The locals usually drink it while showing off to the tourists or showing their allegiance to their Icelandic roots. Snack to accompany this drink – fermented shark meat.
Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland has a lot to offer besides its fabled Northern lights and snow covered regions. It has a warm side, waiting for you to discover.