9 reasons you should visit Iceland this summer
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European countries have finally begun easing border restrictions. And one country that’s now open to vaccinated Americans, along with travelers who have recovered from a previous COVID-19 infection, is Iceland.
If you’re looking for something a little different this summer, consider Iceland. I’ve visited twice pre-pandemic and it was easily one of the most memorable and visually stunning destinations I’ve ever been to.
Here are nine reasons it should be on your travel list this summer.
1. Breathtaking natural scenery
Iceland has some of the most spectacular natural scenery you will see anywhere in the world. It’s a great destination for social distancing, as you’ll be spending plenty of time in your own car or tour bus driving from attraction to attraction. Then, there will be plenty of time spent outdoors at these vast wonders. There are glaciers, ice caves, geysers, geothermal hot springs, enormous waterfalls, dramatic black sand beaches and ancient volcanos.
I’ll go into detail about why some of these are so special and worth visiting below.
2. It’s not as far away as you might think
When you’re in Iceland, it can feel like you’re on another planet. The landscape is dramatically different from the United States. However, if you’re starting out from New York, you can get there in under six hours.
It’s pushing the limits for a long weekend away but for a week-long trip, it’s easy.
There’s also only a four-hour time difference, which could make it a good destination for remote working.
3. 24 hours of sunlight
Being located so far geographically North, the sun does not completely set at night in Iceland during summer. It will dip towards the horizon close to midnight but doesn’t actually get dark and you could still easily drive your car without headlights at 1 a.m. in peak summer. This was a really unique and cool feature I hadn’t experienced anywhere else before.
It may make you completely lose your sense of time — you could think nothing of going for a walk along the beach at midnight.
It also means you may not feel the need to sleep at normal times, as there’s no darkness to tell your body it’s time for bed. I adopted the simple strategy of just sleeping when I felt tired, even if this was not at normal bedtime hours. This meant I was up and about at unusual times, which worked well because there would often be no other tourists at the attractions I was visiting at the unsociable hour.
Do keep an eye on the clock if you need to arrive at a restaurant booking or hotel at an agreed time. Don’t expect you will be able to sit down for dinner at 11 p.m. just because it felt much earlier.
4. Waterfalls everywhere
Iceland is cold, dark and icy over the long winter months. As the sun rises in summer and the temperatures rise, all that snow and ice starts to melt. If you’re following the popular Ring Road to drive around the country, you’ll mostly be driving near the coast. The melting ice and snow from the higher center of the country run down towards the coast and into the ocean.
This creates spectacular waterfalls as you’re driving. Some of the larger ones are well-marked on the tourist maps and are worth and stop and a photograph while you take in the power and sound of the gushing water cascading downwards at speed.
However, you’ll see plenty of waterfalls without even stepping out of your car as you’ll drive past them along the Ring Road regularly.
5. Geothermal hot springs
You may have heard of the Blue Lagoon, which is one of Iceland’s most popular and famous attractions. It’s very conveniently located close to the main Keflavík International Airport (KEF), so very handy if you have some time to kill before or after your flight. It’s quite touristy, busy and fairly expensive at around $57 per person for a basic ticket. It is certainly good fun and a uniquely Icelandic experience.
If you have a bit more time on your side and are venturing away from the capital, there are plenty of other geothermal hot springs dotted around the country. These are popular with locals and significantly cheaper. Much like the Finnish love of their saunas, Icelandic locals love soaking up the mineral benefits and gazing out over the natural landscapes.
6. An erupting volcano
You may have seen images of Mount Fagradalsfjall that has been erupting 20 miles southwest of the capital of Reykjavik for several months now. While you won’t want to get too close while it spews molten lava, you can hike to the volcano for an unforgettable experience.
There are also guided tours if you want to make sure your visit is as safe as possible.
7. Icebergs right ahead
The personal highlight of my time in Iceland was the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. I could see a number of cars parked by the side of the road with their drivers wandering over a small hill. I followed and my jaw dropped at what I saw. Icebergs were floating past me — the ice hadn’t fully broken up yet, as it slowly floated towards the ocean.
I never thought I would see real icebergs in person — it was incredibly relaxing to sit and watch them float by. For me, it was an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
8. Black sand beaches
While it’s very unlikely to ever be warm enough to swim in the ocean in Iceland, even in the middle of summer, as an island, there are plenty of beaches. They’re very different from what you might be used to in the sunny Meditteranean due to both the northern location Iceland enjoys and the volcanic earth.
There are spectacular black sand beaches to enjoy — you can walk along these without seeing another person as they are wide, windswept and largely deserted.
I became rather obsessed with spotting these curious little creatures waddling around with their bright orange nose and feet. There are somewhere between eight million and 10 million puffins in Iceland, as it’s home to one of the world’s largest populations.
You may be lucky enough to spot one on your travels around the south coast of the island, however, if you want a guaranteed sighting, there’s an easy boat tour from the capital of Reykjavik that sails around Lundey. The island is also known as Puffin Island, where there are around 20,000 usually live there, so you’re virtually guaranteed to see one.
About the Northern lights
The Northern Lights and Iceland go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, with no darkness in summer, you won’t be able to see the night sky lit up. If you do want to try your luck and witnessing this phenomenon, you’ll need to visit from late August to mid-April, though note the days will be much shorter, meaning less time to witness the natural scenery each day.
If you’ve heard good things about the natural beauty of Iceland, it’s for good reason. The amount of attractions packed into a country even smaller than Greece is very impressive and you can drive around the entire country in a week. Although you’ll miss the Northern Lights in summer, it’s still a great time to visit. The waterfalls will be full, the sun will not set and though you’ll need to dress warmly, you can spend plenty of time outside and socially distanced.
Featured photo by Boy_Anupong/Getty Images.
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