FX Excursions

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Volcanoes to Glaciers to Hot Springs, Adventure and Awe Await in Iceland

by Susan B. Barnes

Nov 28, 2023

PHOTO:
© ABOUT249 | DREAMSTIME.COM

November 2023

PHOTO: © VADYM LAVRA | DREAMSTIME.COM

If you have had your eye on Iceland for a while, you are not alone. According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, more than 2 million people visited the destination between August 2022 and July 2023, and nearly 90 percent of those were on vacation. For the island country with a population of just under 388,000 at the beginning of the year, that is certainly a staggering ratio of visitors to residents. There is plenty of room to move, however: Iceland encompasses nearly 34,000 square miles, about the size of Kentucky or Virginia.

Not long ago, winter was the most popular time to visit Iceland, especially for those hoping to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis dancing in the Icelandic sky, and for good reason — the northern lights are simply magical. However, recent reports show visitors are staying longer in the spring, summer and fall, making Iceland a year-round destination for all types of travelers.

If your Icelandic adventure falls in the winter time, you may find it best to book a tour to get out and see the island without needing to manage roads covered in snow and ice. In fact, tours at this time of year are highly recommended, which means you can watch the stunning landscapes glide by while someone else more familiar with Icelandic road nuances takes the wheel.

However, DIYers — that is, drive-it-yourselfers — can easily rent a car in Iceland and plan their own route, especially in the spring (April and May), summer ( June through August) and fall (September and October), stopping at the spots that interest them most; hiking opportunities abound around the island. The truly adventurous opt for campervans, but no matter how one goes about the drive, the most popular route that circumnavigates Iceland remains the Ring Road.

The 821-mile paved road is open year-round, though you may encounter temporary road closures in the event of bad weather. Highlights along the Ring Road, with a recommended seven-day itinerary, include seeing icebergs floating in Glacier Lagoon; walking Diamond Beach with its glinting shards of ice; seeing the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls; discovering Akureyri, considered the unofficial capital of North Iceland; and traversing through the lunar-like Borgarfjörður region, where volcanoes and their flowing lava created the landscape.

Speaking of volcanoes, nearly 130 call Iceland home, and you never know when one might erupt. You may recall photos and videos from the impressive eruption in March 2021 when lava started flowing in Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula, drawing visitors from all over the world.

PHOTO: © GESTUR GISLASON
| DREAMSTIME.COM

Not to be overshadowed, this summer the Fagradalsfjall Volcano in southwest Iceland put on a show of its own. And if scientists are correct, Iceland will surely see more eruptions in the years ahead.

For those with limited time in Iceland, you can still find plenty of ways to make the most of your time in the Land of Fire and Ice. Using Reykjavík as a home base, rent a car and drive northeast to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. Geography and geology buffs — not to mention the curious among us — will delight in standing between two continental plates. That’s right. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers the only place in the world where you can stand on two continental plates at once: the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate. The truly adventurous may don dry suits and snorkel or even scuba dive in the Silfra fissure that divides the two plates. With visibility of up to nearly 400 feet, many consider Silfra’s waters to be among the clearest in the world.

When you are ready to warm up, luck is on your side: Iceland boasts plenty of hot springs and geothermal pools throughout the country. Of course, the most famous of all, the Blue Lagoon, lies closer to Keflavík International Airport, where most international flights arrive, than to Reykjavík. A fascinating history surrounds the Blue Lagoon. Before it became the worldwide phenomenon it is today, it was a local watering hole in a lava field beside the Svartsengi Resource Park, a geothermal power plant. When Icelanders discovered the natural pool, they soaked for relaxation and for healing, a long-held Icelandic bathing tradition dating back more than 1,000 years. The popular Blue Lagoon we know today opened in 1999.

A new geothermal spot opened about five miles outside of Reykjavík in 2021. The oceanfront Sky Lagoon features the Seven-Step Ritual, combining the traditions of Icelandic bathing with nature and architecture. The spa carries out the steps in myriad intimate spaces, the best of all, perhaps, the infinity lagoon overlooking the ocean, the perfect place to toast an Icelandic sunset.

© LEONID ANDRONOV | DREAMSTIME.COM

For those who cannot get out and explore Iceland on their own, whatever the season, FlyOver Iceland provides an option. State-of-the- art technology makes you feel as if you are flying over Iceland during this 4D experience, discovering spots on the island not accessible by car which few Icelanders have seen in person. Wind, mist and scents add to the experience. In fact, FlyOver Iceland proves a terrific experience for anyone visiting the island.

Cruising offers yet another way to experience Iceland late spring through summer. Hurtigruten, National Geographic Expeditions, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Viking and Windstar Cruises all offer circumnavigational cruises of the island.

However you travel to Iceland, you will return home from the Island of Fire and Ice with memories that will last a lifetime.

LODGING

Hotel Rangá
The brainchild of a well-traveled businessman, the luxurious Hotel Rangá sits in the quiet of South Iceland. Sit back, relax, enjoy gourmet dining and keep your eyes peeled for the northern lights.
851 Hella
$$$$$

Ion Adventure Hotel
If you truly want to go all in on adventure, make reservations at ION Adventure Hotel, east of Reykjavík. The adventure team will make all of your Icelandic adventure dreams come true.
Nesjavellir vid Thingvallavatn, 801 Selfoss
$$$$

The Reykjavik EDITION
The first 5-star hotel arrived in one of the world’s most sustainable cities with the opening of The Reykjavik EDITION in Old Harbor Port.
Austurbakki 2, Reykjavík
$$$$$

DINING

Kaffivagninn
Opened in 1935, Kaffivagninn is Iceland’s oldest restaurant and proves perfect for a casual meal waterside. Rub elbows with fishermen, students and other locals over breakfast or lunch.
Grandagardur 10, Reykjavík
$$–$$$

Old Iceland Restaurant
For a taste of traditional Icelandic food, look no further than Old Icelandic Restaurant in Reykjavík. Dishes served at the restaurant owned by three brothers highlight the island’s produce.
Laugavegur 72, Reykjavík
$$$$

Tides
Michelin-starred chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason’s menu at Tides focuses, perhaps unsurprisingly, on seafood, with modern takes on Icelandic dishes highlighting the island’s seasonal ingredients.
Austurbakki 2, Reykjavík
$$$$

INFO TO GO
Keflavík International Airport, located about 30 miles from Reykjavík, serves as the gateway for most international flights to and from Iceland as well as an important hub between Europe and North America. Icelandair, the primary carrier flying into Reykjavík, provides service to major U.S., U.K. and European gateways. Shuttles depart for the city center about 40 minutes after each flight arrives; you can also take public bus 55 to the city center, rent a car or take a taxi (about $200).

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