Iceland is known as one of the most peaceful and safest countries in the world. They also have some of the cleanest and coldest drinking water in the world. The country has a population of about 320,000 people, and their criminal activity is so low that the only case that made a buzz was a guy who had a problem with his cat. Not to mention the article that made headlines across the country, just recently, was the first and only frog living in Iceland died. It’s a real happenin’ place. Needless to say, it’s a small, quaint, and charming place, and for those reasons alone, Iceland is my personal utopia.
Among their many claims to fame is having the first female prime minister in the world, and she just so happens to be a lesbian. How cool is that? The president is a woman as well, and it is widely known and accepted that the women are taking power in Iceland.
What to expect
English is, in fact, fluently spoken among the locals and translated on many signs, menus, etc. making it easy to navigate on your own. Some tend to slur their English and Icelandic creating a knot in your brain because it sounds like a mess of words at first. If you spend enough time in Iceland though, you’ll start to pick up the language, and according to the locals, it’s the easiest to learn of all the Scandinavian languages.
If you visit during the summer, expect cool weather, rain and clouds. Every now and then, the sun will come out to say hello, but it’s never for long. However, you will have 21 hours of light making it difficult to keep track of the time. Also, if you’re planning to see the Northern Lights, it would be best to visit sometime between September and April.
Though there is a European flavor to the architecture and way of living, there is certainly plenty of American influence. I can’t tell you how strange it is to hear Nicki Minaj, Maroon 5, and fun playing on the radio. It’s also a little disheartening to see chains like Taco Bell, Dominos and McDonalds. While it’s nice to have “comfort food” nearby, it makes me even more thankful to have a variety of local restaurants to try.
What I didn’t see coming
For one thing, the cars. First of all, there aren’t many cabs shuffling people around the city, and secondly, even when you have the right of way, there is no guarantee that the cars will stop for you. It’s fairly common for people to run red lights if there isn’t any oncoming traffic. You’ve been warned.
Two oddball things I randomly noticed were that my walking tour guide had a hickey, and the bus driver that drove me into the city looked a lot like David Bowie. Apparently, Reykjavik is known to have a lot of sexual activity including the highest amount of one-night stands. Just some fun facts for you.
And can we talk about how everyone is incredibly good looking? Not just the guys, but the ladies too. Lord, I have never seen such an attractive breed. The majority have blonde or lightly colored hair so if you have dark hair, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. I don’t know if it’s the water, weather, eating habits or what, but whatever their secret is, they’re doing something right.
Iceland is not a vegetarian friendly destination. They really love their hefty meals of [strange] meat and potatoes. If you are vegan, eat at Graenn Kostur. They have all sorts of organic, vegan options. Otherwise, your options are subpar Thai food, burgers, Italian, or Icelandic delicacies such as shark, puffin, whale, or fish. There is an incredible Balkan food restaurant downtown, and if you go, try the hummus! Scrumptious!
Speaking of food, do not eat anything at any of the tourist spots/rest stops. If you go on day tours, bring snacks or your own food otherwise you’ll be paying a fortune for mediocre food. I made the mistake of trying a pasta salad for dinner on my way back to Reykjavik from the Golden Circle and ended up with food poisoning. That paired with jet lag and lack of sleep was not a good combination.
The city of Reykjavik is relatively flat but charming. The different colored homes give it personality, and it’s very “Sound of Music-esque”. Once you get out to the countryside, it’s nothing but green, rocks, hills, and low hanging clouds. As you’re driving around the island, it’s common to see sheep and horses roaming around on the sides of the road. Sidenote: did you know that if you ride North to South or vice versa on horseback, it’ll take you one week? Not as common as horses and sheep but still a major presence are minke and arctic foxes, and can’t forget about all the stray cats strolling down the city streets.
If horseback riding in the country isn’t your thing, there are daily walking tours (some are free of charge) and bike rentals available in Reykjavik.
What to do
The city of Reykjavik doesn’t offer much in terms of sightseeing. That’s why it is ideal to spend 7-10 days driving around the entire country and enjoying all of Iceland’s vast landscapes. From mountains and volcanoes to hot springs and great bodies of water, there is a lot to see. Heck, you could take a day tour of Greenland if you wanted to.
If you plan on staying in the country, you can choose from a variety of activities like sea kayaking, rafting, touring the Golden Circle, going for a swim in the Blue Lagoon, horseback riding, taking a ride down inside of a volcano, and much more. I toured the Golden Circle which wasn’t thrilling to say the least, but fun to walk around anyway. Definitely went to the Blue Lagoon, and chose to go snorkeling. The water was so clear and beautiful, you could see 100 meters in front of you. All the gear you have to wear makes it easy to stay afloat in the water, and because it’s so cold, all the stuff they make you wear is necessary. With only three minutes without all that equipment on, you’d be dead in the water. Back to happier things…
Post-snorkeling adventure, they give you an option to jump off a cliff into the lagoon. It was one of those moments in limber where I tried to talk myself out of it but I heard all of you in my head saying “JUST DO IT!” So as I made my way to edge, I didn’t even think about it, and before I knew it, I was flying through mid-air and splashed into the lagoon with the cold water consuming every part of my body. It was awesome, and for anyone who hasn’t cliff jumped before, I highly recommend it.