Toland’s Travels | Four Days in Iceland
Guest contributor Brad Toland is an international educational tour guide, lawyer, and teacher. He travels regularly throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
If you’re looking for a quick getaway this time of year, Iceland might just be the perfect choice for the ambitious traveler. It’s a four-hour flight from the East coast, and you can get a direct flight from Boston or New York City. A long weekend is really the perfect way to experience the culture and breathtaking beauty of this arctic nation.
Arrive in Reykjavik and make your way to the hotel. It’s quite a drive from the airport into the city (roughly 45 minutes), and a taxi can be insanely expensive. Instead, take one of the shuttle buses that run into the city regularly. Once you’ve checked into your hotel, dress warmly and go exploring. The city (and the whole of the country) is very safe. It is also flat and easily navigated. Almost everyone you meet speaks English, and is friendly. Find a local restaurant to have dinner, and enjoy some of the best fish you’ve ever eaten in your life.
Really dive into seeing the sights of the city today. No visit to Reykjavik is complete without a trip through the National Museum to learn about the history of this island nation and it’s fierce Viking past. You should then see the Reykjavik Cathedral with is sparse, but beautiful interior. In front, is the statute of Leaf Ericson, the Viking explorer who came to North America centuries before Columbus. The statue was a gift from the United States. Why not do a bit of shopping while you’re in town? Iceland has its very own outdoor clothing company, 66˚ North, which makes a wide variety of outdoor and casual clothing, of unbelievable quality.
For lunch make your way to the Blue Lagoon. Iceland is fortunate to have enough geothermal activity to produce enormous amount of geysers that have been harnessed to create enough electricity for the entire nation. They also use this naturally heated water to fill large pools all over the city that allow you to soak in the warmth. The Blue Lagoon is actually a bit of a hybrid of the electrical plant and the soaking pool. Water used to turn the turbines is dumped into a large natural reservoir, and you can actually swim in it. It’s nearly 100 degrees, but when it’s 10 degrees and snowing outside, the effect is sumptuous. There is a restaurant and a spa at the Blue Lagoon, and even hotel rooms for a longer stay. The Lagoon is a quick trip to the suburbs by bus. Have lunch and then head upstairs to change into your swimsuit in one of the nicely equipped locker rooms. Then it’s down to the pool. Thankfully, you actually enter the water inside, and then swim under a partial wall, and into the snow. The mud at the bottom of the lagoon is said to have purifying qualities that are excellent for your skin, so why not scoop up a handful and slather it on your face like the locals. It’s sold in the spa as a luxury item, at a luxurious price. Be careful though. Wearing it too long and allowing it to cool in the air will result in the worst “ice-cream headache” of your life. Trust me on this one….
After returning to your hotel, change and get ready for dinner, and once again go exploring. Dining in Reykjavik is a real treat and afterwards, the city comes to life with a wide array of live music of all genres pouring out of the bars and restaurants.
Put on your thermal underwear, lace up your hiking boots, and bring a camera. Today is the day you see what makes Iceland such a jewel. Before coming to Iceland, make arrangements with a local tour operator to take you out of the city to see the geographical wonders of this country. A great operator is Isafold. With their unique SUV vehicles with inflatable tires, the snowy roads (and in some cases, lack of roads) is no match for these tough rides. A typical tour picks you up at your hotel, and then heads out! The experience of seeing the Mid-Atlantic Ridge first hand by hiking between two continents is overwhelming. See the breathtaking beauty of Gulfloss, an amazingly massive three-tiered waterfall, and then walk right up to the edge of exploding geysers! Along the way, you may encounter wild Icelandic horses, a geothermal power plant or two, and maybe even get to include a stop in a traditional Icelandic village. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the aura borealis at the end of a day full of stunning natural scenery.
Take it easy on your last full day. Have brunch then go for a walk through the parks of the city and take time to notice the abundance of statuary scattered around Reykjavik. The university area is especially nice. After dinner, have a few drinks, and then head back to the hotel and prepare for your morning flight out on Monday.
Don’t be put off on traveling to Iceland in the winter. The country and it’s people are more than adept at living life to the fullest with snow on the ground. The opportunities and the scenery are so unique that they shouldn’t be missed. If anything, the green and mild summers are simply one of the many reasons to keep you coming back to Iceland.