When it comes to dream destinations, many list grand European cities like Paris or Venice or exotic beach locales like Hawaii or Aruba. Those are great locations, but right now, for me, Iceland tops the list.
I don't know that I've ever seen (admittedly from afar) a country as beautiful as this island nation.
The Great Outdoors
For the outdoor enthusiast, Iceland offers an amazing array of options. Waterfalls abound from Gullfoos in the south (above) to Selfoos in the north. The number of majestic waterfalls in a country the size of Kentucky is amazing; the website world-of-waterfalls lists more than 70.
One could spend an entire vacation simply taking in and photographing the waterfalls of Iceland. Seljalandsfoos is another one not to be missed. Not only does it boast a drop of nearly 200 feet, but it also allows visitors to actually walk behind it.
One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty is the Golden Circle Tour which encompasses 190 miles of Southern Iceland. The three main stops along the route are Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoos, and Geysir Geothermal Field which offers Yellowstone-like eruptions every five to ten minutes.
If waterfalls aren't your thing, you can always go whale watching. Multiple companies offer tours allowing visitors to see whales and puffins up close. Most tours last between two and three hours and can be expensive. But if you can afford it, the experience may be well worth it.
Tour companies also offer deep sea fishing expeditions as well as land and sea tours featuring whales and horses and hiking tours of the island.
The Blue Lagoon
Perhaps the most famous, or at least most photographed, Icelandic site is The Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal spa located about 20 minutes from the airport.
The Lagoon holds more than a million gallons of seawater which is renewed every 40 hours. The water, kept at approximately 99 degrees Fahrenheit, is said to have healing powers and be great for the skin.
After a soak, vacationers and locals can enjoy a massage, sauna, or any of the typical health spa amenities. The LAVA Restaurant features traditional Icelandic fare as well as everything from sushi to chicken salad. One added feature not found at most upscale restaurants is the ability to eat lunch in your bathrobe after enjoying time in the water.
Yet another bit of natural beauty that attracts visitors to Iceland each year is the Northern Lights. Iceland is perfectly situated to allow visitors to experience one of the most breathtaking natural phenomena in the world.
The Aurora Borealis are best seen between September and April beginning at about 9:00 p.m, with peak viewing hours usually between 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. Be advised that unlike the geyser that erupts every 10 minutes, it's entirely possible to visit during peak season and never witness the Northern Lights. Atmospheric conditions must be right for the signature green lights to appear.
If you're really lucky, other colors can light up the sky, including reds, blues and even pinks. Researchers have discovered that the lights tend to peak in cycles of 11 years. The next peak year is 2013.
The northernmost capital city in the world and the smallest capital in Europe, Reykjavik was settled by Ingolfur Arnarson in the late 9 th century. The area was named "Smoky Bay" due to the steam surrounding the city rising from the numerous hot springs. Befitting a capital city, there is plenty to do, but Reykjavik's size makes it intimate enough to explore on foot.
Like any European capital, there are great museums featuring art and local history. One of the top sites is The Pearl, a cluster of former hot-water storage tanks converted into shops, the Saga Museum, and an upscale restaurant with beautiful views of the city.
Another big attraction is the National Museum of Iceland which features an in depth look at the Iceland's evolution, from its Viking origins to the present day.
Unlike other European capitals, Reykjavik can claim some of the best salmon fishing in the world. Salmon season runs from June to mid-September and guided tours are available. It's not often that you can say you went fishing in the capital of any country.
Iceland combines stunning natural beauty with the charm of an old European capital to offer visitors a truly unique travel experience. It's an experience I hope to have very soon.