It’s been almost a year since I visited Iceland, and I still so enjoy reminiscing about the exciting things I did there. When people ask me about the best of it, I answer that these five things are the don’t-misses. I could easily turn this into a Top Ten list by adding in a drive around the island with stays along the way. And then there is doing a cave tour, seeing the Northern Lights, and eating some pristinely fresh Iceland fish. As much time as you have, there is that much more to do that is worth doing.
1. Soak in the Blue Lagoon
This was the number one thing I most wanted to experience in Iceland. I love hot springs, and this one, described as large and hot and manmade, did intrigue me. In advance I was concerned about privacy in the changing rooms, which turned out to be a breeze to maneuver and to secure a private spot in a restroom for a quick change. I also was able to go in the shower in my bathing suit, though I had heard you couldn’t. I certainly didn’t want to be there in my birthday suit among the many giggling 20 year olds! The lagoon itself was heaven. I loved sipping a cocktail while I steamed, and I know that the free goo from the silica pots made me look several years younger, at least while it was on my face.
2. Ride an Icelandic horse
Although I didn’t exactly ride my horse, I did mount it and pet it and get my picture taken with it, and I enjoyed watching the rest of the people in my group experience the unique tolt gait trot the horse is famous for. On the farm visit that was included with this horsey experience, we also were introduced to a charming “sunshine tea” in the farmer’s own home. It consists of crepes served with blueberry preserves and whipped cream, plus and round donut-hole-like “love balls.” This tea celebrates the return of the sun after the sunless few months that occur here every winter.
3. Take the Iceland Golden Circle tour
I took a basic group bus tour from Reykjavik that stopped at the major sites along this route: Þingvellir national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where we walked through the separation caused by the slow drifting apart of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates that meet here; Gullfoss waterfall, where we were almost blown away by the strength of the roaring falls’ mist; and the Geysir geothermal area, where we walked among bubbling mud pools and watched the predictable eruptions of Strokkur geyser, and where I think my camera met pending doom from the resulting steam (be careful here and cover your camera!). Lunch was included. I liked that this expedition was guided because I didn’t have to do any planning—just go. Some tours add on extras, such as riding an Icelandic horse or soaking in the natural geothermal baths at a wellness center, or visiting one of the farms to meet locals, pet animals, and sample some Icelandic delicacies. Do a little research and then settle on the tour that adds in what you personally don’t want to miss.
4. Stroll Reykjavik and select a souvenir
Reykjavik--pronounced “Ray-kah-vik”--is Iceland’s biggest city but it is small enough to stroll through in a day. Downtown, you’ll walk along winding cobblestone streets see colorful architecture and street art graffiti. Try to fit in a visit to the Hafnarhus art museum located in a refurbished 1930s fish warehouse and the architecturally interesting Hallgrimskirkja Church, which can be seen from almost everywhere in town. In between, you’ll come across some of the unusual shops where you are bound to find the perfect locally made souvenir. The Handknitting Association of Iceland is the place to find a well-priced knit sweater or a red knitted Santa (which I still regret not buying). Visit the Kraum Centre for Icelandic Craft inside the city’s oldest wood house to select from an intriguing collection of Icelandic pottery, jewelry, household utensils, and clothes, plus whimsy in the form of a fuzzy sheep-fleece topped stool (I also regret not buying this!).
5. Eat an Icelandic hot dog
Bæjarins Bestu Pylsur is located downtown by the bus station and is probably the most famous spot to eat the famous Icelandic “pylsur,” or hot dog. Usually made with free-range, grass-fed, organic, hormone-free Icelandic lamb, locals like them with “everything”--ketchup, sweet brown mustard, remoulade sauce (a mix of mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs), raw onions, and crispy fried onions. When I walked by here, I wasn’t hungry, so I finally ate my dog at the last minute at the airport and it wasn’t bad.
Note: I was asked to share my Iceland experience here by Guide to Iceland. All opinions and comments are my own.
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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers