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Chances are you’ve heard of at least one friend whose traveled to Iceland for a romantic or family trip lately. That’s because it’s become a go-to spot for couples and families looking for a mix of adventure and style. With the unmistakable emerald hues of the Northern Lights and activities like hiking and horseback riding (not to mention that infamous blue lagoon), an Iceland
When To Go
If the Northern Lights are what you’re after, it’s best to visit Iceland from September to March when you’ll have the best chance of seeing the natural light show. Keep in mind that to see them properly you’ll have to escape the light pollution of the city. Also, the less clouds around, the better!
Getting to Iceland is surprisingly easy. Fly into Reykjavik International Airport (KEF) on Icelandair, which operates nonstop flights from Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Denver (DEN), Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP), New York (JFK), New York (EWR), Orlando (MCO), Portland (PDX), Seattle (SEA), and Washington, D.C. (IAD). You can also opt to fly Delta with nonstop options from New York (JFK) and Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP).
Where to Stay
Before you figure out which hotel you want to stay at, you’ll want to figure out your itinerary. Use one (or several!) of the options below for a
The City/Country Mix
There’s much to be said about the small cosmopolitan city of Reykjavik. It has everything you’d expect from a small but mighty city – like great restaurants and nightclubs. If you’re going for the “stay in Reykjavik and take day trips out of the city adventure,” we recommend the Hotel Borg (but book the deluxe room category or higher for more space/luxe accommodations). Reykjavik is a small walking city, so you’ll really be able to experience all of the attractions from any hotel you stay at. We recommend renting a car for visits to places like the Blue Lagoon and must-sees along the Golden Circle.
The Iceland Ring Road
If you’re planning an extended trip (around 2 weeks), you might want to consider planning a road trip around the Ring Road in Iceland. The Ring Road, which encircles the country, was built to take locals and visitors around the country to experience all it has to offer. The Ring Road is approximately 1,333 kilometers or 828 miles, and takes about 12-13 hours to drive, though we don’t recommend driving straight through – as there is so much to see along the way. You’ll pass volcanoes, icebergs, waterfalls, black sand beaches and the Northern Lights. Not to mention mythical experiences like geothermal springs, rainbows and a bevy of seals, puffins, reindeer and horses. IGreat hotels along this journey include the Hotel Ranga, Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, Silfurberg Farm & Hotel, Icelandair Hotel Akureyri, Hotel Husafell and Hotel Búðir. Note that each of these hotels offer its own area of exploration, and as mentioned above, he less light pollution there is, the more likely you are to see the Northern Lights. Some hotels offer wake-up calls to let you know when they are visible right from the doorstep. Others also offer excursions that take you further away from the population so you can see an even more vibrant experience.
What to Do?
No matter if you’re planning on day excursions or taking the road trip route, these attractions should definitely be on your list:
The Blue Lagoon, arguably the most visited tourist attraction in Iceland, is a manmade geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavik in southwestern Iceland. The mineral rich seawater lagoon is kept at a temperature of 99–102°F, and the spa offers unique experiences like in-water massages and a swim-up bar. You’ll want to arrive early and you can even plan on staying all day. In fact, you can dine at the spa’s restaurant for dinner!
Have you ever eaten in a greenhouse full of fresh tomatoes? Yeah, we haven’t either. But we’d definitely like to visit Fridheimar to do just that. Fresh tomato soup and Bloody Mary’s made from tomato’s grown right there? We’ll be RIGHT there!
You’ll see SO many waterfalls along your journey in Iceland. A few magical ones include Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi and Skógafoss.
When basaltic lava cools it forms hexagonal columnar jointing, otherwise known as columns of basalt rock. One of the best places to see these rock formations is on your way to Vik, south Iceland, another stop on your journey around the Ring Road.
Dyrhólaey, or “the hill island with the door hole,” is a small peninsula on the south coast of Iceland. Its’ main feature is a 120-meter high (or 393-feet high) arch, and the peninsula also offers views of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the Reynisdrangar basalt seastacks and the incredible coastline towards Selfoss.
Though the Blue Lagoon is manmade, there are plenty of majestic natural lagoons that you’ll encounter on your trip through Iceland. One of these is the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, which offers incredible views of the glacier and large pieces of ice among the waters. Book a tour to taste the ice (literally), and to marvel at the many seals. You’ll also want to visit the Langjökull ice cave, which is part of Europe’s second largest glacier. Alternatively, you can also visit Víðgelmir, the lava cave which is the largest in Iceland and one of the largest in the world. (Note: If you’re scared of closed spaces you might want to skip this part.) Tours are available through Into the Glacier.
Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city, with many local restaurants offering delicious Icelandic cuisine, art galleries and museums. Take a walk around the town, enjoy the winter festivals and ask a local for their favorite restaurant. They’re sure to steer you in the right direction.
The Golden Circle of Iceland is a 300-kilometer (or 186-mile route) that’s possible to drive in one day, but still lets you marvel at some of Iceland’s most amazing natural and manmade attractions. You’ll see Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is also the site of the ancient Icelandic parliament where the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament. Thingvellir National Park also includes the Thingvellir plain – where the tectonic-plate boundary of North America and Europe are pulling away from each other.You’ll also see the Silfra fissure, where experienced divers and snorkelers can dive in the crack between the North American and Eurasian continents. It’s one of the top dive sites in the world, and the only place where you can dive between two continental plates. On your tour of the Golden Circle you can also visit the geothermal area of Haukadalur (where you can see the famous geysers, even though they no longer put on a show), as well as the Gulfoss waterfall. Be sure to make pit stops to see the beautiful Icelandic horses as well!
This area is a beautiful addition to your trip. Not only is it ideal for viewing the Northern Lights, you can also arrange for adventure activities to explore at your leisure, including the already mentioned ice cave and lava cave tours. Plus, the Hotel Husafell is a welcomed retreat.
The Hotel Budir is at the edge of the Snæfellsjökull National Park and boasts incredible views of the Snæfellsjökull Glacier, which is an active volcano. It offers a tranquil country escape, but you can still experience things like glacier tours and horse riding. The volcano, which stands 1,446-meters or 4,744-feet high, provided the setting for Jules Vernes’ Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Keep in mind these are only suggestions. If you’re planning on road tripping, you’ll find plenty of swoon-worthy moments along the way. That’s the beauty of Iceland.