Iceland has just over 300,000 people, and most of them live in the vibrant capital city of Reykjavik. Most people spend some time here before moving on to the countryside, taking the famous Ring Road route (or something similar). Come here to see the Glacial Lagoon, Skaftafell National Park, the epic geyser, or one of Iceland’s many towering waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss in the south. But if you want to truly get off the grid, you don’t have to go far. Take a trip to the north, along the Snaefellsnes peninsula or the West Fjordlands. The beauty hidden between every rock and mountain in Iceland will amaze you. Don’t overlook Akureyri either – Iceland’s second largest city, and a hub for party-lovin’ university students.
Places to Visit in Iceland
- Blue Lagoon
- Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- West Fjordlands
- Lake Myvatn
- Glacial Lagoon
Unique Things to See and Do in Iceland
- Trek to the hidden Landmannalaugar hot springs
- Visit the Askja volcanic crater
- Join the “Runtur” – partying in Reykjavik
- Swim between two continents at Pingvellir National Park
- Go whale watching in Husavik
- Walk across a glacier at Skaftafell National Park
- Visit Reykjavik’s Hallgrimskirkj church
- Look for sea monsters in lake Lagarfljot, near Egilsstadir
Iceland is easily one of the most unusual countries in Europe (and possibly the world). There’s something about remote islands that just breeds quirkiness. The Icelandic language itself does not represent any other Nordic language, and learning it can be quite difficult for native English speakers. But it’s a language that’s rooted in antiquity – just take a look at the Icelandic sagas, considered some of the world’s most important literary works. Iceland is actually the best-read country in the world, with a 0% illiteracy rate. More books are written, published, and sold here per capita than anywhere else in the world.
Icelandic folks are notoriously laid-back, perhaps thanks to their mix of Nordic and Celtic heritage. The severe weather conditions also contribute to that laid-back attitude – thanks to having to constantly battle the elements, Iceland is remarkably self-sufficient. It’s one of the few countries in the entire world that has zero military enforcement, and believe it or not, in 2013 Icelandic police shot and killed someone for the first time ever. Their response? The police issued a formal apology to the public. You can’t get more laid-back than that.
Icelandic people may seem reserved and straightforward…but only until the weekend rolls around. In Reykjavik, everyone participates in the notorious Runtur – “round tour,” meaning a sort of improvised pub-crawl through the streets of the city. Bar and club prices are steep, however, so many people prefer drinking at home before heading out on the town. Because of this, you’ll find the city quite quiet until around midnight. You’re also guaranteed to make a few Icelandic friends in the process – they love showing visitors a good time!
When it comes to quirkiness, you need to look no further than Iceland’s puzzling belief in elves. Based on folklore, Icelandic people will do everything they can to avoid aggravating the elves. Even building new roads has to come with special clearances so that no elf homes are disrupted in the process. There are even self-proclaimed seers that receive special messages from “the hidden people.”
Did you know…?
Instead of Saint Nick and his elves, Iceland has a Christmas tradition involving Yule Lads. But they’re not all friendly and loveable — Yule Lads are actually descendants of trolls.
Did you ALSO know…?
About 85 percent of Iceland’s energy comes from renewable resources, and over half of that amount is geothermal activity. Even Reykjavik’s sidewalks are heated in the winter months.
Getting Around Iceland
Thanks to Iceland’s popularity, getting around the country during peak season is quite easy with a number of tour operators and guides. Being remote and sparsely populated, there isn’t much of a bus or public transit system. The best option is definitely by rental car – the flexibility to travel long distances at your own pace (especially when you want to stop and see the sights) is the perfect way to do it.
Another popular option is by bicycle. Beware that road conditions in the winter months can be a little hazardous. If possible, avoid the West Fjordlands when there is ice or snow on the road.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Iceland
Weather affects everything in Iceland, and how much you enjoy your trip can drastically rely on conditions. Obviously, spring and summer are the warmest times to visit. Temperatures are pleasant – albeit not exactly hot – and you’ll even get to experience the Midnight Sun (24 hours of sunlight). On the other hand, the peak summer months for travelers also means hugely inflated prices and busy crowds. If you’re looking for organized tours and guides, you’ll be better off to plan in advance.
If you’re looking for a quieter time to visit, fall is a great time to do so – especially October and early November. Temperatures are chilly but not freezing. Many businesses may be shut down for the season, but prices everywhere are nearly halved (especially rental cars). You’ll also have better opportunities for meeting locals.
Ready to plan your visit to Iceland? Check out these popular guides and trips.