As a country consistently featured at the top of the lists of “must-visit places in the world,” Iceland is no longer a secret. It attracts attention from photographers looking to capture the natural beauty and adventure travelers looking to experience the plethora of outdoor activities it has to offer. And while it seems to be hailed as one of the new up and coming destinations amongst the well-traveled, I cannot begin to count the number of people who asked me before I left “Why Iceland?” in a confused state, wondering why I would travel to a country that has a population of a little over 300,000 and whose misnomer of a name creates the assumption that the country is completely covered in ice.
Part of the appeal may be visiting somewhere that is a little less traveled, but there are so many more compelling reasons to visit the country that is smaller than 40,000 square miles and full of natural wonders. Here are just a few of the reasons to consider Iceland for your next trip. Spoiler alert: you should book your plane ticket now!
- Thinner Crowds: While Iceland is not as unknown as it was 10 years ago, it is still considerably less crowded than other hotspots in Europe, especially once you get out of Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. Some attractions draw more visitors than others, but there are moments when you have the road to yourself or are one of 3 people at a waterfall and that is pretty special. In this age of tourism where attractions are packed with iPad-wielding mobs, Iceland offers visitors a more relaxed and peaceful version of tourism. While some locals are not thrilled with the influx of visitors, to the outside eye Iceland still seems relatively unscathed.
- Natural Beauty: Whether you fly in for a long weekend and only visit Reykjavik and the Golden Circle or stay longer and circumnavigate the country as we did, it will take you all of 5 minutes to recognize the natural beauty that exists in Iceland. From ACTIVE volcanoes and diverse waterfalls to glaciers and geysirs and natural baths, Iceland has it all. What this country has endured in terms of natural disasters is staggering, and oftentimes the aftermath is still left for visitors to view and explore. It truly a photographer’s dream.
- Diversity: Traveling from South Iceland with its coastlines of black beaches to the Eastern Fjords to the harbors (and sunshine) in North Iceland, you cannot help but notice the diversity that exists within this small country. Our road trip allowed us to juxtapose the regional differences and appreciate the varied landscape that Iceland has to offer.
- Simplicity: There is no denying that life is simpler in Iceland. Crime in the capital of Reykjavik is staggeringly low allowing locals to maintain a much happier, less skeptical mindset than you typically find in a big city. Pickpocketing is not an issue and traffic is almost non-existent with a mild rush hour in the capital being the only time you are forced to use your brakes. Small villages dot the countryside with just a handful of restaurants and shops (and sometimes people). There are no large skyscrapers or subway systems in the capital. This makes it incredibly easy to slip into a simpler, calmer mindset when traveling – one where all thoughts of the real world’s stress slip away.
- Closer Than You Think: Prior to leaving, many people asked me how many days it would take to fly to Iceland. I am under the impression that many people think Iceland is floating way up in the Arctic Circle, but in fact it was only a 5 hour direct flight from Boston. The quick flight can help you maximize your time in Iceland if you only have a couple of days to visit. Icelandair has other North American gateway cities and even flies direct from Seattle.
- Free Stopover: Icelandair runs a great free stopover program for visitors on transatlantic flights looking to visit Iceland for 7 days or less. If you are flying anywhere between North America and Europe and decide to connect in Iceland, you can stay in the country for up to 7 days at no additional cost. It allows visitors to get a taste of the country while combining it with another destination. Our friends utilized the free stopover when they stayed in Iceland for 3 days on their way to Paris.
- Unexpectedness: While most trips involve some traditional elements of what to expect, Iceland perpetually promises visitors an element of surprise. Packing and planning proved to be a struggle because I HAD NO IDEA WHAT TO EXPECT. And guess what? Iceland delivered by taking us by surprise on a number of occasions. With an active volcano showing signs of erupting as we were arriving and an early display of the Northern Lights (!!), Iceland has mastered catching visitors by surprise.
So the question is actually, “Why not Iceland?” Let me know in the comments if you have been to Iceland or are planning to go in the near future!