More than likely you’ve seen this destination pop up on your Instagram feed at least once over the last year or so. Maybe it’s was a shot of someone bundled up on a glacier surrounded by epic scenery, both desolate and stunning. Maybe it was a friend exploring the country’s most well-known destination, the city of Reykjavik, which also happens to be the northernmost capital in the world. Or perhaps it was a Kardashian, wrapped head-to-toe in fur or looking glamorous while soaking in the Blue Lagoon. Regardless there is no denying that Iceland, a country settled by the Vikings in the late ninth century, is—excuse the irony here—hot, hot, hot. It’s been so buzzed about, we just had to explore this beautiful, sparsely populated country (a little more than 300,000 people call it home) for ourselves to find out what all the fuss and Instagramming was about. Click through to find out why Iceland should be moved to the top of your must-visit destination list, especially since roundtrip airfare will be $220 this summer on WOW airline. As an added incentive, Iceland just became the first country to mandate that employers prove pay equity for women—making it a place especially worthy of our financial support.
Where To Go
Definitely start in Reykjavik, which is where you'll fly into (if you’re planning a European vacation soon, take advantage of Icelandair’s stopover offer). This capital city is small and walkable and boasts charming stores, delicious restaurants and and a concert hall so architecturally stunning, it’s a don’t miss even if you don’t see a symphony or opera there.
Your interests should determine where you venture to next. In Southern Iceland, make sure not to miss the town of Vik, where you can see black-sand beaches, waterfalls, glaciers and the popular photo site of the crashed DC 3 plane. In the North, Siglufjordur (Siglo for short and the sake of pronunciation) is an absurdly picturesque fishing village, well located near ski resorts and heli-skiing operations in the winter. It also plays host to a popular Folk Music Festival in July.
What To Do
You’ll want to visit the Blue Lagoon, located just outside Reykjavik. Considered one of the wonders of the world, the Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa in which the silica mud on the bottom boasts healing properties when rubbed on the skin.
Also make sure to try to see the Northern Lights (a phenomenon created by collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere and charged particles from the sun) as Iceland is one of the few places in which they can be seen well. The key word here is "try" as a lot of circumstances have to come together for you to see the spectacular, moving-lights show in the sky—weather, season, location, etc.—but we assure you it's worth the attempt.
With its glaciers, volcanoes, black-sand beaches, caves, hot springs and breathtaking scenery everywhere you turn, Iceland is a virtual playground for nature buffs. Wherever you venture, you’re guaranteed lifelong memories and a very full camera roll.
Where To Stay
In Reykjavik, try the 101 Hotel. Its modern décor, sleek and bright rooms and delicious restaurant make it both a comfortable and chic place to stay. Its prime location in the center of Reykjavik’s downtown also makes it incredibly convenient. In Vik, choose the Icelandair Hotel Vik for its gorgeous surroundings, Icelandic design and cozy bar. In Siglo, the quaint Siglo Hotel is built into a fisherman’s marina and boasts beautiful, spacious rooms with hardwood floors, window seats and a lively lobby bar that makes it easy to mingle with other guests. The view from the hot tub is not one you'll soon forget.
Where To Eat & Drink
The simple answer is fish. It will be fresh and delicious no matter where you are, of that you are guaranteed. And Reykjavik, in particular, is also known for great bars and clubs. Remember, for a large portion of the winter, Iceland is dark a good amount of the day, so locals can pass the time by enjoying delicious craft beers, cool bars and a lively nightlife.
Mikkeller & Friends is a quaint, third-floor space in Reykjavik with a large and impressive selections of beers; have a few before enjoying dinner at the nameless pizza place below. Try the catch of the day at Snaps, or indulge in some super-fresh and yummy sushi at The Fish Market. And once dinner is over (most kitchens close around 9 p.m.), many of the cafes turn into bars and then dance clubs, particularly on the city's man drag, Laekjargata. Dillon, Boston or Bar 11 are all good options, but know that Reykjavik's downtown is littered with fun spots, and because there is a rarely an entry fee, you can easily hop between them to make the most out of your time in the city.
What To Buy
Iceland is literally a dream for a fair isle sweater lover, and buying one here, made from Icelandic wool, means yours will be authentic, rather than a re-creation by an American chain store. These sweaters can be found on virtually every corner of whatever town you’re in, but standout knitwear can be found in the craft-focused Geysir and beautifully appointed Farmers Market. Head to IceWear for souvenirs of all kinds—from candy to key chains and even Icelandic beauty products, and hit the Nordic Store for yummy, gigantic scarves, both for you and as gifts for loved ones. Regardless of what you choose, make sure to bring something home a memento of Iceland because we assure you this is one trip you're going to want to remember.