As the people who know me best can vouch, I’m extremely suggestible. So when I read an article talking about cheap places to go in the spring of 2013, Iceland piqued my interest. I didn’t know anything about Iceland other than it was cold, and it would give me the opportunity to see the aurora borealis (which I did).
But that was enough. I became obsessed, as I am wont to do, and I booked a week-long trip to Iceland. Since then, I’ve traveled to almost 20 countries. And to this day, I’ve never been to a place that was more awe-inspiring and spectacular than Iceland. My love of Iceland fully transcends my stunted attention span. I know that it isn’t the kind of place that is usually on people’s radar, so allow me to inspire you to put it there.
Iceland is the safest place in the world.
If you’re concerned about safety on vacation, there is no safer place than Iceland. In 2013, a police officer killed a person for the first time in Iceland’s history. And people were devastated. Because things like that don’t happen in Iceland. Handguns are banned, and only people licensed to hunt can carry shotguns. The cops don’t even carry guns. You don’t have to worry about getting mugged, getting kidnapped, getting assaulted in an alley late at night. It’s a magical society where people don’t do bad things to each other. So everyone feels safe wherever they go.
Iceland is the happiest place in the world.
Having been to Denmark, I think it’s fair to say it probably ties for first. Scandinavia basically has a monopoly on happiness. The happiness in those countries is palpable. You can see it in the way people ride their bikes down the street and how the children play. And their tax rate is ridiculous. If you make more than $87,000 a year, you pay the government nearly half of your earnings, so you’d think they’d be more pissed off.
But they’re not, because they have everything. They don’t have to worry about paying for school or paying for healthcare. Those things are basic human rights in Iceland. So they take the extra time that they would otherwise spend worrying, and they spend it drinking hot chocolate under the northern lights in the middle of the week. Or having business meetings in a natural thermal bath drinking a beer with their colleagues. Which brings me to my next point…
Iceland has the most stunning natural landscape in the world.
I’m more of a city gal myself, but I enjoy a good bit of nature on occasion, as long as it doesn’t require me to exert too much effort or sleep uncomfortably. But actually, my favorite thing about Iceland is the natural beauty. There are wonders there that you only ever read about in science books. This is where you can see the first geyser ever discovered, because it’s still active and surrounded by other even more active geysers. In fact, the word geyser comes from the Icelandic verb geysa, which means “to gush.”
In Iceland you can walk on glaciers, hike through deserts, see gorgeous waterfalls impressive enough to bear God’s name (Godafoss), and marvel at the gash in the earth where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet in Thingvellir National Park.
Iceland has seasonal wonders all year round.
Because of its location in the Northern Hemisphere, visiting Iceland at any time of year is strange and wonderful. If you go in the summer, you’ll get to experience the midnight sun. Between May and July, the sun sets for only 3-4 hours a day just after midnight. So you can spend your entire trip sightseeing without worrying about it ever getting dark.
In the winter, it’s a night owl’s wet dream because the opposite is true. Don’t worry, there is plenty of nightlife, particularly in Reykjavik and a lot of holiday festivities to get you through the dark days. And for the months between summer and winter solstice, the country is graced by the presence of the aurora borealis, which frequently dances over their skies.
Icelandic food is delicious.
I was worried about going there, because almost everything that isn’t seafood has to be imported. This means that it’s very expensive, and I assumed it would not be as good. I was wrong. I can still remember some of the meals I had there, some of them simple, like a burger, and some of them elaborate and hearty like a rack of lamb with potatoes and fried vegetables. I didn’t have one bad meal in Iceland. In fact, I would venture to say I didn’t even have one average meal. They were all excellent. Though make no mistake, they are expensive.
Iceland is super fun.
Whether you like adventure, partying, or photographing beautiful landscapes, the country has something for everyone. You could find yourself spelunking in ice caves and watching mud pits boil at your feet on the same day. You could also find yourself on the set of Game of Thrones, which occasionally films there. Even taking a domestic flight was fun. We were entertained for an hour at the airport by a group of musicians singing folk songs. If you’re like me and you like a little bit of everything (except Game of Thrones), a week will seem like a woefully short time to enjoy everything they have to offer.
Icelandic people are extremely sweet and welcoming.
Travel can be very strange depending on where you visit. You can be treated rudely simply because of your passport in France or Italy. You can be scammed or pick-pocketed in the street in Morocco or Nicaragua. You can be treated so respectfully that you feel oddly worshiped in places like Japan. Every place has its own way of dealing with foreigners.
But Icelanders don’t assume anything about you so they don’t treat you any differently. They don’t care where you come from. They treat you like neighbors. They invite you into their homes and offer you a beer, not with the intent of getting anything from you. But out of genuine kindness. And that’s perhaps the most impressive thing about Iceland.
The fact that they believe in Christmas elves (Yule Lads) is pretty cool, too.