A Virginia Writer Goes to the Land of Fire and Ice

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A view of the water on Highway 47 around Hvalfjörður.

Funny story: Graham and I went to Iceland in March, I blinked, and now it’s nearly September.

I really have struggled with what to say in this post.  There are blog posts and articles all over the Internet about what to do in Iceland, how to save money, what to bring, and what you should know before you go.  The market for advice is…well, just a little saturated.  Not unlike my hair, my clothes, and my hiking boots after walking behind Seljalandsfoss on a damp day.

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Seljalandsfoss in south Iceland.

Worth it? Oh, absolutely.

With the collapse of WOW air and the rising sentiment that Iceland has become too much of a magnet for Millennials seeking adventure in its windswept landscapes, several of my friends asked me, when Graham and I got back, if our trip was worth it.  Worth the cost, worth the time, worth fighting the hordes of other eager tourists looking to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights and bathe in crystal blue waters.

Again – oh, absolutely.

So, instead of doling out advice that you can find elsewhere, I’m just going to tell you why, even now that you can’t score super-cheap WOW air tickets (spoiler: we flew Icelandiar and it was great) and even now that Greenland is the new hotness, you should absolutely, 1000%, without any hesitation book your trip to Iceland.

The tourist spots are actually worth a stop.

We’ve all been there – trapped in a cramped elevator on the Eiffel Tower, stuck behind some wailing kid while you’re trying to snap a picture of the Grand Canyon, desperately huffing it up the hill at Edinburgh Castle just barely managing to keep up with the tour guide.  In these moments, many of us – yes, even avid adventurers – can succumb to our lesser instincts and wonder, is this worth the hassle?  Well, yeah, of course it is, and Iceland is no different.

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Kirkjufell, on the Snæfellsnesnes peninsula in the west.

You should absolutely see the geysers, pet the shaggy ponies, scale the craters, and walk along the black sand beaches.

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Strokkur, on the Golden Circle.

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A thermal field along the Golden Circle, near Geysir.

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Kerið, a volcanic crater lake on the Golden Circle.

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A fluffy Icelandic horse I tried to make friends with on the Golden Circle.  He wasn’t interested.

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Reynisfjara Beach, facing Dyrhólaey, near Vík.

Go play in a glacier lagoon and spot diamonds on the shore.

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The Diamond Beach on Iceland’s south coast.

Will you have to deal with people?  Sure, but they’re just as excited to be there as you are.  Just give each other space and be patient.  It is worth the hassle.  I promise.

And if you go in the winter or early spring, there are ice caves.

And they’re really, really cool.

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An ice cave on Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier.

And they don’t all look the same.

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A black ice cave on Vatnajökull glacier.

A tour takes half a day.  You have time to do another cool thing in the morning, and then play in the ice all afternoon.  It’s kind of comforting to know that not all caves are dark and creepy.

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Layers of ice and ash.

My parents thought Graham and I were crazy to go to Iceland just when it was starting to warm up in Virginia, but if we’d gone in the summer, we would have totally missed this opportunity.

There’s plenty of culture and history to explore.

Iceland was first settled in 874 AD.  The country has a rich history.  Its people were and are a brave, hardy, and resourceful bunch.  You’ll spot history from the car driving to your next hotel.

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A traditional turf structure, on the road in south Iceland.

You’ll see it lauded in towns and cities.

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Lief Erikson, in Reykjavík.

And yes, there are museums, too.

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A ship on display in the Skógar Regional Museum.

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Traditional turf houses, which have been moved to the Skógar Regional Museum.

Don’t miss out on actually learning the history of this little island.  It will surprise you, and you’ll be better for knowing about it.

You don’t have to spend a ton of money on food and lodging. 

This was the view from our totally reasonably-priced Reykjavík hotel room:

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The view from our hotel room in Reykjavík.

And while we certainly splurged on a few meals, it’s not hard to find a quick bite.  Hot dogs are an Icelandic favorite, and they’re not expensive, and they’re pretty damn tasty.

Iceland is not the least expensive place Graham and I have ever visited, and if you fancy a beer or a cocktail, do be prepared to drop some coin.  But if you do your research and plan ahead, and if you aren’t visiting in the height of summer, your trip to Iceland won’t empty your bank account.

Icelanders have a sense of humor.

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The Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat, in Reykjavík.

They’re fun people, and they’ll appreciate your visit.

And they’re artistic, literary, and whimsical.

Did you know that Iceland is one of the most literate nations in the world?  Or that one in ten Icelanders will publish a book?  If you like reading or art, you’ll be happy in Iceland.

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Artwork on the side of a building in Reykjavík.

There’s also some stunning architecture.  This…

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Hallgrímskirkja, the cathedral in Reykjavík.

…was inspired by this:

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Basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach.

You might even see a troll or two.

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A statue of Bárður Snæfellsás in Arnarstapi, a village on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Iceland is really just heartbreakingly beautiful.

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A view we happened upon when we made a wrong turn onto a dirt road, near Hvalfjörður.

Just look at it.

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Another view of Hvalfjörður.

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Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.

You can see waterfalls, black sand beaches, glaciers, and mountains all in one day.

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Skaftafell National Park, near Öræfi in southeast Iceland.

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A pretty little waterfall we spotted from the road.

You can walk along a tectonic divide.

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Þingvellir National Park.

If you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of the aurora (probably while you’re driving and your camera equipment is packed into the back of the car and you need to take pictures quickly with your cell phone or else you’ll miss it…do find a safe place to pull over).

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Blurry cell phone photo 1.

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Blurry cell phone photo 2, with extra blurry stars.

The landscape in Iceland is unlike any other place in the world. Go see it.

If I haven’t convinced you to buy a plane ticket by now, let me leave you with this.

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Gullfoss.

That mythical, dreamland Somewhere over the rainbow?  I found it.  It’s Iceland.

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I don’t remember where this is, but isn’t it gorgeous?

Have you booked your trip yet?

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