Stuff To Do In Iceland -- Iceland Golden Circle

Iceland, The Perfect Winter Getaway?

"Really?" you may ask, "Iceland?" Yes. This small, but beautiful country offers a little bit of everything: gorgeous scenery, friendly people, an interesting culture and plenty of activities. And despite its cold-sounding name, the winter can be one of the best times to visit.

1. Iceland Isn't As Icy As You'd Think: In the winter, the coastal areas are surprisingly warm, thanks to the ocean currents. Temperatures average at around 30-40 degrees farenheit -- chilly, but definitely tolerable if you dress appropriately. You want to avoid the country's interior areas, but there's plenty to do around the Ring Road, which takes you past many of the main attractions.

2. It's Not That Dark: In February: Iceland gets light around 9 a.m. and stays so until about 6 p.m. So while the day is a bit shorter -- and it can be disconcerting to have a moonlit breakfast -- for most of the winter, it's light enough so that you can go out and enjoy a full day.

3. It's Not That Far Away: From the Northeast U.S., Eastern Canada or Europe, it's only a few hours away by plane. From New York's JFK Airport, for example, a flight is only about 5 hours. In the winter, Iceland Air often offers special discounted weekend getaway packages, so for that alone, it's worth going off-season.

Geysir Iceland

Glacier In Iceland

Weird And Wild Iceland

One of Iceland's main draws are the geothermal features. Icelanders depend so much on the geothermal activity that they have spas in every town and even the showers run on geothermal water (note: when you take a shower, don't be put off by the sulfur smell!). If you drive on the Ring Road, which is the main highway circling the country, you'll pass by many different natural wonders. Here are a few worth stopping for, all of which are only a couple of hours by car from Reykjavik. These so-called "Golden Circle" sights are all in the Southeastern corner of the country. The ride along the road is a treat in itself as you pass by mountains and moss-colored lava fields.

1. Geysir: This aptly-named natural park is known for its spurting pools of water. The largest geyser erupts approximately every ten minutes; it's worth sticking around to see the show.

2. Gullfoss: This double waterfall is impressive to begin with, but it's even more stunning in the winter when the falls are frozen over. On sunny days, a semi-permanent rainbow stretches across the falls, going far up into the sky. Nearby, you can see the snow-capped volcanic mountains, which only add to the winter moonscape.

3. Thingvellir: Here, you can walk down a canyon into a valley that has waterfalls (which lead into deeper canyons). Along the way, you pass by an old church and the spot where political assemblies were held back in the 10th-13th centuries. Thingvellir doesn't have any geysers, but is surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes. In fact, most of the mountains that you see are actually volcanic. There was even a volcano that spontaneously erupted out of the ocean in the late 1960s, creating a new island!

4. Seltun: You know you've reached Seltun when you can smell the intense odor of sulfur. Hold your nose, though, because a walk through this geothermal park is worth it. As you wander along a wooden bridge -- don't walk off of it; the water is boiling! -- you pass by bubbling and gurgling streams and lakes of every color imaginable. Some Icelandic legends believe that the country is the gateway to hell, and one can certainly understand why people would think that when visiting a sight such as this. Across the way is a glacial lake that supposedly houses a creature similar to the Loch Ness Monster.

5. The Blue Lagoon: This geothermal spa isn't truly a natural wonder, but it's a nice place to relax after sightseeing all day, and is notably the best spa in iceland. Water is pumped in from a nearby volcano and is a perfect 100 degrees Farenheit. Even on a chilly night, you'll warm right up in the huge outdoor pool. Go ahead and collect a handful of mud from the bottom; it's filled with minerals that are great for the skin. Then sit back (there are actually places to sit in the pool), relax and stare up at the stars.

6. The Northern Lights: In the winter, the sky is often cloudy, making it difficult to get a clear view of the sky. But when the night is clear, you have a good chance of spotting nature's own light show.

Tips and warnings:

1. You need to know how to drive stick shift in order to rent a car in Iceland. The stick is necessary, though, because many of the roads that veer off of the main highway are not paved. It can be a very bumpy ride!

2. Don't go into the interior in the winter. It's tempting to drive toward the beautiful glaciers, but unlike the coastal areas, the interior is an unforgiving place in the colder months. Most of the access is blocked off, anyway.

3. Layer up. Temperatures can get a little colder as you move inland and start to head into the mountains. Even if it's 40 in Reykjavik, it might be less by the volcanoes.

The Blue Lagoon Spa Iceland

Quirky Reykjavik

Reykjavik isn't a large city, but there's plenty to do. Walk around town and you'll see colorful, old house, many of which have the year that they were built labeled on them. In the "downtown" area, you'll find plenty of restaurants and coffeeshops, but keep in mind, Iceland is EXPENSIVE, mainly because a lot of their goods need to be shipped in. A moderately upscale dinner can easily cost around $200 American for two people. However, it's also easy to find inexpensive foods if you head to the supermarkets. Icelanders also love fast food -- especially hotdogs -- so there is plenty of that available, as well.

Though there are a number of hotels in the city, the most budget-friendly chain are the Fosshotels, which are similar to Holiday Inns in the United States. You'll be given small, but comfortable rooms, and a private bathroom (which has a sulfur shower). Most Fosshotels offer a complimentary breakfast that includes cereals, fruits, cheeses, eggs and meats. So staying at one is a great way just to save on at least one meal!

As for activities, Icelanders definitely have a great sense of fun. Here are some of the more interesting things to do:

1. Join The Runtur: Each Friday and Saturday night, hundreds of drunken, rowdy people, mainly young folk, go bar hopping around town in a pub crawl known as the "runtur." Feel free to join the crowd as they make their quest, and get rid of those winter blues.

2. The Saga Museum: This unusual museum recreates important moments in Iceland's history, complete with large replicas of historical figures (kind of their version of a wax museum). However, many of the figures were modeled after the current citizens so you might just see some of these people walking around town! There's an interesting video that shows how the models posed and became the inspirations for these statues. The museum also has a pleasant, albeit pricey, cafeteria and gift shop full of Viking costumes should you ever want to dress like one.

3. The Phallological Museum: Yeah, you read this right. This is a museum dedicated to penises. It houses a collection of genitalia from over 200 species of mammals, though not too surprisingly, none are from human males.

Iceland Party Scene In Reykjavik

Spotting Elves In Iceland

The Importance Of Elves In Iceland

Most countries have legends that feature mythical creatures; in Iceland it's elves. Most of the stories are told in good fun, but Iceland takes the belief seriously enough so that the government won't build in areas where elves allegedly live. In fact, there have been stories where mediums have been hired to communicate with elves so that contractors could build in certain locales.

Hafnarfjördur, a suburb of Reykjavik, is known as the elf capital. If you go to the town's chamber of commerce, you can even purchase an "elf map" for about $14 American. The map, which was authored by elf medium Erla Stefansdottir, features colorful drawings and descriptions of elves, fairies and hidden people, and shows you where you can find them in town. Stefansdottir also shares her accounts of spending time with the elves. "Elf Tours" are conducted by Sigubjörg Karlsdottir, who takes you around town and relays the various stories and legends.

Northern Lights In Iceland

Iceland Holiday

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Icelandic Delicacies

Being an island nation, Iceland is a great place to have fish. However, in addition to serving the standard meats (fish, chicken, lamb, etc.), you can also try some unusual cuisine.

1. Hakarl: This is preserved, putrefied shark;. It smells so bad when it's "ripening" that the plant is located way outside of town. It gives off an ammonia odor.

2. Puffins: This is a type of bird that lives in Northern climates, which they regularly eat there.

3. Pony: Icelandic ponies are short and muscular and yes, they're served in some restaurants.

4. Skyr: This is a thick, rich yogurt product, which is often served with sugar and berries. You can get packaged skyr in supermarkets, but the homemade version is far superior.

5. Whale: A few places do still have whale on the menu, though the country's whaling practices have been met by much resistance from outside groups.

Iceland In A Nutshell

Iceland may sound like a cold, desolate place, but it's anything but -- even in the dead of winter. With beautiful scenery, welcoming people and no shortage of activities, it's a great place for a quick getaway that's sure to warm your heart.

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euro-pen 7 years ago from Europe

Fine hub. Icelands seems to get quite trendy now with the depreciated currency (though inflation is also on the rise there). I like that you included the story of the elves in your hub. I did follow a feature on elves (interview with a Icelandic "elve researcher" on a local radio some time ago. Quite entertaining.

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