Something I was not expecting about visiting Iceland was just how European it would be. This might seem obvious, since it’s similar culturally to Norway, Sweden and the rest of the Nordic countries. But I’ve never actually been to any of those places, even though I’ve been to much of Europe. And Iceland is… you know… an island… kind of in the middle of nowhere, with wide stretches that are nearly uninhabited and extremely wild. Not the typical European experience!
But as we learned during our hobbit house expedition, in addition to being settled by Vikings, there is a lot of evidence that it was also partially settled by Celts from Ireland. Well, now you have two European cultural influences.
There are tons of tourists from Europe. And nearly everyone in Iceland speaks English – even away from Reykjavik. Like Bermuda, this is very much an international hub – and you really feel that. Reykjavik is the most northern capital in the world, and is certainly not as big as London or Paris, but you really get some of that feeling, with tour groups walking around, speaking dozens of different languages, and a food and shopping scene that stands up to what you will get on the mainland.
I don’t know what I really expected, but after hearing from so many people about how “the food isn’t good” and how there are limited services an all that, I certainly wasn’t expecting 5-star restaurants and a bakery scene that is simply divine. I’m not kidding, the bread and pastries we had in Iceland were truly out of this world. I’m not sure what it is about the fish, but Artic char, cod, and Atlantic salmon and tuna we ate here were nothing I have ever experienced on the East Coast. The flavor profile and texture was more like the Pacific fish we dream about when thinking about our Alaska, New Zealand, Pacific Northwest, and Tahiti trips. Seriously, I was actually like emotionally moved… by cod.
And wait – then there’s the part of Iceland we were actually going for! What got us excited about going to Iceland was the fact that it’s north of the Arctic circle, and is packed with incrediblly wild and fantastical landscapes like you might expect in New Zealand or Alaska (or I suppose the Alps although I’ve never been there).
But it’s not New Zealand or Alaska, it’s not 12 or 24 hours away from the East Coast of the USA or Europe, it’s just 5 hours from New York City and 3 hours from London!
So think about it… you can go to Reykjavik for just a few days if you want. Have some amazing food, catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis – FROM YOUR HOTEL ROOM if you are just a little lucky – and take a few day trips to see some truly spectacular landscapes. Or go full adventure mode like we did and hit the road every day for a week or two to see some really unforgettable sights.
World class dining
Amazing glaciers and mountains
The Northern Lights literally almost every night that it isn’t cloudy
Out of this world landscapes
Real life hobbit houses
The real life Mount Doom
Active volcanoes (which we just missed seeing by a few days!)
The continental divide
The open road where you can be the only people around for miles in every direction – if you so choose
And so so so so so much more.
What’s even crazier is that it’s really like 3 different countries. In the summer, when there’s daylight basically 24 hours a day, you get one kind of experience. In the winter when there’s no daylight you get a totally different experience. And during Spring/Fall you get a mix of both.
Pound for pound, I don’t know if there’s any other place you can get to within five hours of the US East Coast that offers this much variety of things to see and do, as well as the kind of solitude on the road that I crave so much. You can fly to most places in the US, even as far as California in that time, but you ain’t seeing no auroras in San Francisco.
Don’t get me wrong – the continental United States is amazing in its own right. And you can certainly get some amazing views in the good ‘ol USA as well. But if you’re looking to explore new cultures, eat new foods, see amazing landscapes, AND get a glimpse of the most incredible night skies on Earth (maybe in the entire solar system!) – this is the place to go for it.
Beyond simply visiting another country, going to Iceland is like visiting an entirely different planet. Except that it also has a metro hub that is up there with any destination in Europe.
What more is there to say but GO THERE! There’s no better place on Earth that you can fly to in 5 hours or less from New York City.
Verdict: An otherworldly, wild, spectacular, but also somehow very cozy and familiar use of the time you are given.