Iceland – it’s remote, exotic, and a super sexy travel destination. With glaciers and volcanoes that beckon you and dramatic photos that call to every aspiring photographer, it’s an outdoor lover’s dream. Surprisingly affordable with roundtrip flights often costing less than $500 and a shorter flying time than to LA (it’s just three hours from Chicago), Iceland is definitely having a moment.
Upon discovery of the amazingly quirky, off the beaten path tour to become a certified Viking, I became obsessed with the trip, telling everyone who would listen about it. It boasted a weeklong series of adventure challenges like a never-ending adult obstacle course designed to test our physical abilities and willingness to withstand the cold. Activities included everything from riding Icelandic mini horses to glacier climbing and arctic river rafting (brr!), each day with a new surprise, twist and turn. The week culminated with a scavenger hunt that was a mix of trivia and word puzzles designed to test what we’d learned about the culture and country.
What Activities Were Included?
ATVing – On of my favorite activities was an ATV excursion billed as a “trip to the moon,” a molten lava rock field around the tip of the Reykjanes peninsula where Clint Eastwood filmed Flags of Our Fathers. the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is the exact mid-point between North America and Europe. Hold on tight, as the bumpy ride will have you gripping the handlebars for dear life.
The Blue Ice Tour – It was my first time glacier climbing, which was part ice hike, part wall climb, part waterfall rappel. It was exhilarating to tap the frozen tundra with your ice pick,gingerly testing which sections will hold your weight as your crampons literally clinging to the edge of the earth (be careful, they puncture yoga pants easily and you’ll quickly be reminded how technical some of this gear really is). I was there right after the huge eruption of Eyjafjallajökull so the ash left an even more dramatic black and white landscape.
White Water Rafting – You’re a brave soul if you venture anywhere near the water in Iceland — they don’t call it arctic river rafting for nothing (especially with the wind effect). Wet suits help to an extent, but make no mistake, it’s bone-chilling and not for the faint of heart. Northern Iceland is known for it’s bigger rapids, but near Reykjavik is class 2.5, perfect for a bit of adrenaline, while still being a relaxed float.
Hiking – The Golden Circle is an easy drive to Iceland’s most well-known nature spots, Geysir, the world famous hot springs, the Gullfoss waterfall and Þingvellir national park. Explore the gurgling, bubbling earth, the dramatic rushing waters, the rift where North America and Europe split, and the site of the world’s oldest parliament still in existence.
Horseback Riding – Icelandic horses are some of the most coveted in the world for their short, agile bodies and easy-going disposition. You’ll ride across rivers, mountains and lava fields, trusting your gentle steed to trot and gallop through the countryside.
Blue Lagoon – To relax, it’s off to the Blue Lagoon, one of the top 10 natural hot spring spas in the world that looks like it was designed by James Bond himself. Super futuristic, have you ever opened a locker a wristband? Because I have. The algae and lava massages and facials were some of the most unique treatments I’ve ever seen, and a great way to recoup sore muscles from the strenuous daily activities.
What did I really think of Iceland?
Perfect for my ADD style of travel, becoming a certified Viking was a hell of a resume builder and the only thing anyone ever asks me about. The adventure activities were top notch, but Reykjavik is DEAD during the week. Since they are an island, all alcohol (and everything really), has to be imported, making going out less than affordable – so much so that locals typically just drink at home during the week and pre-game until at least 11 pm or midnight on weekends. I prefer travel destinations that have a better balance of daytime adventure with nighttime excursions, and this definitely wasn’t that.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t the UK’s bachelor spot for nothing. The city turns into a mini-Vegas on weekends with bars and clubs rocking until the wee hours of the morning, probably a side effect of getting 23 hours of sunlight a day. There’s also no shortage of Bjorn bombshells and Eric from True Blood lookalikes roaming the streets. During the week, though, you’re on your own to entertain yourself.
In my opinion, Iceland is perfect for a weekend getaway. You don’t need more than 2-3 days and it’s a centrally located stop between the US and mainland Europe. I was also there in August, which is the warmest month, but make no mistake, it was still freezing. Most days had highs of only 50, so be do your homework and dress in layers. You can read more about the whole experience here.
If you’re looking for more traditional Iceland travel tips, check out this post.
For another unique experience, check out the Viking Museum in Denmark.
For what not to do in Iceland, read this.
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