Guest Post by Robin Young Burinskiy
Visiting Iceland gives you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience unparalleled geological phenomena.
Hot springs and geysers are geothermally-heated water rising up from the center of the Earth. The waterfalls and mountains were formed by the continual collision of the North American and European continental plates, which may eventually divide Iceland in half. All around you, you’ll see the evidence of ongoing changes in the Earth’s crust, and it’s something you simply can’t miss.
We bought our tickets last-minute because of a deal that WOW was running. We stayed in an Airbnb for the first time on this trip, and I would recommend giving it a go in Iceland if you’re game. So much of Reykjavik was built very recently, so the apartments can truly be as nice as hotels, for the same or lower cost. We stayed in an impeccable, hyper-modern one-bedroom off of Laugavegur; another couple we met ended up in the home of a former member of Of Monsters & Men.
Because we decided to visit last-minute, we didn’t put much thought into when the best time to visit Iceland might be. We were there from November 8 through 12, and the daylight hours were from about 9:30 to 4:30. In the summer, it’s light for a much larger portion of the day; and in late December, it’s only light for about 4 hours per day. I’m glad that we visited during a time when we had about 8 hours of daylight in which to explore; but since we were visiting outside of the normal tourist season, our plane tickets and excursions were cheaper than they would have been a few weeks earlier. This made early November a smart time to visit, but I will say that it’s now on my bucket list to return in the summer to experience a whole different side of Iceland.
The weather in November is a mixed bag. It can be the best time to see the northern lights; however, rain is also a strong possibility. The weather seems to behave in a cyclical manner, with 4 or 5 days of rain alternating with several clear days.
We spent one day exploring Reykjavík itself. If you happen to be blessed with a day of nice weather, take advantage of it! Visit all of the places at the top of your list and take all of the pictures you can, because the unpredictable weather can change in minutes. Sights we saw:
Hallgrímskirkja: The often-photographed modern church
Laugavegur: The Newbury Street of Reykjavík
A beautiful view of the mountains on the island Engey from the harbor by Harpa Concert Hall
Go on tours around the country! I was worried that tours would be restrictive or gimmicky… I was wrong. They’re essentially like public transportation that takes you right from your doorstep to all of the sights you could ever want to visit. You’ll hear fascinating stories about the country’s natural and cultural history as you travel between destinations, and you’ll get to see in one day what other people might see in a week for just $100 to $200 per person (which is more than worth it!). I recommend Reykjavik Excursions, which the locals echoed because it’s the longest-running tour company (and they’re also the same buses that take you to and from the airport).
The dishes you have to try: The salmon is 100 percent wild and is absolutely delicious. If you want to try a fish you’ve never had before, I highly recommend Arctic char (just like salmon in texture, but with a milder taste) and plaice (a delicious, meaty white fish that even those who find white fish boring will love!). They’re extremely proud of their lamb in Iceland as well—I don’t eat it, but Alex got it almost every night! Lastly, skyr is a type of yogurt that has been enjoyed in Iceland for over a thousand years. It’s very high in protein and has a characteristic tangy flavor that fans of Greek yogurt will love.
About 99.5 percent of Iceland residents speak English—likely better than some North Americans! If you feel anxious or guilty about visiting a country without knowing a single word of the language (like I often do), that’s not a concern here at all.
A short trip isn’t wasted in Iceland. Reykjavík is a surprisingly tiny city, both in terms of its population and its physical size, and you’ll have seen it all in 1 to 2 days. In addition, much of the island is largely uninhabited. If you spend two or three days on tours around the country, you’ll leave feeling like you truly experienced so much more than you would in a larger country. If you don’t have time for lengthy vacation, Iceland is the perfect destination.