Iceland: The Land of the Elves

Some call it ‘The Land of the Elves’ while most know it as ‘The land of Ice & Fire’. Both sound like Game of thrones book titles, but couldn’t stand to a truer description of this Nordic Nation because it is truly a work of fantasy. Glaciers & volcanoes, waterfalls & black sand beaches, mud pits, lagoons & hot springs, rugged coastlines & misty valleys together make for this unique island. Parts of it looks like the Himalayas, some parts like Mars, but most of it looks like no other place on Earth.

Iceland is an extremely safe country, perfect for first time solo travellers, seasoned travellers, adventurous family looking for a road trip & even honeymooners who like to get cozy but aren’t scared of little escapades in the wild. The best way to travel Iceland is in a car or campervan. Utopiic brings the best options of both.

Art & Culture: ​Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland. It is a beautiful city, both forward thinking & traditional. Depending on one’s interests, art, music & literature are worth diving into while here. The local nightlife is known to be boozy & rambunctious while the city boasts a café culture to explore during the day. Often featured in Vogue, Laugavegur is the oldest street in the country and by far the coolest as it features quirky and artsy culture through painted walls and streets & is the ultimate shopping street in Reykjavík​ w​ith the best shops, cafés, nightclubs & eateries all in one place. The touristy attractions here include the watchtower and the structure of the first boat that discovered Iceland. Take an entire day to explore your heart out.

The National Museum of Iceland boasts a one stop destination for the entire history of the country. The most famous piece at this museum is the Valpjófsstaòur Door. It was carved back in the middle ages and depicts the saga of a lion & the knight. For a more unconventional exploration, the Icelandic Phallological Museum or the ‘Penis Museum’ is a one of a kind with the world’s largest collection of penises & penis-themed art. It even has the whale penis and troll penis (though it's well-known that trolls are fictitious).

Stepping outside of Reykjavík, the setting changes to mostly countryside. Small coastal towns bring their own culture & lifestyle.​ ​Blönduós, a small town, is considered very touristy for its offerings of traditional delicacies as well as hosting the only Handicraft museum of Iceland. Though, most guest houses all over the country offer handcrafted items.

Knitting is considered an art form in Iceland. Just ask your Utopiic guide & they will connect you to the expert natives to get you on a full tour & even learn some Icelandic knitting patterns. The wool comes from the abundant sheep reared here. It is light-weight, warm & water-resistant and is used to make the Lopapeysa, an iconic Icelandic sweater, donned by all the locals. Who even needs those puffy jackets anymore? In fact as the locals say, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing”.

Food & Drinks: ​The food of Iceland is generally not suited to everyone’s taste, especially if you’re vegetarian. Meat, Dairy & fermented seafood make for the entirety of their cuisine. The main reason for this is the lack of vegetation across Iceland. Everyday food comprises Lamb Shanks, Sheep head & testical, sour milk & delicious fish soup. The traditional Icelandic Hot Dog, easily available, is one of the more tastier options, while most people eat Skyr (Yoghurt) in all their meals.

The Rotten Shark, Kæstur Hakarl, is the native delicacy that dates back to the Vikings. The smell of the dish is more overpowering than the taste, so try it before saying no. Tastier options comprise fried bugs & salted Cod. But, don’t worry because it is easy to find burgers and pizzas everywhere.

On the other hand, the Icelandic Pale Ale 'Einstok’, as opposed to the food, gives some of the best beers in the world a run for their money. It’s a must have in our books!

Health & Wellness: Iceland is sprinkled with natural hot springs. The most famous of all is Blue Lagoon, located on the Golden Circle. It is steamy with milky blue water and mineral rich clay. If travelling to Iceland, make this your first stop or your last. Saunas & hot spring swims are the main ways of relaxation & wellness by the locals. It is in fact the national pastime. Reykjavík has the largest pool, built in 1968 - Laugardalslaug Geothermal Pool. Seljavallalaug, a small place off Ring Road, also has it’s very own hot pot which requires a short hike & is much more secluded.​ L​ake Myvatn has natural baths & bubbling mud pits.

Another wellness bath available in Iceland is the beer bath. Essentially, one dresses down & lies back in a draft or kaldi beer for about 25 minutes, while sipping a glass of the local ale. The natives advise against a shower for 4 days after the treatment!​ Ask your Utopiic guide for the best ones. That is the laid-back Icelandic lifestyle for you!

Wildlife & Nature: ​Crystal clear waters, steamy air, icebergs and glaciers, stunning waterfalls, lagoons, black sand beaches & bubbling lava are some of the most beautiful and common sights in Iceland. Even the horses of Iceland are Icelandic, with their cute bushy hair. They make for the most phenomenal moments, so keep your eyes peeled.

Silfra Fissure, the only such place in the entire world, is the space between the North American & Eurasian continental plates. This space is filled with crystal clear water, which is a chilly 2 ̊ to 4 ̊C all year round. It comes from the Langjökull (glacier) & is filtered through underground lava for a 100 years before rising up to fill the fissure making it clearer than bottled water with visibility over 100 metres.

One of the most famous travel routes in Iceland is the 300 km long Golden Circle. It constitutes the Thingvellir National Park and the Strokkur Geyser in the Geysir Geothermal Area. It is an active geyser & erupts every 5 - 10 minutes to fifteen to twenty feet in the air. Gullfoss is one of the country’s signature waterfalls & is unique because the view one gets is from above instead of below as it goes underground. On a good sunny day, one almost always catches not one but a few rainbows together at the waterfall.

The Ring Road travels the entire circumference of the island. On it is the Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall with a narrow 60m drop & one of the most picturesque sights of Iceland. Another is Skogafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland & by far the most visited. You can walk right up to it, but be prepared to get drenched.​ The legend attached to this falls states that a treasure chest full of gold lies behind it and was hidden there by a viking.

Vik, a little seaside village, sports many black sand beaches to dip your toes in and enjoy the choppy ocean views. Early in the morning Puffins can be spotted on the beaches. These wild Atlantic birds look like fantasy over reality. Nearby is a glacier that covers the Katla volcano, that is known to erupt every 20 - 90 years. One can catch sight of bubbling lava here. It is known to be the most dangerous volcano in Iceland.​ Your Utopiic guide can touch base with an expert native to undertake a hike here.

Go∂afoss, the waterfall of the gods, is a majestic semi-circular falls that is absolutely breathtaking. Nearby are Hverir & Krafla, both of which are volcanic calderas

that look like Mars, with craters, lakes and steaming sulphur. The lava deformations make it even more awe-inspiring.

The most powerful waterfall of Europe - Dettifoss, is located in the Vatnajökull National Park, the largest glacier park in Iceland. The park comprises a glacier lagoon called jökulsárlón. Various boat tours are organised here. Icebergs float in the water & one can see seals in the winter. The Anaconda Ice Cave is a long and winding cave from the Ice Age, making for a mystical exploration.

Adventure & Sports: ​Iceland boasts a multitude of hikes and trails across the country. Tell your Utopiic guide the level of hiking you prefer & he will suggest one accordingly. A few multi-day hikes start at skogafoss, Hverir & Krafla, taking your imagination onto another planet. The Fja∂rárgljúfur Canyon has a 2 km Ice Age hike, which is an absolute must, while Vatnajökull National Park in the north & Sólheimajökull in the south have varied hikes which are wet and slippery, so travelling with a local may be the way to go.

Westfjords has many multi-day hikes for all types of hikers, even beginners. The rugged landscape and pristine blue waters provides for the best way of exploration of the countryside of Iceland on foot. Active geysers, picnic spots, the scenic bay and the mountain peaks make it a beauty to behold.

Other vigorous activities in Iceland include classes for ice climbing and horseback riding. For a more laid-back adventure, get on a boat for some early morning whale watching. These striking creatures are stupendous up close. Watch them jump, dive & put on a show.

Another must is scuba diving & snorkeling at Silfra Fissure. It is not for solo divers and one must dive alongside a certified PADI dive guide, who specializes in ecotourism. Ask your Utopiic team about your own certification before you go there, because no reason is good enough to miss this. It is a 2 hour shallow dive and the buoyancy is very different from ocean diving. A big difference here is the use of dry suits instead of wet & instead of wearing swimwear, winter clothes with gloves is what one wants on underneath!

The Photographer’s Paradise: ​Iceland is one of the most photographed countries of the world, or definitely could be! It is full of ripe opportunities to get some of the best clicks for the portfolio. The summer promises very long sunlight hours. The sun sets at midnight & rises again by 3 AM! But, rain is often & unexpected, making for numerous rainbows everywhere, sometimes even upto 97 at the same time! Also, no northern lights can be seen in the summer, only in the winters. But, do not base a trip on seeing the Aurora because it is very elusive. If you do catch them, be camera ready, because they will amaze you!

Talking about photography, The DC-3 plane wreck is a beloved spot of the locals & travelling photographers alike. What makes this site interesting is the visual contrast of the wreckage against the otherwise barren landscape around it. The photographs just can’t go wrong!

Iceland truly stands different from anywhere else in the world, and there is not enough reading material to describe the true magic of it all. So, get online, get in touch with Utopiic and start planning your epic journey. The legend awaits!

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