During these hot summer months, much of the northern hemisphere craves cooler weather. Though there are some die hards who love to take their summer vacations to hot beaches, there are plenty of those of us who prefer to head north, to cooler latitudes. Enter Iceland.
No, I haven’t yet been, but Iceland has been very high on my list of places to visit for the past couple of decades. And why not? It’s one of the coolest (and coolest) places in the world. Here are a few reasons why.
1. The Arctic Circle. Iceland (just barely) touches the Arctic Circle. This means midnight sun in the summer, and very dark winters. Though you get the bonus of the aurora borealis.
2. Weather. Yes, weather. The weather isn’t that cold. At least, not what you’d expect. The winter high temperatures in Reykjavík average above freezing, and the summers are cool but not cold. Perfect for a break from Arizona heat.
3. Fjords and glaciers and waterfalls. The island is quite a treasure trove of these glorious natural features, along with breathtaking and sometimes stark expanses showing off some of the newest land in the world. Take yourself along the Golden Circle tour to see the best of the best attractions.
4. Cats. There are cats everywhere, roaming the streets in the capital city of Reykjavík. They aren’t stray, but are well taken care of by their owners, and just hang around outside. You can follow their adventures on their own Facebook page.
5. Geologic activity. High-temperature geothermal pools abound in this country, and are used for a variety of purposes. Some are used to harness power for electricity, some are recreation areas for bathing. There are also lava fields. Volcanos. Geysers. Hot springs. Magma chambers filled with mineral deposits. Over 90% of housing in the country is heated through geothermal heat. But it’s not all beauty and cheap, clean energy. Because of the extremely active geologic activity in Iceland, they monitor seismic activity very closely and have plans in place to deal with emergencies.
6. Books. Books are a passion in Iceland, both the writing and reading of books, which isn’t surprising, considering their storytelling tradition including the Icelandic Sagas. In addition, they have a deep, ingrained holiday tradition of giving each other books on Christmas Eve, and then spending the night reading. This is one tradition I can get behind.
7. Ice. Trekking, skiing, visiting ice caves, or just sightseeing affords the opportunity to enjoy the view of Iceland’s icy areas, though the glaciers are, unfortunately, melting faster than they are replenished.
8. History. Viking poets who wrote sagas. Need I say more? Well, okay, there were also the well-known Nordic explorers, Eirík the Red and his son, Leif the Lucky. But Iceland’s interesting history doesn’t end there. It’s settlement period was from about 870 to 930, a very short 60 years. From then on, the inhabitable land was all claimed, and there were about 30,000 inhabitants. In 930, common law and a National Assembly were founded. In these medieval years, Iceland was for farming, without significant towns.
9. Safety. Crime is low and medical care is very good. Just be careful with the geysers and potentially dangerous weather! And, as always when traveling, keep your wits about you.
10. Wild fauna. There is still much wilderness in Iceland, where you can spot birds, arctic foxes, and whales, but there are very few native wild animals (the arctic fox is the only native land animal—if you, like us, were wondering what the foxes ate if there were no other land animals, the Journal of Zoology has the answer). There are plenty of bird species for bird watching, however. You can also see reindeer, among other species, which were imported from Norway in the 1700s. And, while there are bees, wasps, and midges, there are no mosquitoes, snakes, or ants!
11. The coast. Being an island, there is plenty of coastline in Iceland, which is dotted with many lighthouses. There are black volcanic beaches, cliffs, fjords, and all kinds of sights. Some of the coasts include floating ice.
The small size of Iceland allows visitors to see much of the island in a small amount of time. It’s climbing higher and higher on my list of must-see places in the world.