Big Trip: Iceland

Nordic Vortex: Descending from the top of Iceland. Photo: Doug Schnitzspahn

I have traveled the world and no place I have ever been has captured my imagination and my pure sense of wanderlust like Iceland. Blame it on the Vikings maybe—they founded this place and Icelanders still speak the same language as their ancestors. And the greatest works of Norse mythology were written on and preserved here in the Edda and Icelandic Sagas. Not to mention, the locals have a good deal of respect when it comes to the supernatural beings that may inhabit their rough, volcanic island. Blame it on the pure visceral landscape. A volcano could erupt here any day and do anything from stop European air traffic to bury a whole town. Or maybe blame it on the people, who will happily join you on the most epic of adventures. And don’t be surprised if they are in a band—it seems everyone is here, and some of the best music of the past 20 years has origniated in Reykjavík (Bjork, Sigur Rós and the not-to-be missed Iceland Airwaves, icelandairwaves.is, music festival that takes over the hard-partying capital city every fall). Our advice? Book a ticket, get here and simply explore. Following are our suggestions of some adventures not to be missed on the island. Oh and when it’s time to party, make sure you ask for the Black Death, a.k.a Brennivín, trust us… you may be speaking Icelandic and singing with a local punk band up on stage after a few.

Get in the Air

The biggest news when it comes to Iceland has nothing to do with volcanoes, Bjork or putrified shark (actually it’s called hákarl and it’s a sort of delicacy here, sort of). Starting in May, Icelandair will be running non-stop flights from Denver to Reykjavík, making the trip far easier for Coloradans than ever before (when you had to transfer on the East Coast). The airline claims fares will be as low as $489 round-trip (it also will be offering reasonable flights through Iceland to other European capitals starting around $725). icelandair.us

Click here to enter our Icelandair Giveaway for your chance to win 2 free plane tickets to Iceland direct from Denver.

The Golden Circle

The most basic Iceland tour is called the Golden Circle, a drive out of Reykjavík that takes in the stunning waterfall Gullfoss, Geysir the geothermal waterspout that gave all the rest their name and Thingvellir, a truly magical spot that is the site of Iceland’s parliament. It’s also the site of the first parliament in the world, where Viking chieftains would turn their backs to their colleagues and cry their grievances out to the cliffs. But Thingvellir is far more than a political stop—it’s also the site of a submerged rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. You can dive here (wear a dry suit) and swim down into what is truly a cleft between worlds. dive.is

The Westmanns

If Iceland itself is not remote enough for you, hop on a ferry and head for the nearby Westmann Islands. Only one of these volcanic rocks is inhabited by a small fishing village (pop. 4,135)—and even that was almost destroyed by Eldfell, a volcano that unexpectedly rose up and erupted in 1973. The town was barely spared and some of it buried in lava. But excavations are currently taking place here in the “Pompeii of the North,” as the islanders call it, and you can walk through the unearthed ruins. Or gaze on the rocky, uninhabited island of Surtsey, which did not even exist until it erupted out of the sea in 1963. Or you can try the local sport of scaling. The locals have been doing it for generations to collect bird eggs and it simply consists of swinging on ropes on ropes along the soaring cliffs with the Atlantic crashing below. visitwestmanislands.com

Hit the Top

The highpoint, however, of any trip to Iceland may be hitting the, um, highpoint. A massive, glaciated volcanic caldera jutting up from the North Atlantic, 6,921-foot Hvannadalshnúkur (say that three times fast) is actually a fairly easy mountain to ascend if you are experienced in glacier travel—though it is a big vertical trip in one day. But take heart, the long Arctic summer days give you more time to make the trek. From the top you get one of the best views on the planet. Looking south to open ocean all the way to Antarctica and north into Europe’s biggest glacier, Vatnajökull, where volcanoes lurk under the ice.

 Want to travel to Iceland for FREE? Click to enter our Icelandair Giveaway for your chance to win 2 tickets to Iceland, plus a rolling duffel bag.

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