Should you find yourself excitedly anticipating the Summer Solstice this Saturday, you might consider relocating (at least temporarily) to Iceland, where the sun hardly ever sets this time of year. The coming solstice will grant North Americans with a rare 15 hours of daylight, but in Iceland, the locals are used to basking in the sun all night long. Indeed, in the summer months, the sun shines over Iceland for 21 hours, rising at 3 a.m. and setting after midnight. But this is only one of the country’s many perks.
Having just returned from a 10-day vacation to the country, I can confidently say it's a highly underrated travel destination (and did you know it's the most feminist country on earth?). Though it has gotten some attention recently through the film sets of Land Ho and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, many are unaware of all that Iceland has to offer. Attention globetrotters: here are eight things you should know before you head to your next travel destination.
1. Location, location
Reykjavik is the world’s most northern capital city, which is a novelty in itself. But Iceland is also situated over two tectonic plates, the American and the European. You can scuba dive between the two continents, or wander through the Thingvellir National Park, where you can literally see the two plates drifting apart at a rate of two centimeters a year.
2. Scandinavian influence
Iceland used to belong to Denmark, and though the country is now independent, the Scandinavian influence is clearly present. Reykjavik is home to hundreds of quirky design stores, literally bursting at the seems with souvenirs, clothing, and household appliances you’ll be thrilled to take home.
3. A Geothermal Hotspot
Iceland is home to some of the world’s most impressive hot springs. While the infamous Blue Lagoon is totally worth your while, make sure to check out some of less touristy geothermal springs while you are there. Hveragerði, the hot spring capital of the world, is a range of lusciously green hills. A geothermal river runs through the mountainous peeks, and hikers are free to dive in at any point.
4. Natural Beauty
Iceland’s varied terrain also is home to many waterfalls. The Gullfoss Waterfall is one the of country’s most visited locations, but many of the country’s lesser-known waterfalls are equally impressive. The Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, in Southern Iceland, is straight out of a fairy tale. Meanwhile, Iceland is also home to some of Europe's largest glaciers, where tourists can try ice climbing and observe the effects of global warming first hand.
5. The Locals
The locals are hip. Like, Portland hip. They flaunt edgy hair cuts and massive fur coats, bright lipstick and huge glasses, but they are very down to earth. And, they speak English. If you have been reading the names of any of these places, you will notice Icelandic is not the most accessible of languages. But you have nothing to fear.
Because of its location, Iceland is also home to many of the world’s volcanoes. The Thrihnukagigur Volcano, in particular, is the only volcano in the world that humans can actually descend into. The views inside are incredible — tourists can gaze upon the psychedelic walls naturally stained by lava eruptions.
7. The Expense
Iceland has never fully recovered from the 2008 recession, meaning that the food there is expensive. It was almost impossible to enjoy a meal that cost less than $30, and the hostel accommodations are similarly overpriced. However, Iceland is also the most credit-card friendly destination I have ever encountered. You could survive the entire trip without any cash. Even a solitary kiosk selling hot chocolate beside a waterfall will take your visa.
8. Live Music
Icelanders are proud of their music scene, and rightly so. In addition to Bjork and Monsters of Men, Iceland is constantly producing eclectic talent. Café Rosenburg, amongst others, is one of the best places to head out for live music.
Images: Savannah O'Leary