Study Abroad Files: Iceland
Iceland, a small island nation situated between Greenland and mainland Western Europe, has a lot to thank Eyjafjallajökull for. When the volcano, (pronounced ay-ya-fee-yat-la-yuh-kut-l), erupted and disrupted air travel across Europe for weeks in 2010, it catapulted Iceland, a country of only 330,000 people, into the spotlight. People began noticing its beautiful scenery, and once they visited, they encountered friendly locals, and some of the best nature-themed vacations Europe has to offer. I visited in 2015, and fell in love. Iceland is indescribably beautiful and super friendly to boot. It will however make you rethink Chicago's title of "The Windy City". The Blue Lagoon
This industrial accident-turned tourist site is a must-visit. The story is that a nearby geothermal power station had a spillage of geothermal fluid, and for some unknown reason, a worker went in the pool and his psoriasis was completely cured. Since then, the dermatological benefits of this hot spring water have been repeatedly cited. The water is infused with the many minerals present in Iceland's bedrock, and kept at a steamy 100 F, so even if it's snowing out, you can bask in its skin-saving waters without freezing to death. Another ply,s is that there's a world-renowned spa attached, and it's on the way from the airport to the capital Reykjavik, so it's the perfect antidote to tired airplane skin!
The Golden Circle
This is Iceland's most famous driving tour, around 300 km in length, and covering Iceland's top tourist attractions: Þingvellir national park, where the Icelandic parliament was founded, the Gullfoss ("Golden Falls") waterfall, Haukadalur geothermal site, and some of the world's most awe-inspiring geysers. This journey can be done in a day and gets you around some of the most beautiful parts in the country, and many bus trips can be booked if you don't feel like making the drive yourself.
This festival, held in early November and lasting 5 days, is all about exposing the greatest new acts in music, both Icelandic and international. Acts that have performed over the years include Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Ros, Fatboy Slim, Klaxons, Kaiser Chiefs and Metronomy. If you're going to be in town, this festival is famous for its party spirit as well as its intimacy, so hit it up! Tickets for all five days will set you back ISK 19,900 (around $150), only $30 a day!
Kaffibarinn is a cafe-turned-bar that is known as one of Reykjavik's finest. It's been around for so long that staff can't actually remember why their sign is based on the London Underground station signs, and while it serves great coffee in the day, it has a wide array of beers and spirits available at night. Make sure to check out Topas (a liquorice liquor) or Rekya (Icelandic vodka).The drinking age in Iceland is 20, and drinks can be hard to come by and expensive. Kaffibarinn is an easy way to try some local alcoholic delicacies, and while not exactly cheap, the atmosphere is worth it.
A Glacier Walk
This was the highlight of my 2015 trip to Iceland: walking across the Solheimajokull glacier, ice picks, caverns, hard hats and all. This is a truly unique experience, and will let you unleash your inner explorer. Tours are regular, and lead by experienced and friendly guides with impeccable English. They can also be personalised to change their duration, as well as the specific areas you walk across (great for those who feel less confident leaping over endless crevasses or want to do nothing but that).
Skógafoss is one of Iceland's most famous waterfalls.You can climb to the top (all the 370 steps!) and get a stellar view of the surrounding area, or approach the falls from below. This waterfall is situated on one of the main tourist roads, so you can easily reach it for ample photo opportunities. The mist is bitterly cold, but the scene is so breathtakingly beautiful, you barely even notice.
Seljalandsfoss is a truly unique waterfall - you can walk behind it! Experience nature like you never have before - and might not again - here. A bonus is that it's completely free, and situated on Route 1 - which also passes through Skogafoss, and straight on to central Reykjavik.
In terms of getting around Iceland, you'll ether need to rent a car or join a bus tour group. There are loads of companies to choose from. All the locals, especially in Reykjavik and around tourist sites, speak English, so you won't have to worry about Icelandic's pesky case system and strange extra characters. Iceland uses ISK, the Icelandic Krona, which makes prices look exorbitant ($1 is ISK130), but since Iceland is an isolated island that has to import nearly everything, stuff can very expensive. If you're vacationing in Iceland, stay in a hostel. They're far cheaper than hotels and offer fabulous service.
IcelandAir and WOWAir both fly to Iceland, and WOWAir is a great budget option. Keflavik airport is modern and well-furnished, and is also tax-free, meaning your duty free shopping is even cheaper.
So don't neglect the friendly, beautiful nation in the middle of the Atlantic. It'll surprise you!
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