Winters seem to be the most underrated time of the year. Yeah, I get it. First of all, it's cold. You have to spend most of your time indoors just to avoid getting frost bitten or catching the flu. Plus, there are only a few holidays that seem to make the season go by quicker and once those holidays are over, most of us just spend the rest of our time counting the days until spring comes.
But when it comes to new adventures, traveling really "flips the script" when it comes to winter. A snowy winter day can be easily transformed into a wintery wonderland depending on if you are in the right place or not.
My latest trip to Iceland completely changed my point of view about winter. I went from a person suffering from "winter blues" to a winter goddess ready to experience her next "thrilling seeking" adventure in a country with one of the coldest climates on earth.
So what's so exciting about Iceland, you ask? Why, plenty! With less than 400,000 residents living on an island full of volcanos, geysers, glaciers and lava fields, it has to be one of the most beautiful "non- tropical" islands you could visit during the coldest time of the year.
So let's jump in to what makes Iceland so magical. Here are 8 wonderful things to see when traveling to this Nordic wintery wonderland:
#1: The Northern Lights
Now, it is possible to miss this amazing performance of the night sky on your first trip to Iceland. I just wanted to put that disclaimer out there because, when I visited, I didn't know what to expect.
The Northern Lights, or aka the aurora borealis, is an interaction between the earth's magnetic field and charged particles emitted by the sun. It causes the night sky to light up with streams of green, purple, yellow and even red neon lights. It's amazing when you actually catch this rare phenomenon in between the months of November to March. But, in order to see its beauty, weather conditions have to be completely clear and you also have to be in the right location at the right time.
The Northern Lights can actually be seen in a few different countries. Reports have shown that the beautiful aurora borealis has appeared across the night skies of Finland, Alaska and the northern part of Sweden. What makes Iceland the most unique place to see it is that it sits at the best latitude to catch the Northern Lights on its best night.
When trying to catch this beautiful natural phenomenon, it is best to start peaking outside your window on your first night in Iceland. Even if you are sitting in your hotel room in the middle of Reykjavik, periodically go outside and check the skies. I had a few people from my tour tell me that they were able to see it right outside their windows, while others had to walk over to the riverside. Experts have said that the best displays of The Northern Lights are in complete darkness.
There are also several apps that you can download to help you track the Northern Lights. But, even if you don't see it your first couple of nights, don't give up. Traveling with a tour guide or a person with a great camera will help better your odds of seeing it. But give yourself enough days during your trip so that you don't go home disappointed.
#2: The Blue Lagoon
Picture a tropical oasis with its own waterside bar in the middle of a wintery wilderness. That is essentially what the Blue Lagoon is... except better!
Spend a couple of hours in this geothermal natural pool and, I promise you, you will want to spend the rest of your time in Iceland laying around in this therapeutic slice of heaven.
The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland. The lagoon is 8700 square meters of steamy mineral rich water and white silica mud, which health experts say will make your skin look 10 years younger.
The lagoon includes one free drink from the "lagoon-side" bar, one free face mask, a sauna, a steam room, an opportunity to get a nice little "hydro-massage" under the waterfall and some further luxuriation inside one of the lagoon's caves. You will feel like a goddess swimming around Mt. Olympus.
#3: Skogafoss Waterfalls
Before coming to Iceland, I had seen my share of waterfalls. From the waterfalls along the Road to Hana in Hawaii to the waterfalls along the outskirts of Thailand, I thought I had seen just about all the waterfalls I needed to see. But, seeing frozen waterfalls in the middle of Iceland was something out of a fairy tale.
The picturesque beauty of nature's icy skyscrapers surrounded by its snowy greenery felt like a scene from out of a movie like The Lord of The Rings.
As I walked along slippery paths, using grips for my feet that I had later learned were called crampons, it was hard to not appreciate and be in awe of nature. Especially, since every bone in my body, from the waist down, felt just as frozen as the waterfalls.
But, just like The Lord of The Rings, you have to be careful not to push past your limits. A couple of us from my tour were so tempted to climb down the slope that led behind the waterfalls. We had to refrain from getting that close because as tempting as it was to see what lied behind these waterfalls, it would've been too dangerous to attempt without the right equipment and training.
#4: Icelandic Horses
I know, you can find horses anywhere in the world but Icelandic horses are the most unique horses that you will ever find anywhere.
For starters, these horses don't even look like normal horses. They are hairier. They have up to 5 gaits, which is a fancy term for skills that are needed to compete fiercely in a horse competition. Plus, this breed of horse can only be found in Iceland and, if they do leave Iceland, they are not allowed to come back.
These horses were also the offspring of its predecessors, the Viking horses. They can live up to 57-years-old and their gait is so smooth, you can actually ride one of these horses while holding a pint of beer.
Give yourself plenty of time when you come to Iceland so that you can go horseback riding and take pictures with them alongside the roads. When outside of the barns, these horses are so fond of people that they really will melt the hearts of animal lovers.
#5: The Water
You have not tasted water... until you've tasted Iceland's water! Their water has to be the most purest and freshest water I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.
The beauty of Iceland's water is that you don't have to go buy bottles of it at the airport or in the store. Make sure to pack a couple of empty water bottles in your luggage because you can literally go up to any water fountain or faucet and drink the water.
As a world traveler, it is a relief to be able to drink water from a faucet. I've been to countries like Mexico, India and Egypt where, if you drink any water other than distilled bottled water, you can get very sick or have to make an emergency run to the bathroom during the busiest part of your trip.
Well, in Iceland, you can kiss that fear goodbye! This is water that has, supposedly, been filtered through layers of rock and lava for decades before it even makes it to your faucet. Therefore, when you take a shower in Iceland, you are showering under the water of the Nordic gods!
#6: Fridheimar Greenhouse
I have only been to a couple of greenhouses in my lifetime but I can guarantee that this greenhouse will amaze you more than any one you could ever visit.
What I found so fascinating about Fridheimar's greenhouse, other than the fact that they can produce such succulent cherry tomatoes in the coldest months of the year, is that this greenhouse has genetically modified insects that's only mission is to pollinate and once they do that... they die.
I sat around the greenhouse's tomato bar having one of the best Bloody Marys of my life and watching these genetically modified bumble bees roam around the greenhouse. These bumble bees were so hard at work, I didn't even think about the possibility of getting stung as one whooshed past my face.
Plus, the location of this greenhouse is not far from one of Iceland's horse stables. Therefore, coming here is like a 2-for-1. Have a handful of some freshly grown tomatoes in 10 degree temperatures while enjoying a nice horse ride in the same day.
#7: The Cuisine
Traveling around the world, I have had some great cuisine but if you want to have one of the best tomato soups in the history of tomato soup, you have to come to Iceland.
In my opinion, the best tomato soup, and even mushroom soup, you will have in Iceland, is at the Skogar Museum.
If you have the time, I would take a stroll through the museum and see some of the old clothing and artifacts from the settlers of Iceland in the 18th century. You can also go inside the turf houses and see how Icelanders used to live... Tiny homes that housed anywhere from 6 to 10 people!
But, if you don't have the time, just head straight to the eating area inside the Technical Museum (located just a few feet away from the turf houses)! Grab yourself a bowl of either the tomato or the mushroom soup but DON'T FORGET THE BREAD! You can thank me later! 😉
#8: It's one of the Only Places where You Can Be on 2 Continents... At Once!
Now, I have not been to every country in the world but I found this to be pretty dope on my tour around Iceland.
Our bus pulled up to Reykjanesbær Peninsula, home to Midlina or, in English, The Bridge Between Continents. It's probably the only place in the world where you will be able to travel between North America and Europe without needing a plane ticket!
The area was believed to be first discovered by Lief Erikson, who was also believed to be the first person to discover America eons before Christopher Columbus.
If you explore more of the town of Reykjavik, you will find a huge statue erected in front of the Hallgrímskirkja church. The church is so architecturally fascinating that it would also be another great place for a photo op on your tour throughout Iceland.
Et Voila! Once you have spent time exploring these 8 reasons to visit Iceland... actually in Iceland, I guarantee that your winter blues will disappear automatically. In fact, it may make you so excited about winter, that you may look forward to winter every year!