Iceland—a country with a population of a little over 320,000—has become an even more popular international destination for tourists all over the world. In 2015, 1.3 million tourists visited Iceland (a 20-30% growth year after year), and it’s no surprise because the country offers travelers beautiful sights, jaw-dropping waterfalls, 30 active volcanoes, tons of hot springs, lava fields with elves (as many Icelanders believe), fantastic scuba diving areas, and hospitable and friendly locals that make you feel right at home. You can also hike glaciers and waterfalls, go whale watching, take helicopter tours or night tours to see the northern lights.
But not everyone is up for following the crowd, some of us like to take ourselves off the beaten track and experience a city like a local. So if you’re one of those types of tourists, here are some exciting activities you can enjoy that will make you feel just like a real Icelander.
(Image Source: Extreme Iceland)
Rent an ATV and go exploring on your own. A few of the best places to check out are the Glymer waterfall, Seljavallalaug, a geothermal swimming pool that was built in 1923 (the oldest in Iceland), and Landmannalaugar, where you can swim in hot springs, hike and tour an active volcano. Be prepared to drive over bumpy and dirty terrain.
rent a Turf House
(Image Source: Stuck in Iceland)
If you’re there for a few days and want to take a step back 100 years, make sure to rent a turf house located away from the city, situated on green land and lava fields. Many offer natural hot springs where you can relax and soak up the beautiful landscape.
Turf houses were built hundreds of years ago, and offer the best type of insulation for severe climates. If you have time, make sure to stop by the farm of Keldur, where you’ll find the oldest surviving turf buildings dating back to the early 1900s (the farm itself dates back to 974 A.D.).
Head over to Westfjords
(Image Source: Bloomberg)
Westfjords is a large peninsula located in the northwestern part of Iceland full of picture-perfect landscapes, diverse wildlife and rich folklore.
Make a drive out there and plan at least a two-day stay. You can book accommodations at a working farm, and eat fresh seafood from a local mom-and-pop restaurant in the area. Aside from lodging and dining, there’s always hiking, where you’ll be able to see gorgeous clear-streams, beautiful mountains and Icelandic horses roaming the endless green fields. In 900 A.D., these small horses were brought over by the Vikings, and are used for riding, racing and herding sheep.
And don’t be surprised if you don’t see many (or any) trees! Over the last 100 years, Iceland has experienced volcanic eruptions killed off many trees, while at the same time, many forests were destroyed for sheep grazing. Only until recently did the country begin a reforestation program.
Eat at a Þorrablót
(Image Source: 123Countries.com)
If you are in Iceland in February, you may experience þorrablót (Thorrablot), a pagan sacrificial festival offered to the old Icelandic gods. During the festival, Icelanders eat þorramatur, a traditional mixture of food such as fermented shark, sour ram’s balls and head cheese. Many restaurants offer þorramatur during the month of February, so if you don’t get invited to a þorrablót, you can still try þorramatur—as long as your stomach can handle it!