Iceland has become an increasingly popular tourist destination for travellers thanks to its stark natural beauty and unique Nordic culture. It’s one of the few places you can witness the Aurora Borealis (or ‘Northern Lights’) and the dramatic landscape has been glorified on shows like Game of Thrones. From volcanoes and glaciers, to geysers, hot springs and lava fields, and of course it’s fascinating Viking history – it’s little wonder why tourists are flocking here in droves.
With so much to see and do in the one place, it can be overwhelming to work out where to start. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you find the best food to try, drinks to sample, location savvy places to stay and the top attractions you don’t want to miss.
Iceland is home to weird and wonderful cuisine that you can’t find anywhere else on the planet. With options like horse jerky and pickled shark, travellers with iron stomachs can put their taste buds to the ultimate test on an Icelandic gastronomic adventure.
Arguably one of Iceland’s most famous dishes, Hákarl is preserved shark meat that is buried underground before being hung out to dry for four to five months. The process removes the acid from the shark flesh, making it safe for human consumption. While the dish is no longer part of the day-to-day diet of locals, it is a significant part of Iceland’s heritage and well worth trying if you’re brave (you’ll find it at the Kolaportid flea market on weekends). Hákarl is usually served with a shot of Brennivín which is also known as ‘Black Death’.
Hot Spring Rye Bread
Here’s a dish that can be enjoyed by all palates. This dark bread has a slightly sweet taste and is commonly served with lashings of thick butter, but the locals also enjoy it with fish or smoked lamb. What makes this bread more exciting than your regular bakery staple is the cooking process. Dough is put into special wooden casks that are submerged in the ground close to a hot spring and left to cook overnight.
Balance out all the savory with something sweet. Skyr is a low fat dairy product unique to Iceland. With a thick and creamy consistency (similar to a cross between yoghurt and cottage cheese) foreigners tend to like it as much as the locals do. The creamy delicacy is commonly served with cream and berry jam.
Brennivín (‘black death’)
Usually served alongside Hákarl, brennivín is best known as ‘black death’ and can be directly translated to ‘burning wine’. Taken as a shot, this unsweetened schnapps is made from fermented potatoes and is said to help the fermented shark meat go down smoother.
Arguably the best vodka in the world, the process of creating this vodka makes it a novelty that visitors to Iceland simply can’t pass up. Brewed in one of the coldest places on earth, Reyka vodka is created using water from a 4,000-year-old lava field. Best of all, it tastes good! The vodka is known for its smooth, warm taste with a touch of vanilla.
Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps
While we’re on the topic of novelty drinks, Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps deserves a mention. The schnapps has no artificial ingredients and is made from ocean moss that is soaked in an alcohol solution. It has been used medicinally in Iceland for years as a tonic for coughs. So, if you’re in Iceland and the cold conditions aren’t agreeing with you, we recommend reaching for the Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps.
CenterHotel Midgardur’s prime location on Laugaryegur (Reykjavik’s main shopping street) puts you in the centre of the city’s most vibrant area. A relaxing oasis in the heart of downtown Reykjavik, the hotel features modern rooms decorated in classic Scandinavian style, a tranquil secluded garden with an outdoor hot tub, day spa and a high-end onsite restaurant and bar that serves up tantalising Nordic fusion cuisine.
Grab your camera and check out Hallgrímskirkja. Only a short 10-minute walk from CenterHotel Midgardur, this stunning Lutheran parish church rises a huge 74.5metres into the sky. It’s the largest church and the second tallest building in the country – and can be seen from almost everywhere in Reykjavik. The striking architecture makes for breathtaking photos!
Take a stroll to Old Harbour, which is within easy walking distance from CenterHotel Midgardur. It’s the ideal place to take a morning walk, with stunning views across the bay and on a clear day all the way out to Mount Esja. Despite being constructed back in 1913, the area is undergoing a resurgence and is home to the city’s best dark-roasted coffee.
Northern lights/Aurora Borealis
Most notably, Iceland is renowned for the chance to experience the Northern Lights, one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world. Watch these colours dance in the atmosphere above Iceland, caused by solar winds pushing electrically charged particles from the sun towards Earth. The experience is often referred to as a theatre of nature – an experience of beauty nearly unmatched by anything else on the planet.
You can’t visit Iceland without spending time at its most popular attraction (and one of the 25 wonders of the world). A 50-minute drive from Reykjavik will have you relaxing in the warm geothermal pools, but keep in mind pre-booking is essential due to the popularity of the lagoon. This natural body of mineral-rich geothermal water, sitting in the middle of a lava field in the Icelandic wilderness, remains comfortably warm all year round. Not only are these pools warm and relaxing, but the mountainous landscape surrounding the site makes for breathtaking scenery.
Iceland’s Golden Circle tourist route is the best way to take in some the country’s most popular attractions. Head to the Hellisheiði Power Plant at the foot of Mt. Hengill Volcano to witness clean energy being harnessed from some of the earth’s harshest forces, marvel at the furious burst of the Strokkur Geyser in the middle of the Geysir geothermal area, watch the crash of the beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall and take a stop to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Thingvellir National Park.
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