By next year, it is estimated that more Americans will choose to vacation in Iceland than the total population of Iceland. That’s a lot of people and Americans aren’t the only ones making the trek to this small island in the North Atlantic. People from around the world are fascinated by this other-worldly destination, partly fueled by curiosity and partly motivated by those spectacular images we all have seen on the Interwebs. But what is it exactly about Iceland that seems to have captured our collective imaginations? As one who has most definitely been bitten by the Iceland bug, I thought I’d share a few reasons why I keep going back to visit this beautiful country, reasons that I believe also fuel the global tourism demand for anything and everything Icelandic and why we’re all obsessed with Iceland.
Long gone are the days of Iceland being a remote rock in the ocean. Today more and more airlines are offering flights to Iceland thanks to the incredible demand, which was originally fueled by how easy it is to reach. If you live anywhere on the East Coast of the United States, Iceland is a short and easy hop. From DC, it’s around five-hours and from Boston it’s an even shorter trip. It takes me less time to fly to Keflavik airport than LAX and the results are infinitely more interesting. Naturally, Iceland is also easily reached from Europe, especially the UK which has also been increasing flight frequency to and from the island just to keep up with demand. From a price point of view, new airlines have popped up making this short flight also an inexpensive one. I had the opportunity to fly WOW Airlines a few months ago, a budget airline that has famously advertised its $99 each way fares. Based in Iceland, it has largely achieved its goal of bringing inexpensive travel to Iceland to the masses. My own flight experience was great. Sure, there were add-ons but even with those, the overall cost of the trip was unbeatable. Add to that a comfortable, and short, flight and I couldn’t have been more pleased. Yes, there’s no doubt in my mind that one of the key reasons why Iceland is “blowing up” from a tourism point of view is due to how easy it is to reach and now, how inexpensive it is to visit.
Easy to navigate
Once you reach Iceland, it’s also a very manageable place to navigate as a tourist. Many first time visitors decide to stay in the capital city of Reykjavik and hop on a few day trips as time allows. That’s how I spent my first trip there and while good, there’s nothing like renting a car and getting out on your own. Iceland is easy to handle by car because there’s essentially just one main road, the Ring Road, with many smaller subsidiary roads dotted around the country. If you stay on the Ring Road you’ll be able to visit most of those amazing sites we have all seen online and the Ring Road is almost always manageable with any kind of car. If you plan on going off-road or trying to access some of the more remote areas, then a 4WD or similar will be necessary. I love the freedom that only renting a car can provide and in Iceland, that freedom is well worth the cost. Plus you save time, money and angst by driving yourself. If you don’t rent a car on your first trip, then be sure to do it on subsequent trips as you tackle other areas of the country.
Quirky and fun
Iceland is not your typical place and the residents are not your average people – and I love that. Thanks perhaps to their relative isolation for more than 1,000 years, or maybe it’s just the result of living on a small island in the middle of the ocean, but the Icelandic are fun, smart, engaging, friendly and just downright quirky. A belief in elves is common, politicians are so accessible you can pose for photos on the President’s doorstep and everyone seems to know each other. It’s the tourism version of “Cheers” and being there it’s hard not to feel like a warmly welcomed visitor. Plus Iceland is just a fun place to visit. Fuzzy horses, amazing natural landscapes and great people, what’s not to love?
Unreal natural experiences
Speaking of those outdoor landscapes, that’s what drives everyone to visit and with good reason. While small (Iceland is about the same size as Ohio) it seems like there’s something gorgeous and amazing hidden around every bend of the road. That’s why over the course of three-trips I still have only seen about half of the country, and that was rushed. There’s an overwhelming amount of waterfalls, valleys, coastal retreats and more that months could be spent exploring them all; an amazing feat if you stop to think about it. I think we all have a certain level of skepticism whenever we see stunning photos online or in calendars and books. I personally think they’re over edited, but in Iceland there’s no need for photo editing – it really is that gorgeous. Whether you stay close to Reykjavik and explore the Golden Circle or venture further afield to places like the Westman Icelands, the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon or the so-called center of the Earth, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you won’t be disappointed. And I haven’t even mentioned the Northern Lights, another key draw for thousands of people every year.
It has “IT”
I have found that it is almost always impossible for me to explain why I love certain cities and countries, I just do. Iceland is the same. I could go through a whole litany of things to do and see in this small, island country but even those don’t really address the passion I, and most others, have for it. There is something classically indefinable about Iceland, a certain je ne sais quoi, as the French would say, that simply latches on and refuses to let go. Like most destinations it is most likely the unique alchemy created when you combine all of its great features together, a seething cauldron of tourism love. Whatever it is, this feeling is not at all common and I know from experience that when it does happen, it should be cherished. I travel a lot and while I enjoy most places I visit, very few elicit the siren call to return that Iceland does. I can’t explain it, but maybe I shouldn’t be able to. It shouldn’t be, and isn’t, an intellectual condition, it’s a visceral, very emotional one.
For these, and so many other reasons Iceland takes hold of traveler’s souls and never lets go. After one visit a return becomes all consuming. I’ve seen this countless times with friends and family, Iceland just does something to you. Although I can’t explain this fierce love in precise detail, I’m smart enough to know to just go with the flow, which is why it always seems like I’m planning another trip because there is no doubt that I too am obsessed with Iceland.