I originally decided to stop in Iceland after hearing about a stopover program through Icelandair. The airline allows travelers to extend their United States-to-Europe layovers for up to four days in Iceland – a perfect amount of time to get a feel for the country and likely decide to visit again.
Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city, is only a four-hour plane ride from the Northeastern U.S. Think about it. Since you live in New York, it would take you less time to fly to another continent than to visit me in New Orleans.
I know how much you hate relying on public transportation, but you wouldn’t need to deal with that in Iceland. Reykjavik offers a reliable bus system, but walking or driving would also be easy options for getting around. Just make sure to reserve a European car tall enough to seat your 6-foot, 4-inch body.
Reykjavik looks like a fishing town. The city sits in Southwestern Iceland on the shore of Faxaflói Bay and overlooks the mountain range Esja just across the water. Colorful rooftops line the mostly white buildings of Reykjavik. Although, some houses sport combinations like yellow bodies with green roofs or red roofs with blue bodies. The view from Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church and one of the tallest buildings in Reykjavik, shows the city’s vibrant colors more vividly from above.
You would love driving around the Golden Circle, an easy day trip that loops from Reykjavik to central Iceland and back. On my trip, I could not stop staring at the hot spring steam that emerged from various parts of the mountains. It was almost as if the hillsides were producing tiny, endless forest fires.
The Circle has three main attractions, with other must-see highlights along the way:
Geysir is the oldest known geyser in Europe and can hurl boiling water up to 230 feet in the air. The hot spring pools around Geysir display blue water so hot that it appears to have florescent lights shining from beneath the surface.
Gullfoss is the most popular waterfall in Iceland. Even though you raised our family one hour from the magnificent Niagara Falls, I would call Gullfoss one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen.
You can also stand in two continents at once at Þingvellir, a national park where one can easily see the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Researchers have declared this site a natural wonder on an international scale.
I also wouldn’t miss Kerið, a volcanic crater lake that introduced itself as one of the most stunning sites I have ever seen. The crater rests 180 feet deep and more than 550 feet wide. Its mostly dirt walls appear almost red against the shallow water’s green-blue color.
Iceland reminded me of Colorado with an ocean and shorter mountains. Besides smelling the occasional whiff of sulfur or fish, the air smelled fresh and crisp. I would go back because of the country’s well-kept buildings, pure-tasting water and breathtakingly unique natural sites.
I would also go back just to take one more dip in the warm, geothermal seawater of the Blue Lagoon.
While my goal is not to move our family to Iceland, I want to share one more fun fact. If we lived in Iceland, my last name would always be different than yours. In Icelandic families, parents give their children last names that combine a father’s first name with an ending of either sson (son) or dóttir (daughter). So, if our family followed Icelandic tradition, my name would be Sara Georgedaughter. Yours would be George Johnson after your father, John.
If you do visit Iceland, use a website called Tiny Iceland to plan your travels. The site owner is a friend and someone you can trust to provide a wealth of knowledge and information about this under-recognized, beautiful country.
I will also direct you to the cafe that served me coffee with a ladybugs napkin. I consider this place good luck now, and would wish it the same for you on your first trip off North America.