The South Coast, the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon. These are the attractions visitors to Iceland book before even looking into what other activities are available. And while we’re not saying you shouldn’t experience them, for a well-rounded trip it’s smart to also add a few atypical Iceland experiences to your itinerary.
At Reykjavík’s Tin Can Factory visitors can take a 3-hour Meet The Natives class where Icelandic heritage, language and food weave together in an immersive experience. You’ll learn all about Iceland’s history, including stories of Vikings and elves and how Icelanders were able to continue practicing Paganism even after being Christianized in 999. You’ll also learn why the Icelandic language uses such long words, as it’s common to combine words to create new meanings. Of course, food is an important part of culture, and you’ll savor traditional Þorrablót mid-winter festival foods like boiled sheep’s head and sour ram’s balls (don’t worry, there’s Icelandic beer to wash it down) and everyday fare like traditional lamb soup and Icelandic pancakes. While it is a class because you’ll learn and get a certificate — complete with your Icelandic name — it feels more like hanging out with locals.
Everyone goes to the Blue Lagoon, but there are actually a ton of other hot springs options available. One such is Reykjadalur, meaning Steamy Valley. First of all, the trailhead is about 45 minutes from Reykjavík, and as you approach you’ll coast passed idyllic farmhouses and beautiful Icelandic horses. You’ll hike about an hour — mainly uphill — through steaming landscapes showcasing volcanoes, valleys, rolling hills and small waterfalls. Tip: if you’re hiking in winter there’ll be snowy peaks and ground water, so bring sturdy waterproof shoes, and a towel, as the trek ends with a curative hot spring soak.
For a less rustic hot springs experience, the Secret Lagoon is a must. It’s half the price of the Blue Lagoon, and offers a more peaceful, less touristy experience. Soak in warm waters ranging from 38-40 °C (100.4-104 °F) while keeping your eyes peeled for the small spouting Geysir and the Northern Lights (in winter). Note that it’s best to arrive outside of 3:30 and 5:30pm, when tour groups visit and can be loud. After your soak, wander the Geothermal walking paths or have a drink at the onsite bar. Fun fact: the Secret Lagoon is Iceland’s oldest hot spring, dating back to 1891.
Driving around Iceland you’ll see tons of farms, an industry dating back to the Viking age, as these Nordic seafarers were also passionate farmers. One farm stay option is Hestheimar Horse Farm, offering guesthouse accommodations in Hella, about an hour from Reykjavík. Here you can enjoy horseback riding, farm-to-fork meals like onion soup and honey-laced potatoes, and a hot tub. You’ll be in the countryside away from light pollution, so you’ll even have the chance to see the Northern Lights without booking a tour!
Another option is Efstidalur II Farm Hotel, a cattle farm and guesthouse less than 90 minutes from Reykjavík. Here you’ll be immersed in peaceful landscapes, enjoying local cuisine, a hot tub, and time to play with the cows and dogs. Don’t miss the homemade ice cream and skyr, a high-protein Icelandic snack similar to Greek yogurt, but creamier and sweeter.
Yes, most people have heard of Reynisfjara, Iceland’s famous black sand beach; however, did you know Reykjavík is also home to its own swathe of sand? The man-made Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach features honey-colored sand brought in from Morocco and refreshing waters blending Atlantic Ocean with geothermal waters in a lagoon separated from the ocean where you can swim and tan. Temperatures of the water typically range from 1.9°C to 17°C (35.42 °F to 62.6 °F), though even in the colder months you’ll still find locals swimming, a practice that is thought to be healthy by many. If that sounds unpleasant don’t worry, as this man-made beach is also home to a few hot tubs.
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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