Why Iceland? A General Overview of Iceland as a Travel Destination

Everybody seems to be buying plane tickets to Iceland these days, right? If you're eager to find out what all this fuss is about, here's an article that explains it all.

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Nína Þorkelsdóttir

26. October 2018

The basic facts

  • Iceland is a relatively small volcanic island, situated in the north of the Atlantic ocean. It's a part of Europe and generally considered as part of Scandinavia, although that fact is debatable. 
  • Iceland is home to around 350,000 people and the capital city is called Reykjavik. 
  • Iceland was settled by Norwegians in around 874 AD. The Norwegians brought a lot of slaves from Ireland and Scotland and therefore the Icelandic gene pool is of both Norse and Gaelic origin. 
  • Iceland is a a representative democracy and a parliamentary republic. Iceland's president is called Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and the prime minister is Katrín Jakobsdóttir. 
  • The island is highly geologically active due to its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the landscapes of Iceland are significantly characterized by this geological activity. 
  • The official language of Iceland is Icelandic. It is a Germanic language that resembles Faroese, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish. 

A moss covered crater, seen from above. Everywhere you go in Iceland, you can see signs of volcanic activity. Unsplash/Luca Micheli. 

The major cities

Technically, there's just one city in Iceland and that is the capital. However, these are the main towns of each region in Iceland:

  • Reykjavik (the capital)
  • Akureyri (north Iceland)
  • Egilsstaðir (east Iceland)
  • Ísafjörður (Westfjords Peninsula)
  • Selfoss (south Iceland)
  • Keflavík (Reykjanes Peninsula)

Why do people go to Iceland?

The motivation of most travelers that visit Iceland is to explore the country's gorgeous nature and experience the vast wilderness. It is hard to choose just a few highlights of Iceland's nature, but these attractions listed below are generally considered to be "must see" natural attractions in Iceland:

Also read this: Top 10 Attractions of Iceland

A pedestrian bridge by the turquoise water in the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon. Photo: Unsplash. 

A stack of icebergs at the Glacier Lagoon. Jökulsárlón Lagoon, also known as "the Glacier Lagoon". Photo: iStock. 

Gullfoss waterfall during winter. Gullfoss Waterfall is on the Golden Circle Route. Photo: Pexels. 

A waterfall and Kirkjufell in the background, partly covered in snow. Kirkjufell Mountain in Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Unsplash/Trevor Cole. 

A humpback whale preparing to jump from the water. The waters surrounding Iceland are home to an abundance of whales. Unsplash/John Eckert. 

It is also worth mentioning that flights to Iceland have gotten significantly cheaper for the past few years and you can fly directly from most major hubs in Europe and the US. 

What is the ideal season to visit Iceland?

Personally, I think summer is the best season to visit Iceland. You get loads of brightness (even during the nights), relatively mild weather and the highland roads are usually open. However, if you want to see the Northern Lights, you will have to place your bet on either autumn or winter. Also, visiting during the off-seasons might allow you to find cheaper flights and accommodation. 

If you have a hard time deciding when to go, check out this article: The Best Season to Travel to Iceland

Snow covered rock formations, a lake, and the sky is lit up with northern lights. It's impossible to see the Northern Lights during the summer. Unsplash/Vincent Guth. 

Two puffins communicating in a cliff with flowers. Summer is the time of brightness, flowers and puffins! Unsplash/Wynand van Poortvliet. 

How long is it recommended to stay in Iceland?

Many travelers think that they can "cover" the whole island in two or three weeks. Unfortunately, that's not very realistic. Contrary to most European countries, Iceland is vast and scarcely populated. Wilderness takes up most of the country's landmass and the urban areas you'll find there are relatively few and very small in size. 

Also, the top attractions of Iceland are scattered around the country, which requires you to travel quite a bit if you want to see them all. I'm concluding that if you want to see most of the things that Iceland has to offer, you will have to stay there for at least month or two. If you want to focus on just one or two regions, a week or ten days should do.

It also depends on the pace you want to travel at – some people like to travel at a fast pace and see a lot during a brief period of time while others want to spend more time in each destination. 

Anyhow, I would personally recommend to take more time than you think you will need. 

An empty road in a hilly landscape. The Ring Road of Iceland. Unsplash/Matteo Paganelli. 

What is there else to do in Iceland?

There are loads of things to do and see in Iceland besides exploring the nature. Reykjavik city may not be big, but it's well worthy of a visit. The capital has a surprisingly interesting culture scene and a gorgeous concert hall. Plus, there are so many fantastic restaurants in the city. 

Harpa concert hall at dusk. Photo: Unsplash.