Why Visit Iceland? My Top Five Reasons

I had just booked my second trip to Iceland and I excitedly told my friends and co-workers that I was going back; their first impression was all the same. Yay! Cool…that is so amazing! followed by a common second reaction: Wait! Iceland? Why Iceland? Isn’t it cold there?

Which way Akureyri

Which way Akureyri?


I can answer this common question for all of you out there wondering the same. Iceland is awesome! Its natural beauty is incomparable to any other place I have ever been. Iceland is a land of extremes, marked by bubbling natural springs, enormous glaciers, active volcanoes, and dramatic rushing waterfalls.  If that is not enough Reykjavik, the capital city is a sophisticated urban destination with trendy restaurants, welcoming pubs and plenty of shopping.

There are so many reasons to visit Iceland but I will try to break it down into five major reasons: affordability, adventure tours, the summer solstice and Midnight sun, Icelandic cuisine, and geothermal spas.

Reason #1: Iceland is Affordable

Currently prices for travel packages to Iceland from the United States are at an all-time low.  Icelandair offers a variety of packages that include both airfare and hotels. For example currently Icelandair is offering a “Volcano Tour and Glacier Walk” package that includes RT airfare from a variety of US cities from $845 per person; with add on nights at an extremely low rate of 55.00 per couple. The highlights of this tour are the off-road Super Jeep tour of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano area and also a Glacier ice hike tour on Solheimajokill Glacier. This is just one example of affordable tours, I recently booked a package that included a Northern Lights tour, 3 days in northern Iceland Akureyri, international and domestic airfare, 8 total days with hotel and breakfast for $1150.00  with tax and everything included. Of course these prices are subject to change. The trip was highly organized and the hotels were both four stars-the money we saved on the trip we used for shopping and more expensive tours we wanted to do.

Reason #2: Adventure Tours and Opportunities



A staggering number of tours and activities are offered through tour companies in Iceland. One can go horseback riding in the morning and later the same day-Whale Watching. Most tours can easily be arranged through your hotel or through the tourist information center located in Reykjavik. One popular tour iconic to Iceland is the Golden Circle tour. This popular day or afternoon trip takes visitors usually by bus to Iceland’s main natural highlights: Geysirs, Godafoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park.
The difference between the full day and the half day option is the length of time at the locations. I have been on both tours. The main difference I noticed was that on the half-day tour we only briefly stopped at Thingvellir National Park. We heard a short explanation of what the park was and looked out from the overlook at the park. During the full day tour we had ample time to walk around the park and get a close up view of the spring where the tectonic plates are actually visible. During the full day tour we also stopped at the geothermal facility and learned about how Iceland uses geothermal heat and power. One huge benefit to the half day tour was the stop at Kerid eruption crater I was excited because it was different that the other tour I had been on.

There are a number of adventure tour options available for those looking for more activity. Tours to volcanic hot spots are very popular. Many people around the world have heard of Eyjafjallajokull volcano when it made international news in 2010 when it spewed a massive cloud of ash into the air shutting down air traffic for weeks. A number of tours are offered to view the aftermath or to check out this sub-volcanic glacier. There is a wide range of tours and activities to choose from that range from high activity tours such as Kite-boarding, dogsledding, ice climbing and snowmobiling to those less strenuous like whale watching and puffin spotting.

Reason #3: The Summer Solstice and the Midnight Sun.

Iceland is a great place to experience the summer solstice and the phenomenon known as the Midnight Sun.   This occurs naturally on June 21st when the day is the longest of the year but in Iceland or other Nordic countries the sun is visible for up to 24 hours. The first time I visited Iceland was in June during the summer solstice and the days seemed endless with bars and pubs filled and people out having fun in the city streets till all hours of the night. We also stayed up all night losing track of time sightseeing and taking photos taking advantage of the long hours of sunlight. When it was time to sleep the guest house had heavy curtains to block out the sunlight making it easier to sleep.


Sun Voyager!


Reason #4: Interesting Icelandic Cuisine  

Are you a foodie or an adventurous eater? Icelandic cuisine offers a variety of food and drink choices most people have never heard of let alone tried. Hákarl or fermented Greenland sharkmeat is a traditional Icelandic delicacy. Because the Greenland shark is poisonous it needs to buried underground in sand and gravel for a period of 6–12 weeks to allow for the toxins to be expelled from the body before it can be consumed. Once the toxins are removed the shark meat is then cut into strips and dried. You can sample Hákarl at the Kolaportid flea market in Reykjavik city center. Traditionally the shark meat should be washed down with a shot of Brennivín or Black Death. Although Black Death is technically a liquor, I felt like a was drinking a shot of very strong vodka or grain alcohol.

Most restaurants offer an Icelandic feast which can be any combination of Icelandic specialties. One of my absolute favorite restaurants in the world is Tapas Barinn located in city center Reykjavik. They offer tapas with an Icelandic twist. Their version of the Icelandic gourmet feast starts with of course a shot of Brennivin, followed by Icelandic Sea Trout, Lobster tails baked in garlic, Pan-fried line catfish, Icelandic lamb, Minke Whale, and for dessert White chocolate “Skýr” mousse. Skyr is a delicious white creamy yogurt specific to Iceland.  Many locals do not support eating whale meat and I actually asked that they substitute this item for another one of their 70 dishes. They also serve great sangria. This is just one of a number of great restaurants in Reykjavik.

Reason #5 Geothermal Spas in Iceland

Reason number five is certainly not the least of the reasons for a visit to Iceland. The spas in Iceland are both natural and luxurious! Every visit to Iceland must include a trip to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a luxury geothermal outdoor spa located near Keflavík International Airport. The minerals contained in the spa mainly sulphur and silica are said to have anti-aging and healing properties. Visitors can float around all day regardless of the season in the toasty 98-102 degree water and afterwards indulge in a number of spa services or have lunch at Lava restaurant located on the premises. There is also a Lagoon bar you can swim up to for cocktails and snacks.

Laugardalslaug is Reykjavik’s largest city pool. The pool and spa is a short bus ride from Reykjavik center in Laugardalur Valley. It is an enormous spa that has an indoor and outdoor pool, 7 outdoor hot pots, a salt water Jacuzzi, a steam bath, sun lamps, and an 86-meter-long water slide. I loved the outdoor “hot pots”; each one has a slightly different temperature. It was fun to move from pot to pot until you find the perfect temperature and then afterwards cool off in the large heated but cooler-temped pool.

ablog2These are only my five top reasons to visit Iceland there are actually so many more wonderful experiences in store for anyone traveling there. I highly recommend visiting as either a full vacation destination or as a stop-over en route to another European destination.

Copyright Christine Zenino

Ice Climbing 101…Reykjavik

Climbers should kick the front points protruding from their crampons into the ice, then swing their axe into the ice above head and pull themselves up the wall. The strength of the ice was amazing and even sticking the ice pick in slightly  securely affixed in the wall. “

Ice Climbing

Iceland is called the “Land of Fire and Ice” for a reason; volcanoes and glaciers define its landscape. About half of its surface is covered by lava fields and about 11% is covered by glaciers. Interestingly enough many of the glaciers are sitting on top of active volcanoes. The best way to get the full Icelandic experience is to head out to explore the rugged landscape.

This was my second trip to Iceland so I chose something a little more adventurous; glacier hiking and ice climbing. The tour is offered on Sólheimajökull, a glacier tongue connected to the south end of the much larger Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Mýrdalsjökull dominates southwestern Iceland as the country’s 4th largest glacier and it sits atop an active volcano called Katla. Sólheimajökull although connected, is much smaller at 9.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.   The trip out to the glacier usually takes about two hours from Reykjavik, although it took our group around three hours because our bus broke down-at no fault of our guide. While we were driving the battery exploded with a loud pop, stranding us at a small gas station waiting for a new van to arrive.  Our small group congregated around the coffee machine talking and sharing stories until the new van arrived.

 Glacier Hiking 101

A bit off schedule, we made it to the glacier and piled out of the van. The group consisted of 7 of us: my friend and I, from Chicago, a couple from Denver on their honeymoon, and three visitors from China.  Upon arrival we were each issued a climbing harness, an ice axe, and crampons. After a short walk from the van up to the glacier, we stopped to hear some basic training tips on equipment usage: how to put the crampons on, how to put on the climbing harness, what to do with the ice axes and what not to do with your axe. Apparently, as the guide demonstrated, you should not swing the axe over your head in an attacking or gouging motion. But it could be used as a helpful tool when walking on uneven glacial surfaces as additional support.

We all geared up fairly quickly and set off onto the glacier. The initial hike up onto the ice was very wet and slippery. To ensure a steady footing we were advised to walk heavy, this will allow the spikes on the bottom of the crampons to stick straight into the ice.  Another helpful technique to avoid slipping is to use the axe as a walking stick in areas where the surface is uneven.

iceland 574
After a steady incline up higher onto the glacier we stopped to look around and allow the group to catch up.   Over time the glacier has receded considerably, and just a few years ago the ice had stretched all the way out to where the parking lot now is.  Now that we were up higher on the glacier, the ground was not as wet and slippery. The glacial surface was marked with rugged ice and areas of sharp drop-offs and deep crevasses.
iceland 564
Continuing on at a slight, but steady incline the ice crunched loudly under our feet as we walked in a single file line in silence. After a while, our guide pointed out a large bluish ice hole. It was about six feet in diameter but we couldn’t tell how deep it was. To demonstrate the depth of the hole, the guide swung his axe into the ice breaking off a large chunk of ice. We all listened as it tumbled down the ice walls until it finally hit the bottom. He warned us of the danger of falling in and how hard a rescue would be. We all took a slight step back from the edge not wanting to find out how long that rescue would actually take. The glacier has another unique feature; deep crevasses or large cracks in the ice scar the landscape of the glacier dividing the ice into long sections. These cracks have deep vertical walls that looked impossible to get out of if you were unfortunate enough to fall in. Needless to say it is not recommended to get too close to the edge of the crevasse. Although slipping is unlikely if you walk as instructed wearing the crampons.

Introduction to Ice Climbing

After about an hour or so of hiking, the guide asked if we were still up for ice climbing. Although climbing a vertical wall of ice sounded scary, we all agreed we wanted to try it. We headed down a nearby slippery slope to large area enclosed by ice walls. We walked over to the far end of the enclosure and watched as the guide quickly climbed up one of the tall ice walls using just his 2 ice axes and his crampons. He secured the ropes at the very top with an ice screw before climbing back down. I didn’t think my ascent or descent would be as graceful as his.

The technique was easy enough to understand but a little harder to execute. Climbers should kick the front points protruding from their crampons into the ice, then swing their axe into the ice above head and pull themselves up the wall. The strength of the ice was amazing and even sticking the ice pick in slightly kept it securely affixed in the wall.   The only experienced climber in the group, a guy from Denver, was elected to go first. He quickly scaled the wall, making the climb seem effortless. When he got to the top, he was instructed to remove the axes from the ice, lean straight back pressing the bottom of his shoes flat into the ice and walk himself down. Of course he was secured to a harness and rope otherwise this technique would not work. 

Next a young woman from China volunteered to go. She had a really hard time getting her crampons to stick into the ice, she kept slipping and dangling by the rope or by the ice axe.  Somehow this made me feel secure because the guide never let her fall. We all watched as she dangled attached to the rope while the guide continually yelled out instructions to assist her: keep your legs straight-move to the left. Unfortunately part of her problem was that her shoes were too flexible. At one point, one shoe even fell completely off and was left dangling by the shoelaces tied around her ankle. One problem was that she had put plastic bags into her shoes-we all guessed to make them more waterproof. This insert, the guide pointed out was making her shoes extra slippery and he does not ever suggest to do such a thing while ice climbing. Advice that was fairly obvious to all at this point. To top it all off, her other shoe was slipping off as well. Yet she was just determined to pick-axe her way up that wall. Obviously proper footwear is an important part of this process and climbing only using the axe and the guide’s assistance—pulling her to the next level using the rope made her attempt painful to watch.  Finally, almost near the top the guide called for her to come down. We all applauded her fierce determination when she reached the bottom.

When my time came, I knew I wouldn’t match the guide’s skill, but I hoped I managed to at least keep my shoes on. I kicked my crampon straight into the ice wall, heaved the ice axe into the wall above, and pulled myself up. I was happy I rented the hard inflexible hiking shoes. The straight hard shoe acted like a step that I could use to climb the wall. I got the hang of it after a bit. Still, it was difficult to get my crampon spike into the wall and I relied heavily on the ice ax which was extremely secure and never once slipped out of the ice. I was exhilarated and energized when I got near the top. I made it! It was time to take the ice axes out of the wall and lean back and walk down.

This part was not easy as my crampons kept slipping and it was hard to keep my foot straight against the wall of ice. I lowered myself sloppily down to the bottom, just happy that I had made it to the top and back down without crumbling in fear. After everyone in the group took a turn, we packed up our gear and headed up out of the climbing area and back down the glacier. The total time on the ice was about 3 ½ hours. The tour is a good introduction to glacier hiking and ice climbing, and would be good for most activity levels.

The Infamous Eyjafjallajökull Glacier

During the two hour drive back to Reykjavik, we got a glimpse of the famous Eyjafjallajökull;  known around the world as the volcano that emitted a giant ash cloud in 2010, shutting down international air travel for weeks. Tours to go ice climbing and glacier hiking can be arranged through Eskimos; a tour company specializing in adventure tours.  Depending on the time of the year it can get cold out on the glacier. Make sure to wear warm clothing, a hat, gloves, and waterproof hiking shoes. Eskimos offers the option to rent gear for a minimal cost in case you don’t want to pack them for just the one day. Ask beforehand about waterproof pants, jacket and good hiking shoes.

The rugged beauty of Iceland is best discovered by getting out and experiencing it first-hand.  Ice climbing and glacier hiking is a fun way to get out and explore what Iceland has to offer. Not to mention, how many people can say they climbed a glacier or ice-picked up a vertical ice wall?

Wool, Wool, Wool and Other Fun Things to Buy in Iceland

Iceland can be credited with the difficult task of making wool appear trendy. Iceland offers shoppers an enormous selection of locally produced wool products such as sweaters, hats and scarves to choose from.”


Wait for Me!

Reykjavik Iceland offers a wide variety of locally produced unique items that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Many trendy shops, boutiques and galleries sit in the shadow of Hallgrimskirkja on the main shopping streets of Laugavegur and Skolavordustigur. Find out what to buy and where to shop with this handy guide to Reykjavik shopping.

 Tax Free Shopping Iceland

Iceland is one of the few countries that offer a no-hassle tax-free shopping program. This tax break entitles tourists who purchase more than 4000 ISK worth of products in a store to receive a 15% refund on the items they bought. There is no red-tape when using this program, simply ask the store for the tax free form and the receipts. Then simply bring them to the Reykjavik Tourist Information center in the city center or to the airport when departing for the immediate refund. This money saving tax-deduction applies to souvenirs, clothing, and many other items.

Blue lagoon 
Blue Lagoon Skin Care Products

The Blue Lagoon is a luxury geothermal spa located near the airport. Visitors travel from all over the world to soak in the lagoon for it proposed healing and anti-aging properties. The  unique products sold by the spa, contain the active ingredients; silica, algae, and minerals, found in the lagoon’s seawater. Some of the spa’s most popular selling items are the Silica Mud Masks, the Mineral Intensive Cream, and the full line of anti-aging creams and serums.

For a true Icelandic experience visit the spa and try the new Volcano Scrub and Algae Mask, which contains lava from the surrounding lava fields and algae from the rich geothermal lagoon water. A trip to the surreal misty waters of the Blue Lagoon is a must for any visitor to Iceland, but if that is not possible, products can be purchased at one of the conveniently located shops in Reykjavik’s city center or at Keflavík Airport.

 Shopping for Icelandic Fashions

Clothing boutiques selling designs on the cutting edge of Icelandic fashion line the main strip of the city center. For a true taste of current Icelandic fashions stop in GuST; a trendy clothing boutique owned by fashion designer Guðrún Kristín Sveinbjörnsdóttir. This ultra-modern collection contains innovative and quirky outfits made from traditional Icelandic products like wool, as well as the hottest new Icelandic raw materials like fish leather.

Serious shoppers will enjoy an excursion to nearby Smáralind; one of Iceland’s leading malls. Located just outside Reykjavik, Smáralind boasts over 80 international and Icelandic stores such as Zara, Debenhams, Hugo Boss, and 66° North. One great benefit to shopping at the mall is visitors can get their tax rebate immediately by visiting the customer service desk. Smáralind is home to an enormous cinema and two popular shows have even been filmed there; Icelandic Idol and the Icelandic X-Factor.



Wool Products-Sweaters, Socks, Hats and Scarves

Iceland can be credited with the difficult task of making wool appear trendy. Iceland offers shoppers an enormous selection of locally produced wool products such as sweaters, hats and scarves to choose from. One popular tourist item is the lopapeysa or the traditional woolen sweater. Stop at the Handknitting Association of Iceland located at Skólavörðustígur 19, to purchase handmade items made from Icelandic sheep‘s wool. Knitting enthusiasts can purchase patterns, Álafoss Lopi yarn, and other materials to make their own lopapeysas.

What to Wear on a Glacier-Cintamani

Before heading out to go dog sledding or glacier hiking gear up at Cintamani; Iceland’s leading provider of high-quality but fashionable outdoor clothing. Offering a full line of woolen sweaters, fleece zip-ups, and jackets that are designed to withstand the most extreme weather conditions in Iceland. Try on an ultra warm sweater from the Technowool line, guaranteed to provide protection even in the wettest and windiest conditions up on the glaciers. After shopping consult with Cintamani’s on sight adventure expert about excursions available in and around Reykjavik.

Kolaportið Flea Market

Shark Meat Sample?

Kolaportid Flea Market

The Kolaportid flea market is a popular shopping destination for locals as well as tourists. Open only on the weekends, the market is housed in an industrial-style warehouse at Tryggvagötu 19 in the old harbor. Shoppers can browse through a wide variety of books, clothes, knick-knacks and other fun items.

For the adventurous diner, the flea market is a great place to sample Icelandic specialties such as Hákarl; chunks of fermented shark meat. The shark meat is prepared by burying it underground for up to six months to remove the toxins so that it is safe to eat. Locals suggest washing it down with a shot of Black Death or Brennivín; an alcoholic beverage similar to snapps, made from fermented potato pulp. Visitors can purchase Hákarl and other traditional foods such as dried fish, lamb pate, or horse meat sausages from the food section of the flea market.

In addition to the flea market, local supermarkets stock a fine selection of rich chocolates, delicious coffee, and traditional delicacies with much cheaper prices than the duty free shops at the airport.

Souvenir Shopping Iceland

A favorite pastime while on vacation is souvenir shopping. Iceland is no exception, high quality souvenir and specialty shops packed with stuffed puffin key chains and ubiquitous woolen socks line the main shopping district. But for a different souvenir shopping experience visit the Perlan’s gift shop. Famous for its massive blue dome that sits on top the six giant water tanks that hold the cities water supply, the Perlan’s outdoor viewing deck boasts the best panoramic views of Reykjavik. Another fun place for souvenirs is the Viking shop, this large store sells a wide range of traditional Icelandic clothes, Viking accessories, animal skins, books, and souvenirs. Visitors will also find some unique specialty shops located at the old harbor and around Vesturgata street.Viking Shop

Reykjavik is a unique shopping destination full of fun souvenir shops, art galleries, jewelry shops, and hip clothing stores. This charming city with its quaint shops and trendy boutiques will not disappoint even the most serious of shoppers who visit.

Don’t Freeze! How to Pack for a Winter Vacation in Iceland

“For most people, the thought of Iceland conjures up images of extreme snowy conditions and sub-zero temperatures, but actually the climate in Iceland is quite mild. Temperatures during the winter months range anywhere from 25 to 35 degrees, much warmer than that of Chicago or New York in the winter! Even so a lot of the activities and excursions in Iceland are outdoors-so packing correctly is critical to making your stay enjoyable.”

What is Winter Like in Iceland?

A Christmastime holiday or winter vacation is the best time to experience what Iceland has to offer. Can you imagine how amazing it is to look up and see the Northern lights shining brightly in the night sky  or how much fun dogsledding with a team of huskies on a glacier can be?
So I suggest-brave the cold and head out to Iceland to explore some amazing adventures firsthand.

Winter Jackets and Outer Layers

Tour operators in Iceland offer a number of exciting outdoor activities such as glacier hiking, dogsledding, and whale watching or snowmobiling. Even for those not this adventurous you may spend a great deal of time outside visiting Iceland’s magnificent waterfalls, geysirs or just walking around shopping. Although the climate may be a little milder in Iceland, weather conditions may change rapidly; you may be exposed to rain, snow, sun and extreme cold all in one day. Because of this wearing wind and water resistance outer layers is the key to comfort. Look for a good winter jacket that is water and winter resistant but also has some insulation like fleece or down to provide warmth. Some coats have a weather rating that lists the range of temperatures you will be protected from. The weather rating is important-don’t assume one that provides a colder rating is necessarily better. You might actually get too hot! Keep in mind that a lot of the tours like snowmobiling or whale watching will provide a heavier outer layer for you to put on over your jacket. So if your jacket is too long or puffy it may not fit under your jumpsuit or you might get too hot. If you plan on going skiing or snowboarding you may need more of a ski type jacket which features a waterproof and windproof shell that you will need to add a base layer of insulation too.

Next it is important to purchase heavy mittens or gloves, hat and scarf designed specifically for cold weather. Wearing a stylish hat may look cute but you need to make sure these items are not just fashionable but actually designed for cold weather. Purchasing products made from wool is a safe choice for winter conditions.  Many Iceland shops sell high-quality woolen mittens, hats and scarves at reasonable rates so don’t worry if you have to buy additional ones on vacation. Tours typically will do not provide these types of items.

Winter Boots or Hiking Boots?

Depending on what types of activities you will be doing I would opt for a winter style hiking boot as opposed to a heavy duty snow boot. Most of the tours and activities in Iceland requires one to walk over rugged terrain and wet or rocky conditions. Recently on a visit to Iceland I went glacier hiking and ice climbing, for this tour snow boots or furry boots would not have been a good selection as we used crampons over the hiking boot to walk on the ice. If you do not want to purchase a pair of hiking shoes for just one day-ask the tour provider.   Most of the tour companies do rent equipment for either free or a very small price.

By far the most popular tour is the Golden Circle, which highlights three main attractions: the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, Þingvellir National Park and the massive waterfall known as Gulfoss. Although you will be traveling by bus you may be exposed to different conditions while walking around the parks. When I took this tour, the day started out sunny and mild but within a couple hours the temperature dropped and an unpleasant icy rain started, my furry boots, while good for walking around Reykjavik, got soaked as they were not water resistant. They also provided little traction on the gravel that most of the trails were made from. A good waterproof hiking boot would have been a better choice.


Layers, Layers, Layers

One of the best items I purchased for trip was a warm long underwear base layer from Columbia. Look for a mid-weight base layer that will help you generate or keep in your own heat. It is also important if you are going to be active that the material wicks away moisture to avoid sweating-which is why cotton leggings would not work well.  Many other brands carry a similar base layer like North Face or Koppen. This additional layer underneath leggings or jeans kept me warm the entire trip. During my ten day stay in Iceland, I also visited the Northern capital of Akureyri, which is a little colder than Reykjavik by a few degrees. But there was a noticeable difference in temperature when we traveled further north to go whale watching in Husavik.  Onboard the ship, the crew provided us with warm heavy jump suits to put on over our clothes. Once we got out near the Arctic Circle the temperature plummeted and the wind increased sharply. I was happy I not only had on my windproof jumpsuit but also warm base layers to keep my core body temperature high.Akureyri

If you will be out for extended periods of time beyond a short tour you might want to purchase performance style pants with a wind and water resistant soft shell designed specifically for winter sports. These pants are lighter and less bulky than snow pants but will provide more protection than just hiking pants. The pants paired with a base layer should provide you with the comfort and warmth needed for longer activities like glacier hiking or other outdoor adventures.  Most pants carry a weather or wind rating as well, it is crucial that they are wind resistant. REI, North face and Columbia are good products to look into and their sales associates can help you pick the appropriate pants.

Wear a wool sweater! While in Iceland I bought my first wool sweater. I cannot describe how warm these wool products are. There are a number of shops selling high quality Icelandic wool products and I encourage you to wait to buy your wool sweater there.

Bathing Suit in Iceland?

Don’t forget your bathing suit. Yes seriously, Iceland is known for its hot geothermal spas such as the Blue Lagoon. The luxury outdoor geothermal spa is a destination you cannot miss and it is open year round. The pool is heated by underground geothermal springs the heat of the water rises so you will not be cold while floating around this pool for hours. Plus there are a number of public spas located in the city center and sometimes in the hotel.

Blue LagoonRemember to pack some nicer clothing as well. No matter what the weather conditions are in Iceland people tend to dress stylish when going to bars, restaurants and nightclubs. There a number of popular restaurants in the city center where dressing in hiking clothes would not be appropriate.

 Shopping in Iceland

You may also want to leave some room in your luggage to go shopping in Iceland. For all your winter or outdoor gear needs shop at Cintamani. There is a large shop located conveniently in Reykjavik’s city center. Cintimani sells functional and stylish outdoor wear designed specifically for Icelandic weather conditions.  I bought the stylish Jóna zip-up which can be worn alone or under a jacket-It is warm and looks cool. You can even purchase the items online to ensure you will have the highest quality gear designed for Icelandic conditions before you even get there!

Iceland is easily one of my favorite destinations. I would go anytime during the year. But if you need some coaxing check out the tempting travel packages offered by Icelandair. I suggest the affordable Experience the Arctic North package which includes round-trip airfare to Iceland and lodging in both Reykjavik and Akureyri. So do not let the weather deter you from visiting Iceland this winter. With some careful packing you will have a blast and stay warm!

Reykjavik Iceland’s Top Attractions

Reykjavik Iceland encompasses the best of both worlds; a sophisticated urban destination complete with luxury spas, world class dining and a lively club scene, tempered with outdoor adventures like glacier hiking, geothermal spas, and whale watching. A trip to Reykjavik would not be complete without a visit to one or all of these top attractions.

Reykjavik; Sun Voyager

The Blue Lagoon-Luxury Geothermal Spa

Start the vacation right with a trip to the world famous Blue Lagoon; a luxury outdoor geothermal spa located near the airport. Buses are conveniently stationed at the airport to transport passengers straight to the Blue Lagoon. The enormous locker rooms are equipped with large sized lockers, locks, blow dryers and towels for guests. Spa-goers can recharge after a long flight by floating around in the six million liters of warm geothermal seawater that fill the lagoon. Silica mud masks are provided in boxes around the lagoon to apply to ones face and skin. Visitors can spend an hour or a day and afterwards the bus will drop them off at their final destination.

 Super Jeep Glacier Volcano Tours

Iceland’s landscape is literally defined by volcanoes. This tiny island is a volcanic hot spot because of its position over the mid-Atlantic ridge; the spot where the Eurasian and North American plates are separating. Tours are available to visit Eyafjallajökull; the volcano that made global headlines when it recently erupted shutting down air traffic in Europe for weeks. Although it is not currently erupting, tours are available to view the aftermath. Most tours can be combined with a dog sled or snowmobile adventure on the neighboring sub-glacial volcano named Katla, located on Myrdalsjökull glacier. The usual mode of transportion in Iceland is super jeep 4 x 4, these monster trucks are needed to navigate the icy road conditions leading up to the glaciers.

The Golden Circle Tour; Thingvellir National Park

The Golden Circle tour consists of the three pinnacles of Icelandic tourism; Geysir, Gullfoss, and Thingvellir National park. The first stop on this eight hour tour is to view Geysir; a massive blow hole so big it’s rumored that all other geysers in the world have been named after it.

IMG_6927Although Geysir doesn’t spout regularly, nearby Strokkur faithfully erupts every few minutes shooting a giant stream of water 30 meters into the air. The next stop is the famous double- layered falls of Gullfoss. Visitors can walk along the scenic trail leading to the 32 meter high cascades. The tour ends with a trip to the beautiful Thingvellir National park. The historic location of Alpingi or the national parliament of the first settlers of Iceland is housed in the park, as well as the location of the only spot in the world that the rift between the continents is clearly visible.

Kolaportid Flea Market

The Kolaportid flea market is a popular shopping destination for locals as well as tourists. Open only on the weekends, the market is housed in an industrial-style warehouse at Tryggvagötu 19 in the Old Harbor. Shoppers can browse through a wide variety of books, clothes, knick-knacks and other fun items.

The flea market is a great place to sample traditional Icelandic delicacies such as Hákarl; chunks of fermented shark meat. The shark meat is prepared by burying it underground for up to six months to remove the toxins so that it is safe to eat. It’s traditionally washed down with a shot of Black Death or Brennivín; an alcoholic beverage similar to snapps, made from fermented potato pulp, and flavored with caraway seeds. Visitors can purchase Hákarl and other delicacies such as dried fish, lamb pate, or horse meat sausages from the food section of the flea market.

Party on the Weekends!

Taking advantage of the longer daylight hours during summer solstice, the party starts around midnight and lasts well into the morning. Most of the clubs and bars are located on the main strip in the city center and stay open late. Afterwards, follow the hoards of hungry partygoers for an Icelandic hotdog, customary after a long night of drinking.

The Perlan

The Perlan is a fun destination for a few hours or an entire afternoon. It’s reflective blue dome sits on top of six gigantic circular water tanks that hold the city’s water supply. Sitting on a hill high above the city, the Perlan’s viewing deck offers the best panoramic view of Reykjavik and the surrounding area.

The top floor is home to one of Reykjavik’s best restaurant; a revolving fine dining restaurant that boasts the best city vistas. The second floor houses a cafeteria style restaurant that serves great food, desserts and coffee. The Saga museum is located on the ground floor where Icelandic history is recreated daily for visitors. The Perlan is surrounded by beautiful gardens, walking trails, and an artificial geyser.

Puffin and Whale Watching Tours

The Puffin is an adorable little orange beaked bird that can be spotted off the coast of Reykjavik. For a close up view of the flocks, take a fun puffin watching tour through Elding; the leading provider of whale and puffin watching tours. Visitors may get lucky and even spot a whale! During the months of April to October, Orca whales, Minke whales, Humpback, porpoises and dolphins are typically seen in the surrounding waters of the harbor. For a longer excursion take a whale watching tour.Whales!

Whale and puffin watching tours both depart multiple times daily from Reykjavik harbor. Elding even supplies warm red and blue jumpsuits to keep their passengers warm as it tends to get cold and windy once out of the confines of the harbor.

A visit to anyone of these top attractions will give visitors a sense of the essential spirit of Iceland. This charming European city with its trendy shops, wild nightlife and fun adventure tours will stand out in any visitors mind as the trip of a lifetime.

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Get Ready for a Wild Ride…Dog Sled Style

I was enjoying the ride as the dogs now were trotting along consistently and the mushers were skijoring effortlessly beside us. I was surprised when all of the sudden the sled dogs took off and ran quickly out of control at full speed. Yann yelled “Whoa! Whoa!” repeatedly, but they didn’t stop. I was laughing hard but also was kind of scared that they would run off the side of the glacier!


Iceland is a land of unparalleled beauty with rushing waterfalls, active volcanoes and immense glaciers. An exciting way to tour Iceland’s glacial landscape is by taking an adventure dog sled trip. Depending on the time of the year, the tour may be offered on a number of different glaciers both located within a short distance from Reykjavik: Langjökull glacier or Mýrdallsjökull. Both of these glaciers are in close proximity to Eyjafjallajokul; the volcano that spewed a massive ash cloud over Europe in 2010 shutting down air traffic for weeks. Although these glaciers rest on an active volcanic mountain range called Katla, travel to and from the glaciers are relatively safe.

Glacier roads

Tour Arrangements for Dog Sledding in Iceland

Getting to the dogs is an adventure in itself. Only super truck 4×4’s can make it up to the glacier due to the extreme road conditions. For the dog sledding adventure I made arrangements through “Eskimos,” a reputable company that provides extreme adventure tours. At 10 a.m. sharp Halli, our tour guide, picked us up from the hotel in a super truck 4X4 equipped with a snorkel. Are we going underwater? I said jokingly. I had no idea what to expect as I had never been on a glacier or dogsledding, but I figured that underwater submersion wasn’t part of the deal.
waterfallAfter about an hour, we made a quick but exciting stop at Seljalandsfoss waterfall where we got out and followed a little path that led behind a 200 foot gushing cascade. The scenery is wonderful, but be prepared for an icy cold blast of spray from the waterfall once under the cascades. After the hike, we piled back in the truck and were quickly engrossed in one of Halli’s interesting stories. Fairly soon he announced we were getting close to the dog sled kennel. Suddenly, the truck turned onto the rocky deserted road that leads up to Mýrdallsjökull. As we ascended, the sky seemed to disappear and was replaced by thick dark clouds. We could barely see around the truck. Yet once we reached the top of the glacier the sun was shining brightly.

Dog Sledding Near Reykjavik

There at the top sat a little red house. Two young guys from Dogsledding Iceland, Yann and Markus, the dog mushers came out to greet us. We went inside and they issued us warm, puffy snowsuits. They warned we would need them as the temperature higher up on the glacier is significantly colder than ground level. Soon we all squeezed into another 4×4 for the final ride up the snowy road to the sled dogs’ kennel.


Barking and howling greeted our crew as soon as the twelve excited huskies saw the 4×4. These tough but adorable dogs are purebred Greenlandic Huskies, Yann told us. They appear quite larger than their furry cousins the Siberian huskies. The dogs spend a majority of their lives outside and their thick heavy coat helps them to endure the harsh temperatures and prolonged darkness of the Icelandic winter. Despite their tough exteriors these dogs are friendly, affectionate and well cared for. The tours only last about two hours per day making this a fun run for the dogs as opposed to hard work.

Soon we climbed onto the long white wooden sled. We were warned we should sit as far back as possible to leave enough space in the front for them to stop the sled in case of emergency. Though I was not quite sure what that meant, I did as instructed. My dreams of an energetic start failed to materialize as the dogs were off to a slow start. The lead dogs would run a little then stop and look back at the mushers as if waiting for direction.

Markus ran up ahead to lead the dogs so they wouldn’t keep stopping and playing with each other. Yann and Markus skijored (skied) alongside the sled calling out commands to the dogs. “Hike!” they shouted to get them to run, “Haw!” they yelled to turn left and “Gee!” to turn right.

I was enjoying the ride as the dogs now were trotting along consistently and the mushers were skijoring effortlessly beside us. I was surprised when all of the sudden the sled dogs took off and ran quickly out of control at full speed. Yann yelled “Whoa! Whoa!” repeatedly, but they didn’t stop. I was laughing hard but also was kind of scared that they would run off the side of the glacier! Mush!

One thing the mushers do to slow the sled down is throw a round set of ropes over the front part of the sled. This braking technique was not working fast enough to slow these wild dogs down. The sled was teetering on the brink of tipping over. It was hard to hold on. Yann let go of the rope to avoid skiing wildly into the side of our sled. Worried that we were careening full speed down an icy track, Markus flung himself down on the front of the sled in an effort to slow it down. Finally with his added weight on the front of the sled, the dogs slowed down and stopped. I rolled off the sled laughing but was secretly relieved the ride was over. I’m sure this was just another routine day at work for Yann, Markus and the huskies, but for us it was an exciting adventure. Whoa!

Greenlandic Sled Dogs

The dogs were tired and plopped down to rest in the snow. It was fun to kneel down and pet each dog as Yann and Markus introduced me to every one of them. Each dog has an important position on the team, I learned. The dogs and the mushers really seemed to love what they are doing. One adorable black and white furry dog in particular; Einstein, was howling loudly and jumping around trying to get my attention. Einstein quickly stole the show when he started posing for me to take his picture. After the dogs rested a bit and got some needed attention they started to get restless again, howling and playing. It was time to get back on the sled and finish the ride.

The dogs sledded back to camp at a relaxing pace, until all too soon we were back at the little red house. I rolled off of the sled, bid Einstein and the other dogs a final farewell, and offered my thanks to Yann and Markus.

Adventure Tours in Iceland Near Reykjavik

Dogsledding Iceland is the kennel company that provides the dogsledding adventure. They are located about an hour south of Reykjavik near Vik. They offer year round dog sled tours and expeditions but do not provide transportation to and from the glacier. It is not advisable to rent a car or truck as many rental companies in Iceland have a disclaimer holding the renter responsible for water damage that may occur on the icy back roads. The entire tour including transportation and waterfall stops can be arranged though Reyjavik-based tour operators; Eskimos. Snow suits are provided but it is necessary to wear complete gear such as winter boots, hat, gloves and sweater. An adventure tour to one of the glaciers is an amazing way to check out Iceland’s natural beauty and the friendliness of these beautiful dogs certainly adds to this great experience.

Greenlandic Husky

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Get Ready for a Wild Ride…Icelandic Style

Iceland is a land of extremes filled with hot geothermal springs, ice cut fjords and sub-glacial volcanoes.  What better way to tour Iceland’s natural beauty than by dog sled?

“Waiting at the top of the Mýrdallsjökull glacier was a team of ten anxiously waiting sled dogs. These tough but adorable dogs are purebred Greenlandic Huskies, Yann our dog musher told us.  Despite their tough exteriors these dogs are friendly and playful.  After playing with the dogs for awhile, we climbed onto the long white wooden sled.  Markus the second musher, warned us to sit as far back as possible and leave enough space in the front for them to stop the sled in case of emergency. Though I was not quite sure what that meant, I did as instructed.

My dreams of an energetic start failed to materialize. The dogs were off to a slow start. The lead dogs would trot a little then stop and look back at the mushers, as if to ask, ”What should we do?”

Markus ran up ahead to lead the dogs so they wouldn’t keep stopping and playing with each other.  Yann and Markus skijored (skied) alongside the sled calling out commands to the dogs. “Hike!” they shouted, to get them to run, “Haw!” they yelled to turn left, and “Gee!” to turn right.

 I was enjoying the ride as the dogs were trotting along now at a leisurely pace. Skijoring effortlessly alongside, the mushers were successfully controlling the team. All of the sudden the dogs took off and ran out of control at full speed.  I was surprised at this sudden change in speed. Yann yelled “Whoa! Whoa!” repeatedly, but they didn’t stop.  I was laughing hard but also was kind of scared that they would run off the side of the glacier!   All of the sudden Yann let go of the rope to avoid skiing wildly into our sled.”

Read my full article online at Dog Sledding Adventure Tours Near Reykjavik Iceland.

Mush! World’s Best Dog Sledding Adventures

In honor of the upcoming 2011 Iditarod; a grueling dog sled race covering over 1100 miles of the rugged Alaskan terrain, I decided to write about the world’s best dog sled vacations. The best (and cutest dogs) can be found in Iceland, Greenland, Finland and Alaska. 

Sebastian Schnuelle Owner of Blue Kennels


Dog Sledding Tours and Excursions in Alaska

Learn the art of  dog sledding from expert Iditarod musher Sebastian Schnülle; owner of  Blue Kennels. Sebastian offers an 8-day musher course guaranteed to test the limits of  your endurance! Highlights from Sebastian’s long list of achievements are: 2009 Winner of the Yukon Quest; a grueling race that covers over 1000 miles of trails from Whitehorse in the Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska, 2nd place in the 2009 Iditarod, and winner of the 2007 and 2010 Humanitarian Award for the best cared for dog sled team.

Sebastian along with Iditarod musher Jessie Royer, leads an eight-day mushers training course and dog sled excursion where participants will learn how to drive their very own team of sled dogs. Mushers-in-training will also learn proper care and feeding of the dogs as well as learn how to endure the grueling conditions experienced out on the trail and during a race.

There is no classroom instruction in this course! Trainees will learn in the rugged outdoor setting of the Alaskan wilderness while managing a team of 4-6 sled dogs. Upon successful completion of the week guests will receive a musher certificate and a photo with a lead dog. The tours are offered during the winter season generally from November 15th through April 21st. All lodging, camping supplies, food, equipment and transportation is included.

In the summer, Blue Kennels in cooperation with Coastal Helicopters offers an amazing tour in Juneau Alaska. Small groups of six are taken by scenic helicopter over the Juneau Icefield to the magnificent Herbert Glacier. Once on the glacier visitors will get to meet and hear stories from Iditarod experts Matt Giblin, Jake Berkowitz and Sebastian Schnuelle. The trip would not be complete without a visit to the kennel to meet with over 80 adorable Alaskan Huskies. Afterwards depart on a special dog sled adventure driven by an Iditarod musher over the Herbert Glacier. All warm weather gear and transportation is provided.

One important factor to consider when deciding where to learn dog sledding is the relationship the mushers have with their dogs. You can tell Sebastian really cares for and loves his sled dogs. One key component in training future mushers is how to properly take care of the dogs and he takes this piece very seriously.

Dog Sledding Tours in Iceland

What could be more exciting than dog sledding on a volcano in Iceland? Eskimos offers exciting day trips from Reykjavik to the Myrdalsjökull glacier located on the same range as Eyafjallajökull; the volcano that shut down European air traffic for weeks with a massive ash cloud. The volcano has stopped erupting, but tours are offered on Langjökull glacier as an alternate location.

The adventure begins with a scenic drive through southern Iceland via Super Jeep 4×4; this rugged truck equipped with a snorkel is needed to navigate the icy and sometimes flooded trails leading up to the glacier. Once at the tour headquarters participants are outfitted with warm snowsuits; as the temperature drops significantly once on the glacier. Finally the group is transported higher up onto Myrdalsjökull to meet the furry tour guides.

Anxiously waiting at the camp are a team of 12 Greenlandic Huskies; these purebred huskies are friendly but tough dogs, bred to withstand the extreme conditions of the long Icelandic winters. Once onboard the long wooden sled, passengers get to enjoy the view as the two mushers skijor (ski) alongside the sled yelling out the commands; Hike to go forward or Whoa to slow down. Don’t be surprised when the excited huskies pick up some speed! To put the brakes on these wild huskies the musher throws a set of ropes over the front of the sled. If that doesn’t work (it usually doesn’t) they may have to jump onto the front of the sled; the added weight will eventually slow them down. After the ride the best part is meeting and petting each of the dogs. For those looking for a shorter adventure this is a good introduction to the sport of dog sledding.

Tasiilaq Greenland Dog Sledding

Home to the world’s second largest ice sheet; Greenland is a beautiful arctic refuge where the population of huskies actually outweighs that of the human population. For a truly amazing adventure visit the remote village of Tasiilaq Greenland, also referred to as Ammasallik. This tiny village just south of the Arctic circle, is characterized by its brightly colored wooden houses surrounded by a horseshoe of snow-capped mountains.

Dog sledding is not just a fun sport in the hunting and fishing village of Tasiilaq but a much needed method of transportation during the extreme conditions in the winter. What better way to check out the snowy landscape of Tasiilaq than by dog sled? Become a licensed dog musher by completing a two day course guaranteed to teach you everything you need to know to drive your very own team of 6-8 huskies through the snowy tundra. Once licensed your skills will be put to the test with a camping and dog sledding expedition to the outskirts of the region; Ammasalik island. Tour arrangements can be made through Destination East Greenland.



Eräkeskus Finland Dog Sled Adventure

Become immersed in the world of dog sledding at the Eräkeskus Wilderness Lodge & Huskyfarm; situated in North Carelia, Eastern Finland. Visit the on-site husky farm that houses two large kennels that includes 123 Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Huskies and Scandinavian Hounds. Guests will have fun visiting with this large pack including the adorable husky puppies, adult sled dogs and house dogs. Many different tour options are available to fit all activity levels from beginner to extremely challenging.

Beginners should try the Peaceful Christmas and New Year in Eräkeskus tour. This eight-day adventure includes everything; airport pick-up, lodging in Eräkeskus, all food, and dog sled instruction. Mushers-in-training start with a visit to the kennels to learn about proper care of the sled dogs, then onto the basics of mushing including: Commands, how to hook up the sleds, how to harness the dogs and care on the trail.

Once the instruction is complete the fun starts with a two-day overnight sled dog adventure to a wilderness cabin. Participants will load up the sleds, ration the food for both the pups and mushers, hook up sleds and harness the dogs. Finally each person will learn to drive the sled of 4-6 huskies. Another day is devoted to a snowshoe-hiking excursion in the Koli National Park. Enjoy hiking in the beautiful mountain scenery and along the way stop for lunch cooked on an open fire in a Finnish wind-shelter. Those looking for more of a challenge should sign up for the Eräkeskus Border-Trail which covers distances up to 70 km per day.

Dog sledding captures the very essence of adventure travel. Whether the goal is to take a fun tour or to become a certified dog musher; a visit to one of these arctic wonderlands promises the adventure of a lifetime.