Reasons to visit Iceland, besides the landscape!

There’s a lot to love about Iceland: black sand Atlantic beaches, vast panoramas, the aurora borealis, hot dogs. But, even before we spied our first glacier (our first several days were spent in Reykjavik), these four Icelandic staples below warmed our hearts. The northern lights deserve their own spotlight (and an entire article perhaps); in the meantime, read this primer on the aurora borealis for travelers.


Reasons to visit icelandWhether it’s the blah taste of certain American cities’ tap water (San Diego I’m looking at you) or just the power of suggestion from beverage companies selling “mountain springs” in a chemically-infused container, I’ve become more resistant to tap water. Unlike the owners of a San Diego pizza shop I worked for (they imported New York City water for their dough), I am not a water snob; heck, I still drink from water fountains, it’s just that I have developed taste issues with tap water. This all changed in Iceland, though, where crisp, refreshingly cold water flows straight from the faucet. Considered some of the world’s best, Icelandic tap water is pure spring water without any additives like chlorine. Because Iceland’s hot water sometimes smells of sulfur (think rotten eggs), it is important to let the cold water run for several seconds before drinking it to ensure that no hot water is mixed in.


Still legal but definitely frowned upon in America, the popularity of hitchhiking in the states has been on a steady decline for the last 40 years. This, however, is not the case in Iceland were thumbing a ride is a popular form of transportation for travelers. In the 1950s, my grandpap hitchhiked regularly from Virginia to Pennsylvania while in the Navy. His freewheelin’ stories of catching rides up the coast seared hitchhiking into my brain; unfortunately, 80s horror movies cemented over my romantic notions with irrational fears of cornfields, lakeside camps and hitchhiking. And while we didn’t hitchhike in Iceland ( Beth also shares in my irrational fear), we were both delighted to see hitchhikers at junctions along the Ring Road. During our stay at the Reykjavik Campground, we met Michael, a travel savvy Canadian, who hitchhiked down from Northern Iceland. In soft tones, he regaled us with tales from his two-day trip through the island’s schizophrenic terrain. As I listened, my thoughts shifted to my grandfather and then to Charlie Manson. Damn you horror movies.

Thermal pools

In high school, inevitably during the coldest winter days, we were required to take swimming classes. The teacher said the pool was heated and pointed to the steamed up windows as proof. I guess his idea of heated was different from mine; let’s just say there was shrinkage. I’m the first to admit I get cold quickly, especially in water. For years, I was ridiculed because of my low threshold for cold water, but after visiting Iceland, I now realize that I am not alone. Despite Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle, swimming is a national staple. With more than 200 geothermal areas on the volcanic island, the country utilizes its abundance of hot water for thermal swimming pools and hot pots (Jacuzzis), which are plentiful throughout Iceland and remain open during the deep winter freezes. Swimming in warm water is a treat, especially when it’s snowing outside.  You can do a tour to the incredible Blue Lagoon, the most visited geothermal spa in Iceland, with Blue Lagoon Tours.

Imagine Peace Tower

John Lennon or Mick Jagger? Debated as heavily as the chicken or the egg, no choice can really be wrong. For Travel with a Mate, I’m breaking my silence on this topic. (Drum roll please) I choose Lennon! Sure, I love Jagger’s slinky chicken strut but until he inspires a peace light in his honor I’m going with Johnny boy. We didn’t know about the Imagine Peace Tower in Reykjavik, until after we left Iceland. And when we found out about it, we wondered how we could have missed a 700 foot beam of light shooting into the night sky. Well, it turns out the tower’s creator, Yoko Ono, only lights the memorial several times a year. In 2011, the Imagine Peace Tower will be lit each evening from Oct. 9-Dec.9 (this marks the birth and death of Lennon), Dec. 21-31 (Winter equinox and New Year’s Eve) and March 21-28 (Spring equinox as well as Lennon and Ono’s honeymoon). The memorial is on Videy Island, which can be reached by an approximate 5 minute ferry from Reykjavik.

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