Iceland’s dramatic scenery is largely the result of constant volcanic eruption, which over time has imbued the island with moss-covered lava fields, black sand beaches, geysers, and other features you might imagine more common on some distant planet. Though the island is sizeable, measuring twice the size of its one-time ruling country, Denmark, it’s sparsely populated, with just over 370,000 inhabitants strewn across the country’s coast. Iceland may feel like another dimension, but it is a mere five hours away from Toronto on the convenient Icelandair, which cleverly names its fleet of planes after the country’s volcanos and craters.
Traversing this circular coastline on the aptly named Ring Road is the best way to see Iceland’s best features, though for the sake of a weekend jaunt, you’d be advised to hone in on the southern region. It’s the equivalent of mindfulness meditation: compact and transformative. In a country of extreme contrasts, you might experience a windstorm and a sun shower on the same day — even in Reykjavik, which is located within the country’s comparatively temperate southern region. Pack warm and waterproof gear as you set off for adventure.
Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital city, is a perfect home base, where a dose of vibrant culture can help offset long days spent outdoors. The Reykjavik EDITION is the city’s first modern five-star hotel, located in the city’s historical old harbour port, and is just steps from Laugavegur Street, the city’s vibrant shopping district. Known for its laid-back approach to luxury, the hotel’s cozy, well-appointed rooms are outfitted with faux-sheepskin throws and locally crafted accessories. Meanwhile, floor to ceiling windows boast views of the shimmering glass Harpa Concert Hall, a snow-capped Mount Esja, and even, on very clear winter nights, the famed Northern Lights (the hotel’s concierge offers to dial your room when they spot the auroras, no matter the hour).
The hotel’s spa offers a range of locally inspired treatments, such as Uruz, a hot and cold stone massage followed by exfoliations, thermal soaks, and steams inside a seductive hammam. Icelandic cuisine, meanwhile, is on display in the hotel’s Tides restaurant — dishes include flatbread with créme fraiche and lumpfish roe, smoked potato skins and lamb backstrap with radicchio and mustard greens — as well as its secluded Tölt bar, which serves late night cocktails using Icelandic spirits.
Private drivers, many of whom are schooled in the country’s curious weather patterns, make getting around a breeze. We like VIP Taxi, an experienced fleet out of Reykjavik that offers tours of nearby attractions. Just over an hour outside the city, you’ll begin the famous Golden Circle route with a stop at Geysir, a cluster of hot springs nestled within the geothermal, iron-rich Haukadalur Valley, one of which shoots boiling water 40 metres into the sky every five to ten minutes. Nearby is Gulfoss Waterfalls, which is composed of two separate water gushes cascading down a milky blue river.
In Thingvellir National Park, one valley separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates; walk alongside them both, which move approximately 2.5 centimetres apart each year. Their original separation is evident within the park, where lava fields and milky blue ravines are the result of magma welling up from the earth’s core. Incredibly, earthquakes continue daily in Thingvellir, although most are too minor to feel.
Veering off the Golden Circle and back onto the Ring Road, you’ll visit Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, two majestic waterfalls that flow softly over carved cliffs. Rainbows are frequent at Skógafoss, dancing from cliff to pebbled pools seemingly every few minutes. At Seljalandsfoss, you can view its majestic flow from behind, and with the new vista comes new perspective on life. We can’t overstate its transformative effects. Nearby, Reynisfjara, an otherworldly black sand beach, is abutted by enormous — yet climbable — basalt rock stacks that are truly breathtaking.
No trip to Iceland would be complete without a trip to the legendary Blue Lagoon, a spa known for its milky blue waters that are supplied by a nearby geothermal power station. The aqua hue is due to the water’s high silica, algae, and mineral content, which have incidental wellness benefits. Soaking in the bath-like lagoon with a drink in your hand and a lava mineral mask on your face is one of the highlights of an exquisite trip.
Hotel images courtesy of The Reykjavik EDITION.
Other imagery courtesy of Visit Iceland.