Some people are scornful of the tourist tag, preferring to call themselves “travelers” instead. But there’s no harm in wearing the tourist tag with pride. Droves of tourists visit the Eiffel Tower every year, and really, what’s Paris without the Eiffel Towers?
It’s like Bono without his trademark glasses–still an awesome musician, but a little less sure of himself. But we digress.
Tourism is a big source of income and employment in Iceland. While some places might feel like tourist traps ( the biggest of them being Blue Lagoon), they’re really in fact fun tourist traps, and definitely worth checking out at least once.
If for nothing else than to know what the hype is all about. Here are five incredibly touristy, and some not so touristy things to do in Iceland. All of them, however, are sure to make your trip memorable.
National Museum of Iceland
The permanent collection includes some 2000 objects since the first settlement and around 1000 photographs from the 20th century on display. A visit to the museum is a must to gain insight into the rich, independent history of Iceland.
Most people think of Iceland as one big spa retreat or a kind of country-wide national park to enjoy the aurora display from, which is certainly not the case. Before you head to enjoy the incredible natural beauty and bounty of Iceland, this museum is a good detour to put things in perspective.
Whale watching – one of the top things to do in Iceland
Iceland is one of the most perfect locations for whale watching. The best time for this is the summer months, where up to 20 different species of whales including Minke, Ocra, Humpback and Blue whale, can be spotted. Tours are less frequent in winter months but are no less stunning. They have the added advantage that if you’re lucky enough, you can even see the northern lights from your boat.
Daily tours operate from the Old Harbour in Reykjavik in the summer. Another good place for tours is from the coastal town of Husavik in North-East Iceland, which is also home to the must-visit Whale Museum.
This is a small route around the southern stretch of Iceland that has three main stops–the Thingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir. The waterfall especially is a magnificent half necklace of white water gushing down a canyon, and if the angle of the sun is just right, you can see a rainbow form over it.
You can do this route as quickly or as leisurely as you like. It;s a 300 odd kilometer stretch, and the roads are well paved. You can drive it yourself, or even hire a taxi tour, which is surprisingly reasonable given the prices in Iceland. If you wish to spend the night somewhere on the route, the Hotel Gullfoss near the Gullfoss waterfall is a good place.
Blue Lagoon Spa
There are many free hot springs where you can bathe in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon is the most famous one, but you have to pay entry. It receives sizable crowds every day, but it’s large enough not to feel over-crowded. The warm waters make for a pleasing contrast to the crisp temperatures in this open air pool, and the surrounding scenery is spectacular.
The mineral sea water that feeds the pool is good for your skin. You are also given a free mud pack to apply on your face. The pool’s edge is dotted with bars where you can get a beer or a smoothie to enjoy while bathing. The pool is closer to the airport than to the city of Reykjavik, so if it is on your agenda of things to do in Iceland, then it’s best to schedule it at the beginning or the end of your trip.
Hiking The Laugavegur Trail
This is the most popular hiking trail in Iceland, as popular with the locals as with foreigners so you know it’s not a gimmick. It is famous for its varied landscape, as the scenery changes dramatically within the span of just 55 km. This includes colourful mountains, lava fields, black sands, lakes, glaciers etc.
You can hike on your own or go as part of a tour, although the latter is strongly recommended for first time wilderness hikers. There are only six guest houses along the trail, and camping in the wild is prohibited.
If planning to hike on your own, you are advised to go through this website.