Iceland — the "land of fire and ice" made famous by Bjork, Game of Thrones, and an unpronounceable volcano — may not be the first place that comes to mind as a honeymoon destination, but this beautiful island is the perfect place for adventurous travelers who want to fill their honeymoon with activities like hiking, horseback riding, ice-climbing, and chasing the Northern Lights in one of the most beautiful settings on earth.
Iceland is closer to the United States than most people think. A little more than four hours by plane from the east coast (and seven hours from the west coast), it's accessible via direct flights from NYC, DC, Boston, Seattle, or Denver.
It's also an easy stopover between the US and Europe; in fact, Icelandair allows passengers traveling from the US to Europe to stop over in Iceland for up to seven days at no additional cost. While you'd need at least a week to make even a small dent in the country's bucket list of hot springs, waterfalls, glaciers, and other geological wonders, you can get a small taste of its surreal beauty in just a few days.
For a Short Stay, Make Reykjavik Your Base
Iceland's capital, diminutive and charming Reykjavik, is the first stop for most travelers. Home to two-thirds of the country's modest population of 300,000, it's a cosmopolitan city on a small scale and is known as much for its wild nightlife as its lively art, music, and literary scenes. While many visitors make only a cursory stop in the city before heading out into the countryside, those who spend a bit more time in the capital are rewarded with an up-close look at Iceland's quirky culture, access to the country's best restaurants, and a chance to experience some of the wildest nightlife in Europe.
Start with a history lesson at the Settlement Museum, an excavated 1,200-year old Viking longhouse, or visit the Saga Museum to hear tales of ancient Icelanders. Then immerse yourself — literally — in modern-day culture at one of the city's dozen hot springs, which are open year round and are important centers of social life in Iceland; people come not only to relax, but also to socialize or even conduct business meetings.
For nightlife, take in a show at the Harpa concert hall, a performing arts center with a stunning glass façade, and don't miss the best view of the city from the 242-foot (74m) high observation deck at Hallgrímskirkja Church. For the ultimate souvenir, head to Mink Viking Portrait where you'll be dressed in authentic period garb (chainmail and all) and come away with stylized photos of your time as a temporary Viking warrior.
Eating and Drinking
Icelandic cuisine is surprisingly fresh and delicious, with a focus on local seafood, tender free-range lamb, and hearty root vegetables. Traditional dishes include lobster soup, lamb stew, and plokkfiskur a, so-much-better-than-it-sounds dish of boiled whitefish hash topped with creamy béarnaise sauce (try it at cozy Thir Frakkar). For a more modern take on Icelandic cuisine, check out Dill, a pioneer of the New Nordic movement, or Tapas Barrin, a lively tapas bar that serves a mix of Spanish and Icelandic dishes in small portions. For a romantic treat, splurge at candlelit Lækjarbrekka; or for an inexpensive but hearty meal, try the lobster soup at Saegreifinn (Sea Baron).
For a small city, Reykjavik has a surprising number of bars — surprising, that is, until you see how much locals love to party. On weekends they hit the town after midnight and stay out until 4 or 5am. All around the city center you'll find live music clubs, dance clubs, beer bars, and whiskey bars; there's even a Big Lebowski-themed bar.
Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Borg
Where to Stay
In Reykjavik, the Kvosin Downtown Hotel offers stylish apartment-style rooms with sitting areas, kitchenettes, walk-in showers, AVEDA toiletries, Nespresso machines, an on-site bar, and a daily complimentary breakfast at the adjacent Bergsson Mathus café. The Room with a View apartments offer a more independent experience — and true to the name, most rooms have beautiful views over downtown. For a splurge, spring for the sophisticated Hotel Borg, where the rooms come outfitted with Philippe Stark fittings and Bang & Olufsen TVs; the two-floor Tower Suite has 360 degree view of the city center.
Day Trips from Reykjavik
Iceland's southwest corner is home to some of the country's most popular sites, most of which are conveniently located only an hour or so from Reykjavik. First up on most travelers' lists is the Blue Lagoon, a man-made pool fed from natural geothermal waters that come from deep underground. While the Blue Lagoon's milky water is astonishing, the crowds can be overwhelming. For a more peaceful hot spring experience, head to The Secret Lagoon, a more naturally landscaped hot spring 30 minutes from the city. Other popular sights include the trifecta of natural wonders that makes up the Golden Circle: Geysir (where a geyser regularly erupts), Gullfoss waterfall, and Thingvellir National Park, the site of Iceland's first Parliament and the place where two separating tectonic plates are slowly forming a rift in the earth. Visitors can walk in this rift or even dive into it or snorkel above it at the Silfra fissure.
Other activities in the southwest include riding on an adorably fuzzy and stout Icelandic horse, going whale watching from the Reykjavik harbor, taking a helicopter ride to see the incredible landscape from above, or descending 400 feet into a dormant volcano.
Photo: Getty Images
Road-tripping in Iceland
One of the best ways to explore Iceland is to drive around the 828-mile (1,332 km) Highway 1, also called the Ring Road, which encircles the country. Even if you can't make it all the way around, you can still visit the south, west, and north areas of the country by car or via a short domestic flight from Reykjavik. In summer, campers and hikers can head to the multi-colored mountains of the remote Landmannalaugar area located in Iceland's uninhabited backcountry. Or stick to the coast to marvel at black sand beaches and towering basalt rock formations, visit Iceland's southernmost point at Dyrhólaey, or see the glacier lagoon at Jökulsárlón, which was a setting in the James Bond movie Die Another Day.
On the north side of the island, Husavik, the whale-watching capital of Iceland, sits just an hour's drive from the country's second-largest city, Akureyri. It's also close to the massive Dettifoss waterfall (known as the most powerful in Europe), the Blue-Lagoon like Mývatn Nature Baths, and Lake Mývatn, a geologically unique area where Apollo 11 astronauts practiced their moonwalks. The rustic Kaldbaks-kot cottages make a great base, with kitchenettes, an open-air hot tub, and gorgeous sunset views.
From September to March, keep an eye out for the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Check the forecast for a clear night with solar activity, head away from any light pollution, and you may see one of most spectacular light shows in the world.