The Most Adventurous Things to Do in Iceland

Is watching the northern lights on your bucket list? The dazzling aurora borealis can been seen over Iceland practically every night from October to March. With cheap flights on Iceland Air and Wow Air, now is the time to start planning aurora hunting tours to Iceland.

Most airlines offer free stopovers in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, which gives enough time to enjoy the lights. If you want to see a good bit of the island, I recommend spending 1-2 weeks exploring the different regions. I rented a car and drove around the western and southern parts of the island for about 10 days. Driving is easy as the roads are well kept and not very crowded. It also allows you to pace your journey and make frequent photo stops. Guide to Iceland offers a list of self-drive and bus tours that include hotels, car rental and destination guides.

Discovering the diverse scenery that changes from icebergs and black beaches to mossy fields and snow covered lava were some of my highlights of my trip.

Here are ten of my best adventures in Iceland:

Photo by Iceland Tourism

Aurora Hunting

The capital and largest city in Iceland is a fun place, especially during the night. Explore the museums, cobblestone streets, art galleries and cafes. Have a romantic dinner at Fiskfelagid, a cave style upscale restaurant that serves a globally inspired menu, and watch the magnificent star studded sky with dancing green and orange northern lights right in the city!

Reykjavik has great nightlife, but plan to arrive at the club after midnight as locals generally party into the wee hours of the morning.

Floating in the Blue Lagoon

Put on a silica mud mask and soak in the healing warm waters of the Blue Lagoon. The geothermal spa is located very close to the international airport and is a good place to stop as soon as your arrive and just before you leave Iceland. Make sure to book your tickets beforehand and plan to spend a couple of hours here.

Not Jumping on Moss

From Reykjavik, I took a small plane to Höfn on the southern coast and started my road trip. The Golden Circle route is perhaps the most visited part of Iceland. If you have a limited time in the country, there are three spots you must see. These includes Þingvellir National Park, the geothermal valley of spouting geysers at Haukadalur, and the magnificent Gullfoss Waterfall.

Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a good place to dive into the geologic history of this volcanic island. Get out of the car and see the moss-covered fields, but please don’t jump on it like Justin Bieber did!

Horseback (Pony) Riding in the Countryside

Take a scenic horseback ride on pony-sized Icelandic horses. Two designated horse trails run through the national park. These pretty horses are the only horse that can tölt, while other horses walk, trot, canter and gallop. Tölt is a four-beat gait where at least one foot is on the ground at any time, so there is no period of suspension. (I had to look that up).

Standing in Between Continents

Walk between continents at Leif the Lucky bridge, which crosses one of the rifts created by the mid-Atlantic ridge. It is noted that the mid-Atlantic ridge is pulling apart North America and Europe by 2.5 centimeters each year. Black lava surrounds the 50-foot bridge and you can stand at the so-called midpoint for a photo op.

Boating Along Glaciers

Take a boat trip on the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. At first, the majestic icebergs floating gently appear eerily still. When I parked my car, there was not a person in sight, just me and the glaciers, in total silence. The Zodiac tours offer an opportunity to get close to the blue ice. You may even get lucky and spot some seals.

Black Beaching

A small fishing village, Vík í Mýrdal (aka Vik), is home to the black beach Reynisfjara along windy Atlantic coastlines. This is no tropical sun tanning beach. Watch for basalt columns jetting out of the oceans, nesting sea gulls, puffins, fulmars, guillemots, and of course, dangerous waves.

Hiking a Glacier

For some real adrenaline, hike, walk, climb or snow mobile on one of the volcanic glaciers around Iceland. This is where you can see the real “Fire and Ice” magic playing out. I took a relatively easy walk at Skaftafell Glacier, though still had to watch out for hundreds of feet deep crevasses!

Climbing Waterfalls

Iceland is a country of waterfalls and I visited many of them. Plan your trip to include as many as you can see. Though some of them may be caked in ice during winter, each of the waterfalls has a different backdrop, height, flow and color. The most popular one is Gullfoss also known as ‘The Golden Waterfall’ as it has a majestic 32 meter drop into Hvíta glacier river.

Smelling Sulphur

Watch colorful mud pools, crater lakes and Sulphur deposits at Krysuvik-seltun hot springs, formed by volcanic eruptions. There are marked walking routes, though you may not be able to stand the strong smell for very long.

Do you have a favorite place in Iceland? Please share with our readers in the comments section below…

Dining Around the World in Downtown Reykjavik

As more people are traveling to Iceland, the restaurant scene is becoming innovative and multi cultural. Over the recent years, Icelanders and visitors, both have been demanding sophisticated cuisine that incorporates global flavors. Icelandic chefs are also realizing that they have an abundance of fresh ingredients such as Arctic Char, lobster, lamb, salmon, beets, parsnip and more, available to them. The new fusion menus are allowing chefs to be creative, adopting herbs and spices from other cuisines, to create a different genre of food.

FishCompany is an interesting concept restaurant located in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. The original building that house the restaurant use to be a parking lot, and when excavated, found to be the old harbor. It is now a beautifully restored modern cave looking restaurant. The cozy atmosphere is created with exposed brick walls, historic windowpanes borrowed from a church, rustic sheep blankets used as curtains. There is also an outdoor patio next to a pond where guests can dine under the sunny skies of Reykjavik.

What makes the FishCompany stand out is their concept of an adventure around the world through food. A world map made in copper hangs on the living room wall, giving a hint of what’s to come to your plate. The menu features Taste of Iceland and Taste of the World, two very unique sets of selections created using local Icelandic ingredients, yet inspired by global cuisines.

FishCompany Restaurant Iceland

The dishes on the menu are categorized by country – Spain, Fiji, Norway, Madagascar, etc. and the featured ingredient, such as Chorizo, Beef, Lobster, and Chocolate. The server tells me that the countries are not meant to suggest that they are original recipes from those places. The Icelandic chefs at Fiskfelagid’s kitchen draw inspiration by spices, sauces, landscapes and cultures to create edible art that take the diner on an adventure around the world.

Here is a sampling from what I tried…

From the Icelandic Menu

SORRELL – Breaded and deep-fried Cod cheeks and a couple of pan-fried scallops sat on top of cauliflower puree and mint jus. It all came together brilliants with slices of smoked Icelandic skyr (similar to strained yogurt) and a touch of smoked cod foam for a molecular gastronomic presentation. Visually, this dish reminded me of the diverse landscapes of Island – white glaciers, brown rocks and green moss.

deepfried COD CHEEKS & fried SCALLOPSLAMB – A colorful plate of neatly placed prime lamb cuts decorated with thinly sliced beetroot chips. The lamb was crispy on the outside, moist and delicate on the inside, unlike the gamy texture it can sometimes have. Peas, onions and rhubarb sauce formed the base.

panfried PRIME OF LAMB

WHITE CHOCOLATE – A house created dessert, which really doesn’t have a name to capture it all, but should definitely go viral. There is white chocolate cake pudding, burnt caramel cake, buttermilk sorbet, rye bread crumbs, and crushed dried raspberries. A delicious version of Icelandic bread pudding I would say.  

Icelandic milk pudding

From the International Menu, I tried a few staples that can’t be compared to their origins but were done very well.

JAPAN A large wooden plank of mixed sushi presented salmon, tuna and lobster rolls. The fish was as fresh as it can be and even the wasabi had a moderate kick. It was accompanied by sewed salad and thinly sliced ginger.

IRELAND At first glance, I thought it was an Irish stout dog, but in fact there was no meat on this plate. Carefully smoked and rolled Arctic Char fillet was made to represent the classic Irish dish. The Arctic Char tasted a lot like salmon, but buttery in texture. Of course, it was locally sourced as well.

Arctic Char

ITALY – Italian classic dessert, tiramisu was rather unconventional. Served in a mason jar, the proportion of mascarpone to ladyfinger was a little off balance. Nevertheless, it still tasted like a great dessert.

All of the dishes have an extensive wine and beer pairing to go along. Don’t be surprised to find selections from as far as Chile and South Africa to go along with your Sambal Lobster Curry.

As you leave the restaurant, take a pause to see hundreds of post it notes written by diners. This at the spot review process is cute and you can read some of the comments (mostly good) left by satisfied guests before you.

fishhouse

The chefs at FishCompany have recently released a cookbook “Around Fish Company” that is available at the restaurant. It has some of their favorite recipes along with photos of Icelandic scenery that inspired them to create those dishes.

Fiskfélagið (FishCompany Restaurant) – Vesturgötu 2a, Grófartorg – 101 Reykjavík – 552-5300 – info@fiskfelagid.is http://www.fiskfelagid.is

Tandoori in Iceland

When I visited Iceland in 2009, I wasn’t sure what to expect from its culinary scene. Iceland has known to be exorbitantly expense due to its distant location, extreme climate and scarce population. Out of its 300k citizens, only 4% of the population is employed in agriculture. They primarily grow potatoes, turnips, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. Other than that, the farmers keep cattle, horses and sheep. Being surrounded by waters, seafood is definitely a big source of food and export for the country.

I saw all of these items on the menu but did not dare try the horse meat. I try to stick to being a pescetarian whenever possible. While there were lots of options for seafood lovers, the most pleasant surprise I had was the Icelandic lobsters. They are very different than the North American lobsters, being smaller in size, almost like a prawn. Also, their texture is much softer and when cooked well, they melt in your mouth.

The Icelandic lobsters preparations varied at the different places I tried them at. In Vik, there was a huge plate of scampi style as well as a lobster meat pizza. In Reykjavik, there were lobster tails in a cream butter sauce with julienned vegetables.

Perhaps the best dish that I tried was tandoori lobster tails at an Indian restaurant in Reykjavik. There were a dozen tender juicy lobster tails perfectly marinated with spices and grilled to perfection. They were served with a mint yogurt chutney and fresh baked naan. Only if i could find the Icelandic lobsters here in the south, I would be preparing this recipe at every special occasion. Until then, just make do with regular American lobsters.

Recipe for Tandoori Lobster Tails

4 medium lobster tails, (removed from shells) meat only

½ cup plain yogurt

¼ cup tandoori paste

Mix the yogurt and tandoori paste in a large bowl, add the lobster tails. Cover and refrigerate for one hour. Heat a grill to 350F. Place the lobster tails on the greased grill surface and cook on each side for 2-3 minutes. Do not overcook the lobsters as they will become too dry and chewy. Serve immediately with mint chutney.